Okay, first Dragon Knights fanfiction. Decide for yourself.
Disclaimer: Dragon Knights isn't mine, neither is anything else.
Bringing Rath Back
The world inside Nadil's castle was cast in an endless sea of gray. The passages. The rooms. The floor. As far as the eye could see—it was gray. And not just ordinary gray, but that special kind of icky, placid gray. All other color had long since washed away.
All, that is, except the brilliant red of a single, small stone lying overlooked in a corner. It glowed with a faint light—a light that emanated from its bloody depths.
Despite this, it had gone utterly unnoticed by Nadil and all the other demons that had passed by.
So it had sat, the only speck of color in the gray passages that stretched out bleakly in either direction. Time passed—stretched out endlessly like the passages. Finally, the sun sank into the purple haze of the horizon. Darkness seeped in through the cracks and pooled in the corners.
Thud. Thud. The muted footsteps of a passing demon echoed down the hall. The footsteps paused as the demon caught sight of the stone and stopped to examine it. Slowly, he bent and picked it up in clawed hands. It was warm. But other than that, it was just a stone, no matter how closely he looked at it.
Absorbed in examining his find, the demon didn't immediately notice the white-robed figure that appeared in the shadows behind him… until it moved. He jerked back instinctively, surprised, and lashed out. Long claws flashed towards the white-robed figure. The distance between them closed rapidly and then… suddenly… everything changed.
There was a small flurry of ash and the demon felt his own claws tear himself apart. The stone slipped from suddenly-limp fingers and clattered to the floor. The demon wobbled and collapsed in a heap of shredded flesh.
The white-robed figure stepped over the fallen demon, picked the stone up, and held it gently in his cupped hands. The stone began to flash violently, as though it recognized the touch of the white-robed figure. It soaked the gray walls in brief bursts of crimson light and stained the figure's robes a ruddy red—like dried blood.
"I know you're mad, Rath," Kharl said. "But I won't let you suffer anymore." He caressed the stone briefly, delicately with his fingers, as though the livid waves of light were no more than butterfly wings in his palm. Then he placed it in a small, velvet sack that hung at his side. He disappeared as silently as he'd come.
Garfakcy stood outside the large, double doors with his arms crossed. Loud crashing sounds and resounding clatters issued from the room beyond.
"Kharl's making a mess again." Garfakcy glared at the door, as though this were somehow its fault. But there wasn't any point cleaning it up 'till he was done. After all, last time Garfakcy had gotten involved a towering pile of misplaced books had toppled over on him. It had taken Kharl hours to realize he was gone.
Garfakcy sighed, resigning himself, and went to make lemon cheesecake while he waited.
Hours later, the lemon cheesecake was finished, and Garfakcy had started on a three-course dinner out of boredom. When that was finished and Kharl still hadn't come out, Garfakcy decided to check on him. Kharl had been known to disappear for hours at a time while working on projects, but he'd never been gone this long before.
Garfakcy listened at the door for a moment. When he heard no loud crashing sounds, he determined it was safe, and knocked.
"Come in, Garfakcy!" He opened the door and looked around curiously. Sinistora was lying on the floor, surrounded by piles of books and toppled chairs and old experiments. Kharl was sitting on a stack of displaced cushions.
"Well, what do you think?" Garfakcy thought it was a mess, but then he realized Kharl wasn't talking about the room. He looked up, past Kharl, to the huge glass cylinder that stretched from the floor to the ceiling behind him. Something floated inside it. Something with dark hair. Garfakcy stepped closer and put one hand to the glass, examining the still figure. He recognized it immediately… after all, he remembered Rath pretty darn well.
"He's not going to be too happy when he wakes up," Garfakcy said.
"True," Kharl replied, "but I can deal with that." Garfakcy glanced at Kharl. When he turned back to the glass cylinder, Rath's eyes were open.
Rath floated in darkness for a long time. He wasn't sure how long exactly. It was hard to keep track of time when there was no day or night. He didn't really care anyway. Time didn't matter. Nothing much mattered here.
He had a vague feeling there was something he was forgetting. Even the blissful weightlessness of the shadows couldn't completely dispel that fear. It tugged at his conscious continually, filling him with vague worries. He tossed fitfully in the arms of the darkness. Something he was forgetting… something he was trying hard to forget… No… not something, someone… who had helped him. Someone he wanted to go back to.
No! He didn't want to go back! Not to that hell. Even now he could feel the chains that had bound him. An amulet. A body. For the most part, they had loosened and sloughed off. All except one little silver chain that still held fast around his heart. The memory of a girl.
No! Darn it all! He didn't care! So why did he want to know? He screamed the frustrated scream of a soul that knew no peace.
Was he cursed? Was he never to be truly free? Even here, where he should have been beyond the constricting grasp of pain and despair—away from the endless agony of living? It was true then… he could never escape.
Suddenly he was filled with a heaviness he recognized all too well. The heaviness of a body. Shadowy restraints wrapped around him. A new set of chains. They were pulling him away from the sweet oblivion he'd known so briefly. Rath thrashed against them.
No! No, blast it all! He didn't want to go back!
It was no use. He was being wrapped up tighter even as he struggled. Wrapped up in a cocoon of silk—the unbreakable velvet darkness. The memories he'd tried so hard to forget came rushing back. He screamed again. This time with the pain of remembering… everything that had happened… everything he'd been.
The darkness congealed until it became barriers of flesh and bone. Barriers that restrained him as effectively as manacles, keeping him trapped in reality. Trapped in the constant pain of remembering.
Rath fought them. He tried again and again to pull himself free. He threw himself against them with all his might, until his soul was sore trying. He vaguely realized there was something different about this body. It wasn't like his last one. It fit better somehow. Almost like it had been made specifically for him. But it was still a cage. And he still wanted out!
He opened his eyes, ready to give whoever had brought him back a piece of his mind.
Garfakcy barely managed to jump out of the way as Rath's fist cracked the glass. The cylinder shattered, and a flood of water and glass swamped the room. Garfakcy landed on his butt next to Sinistora. The demon dog shook its fur happily, spraying Garfakcy with drops of water. Kharl didn't seem phased at all. He leaned forward, staring intently at the black-haired figure across the room.
In the aftermath of the little tsunami, Rath knelt on hands and knees in the bottom of the cylinder. Water dripped from his dark hair and ran down his arms. Raggedly sharp, glass splinters jutted up from the broken base like a ring of ensnaring daggers. Each reflected its own uniquely broken image of Rath—one seemed to dislocate his arm, another to split his body in three, and yet another fragmented his face into hundreds of pieces. Just like his soul. And the pieces of his life. And when he looked up to lock gazes with Kharl, the hundreds of reflections only mirrored him from the neck down, as though his head had been cut off.
"Why did you bring me back?" Rath's voice was thick with the rage that now seared his soul. He trembled with the force of it. "Why, blast you! I didn't want to come back!" He stood up, and the glass shards in the water cut into his bare feet. But his soul hurt too much to notice it.
"I only wanted you to be happy," Kharl whispered.
"No! Don't you lie to me! You did this for yourself!" Rath realized he was naked. He broke off one of the splinters of glass. It split the palm of his hand open where he gripped it, so that a little rivulet of blood snaked down its edge and dripped steadily from its tip into the water.
"Stop it, Rath." Kharl started to reach out, as though he could stop the blood or keep Rath from hurting himself further, but he halted when Rath flinched away.
"Leave me alone!" Rath lunged forward, the glass sword gripped tightly in his hand. Kharl simply deflected it, and Rath found himself breathing in a lungful of ash. He tried to turn around, and with growing alarm, realized he couldn't. He was paralyzed.
"I can't have you tearing that body apart." Kharl reached out to him. "Come back to me." Rath was having trouble thinking. He tried to take a step forward, but his legs responded sluggishly. He stumbled, and Kharl caught him, clutching him tightly. "I didn't want it to be like this."
Rath's mind was swimming, his vision clouded over. His soul screamed at the injustice. He didn't want to be here. He would have torn this new body to tatters if he could have—and his soul, too, just to end it all. But he could barely support himself. His legs gave out, and he crumpled in Kharl's grasp, hands scrambling to hold himself up. They tangled in Kharl's cloak. He was shaking. He realized that suddenly. Kharl held him tighter.
Acidic memories ate away at the back of his mind. "It hurts…" he gasped. Memories of killing, of ripping, of tearing. He couldn't escape from them!
Blood… blood everywhere…
It was a struggle to stay conscious. Kharl looked into wide crimson eyes… begging… pleading… End it.
"It won't hurt anymore," he whispered. He clasped Rath's hand. "I promise." Rath stared at his hand uncomprehendingly for a second. Then his hold went limp. His eyes slid shut. "It won't hurt ever again."
Clutching Rath with one hand, Kharl unfastened his cloak, wrapped it gently around Rath's body, and bundled the boy into his arms.
Garfakcy sloshed through the water to Kharl's side. "What a mess." He stared around at all the water and wet books and bits of glass. Then he noticed the red stain spreading across Kharl's white cloak. Kharl still hadn't moved. He was staring at Rath's head resting trustingly against his chest. "Kharl," Garfakcy prompted, "he's bleeding all over the place." That seemed to snap Kharl out of his daze.
"We have to hurry." He shifted Rath in his arms. "Rath will wake up soon. Garfakcy, go get bandages."
Rath broke groggily from the darkness when something was pressed to his lips. A glass, he realized.
"Rath, I need you to drink this." Rath twisted his head away, wanting the half-dispersed darkness to take him again.
"Come on, Rath." The cup was placed to his lips again. He could tell they weren't going to give up.
"Fine," he thought, still only half-conscious, "if it'll make them leave me alone." He drank it—swallowing as it was poured into his mouth. Surprisingly, it seemed to bring the darkness back faster. He drifted from reality.
Kharl sat on the couch, running his fingers through Rath's black hair. Rath lay with his head and shoulders on Kharl's lap, still enfolded in Kharl's cloak. One pale hand rested awkwardly in clinically white bandages. Kharl had placed a healing spell on it, but not before a bloody rose had soaked through the bandage. It bothered him somehow to see it there, as though the blood were a testament of his personal failure. An empty glass sat inconspicuously on a nearby end table. The afternoon sun flooded in through a long bank of windows.
Kharl glanced at the empty glass. He'd hoped for so long that Rath would come back to him. Sometimes, during that moment in the morning when he was awake and still dreaming, he knew he would get up and Rath would be waiting for him—that he could open the door and Rath would be standing in the hall, smiling that smile and laughing at him…
But then he'd wake up…
And Rath wouldn't be there. And he'd feel the emptiness steal over his soul, drowning out all warmth, all light. And the world would become a desolate place, not worth living in.
At those times, he would have done almost anything to get Rath back. Almost anything, because of course, he could've forced Rath to come back at any time. He had that power. It would have been simple to incapacitate the Dragon Clan, separate Rath, and take him away. Sometimes he could've kicked himself for not taking him, for not at least trying. But then Rath would never have been able to forgive him. And for all his power, Kharl had been loathe to do something that would make Rath hate him.
Because of the memory of a smile…
His hand stilled in the fine strands of black hair. Yes, he could've taken Rath, but then he would've been forced to subdue Rath, to keep him from running away or killing everyone. Rath would've been a prisoner. And he would never have smiled like that… like nothing had ever happened… like he had never been a murderous monster… like Lykouleon had never found him… and erased his memories… and given him a home.
The thought of Lykouleon having Rath, even briefly, made Kharl want to tear the man apart! He clutched Rath closer to him, as though that alone would keep Lykouleon from repossessing him. Lykouleon couldn't have him! Kharl leaned closer to the still form lying complacently in his lap.
"You're mine," he whispered. "You belong with me." A second passed. Then another.
There was no reply. Black lashes lay like tattered lace along soft skin. Kharl realized his fingers had become pointed claws and forced himself to relax. Several minutes passed.
Finally, Rath's eyelashes fluttered open. He blinked lazily and looked around, taking in the room. A small scowl stole over his face. Kharl felt worry worm its way up inside him. Had he made a mistake?
"Rath…" He brushed Rath's cheek with the tips of his fingers. But the scowl didn't dissolve.
"Kharl?" With his bandaged right hand, Rath reached up, stopping uncertainly halfway in the air. "Kharl, I… I've done something… I can't remember… I've upset you…" Kharl caught Rath's hand.
"It doesn't matter. You're home now. You're safe."
"Yes, I'm… home." Rath couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. But he couldn't remember what it was. It didn't much matter anyway. Kharl was here and everything was obviously all right. He dismissed his worries out of hand. "So… when do we get to go demon hunting?"
Okay, that's it. I don't know if there'll be anymore. There might be if enough people tell me they want more. I sort of have a plot figured out. But even if there does end up being more, I can't promise when I'll get it up. I'm trying to finish up another story first. So if it's decent, let me know. Besides, now that I have Rath where I want him, I can enjoy torturing Kharl. So writing more might be fun.