Disclaimer I don't own Golden Sun/The Lost Age. Which is unfortunate, but not a total loss. This story takes place in Prox, pre-game. I'd say three to four years before the game, before the Mt. Aleph eruption. Enjoy, and review if you feel like it. This was an entry written for Reborn Darkness' (a Golden Sun FF archive) 2007 Winter Holiday contest.
All things considered, the winter thus far had been mild. The snowstorms had been shorter and fewer, and the people of Prox had taken advantage of it. They hunted frequently, preserving what they could, knowing that at any given moment, the weather could worsen. Christmastime in Prox was not ornate. Trees were not set up inside; it was a waste of a good wind barrier, of good wood. Homes were modestly decorated with wood carvings, or stone and crystal chimes. Only on the inside, away from the cold. Unlike other inhabitants of Weyard, those in Prox did not fret over material details of Christmas. No baking or cheerful outdoor activities. No carols; just songs and stories that were warm and comfortable, so that Christmas was not really in fact, Christmas, but rather a community birthday that served as a day for everyone to forget the fate of their home. A day where even the ice around the coldest hearts melted, even a little.
Sitting in front of the hearth, multitasking a book with the dinner she was cooking, was Menardi. Wind whistled through cracks in the windows, snowless, but bitter as always. "You're supposed to be in bed, Karst," she said without looking back. "You're going to pass whatever you've got to someone else in the village. Go read a book or clean if you're bored."
With a defeated sigh, the maroon-haired younger sister turned away from her sneaking to the door. "I'm fine, Menardi," she denied, though the rasp in her voice hinted otherwise. "I've already missed so much training."
"You'll miss even more if I have to put you back to bed myself," Menardi threatened dryly, sending one displeased glance to her stubborn sibling. "Until you're healthy, you're staying inside."
"Menardi!!" With an agitated attempt at suppressing her scream, Karst stormed off and slammed the door of her room shut.
"Little brat..." Shaking her head, Menardi added another block of wood to the fire. "How did I wind up with a blockhead of a sister?"
Behind her course language and irritated muttering was a genuine worry. While sickness and the common cold were not uncommon (Menardi was a victim of pneumonia every winter), Karst had peculiar illness as of late. Symptoms unrelated to anything the healers and apothecaries had seen before. At first it appeared that Karst had contracted the pneumonia that usually plagued Menardi at this time of year. And then her lungs cleared, but the colour never returned to her face. Although she was denying it presently, Karst was weaker and had no appetite. Night fevers were making her delirious, and considering the psynergenic history of their family, that could be dangerous. The absolute LAST thing Menardi wanted to wake up to in the middle of the night was her sister burning down their house because of a bad dream. Karst had been advised to stay within the home, lest it be communicable to the rest of the town.
Menardi appeared to have an immunity to whatever her sister had, and was in charge of the house arrest. So if the confinement was driving the younger mad, the elder had already gone insane. She was, first and foremost, an adept. She was a formal teacher for the adolescents of Prox. Not a babysitter for her teenage sister. Although the stubbornness usually proved to be positive and in favour of Karst, it meant now that her more level-headed sister (so to speak) had to put her usual priorities on hold and keep the other in check.
Which Menardi didn't really appreciate. She wanted Karst to be well, but as the days wore on it became less for Karst's well being, and for Menardi's sanity. She wasn't sure how much more she could take.
Such thoughts were tossed askew when the heavy door swung open and a cloaked figure stepped in. He turned and shoved it closed, brushing snow from his shoulders before pulling back his hood. "By Mars that wind is murder," he said with a shake of his head.
"You're getting my floor wet, Saturos," she greeted with an unhappy glare. "Why are you covered in snow, anyway? It's not blizzarding."
He peeled the cloak away from his armour and draped it over a hook, removing heavy greaves and boots before answering her. "Because last night there was an avalanche. We can't get to the lighthouse..."
"So you had to dig again...was anyone caught in it?" She pulled her feet off of the chair across from her. Saturos shook his head, taking the chair with a grateful sigh.
"No, thankfully. I have a package for you, from the apothecary." He tossed her a square bundle. "They said it should help at least, with the fevers and her stomach. She any better today?"
Dryly Menardi chuckled. "Moody as always."
"I meant her health."
She rolled her eyes. "Same as yesterday, I suppose. She has less energy today, I think. She only got up a little while ago."
Saturos regarded her curiously as she moved between the fire, food, and her novel. "You know..." He smirked.
She handed him a truly evil look. "What, Saturos?" She was in no temperament for smartassedness today.
"You make a pretty good housewife."
"Get to the point of your visit before I skin you and add you to my soup."
"Visit? I live here."
Menardi laughed sardonically. "Only because I was kind enough to give you a place to live after your house was buried."
Saturos stretched, exhaling comfortably. At first he didn't answer her back. "...but you're half the reason I don't have a house right now."
"Shut up or you don't eat."
Menardi had been doing a good job of forgetting that it was her fault Saturos' home had been ruined. Well, she was more than happy to blame her small class, but she should have been paying more attention. So currently it was buried in several feet of snow, with the door welded shut. Thankfully Saturos was good at putting his valuables where the weather couldn't get them. Because it didn't look like his house was a priority, not with other winter preparations.
She set down the book, tossing her blonde hair behind her shoulders. "How do we administer this?" Gently she unwrapped the package, hoping for it to work, but doubting that it would be any different from anything else they'd tried.
Saturos moved then for the kettle. "As tea. Twice a day for five days."
"Wonderful." She had a hard time disguising the sarcasm. She set the package down with as little hostility as she could, knowing it would taste as rancid as it smelled and Karst would be throwing another fit. Menardi was too young to deal with this. She stopped her 'what if' thoughts as Saturos put both hands on her shoulders, rubbing his fingers soothingly over her collarbone. He said nothing until both hands dropped to her sides.
"Relax..." he whispered against her ear. "Everything will get back to the way it was. I promise."
She stared out of the window. "I don't know..."
"It's not genetic, Menardi. Or you'd be sick too." He kissed her cheek, wrapping both arms around her. "Just be patient. If I have to scale the lighthouse myself for a cure, I will."
"Heh...I'd do anything, for her Saturos. Anything."
- - -
"It's nicer than Prox, at least."
"Hmph...those clouds are ominous. Something bad will result of this, Saturos."
The sun was setting in the east, and from where they had set up camp, the entire village was in their view. Menardi combed her hair, attempting to pass the time. It had gone stale as she had sharpened all her weapons and double checked their supplies.
"Well we're not going to die here, no matter what happens," Saturos said decidedly, watching the people return to their homes. "Who else would do something this precarious?"
"Heh!" She shot him a crimson eyed glare. "With that kind of talent, he could get anyone to do what he wanted, I'm sure."
Offering a wry smile, he stood up. "It's worth it. Because this isn't for us." He looked away from Menardi. "First rule of alchemy..."
- - -
"Drink the damn tea before I force it down your throat!"
"I can barely stomach it! Are you trying to kill me!?"
Menardi's eyes lit up dangerously as she pulled the girl up by her nightgown collar. "Listen up, and listen well, Karst. One more complaint out of you, and you'll be nursing bruises on top of the aches and pains of your fevers! You will drink this medicine, you will do as I tell you, and you will do what you can to take this like a woman, and not a petulant child!" Karst met the look with her own glare, however she would not deny that her sister was intimidating and was well on her way of overpowering her. Menardi did not back off. She may as well burst into flame herself. "You are nearly thirteen years old, Karst. Act like it."
"You're not my mother, Menardi!" She winced when she was thrown back down to her bed, and a sharp slap was delivered across her face.
"Do not talk to me that way." The tone had dropped dangerously low. Menardi was usually in check of herself, but when the buttons were pushed, it was safer to be surrounded by explosives. "I've taken care of you for seven years. Show some respect." Leaving the tea on the nightstand she turned and left haughtily, desperately needing something to destroy.
Karst moodily pulled herself upright, cheek stinging. Her joints ached with every movement. Menardi was not gentle when she was getting her point across, either. Karst felt weak. Both physically and emotionally. It was hard to keep up the attitude, but even harder to disregard her pride.
"Can I come in?" Saturos knocked on the door and opened it. Karst pulled the blankets up, not saying anything. She wasn't in any mood to hear a second lecture in ten minutes. Saturos closed the door gently behind him. "Your sister went for a walk," he explained after a moment. "To cool off." He pulled the chair from her desk up to her bed, pausing for a moment in the glow of her lamp. He took her chin in his hand and turned her head. "She got you good."
"Tell me about it..."
"I've been a victim of both that and her backhand more than you, kid."
"That's because you're stupid."
Saturos normally would have given her a look that would have shut her up. One did not just mess with Saturos –he was considered an extraordinary young man, and with good reason too. However, he surprised Karst with a sincere, hearty laugh. "Maybe. Menardi's cute when she's frustrated with me, though."
Karst made a sour face. "There's nothing cute about my sister. She's demonic."
"Must run in the family."
"Ha. Ha –" Before she could finish she broke off into a nasty fit of coughing. A dry cough that sounded just as painful as it felt. Saturos supported her upright posture as she did, the humour gone from his face.
"Seriously, kid, take the medicine...you sound like a dying old man." When she settled back against the pillows, he had the mug in his hands. "I know it's gross, it's all we can smell in the house. But if you die over this, I'll have to do damage control with your sister and I quite like my head where it is. And the village where it is. And Prox wouldn't be Prox if that temper evaporates all the snow. And destroys the lighthouse. And well it would just be a very bad day and I don't really want to have to think about it."
Karst agreeably took the mug with shaking hands, silent. Her stomach flipped with every sip, but she forced herself to keep it down. She was hungry, too, but all the effort of chewing and digesting food exhausted her more than keeping up her cheerful personality. "You don't really think...that I'll die...do you Saturos?" she inquired with her rasping voice, lump forming in her throat. "I...don't want to die."
"Well that's good," he remarked with sarcasm, giving her a small smile.
She laughed feebly in spite of herself. "Shut up."
He put his hand on her shoulder reassuringly. To Karst it felt as heavy as any training weights she'd ever used. "I don't think you're going to die...but just think outside the box for a minute here, okay? Your sister is worried, and you should know her enough that when she hits you, it's because she cares."
Karst didn't look up, feeling very intrigued by the patterns of her quilt. "Well she should stop screaming at me...it's hard to do anything."
Saturos shook his head. "Look...your parents died of some strange illness, one that no one else caught. She thinks it might be genetic, and it probably scares her that there isn't much she can do." He took his hand from Karst's shoulder, leaning back in the chair. "You're all the family that she has. She's your sister, and that's what they do. They worry. Menardi will be high strung until this blows over..."
Karst shook her head. "I haven't gotten any better. I haven't seen the sun...in weeks." He had more to say, but didn't interrupt her. It wasn't likely that Karst would admit her own worries to her sister. Both were proud and independent. They just didn't talk about fears and weakness. "I can't eat. I can barely move. I don't want to sleep anymore...what if I never wake up?"
Saturos leaned over to give her a brotherly embrace. "Then you better hope you're having a good dream." He stood up, taking the empty mug with him. "You're a Proxian, Karst. Remember that. It takes more than a little bad health to kill us off." He left the door slightly ajar as he left. "Besides, chin up –tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The two days of the year when your sister isn't a pathological maniac."
- - -
Menardi was quick to grab Jenna by her throat, shoving her up against the wall. Her physical strength was just as strong as her psynergy. "Don't test me, kid."
Felix glared at Menardi as Saturos stepped between them. "You said you wouldn't hurt her!"
Menardi smiled wickedly. "I'm not hurting her. She can breathe just fine..." Jenna swallowed with difficulty, the defiance having faded from her eyes. Menardi sneered. "Do you think you're the only one with a past, kid?" When Jenna didn't answer she continued. "This pity trip of yours is getting on my nerves, and I'm never in good control of myself when I'm angry." She shoved harder; Jenna yelped. "You shut the hell up about your problems...you're lucky, you and everyone in you pathetic village." Not only was there fire behind her ice, but poison and ice in her words. Jenna first thought the woman was scary, but now, she was frightening. She was sadistic. She was fear incarnate.
Saturos didn't touch her, nor did he step any closer. "Let her down, if she's hurt, she can't do our dirty work for us." He too lacked any warmth in his passions.
Menardi appeared not to have heard him. Baring her teeth, she constricted her grip on Jenna. Her fingers burned. "One more whiny remark out of you, girl, and I'll show you what a life of suffering is. You haven't lost anything!"
"Menardi, enough!" Saturos put a painful grip on her shoulder. "Put her down, now. You're breaking our word to Felix." With a hiss, Menardi let her fall to the ground. Saturos began to walk her away, not once loosening his hold. "Felix, I suggest you teach Kraden and your sister to behave. Promises can be broken." They disappeared in the shadows, neither looking pleased. When they were gone Felix cradled his sister in his arms, casting cure over her bruises.
"I'm scared..I want to go home..." she whispered. "We're not like them."
She didn't understand yet. There was more to it. So much more. "I promise...as soon as we can, we will. You're okay, sis...don't worry. If she ever tries to really hurt you...I'll make her stop. I'll always protect you. Always...that's what big brothers do."
- - -
Karst retired after dinner on Christmas Eve, even though she had only been awake for two hours. Every day before she had displayed her inner fire with every confrontation with her sister. That day, she hadn't. Not once. Not one complaint, sour face, sarcastic comment, or even a smirk. Saturos made no comments on her condition. Menardi noticed. But she too, said nothing. The smell of the herbal remedy did nothing to brighten spirits on a normally happy time. They opted out of meeting with the other villagers for the usual traditions of Christmas. Karst could barely speak, let alone eat or sing. Saturos would not go without Menardi, and Menardi was not stupid enough to leave her sister alone at home.
The wind sounded ghastly against the old windows. Menardi sat enveloped in her thoughts, staring into the fire like it was oblivion. Saturos looked up from his scrolls as she attempted to cover up a sob. Menardi never cried. She just didn't.
"Menardi..?" he questioned cautiously as she turned her face away. She shook her head. "Menardi." He moved towards her, kneeling on one knee. Voice dropped, a hardly audible whisper, he reached out to embrace her. "It's...okay. I won't tell anyone." All guards and normally powerful facade dropped, she wrapped her arms around his neck, face buried. Saturos supported her weight, held her close, let her break for the sake of her own sanity. There had always been people who questioned their relationship, and why Saturos put up with her and her feminism. He had questioned it sometimes, when they fought.
But not now. It was those moments, where her pain hurt him and her scars left him bleeding, that he knew he would always be by her side. There would always be hurtful words and disagreements and her own general refusal to be any kind of damsel or girlish woman. But they just were. And it hurt him now. It hurt terribly. With only crackling flames in the hearth to keep them company, he kept his silence. Words were nothing in these times.
"It's not fair..."
"I'll fix it, Menardi, I swear..."
She tensed, but he didn't back off. "Saturos..." The moment was cut short to knocking on the door.
Saturos stood. "I'll get it." He made no haste to the door as Menardi composed herself. He felt strong and unfamiliar psynergies from outside the door. He gave the sword at his side a reassuring pat before wrenching the door open.
There stood a man bundled in heavy clothing, with pale skin and hair. He was not of Prox, and this alone gave Saturos enough reason not to trust him. His blue eyes were calculating.
Saturos was guarded. "Good evening." He stepped back to allow the man inside. It was terribly cold out, and Saturos was fairly certain that letting a stranger in was a worthwhile risk of conserving heat. The man pulled away his hoods and scarves, revealing a pretty, angular face and an unprejudiced expression.
"Can we help you?" Menardi sensed it too. Her face had resumed its natural scowl, hips cockily swayed to the side with a hand on her waist.
The man smiled mysteriously, a smile Saturos did not like. "Perhaps you can...you appear to be adepts of considerable prowess..."
Saturos did not let him step in further. "Get to the point."
The man raised his hands. "Ah, soon enough, soon enough my friends. Believe me...if you can help me, I have much to offer you in return. My name is Alex...I hail from Imil, a village a short distance away from the Mercury Lighthouse."
The same thought ran through both of them. A mercury adept. Saturos looked him over. There was more to him than what appeared. "And what is someone from the mainlands doing here?"
Alex shook his head. "Tsk, tsk...so many questions..." From his satchel he drew a small bottle of sparkling water. "If my information is correct, there is an ill young lady here..." To this, he teasingly offered them the bottle. "My clan is skilled in the art of healing...and I have here, the Water of Hermes." He smirked to the flicker in Menardi's eyes.
"I will give you this, and my services...for a small price."
Menardi stepped up, eyes burning holes into him. "Name it." Saturos clenched a fist, his jaw setting. He would always be by her side...always.
- - -
"Relax, my dear Menardi. Those children will not be able to overpower the both of you. Not so long as you use your resources correctly." Before anymore could be said, Alex disappeared. Menardi threw her fist down onto the wooden table in anger.
"Oh that cocky son of a bitch!" she snarled, fists igniting in flame. "We're just puppets to him...tools! Pawns! How I'd love to wipe that smirk off of his face..."
"Wouldn't we all," Saturos remarked dryly, glancing to Felix and their hostages, who remained silent, but clearly agreed.
Jenna stood up and stepped forward, meekly at first, but respectful. "Why do you continue to do what he says? You're in charge of yourselves, you know...and you know how to save Prox now. Why do you need him?"
Menardi turned away from her, refusing to meet any gazes. "Hmph."
Saturos swirled the drink in his glass. "What do you know about alchemy, Jenna?"
She paused, not expecting that question. "Alchemy? Well, not much..."
"I beg to differ," Kraden sniffed, turning his nose up indifferently. "I've taught you young 'uns quite a bit if I do say so myself!" As per usual, he was ignored.
Saturos watched the bubbles in the ale as if they held all the answers. "Do you know the first and golden rule of alchemy, Jenna?"
It took her a moment of thought. "Oh...um, yes. Equivalent exchange...nothing can be gained without losing something of equal value. That's the theory, isn't it?"
"It's the truth," he corrected, as Menardi took her silence elsewhere, gazing heatedly out the window. "You can't have anything without giving something up...and this rule often applies to much in life. It's just ironic that it happens to be why we are on this quest to bring alchemy back to the world."
She sat down at the table across from him, glancing to her brother. Felix knew, she realized. But he had said nothing. Sworn to secrecy, perhaps? "What do you mean?"
His smile gave her chills. "Menardi and I owe Alex a great deal. This was the agreement we made when he gave us something long ago."
"What on earth could possibly cost your freedom, and even your lives, to this extent?" Jenna frowned. "That's just not right."
"He gave our people hope...a chance, to save our home and our history from oblivion."
It was then that Menardi re-entered the conversation. "And even more than that...he saved the life of someone I have sworn to always protect." When her gaze met Jenna's, Jenna recognized the look, the responsible look that her brother wore every day. "And remembering that, little girl, is why we will never betray him, and we will do as we have been asked."
"We wouldn't trade what he has given for anything. Not even our freedom," Saturos finished. "This is why we will fight your friends atop the lighthouse, when we reach it. This is why we are merciless."
"I see...so it's the only way." Subdued, Jenna retreated back to her brother's side. "I just wish...we could tell Isaac...make him understand."
Saturos laughed. "Alex would never allow that..."
"But he could help—"
"Isaac and his friends are a threat to Alex,"Saturos interjected.
Sheba glanced up. "It's admirable, isn't it." Her powers had nothing on her natural perception. "Perhaps this Isaac...will be the one to bring Alex to his knees."
Menardi chuckled darkly. Saturos smirked. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here...he has to make it past us first."
- - -
"When your sister awakens tomorrow, she will be fine," Alex explained as he took a seat at their table. "This is common in Imil...nothing that the water and ply spells cannot fix."
"Thank you," Menardi replied, usual stiffness dissipating. "Now what is it you want in return?"
Alex's smile gave chills. "Since the loss of alchemy, Prox has been moving toward the edge, has it not? So in doing what I need you to do, alchemy will be re-released upon the world, preventing the waters from swallowing your home. I've already spoken to your leader about it...he says you two are probably the best for the job."
"Listen up." Saturos put his hand down on the table. "All this fluffy stuff, you can cut it out. Get to the point, we already agreed to help you. Bonus if it saves Prox."
"Fine..." Alex didn't like his attitude. "You will go to a village called Vale, one that guards the base of Mount Aleph. From there you will steal the elemental stones...I don't care if it takes you a month, I don't care if it takes you three years –you will remove these from their hiding place and you will search out the lighthouses. Once all four have been lit, you may return to Prox. The journey will be long and likely difficult...but I will train you."
"We're not scared," Menardi assured him. "But it can wait a few days...it's Christmas, after all."
Alex smiled forced cheerfulness. "Yes, my dear Menardi...but the exchange has just begun. I appreciate your cooperation...I'm sure you'll find this to be much fulfilling."
"I'm sure." Menardi stood. She wanted him out. "We do have an inn, though it's not been used in some time. We can speak again tomorrow."
"Yes, we can draw the contract then...adieu, my friends. Merry Christmas." He closed the door behind him, and Menardi took Saturos' hand.
"This means so much, Saturos...but we can't ever tell her."
"No. She'll want to come too."
Menardi nodded. "I say, we don't tell her that we're leaving...leave a letter. I'll ask Tiffie to look after her...they won't let her follow us. And we'll visit, when she'd older." She looked up at him, with a genuine, relieved smile. Saturos returned it, knowing that these moments may never occur again.
"We'll take this on together...I will be with you." He kissed her knuckles. "Until death."
Menardi brought herself close, embrace tight. "Until death it is, my love."
- - -
"!!" Felix ran for the edge. "Sheba!"
The situation was dire above. Within the depths of the ancient lighthouse, it was worse. Saturos choked on blood, but he spit it out, and knowing he was going to die, ignored his wounds and made his way to Menardi's mangled body. She gave a weak smile as he cradled her cheek in his palm.
"This is it for us, love."
"Always so negative, Saturos."
With struggle he laid close to her, shielding her body with his. "Realistic. We tried our best..."
"Ugh..." Menardi closed her eyes for a moment, heaving a painful breath. When she reopened them, the sparkle of tears edged the corners. "I hope that Karst won't be too stupid over this."
He laughed, a gurgling sound. His punctured lungs were quickly filling. "Don't...don't bet on it. She's just like you."
"I'm never getting a new house from you, am I?" He laughed again, brushing the hair from her face. "You're beautiful."
Menardi laughed. The tears rolled down her cheeks. "I g-gave my life for hers now...officially...she..." Menardi gasped for air. "Better not waste it!"
No longer able to support his own weight, he turned and laid next to her, arms pulling her close. "She won't. Just like you."
"Sh-shit...we're dying, huh?" The lighthouse was caving...water was leaking through the walls.
"So far from home..." He managed a weak kiss.
"But we're together..."
"I promised you. Until death."
"I'm never leaving your side. Not til' death, Saturos. Not even after. Not ever." She closed her eyes in defeat.
"Does this...make us martyrs? Dying for our cause?"
"N-no...Alex is no saviour...for what it's worth, Saturos..." Her grasp on him weakened. "...I always wanted to die...like this..."
"I would have my end no other way." One last explosion engulfed them in light, before the building collapsed in on itself and fell to the sea.
Jenna would later speculate on her own, mourning, when no one would see. There was once a time where Saturos and Menardi, were not so different from she and her friends. They had not always been like that. Once, they might have been kind, loving, merciful. Once they might have had hopes, and dreams, and humble desires in life. One Christmas wish, out of kindness, out of love, made them cruel. They had not always been like that. But they were now. Foreigners, and demons, to the ignorant and naive. Heroes to their people. They were to be honoured. The beacon that some would always follow.
- - -
"Have you made your decision yet?"
Attitude, anger, Karst turned on the stranger. "Of course I have, you moron." She clenched her fist. "I will avenge them! I will have this boy's head on a platter!"
As the man left, Agatio reached out for Karst's shoulder. "I'll help. Honest I will."
Karst nodded, tears of anger and frustration streaming down her cheeks. "He has ruined everything...I will never let him escape me. Menardi promised she would come...she told me she would come home!" What a vicious cycle...once burned, twice as shy.
"I hate this season, Agatio," she whispered, glaring at the sky as the snow fell. "She promised me she'd be home."
I am dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road backI promise you
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find you
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams