Jade's Play-date with Death

Normal days came easily to the Silver Resort, Keterburg, of Malkuth. Though political tension with Kimlasca threatened to shatter the nation's peace, almost nothing could touch this wintry town in the far northern reaches of the world of Auldrant. On their solitary isle province, the people of Keterburg enjoyed their snow, their gambling, and all-around relaxing lives. For some, it could've even been taken as a breeze, a breeze full of listless wonder. This was the common life.

Not quite for Jade Balfour, however.

Stranger among children.

Genius among everymen.

Devil child and prince of sarcasm.

And yet, his sister still loved him. His friends still cherished him. Jade was a novelty these precious few fought to hold on to. Even if it meant often suffering the chilled flames of his bored brown eyes, the lashing of his sardonic tongue, his cold demeanor altogether, this boy was certainly a character. Because they knew, and he knew, though tried to ignore it, that deep down he meant well. Jade wasn't bad so much as misunderstood and confused by his own intellect. Jade was a child full of deadly mystique that would one day lead him to become a great, albeit tricky, man.

Yes, the days came easily in Keterburg. They came easy, but at a slant for the young Balfour. Or a downright perilous slope.

"Jaaaaaaade, wait for meeeeee!"

"... not now..."

A twiggy white-haired boy in a purple shirt clumsily ran through a snowball fight in the middle of the town park, followed shortly by two blondes. All except the pretty boy of the blond duo were dressed a bit too lightly for the weather, but no one ever quite made a fuss. Some of the natives were just far more used to the cold than others. But Jade's friend, Peony, wasn't a native at all. He came from the sunny capital of Malkuth, Grand Chokmah. So he bundled up nearly every inch of his body. In his narrow blue eyes, Jade could see the envy seething, to which he could only smirk.

"You're going up by Mt. Roneal, aren't you?" asked the first boy, his nose suddenly running over with frosty snot. "It's too dangerous to go alone! C'mon, take me with you."

"Don't forget about us, brother," said the blonde girl, wiping the fog out of her glasses with the sleeve of her white jacket.

"Nephry, instead of going to Roneal, how about sharing some of that sweet warmth with me?" The walking clod of scarves and fur huddled closely against Jade's sister, forcing her to stumble forward.

"Peony, stop it!"

"Sorry, friends...and Saphir, but for once, I'd like to take a stroll by myself," Jade said indifferently, earning vast amounts of protests from Saphir and Nephry. He smirked almost fiendishly, shrugged off their hard stares with just a heave of his shoulders. "We can't always be joined at the hip, my dear sister. And you, well, I don't want a joined anything with you. Sorry."

"You're so meeeeean," the white-haired boy whined, an angry snot bubble ready to explode in his own mouth. "Fine, Jade, take your stupid walk."

"Am I the only one who saw this coming?" voiced Peony, struggling past a thick red scarf. "You guys know Jade. Let the lone wolf have his fun. But remember, my friend, no killing anything under two feet tall with big baby eyes. That...does indeed count babies."

"I'm hurt. See you guys later."

"Stay safe, Jade!"

Almost no intelligent man, woman, or child made plans for a simple stroll towards Mt. Roneal. The mountain and the snow fields surrounding it harbored some of the deadliest beasts in the world. So naturally, a regular person would look at the slender-bodied adolescent that was Jade and think he had a death wish. But his fair skin, fawn hair, and jaded expression belied the fact that his intelligence lent him strength, strength unimaginable for a mere child. He loved the destructive force of fonic artes, practicing until he was an arte or two short of becoming a master at his tender age. So he actually had little problem dealing with the beasts of Roneal. He feared no death, barely even knew the meaning of the word for all his knowledge.

Light snow began to fall on top of Jade's head as he neared the sparse woods far north of Keterburg. He enjoyed knowing he could cross the relentless tundra in hardly a second breath, proudly aloof in his invincibility. This was what a stroll was all about. Now, if only a few monsters crossed his path. Although he hesitated at meeting littler things, due to Peony's warning. Neither he nor his sister Nephry approved of his blasting away poor creatures no larger than a dog or cat. Jade often came away feeling displeased that he couldn't demonstrate his power the way he wanted to. A terrible thing, restraint.

"Hmm, I detect a strange amount of fonons," he muttered to himself, gazing intently over his shoulder. Behind him, the Keterburg Hotel, tallest building in town, still peeked over the horizon, along with a slew of roofs huddled lowly around it. But other than that, apart from the occasional monster crossing his old path, he was alone on these snowy fields. "It feels almost...strong enough to be sentient. Now, just what could you be...?"

A calm icy breeze kicked up, tossing his short hair to one side and scattering snowflakes across his white cheeks. Unthinkingly, Jade ran the back of his hand across his face to wipe away the coldness, then continued pondering the mysterious presence he sensed nearby.

He saw nothing, but he felt something. As a rule of thumb, fonons were atomic particles that made up every living and nonliving thing. As an element on its own, it was never, if rarely seen in a manifest form. Just like the wind. But for those special situations when a certain fonon started gathering, either a crystallization or clear physical figure would appear. For even in their rarity, Jade saw crystallized fonons more than often enough, in books or otherwise. But to see a fonic sentience…

It'd been a secret dream of his, to meet something like Shadow or Undine, or definitely the theorized but never proven Lorelei of the newly discovered Seventh Fonon. Having read and learned these things in school, he grew too interested for his own good. All this knowledge of fonons, their 'guardians', fonic artes and so much more just ached to be witnessed firsthand. So he could grow smarter, stronger.

His hands stuffed securely in his pockets, Jade bent at the knees and lifted his chin to the air. Calmly, he warned, "I know you're out there. It's not nice to stalk poor little children, you know."

"What poor little children? All I see is a devilish punk looking for trouble…"

"Terribly sorry for having some spirit in me. I just love life."

"Oh, this'll be fun."

Jade squinted hard against the lazy falling snow. He could see darkness struggling to form beneath the fall of unrelenting white, buzzing and humming beyond the whistling breezes. The boy crooked a tired eyebrow at the see-through black amassing before him, decidedly nodding at what was happening right then and there. It didn't feel like a monster of any sort that Jade knew; it was indeed a mass of sentient fonons. Darkness. The First Fonon.

"So…you're Shadow?" he asked in due wonder. "The superior mind of darkness comes knocking at my door, of all doors? Should I say I'm flattered?"

"Not quite Shadow, although, yes, be very flattered… You could say he's my dear old papa. And I'm the rebel prince."

"…I can now admit that you've left me at a loss," Jade mumbled, standing straight. What manner of conscious fonons would ever speak like a rowdy teenager? It just didn't make sense. And he wanted to know why. Not only that, the boy had to wonder why this thing chose to bother him. True, as just a kid strolling out in the middle of a snow field at the foot of a deadly mountain could draw attention from nearly anything, he was sure fonons had better things to do than mess with him. Like float around. Floating around was nice.

"I am Death, plain and simple. Although, pops says to leave it to nature. But hell, aren't we nature, too?"

"Haha, oh wow," Jade laughed, cupping a hand over his mouth. "I've never met fonons so obnoxious."

"The pot calling the kettle black."

"Oh, I'm far too fair-skinned so I'm afraid that doesn't apply to me," the boy shrugged. "Keterburg never was home to many black pots."

The darkness huffed as if in irritation to Jade's smart mouth. But unfazed, it billowed at the edges, filling out in places that started to resemble a head and arms and even gaining several feet over the boy himself. The mass of First Fonons towered like a black cloud, its arrogant chuckle echoing. But Jade stood his ground, one hand in a pocket and the other touching his chin in piqued interest.

"You're funny, you know that? I admire you, human. To an extent. But you should be cowering before your maker."

"You think you can kill me?" Jade broke out in an unrestrained cackle, his head thrown so far back, his neck was close to snapping. "I didn't know you elements had a sense of humor."

"We can laugh just like humans do. Watch me virtually split at the seams."

Jade prided himself in having the reflexes of a cat, but perhaps this time, he underestimated the daunting cluster of darkness. Just a little.

But there were no hard feelings. For an element, these fonons had the sweet embrace of a caring lover. Or a loving caretaker. He surely felt himself pushed to his knees before he knew it, one arm stretched uncomfortably over his head and the other held close to his chest. For something almost made of nothing, it was powerful, much more than Jade first gave credit for. Then, in the dark corner of his mind, he realized. How could he fight something every living thing was made of? Oh, Jade, what a pickle you're in now. Next time, don't be so eager to insult sentient fonons. They have feelings, too. Unfortunately.

"I hate to say it," Jade uttered, with a subdued grin on his face, "but I think we should've at least had dinner and a movie before getting to first base…"

"You're such a card."

Jade felt his own body shivering as the darkness suddenly whirred to life around him, almost sucking him in like a throbbing heart. Obviously, it was growing a little more solid, a little more human shaped. When he looked up, his assumption was right. The black cloud filled out until the boy eventually spied a smooth contour of a face gazing down into his. Soft, red light poked out of the face of darkness like menacing little slits for eyes; rippling curtains of fonons showered down from the top of its head, oddly solid enough to stave off the falling snow but not the intensifying cold.

"Why don't you tremble in fear? But don't worry, either way the death I give is actually quite sweet."

Jade fell unusually quiet. He mused, he mulled. Was this how all people met their end? A haughty spirit comes and takes them away? Part of him felt disappointed. There weren't any bells, fantastic fanfare, a fight to the death and a cheering crowd. Right here, at the foot of Mt. Roneal where no one but a monster might see, he would just get swept off the mortal coil like dust from a tabletop.

Finally, the boy sighed. "Just make it quick, if you're going to kill me."

"You're no fun. Where's your fear, your sense of death? You've never even thought about it, have you? All you humans are the same. I'm so appalled, I don't know if I feel like killing you now."

"Wait, what?"

The darkness threw Jade flat on his back in the snow, surrendering its see-through arms to the tranquil tundra winds. Dumbstruck, the boy lay there, staring at the man-shaped mass of dark fonons seeming to pace back and forth but only a moment.

"You humans. You have no respect for death. Maybe I should just go haunt someone else. Or, I guess I could always team up with Gnome and terrorize some folks with miasma. Got to love inflicting slow deaths. Well, whatever. Goodbye for now, boy. Maybe I'll return when you least expect it."

In a swirl of noxious cloth, the sentient fonons were gone. Jade was once again completely alone on the snow fields. He sat up, shaking the crunchy whiteness off of his clothes.

"How… anticlimactic?"

From Sixth: Just wanted to try writing Jade since I had so much fun playing Tales of the Abyss. Nyah, just once. I feel so vague. Time for more book learnin'.