The house had stood for over two hundred years, a testament to not only the incomparable Asturian architecture but also the proud lineage of the family that called it home. The décor was elegant, and never overdone. Upon the walls hung portraits of ancestors who had distinguished themselves in service to their country and the weapons they used to do it. Both portraits and arms were crafted by master artisans. There was not a piece of furniture within that was not antique. The floors over which the estate's many servants now tread had borne many a noble during the lavish gatherings held there over the years. From its lofty station in the forest that marked the border of the capital city Palas, it drew the envy and admiration of all that saw it.

None of this gave any sort of comfort to the boy who now served as the estate's master.

It was long past the hour when he should have risen and taken breakfast in the spacious dining room. The cooks had dutifully prepared his favorites and then watched as they grew stale and cold when he failed to appear. They cleared away the uneaten repast with knowing nods to one another. They understood. He had, after all, buried his mother just one day ago. A formality such as breakfast was trivial in comparison.

The boy himself remained in his bedroom. He was awake but unable to summon the will to leave his feather bed. Sunlight filtered in through the large windows, forcing him to blink and squint as he contemplated the ceiling. He had grown accustomed to the darkness brought on by the constant rain of the past few days. When he determined that the fresco above him was unchanged from the previous morning's study, he rolled to his side.

He knew he had several more hours until any of the servants would bother to look in on him. They were concerned about him naturally, but hadn't a clue as to how to deal with him. Exchanges with them before had been polite and pleasant. Now they were hesitant and awkward. How does one talk to a child who's lost the whole of his family? What words of solace could be offered that didn't seem empty or trite? Not having the answers to those questions, the servants approached him cautiously or avoided him altogether.

He didn't hold it against them. Honestly, he was grateful for it. He hardly knew how to act himself let alone how to react to others. After the initial flare of grief following the doctor's pronouncement of his mother's death, he had settled into a state of numbness. He let events carry him. The preparations for the funeral, the service at her graveside, the somber reception at the estate afterwards - he moved through them all with a vacant stare and a fog over his emotions.

He wondered how long he could continue on like this. Things would get easier. Time would heal his wounds. His family would live on as long as he kept them in his heart. He had heard these and a dozen other platitudes from the fellow mourners and curious onlookers at the funeral. Their intentions were theoretically good, but he couldn't find any meaning in their clichés. He couldn't find meaning in much of anything anymore. And yet, somehow, he was supposed to go on.

His mother wouldn't have liked seeing him like this. When she was alive, Encia Schezar simply wouldn't have her children being anything but exemplars of happiness. No matter what problems loomed, there were always picnics to go on, trips into Palas to be taken, gifts to be unwrapped. She filled the house with flowers and as many visitors as she could get to come. An endless stream of nondescript guests compensated for the absence of one person in particular. He and his sister, Celena, had delighted in the constant activity and attention. They had been the beatific Schezar children, perfect in every regard. They played hand in hand, always laughing and golden while their beloved mother proudly looked on.

It was only now that the picture of perfection was forever distorted that he could see the façade it had truly been. The parties and presents were nothing but distractions, his mother's attempt to have the ideal family while lacking the technicality of a father. It didn't make any difference whether it was a sad delusion or a deliberate effort on her part to shield her children. The protection from harsh reality that had previously kept him content now only left him unable to cope with the sorrow that faced him.

Still, the boy he once had been retained a sense of importance in appearances and managed to convince him to get up. He fumbled out of bed and exchanged his nightclothes for more suitable attire. He put on the pale blue silk shirt that his mother had given him shortly after his father's last departure. Soft leather breeches and boots imported from Egzardia completed the outfit. He ran a brush through his lengthy blonde hair. Encountering knots, he pulled them out rather than taking the time to comb them out. His mother loved his hair. She encouraged him to keep it long. His mother wasn't here now.

After tying his hair back, he felt composed enough to go out to the house proper. He opened his bedroom door and was relieved to see no one in the hallways. He wasn't hungry despite the missed breakfast. He didn't feel like going to the kitchen anyway. The cooks and possibly a maid or two would be there. He wanted to avoid conversation. He could go to the library. The servants hardly ever entered that room unless it needed cleaning. He could go to the sitting room. There would be no guests to receive for quite some time to come. He could go outside. The gardeners would be too busy catching up on their missed work to pay any attention to him. He could go anywhere. If only he wanted to go somewhere.

He walked without a decision on a destination. He would go where he would go. In his aimlessness, he passed by his mother's bedroom. The door was open, giving him a view of her bed and a chair beside it. After she had fallen ill, he had spent all of his waking hours sitting in that chair. Even after a servant would take him away and put him to bed, he would wait until all was quiet and sneak back to the chair. It was his place. He was needed there. He would talk to his mother and read her stories. He would beg her to come back. The doctors told him she was unreachable in her condition. She would not hear him, she would not understand him. But he talked on. She was his mother; of course she would listen to him.

'Don't leave me alone. Don't leave me alone'. It became his mantra. These were the magic words that would heal her. A maid had suggested bringing a priest to house to pray for a miracle, but he refused. The Schezars were never ones for church - his father had no good for organized religion and his mother went along to avoid conflict - and he didn't want strangers hovering over his mother, chanting their personal axioms. He was her son; his voice alone would call her back to him.

But it hadn't. Her bed was empty and it would remain so. The servants had already changed the bedding. Soon, they would move the chair to a more practical place and cover the rest of the furniture with cloths to keep the dust off. The room would go into storage and remain as she left it. It would become a shrine, a perpetual reminder of the one who no longer had any use for it.

Odd that he never associated his father with the room. When his father was in residence, he always shared it with her. Looking around the room though, he saw nothing that belonged to the man. He must have taken whatever personal effects he had with him when he left for the final time. Either that or they were still in the one room of the house that had been Leon Schezar's and Leon Schezar's only.

His father's study was down the hall, stuck in the furthest corner of the house. The location might have been symbolic; he didn't know his father's mind well enough to say. He had never been in it. He and Celena both had avoided the room. No one had told them to, it was something that was understood. This was their father's space; they were not to intrude. Only his mother ever invaded the study and she would do so only when his father was away. He gave her plenty of opportunities.

Without realizing it, he had walked to the study's door. He reached for the handle but hesitated. His father had been gone for months. He hadn't sent any letters informing them of his whereabouts as he usually did. It was highly doubtful he would ever be coming back. He certainly wouldn't be walking through the front doors this very moment. And yet the door stayed closed.

Wasn't this always the problem he had with his father? A distance that forced him to view the man from afar with a sense of awe. Like everyone else in Asturia, he knew him as a famous adventurer first, a man second and a father a far off third. He recalled the attempts his father made at being close to his family. Odd gifts from countries he'd never heard of. His hand on his shoulder and a rare hug. Sad looks in his eyes that he couldn't begin to decipher.

He left the study behind him. He wouldn't be delving into the enigma of his father today, if ever. For one to be curious, one had to care. And after years of his father making it very clear that his priorities did not lie with his family, he had given up trying to return a sentiment that was not there.

He resumed walking, again without purpose. His feet carried him past vacant room after vacant room until he came to the emptiest room of all. Just a short time ago, this room held the laughter of a little girl as she played with her dolls and teased her brother. The dolls remained on their shelves, gathering dust and neglect. Her brother was morose, disconnected from the touch of others.

Before, at this time of the morning, she would be begging to go outside, to run along the expansive fields of the estate. There were flowers for her to pick, deer to chase, butterflies to catch - a whole world for her to explore and light up with her presence.

Was she carrying that light with her now? Or had it been extinguished, leaving her as alone in darkness as he was? It was difficult for him to picture Celena as anything other than joyous and sparkling. Worse still to picture Celena as not being anything at all. She had to be alive. She had to be out there somewhere. If he would only look hard enough...

But he would never find her here. He would never find anything in this house again. The only things that remained were ghosts - the wraiths of what once was that brought memories not for comfort, but to mock him for what he had lost. Room after room of reminders that whispered 'You will not have this again.' He could hear the echoes beginning to stir.

So he walked once more. He walked past the maid that asked him if he all right. He walked past the portrait of his shattered family that hung in the foyer. He walked through the front doors of the estate. He walked through the fields, following the phantom of a girl who was his last chance of salvation.

He walked away from the pain and bitterness of his past and into whatever his future might hold...


Author's Notes - Believe it or not, I wrote this fun little piece while watching reruns of the Simpsons. I needed a break from my Escaflowne magnum opus 'The Secret Life of a Girl' (feel free to read that too) and wanted to write something much, much, much shorter. Since 'Girl' is Eries' story with Allen on the side, I decided to give him his own piece. Nothing beats a gloomy, messed-up Allen for this fangirl.