Loss, Hope, and Redemption: Reflections
The summons had called him from his preoccupation with the mortal realm, called him from watching the humans fight against their natural weakness. On the whole he found them to be an admirable race, if flawed. The worst of them were little better than cattle, but those few who rose to be the best... The few who dedicated themselves, they were the ones who bore watching.
Time and again he'd warned the Grand Lady to mark them and make overtures, but she laughed off his suggestions that one day a mortal might arise possessing the power to slay a God. He'd held his peace, nodding his head to her arguments regarding the boundless power of an immortal when compared to the humans. She thought the best of them still lower than a gnat, an annoyance and nothing more.
The young phoenix didn't envy the God who found, too late, that their power was not sovereign against foolish pride. However fleeting their lives, however their power might be undercut by age or injury, some humans did have the potential to face a God on even ground and emerge victorious. Perhaps the lesson would only be taught to his foolish peers when one of them was finally struck down.
Saffron chuckled to himself, imagining the bitter shame that poor fool would feel when it finally happened. He prayed he would be there to see it: For all their faults, none of the superior examples of humanity seemed to lack tenacity.
The lordling strode confidently through the halls of the Grand Lady's palace, calculating eyes not deigning to acknowledge the servants as he made his way to the main hall. The summons, hand-delivered not by an extension of one of the messenger Gods but by one of them personally, proved just how urgent the matter was.
Saffron's first shock on entering the hall was the emptiness: In a hall where seating was usually limited to the most powerful, everyone present now enjoyed the comfort of a chair. The phoenix grimly noted that there were chairs to spare, now.
Always, the Grand Lady's palace was choked with petitioners: Minor godlings pressing grievences against other inconsequential immortals admist the murky politics of the various pantheons striving for Her ear. The constant distractions provided by such petty bickering were what had driven Saffron to spend a century or two in the mortal realm in the first place.
The lordling pushed aside his shock, his face never betraying any emotion as he calmly strode down the centre of the hall. He stopped and touched both palms and one knee to the ground exactly twenty four paces from the Grand Lady, as befitted his station. His eyes traced the intricate pattern of the carpet as he paused, honouring his liege with a moment's silence.
"The Grand Lady calls and I make all haste to appear," the phoenix murmured, his voice carrying to his master and not to the rabble surrounding her. He took note of the whispers, knowing full well that greetings were customarily spoken loudly, so that all could hear. Tilting his head up and noting the amused smile under strained eyes, he reflected that between them, custom and ceremony held little sway.
It was hard to forget that this was the same slip of a girl playing pranks with him, millenia ago. No matter how far their stations had advanced.
"As you have no doubt noticed, things are much changed at court," the Grand Lady intoned, ceremony as much as anything forming her words. However much he could thumb his nose at the walls that now divided them, she could not. "Treason and rebellion have plagued us the last few days, though thankfully both have been dealt with in all matters save one: That one is the reason you are before me today.
"The leader of the rebels, a powerful dragon, is so far removed from the mortal realm that he cannot be killed. Not as he is now. So we have bound him in a mortal soul, where he shall remain for all time." His Lady's eyes tightened. "To you falls the task of being his jailor. None above you are more suited to the task, and none below you possess the strength needed for the job."
No stranger to the backbiting politics which plagued his old friend's court, Saffron could easily read between the lines: He was being chosen because he was alone among all the Gods powerful enough to do what needed to be done in only one respect: She trusted him, fully and completely.
For hundreds of years, that trust had given him freedom seldom enjoyed by a God of his stature. Now that same trust asked everything from him. Were it not for the naked desperation in her soft, brown eyes, he could have hated her. Instead, pity filled his heart, even as he nodded wordlessly.
He would be bound to the mortal realm. He would stand watch over her enemy until it was safe for him to return to his former freedom, be it in a year or in the days before the end. He could do no less for a woman who had given him the gift of freedom for so long, based on no more than fond memories from her youth.
Thus, was Saffron the Phoenix cast down beside Gong Gong the Dragon. Both made their homes in a small, isolated valley in what would eventually become China. Neither ever learned that the shattering of their balance would come at the hands of a mortal, the Warden.
If he'd known, Saffron would have laughed at the irony.
This is NOT a sequel to Loss, Hope & Redemption, as you may have guessed already.
Rather, it's a companion piece. I'm rewriting Loss, Hope & Redemption and I've discovered that I just don't like the story without keeping it first person, from Ranma's perspective. It is expanding and improving as I rewrite it, this is true, but it's also proving to be limiting to me.
Thus, LH&R: Reflections was born. For every rewritten chapter of Loss, Hope & Redemption, there will be a Reflections chapter taking place during the same time span, viewed from the point of view of one of the characters in the chapter. I decided not to merge the rewrite with this because the chapters in this will not serve the narrative in any way: Loss, Hope & Redemption will be a complete story without a single word from these chapters.
Instead, it's an additional point of view which might provide some additional insight into the motivations of other characters in the story. It's not for everyone, so not everyone will have to suffer through it. I've found, though, that it's giving my long-comatose muse the kick in the ass she needs to get moving.