Summary: It's not easy to let go of the past... Numair says goodbye to part of his old life and begins to move on.
Timeline: A couple of months after Realms of the Gods; probably somewhere around the end of Little By Little, or just after.
Genre: Soft angst, maybe? Nothing too depressing, I hope.
Notes: I really don't quite know where this came from. I missed writing Numair-introspection, and I've mentioned several times that he deserved more closure than he got. So, enjoy.
Numair wasn't quite sure why he was doing this. The end of the summer and the start of the autumn had been very busy; now that things were finally starting to calm down and return to normal, he should have been back at the palace, curled up in bed with Daine and trying to catch up on months of missed sleep, or finding more pleasant things to occupy them both. Instead, he was out here, flying through a miserably damp afternoon not far from Legann, hawk's-eye vision scanning the war-ravaged landscape.
He'd had more than enough of this place the last time they'd been here, but despite that, here he was again. Alone, which wasn't really helping his state of mind; he hadn't told Daine where he was going, only that he had something he wanted to do on his own. She hadn't argued; he suspected she knew what he was doing – she always had been able to read him better than anyone else. He really didn't want company for this, but perversely he still missed her.
The quicker you get this stupidity over with, the sooner you can go home, he told himself, not for the first time, and banked slowly, wheeling into a broad circle as he scanned the landscape again. All right... well, over there was Legann itself, the land around it churned up from the armies that had fought there; winter would bury the ground in snow, and come spring there would be little sign that anything had happened. Nature recovered quickly. And over there, a league or so distant, was the area of ground where he and Hadensra had duelled; he shivered reflexively, noting the blackened ground. That would take longer to recover; to his eyes, the landscape still glittered with the residue of their Gifts. His destination today, however, lay elsewhere.
The black hawk flew on slowly, gliding when he could, trying to save energy – it had been a long flight, and he suspected it would be spring before he recovered, too; he was still bone-weary. They all were. All the more reason to stop messing around, go home and rest, he chided himself. He wasn't sure this was necessary, but it felt like something that he needed to do. At the very least, it might help stop his dreams; Daine was tolerant of his restless sleep, since she had her own share of nightmares, but he was getting fed up with it.
He stopped and circled, flying higher to see more of the land below him. This was approximately the right place, but it was still a large area to search. It would have been more sensible to bring Daine with him, or at least to have asked her for more details, but... but he hadn't, and it was a bit late to regret that now. He'd decided to do this alone, for whatever reason; so be it. He started to quarter the ground, surveying it as methodically as he could manage, reminded for a moment of watching Stormwings searching for him in the same manner four years ago.
Thoughts of Stormwings led to thoughts of Rikash as well as the real reason he was here, and he sighed, pushing the thoughts away and paying attention to what he was doing. The war was over; if the gods were kind, he'd never have to see a war again. He wasn't cut out for it. Surely the gods owe us a favour, he mused sardonically, briefly amused at the thought; he didn't think it worked like that, somehow. Pay attention, Numair. It's cold up here.
Finally he spotted a faint glimmer of magical residue that wasn't the Gift, and dropped closer to look. Stormwing magic was red and gold, for some reason; there were traces of it, but mostly the gleam he could see was a strange oily shimmer, reddish-greenish-purple with sparks of the silver-white fire that he associated with divine magic. Chaos. Spiralling downwards into the trees, he found a clear space to land and shifted back to human form, taking a few minutes to stretch and wincing as his joints protested. It wasn't only his mind that was tired; the past year had given him an unwelcome insight into what old age would be like, assuming he lived that long.
"I really am in a cheerful mood," he muttered, running his fingers into his hair and pulling it back into a tail once more, tying it out of his way as he replaced the hair tie he'd lost somewhere. Then again, his mood was perhaps understandable, given why he was here. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he began walking towards the shimmer he had seen from the air.
It was unnaturally quiet; over the past four years he'd learned to pay close attention to the animals and birds around him, and there were very few here, which indicated that he was probably in the right place. He was downwind, too, which provided him with another clue to his destination; grimacing, he swallowed and switched to breathing through his mouth. Nothing would eat a dead Stormwing, including other Stormwings. No animal would ever be that desperate. After a few minutes Numair moved into the open and spotted a half-hidden gleam of metal; slowly he walked over and stood looking down at the thing he had sought.
Ozorne didn't look any better in death than he had in life, especially since the part of him that was human flesh had decayed considerably over the couple of months since the battle. His features were unrecognisable now, which was perhaps for the best, but it was definitely him; the hair gave it away, still braided in places. Numair smiled mirthlessly, remembering Rikash promising to keep a braid as a souvenir. You never did catch up to him, old friend. Too busy playing two-legger hero like a fool from a saga.
Studying the remains of the immortal's corpse, Numair moved upwind and crouched, hunkering down on his heels. "Hello, Ozorne."
He regarded the twisted metal and rotting flesh that was all that remained of the former Emperor Mage, but his dark eyes weren't seeing a dead Stormwing. He was remembering a confident, arrogant boy with a bold smile and a quick temper, who had once befriended an awkward young mage. That had been about fifteen years ago; not very long in the history of the world, but it felt like several lifetimes. Both of them had changed a great deal since then.
Pensively, he thought about Carthak. He had been happy enough as a student, mostly; he'd always felt a bit out of place, a little restless, never truly happy, but he hadn't been unhappy either. And whatever Ozorne believed, he really had been the Emperor's friend, and would never have betrayed him. Once, he would have died for Ozorne without a second thought; a year ago, he'd been willing to die in order to kill him.
"Life's a funny thing," he said quietly to the dead immortal. "Well, ironic, rather than funny, I suppose. Not that you'd know. You brought it all on yourself, you know. If you'd just left Daine alone, you probably would have got away with it. I was terrified of you and I would have been happy to stay well clear of you, but... well, you said it yourself. You knew how I felt about her, even if I didn't. But you didn't realise just how far we were both willing to go for each other – she was the only reason I was there in the first place. If you'd left her alone, I wouldn't have used that simulacrum to let you think you'd won. And if you hadn't gone after me, she wouldn't have let the Graveyard Hag use her to bring you down. You never did understand love, and for that, I think I actually feel sorry for you."
Numair rocked back on his heels, studying what was left of Ozorne's face. "If you had understood it, things might have been different. I loved you like a brother, once. But I couldn't do what you asked me to, and I don't think I can ever forgive you for almost persuading me. It was all a game to you, wasn't it?" he continued quietly. "You never really thought about the fact that your playing pieces were made of flesh and blood. In that, you really were the equal of the gods. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty ironic, really." He shrugged. "I've lost track of the times you've tried to kill me and Daine. There are probably a few attempts we never knew about. I don't suppose it matters. You lost, Ozorne. And you didn't have to. All we ever wanted was to be left alone. You got greedy, you had to keep trying to kill me, when the first time was more than enough, and you targeted our home and the people we care about. And you lost."
Slowly the mage stood up again, stepping closer, ignoring the smell as he stared down at the remains of the Stormwing. He remembered that final confrontation in Carthak; he had been filled with rage and hate unlike anything he had ever known, until he'd seen Daine alive and well and realised that nothing else really mattered very much. He still hated Ozorne, and always would – 'no rage like love to hatred turn'd', his mind supplied idly – but the anger was gone. His body still bore the scars his former friend had inflicted on him, and he would carry those scars until the day he died, but that didn't really matter any more either. What was important was that Ozorne was dead and wouldn't be able to try again, that Numair and Daine were both alive.
He almost smiled. "You know, Ozorne, in a way, I think I owe you my thanks. Indirectly, your actions helped bring me and Daine together. I like that particular irony. Wherever you ended up in the Black God's realm, I hope you're watching what you helped create, and I hope it eats at you until the end of days. And I hope that when I die I never have to see you again." He reached for his Gift, black fire glittering with white sparks gathering around his hands, and spoke a word.
The Stormwing's body burst into flames, the fire reflecting in Numair's dark eyes as he watched silently. The heat from the fire drove the autumn's chill away from him and drafts stirred his hair and clothing as he slowly raised his hands, the flames rising higher at his command. The smell was absolutely atrocious, burning meat and hair and rot, but he ignored it as his hands closed into fists and the fire burned hotter, hot enough that the metal feathers of the Stormwing's wings and claws began to melt into rivulets of shining silver.
By the time the fire died down, the heat had dried tears that he hadn't realised he had shed. There was little left of the Stormwing, only some twisted and half-melted metal that would eventually be absorbed into the earth. Nature recovered quickly; before even a full year had passed, there would be nothing left to mark the former Emperor Mage's passing, and Daine and Numair would be the only ones who would know where he had died.
Numair lowered his hands and gestured slightly; a chill breeze sprang up, carrying away the last of the smoke and the smell of the burning. It had started to rain, and the air now smelled fresh and clean again. Tucking his hands into his pockets, the mage regarded the small patch of burned ground and inclined his head slightly. "Goodbye, Ozorne Muhassain Tasikhe," he said quietly, before turning and walking away. Once he was out of sight, he shifted shape, and the black hawk spiralled upwards, already turning towards home.
See, I'm not dead! In fact, I've been quite busy writing-wise. You can expect to see my first long Harry Potter story starting before Christmas. If anyone's interested in keeping up with what I'm doing, I update my profile semi-regularly.
The quote Numair thinks is by William Congreve: the full quote, which is quite famous, is, "Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned." Just a bit of nerdy knowledge for you.