Plácido took over this one, much as Rua stole the spotlight for last chapter. Plácido being Plácido, that means the rating probably has to go up. (It would have anyway, what with some of the things I have planned).
Candles (an alternative #77-78)
"Out on the lake, he rows towards a monster
He should've been running away from,
The past had made him blind
To the way he'd turned the pain into
A way of life..."
Sonata Arctica, Caleb, from their 2007 album Unia
With one stupid mistake on Lucciano's part, the whole plan had fallen to pieces – and the brat didn't even bat an eyelid at just how much he'd screwed up. Rather, he acted as though nothing was wrong. That disturbed Plácido more than he would admit. Something was different about Lucciano; he was never this patient. He thought back to the subterfuge the pair had played out, baiting the trap, luring the Signer girl in… Yes, it was strange for Lucciano to suddenly change his mind when he was only moments away from setting events in motion, the situation firmly in his hands.
His decision was stranger still for its utter lack of meaning.
"Do you still believe Lucciano has what it takes, old man?" he challenged José, leaning back in his throne with a calm attitude far removed from the reality of his thoughts. On the screen between the three pillars, a scene began to play, the object of discussion chatting animatedly with a young girl, while in the background her twin looked on, grey-gold eyes brimming with distrust. "Look at him. He's pathetic."
José's answer, when it came, was to be expected. The old man was utterly predictable. "It is in our interests for Lucciano to pursue this path," he said. "Any information he can prise from her about the other Signers shall benefit our plans in the future."
"We could learn it ourselves, through observing."
"You are uncomfortable with the situation," José acceded in a tone that implied a 'but' was following close behind. Idly, Plácido wondered what it would be this time. Hasty young fool? he'd garnered that particular admonishment far too often for his liking. It never failed to stir his anger; suppressing it, though against his nature, became easier with the reasoning that José was technically insulting himself with such words. Be patient? Wait? As if the old man could prevail upon him with such weak sentiments. "But," yes, he'd known it, "I wonder how much of it stems from the Signer's reaction."
Plácido's eye narrowed. That one was unexpected. José had caught him off guard. "How so?" he demanded brusquely, glaring at the oldest Emperor while attempting to gauge how far the situation would deteriorate. Civility was a weakness he could ill afford, especially when José demonstrated his uncanny habit of predicting the shifts in the younger Emperors' moods.
"Do not play at ignorance. You know well what I mean." A pause, punctuated only by the curious static from José's mouthpiece that a human might mistake for breathing. "You are angry, because she is attracted to Lucciano—and because he encourages her."
"I have no reason to be angry," Plácido lied. He glowered down at the screen below – a second girl had entered the picture and interrupted the pair's discussion. The Signer was oblivious to Lucciano's irritation, while her twin looked oddly pleased with the distraction their friend created, wittingly or not. He had no idea to watch such a demeaning display any further, and cut it off; it was replaced by the familiar map, and the faint lines of the Circuit beginning to trace across the city.
José spoke again, an unwanted interference with the quiet Plácido sought. "Yet you raise such concerns."
The younger man bristled. His head snapped up with such haste, his head covering started to slip. He straightened it using his right hand – the other started to stray, instinctually, towards the sword propped against the side of his throne. "So what? If he messes up, we'll have to bail him out. That will ruin everything. He's playing with fire and expects it not to burn. He underestimates these Signers!"
"I see." There was a gleam in José's eye, like he was privy to a secret Plácido had never encountered before. "You are scared Lucciano will understand what it means to love."
"I am not!" He gritted his teeth, clenched his hand into a fist. He could not remember standing, yet he was on his feet. A thrill of pure rage trickled across his senses, attack. "He is incapable."
"He is the same as us."
That jab struck him in a place too close to grief and despair for Plácido's liking, and for a moment all he could produce was a low, furious growl more suited to a wild beast. "How dare you…"
José stared at him with typical solemnity. "If we are capable of remembering love," José reasoned, "then he, by extension, is also capable."
"Because it isn't her?"
Plácido started to reach for a denial, even though he knew José was right. But the suggestion—! "Have you forgotten her memory so easily? If we are the same—then he cannot fall for that Signer girl!"
Before José could speak any more words of treachery, Plácido snatched up his sword and escaped the uncomfortable atmosphere through a portal, his swirling memories of grief as his sole companion in this moment of weakness. No more. No more! Lucciano would deal with the Signer, tomorrow, and that would be the end of it. Then he could put these painful ghosts to rest once again.
Plácido found the younger Emperor after an hour of searching. The boy had taken up a position near one of the city's many parks, on the roof of a building close enough to observe people passing through, yet distant enough that he remained unseen to the humans on the ground – not that they ever looked up. He lingered at the far edge of a roof, studying the boy for a moment. Lucciano wore his Emperor's regalia, but his duel disk, cloak and hood were set aside. He wondered if there was something to make of that. So far, the only achievement Lucciano had managed was to convince his own ally he was untrustworthy; José's calm confidence was obviously misplaced.
He approached the boy with a feeling of trepidation. "Lucciano."
"Ah! So you came. What took you so long, Plácido?"
"Spare the theatrics," he snapped, "you know why I'm here. Tell me, Lucciano. What is it you plan to do?"
"Do? You make it sound like I'm up to something!" Lucciano grinned up at him, smile worn wide and mocking; he seemed to falter a little under the other Emperor's hostile glare. He turned his head away, looking back towards the park.
Plácido recognised the objects of his scrutiny, and frowned. "Explain."
"I want her to feel it," Lucciano whispered, watching the little Signer girl laugh with her friends as the other twin acted out an over-dramatic duel they pair had once witnessed. He sprawled at the edge of the building, head propped up on his hands, never taking his eye off the Signer's tiny, fragile form. His expression was hungry. He meant every word he said. "I want her to feel the same despair of having everything torn out from beneath you. She and her twin are inseparable. Take him out of the equation… she'll fall, all right. He's her world, like Mama and Papa were for me—us. What better way to eliminate one of the Signers? And once he's gone, I won't have to lift a finger against her, either. She'll provide her own defeat. She'll know what it is to fall into despair."
Plácido stepped closer to the edge, staring down at the children whose laughter rang out like the faint strains of a requiem. The sound stirred something in his mechanical heart. Joy was an unfamiliar concept, forgotten and buried under anger. He could hardly remember the last time he had felt true joy. It had been before the deaths of the people who loved him, he knew… oh. Lucciano's motive at last made sense. Jealousy. Why did other people have people who loved them when he'd lost everything? Plácido scoffed. So childish, lashing out at the world's cruelties without care or direction. At last, his fixation on the Signer girl made sense.
"You would use her affections for you as a weapon."
Lucciano giggled quietly, confirming Plácido's suspicions as the truth. The thought disturbed him for reasons he couldn't explain. "That just makes it all the sweeter, doesn't it?" said the boy far too happily for a proposal of murder. "Both of them at once – the agony of betrayal – the taste of despair – oh, she'll feel it, and it'll break her."
It was over, the duel won, the Signer and her twin still alive, thanks to a miracle of the Crimson Dragon. Plácido noted its intervention, and reminded himself to take that into consideration for the future. Remove one of the Signers from the picture, however necessary…
While Lucciano chafed under the frustration of failure, angry mutterings and rage, something the old man had said trickled back to Plácido: "He is the same as us." Looking at the boy to his right, Plácido felt a trickle of unease cross his mind. No, Lucciano was different to them, and always would be.
A/N: Lucciano is such a creepy, messed-up kid, but a lot of it stems from just what he represents: the despair of a child who lost his parents, the ones who loved him. Since Aporia seems to gain strength from his despair, it stands to reason that most of the happy memories are driven away, with only that moment of despair left intact. That explains why he's so unstable.
On a lighter note: Pippa, you were right about who the phone-calls were from. =D