This is the fic I wrote during my hiatus here on before I even uploaded The End of a Savage. I wrote this afterwards, and I definitely think I did better than the other two. I'm happy with this one. It's a somewhat poetic fic about Igos du Ikana and the Garo Master, as well as the general Ikana Valley story. Kind of trippy since it deals with ghosts. Enjoy!


The Dead Bleed Penance

To bleed is to lose,

Existence is loss.

Objects, life.

Happiness, regrets.

That which can be lost.

Blood, oil, water,

All that is life;

That which can be lost.

Joy, confidence, strength,

All that is the soul;

That which can be lost.

When all that gives them life bleeds out,

What is left to lose?

Happiness? Emotion? Mind?

Loss is all, all is loss.

But what is gain?

And how is it found?

How?

"How did he know?" rang the words in Igos du Ikana's mind. "How did he know? Was he not alive when these words were scribed?"

The poem was penned by the original King of Ikana, Ayaxus du Ikana. Igos' life ended a thousand years earlier, and the Kingdom of Ikana was founded countless decades before that. It was a miracle the poem even survived. And yet, it ran so deep in Ikanian culture. Everyone knew it. As with many of their king's words, its meaning was forever left to interpretation by scholars and became a phrase of their people. The identity of the Ikanians.

But these words were frustrating to the now deceased Igos, whom had long since become obsessed with their stark realism. They encompassed everything that death was. Everything that Igos du Ikana himself was.

To bleed is to lose,

Existence is loss.

Objects, life.

Happiness, regrets.

That which can be lost.

In actuality, the old King of Ikana was not like this until recently. In his death, he descended into a deep supernatural depression. Beyond mere emotional sorrow. His spirit body was his mind; his very essence was depression. A miserable existence. And it so poisoned his mind that his emotions dulled and melted into an absence of themselves, as he drifted into a blank mental state. Nothing was thought, nothing was felt. Nothing existed. Only on the rare occasion that he was disturbed by someone did his existence receive acknowledgement from himself, and he lashed out at those unlucky few. He was living his own private punishment. A personal hell.

It was at the hands of his defeat that this changed, that the blankness became fervid thought. The defeat of a ghost! Who could tame the dead? Who could overcome the wrath of a restless soul? A mere child. No. He did not believe that. He didn't seem like any child Igos ever knew. But it was only a theory, and he wanted the opinion of another.

And so he called. He was nothing but a soul, nothing but a mind. And so this call was his thought, and this thought was him. The space in which Igos now resided was immaterial; the stuff of the soul. And yet it blended in with the world of the living around him. A personal half-world, in which the walls were dull but shimmering with faint hints of the color they were supposed to have. And from a ripple in the walls of this world emerged a second form, a second spirit. With its emergence came a shift in the world, as the air itself became a misty red and the walls seemed to shake without physically doing so. An unsettling vibration of violence entered the air itself, and Igos felt it even within his mind. The new entity wore red clothes underneath a purple robe. On his head was an iron mask.

Blood, oil, water,

All that is life;

That which can be lost.

"Igos du Ikana," spoke the ghost slowly, mockingly. "The great King of Ikana, fallen so low as to request an audience with the likes of me?"

Igos prepared himself for what was next.

"The sad little king, who was so insecure he could not share his lands. He could not share anything. He was a selfish boy and a selfish man. Time did not change him. War did not change him. Death did not change him. Are you so different now? Something must be, for you are now associating with me willingly."

His tone was laden with scorn. Igos waited for him to finish before he stood up from his throne.

"Ta-" he started.

"No. Do not call me by that name," said the spirit. "Know your place. I no longer have a name. That is the way of us garo. You expect me to not follow the law of my subordinates?"

Igos nodded. "I apologize, Garo Master."

"Hmph," he grunted. "Since you're obviously in a soft mood, speak your peace."

"For you I have three questions," began Igos. "The first I ask your opinion. The second is rhetorical. The third is a request."

"Hmm, interesting. So what are they?"

"That boy who came, the boy in green who defeated us, did you feel he was truly a child?" asked Igos.

The Garo Master lowered his gaze as he thought, the notion obviously triggering something he had considered before.

"No, definitely not," he finally spoke. "His body was a child in appearance. But he differed from a true child in several ways. His body was experienced. It was not just toned to perfection through training, but honed to familiarity through experience. His every reflex was flawless. His mind was similar. He didn't just have a wide array of knowledge, he truly had experience and had seen what he knew with his own eyes. His eyes. They were the most striking of all. Most men die before having eyes like those."

"I agree," said Igos after the Garo Master had finished. "I wanted to know if you thought the same."

"What does it matter?" asked the Garo Master.

Igos did not answer. He merely went on to his next question.

"This one is rhetorical. Do you remember when we were kids? Before we became enemies?"

The Garo Master looked at Igos in surprise, making eye contact for the first time, if only by reflex. The question sent him deep into thought... into memory.

Back then it was a different world. Indeed, it was a different age. It had been a long time since their deaths. Much of Termina had yet to be populated by civilized folk. With few exceptions, the Kingdom of Ikana was the only civilization. The untamed wilderness ruled, and on its edge was Ikana. Past Ikana was nothing. A wasteland, a desert. Yet, even within that fringe world of insanity there lived a tribe. The most powerful, most hardy, and most secretive of them all. The traveling Garo. They existed before the Ikanians did. Before the kingdom was formed. The Kingdom of Ikana had a complicated history surrounding its creation, but it involved being formed from tribes other than the Garo. The Garo had no part in Ikana itself.

The uncivilized tribes ruled the wilderness. The lone civilization was Ikana. And beside it were the enigmatic Garo, not savage nor civilized. It was inevitable that the people of Ikana would encounter the Garo and they would have to decide their relationship. The Garo had no particular love of Ikana, sprouting up in a land they themselves had some claim to, and proclaiming themselves equals. But the Garo had no worthy justification for hatred, and so they associated with one another, trading and engaging in occasional gestures of good will.

Our Children Are Us.

They are our flesh reincarnate.

They are the legacy we leave behind.

They become like us.

They carry our memory forward.

Without Children, there is no future;

Without Children, there was no past.

Children are time.

Children are pure.

Pure is the child, cruel is the child,

For a child understands little.

A child knows neither pain nor consequence,

Only desire and frivolity.

This may mislead fools.

Those who do not understand do not love.

Cruel naivete, is it ugliness or beauty?

Children became us, and we shall become children,

Children are our world.

Children are us.

A thousand decades into the future nothing had occured to change this relationship, so gatherings would still take place. In one of these such gatherings, two boys, one from either group, had a chance meeting. Igos du Ikana of the Ikanian Royal Family, and Taguruso of the Garo. Taguruso was no noble, but within the Garo the worthy became full warriors, and even the leader, losing their names in the process. Bloodline meant nothing, so in many ways him and Igos were equals.

Despite the differences between their tribes, the two boys were a lot alike, and they became best friends. Eagerly they would await the next gathering of their peoples, and would spend its entire duration in each other's company. The two of them, remembering it all, could hardly believe the shocking contrast between their memory and their current existence. Then it was happy, and bright and radiant. Not dull and sorrowful, as it was for Igos, or boiling and ugly, as it was for Taguruso, now the Garo Master. These two boys of course became two men, and even two rulers. Igos was always destined to become the King of Ikana, and Taguruso was the bravest, strongest and smartest among all the young Garo. Proving himself time and time again, he was the obvious choice for their new leader when he came of age. They passed far beyond being children, able to understand much about the world; they were no longer naive.

Joy, confidence, strength,

All that is the soul;

That which can be lost.

And yet, these two hardened rulers of very different backgrounds were still friends. Split apart more now by their responsibilities, they drifted apart but remained on very good terms. Eventually, though, among the peasant tribes living between Ikana and the lands where the nomadic Garo drifted, they discovered a common love, a girl who they become hopelessly infatuated with. Their friendship was shaken. While they attempted to remain friends, the situation inevitably split them apart completely. They did not become enemies, but a prevailing tension dominated all of their encounters. It was Igos who eventually won her love, and Taguruso never forgot.

That was only the first of many tragedies that would come between the two rulers. Despite the animosity they now shared, they were great rulers, and lead their people without this clouding their judgement. The people did not know of what had happened between them, so relations stayed the same... until something strange happened. The doors to the legendary Stone Tower opened. A strange air blew and the Ikanians and the Garo began to grow more and more wary of one another. It was mild at first; unnoticeable really. But before long it grew intense and their peaceful gatherings ceased. Even Igos and the Garo Master were affected, their relationship growing more and more hostile until threat of war hung over their heads.

What had happened to open the door to Stone Tower, or why this brought on an unseen evil was unknown. Only one was resistent enough to it to see what was happening. But Igos could do nothing to bring down the tower or the evil that emanated from it. His troops were not enough, and neither was his mind as the evil corrupted him too, making him give in to his dark impulses.

The Garo attacked. Fueled by hatred of lands that belonged to them being stolen, by a bloodlust suddenly brought to the fore. Their ruler fueled by his personal hatred of Igos, they invaded Ikana and genocide commenced. The Ikanians were the defenders, but were fueled by a similar rage, driven to uncivilized violence of a sort that was utterly foreign to them. It was then that an insane war began.

When all that gives them life bleeds out,

What is left to lose?

Happiness? Emotion? Mind?

Loss is all, all is loss.

The Kingdom of Ikana was reduced to nothing. None lived. The Ikanians, the Garo... All lost their lives. And yet even then the war did not cease. Once all life had bled itself out, madness prevailed as spirits destroyed their minds in an endless onslaught of hatred and violence. The spirit world rocked under that force, shaking even the physical plane. To the eyes of the dead, the earth crumbled and gave way to seas of blood and flesh, as fire rained and buildings crumbled in an instant. Twisted by rage, the worlds of each and every spirit meshed into an unrecognizable hell from which torment and insanity were the only means of escape.

And so, even when combat finally ceased and the dead retreated into solitude to sleep, their souls could not find rest. The Curse of Ikana Valley was born, a suffocating evil that manifested itself in both air and corpse. Ikana Valley stood where the proud Kingdom of Ikana once did, a testament to the evil and violence that tore the very earth asunder. The name Ikana became synonymous with death, at least for those who still knew it.

Time's Memories

Time is alive.

As man lives,

Time lives,

Each composed of many parts.

Ignorance begone.

Life is nurtured,

Not left alone.

Or it shall wane and die.

Behind and ahead, if left to fools.

War, mistakes, regrets.

Repeated and forgotten,

Within a single stroke.

The pretentious prophet sees the future.

The wiseman interprets the past.

Life is reborn,

And history repeats.

The everlasting ouroboros.

Only the lost retread their steps;

With purpose, we move forward.

Igos recited these words of Ayaxus aloud to his former friend, looking him in the eye. The red mist brought on by the Garo Master's rage faded into a different color, a haunting, faint sort of gray. The walls also faded. The air's violent nature shifted into an oppressive and sad one. Both of them were overcome with sadness and regret.

"Garo Master," said Igos. "After the war, we both became something less than we were even during all the bloodshed. Pitiful ghosts who rotted and bled, spending our time trying to forget our sorrows while succeeding in forgetting what caused them. We were fools then, and this has not changed."

The air began to turn red and violent once again.

"Just get to the point," growled the Garo Master. "What is your request?"

"Please, be patient my old friend," Igos spoke softly. "I will get to that."

The Garo Master narrowed his eyes beneath his mask, confused and suspicious at the first time in many lifetimes that one of them had referred to the other as a friend. But he said nothing and, while pacing, impatiently allowed Igos to continue.

"In this form, nothing more than a spirit... I have drowned in my regret. And in truth, I believe I had lost my mind. I would even lash out at the innocent who stepped foot in my world. My mind ceased to exist until that boy came. I attacked him, as I had the others, but for once I was defeated. That defeat was jarring, and I began to think again for the first time in a thousand years. I presume it was the same for you?"

The Garo Master reluctantly nodded.

"Since then my thoughts have whirled in my head," said Igos. "Memories of the past, of these poems. Thoughts about what happened to us and why things became this way. We let this continue. Our hearts have forgotten how to believe in our friends, how to embrace that belief by forgiving failure. We could not have stopped the doors of Stone Tower from opening and making us destroy ourselves, but after-"

"No!" shouted the Garo Master. "Even before then we had forgotten it. No amount of witchcraft should have been able to destroy what we and our peoples shared. That was us."

Igos smiled. "So it seems we are in agreement. Then I shall make my request. While I do not expect us to become friends again, at least not yet, could we at least come to a truce?"

Igos held out his hand, waiting for a response. The Garo Master looked down at it, hesitating. But finally he stepped forward and shook hands with the King of Ikana. And then he spun around, leaving through the rippling walls the same way he had come. He never spoke a word.

The air cleared, but not because the Garo Master had left. It began before that. The mist cleared, as did the strange vibrations in the air. The walls regained their color and the whole room became bright.

But what is gain?

And how is it found?

How?

Igos du Ikana sat down on his throne and smiled. Already it felt like the Curse of Ikana Valley was lifting. Like things had been set in motion and recovery would begin. Now the dead could rest. He was content.

"I know how."