Leon in Darilsheid
More than walls of stone and mud, these things drive the sanity out of a person in confinement. And now Leon wrestled with them everyday.
This was irony at its utmost. Trapped in the mansion he once called home, the world's most renowned traitor had ample time to ponder his oxymoronic fate. Eighteen years ago, he turned his sword on his companions, and then died to save them. Now he was back; resurrected by a priestess who immediately confined the life she brought back.
There is an exorable, unbreakable exhilaration to being alive, regardless of the circumstances. Leon had felt it the first time he felt breath and light again. Unfortunately, though, the joy of existence is the joy most easily forgotten, overshadowed by the smallest of the demons in the heart.
And Leon's demons were not small at all.
When he committed the betrayal that he would be immortalized for, Leon knew that there would not be a more wretched feeling than the tearing guilt he felt. He remembered. He remembered—how his heart choked every time he parried Stahn's sword away from piercing it, even though he wanted to let the blade take its course; how as the water filled the cave and engulfed him in its pitch black, and slowly, painfully drew life out of him, as he writhed in the agony that sailors dread most, the urge to breathe torturing him so desperately that he wanted to crash against a stalactite and break open his skull, his final thoughts were:
To the friends whose trust he betrayed. To his sister he never openly loved. To Chaltier he had dragged down his own path. To Marian.
His tears were lost in the overwhelming flood.
And he knew.
He did not deserve the mercy of death.
Now he was paying the dues remaining. In the small cell with black walls and insufficient lighting, every moment was a reenactment of the slow asphyxiation that overpowered him even in his dreams. His confinement was the reincarnation of his father's malicious trap. And as for the guilt—
It had never died at all.
When Leon lay on his bunk with nothing to do, as he so often had to, the anguish ate away at him. He would roll from side to side, clutching his chest and stomach with one hand each. The weight of his past turned acrid, irritating his insides. Loss of direction and purpose exerted a dull, panicked pressure on his heart and lungs. Each exhalation was incomplete, and each breath in too shallow. His heart, physically sound, struggled to produce every beat. Leon often thought to himself how much better things would be if it failed. Sometimes he tried to cry; tears soothed wounds. But he could not do that anymore. He could sometimes summon enough emotion to moisten his eyes, but that is as far as he could manage. Pain dulled everything else—even sorrow.
Some dreams felt like memories on the verge of fading, like a show at an old shadow theater. Others were more vivid, and these Leon dreaded.
"I'm sorry…" Leon murmured in his sleep. His hands grasped about his bunk frantically.
Leon woke up with a jolt. It took him several seconds to realize where he was, and that Chaltier had sent a shockwave of manna through his body to wake him up. Grateful, he pulled out his Swordian.
"Bad dream, master?" Chaltier asked, more as a dreary "Good morning" than as a question.
"Thank you, Chal."
"Always my pleasure."
Leon sighed. Weeks after his resurrection, he still could not recognize the same nightmare while he was in it. Cold sweat had drenched the only set of cloths that he had, as though he really had been wadding desperately underwater a few moments ago. The repeated deposits of bodily waste stank with the fresh moisture. These days, he could hardly breathe for several minutes after he woke up.
There was never sufficient lighting, but at night, the only light was the soft earthen glow of Chaltier's consciousness. At this time of the day, even the walls of the rather spacious cell seemed to graze the fine hair on Leon's neck. Darkness. Claustrophobia. Asphyxia. For Leon, nightmares did not end at awakening. They dissipated slowly with the break of dawn and found new life with dusk.
"We could get out of here if you want. You know this place." Chaltier said, noticing how much the physical environment bothered Leon. But he shook his head.
"And go where?" Leon said, eyes lowered in somber resignation.
Chaltier understood. To persuade Leon to do her bidding, Elraine had shown him, and consequently Chaltier, how hostile the world had become toward the name Leon Magnus. It was used as a symbol of disgrace in literature (Philia tried to stop it) and how children assigned it to the one who pulled the wrong straw in make-believe heroic games. Elraine offered a chance for him to clear his name, and further, to exalt it. As Elraine tossed him into this cell for turning down such a bargain, she gave him the final addition to his attire: his dragon skull mask. It was her final torment, an act of cruelty disguised with mercy. Her message was powerful in its simplicity—you'll need it, the mask screamed on her behalf. And Leon really did. Even as he despised the helmet and its original owner, Leon kept it on even in his sleep, for fear that one of the guards might decide to run an inspection and discover his identity. Still, Chaltier cared too much to remain silent.
"Go see Marian. Explain to her. She'll believe you", Chaltier suggested.
Leon smiled faintly to express his appreciation for the Swordian's concern, but Chaltier knew Leon would not take his proposal. "What good will it do for her," Leon said, "Except make her feel guilty?"
"It could help you."
"Chal." Leon still looked grave, but for the first time in a long time, there was veritable warmth in his complexion. "It was never about me."
It was all for her. Always.
And for her, he would relive the worst.