Also known as Freud's Theory on the Particularities of a Thief Called Phantom.
Everyone knew who Phantom was.
The nobility knew, every child knew, the ignorant knew, even a bookworm such as himself knew who he was. The whole world knew Phantom's name.
Day after day there was always some kind of news circulating around about him whether it be on something as small as speculations or something as big as his most recent heist and one can't go anywhere without seeing or hearing about him at least once. Not in the marketplace, not in his academic institutes, not even in his own home because he often read the news there. Whether Freud wanted it or not, he was given a blow-by-blow of everything Phantom did.
He supposed it was because people always had a fascination with the mysterious and what was Phantom if not a suave mystery? The man who could steal anything no matter how closely guarded or well-hidden, his glamorous style, and his tricky elusive tendencies, he was like a fairy tale character come alive. He had the whole of Maple World in the palm of his hand, bedazzled with awe.
But all that failed to impress Freud for he held no interest in what the rest of the world found so enrapturing.
He'll applaud the man for his bravado clearly built from years of practice in the trade but frankly, he didn't condone Phantom's actions regardless of how romantic he made his occupation seem. At the heart of the matter, he was simply a common albeit flamboyant crook and nothing could change that. There was nothing glamorous about stealing what many people had worked hard for, the things that they treasured. Even if it was from the rich, for some, there was no replacing time spent or the memories and meanings attached to several of those items.
Besides, he had research to do, theories to test, and incompetent idiots to rip to shreds. He did not have time for idle gossip or to lavish more attention on a thief so clearly asking for it and so, the matter of Phantom remained in the dark corners at the very back of his mind for a long while.
That is, until the day Phantom announced his intentions to steal Skaia and the whole of Maple World exploded at the news, forcing Freud to, once again, turn his head back to the matter with a mixture of impatient annoyance and slight incredulousness.
Even for a professional thief, stealing from Maple World's own beloved and cherished Empress? Freud was almost inclined to believe that Phantom had finally lost his last marbles to the abysmal depths of his egotism for he was clearly crazed to purposefully invite the backlash he was guaranteed to receive. By announcing that particular intention, he had not only made an enemy out of the royal guards but he had just made an enemy out of everybody in the world. Empress Aria commanded great respect and love from her people and to announce that one was about to steal her most precious possession? One might as well declare war on the world.
Even his most devoted admirers were going to meet this particular heist with upset disapproval. It was one thing to steal from nobles and other rich people but it was quite another matter to steal from the Empress herself.
But for the first time since the news of the great Phantom circulated around the world and he became widely known, Freud became curious about him.
He could see that Phantom was actually very clever and well-versed in the subtle nuances of various situations. If he were not, he wouldn't have been able to achieve half the thefts he had nor remained a free man for so long.
Since it was clear that Phantom wasn't dumb, Freud was curious to know why he had practically declared war on the entire Maple World. He surely must have realized the implications of sending off that signature calling card to the Empress.
He couldn't depend on the news to give him accurate information about Phantom but from what Freud could infer about him based on his actions, he knew Phantom was all about publicity after all, why would he go through all the trouble of giving an advanced notice and carrying out his thefts in such an extravagant manner otherwise?
He also knew he took special pains at gloating and taunting his victims, if his rather mocking messages and intentional dawdling was anything to go by, which was how Freud concluded that he was arrogant. Possibly arrogant enough to think he could pull the wool over the eyes of Maple World's ruler and feel like a star doing what no one else could do.
But were those the only reasons? Publicity and an ego boost? Surely even one as conceited as Phantom could look beyond his arrogance to see that the positive consequences weren't nearly enough to justify such an extreme deed. No, publicity and ego couldn't be the only things driving Phantom to do this.
Then perhaps it's also for Skaia itself. Freud knew the beautiful gem possessed powerful magical properties within it but what they may be, no one knew. Even so, the fact that Aria owned it was enough for it to be worth billions of mesos even without accounting for the mysterious power it held.
However, since Skaia had never been seen by anyone before, Phantom would be hard pressed to try to prove that the gem was what it was and even then it was highly risky to sell it for he could never know if his buyer would report him to authorities or try to apprehend him themselves.
It could simply be for whatever magic Skaia held but without knowing what function it served, handling it could be highly dangerous especially regarding powerful artifacts.
He could be making a statement. What better way to tell the world there was nothing he couldn't steal than taking Skaia? But again, the backlash he would receive outweighed the rewards of doing so.
So then why?
If Phantom was doing it just to say he could or because he simply wanted it as some kind of trophy then Freud really didn't know what to think.
Perhaps his reasons would be clearer after this whole Skaia incident was over with so Freud waited.
By the time he had successfully created the first ever Spirit Pact with the king of Onyx Dragons, still no news was forthcoming about Phantom, Empress Aria, or Skaia, which baffled him.
He knew it might be harder to get past royal security than the average noble household but surely there should be at least some sort of news by now about whether or not Phantom had succeeded.
There were a lot of rumors that replaced news, however, but Freud was not inclined to draw conclusions from word of mouth, rendering them as useless to him as the lack of update. Still, he had to wonder why there was such a delay of information.
Was it because the royalty wanted to hide the incident? But the only reason they would want to do that was if Phantom had succeeded and the thief would have never allowed letting his accomplishment go unnoticed. If he had failed, Empress Aria would have known how unsettled her people were and attempt to placate them by assuring that Skaia was still safely in her possession.
The only other plausible explanation he could think of was because Phantom had not stolen Skaia yet for some inexplicable reason and he didn't think it was due to security because every security had its flaws and from what Freud could see, Phantom was very deft at exploiting weaknesses. He knew because some of the magical security the nobles erected had very precise flaws in their construct and because he had been able to manipulate and deceive the people he stole from as easily as a puppet master playing his puppets.
So did this mean that Phantom was holding himself back?
But why ever would he do that? Freud asked himself, bewildered. It seems that the thief would always be full of surprises and for the second time since his announcement to steal Skaia, he found himself intrigued by the man called Phantom.
Of course, he would have loved to contemplate further into this mystery but then the rise of the Black Mage emerged over the horizon and he suddenly found himself hard-pressed to think of anything but this new threat for a while.
As one of Maple World's most accomplished scholars and most powerful mage and as the partner of Afrien, the king of the Onyx Dragons, it was only natural that he would be called upon for help in sorting out this urgent situation which meant an audience with Empress Aria herself along with several others in conference to discuss this event.
Among the many notable people who would be present were Mercedes, the elf queen, accompanied by her Council of Elders, Philius, Astilda, and Danika, along with her young aide, Athena Pierce; Aran, a warrior and leader of a clan in the North; and Luminous, the Light Mage from Serenity.
But the one he held the most interest in was Empress Aria herself but not merely for her royal status.
He was curious to know what impact Phantom's possible attempts to steal Skaia had on her.
She stood near the entryway flanked by guards, greeting her guests as they entered, poised and elegant as expected of someone of such standing but Freud could not detect any grievances that might be inflicting her. Of course, he didn't expect her to outwardly express her internal state but the lack of increased protection around her was still rather telling.
It suggested that Phantom's thievery was over but whether he succeeded or not remains a question.
"I humbly thank everyone present for putting aside their own urgent matters to attend this conference," Empress Aria began once all was accounted for, voice kind and melodious yet still managing to carry through the air. "Without a doubt, the rise of the man called the Black Mage has caused various difficulties in every domain of our lives and I have decided to invite everyone here to discuss solutions and possible alliances…"
He wasn't sure when exactly but at some point during the conference, a niggling feeling started to nag at his mind and he started to grow aware of a sensation like a pinprick at the back of his neck. He resisted to urge to shift uncomfortably in his seat and instead shared this feeling with Afrien through their mind link while discreetly scanning the others to see if anyone else felt it too.
Not one face of discomfort met his eyes.
Afrien, who had been quietly examining the magic of everyone in the area while he scanned, supplied him with the location of one presence that should not have been there.
Someone was watching them.
Shifting his focus back on the topic at hand, he tensed slightly even as he felt Afrien increase his own awareness, both warily monitoring the intruder at the back of their minds.
Was it a spy from the Black Mage? But with Shinsoo present, the possibility of that was rather low. It didn't eliminate the chance entirely but neither he nor Afrien could detect any hostile intentions, at least so far.
Either way, they couldn't risk acting without knowing what exactly this presence could mean lest they elicit potentially pointless chaos as well as tipping off the spy or triggering a trap of some sort.
So they continued to carefully watch the intruder for the remainder of the meeting until, at last, it drew to its conclusion and the presence melted away as though it had never been there.
Although the symposium proceeded without incident, he still needed to inform the Empress of the matter so as everyone filed out to leave, he approached her and asked respectfully, "Empress Aria, if you may be so kind as to delay your departure so that I may have a word with you?"
Empress Aria smiled beauteously. "But of course. What would you like to discuss with me?"
"I do not doubt Her Highness's superb security but with all due respect, I rather suspect that during the conference, someone had managed to infiltrate the guards to spy on us."
To Freud's surprise, Empress Aria blushed slightly and she quickly tried to hide her red face by covering her mouth with one delicate hand.
"Oh, excuse me. Please allow a few minutes for me to compose myself. I feel rather warm."
Freud quirked a brow at that but didn't question it and waited patiently as Empress Aria calmed herself.
When she got her bearings back, she continued to speak but for some reason, she seemed both slightly exasperated and affectionate at the same time. "Yes, I'm quite sorry about that and your concern is a valid one. No protection is absolutely perfect. I will be sure to investigate the matter quickly and efficiently."
Freud nodded but inside he was doubtful. Empress Aria's reaction to his news was far from normal. It was as though she already knew the presence was no threat and was actually quite familiar with them too.
Perhaps one of her knights was ordered to keep a vigilant eye on the proceedings in case anything were to happen during the conference but it didn't warrant the kind of response Empress Aria had given.
He supposed it was good to know that their interloper wasn't a real threat but now he wondered who it could be.
Judging by Empress Aria's reaction, it was someone she knew but wasn't one of her guards. Since she seemed surprised which therefore meant she was uninformed of their presence, it's safe to surmise that she hadn't been expecting them, indicating that they have to had snuck into the conference. This suggested this person had to have great skill not only to do so but to also remain undetected throughout. If Empress Aria wasn't alarmed by their presence, he could conclude that they were benign and were simply observing and some of the reasons why they would want to do so was either curiosity or because they wanted to ensure Empress Aria's safety.
But if that were so, why would they need to go through all that trouble to sneak in instead of participating directly?
Maybe they couldn't participate because they were banned or weren't allowed entry but the only people denied access was unrelated parties and potential threats...
Steady realization dawned on Freud.
Someone who Empress Aria might know but forbade participation from the conference, had the skills of stealth, and was relatively benign so long as he remained unprovoked.
Who else might fit these criteria but a certain thief no one has heard from since his bold announcement several weeks ago?
But Freud doubted Phantom would be slinking about in the shadows and leaving without so much as an attempt at Skaia purely for curiosity which meant…
Phantom wanted to keep Empress Aria safe for some inexplicable reason.
Surprise didn't even begin to describe the feeling that washed over him.
How on earth did Phantom go from self-interested thief to protective guardian? And why?
Freud suspected that there was something a lot deeper happening between Empress Aria and Phantom than what simply met the eye but he had no means and no right to pursue those questions and he had more pressing concerns to contend with. But if this was true and Phantom really was watching over Empress Aria, it implied a whole other dimension to the thief no one had seen before so he tucked this bit of information to the back of his mind for future analysis.
The days wore on and signs of the Black Mage's influence steadily began to worsen, stealing across Maple World like a slow-moving poison, seeping into and contaminating every aspect and every corner of the globe.
Conferences started to grow more frequent and intense.
The people started to bend in face of this new oppression and not a day passed without their agonized cries pleading for his reign to end. Their terror was palpable enough to touch and their hopeless wails reached the very arch of the heavens.
Freud did the best he could to sooth those cries but it wasn't enough. It was never enough. Even with others' help, the Black Mage was simply too widespread, too powerful, and too embedded to staunch in his activities.
It wasn't long thereafter that he tried to tempt the Onyx Dragons to fight by his side and suddenly, things started to get a lot more personal.
Freud seethed at the gall of this man to see these dragons as nothing more than mindless weapons for him to use, threatening to eradicate them all when they didn't comply like the obedient little tools his Commanders were. Over his dead body! He had worked hard to establish the Spirit Pact between Onyx Dragons and humans and he would be damned to see his work destroyed before his very eyes without taking a stand first!
Meanwhile towns were being burnt to the ground, innocent blood was spilt, and the Black Mage continued rule with the impunity of a god.
Freud had had enough.
He confronted Empress Aria over taking a more direct course of action to stop the Black Mage but she insisted upon resolving the matter over more diplomatic means.
It was admirable to want to try to settle this peacefully first before using more forceful means but Freud could already see the futility of such a course of action.
The Black Mage was a ruthless man who didn't operate within the normal bounds of reasonableness and with Maple World already in the palm of his hand, he would have no need to negotiate.
But Empress Aria stood fast in her decision as did Freud to his own so he rallied together Luminous, Aran, and Mercedes and they started to plan out the best strategy to defeat the tyrant.
A while later, as the beginning stages of their plan was put into motion, the news of Empress Aria's death reached their ears, spreading across the globe like wildfire and the whole of Maple World finally collapsed into a deep despair, lamenting the loss of their beloved Empress and the loss of their hope.
The news was grim and the future looked only grimmer still. Empress Aria's death was truly regrettable and Freud too felt mournful at her passing for she was an extraordinary woman but still he pressed on, more determined than ever so that no more deaths like Empress Aria's would occur, so that the world would never experience a sorrow like this again.
One cannot resurrect the dead or correct for the past but they could look forward to the present where they could make a difference towards the future, so that the same tragedies would never happen again.
And then… Freud would always remember this moment well for it was the night the legendary master thief Phantom himself appeared before him.
He regarded him cautiously yet curiously as he approached the thief. What could Phantom possibly want from him that he would personally show himself?
The thief didn't speak but balanced at the tip of his finger was a story compressed into a single card that told the purpose of his visit.
A multitude of reasons ran through his head, every one of them based on what he knew so far of Phantom but it was only when he flipped over the tarot card and beheld what it illustrated that he finally understood.
Phantom was in love with Empress Aria.
The whole time that the weeks passed by with not even a word about Skaia, Phantom and Empress Aria had been secretly seeing each other. No wonder there were no news. Skaia was the excuse to keep meeting. If neither party prevailed, they technically never had to announce who won and thus lose their justification for continuing to rendezvous.
All this time and Phantom had chosen not take advantage of Empress Aria's trust to steal Skaia like he had done so indifferently towards so many others before her in his ambitious quest to acquire whatever he wanted by any means. Phantom, the conceited and selfish thief who had no qualms with deception and betrayal had, for the first time ever, connected with someone so deeply that he spared her and put aside everything that he was for this one person.
This was a momentous revelation.
Freud could see the beginnings of the kind of man Phantom could be, could begin to see fragments of shining qualities hidden amid many of the more obvious disreputable traits he presented with.
But still, Freud wasn't a fool. While it was probable Phantom was joining out of his love for the Empress, he wasn't about to take a thief's word for it. But at the same time, he couldn't deny the value of having Phantom on their side.
He would allow him to join but he'll be sure to keep him under careful observation to discern the sincerity of his motives.
Now it was only a matter of convincing the other three to accept Phantom into their ranks and Freud sighed, already planning the arguments that would best appeal to each of their mentalities and preparing himself for the inevitable outraged backlash he would be sure to receive with their first introduction.
Phantom was an angry person.
This one fact immediately made itself abundantly clear within only the first few days of observation.
He was like a fevered man in the frenzied way he pursued the Black Mage, as though he knew no other purpose but this single-minded aim for his destruction.
Freud often caught him leveling off sections of forest as he trained.
He was prone to sudden outbursts of anger at the slightest provocation.
He worked with sleepless fervor to retrieve any and all information about the Black Mage, which often entailed crossing directly over into dangerous territory, and he frequently returned from those trips soaked in blood and a look of suppressed frustration on his face.
It was becoming borderline obsessive and Freud became deeply concerned. If this fanatical behavior persisted, he would not only harm others but he'll ultimately end up harming himself.
He had no doubts now that Empress Aria's death weighed on him heavily but for it to drive Phantom to such lengths… he could only imagine how much this must be paining him.
The second thing Freud noticed was that Phantom was a lonely person.
He tended to isolate himself from everyone else even when given an opportunity to socialize. Of course, the hostilities directed towards him didn't help matters but not all interactions between him and his new allies had been antagonistic particularly with himself and Aran, who seemed a bit more willing to accept him than the other two.
Tormented with a rage building like a hurricane that only grew in strength each day that passed and no one to confide in, Freud could easily see how just one small push would be enough to push Phantom over the edge.
He needed to do something to help him. It pained him to see someone so obviously in distress yet so unable to help themselves as though trapped in a cage they were helpless to escape. He must be the friend Phantom needed who would stop him from pushing himself to the brink of self-destruction.
But how to go about that?
Phantom had built an almost impenetrable shield around himself from the fires of his fury. Words alone would not pierce such a hardened heart. He needed something that would capture his attention and lower his defenses, something that would preferably increase their interaction.
The beginnings of a plan started to form in his mind.
What if he lured his interest by presenting him with a completely novel situation? A situation where he might demand answers? In the state of turmoil Phantom was in at the moment, it would be easy to throw him off guard.
But what would lure his interest?
As a jewel thief of many years, he would undoubtedly have a weakness for gems. If he presented him with a jewel, the unexpectedness might catch him off balance enough for him to seek an opening to establish a relationship.
But the problem with his plan was that as a jewel thief, Phantom might try to steal any valuables presented before him and the only thing he possessed that even vaguely resembled a gem—but was nonetheless still just as valuable—was the prototype Seal Stone which was somewhat vital to the overarching goal. He could use a substitute but he couldn't run the risk of Phantom finding out its inauthenticity and permanently destroying any trust he could have for him.
This plan was quite the gamble. Everything hinged on the kind of person Phantom turned out to be. This would be the ultimate test of character in a way but Freud was willing to wager the Seal Stone on him because Phantom needed someone to have a little faith in him and because his mind was too consumed by vengeance. Besides, some things in life cannot be gained without first risking things of great importance.
So one cool spring morning, he sat himself beside the lonely figure seated on the stone bench and asked, "How are you, Phantom?"
There was a brief pause as though Phantom couldn't believe someone was asking him such a question before replying with a smirk on his face, "Oh just fine. And how are you?"
"I think I can be better," he answered truthfully, fidgeting with the Seal Stone in his hands, making sure it caught the light.
As predicted, Phantom's attention was almost immediately captivated to the shine of the stone in his hand and he held it up for him to better see.
He examined it a while longer, looking genuinely curious, before asking, "What is that?"
As expected, Phantom could see it wasn't a real gem.
"This is a Seal Stone or at least, a prototype of one. It will serve as a sort of… backup plan of sorts in the future," he explained. "Hold out your hand."
Looking confused, Phantom did as directed and he carefully placed the stone onto his hand, watching as his expression turned to one of wonder at the sensation on his skin and Freud smiled. It always filled him with pleasure whenever he saw those looks of fascination on people's faces upon discovering something new and right now, Phantom looked less like a raging, bloodthirsty man and more like a curious child who had just unearthed something exciting and new, a window of what he could be if he didn't have such hatred clouding his mind.
"I won't go into the specifics on how it was made but it's essentially solidified energy which is what gives it a similar luster as a jewel. If used correctly, it can power a house for a week and if my calculations are correct then the final product should be enough to power a whole city for several years," he continued.
Phantom's expression steadily turned into one of dark contemplation and Freud's heart dropped slightly in regret.
He could see some of what Phantom could be and yet… he had never tapped into that has he?
"I see," Phantom murmured, holding the Seal Stone up to the sun.
Freud could sense the questions that would no doubt be running through his mind, watching as his countenance grew ever warier, a look of frustration faintly tingeing his features.
Finally, he shot a sharp look towards him but almost as quickly as it appeared, he favored him with a pleasant smile that held something slightly sinister beneath it as he commented lowly, "This must be quite the creation."
"Yes it is," Freud replied, anticipating what would come next. "It took me several months of research and crafting before I was able to successfully make it."
"Well then." And with that, he palmed the Seal Stone in his hand, making sure to do so right before his eyes, and casted a malevolent look towards him. "I do thank you for handing over something so precious and going through the trouble of explaining to me exactly why it is so valuable. It'll make things so much easier on my end. Do have a lovely day."
And with a bitterly self-satisfied look, he started to teleport away in a gale of cards but Freud could still see the question in his eyes, the confusion and conflict on his face and he knew, without a doubt, that he would return it. Absolutely.
Sure enough, a few days later, in the dead of night, Phantom slid in through his window and marched up to his desk, slamming the Seal Stone harshly on the wood.
He turned his attention from his research on seals at the loud noise and gazed up at the man standing before him.
He looked frustrated, as though he had been thinking on the illogicalities for days on end but finding no solution in sight.
"Why?" he growled menacingly through gritted teeth.
Freud calmly made sure he remembered his place in his book before closing it and putting it aside on his desk to give the vexed thief in front of him his full attention, replying, "Why what? You'll need to be clearer if you would like your questions answered."
"Why did you let me join you? Why did you give me this?" Here he waved the Seal Stone angrily in front of his face. "Why?"
Phantom was glaring down at him, eyes dark with aggravation, silently demanding answers.
He allowed a few moments for Phantom to calm before bypassing his previous questions and answering in a way that he knew would catch him off guard while at the same time allowing him something to connect to. "Did Aria need a reason?"
Phantom seemed to recoil at the unexpected question, blinking down at him in surprise. "What?" was all he could manage through his flabbergasted mouth.
"Did Aria need a reason to befriend you other than because she simply wanted to?" he elaborated, watching as Phantom deflated slightly, his angry airs all but leaving him completely.
"I—No, I suppose not," he finally managed to mutter, looking grief-stricken and suddenly small without his furious bravado and Freud felt a pang through his heart.
He looked like such a lonely person.
"Do I need a reason?" Freud prodded gently.
And just like that, Phantom was instantly on guard again, eyeing him warily. "I don't know. Do you?"
Freud sighed, rolling his eyes.
My, this man was quick to change moods.
"Yes Phantom I can see so many advantages of befriending a criminal hated the world over so I decided to extend my hospitalities to you," he couldn't help but retort and Phantom grinned, the atmosphere lightening considerably.
"I'll have you know there are infinite desirous reasons to want to befriend me not the least of which is my charms and my many talents," he proclaimed proudly and Freud leveled him with a flat look that silently asked if he was serious.
How could he ever forget Phantom's trademark egotism? He only hoped that he wouldn't regret this.
In the beginning, Phantom was slow to trust and hesitant in their interactions but he was also a lot warmer after the incident with the Seal Stone.
Freud understood this would be a gradual process and he allowed it to progress at whatever pace Phantom felt comfortable with and eventually, he opened up more and more and they started to grow closer and closer as the days wore on. But that was also when he realized that Phantom didn't so much as spend more time with him as it is that he clung to him.
He didn't seem inclined to at least try to develop deeper relationships with his companions who would be working with him and instead seemed very intent on this one deepening friendship between them. He tended to constantly seek reassurance that he was still liked, whether it's through banter or by physical proximity and touch. He was prone to bouts of jealousy, particularly towards Luminous who was essentially required to keep in constant contact with him in order to work with him on the Black Mage's seal, which hadn't helped their already precarious relationship any.
Freud didn't know what to make of it at first.
In some respects, Phantom was like an insecure child who required someone who could yield to him yet remain gently firm on matters that were disapproved of but at the same time provide reassurance that he was still liked.
It worried him that Phantom would be so uncertain about his relationships and he wanted to assure him as much as he could that this friendship at least would always remain. Perhaps if he had a stable base, he could learn to be more confident in other relationships.
So he told stories about his own life. It was fine if Phantom didn't reciprocate with something of his own but by sharing something personal, he wanted to let him know of the unspoken commitment he had to their friendship and the amount of trust he was putting in him.
But to his surprise, Phantom did eventually reciprocate with his own tales and the enormous amount of trust he must hold in him to share them warmed Freud's heart tremendously.
He found out that Phantom had grown up in the deserts of Ariant, although he suspected he was born elsewhere to explain for his pale skin and platinum blonde hair when everyone else was dark-skinned and dark-haired but he had been so young he couldn't remember how or when he moved.
He had been a street rat for as long as he knew, experiencing the injustices of the political rule of the royalty and the wealthy; the oppression and hardships of being poor, homeless, and parentless; the distrust and means of self-preservation he must learn in order to survive; the hurt he suffered in the hands of those he did choose to trust. He made a living off of cheap scams and pickpocketing, which he quickly found he had an uncanny propensity for. It wasn't long before his pickpocketing activity grew more intricate and more daring to encompass stealing from vendors, stores, and even homes, his confidence building with each successful endeavor until one day, he attempted to pick the pockets of the wrong man.
He made many more attempts at the man's wallet for a while after that until somewhere along the line, he somehow found himself the unofficial pupil of the thief Raven.
It was as Phantom pieced together the fragments of his past that Freud realized how truly little love Phantom had in his life, how at the first consistent supply of anything resembling kindness offered to him, he would latch onto it like a dying man.
Phantom was practically love starved.
His past had hurt his trust so much that he found it difficult to believe anyone wouldn't want to hurt him and yet he still craved that one basic human need that everyone required.
To think he would receive so little affection in his life that he would cling so desperately to anything that would make him feel loved was simply saddening. Was this one of the reasons he chose to be so high profile? For the superficial love it would grant him from the masses?
His past was also the source of Phantom's almost obsessive tendency to horde, to languish excessively in lavish commodities because he never had any money or luxury as a child, because he has learned that the only thing that mattered, the only thing that would allow him freedom, was money and riches.
His sense of self-worth was measured by the amount of wealth he could accrue and his sense of accomplishment was derived from what he could steal and from whom.
But all the money in the world could not make up for his emotional and mental scars nor could it fill the void left behind by his past.
Phantom was so very fragile in so many ways and Freud doubted even he was aware of just how deeply having such a maladjusted childhood had hurt him. He wasn't as infallible as he liked to think and he hated having this pointed out to him, whether by himself or by anyone else, but it didn't change the fact that he could make mistakes and it didn't change the fact that he was still very much human and therefore susceptible to getting hurt, more so than even the average person perhaps.
But by all means, Freud didn't pity the man. For heaven's sake he was responsible for the collapse of at least four noble houses, some aspects of his personality still left a lot to be desired, and his success certainly didn't warrant pity, ill-gotten or not. Frankly, Phantom didn't really need any pity and he wouldn't have wanted it either but… he sympathized, his heart paining for him.
Phantom could be such a wonderful person. He could be very thoughtful and sweet, doing all these little things for Freud that could make him smile even after a rough night of research. He could be funny and clever, able to make him laugh through anything and providing engaging conversations that could stretch for hours. He could be fiercely protective of anything and anyone he applied himself to and despite everything, he still had the strength of heart to be sympathetic enough to reach out and help others. The staff on the Lumiere would never be able to express enough gratitude towards him.
And yet, Phantom could see none of this. He saw the same things he led other people to see, which was a selfish and confident thief.
Certainly it was part of who he was but it was definitely not all.
He had so much potential to be more than this bitter and hopeless man and he wondered if this was what Empress Aria saw in him too.
But he understood that Phantom's past was a part of him and nothing could change that. He won't blind himself to his imperfections but he won't blind himself to his merits either.
By combining his good and bad aspects together, it made Phantom into a unique and wonderful person. It was a delight to have met him, to be able to get to know him, and he was glad that this was the man he had fallen in love with but that… was something he could never express to him.
Phantom was a man who didn't know much love. Not familial love, not friendship love, not even romantic love because his relationship with Empress Aria had just been blooming when she met her untimely death, ending their romance prematurely. As a result, he could easily confuse the distinctions between the different kinds of love together.
What was more; Empress Aria's death still lived within Phantom. He may have calmed but his sights were still set firmly on finding vengeance for her because she held special significance in his heart as the first person to reach out towards him and Freud understood that that was not something that could be forgotten easily, especially not by someone such as Phantom, who felt so little love.
Since Empress Aria lived so strongly within him, it wouldn't be surprising if he started to look for her qualities in other people and project his feelings towards them and Freud, who was his closest, was all the more susceptible of being seen through those lens.
It was simply too easy for Phantom to confuse his feelings and if he were to confess, it could lead him into thinking his feelings were love too.
He couldn't do that to Phantom or to himself. He couldn't live a lie and he could only imagine how betrayed Phantom would feel when he finally discovered the true nature of their relationship and found out that he had encouraged this deception. He would be so devastated that he might attempt to close himself off even further from the world and deny himself the one thing he needed most. He just simply couldn't allow that to happen.
In turn, he was also aware of the distinct possibility that Phantom might conclude being in love with him on his own too.
Phantom held him so dear and close, so full of care and warmth that blossomed beautifully from the bottom of his heart that it was impossible for either of them to ignore and it was impossible not to contemplate on it.
So he wasn't surprised in the slightest when one night, Phantom finally confessed to him in the quiet of his study.
He slowly ceased his activities, pausing to gather his bearings in preparation for the ensuing conversation, and gazed calmly into Phantom's own slightly nervous amethysts.
"I see," he replied simply, studying the man in front of him.
He could tell Phantom hadn't expected the response he had just given him but before he could say anything, he quickly continued. "And what is it about me exactly that you love?"
"Why Freud, do I hear a bit of narcissism in that question? I must be rubbing off on you," Phantom answered jokingly and Freud knew it was to hide his apprehension but he leveled him a stern look.
This was something he must know to either refute or confirm his speculations.
Phantom sighed but answered seriously, "Because you are not only bright but you have the determination strong enough to take action to fulfill your dreams unwaveringly, to have the strength of mind to look beyond appearances before making your judgments, and…" he trailed off.
Ah, just as he suspected. Those were some of Empress Aria's characteristics.
Phantom looked somewhat embarrassed at his spiel, his eyes having drifted elsewhere as he spoke and a fondness passed over Freud as he watched him, a sad smile alighting upon his face.
When Phantom's attention was once more focused on him, he said gently, "Phantom, what you are feeling might not be love, or at least the romantic kind. From your description, it's more the feeling of friendship."
Phantom stared at him incredulously for a few moments, looking ready to angrily protest and Freud quickly moved to say, "I'm not denying what you're feeling, Phantom, but the traits that you have just listed are also traits that Aria had once possessed and—I don't suppose you've ever had any close friendships before have you?" He waited for Phantom's answer before continuing.
As he suspected, it was an affirmative.
"Then it's perfectly understandable to confuse feelings of close friendship with love. Since you have not had such a relationship before, you named it with one of the only other intense emotion you have ever experienced which is love. It's also understandable that you might search for qualities Aria had in me as the one other person close to you and to project your feelings for her onto me, further confusing you."
Phantom stared at him uncertainly for a few moments but a thoughtful look eventually stole across his features, taking his words into consideration as Freud knew he would. He was a smart man, after all, when his reasoning wasn't being clouded by irrational rage.
"I'm not denying the possibility that it's love but just… think about it before you proclaim it again okay?" he entreated him quietly, his gaze shifting down at his papers.
It pained him so much to think of what he was sacrificing but even more than that was the thought of an unloved and loveless Phantom living out the rest of his life bereft, lonely, and cold and that alternative pierced even deeper.
It was his hope that Phantom will eventually learn to distinguish emotions on his own so that he knew what commitment to each would entail and so that he may employ it in the future.
If he happened to figure out that his feelings were of love, then that was fine. If not… that was fine too.
Phantom looked at a loss for words but in the end he swallowed and nodded, seeming to understand the weight this would bear on both of them and Freud smiled weakly at him.
He knew he would understand.
He quickly returned his attention back to his notes, somehow finding it hard to breathe, and all he wanted was to think of something else other than the sinking of his heart and the swell of lamentation in his chest.
The morning rays brought along the next day, washing away the fading night along with the confession whispered under its starry shroud as though it were but a mere dream and Freud continued on as normal. But one thing the brilliant sun failed to wash away with the new day was the dull ache that resonated from deep within his very core.
The days eventually turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and before he knew it, they were grimly preparing to go into battle.
He will ensure the Black Mage falls even if it took his last, dying breath. He refused to stand about idly under his unrestrained tyranny any longer and he steeled his resolve in anticipation for that end.
He will do whatever he must.
It was then that he heard his name called from a distance and he knew that Phantom had finally came to his answer.
He turned from Afrien and smiled as he approached.
Phantom looked magnificent in his white suit, like a glorious knight ready to charge into battle, violet eyes bright with intense resolution and features hardened and grave.
He stopped in front of him, nodding respectfully towards his partner. "Afrien."
Greetings, Phantom, Afrien greeted in kind.
"Hello Phantom," he returned, feeling tense, yet a faint hope dwelled within him.
Phantom hesitated imperceptibly… and the hand he offered tore him apart inside. But he conceded to his decision with resigned grace. This was his conclusion and he respected it. He had kept such hope but he had known this was a possibility and he must be supportive. Phantom was too unsure of himself as it was and he did not want him to doubt himself or others ever again.
So he nodded in acceptance, took his hand with his own and shook it once firmly.
"May good fortune rule over you, peace live in your heart, and the stars watch over you," he recited, the ancient verses bidding Phantom luck, serenity, and safety.
"And to you, Freud," he replied, nodding.
Phantom's hand tightened as he gazed at him with searching eyes which he met with a steady gaze of his own, silently reassuring and feeling slightly lightened at the squeeze he gave his hand before finally separating.
No matter what, Phantom still treasured him and that would never change.
He would remain strong. He had been strong before and he can be strong now, for Phantom and for himself. He didn't regret his decision to give him a choice even if this wasn't the choice he had wanted.
They stood facing each other silently, taking in the sight of the other and committing it to memory before they were to go into one of the harshest battles they would ever face.
"Take care, Phantom. I will always be behind you. Always," he promised encouragingly both metaphorically and literally.
Phantom seemed heartened at his assurance, drawing from it a quiet comfort, and it was enough to satisfy his mind.
He had gone into battle fully intending to keep that promise but as great as he may be, even he cannot control for circumstances well beyond his grasp.
He had been dealt a fatal injury beyond any hope of recovery, leaving Luminous to finish locking the seal and end the blight known as the Black Mage for good.
He must have fallen unconscious from his wounds sometime in his muddled time frame because he awoke to the familiar forests of Leafre in flames, tremors rocking the ground periodically and fissures threatening to split the land apart.
Afrien must have carried him to safety.
He felt weakened and exhausted, terribly so, and the wound he had received sent spikes of sharp pain through his body at even the slightest movement.
Master… a sad voice murmured in his mind.
Freud turned towards his partner to meet with Afrien's mournful golden irises and his eyes widened at the chunks of ice slowly and steadily encasing his body. "A-Afrien…? What…?"
Master, my deepest apologies... I have promised but… I simply couldn't allow you to be cursed after what you have been inflicted with, not when I knew I could have protected you this time… I am sorry. Please… forgive me…
Freud quivered slightly, his chest squeezing itself painfully at the despairing words and the sight of his dearest friend looking so sorrowful and so helpless. "Afrien… No… I understand… I would have done the same thing if I were you… It was foolish of me to make you promise something so impossible," he replied tremulously.
His gaze shifted slightly and alighted upon the egg that sat nestled at the curve of his neck.
Master… Afrien began, tone woeful and anguished, my kind… has been completely annihilated… I am but alone in this world now but even that will not be for long... My child… is our last… He is the only one who can carry our legacy and our will. He is our hope… so I implore you to please… send him somewhere safe… for the sake of all that we are… for all that we may be… to keep us alive… and to carry on our dreams…
Freud swallowed the lump in his throat, his heart breaking as he answered, "Afrien, you need not even ask. I will ensure your hope, your child, will never fall into the wrong hands… In addition, I will erect a barrier around you so that no one may try to disturb you in any way in case they seek to do so."
Master there is no need. I am already incapacitated to the point beyond help and your magic—
"No, Afrien. You are worth my every effort and you are certainly not incapacitated enough to possibly see your future child and the next generation of our legacy."
Afrien closed his eyes, tears clinging to the dark scales of his lids.
Thank you, master. You have been… one of the most magnificent beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing… Thank you for choosing me as your partner from the very bottom of my soul. It has been an… indescribable honor.
And he said no more.
Heart heavy, Freud took his staff and forced himself to stand on trembling legs, entire body screeching in pain but this was something he must do… His final will before he died.
He gently lifted the egg into his arms and concentrated on his spell. His surroundings, his pain, his coming end... nothing mattered but for the precious life he cradled tenderly in his arms.
As the spell took hold of the egg in its gentle folds, Freud whispered his last blessings to the sleeping soul within before allowing the spell to carry it from his hold and safely away where only those who were worthy and pure of heart could find.
Without pause, he immediately started weaving a barrier for Afrien, layering spell by spell into a powerful, intricate enchantment impossible to break but for one exception. It was long and tedious, the already difficult spell made even more burdensome by his severely weakened state and the magic he had just performed earlier to transport Afrien's egg away.
But at last, the barrier was completed and he collapsed back against his partner, too weak to stand any further. His breath came out in agonized gasps and it was all he could do to keep the excruciating pain at bay. Blood poured profusely from his wound and a bone-chilling cold enveloped him.
He was nearing his end.
He didn't fear it, however. All things must come to a close and one must accept that. Whatever death may bring, it would do nothing to dread it.
He turned back to his partner but he remained still, eyes closed in deep slumber.
Tears like morning rain slipped silently down his face as he gazed sadly at his cherished friend, the other half of his soul.
In his final moments he allowed himself this one moment of weakness, to lament all that he lost and all that he would lose but still, he did not feel regret. He had lived a good life, done all he thought was right, and met many a great people and that he could never regret.
And Freud closed his eyes one last time with sad warmth in his heart, his success in his thoughts, and the name of the man he loved most on his lips.
I'm getting conflicting accounts about whether or not Freud died but since I thought the original script intended him to die, I decided to stick to that one. It's of my opinion that if you're going to kill a character off in any kind of storyline (even badly written ones that were clearly pulled from one's ass), they should stay dead because I feel magically reviving them or saying "Psych! Guess they're alive after all!" for the sake of happy endings severely undermines the impact and the meaning their deaths have. We must remember that stories reflect reality and reality isn't always full of happy endings.
Here we see that Freud seems surprisingly… human. He feels like us and he thinks like us. All his "mysterious" actions in Of Friendship is unveiled and we see that they're really grounded on the workings of a very logical mind. But while we may lose this veil of mystery over his character, we begin to see Freud as who he really is.
I think this worked out well as a companion fic, each supplementing the other which is good because that's what companion fics are supposed to do.