Formless flame flickered atop the melting candle, casting its beams across the wooden table, sprinkled with bowls of fruit and glasses and bottles of wine. A father and a son sat opposite of one another, one’s figure reflected in the other’s eyes.
It has been nearly a month since the Battle for Holy Paradise. A week following it, the monkey returned with a batch of herbs, helping along with Lynne’s healing process.
The city was born anew from ashes, with more and more buildings having risen, and was promptly renamed to Skyfire, in honor of Lynne’s deeds. Across the continent news and rumors spread, and chatter emerged like a river through broken dam.
Lynne, on the other hand, remained coped up in his bed, even when he regained consciousness. He refused to eat or drink, and even refused visitors. He’d spent days staring at the blank ceiling of the wooden house, attempting all manner of ways to blank out his mind.
Yet, each time he’d close his eyes, he’d see a stack of corpses pile up before him, each having its own face and its own voice, each cursing louder than the one before. Lynne knew they weren’t real, but mere phantoms of his own imagination, yet couldn’t help but feel fear and terror each time he’d gaze into those scarlet eyes staring back at him.
Faces old and new tried to talk to him, and even the Principal came to pay him a visit, yet he refused them all the same. However, just a few moments ago, his father visited him for the first time, forcing Lynne out of his bed and onto the chair.
Median’s complexion had changed quite a lot; he had gained back some of his former muscular body, and his disheveled look disappeared in place of a more relaxed one. His eyes still appeared slightly sunken, and his body was still riddled with scars that won’t fade even with the passage of time.
“I hear you’ve been acting like a kid again,” Median said, smiling lightly. “It must be pretty fun.”
“I—I’m sorry I haven’t come to see you, I…” Lynne said, lowering his head slightly in shame.
“Ha ha, visit me? Compared to you, I was in a peachy state. Medical ointment or two and bam, I was back to nearly normal.”
“I’m glad… nay, happy to see you dad,” Lynne smiled as his eyes got watery. “Well, save for this awkward atmosphere because neither one of us is willing to bring up the large, pink elephant in the room. Save for that, though, ‘tis fantastic.”
“Did I ever tell you the story about my first kill?” Median asked, taking a sip of wine.
“As good a time as any, I suppose,” Median said, looking at Lynne affectionately. “I was fourteen years old. My family… isn’t one to engage in battles. Since the day we can talk, we’re fed knowledge, military tactics, strategies and whatnot. In a sense, we aren’t expected to kill for as long as we live. Alas, life is a funny game like that. I had an older brother, who I believed loved me as much as I loved him. Yet, one night, while we were drinking and discussing strategies as per usual, he pulled a dagger on me. As I said, though, we were never trained, so he was clumsy. In the end, I managed to overpower him and shove a dagger into his spine.”
“It took me a long time to get past it,” Median said. “Yet, in the end, I was glad I went through it.”
“Glad?” Lynne arched his brow.
“Aye, glad. Men, by nature, are beasts. The day you separate yourself from the pack, is the day you stop understanding our basic nature. That day made me alert, less trusting, which in turn saved my life countless times. Look back at the battle you’ve fought. Who initiated it? A child against his own father. However noble you believe Elynal to be, in the end, we’re all the same. No army ever believes themselves to be wrong in the times of war. Everyone thinks they’re the ones fighting for the righteous cause. And who’s to deny them, in the end? Histories are written by victors, not the dead.”
“… do you remember when I was eight, during the winter, when I ran away for a few days?” Lynne asked.
“Of course,” Median nodded. “I nearly died of worry back then.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Lynne chuckled lowly. “Anyway, I actually hid up in a library.”
“Figured that’d be the last place you’d look for me.”
“Good call.” Median agreed.
“However, I got bored at one point, so I started reading random books,” Lynne fiddled with an apple in his hand, not biting into it. “And I came across this folk tale called Dun Hero. It was about a Knight in an army who, single-handedly, killed over two hundred enemy officers during a battle. There were nearly ten pages dedicated to describing his heroic appearance, his just aura, bearing and whatnot. Back then, I loved it. Hell, I wanted to grow up to be like him. To charge right into the battle and protect my loved ones. And I did exactly that,” Lynne bitterly smiled. “Ten years later, I’ve become Dun Hero. I’ve got a city named in my honor. I’ve saved my father from corrupt arms of infidels. I’ve driven back the heathens, cleansed the land.”
“I’ve done all the things books revere heroes for dad, so why do I feel the exact opposite of that?” Lynne put down the apple and downed the glass of wine in one go, wiping his lips dry. “If I walk out of this house right now, everyone will greet me, thank me, hell, somebody will probably kneel and lick my boots. Yet here I am, downing bottles of wine, fearing to even blink. Fuck, you should see the way I actually cope with it. You’d probably disown me. Do you know what’s the worst part?” Lynne chuckled oddly as he paused for a moment. “I can’t even remember how many exactly have I killed. Hell, I can barely remember the fight itself.”
“… my own father once told me,” Median said after a short silence. “That a just man isn’t the one who never kills, but one who kills and then openly carries all the corpses atop his shoulders. He doesn’t try to bury the burdens, to hide what he has done. Rather, he bears it all until the day he dies.”
“… I’ll be leaving soon.” Lynne said, sipping another glass. “This place… this land.”
“Where will you go?” Median asked, as if he had already expected it.
“Away,” Lynne said. “I fear that if I stay here, I’ll give in. I’ll look at all the battered and wounded, and justify what I had done to myself. I fear I’ll hoist the banner of another man’s dream, and lead charge into battles I don’t want to, for reasons I don’t believe in.”
“You can’t walk against the stream, Lynne,” Median said, smiling warmly as he spoke. “Whether here or away, men are all the same. For as long as we breathe, we’ll raise banners and take up arms. For as long as we walk, we’ll see to it that there are wars. I don’t doubt you’ve also began understanding some bigger truths about all this. Do you believe you can escape it all by just running away?”
“Aye,” Lynne nodded without hesitation. “Because I don’t think everywhere’s the same. Perhaps, someplace far away, there’s a land where people don’t thirst for power. Perhaps, there, I’ll find a place that doesn’t care.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Then I’ll found my own,” Lynne said, smiling. “But, regardless, I won’t take a part in pointless battles that lead to nowhere. I’ll find a way to deal with what I’ve done eventually, and perhaps even overcome it in time… but, I won’t pile atop of it any longer.”
“Aye, that’s a good dream son,” Median gulped down the rest of his glass as he continued. “And, were the world a perfect place, you’d fit right into it. Alas, it is not. I can’t tell you how much it hurts me that I’m unable to help you--”
“No, let me finish. But, even if I can’t help you, I at least know you can help yourself. Since the day you were born, Lynne, I watched you grow… from a child fascinated by simple Magic, to a youth dreading it, to a man using it to protect what he believes in. Whatever you choose to do in the future, wherever you go, whoever you become, I want you to know that you’ll always have a place to call home. For as long as I live, I’ll stand by you, as proud as a father can be.”
“… right, pile on more guilt atop of the years’ worth already inside of me.” the two chuckled for a moment, as a strange silence fell over.
“You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about,” Median said. “Rather, it should be me who feels guilt. Not only have I failed to protect you and let you live the life you wanted, but I dragged you into the world you never wished to be a part of. Alas, it is true what they say: a child always pays for the sins of his father.”
“A toast,” Lynne raised his glass as he said, smiling. “For the best father a son could hope for, and a relatively decent son no father would truly abandon – merely threaten to do so a few times.” two glasses clanked in the silent room as the flame flickered.
Lynne stared silently at his father’s figure, feeling a complex array of emotions. He didn’t wish to leave so quickly after reuniting with him, yet could not think of another way. He needed to leave. Too many things here stayed a reminder, a source of memories. He felt that, even if he stayed for merely a year here, he’d have gone completely insane by the time he was truly ready to depart.
“Lynne?” a familiar voice sounded out from the outside.
“Come in.” Lynne said, whereupon the doors creaked slightly as a figure walked in. Elynal wore plain, white robes, one sleeve lingering on in the slight breeze. His face was slightly pale, eyes downcast but full of life nonetheless.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know you had company.” Elynal paused for a moment when he noticed Median sitting.
“It’s fine,” Median said, smiling. “Come, sit with us and drink. The more the merrier.”
“Thanks.” he sat in-between the two, with Lynne walking over to a stand and taking another glass, pouring it full with red wine as he handed it over. “I won’t thank you,” Elynal raised his glass towards Lynne, his expression dead-serious. “Because I know you didn’t do it for me. I’ll only say this: my life, for the rest of it, and for what it’s worth at least, is yours.”
“Ugh, keep it,” Lynne said, faking disinterest. “What use do I have of a pretty boy who’s lost his girlfriend?”
“My girlfriend?” Elynal arched his brows before it dawned on him, whereupon he sighed and shook his head. “And here I came to have a serious discussion with you.”
“I’ve had enough of those for a lifetime,” Lynne said. “So let’s drink instead and get hammered ‘till we pass out for days.”
“Indeed.” Median nodded.
“May as well…”
The trio drank merrily into the night, with laughter resounding from the small, wooden house, stuck between the towering ones built out of stone. Stars lingered on in the sky as the crescent moon appeared, its rays shining weak light upon the city born anew.
“Okay, seriously, I need to – I absolutely need to – get this off my chest,” Prince Parsia suddenly came to a halt, looking at the group in front of him, worried expression on his face. “This is the absolutely weirdest – bar none – group I’ve ever traveled with!”
“First up is the guy who not only uses Chakrams,” he continued, pointing at Lynne. “But also a scythe. And, just for a good measure, he’s the most shameless bastard I’ve ever met who still – to this day – refuses to admit he’s the one who stole my lucky underwear.”
“Then, there’s the damned monkey,” he added, pointing at the monkey atop Lynne’s shoulder who was merrily eating pills. “Who does nothing all day long but eat the damn pills, drink the damn potions, and then randomly decides to verbally abuse me and others for no reason!”
“Then, let’s not forget the freaking bird!” he pointed at Lynne’s other shoulder, where the bird was sleeping silently. “Who just sleeps! And when it wakes up, it never fucking shuts up! It just goes on and on and on about how great it is!”
“Then, there’s me, a guy wielding a belt – I mean a whip – I mean a certified weapon of my homeland, a totally legit one! And, of course, being the handsomest guy of the two-”
“Handsomer.” Lynne briefly interrupted.
“Whatever,” the Prince ignored him. “My role is to keep this weird composition of peop-creatures together. And, of course, let’s not forget her,” he pointed at Thalia who was silently nibbling on some strangely blue grass. “The peach of the pond.”
“The sun of the night.”
“The ultimate distraction of beauty with a tongue of a sagged, old grandma!” he added. “Yet, she’s perhaps the most normal creature in this strange, strange group!”
“So,” Lynne said. “What you’re saying is that we should dump her and become the boy party?”
“… that sounds so wrong…” the Prince said, his expression sinking.
“I know.” Lynne said, nodding while smiling mischievously.
“There’s a creak nearby,” Thalia said. “We should camp out there for tonight. Oh, and the majestic, handsomest Prince,” she then added. “Just because our group is weird doesn’t mean it isn’t the best possible one.”
“… we have a talking monkey, talking bird, talking shitstorm, talking shitstorm female edition and the handsomest guy ever…”
“Oh? I didn’t know you were the handsomest guy ever,” Thalia turned towards Lynne, nodding in approval. “But I can see it.”
“Of course I am!” Lynne puffed out his chest as he spoke. “I can down the Kingdoms by a mere smile! Or, you know, woman’s underpants.”
The group of five departed from Skyfire two days ago, moving eastward, with final destination set at the Eastern Wastelands. Lynne remembered the strange creature telling him about it, and as the destination was far away enough, he decided to leave towards it. However, he didn’t expect a party of people to accompany him.
“Maybe I can get these two to become lovey-dovey, then they can get married, have a kid, and leave me alone.” Lynne thought – out loud – whereupon strange silence fell over, causing him to look around. “I said that out loud, didn’t I?”
“I already have a wife!! I’ve told you that ten thousand times!!” the Prince protested.
“And I’m truly unworthy of the handsomest guy ever…”
“How about the handsomest monkey then?” the monkey added.
“Now that’s just disgusting,” Lynne said, shaking slightly. “Go back to being a glutton.”
“Screw you, what’s disgusting about that? I’ll disgust your innards by shoving a yard full of bird crap up your --”
The curses echoed out in the forest, driving even the animals away, as the day slowly began fading, and night crept about, causing starlit sky to appear, completely cloudless.