Of Ashes and Stardust
And so Mikasa stayed in the Place Over the Wall.
Petra awoke around sunset with stiff joins that were swollen and painful. Ymir and Historia- who now preferred to be called Christa- had said their goodbyes and returned the horses hours before. They decided they quite liked it on this side of the wall and concluded to stay, at least for a little while longer. Christa hoped to find her mother and see her again after so many years, to see if she had changed. Ymir said that she must keep those who played with life and death in check as her mother had before her. They left before their father's could notice their presence.
And so, there was but one matter left to attend to.
Armin unlatched the topaz from around his waist, holding it up by the broken chain. The jewel looked the color of blood in the evening light.
"You once asked me for the Power of Phoenixwing," the star said to Levi. "And here it is. It is yours now."
Levi shook his head, shunning the gift. "I cannot accept your offer, little star, for I was not the first of the Blood of Phoenixwing to find the topaz."
"But the other-"
"Not her either."
Petra choked on her water at that. She gave Levi a questioning, yet icy look, bidding him to think before he spoke any more. He met her gaze, telling her that he already had. She bowed her head.
"If he is to remain in Faerie," Levi said lowly. "He should know. He should have a choice. And if it does not suit him, he may leave. No chain binds him to the throne."
"… You do not know the consequences until after you make you decision, Levi."
The couple set their sights on Eren and Armin knew. It was he who first discovered the topaz, all of those months ago when he met the star in the grove. Armin had shown him the golden stone, and even though he did not know what it was or what it did, he found it first. It was his.
Eren was having a cheerful conversation with his sister about the music at the fair. He prickled, looking swiftly when he felt all the eyes on him. He raised an eyebrow curiously.
"Eren…" Armin said slowly, reaching the swinging stone towards him. "Here."
"Well…" Erwin said, seeing the jewel being passed from one person to the next. "It appears time for us to move on."
The ghosts turned, vanishing from that place. Levi felt light as they, finally, left the world of the living.
And it was soon that Eren learned of his heritage.
It was oddly liberating, the knowing of his mother and father by blood. It did not make Carla and Grisha any less of his parents, for they were the ones who raised him, who were entrusted with his care. Petra and Levi could not fake that they held the position of Eren's adopted parents, nor did they try to. Petra's choice had given him a wonderful life and they did not want to change that.
"Mother, Father…" Eren said after Mikasa had fastened the silver chain about his throat. "I do not wish to be a Lord, a ruler of anything. My desire…"
Petra held up a finger. "Do not conjure up another one too quickly, Eren." She chided without any malice. "Wait and it will come. I think it will do you three good to have an occupation and home if you are choosing to remain in Faerie. If it does not suit you, you may leave. Nothing holds you to the throne." She then sighed, the rings in her ears singing as she flicked them. "I swear, you are just as bad as your father…" But she said it with complete adoration and playfulness. Levi brushed a finger across her cheek.
She looked up at her husband and smiled a great, catty smile. "We should get a carriage for our return to Phoenixwing." she said giddily. "And a parade of horses. Maybe even an elephant. Nothing makes a statement quite like and elephant. Oh, how I have missed Mount Maria…"
"How do you expect to pay for an elephant?" he asked. "We spent most of the money on the horses at the market."
It was then she produced a flower from the insides of her clothing. The star recognized it as one of the witch's flowers: a Tiger-Lily crafted delicately of spun glass. The stalk shown blue with the dimming light.
"With this I shall trade and barter…"
Armin was pulled over by Eren. He became part of a hushed, secret negotiation. His input was crucial to the decision made by Eren and Mikasa. They parted and Eren fixed his posture, clearing his throat.
"If you want to travel that way, that is fine," he said. "But we would like to make our own way. There is still much we want to see. We would like to travel at our own speed, if that is alright."
Petra narrowed her eyes. She mulled it over, asked her husband a few things, ultimately coming to her own decision.
"If that is what you wish…"
The trio did not appear in Phoenixwing for another five years.
Petra and Levi arrived at Mount Maria with not one elephant, but three. The people of the kingdom rejoiced to levels until then unknown, believing that their Lady Petra was gone forevermore. The celebration only increased when Lady Petra announced that her son would be the new king of Phoenixwing and that he already wore the Power about his neck.
However, she could not tell her people when he would come to claim his throne. Eren had only said, "Expect us when you see us," before taking off, leaving his mother and father to their own devices.
Levi and Petra ruled in his absence. Petra did most of the ruling since Levi had no desire to, preferring to be with his army instead of the officials. Petra conducted orders of state perfectly fine without him.
When Eren, Armin, and Mikasa did come to Mount Maria, they were so travel-worn and dirty that they were mistaken for beggars. Only the topaz about the king's neck said any differently and they were quickly escorted to the castle. The festivities afterwards continued for weeks.
Eren was a better king than any could hope for. He made wise, incentive decisions, his hot temper and brash attitude a straightforward decision-maker. He eventually flushed The Diviners out of hiding and sent them to the gallows, although that was more of Levi's doing than his. He made peace with the other kingdoms and protected his people, victorious in anything he did. Such as the blessing of the phoenixes.
Armin proved to be just as dangerous as his husband. He was intelligent, incredibly so after watching millennia of the doings of people. He was a brilliant strategist, diplomat, and negotiator. He was never wrong and could fool almost anyone. Even Eren, who knew him the best.
They were happy as long as they could be. Of course, not forever, for it is rare that anything lasts forever.
Mikasa, being human, was the first to die.
She went with the bliss of old age. She smiled when it happened, holding Eren and Armin's hands in each of hers. She spoke clearly to them before her death, saying this:
"Love is not the only thing beautiful forever. Death is as well. And I have my death."
Eren's pain was not any less.
Mikasa was buried with the royalty of Phoenixwing. Levi was as well, and Petra, leaving only Eren and Armin to preside of the kingdom. Even with loss they could be happy, together they could, for a time.
Eren had to die as well.
The entire phoenix flock came to his deathbed, companion phoenix included. The bird sat over his headboard silently.
The star was filled with overwhelming sadness. It was he who had to appoint the next king, for since he and Eren could not bear children, a son from one of the noble houses was chosen. He was a cautious man named Moblit, related to Eren through their great-great aunt. He waited in the king's chamber with the topaz already resting atop his throat.
"Armin…" Eren said in his creaky, grey voice. The star gulped and pressed his forehead to his lover's wrinkled, boney hand. Even though Eren aged, he remained unchanged, hair as fair and yellow as ever and skin smooth. He choked back a sob.
"Yes, my love?" He asked, hoarse from crying. "What is it that you need?"
"I have… a gift…" And he produced a silver box wrapped with a bow. "The lightning from so long ago… I traded it for this."
The star recognized it as a candle like the one Eren had used to save him in the inn of the lady necromancer years and years ago. Fresh tears rolled from his eyes as he looked up, locking gazes with Eren.
"I want you to go back into the sky."
It was then the phoenix above Eren leaned down and said something into his ear. The old king nodded slowly with comprehension.
The phoenix screamed and burst into flames. Eren's chest stilled, dormant forever.
"Eren! Eren, no!"
The ashes fell along the king's silent face.
Then, the strangest thing occurred. All the phoenixes combusted, sending showers of ash throughout the room. A full, gusting wind swept through the chamber, carrying the remains through the bright window. The entirety of the night was bright, as if the sun had risen early. Armin and Moblit hurried towards the window after the ashes.
The moon was pulsating. The stars twinkled along with it, excitement brimming the night sky. The wind transporting the ashes trailed upwards. The remains flew high into the heaves, out of view, colliding with the yoking light of the moon. Everything became quiet.
New, fiery lights appeared in the sky. There were many, their position purposeful. A clear, glowing outline of a great bird glittered in the sky. A single star crowned the center. It beat, softly, like a heart. Armin sucked in a breath.
Before Moblit knew it the star had lit the candle he was given. A smile of pure happiness and joy framed his cheeks, the light of the fire flickering upon his face.
"Eren…" He said again.
And he took a step and was gone. The new Lord of Phoenixwing realized the stone about his neck was suddenly very heavy. When he inspected it he saw it was nothing more than a black rock. It was dull, like the burnt wood after a fire. He looked into the sky again.
Where there was one central star he now saw two. They blinked, as if with delight, the other stars and the moon doing the same. He inspected them for a while before moving to descend the stairs of the castle to announce the death of the king. Two stars watched him from above, smiling.
It is not often that we return to what we are forever: to ashes.
I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit's wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.
But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.
From windows in my father's house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city's lights.
Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world's heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.
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