Oblivion

By G. Kica All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

The Price

There were a few things Ruadh Barnabas made a point of not doing. Kneeling on the floor of his bathroom, writing Alchemical charts with crayons on white marble, was one of them. He was against Alchemy, of course, and for good reason. The thing had amounted to nothing but catastrophe. He knew there were still people out in the world who practiced it – Magical Sects, some called them. Ruadh was not likely to disagree.

There! The circle, the symbols that it was made of, were complete. Ruadh stood up with a sigh, still unable to believe he was actually doing this again – however, needs must and all that. Besides, the world would have ample opportunity to either praise or punish him after this – depending on how good he could spin a tale. Lying, now there was something he did often and did well.

However, there was another thing he was doing at the moment that went against most of his beliefs. Ruadh closed his eyes and hoped. It was not a thing he did often. It was a thing he had almost forgotten how to do.

Shadows began dancing around him. Those cracks and laughs and unseen touches ghosted faster now, almost consecutively, as if to cheek his progress.

He drew a small dagger from his pocket and let a drop of red paint the childish-crayon symbols.

For a moment all was still. Ruadh waited, not really minding, somehow at peace with himself. Suddenly, the shadows grew and took shape – all silent, all of different construct. Seven of them now stood, looking at him with a gleam in their eyes that might have been called warm.

“You’ve called us again.” said the eldest man “How kind of you to remember us in your time of need.”

“Good day to you to.” greeted Ruadh “I apologize if I hadn’t talked to you more, it’s just that you talk for the both of us when you speak.”

One of the woman laughed “Oh, I quite like him! Sassy, very sassy!”

“Mother, you shouldn’t talk like that to him.” said the boy “You know he doesn’t like it.

The woman huffed “Well, it’s not my fault he picks his compliments!”

“People, please!” Ruadh called, sensing this would draw out far longer than necessary if he didn’t put a stop to this little reunion. “Please, I need information.”

“Really now?” said the dark-clad man, sarcastically “I thought you needed a girlfriend.”

Ruadh took a deep breath. Spirits, he forgot how his family inheritance could be annoying! Most people got some jewelry, maybe an heirloom or two, a house at the most. What did he get? Ghosts! Seven of them, no less!

“I need you to find out a few things for me about a certain Ms Drina Serdar.”

“Hm, must be pretty special to have caught your attention.” drawled the girl, disinterested.

Ruadh snorted “Hardly. Her brother is much more interesting. Very bright, gives you the feeling that he knows what he’s doing. Now she, she has no memory of him – which is none of my business or care, but she appears to know a few things I would very much like to know myself.”

“Such as?”

“In the last couple of months there has been unrest in the East. It has come to my attention that a dragon, among other things, has been taken by an unknown assailant. A day ago Ms Drina Serdar comes along and tells me, out of the blue, that there would be a massacre in this very Mansion.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes.”

“Wait? She told you, right?” this time it was the flamboyant man who spoke, though Ruadh didn’t know from where he spoke “No one gets close to you unless you approach them first, so what’s the big deal? The girl obviously had something you wanted before she went and warned you about this attack.”

“You are observant, as always, my dear stalkers.” sighed Ruadh “Yes, I wanted to use her against her brother. He has become rather influential in the world, what with being the Apprentice and heir of Lumia Nox. He is, I admit, quite knowledgeable in his own right. He has studied much and traveled much, and is dear to a number of beings that would prove useful to me in the future. His sister, if she becomes my own student, would be the perfect bargaining chip. If I decided to send her, say, to spy on the Grandharve branch of the Magical Government, as a simple try-out – she would have danced her way over there, just for the chance to be with her big brother again.”

The old man was laughing, merry and light “You are quite cruel, Ruadh.”

“Perhaps,” Ruadh agreed “but I fear that spilled water is worth less than spilled blood. Do not forget that her brother is the greatest coward I have ever met.”

“Hm. That’s all very good, but what do you want us to find, exactly?” said the woman in the white dress, the one who spun and danced for a whole of seven seconds.

“What I want to know is what kind of tie this girl has to the Grandharve.” Ruadh revealed. “There was an incident, some months ago, in which a team was sent to retrieve an unregistered Prophet. Drina Serdar, I dug up, was apparently on the scene and helped the Prophet, a Mr Vid Balsich, escape. I later found out that the Central Commission of the Grandharve did not authorize this little “hunt”. Rather it was a Human called Alexis Laven, of who there is no previous record.”

“Hm. And what do you suspect of the current affairs?” again the fleeting woman spoke, whimsically.

“Many ideas, little to back up any of them.” Ruadh scowled in frustration. “A letter was delivered to me this morning, that of a brother writing to a sister. It was of little consequence to me, but it was addressed to Ms Serdar and written quite a few years ago. She appears to be in the middle of this mess, though her lack of memory is troublesome. However, I believe she is in contact with people who actually know what is going on. Perhaps she is a good friend of an informant or an informant herself, as they are such a secretive bunch. I doubt this, she is too young. Perhaps her brother is actually the one with the connections, though a little test I conducted seemed to have proven otherwise. Perhaps she was sent here by Laven himself, I am not completely sure.”

“You want us to find proof.” the old man seemed pleased “But tell me, Ruadh, what kind of proof are you looking for? What kind of story do you wish to tell?”

Ruadh shook his head. His Spirits were impossible. “I suspect Laven of something shifty. Perhaps he is only looking for a way to the top, but he is a man I cannot stand. A man who knows nothing and claims to know everything. If I so could, I would not have him on the political scene. He could prove a nuisance.”

Some of them exchanged glances with each other, others raised a hand to hide their smiles.

“But that’s not all that you want, my dear Ruadh.” They knew him all too well. “You want to be a hero, don’t you? You are old and your strength, your status, is waning. You are the last of your kind. A relic of a past era. Soon you will be no more than dust on our lips.”

Ruadh sighed, his eyes slipped close. It was true, but this part of the conversation he had hoped to skip. They knew him well enough to understand his motives. They were tied to him, since the moment his predecessor had died – he was loath to say, especially at a time like this, that he was thankful for their company.

“You see through me, Ghost.” Ruadh jested, his tone low. “I do wish to live forever, but not in the way of the living Dead. I… simply wish to be remembered as the mortal I am… by mortals themselves.” he stopped, a though crossing his face in an ungraded fashion. “Except, perhaps, the Lady of this Household, who would surely remember me with many a migraine.”

The whimsical woman twirled her dark hair between her fingers “Hm. I must inform you, then, that your information will come too late.”

“Why?” asked Ruadh with a frown.

The girl was the one to answer, this time “That attack you’d been going on about has already begun.”

“I feared as much.” Ruadh cradled his chin, looking troubled “Can you stop it?”

“Yes, but a price.”

This caused the Human’s frown to deepen. “I thought our deal had already been struck.”

“For the girl, yes,” drawled the eldest of the lot “but not for the lives of the here forsaken.”

Ruadh’s shoulders went lax, as if in defeat “What do you ask for them?”

“Feeling selfless, are we?” laughed the whimsical one.

Ruadh laughed along “Selfless? I’ve always thought only the most selfish people got to save the world.”

“You wished to be remembered, no?”

“Yes.”

Simple. He wanted to think it simple. He’d already called his Ghosts here, to be seen and heard and utilized – so why waste their pliable nature? Why waste his remaining years on withering away?

Funny, how he’d never stopped being scared.

Finally, one of the Spirits passed a verdict:

“Then the price for giving others a chance to survive this, a chance for this war to be avoided – are your own memories, Ruadh Barnabas. Will that suffice?”

No. That wasn’t what he wanted. Didn’t they understand? This wasn’t what he wanted. No.

“No.” he found himself saying “I want to die, not to become an amnesic idiot. My life is too precious to me.”

“There is no logic for in your previous statement.”

“But there is.” Ruadh insisted, desperately “I love this life, this world – parting with it will be my greatest regret. However… I feel that no matter where my Spirit wanders after Death, it will at least keep within the soul my most cherished memories. In the end, that’s all that lingers of our loves and our suffering… the faded comfort of things long gone.”

He was unsure if his Ghosts understood his sentiments. They’d been far removed from anything real or Human for longer than anyone really cared to give a measurement to. Ruadh liked to think of them as Human, understanding, twisted, ridiculous, nonsensical and dear.

“You are a friend of old, Ruadh Barnabas,” they told him suddenly, almost as if they shared a single thought between them “and you will be forgotten. However, with this act at least – you wouldn’t have existed for nothing.”

.

If Noel had a heart, he was sure that by now it would have killed him.

He raced down corridors and stairs, hid in nooks and crannies and he had even doused his brother in some water from a vase full of flowers – to cover his sent. Leon stood beside him now, shivering, but unharmed. They waited now, behind a curtain by another such vase full of a multitude of flowers and waited until the coast was clear.

Three Vampires skulked at the end of the hall, far enough Noel was relatively sure they could make a run for it if absolutely necessary – but would rather wait it out until it was actually safe to move.

A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he looked toward the familiar shape. His eyes widened “Spiridon! What are you doing here?!” he whispered, and almost missed how frantic his own voice sounded as he called for his fellow Spirit. He’d never thought he’d be so glad to see the bastard in his life.

Spiridon veered, in clear view yet unseen and unheard by the Vampires prowling near “Searching for Master Laukkanen and Mistress Isaac! Master Barnabas has–“

“Spiridon!” Noel cut him off. His brain wasn’t working. It felt like his heart was going to burst “Please, I need to get my brother out of here!”

Spiridon stilled. “What?” he shouted “Haven't you heard a word I’ve said to you?”

Noel bristled. This wasn’t the time for chit-chat! His brother was there, beside him, shivering in the cold like an abandoned puppy and so quiet Noel knew Leon hadn’t come out of this unscratched. He’d witnessed several murders tonight, all gruesome and mindless and Noel knew that such a memory burned forever.

How could Spiridon, as far removed from this life as he was, understand such a thing?

“You’re employers are in trouble, I get it, you care you idiotic smudge of paint!” he shot at the other Ghost “But you’ll be here even after they are dead! I cannot live without my brother, I refuse to live without him – so omnipotence above help me or leave me now!”

It was then that he registered the hurt in Spiridon’s gaze. He flinched back, as if burned, for the thing in the other’s eyes was a wound cut open and left to fester. Then, Spiridon squared his shoulders and barreled, head first, towards the Vampires.

“Hey, you three!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. He’d made himself corporeal, Noel realized with a sick kind of shock, he’d made himself their importune saviour. “Looking for something to eat! Come and get it!”

The Vampires took one look at him and charged. Of course they did. These things were so hunger-driven they pounced on anything that moved. Noel gulped, trying not to think such thoughts. Spiridon was a Spirits, he’d just lead the Vampires in a few circles then phrase through a wall. Simple as that.

Noel had better things, better people, to worry about.

“Come on, we need to get out of here.” he told his brother, who hadn’t let a single sound pass through his quivering lips. When he spoke, it was not something Noel wanted to hear.

“What about the others?” Leon whispered, in a despairing kind of desperation “Noel, we can’t just leave all these people…”

“We can and we will, Leon,” Noel promised “we can’t save them, but we can at least save ourselves.”

There was a laugh from somewhere behind then. Noel spun, horror in his veins – for how could he have let his guard down and not sensed an oncoming being?! Before him stood a woman, not too short and not too tall, draped in layers upon layers of flayed black. Her dress seemed ripped, her hair a midnight waterfall that bled into the night and obscured the sharp features of the moon that was her face.

Noel could not sense her, it was like she wasn’t even there.

“How very apt you are with words.” she told him with a careless giggle “But I fear you are to Human to comprehend what you’ve just said.”

Before Noel could answer, she swept past him. No sound came from her footfalls and no ripples followed as she stepped into a puddle of red. She did not breathe yet she did not exude spiritual energy, not a corporeal thing yet not of imagination either.

“Happy ends,” she whispered to them as she passed “watch the Wolf, it has its own pact.”

.

The Seven wandered for a while, searching for their prey.

They found her in a flurry, on top of a bookcase in a library along with several other Magicians. She wobbled on her perch and they did not need to catch her. She screamed when she saw them, shouted at the others “Watch out! Watch out!” even though she herself was blind.

She was a lively thing, silenced by a kiss of nothing on what nothing would become.

Her first kiss had been a boy from her class, a Dragan Kasun who she couldn’t have cared less about until the day he said he liked her. He remembered he liked to paint, that his paintings were breathtaking and life-like.

Her first crush, though, was Boris – though she never told anyone about that.

She couldn’t feel her lips or her face, the tips of her fingers or her toes or her vary mind. Her chest was light and empty.

Sofija was a wishful girl with loads upon loads of Magical books. Sofija also, quite luckily, had the biggest crush on Constantine. She could understand that, to some degree, and she could use it.

Sofija’s face went all red and beaming when she asked her for a book and said, in the most innocent way possible, that Constantine needed it for some research.

She wanted to laugh for some reason. She felt so alive. Everyone in her head agreed with her. This girl had funny ideas.

Constantine’s best friend was a Greek. Well, no, technically he wasn’t a Greek. Technically, he was an albino from Zambia who immigrated to Greece over a decade ago. He changed his name to boost. How, why and when were lost on her. The only thing she knew was that it was freaking hilarious when they talked over the phone – half Greek, half English, half Esperanto – and how Constantine’s face always looked like a tomato when he slammed his phone down with a shout of “Impossible!”

Magic was impossible, Drina thought, but Magic was real. It was the impossible things that always spurred her on, because if she was part of an impossible world–

“…You’re impossible.”

–did she belong to that world?

It wasn’t so funny when Isidora explained to her, years later, that Xander the Greek was the lead informant in charge of tracking Alchemists in the modern world. Isidora didn’t tell her why or how.

She was always wondering over the whys, never the whens or the wheres.

Sometimes, Drina wondered if she’d imagined the world.

She needed to see the Doctor, but no – Sibin… Sibin wasn’t Sibin but he was Sibin and he’d always be Sibin even if he never was Sibin. Sibin was Drina’s therapist, wasn’t he? Sibin was crazy. Sibin was crazy, surely. She was crazy and she must have gone crazy when Sibin said she was right and the world was wrong and that he was Sibin.

Sibin knew how to hurt her, he'd make the hurt go away.

She sat in a colorful room with a strange man. Her parents had taken her here before, because she insisted she had a brother and they had a son – she even showed them a picture! – but they didn’t believe her. They said the boy was a family friend, surely, one they couldn’t remember.

She saw other things too, like Sirens in the river when they went out for a walk or people walking through people on the street. Her parents called it a trick of the light, even though they paid it only a second’s glance.

She fumed, twelve years of age, and waited for this new psychiatrist to begin his hocus-pocus speech.

“Is my carpet that interesting?” he’d asked her, in the privacy of that room, with a slight fluctuation in his tone that she later learned to recognize as a laugh. “Or are you staring at my little green minions rearranging the crayons over there?”

Yes. Yes she had, as a matter of fact – but how did he know what she’d just imagi–?

In that moment, she thought she understood.

Her psychiatrist was even crazier than she was.

Her blood ran cold when she read the letter. She didn’t like to imagine. She didn’t like knowing. She needed to know. She needed to thank him. She needed to slap him silly.

Her legs moved on their own, leading her into the unknown. Drina thought, though, that she knew where she was going. She felt empty and a bit cold inside.

Constantine could change the temperature in a room. He really could. He could make small things float, if he really put some effort into it – which he didn’t – but what he did best was beacon the Wind. The Wind had a soul, in the belief of their people. The Wind whispered in Constantine’s ear like an old friend.

Once, the Wind must have been really mad at her – because she’d insulted Constantine again and this time he’d actually looked hurt by her words – and the Wind had knocked her over and tried to blow her into a some shrubbery in the park.

Constantine had caught her before she could roll all the way and pulled her up to her feet. Her knees hurt, but she hadn’t said anything. Constantine had just looked at her and let her hug him around the waist. He didn’t say anything to her as they walked towards the Ghumno. Nothing but a good-natured offer.

“Want me to kiss it better?”

He knew she’d never take it.

She wondered how she intended for brother to fix all her problems. He wasn’t real, was he? So her problems weren’t real either.

Constantine was drunk. She couldn’t remember why he’d gotten drunk, really, and even in this state he wasn’t telling. Constantine hated when things were out of control, when he himself was out of control – that was why this sight was so worrisome.

Bogdan, the cafe owner, and Isidora were just helping him up and planning to dump him in Bogdan’s apartment, which was actually the second floor of the house.

She held the door for them, biting her lip but not uttering a word.

Suddenly, Constantine – who’d been murmuring nonsense for the last couple of hours – said “Hm, hey Dora – would you marry me, if I asked you to?”

Isidora had just groaned from her spot on the stairs, as she and Bogdan tried to get him up and through the door. “I don’t know.” she bit out through gritted teeth, exasperated “Will you ask me to?”

Constantine grinned and said “Nope.”

Never was the word that defined her existence.

There was blood in the water.

Shit, they’ll know.

Vid would have said the Fates were laughing at them.

Drina held the little packet her brother had left her and wondered.

“Will you ever open it?” she asked herself.

“No.” she answered.

She would have said that the comedian told the joke.

–leaned in and whispered in her ear “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. Work it out, Drina, it’s inevitable.”

Dream of nothings, nothings grieve! That was a nice line. She wondered if that was what people called bliss. It sounded boring. It was a fleeting though, ever-changing, and kind exciting in that way.

“Further underground than I was.” he’d said.

“I’m sorry.”

She was such a naive, baby girl.

She wondered where that girl had gone…

Brother was a rather fast runner. She wondered where he was going to hide, in their little game of hide-and-seek. He raced down every path and every stone like he’d done so a hundred times before – and then he ducked into a burrow. Oh, it was just like in that cartoon about Alice and the Here!

With a giggle she raced down after him, down the rabbit whole, and at the bottom there waited a whole lot of people she did not know. There were shadows all around, candle lit and dim and somehow warm – but someone told her to run from that place, to leave it.

The funny men in funny suits, all alike one another, called her brother a liar. She didn’t understand. They took her brother to a cell and locked her up in there too, but then a woman had saved them. She was rather pretty, with her hair spiraling from white to rose. She had a nice smile, too, though it was sad. Why was it sad?

Beside her stood a man. He looked rather dark and quite scary, but to her he also looked merely worried – like her brother would be after a math test.

She was sleepy.

“You really screwed this up, did ya’ mate?” that man of undefined, worried features was saying “If the chief didn’t think you were so worth it, you wouldn’t be loitering in this cell, I’ll tell ya’ that. How you gonna explain this to yer’ sister? She’s bound to remember now…”

“Tell her nothing…” her brother was whispering, quiet, as if to lull her to sleep “Let her think me a coward and bury my memory. She doesn’t need to know the truth.”

“Aye, even I can believe you a coward.”

The woman took her hand and led her away, but she was too sleepy. The woman carried her, her grip firm and strong and cool like dew drops.

“Where are we going?” she remembered asking.

“You’re going home, little one.”

Reality. She’d never liked fantasy books. There was too much reality in them. Why couldn’t it have all been a dream?

Her father read her Alice in Wonderland one night when she couldn’t sleep. Mama should have done that, but she was already sleeping on the couch. He told her of Alice and her fall, of the White Here’s plight and the poor Red King and a deck of cards come to life.

He said she was his little Alice. She answered Alice should have stayed in Wonderland.

Her Father asked her why.

He didn’t understand.

Alice came home.

The White Here did not.

The marionette paused in the circle of blood and spoke.

.

Blood was in the air, its presence hung heavy in the mingling panic of his mind. He stood behind a pillar, the only cover he could find on such short notice that didn’t leave him either entirely exposed or backed into a corner. Ulyssa – his dear, dear, Ulyssa – stood behind a pillar across from his own. The foyer was rather quiet, which set Reima infinitely on edge.

They needed to find Master Barnabas. Spirits knew that man had probably gotten out before shit had really hit the fan – the coward – but Ulyssa had insisted he was still in the building. Reima trusted her judgment. Out of the two of them, she was the one with the heightened sixth sense. Reima had never really mastered the fine art of sensing another life-form or being able to find someone using the “scent” of their essence.

At times like there, he was glad to have Ulyssa Isaac around. She was a bit of a mouse, with her timid disposition and her habit of hiding behind her books, but Reima generally liked the other Magician. She may have been a hybrid, what with her mother being a Dryad, but Reima was infinitely glad to have her on his side.

He’d never understood why Ruadh had insisted on changing the Magical Stature to include both magical creatures and half-breeds in the Glein Project, but he didn’t need to. That man may have been a prat and bat-shit crazy, yet Reima trusted him with the world. Besides, if everything went to hell, he’d have the condolence of knowing that the world had always been one crazy, ridiculous, tragically fleeting place. Reima groaned inwardly. He’d been spending too much time with Kawacatoose Pratt, it would seem.

Was this really the time to be thinking of any of those things? Nope, especially since a Vampire was about to tear out his throat.

A gun went off.

Reima felt the bullet whip past his neck and into the Vampire's face. With a screech it fell back. Reima looked at it, withering on the floor in its own blood and throwing a hissy fit, to the one who’d fired. Ulyssa’s hands were shaking.

“Come on,” her voice quivered, however slightly, but for now she seemed composed. Reima nodded at her, minutely, and they hurried out of the main hall.

The whole evening had literally been a bloody mess. From the moment someone had sabotaged the dome downstairs, everything had gone straight to hell.

When the glass had come raining down on the spectators, Reima could do nothing but tackle the two people sitting next to him to the ground. Ulyssa. Some Asian guy as well. The next thing his boggled mind had managed to process was the blood – the sight of it, the smell, the feeling of it as it trickled from the spot a shard had embedded itself in.

People were dead, he realized, killed either by the explosion or the glass cutting them up into mongered pieces of flesh.

People were still dying, Reima had realized. Some were bleeding out, though that was no cause for worry in the immediate sense. This was the place in which time bounced in place on a bloody pogo-stick. People didn’t die in here of old age or disease or any kind of slow death. Huh, maybe they could bleed out. Reima wasn’t sure. Death was a messy business.

Anyway, unless someone outright killed you – you wouldn’t die. Reima had the distinct feeling, as he watched a Vampire slink itself over a fallen figure, that no sort of ancient Magic would protect anyone upon this night.

Spirits, there had been so much blood. The Vampires had gone berserk the moment they sniffed the opulent concoction. They were Dead things, Vampires, their bodies had long since stopped functioning independently. They needed blood, living and gushing and life, not as a food source but as a kind of fuel to keep their bodies from shutting down and rotting away. Their cells could not replenish themselves, the DNA couldn’t replicate itself. The organism was meant to die, but the blood they drank from their living counterparts jump-started their system back to a life-like state.

The Dead were selfish and desperate – the more selfish they became, the less Human. The more desperate, the less incentive they needed to kill someone else to keep living.

It had been planned, all of it. This entire event had been constructed as a bomb ready to blow the world into all out war.

It couldn’t have been the Demon. That was too straight-forward, too black-and-white. It was a set-up, yes, surely, but by who? How could he claim it was a set up in front of the idiots at the Magic Council without any proof when they had a perfectly good Navi to blame it on? Spirits, he hated political cover-ups! No, he couldn’t think about that now. All Reima needed to do was get his idiot Master out of whatever shit he’d gotten himself stuck in this time and then let Ruadh clean up his own mess – maybe cause a scandal or two in the Supreme Court, as was his quota.

With a start, Reima realized this was the wing in which he and the other representatives of the Sanduhr Academy had taken up.

A screech stopped them in their tracks. Reima looked up to see a Vampire, high up and clinging to a curtain high above them – it pounced. He tugged Ulyssa after him, towards a stairwell, but veered away from it when he realized more Vampires were coming from there.

Then, it stopped. It just… stopped.

Reima stood there, frozen as much as the monsters circling the two of them. The Vampires, about a dozen of them now, made no move. It was like a moment had stretched into eternity.

They’re eyes were blank and there were no zeniths in any of them. Reima shivered. This… didn’t seem right. Not that he wasn’t thankful that he hadn’t been eaten by a zombie, because he seriously wasn’t complaining.

“Next left.” Ulyssa instructed. Reima snapped back to the present with an unpleasant lurch. Ulyssa side-stepped several of their assailants. He skidded sideways just in time to follow Ulyssa down the corridor they’d just turned in and froze.

“Reima.” someone called. It was a girl. He’d seen her before, somewhere… Wait, she’d been a contestant! She’d fought the little Greek boy not four hours ago! Everything around the girl held a speck of red. Everything except her. She herself seemed like a dying star fallen to Earth. Nine shadows danced under her feat.

He couldn’t see Ulyssa anymore. She was as red as the rest of them, kneeling and crying over a woman somewhere to his right.

“Reima,” the girl called again, this time she sounded annoyed “Oi, idiot Apprentice! Pay attention here! I need to tell you a few things!”

Reima blinked, too stunned to react. “…Master Barnabas?”

The girl smiled “Close enough. Your Master Barnabas is dying in the bathroom over there. I suggest you go to him. We know he wouldn’t have wanted to die al–“

He was gone before the strange apparition could finish.

Catch me.– he heard a multitude of voices say through the fog in his brain.

Thud!

The bathroom door banged open.

“Reima.” again, someone was calling for him.

“Reima.” the old man gasped, bile and blood dripping from his mouth. Reima all but crashed to his knees beside him, tore Ruadh's cloak and shift until broken skin was out in the open. The Vampires would smell it, surely. They’d come. Reima felt himself shake, though the quivers were barely noticed as Ruadh’s spindly hand came to grip his forearm, as if to keep him there and in place. “The Ashen March.” his Master whispered.

Reima was dumbfounded. “What...?”

“Tell, Ave, Ashen March.” Ave? Aveolem, surely. What did that mean? Why... he was so confused. He felt like he was in high-school again, back when he’d first met his Master. He felt so lost.

“R-Reima...” Ruadh was calling for him again.

“...Yes?” Reima swallowed, feeling as if nothing of this was real at all.

“The Dead envy the Living...” his Master began, a crooked smile tugging at his lips as he met his Apprentice’s desperate, confused irises “the Living reach for the Dead... don’t be sad when the sun rises.”

Reima’s breathing had become labored and hard, louder than even the blood curdling in his ears. “You idiot, why can’t you ever talk straightforwardly?!” he screamed “Hell, why are you even talking? You should save your strength! As soon as Ulyssa stabilizes your leg we’ll get you out and...”

“Reima, you are very dear to me,” Ruadh cut him off effortlessly “but I don’t want the last thing I ever hear to be your incessant prattle.”

“Master Barnabas,” Reima all but choked on his own words “what do you think you’re doing?”

His Master had the gall to smile at him “I’m gambling, Reima, what does it look like I’m doing?”

His breathing was raspy and quiet, like the slow grating of sand in a windmill. His lids were almost purple in colour, his cheek’s stark white, slowly turning blue and hollow. Those eyes of his – that superior and infinitely annoying, judging and all-knowing gaze – was half-lidded and drooping.

The younger man shook his head “You’re not going to die...”

“In this place?” his Master shuddered, giving a weak laugh “No, I guess not – but I am going to die. I’m sorry, but I’m appointing you Director of Sanduhr Academy.”

God, why couldn't he make any sense... Why could...

“Why me?” Reima asked, his mind swimming in a sea of despair.

Ruadh Barnabas merely smiled. He did not open his mouth to answer, nor did he close his eyes in his final moments.

Ruadh Barnabas was an old man, the last of his line and an old pillar waiting to crumble. He smiled at his student, knowing the world would continue on without him – and wished them all the idiot saviors they would need to keep themselves Human.

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