Miranda is crying, while Bravil stares after the shadowy marauders with his fury in check. Federstadt lies in ruins, and the shadow of the Korv on the hill seems to watch as the laughing men vanish from sight. The stillness that comes after the marauders vanish is palpable, broken only by Miranda's sobs. When it feels like the scene might never change, that the quiet is permanent, a voice breaks in.
"So he showed you this," the familiar voice says from behind the dreamers. "I've seen it too I've seen it a lot. I don't like to think about it, but I'm here. I mean, I will be. I … You'll see."
Miranda sniffles softly, fidgeting with one of her ears as she starts to calm down. "It's so a-awful," the Lapi hiccups as she turns to look behind her in the direction of the voice.
"Certain moments always leave scars that run deep," Bravil notes quietly. The wolf pulls his cloak around himself. "Such are the ways of war, Lady Miranda. Life isn't fair, innocents die," he adds, then glances over his shoulder.
"Saying that doesn't make such things any less awful… " Miranda states quietly to Bravil while wiping her eyes on her sleeve, "You'll forgive me if I'm a bit more emotional than yourself."
Axel, or rather Axel Cartwright, stands behind the two with his hands tucked behind his back and his eyes to the sky. "Scars that run deep. Yes, that very insightful Bravil. That's what this place is: a scar that runs deep. It's his scar, and, well, it's mine." He reaches up and rubs at his eyes, squinting them shut, before pointing at a ruin near where the shadow falls. "That's the place. I remember now."
"I never said it wasn't awful," Bravil replies, then looks towards the ruins. Without another word, the wolf starts walking that way.
Miranda doesn't bother to reply and just follows the wolf silently.
The scene changes as the dreamers turn their gaze from Axel. Although the ruins remain largely the same, the smoldering fires are out, and the tracks have since been covered in dust. The stars, too, have changed slightly, indicating about several days worth of time has past. When they near the building, a figure stumbles from behind it.
Axel Cartwright staggers out in to the open with an arrow lodged in his chest. He casts one pale-faced look around, frightened eyes looking through the dreamers, before he loses his balance and falls backwards against the wall of the building. His breathing is labored, and his traveling clothes are stained red.
"That wound is fatal," Bravil says to no one in particular with a tone of finality, "One lung is no longer working. It … would be a mercy if the loss of blood spares him the pain of infection. I've … seen that look in many soldiers' eyes. He knows. People always know when they're dying."
Feeling herself start to tear up a bit again and noting who exactly it was in their dying moments, part of Miranda began to wish Bravil would just stop talking… or at least stop commenting on what was happening.
The stars shift, Axel stares, and Axel falls. He slides from his resting place to land with a unceremonious thump on the ground. Lips twitching, as if he were trying to say something, and then he is still. The stars shift, and the shadow moves with the coming dawn. It stretches from the statue, to the man, and there it rests.
"Neither of us remember what happened after this. It all began very hazy, up until we met a caravan of folk heading for your Stonebarrow." The voice pauses, as if thinking, and then adds in a quieter tone. "This is where I died where Axel Cartwright died. This is when he left his home. That is our problem, you see. Who have we become, if we are not alive? And, who am I?" The voice is Axel's, though disembodied. His corpse remains where it fell, cold and still.
"The desire to live," Bravil answers rather simply. He approaches the corpse and unhooks the cloak he wears. Sliding it off to reveal the scarred and battered metal armor underneath. With an unusually gentle reverence, he lays the cloak over the corpse. "Sometimes the will to live can force the body beyond what is natural," he adds, then looks towards the statue, "Or the wills, in this case, I would guess. For two to survive so deep a wound; they became one. The memories of this town wouldn't let him die. The result is someone … who was neither of the originals."
Miranda quietly watches Axel, the once living Axel, fall, not having an answer for the voice right away. She watches Bravil's rather kind gesture as he covers the body before looking down at her feet for a moment an saying, "It would seem you would be both, and neither. But either way what you are now, you are."
"And so it is," the voice agrees. The scene changes, as dreams are wont to do, and now the dreamers are in darkness. Centered in the darkness is a candle, and behind that, Axel Nadyenka sits playing with some string. His flame hued feathers arch, casting a double shadow behind him. On one side there is the shadow from the town, the Korv shadow, and to the other the shadow ends at a sitting Axel Cartwright.
The dreamers stand opposite Axel-Nadyenka now. They, too, cast their shadows, born of the light before the combined two. Behind Miranda, at the end of her shadow, is a raggedy looking version of herself. Her lisp-causing teeth are obvious, and she looks very sad. Bravil, too, casts his shadow. It is a familiar shadow, that of the Bravil in Stonebarrow not his smaller, noble self.
"Awrk," Axel complains, hands tangled in the string. He tugs it a bit, then looks up. "Welcome to the light! It's alive and living, isn't it? I'm alive and living, and so are you. It's me and you! And, it's me and me, but especially what I represent. But, every light casts a shadow my light casts yours." He points behind the dreamers.
Miranda looks behind herself at the gesture from the 'new' Axel, blinking, but easily recognizing the shadow as her own… that was indeed… herself. Looking at the bird man becoming tangled in his string the Lapi cant help but smile slightly, even after the gruesome scene witnessed before. "Would you like some help with that?" she asks, gesturing to the mans tangled hands.
"Which is light and which is shadow, though?" Bravil remarks to himself and looks over his shoulder and the shadow of the mutilated form behind him. He reaches up his gloved hand and closes it, and the shadow does the same with an oversized fist. "I … forgot what I once was. Perhaps I wanted to. I can still hear it echoing in my ears. The sounds of battle, the metallic smell of blood and corruption. The … rrgh!" He reaches up and grips his own head, expression suddenly contorted in pain. The armor encasing him suddenly rips as if torn by unseen claws.
Axel offers his hands to Miranda, smiling at her, looking with wide deep-red avian eyes. He listens, too, looking at her when she speaks, and then at Bravil. When he seems in pain, Axel frowns, but it's Axel Cartwright that speaks. "It hurts, doesn't it? To remember? We remember what we used to be, and we long for it but we can't have it. We look upon what we are, and despair. I don't hate what I've become, I fear it. I fear losing myself. Do you fear?"
Pausing from where she had begun unlooping the string wound around Axel's hands, Miranda looks over at Bravil with worried eyes; not knowing what is wrong with the wolf but feeling quite sure that it was nothing she could help. Listening quietly the Lapi forces herself to focus back on carefully untangling the bird-man's hands.
"Yes," the wolf growls in pain as he falls to one knee. "All living things fear; the defining moment is how you react to that fear. Do you flee from it, or do you face it and the consequences it brings?" Bravil asks, then sets his jaw firmly. In obvious pain, he pushes himself back up to his feet. "What will you do? Face it, or flee it?"
Axel-Nadyenka looks down at his hands once his 'half' speaks, and when his 'half' finishes, he tells Miranda, "It's tangled. My hands and my wings and my head. I'm the flame, too, but also the cinder." He wiggles his fingers, and adds, "I know you know what it's like to be me. Kalvin knows too, that's why I asked for him." To Bravil's question, Axel Cartwright answers, "I struggle, because letting go means deciding. He feels this too, though he hasn't the words to tell you. He's also … ," Axel Cartwright glances at the shadow, frowning, and biting his lip. "He's lonely. And, he's good. Good beyond all reason. I like him, but if stop struggling I and he … There won't be any difference, anymore. Even now I can't tell where I stop and he begins. I guess I'm just a coward."
"There will come a time when you will have to decide. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something you hold dear to save something else you hold dear. It's not fair, but then little ever is," Bravil says and looks down, the graying mane of black hair obscuring his face. "And, you're not a coward. I … remember that you went after Valicross. Yes, I … remember what the other me has seen. I am thankful that he … he doesn't remember me."
"Valicross! The necromancer! I remember him. No, I was terrified of him. I, I wanted to help but … I was afraid! It was him, he wanted to help. He is like … a storm. Like wind or rain or … Or fire! There are things that he is, and his conviction is strong. I wanted to help, and he was absorbed in doing it. We agreed, so we could act. It was clear then, unlike now. We, we don't agree. Not always. Not about individuality." Axel Cartwright glances at his other half again, then smiles faintly to Bravil. "Thank you, though. I appreciate your council. It seems to me, from what I've heard, that there are people who need you, too. He can't tell you, but he likes that about you. You see, in a way, watching over people is what he is."
Miranda continues working on the string wrapped around Axel's hands, loosening the knots he had managed to tangle it into. When the bird-man mentions all the things tangled up, the Lapi quietly replies, "One of the things I've learned, is that when you have a lot of problems, a lot of things 'tangled up', it's best to try to concentrate on one at a time and try to work out all the knots before moving to the next." She smiles at the mention of Kalvin.
"Watching over people, yes," the wolf says, still looking down, face still obscured. "My duty; my army. We guarded one of the portions of the border between Chronotopia and Bosch, keeping the occasional groups of horrors from leaking out. We … protected people." Again one of his armored hands comes up and he closes it slowly, watching his fingers curl. "You … do not want to die by the hands of those beasts. I can still hear the screams in my darkest nightmares. So can he, though he doesn't know what they are. A part of me … a part of me is still on that battlefield. In here." He reaches up and taps the side of his head.
Looking between the three, the bird-man Axel Nadyenka, Axel Cartwright, and the Korv-like shadow, Miranda smiles in a kindly manner saying, "And all that is not just going to go away when you become one. You will still, in a way, be 'watching over people', and you will, in a way, also be Axel Cartwright. Though you might lose the memories, and change, you will still be what you are, but together, and seamless."
"The knots and me? The knots in me. I'm a knot, and I'm a flame, tug again, not the same," Axel sing-songs as he starts helping Miranda untangle him. Behind him, the shadow lines flicker, drawing closer together, as if the flame had moved away. "That's a sad you, Miranda. The you behind you. That's the you that no one likes, even if it's a good you. Do you know you? Have you met Parsley? Her shadow is Clover."
Axel Cartwright listens to Bravil, watching him intently. When Bravil finishes, Axel Cartwright nods. "I never fought what you saw was just a man shot by an arrow. I never saw it coming, and I ran when they came at us with swords. Like you, a part of me is still here there." He points at Axel Nadyenka. "It haunts us. It is me. Like your nightmares, I live on in what we have become. But, I think it's killing us."
When Miranda comments again, Axel-Nadyenka answers, "I'm just me. I'm just me." Axel Cartwright adds, "I guess you're right. At least, I believe in what we could be. I've never really believed in anything before … " Axel's shadows draw closer.
"I've been in hundreds of battles, Axel," Bravil says and finally looks up. "I never saw my end coming, either. Warriors, regular men, it doesn't matter in the end. You are you. A unique person. You will touch the world, and those in it, in your own way. Make it count and whatever ultimately happens to you will be worth it."
Miranda looks over at her raggedy, sad looking shadow before turning back to the now mostly untangled string, saying quietly, "I know me. That me… " she thumbs over her shoulder at the shadow before continuing, "Is as much of me as I stand here. I like to do things for people, and help, because I feel it's theproper thing to do, but also because I hope people will see the 'whole' me, and not just the me that people don't like." The Lapi smiles and pats one of Axel Nadyenka's hands, saying, "Bravil is right, in the end we are all unique, we all have to take our life and live it.
"I'm me, even if I don't know what that may be soon … " Axel Cartwright looks at his hands, flexing his fingers. "I know resisting hurts us, now. Talking to you, I think I know why. I won't explain. I… I can't … It's something I feel, because we are connected. I just know. I… I guess I was afraid to let go. But, you did, didn't you?" Axel Cartwright looks up at Bravil, questioningly.
Axel Nadyenka pats Miranda's hand right back. "I like the you that's you. Do I like the me that's me?" His head tilts questioningly, and he stares off in to space. "I think so, maybe. Live a life and live for life. Every flame has a beginning, and every flame a shadow. Once, I was the flame, the flame with many others, and I shadowed them. Flames burn, and flames die, but they all keep back the darkness. Two flames burn brighter." He pats Miranda's hand again, and his shadows grow closer.
Miranda smiles as her hand gets patted back in response. "Well, you're one of the people who sees the whole me, and I like the you that's you. I think it's a very nice you. The yous that make up you are nice, so you must be a nice you too, right?" she says with a nod, smiling a little wider at the tongue-twistiness of it.
"I had to, in the end," Bravil says quietly. Slowly, more rips and gouges in the armor appear and the metallic smell of blood becomes noticeable. "I had a choice to let others die, or risk all to rescue them. The cost was … I lost myself. Do I regret? Yes. I regret that I don't know what happened to everyone else after I … fell. Would I have done differently? No; I had to be true to who I was."
"I must be nice? I must be nice, it's my way. It's what I am. It's what I want to do," agrees Axel-Nadyenka. Then, he gives Miranda a hug.
Axel Cartwright listens again, and when Bravil finishes his eyes widen. "I had no idea you were so brave. Your story has helped me remember something important, and as I am closer to him now, I know what it means: he is looking for them. He wants to protect them. Everyone, but them especially. I, I think they are those townspeople! They may not be dead." Axel Cartwright nods, and stands up. "You're right. I regret, and I'm afraid. But, it's about being true. I guess my time is done, but I can still help someone." With Axel Cartwright's declaration, the shadows grow closer still. Now, they are just out of Axel Cartwright's reach of each other. The Korv shadow finally begins to stir, stretch out towards him, as if trying to touch him.
The Lapi returns Axel Nadyenka's hug warmly. "It is good that you know that about yourself. Knowing yourself is important, and see, you're not so tangled up now!" she says, meaning more than just Axel's hands before looking over to where the two shadows are drawing steadily closer together.
Bravil clutches part of his chest and a trickle of blood flows down from beneath his hand. "My … time here is almost gone. The shadows come for me again. Soon I will be gone," he says, then shakes his head. "I wish you the best in finding that which you seek. As for you, Lady Miranda, I hope you do not lose the innocence which defines you. The world needs … that." He falls to his knees, wincing. "Should … should you ever wish to know more, you might be able to find the history of the Von Ril family. Perhaps it mentions me. Perhaps not. It makes my heart light to think that perhaps I would be remembered, a hope," He says, and for the first time, smiles.
Axel-Nadyenka nods his head several times. "I'm not so tangled up now," he agrees. Behind him, the shadows slowly draw closer, moving without converging. Soon, Axel Cartwright extends a hand for his shadowy-Korv counterpart, a foot from its shadowy beak. "When we converge, this place will cease to exist. Bravil will return to his shadow, and you will return to your dreams Miranda. I can't promise to remember Bravil, Miranda, so you must. Please, remember me too. My parents, the Cartwrights, live in Justininople. Tell them I'm gone, if it comes to that. And, please, remember Bravil." Axel Cartwright raises a hand and waves. "I'm happy to have known you!"
Bravil bows his head. The remains of his battered form ripple and then simply disintegrate into a spray of colors not unlike the leaves during autumn winds. It swirls and dissipates, leaving only the faint echo of his voice, "May you find all you are looking for in your new life, Axel. Goodbye, Lady Miranda."
Miranda watches the noble Bravil sadly as he slowly collapses. "I will… look for you Bravil, I will remember you, I will remember you both," the Lapi says, looking between the figures there; Bravil, Axel, the 'new' Axel, and the Korv shadow. She smiles, saying, " I will see if I can find the history of the VonRil, and I will remind Axel if he does not remember when this comes to an end, and I will remember you too, Axel Cartwright. I'm very happy to have met you, even if it was very short." Miranda nods before letting go of Axel-Nadyenka. "I will," she says with conviction and certainty.
Axel Cartwright bites his lip as Bravil vanishes and, for a moment, looks hesitant. The shadows ripple and slow, but he then gives a forceful and respectful nod to Bravil's voice. "I hope I can be as brave as you, Bravil." Axel-Nadyenka beams a smile at Miranda, just before Axel-Cartwright and Nadyenka the spirit of Federstadt touch. Both the shadow and Axel Cartwright freeze, before blending together is a bright swirl of flame. Axel-Nadyenka suddenly tells Miranda cheerily, "I feel not so 'ow' anymore."
Then, everything vanishes.