Friday, 6 November 2009

The Romance of Explosions -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (892 words, Roxis/Vayne, innuendo)

I have way too much fun inventing recipes for this world. Just for the record, any of the original recipes in any of my fics are free for anyone to use in their own writing; letting people know where you got the idea is nice, but use them as you see fit.


Vayne cast his gaze over the selection of ingredients, pressing a finger to his lips and humming in thought. "So... I'm guessing we should probably start with Clearwater, maybe?"

"That sounds about right," said Roxis, retrieving one of the pre-distilled jars from the shelf and handing it to Vayne, who began uncorking the top. "We probably want it to be clear, after all, and it certainly needs to be wet."

Vayne nodded, and took another look over what was available as he finished adding the water to the cauldron. "We can use this jar to store it in, too, since I guess we'll need something. For the base, maybe.... Oh!" His fingers closed around a green-tinted vial, small rubbery mounds dimly visible through the glass.

Roxis mused. "Puni Gummies? ...Hm, of course. Though I'm not sure how sanguine I am about anything that's been in a Puni being used that way."

Vayne laughed a little. "Well, if you're willing to eat these.... And besides, they've already been boiled once and I'm going to boil them again, so it's not like there'll be any risk...."

"For the record, I've never actually eaten a Puni Gummi. Nor would I. They always looked kind of unpleasant." Roxis smiled, stepping back from the cauldron and taking a seat against the wall, confident that Vayne would not merely be content but actively eager to take care of the hard work by himself. "But you're the Mana. I'm sure you know what you're doing."

"I'm not sure I can think of anything else that will work," conceded Vayne. The jellied lumps bubbled and popped as the now-boiling water consumed them, the liquid temporarily staining with the various hues that seeped from them before returning to a clear, if slightly shimmery, state. "Though if you don't like the flavour, maybe we should add another ingredient. What flavours do you like?"

"It's not so much the flavour but the consistency," said Roxis. "Though I guess in this case it can't be helped." He mulled Vayne's question over for a moment. "As for what we should flavour it with, well... I don't doubt you'll be tasting it more than I, but if it's my choice, I am rather partial to cheesecake."

Vayne glanced dubiously over at the tinned cheesecake they'd prepared earlier that week, then back to the gelatinous mixture in the cauldron. "Adding cheesecake to this.... I think it might spoil. --But I could distill the vapours, most likely." He fetched the cheesecake and took a slice, placing it in a separate apparatus and sparking the flame beneath it. "So it'll be like.... Cheesecake essence. I bet this would be nice for flavouring things in general...."

"Haha, that's a grand idea. I wouldn't object to more cheesecake-flavoured things around here." Roxis pulled out a notebook and began recording the details. "So, Clearwater, Puni Gummies, and Cheesecake essence. --oh, wait." His face fell. "She says that's not everything."

Vayne scratched the back of one ear. "Ahaha.... Oh dear. This can't be good, can it."

Roxis grimaced. "...She says we need to use Plosion powder, too."

"Plosion powder?" Vayne yelped. "Th-that's not going to be safe!"

"Well, technically it's inert by itself, so it won't actually explode. Or at least I would trust not." The human alchemist cast a withering look to the empty air beside him, its target nowhere to be seen.

Vayne brought down a tin of the substance and, opening it, rubbed a few of the fine grains between his fingers. "You're right, this doesn't ignite on its own... yah!" He fumbled and almost dropped the container. "I-it sure does tingle a bit, though."

"Yes, exactly," said Roxis. "But we don't really have a choice." He muttered something under his breath.

"Huh? Sorry, I didn't hear what you said...."

"...I said, I'll be in trouble if I don't do what she says. Just put it in," said Roxis, with an expression that almost made Vayne wish him cat ears so he could properly convey his displeasure by flattening them back against his head.

"Okay." Vayne looked at the powder with trepidation. "How much?"

"As little as we can get away with." With a sigh, Roxis jotted down Plosion powder in the notebook, dotting the i hard enough to smudge. "So. What are we going to call this, exactly?"

"Ahah, you're asking me?" Vayne stared into the cauldron thoughtfully, scooping up some of the mixture with a ladle and pouring it off into a bowl. He swirled the still-hot liquid around a little, examining the texture. "What about--"

"--nothing with Puni in the name, please."

"Mm, I was going to say something like.... Slippery Liquid, I guess. I mean, that's what it is."

"Hmm." Roxis rubbed at his temples. "I suppose it's technically true, but it's not very inspiring. Something more poetic, maybe."

"Poetic...." Vayne's ears drooped a little. "I'm not that good at poetry.... Oh! Wait, what about.... Well, it's kind of for a romantic use, right? And it's not really explosive, but it's made with stuff that could explode, so... what about Romance of Explosions, or something like that?"

"I suppose that will do. ...Yes, I rather like that, actually." Roxis noted it down on the top of the sheet, then turned his gaze back to the space beside him. "...and just what are you snickering at now?"

---, the property called "Romance of Explosions" in the Japanese Mana Khemia is called "Orgasmic" in the English translation. Just so you know.

Also, if you thought I was going to pull a bait-and-switch and make this something innocent at the end... nah, that's been done too many times. XD

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Watershed -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (1159 words, spoilers)

Just a little exposition-y thing about one Mana's fundamental place in the cosmos. Inspired by Vienna Teng's "Watershed" and Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters".

It started out just backdropping/laying out my personal canon, but on the way it kind of turned into a creation myth/fairy-tale-like mini-epic, and you actually don't have to know Mana Khemia to appreciate it. Although it is one giant spoiler.


It had been there since ancient days.

Still it was the youngest of the Mana: Wind and Water, Fire and Light, these things had defined the universe since before the first-born monster had placed a foot upon the Earth. (For humans had come from the love monsters made with Mana, though they did not like to admit it.) But wishes could only live with a wisher to dream them, and so it had been that at the first sincere wish, the first time a creature had ever looked to the newborn stars and longed for something more, the last of the primal forces of the world had been born into being.

A spark, at first; a tiny mote of hope, and then, like a pearl formed around a grain of sand, its heart had grown with every wish, a fire that became a furnace, a furnace that birthed a sun.

In agony and sweet rapture it roiled and swelled behind the curtain of the universe, a power that ached with every wish not yet fulfilled and rejoiced at those that, through loving hands, were granted. Yet for all its power, it alone could not bring its own form to fruition. For while earth and water, air and fire, were necessary to run the world, and light to grant it hope, wishes were not necessary for the beginning of things. They existed only for endings, for completion, to raise what had emerged imperfect into heaven's hands. And if humans, beastmen, and their variant kinds wanted heaven, they would have to build the bridge there with their own hands.

It was not spite. It was not a challenge. It was only the way things were: the rule of paradise, that the oldest of the alchemists had received in a vision and engraved on an emerald tablet, whose words were still passed down today in the halls of the greatest institutions of magic. That what was Above and what was Below must act in unity to achieve perfection: the mortal and the endless, the heavens and the flesh. So man must build a bridge, and the heavens had played their part, offering down that vision whose knowledge had informed the actions of many a seeker. So far, the earthly team were doing well, and the heavens held hope.

But it was one man, caught in the throes of a desperate longing, who at last wielded the Art of Kings to form a mortal body, and bound to it that ancient power which had itself so yearned to escape. He named it Vayne, meaning a kindly one; and then he forced it to kill. But it was alive in the world, and no manner of cruelty could wash existence free of that truth.

That night, the little creature, afraid of the dead man and driven out by his lover, sheltered in the woods near the alchemist's house, and shivered for want of love. And that night, a storm rolled over the land, like no storm that had ever been known. Warm and heavy, it crept like an army's advance, saturating each inch of the ground in turn before moving on to the next. Vayne had no memories, and no cover but the leaves' canopy; he did not know that the heavens displayed in his honour, a tumultous sorrow for those who would twist goodness to poor ends. But he felt no pain from the elements, and when the storm had passed, bringing with it the morning and the company of one disgruntled, rain-soaked cat, a new lightness had settled over his heart.

The joy did not last long. For as mentioned, in his newborn form, thinking for the first time as one small life and not the wishes of the multitudes, he had in haste wished to escape all that he had known in those first grisly minutes of living. Now he knew nothing of his nature, and he had forgotten why he had come. In time, from curiosity, he ventured out into the towns and cities to mingle with the things that looked like him; unknowingly, they taught him human habits, and that all his impulses were strange and alien, and should be buried deep in his heart. So he ate food, because he feared death, and drank from the streams, and became humble and afraid of the lesson they all too knowingly inflicted, the lesson that those who are different will be mistrusted and loathed.

He was feared for his power; suspected for his ignorance; hated for the look in his eyes, the glimmer of alien sapience that he could not hide. At his core, he never understood why, for when he stared at his reflection in rivers the strange aliveness in his gaze was always a comfort-- one of the few truths to which civilisation's tides had not numbed his tender heart. Animals affirmed it, for they, if almost no others, would meet his eyes with curious affection; no others, save the occasional alchemist, who would remember passing Vayne in the streets many years after he had left the mainland.

It was one of those who had passed on the word, the story of the boy with the life in his eyes, life unlike that of the average villager or even the alchemists themselves. He was something different, they knew, and so they told of him, and eventually those words reached the ears of she who remembered him, and had tried to forget. She had hoped he would fall unconscious to the truth, but as time went by she became fearful that even the small, stifled expressions of that once-great power would be damning, and sought to contain even that last bit of life.

But the time would come when Al-Revis Academy, far from swallowing up the Mana's potential, would bring his heart to full fruit once again. It was there in the cauldrons' crackling song, there in the shadows and the pale morning light, echoing through hallways on the footsteps of the hopeful. It was there in the anticipation that swelled within his three-year term, there in years that passed resonant with rare beauty, staining memories golden in retrospect, crafting sweet revelations from simple friendships. Those who knew him felt the movement most of all, but it lived in the school as a whole, something everyone felt but no one knew how to say.

The waters would rise. A sleeper would wake. The storm would come once again, and the rains would nurture the land and bear forth a new Eden. As that day dawned closer, their dreams were thick with it, hazy summerlight spilling into waking life; time seemed to slow, circling around that perfect moment when all would be undone, to be reborn sweeter and anew.

The sound of the world holding its breath was alive in everyone's ears.

One blissful moment, one bright peal to split the heavens.

Since ancient days, the world had been waiting.


Re: the union of monsters and Mana creating humans, I'm actually really pleased with this creation myth. The unity of great heavenly things and small, earthly things bringing about creatures who can do alchemy, the art of unifying the spiritual and the physical, seems fitting to me. The rather neat yet tragic thing I've decided about my canon as of all of five minutes ago is that contrary to popular thought, "beastpeople" are actually more strongly derived from the Mana side than the monster side of the equation, since the first monsters were gelatinous, furless things. People think they're more primitive, but actually their "bestial" characteristics are evidence of divine heritage. Lorr is probably actually awesome at alchemy.

I'm using this etymology for Vayne, btw: "a well disposed person". Although I rather like this meaning personally. It doesn't say who the bearer belongs to: like Vayne himself, they simply belong to everyone....

Monday, 2 November 2009

To The Pain -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (2045 words, Roxis/Vayne, sex, intense violence)

NC-17 all over the place; violent, vicious BDSM. Also breathplay. Go bulletproof kink.

Fic-based continuation of this thread. Not for the fainthearted; Vayne-muse begged me, I swear.


The first blow struck Vayne hard, in the side, and his knees buckled. Something that was half a choked whimper and half a cough fell from his parted lips.

"Ssh, Vayne, none of that now," said Roxis in sweet tones; too sweet for the violence of this, an odd contrast to the atmosphere in the cell. "If anyone hears you, there'll be trouble. And you wouldn't want to get me into trouble, would you?"

Vayne shook his head, tousled hair all falling in his eyes as his head bowed in contrition.

"Good," was Roxis' only response.

Something sharp and swift snapped across Vayne's exposed chest. A razor-edged chain of light and steel, the shuffle of cards as they fell back into Roxis' hand, and Vayne had wished not to feel it agonisingly but the sting was still there, and he failed to bite back a soft cry.

"I told you not to make a--" said Roxis, the word sound eclipsed as Vayne's head rung from the blow. "Or do you want me to wish you silent?"

Wish him silent? It was a struggle to hold back the sounds his throat forced forth, but to scream and scream against the mocking walls of the dungeon and feel no sound come out at all, his protests reduced to empty air, no satisfaction, no release....

He nodded, weakly, clutching his bruised cheek.

After all, no one was going to come down after them. Roxis' charade was simply that: the bored guard, stuck running a "prison" that was little more than an occasional sleeping spot for cats, had been more than happy to hire out the place, for a cover story of a "research project" and a little bit of a fee. But still, one more torment couldn't help but make things sweeter.

The cards struck him again, a slash that crisscrossed the previous blow; his eyes watering too much to open them, he could only judge location from the lingering heat, but the pleasure-pain throbbing in his nipples was enough to tell him Roxis had aimed with purpose. To manage that blow, twice, without breaking skin, and in complete confidence that he wouldn't just slice through the raised and sensitive flesh... that took talent, and for all he wanted to feel impressed by this show, now he truly was impressed.

What those cards could do much lower down, controlled with such finesse.... Blood rushed through him at the thought, and he could tell from the tightness in his groin that his thoughts were perfectly visible, even without the pact.

Sure enough, Roxis barked out a laugh. "Heh. I know what you're probably thinking right now. This isn't quite what you asked for, is it?" He moved closer to Vayne, the warmth of slight exertion and evident arousal pouring off him, the hand that reached down to cup him sending tingles of heat well ahead of its touch. "You're rather hard" --yes he was, and Vayne blushed at his failure to resist the train of thought-- "to keep my hands off, you know, when you're like this."

His fingers uncurled themselves from Vayne's length, and he would have whimpered at the loss but suddenly he couldn't, and the realisation only added to his need. "Don't worry. I have no intentions of doing anything with this until you're thoroughly beaten. It's just another little ache to add to the pile." The now-familiar whiplike sensation flashed across his thigh. "And another place to target." Vayne sank to one knee, shuddering, the heady mixture of longing and sharpness and way too close! that spiralled through him causing his vision to speckle with stars.

"Beaten so soon?" said Roxis, reaching forward to lift Vayne's chin. Encouraged by the contact, he finally managed to open his eyes-- and met a gaze remorseless and literally burning, twin fires ignited in the half-light by the flicker of the torches around them. "I haven't even started with you yet. Don't tell me you're going to make things that easy for me." Vayne felt his chest tighten as Roxis' next blow caught him off guard, forcing him to draw in air on instinct. "I might just be insulted."

Shakily, clinging to the rough-hewn stone for support, he dragged himself back to his feet, summoning forth a challenging smile that said, I wouldn't dream of it.

Roxis' eyes narrowed to slits. "You're far too cocky."

He hadn't been, and they both knew it, but it was all the excuse Roxis needed to drop the careful teasing and lay into Vayne with earnest. Now there was no separation between blows, no time to gauge what came from where-- Roxis was crushing heat and blades and snarls and fists tangled in his hair, and time slowed to a hazy standstill as his head hit the back of the wall, once, twice, three times, his arms aching from being wrenched behind his back, his air supply choked out of him by hands around his throat.

He didn't need to breathe, but he'd forgotten to note that, acting on instinct, and the sheer raw feeling of it made him struggle and kick and try to pry Roxis' fingers off; but he wasn't having it, he knew Vayne didn't need it, and Vayne knew it too but why, why couldn't he make his body believe that, why was everything going black.... Somewhere in the background, Sulpher hissed, ill at ease even with this scripted conflict, but he barely registered the sound. It sounded too much like the blood-noise in his ears.

The world pressing in around him, stiflingly close, he jerked and twitched limply in Roxis' grasp. Through the haze and the heat and the strange dulled pleasantness he could feel the wall against his back, scraping and rough yet too distant now to hurt; and he knew Roxis must be pinning him there because when he arched forward in a last convulsive struggle he felt himself brush up against warm skin, so so so good, and he felt his mind swim with sweet sensations and the lightness in his limbs and then sharp, the sudden flood of air into starved lungs as Roxis broke the grip. Collapsing to the ground again, he gasped noisily, the sound of it rushing in his ears like water, like he'd been hit by a tidal wave.

Forcing himself to look up, he almost passed out a second time as nausea overtook him, the dizziness throwing his sense of balance. But he needed to see Roxis, needed to know where he was. He'd lost track of time, and there was blood in his throat, and the wavering image of Roxis that formed out of the constellations before his eyes didn't do much to let him know what was happening, fuzzy and far away like a scrying-pool vision.

This time, the pain that lanced through him didn't register as an attack, more an indefinable sensation of presence. It came to him all at once why people said pain made you feel alive; all sense of body and boundary was gone from him, the only notion of his being the aches and sensations of pressure against his skin, all else dissolved in a swirling, senseless void. It felt strangely... meditative, stretches of timeless unformedness punctuated by the colour-flash of blows. He'd stopped worrying about the bleeding, or the time that had passed; his concept of either had faded with that blow. He was nothing, and no one, except where Roxis was, existing where Roxis commanded him to exist, in brief slashes of light.


Drip... drip... drip....

The first memory that came to him was that he'd been in the dungeon. He still was, judging from the sound; the dull splash of stagnant water against the ground was an atmosphere-setter. And even if he didn't feel the cold as such, he knew what clammy felt like, and the liquid beaded on his skin suggested a cool, damp place.

He tried to take a breath, to feel his throat, and the first thing that hit his sinuses was wetness. Warm wetness, with the scent of metal. He swiped a hand over his face, still unseeing; he felt liquid pool on it. The dripping probably hadn't been the dungeon leaks, but his own blood.

He struggled to lift himself, but it was like he was trapped in armour, old and heavy and rusted in place. At length, he managed to pry open his eyes, fighting down another wave of dizziness as he did so; his head felt so light. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, and the faint flickers of fondness now crackling through the pact-bond reassured him he was safe.

"Vayne," he heard said softly, from a throat husky from growling.

His vision slowly focused on the gold-and-pink blur in front of him. At first it looked like lights, torch-glow dancing off his glasses and the bright strands of his hair, but he knew it was Roxis, and with that knowledge familiar features clicked into place.

He tried to say Roxis' name, but couldn't. His voice felt all used up.

He felt a hand tangle loosely in his hair, another caressing his back. "I know you wanted to awaken to find me towering over you, all triumphant and proud. But I couldn't help it. When you passed out, I started worrying about you too much."

Vayne smiled weakly, and with great effort forced the words out. "...Next time?"

Roxis raised an eyebrow. "All that, and your first thought is 'next time'? You look like Sulpher dragged you in."

Sulpher mewed in affirmation of his name, and as reassurance to Vayne of his presence. Vayne started to laugh, but quickly fell to uncomfortable wheezing as his lungs spasmed. "I feel like Sulpher dragged me in. But... it's okay. It's a good kind of hurt."

"You really are remarkable," Roxis mused. "Well, if you're really that resilient...." He trailed off.


"...Let's see if we can get you back to my room without the whole student body noticing."

Vayne looked down at his naked form. "I don't think I'm up for getting dressed. But I think I can manage that, as long as I don't have to move. I'll just wish us back there."

Seconds passed. "...ngh. I guess I really am pretty drained. Looks like we're walking after all."

"I'll help you get your clothes on. At least your shirt and pants." Roxis examined Vayne's expression carefully. "So... if I'm hearing this right... you can't wish when you're too weak like this?"

"Nn. Yeah, I think so.... It was like that back during the ordeal, too. I need a bit of energy to get it started, though the rest is the universe."

Roxis nodded slowly. "So you're basically saying... you are helpless, right now."

The realisation dawned on Vayne too. "...Mm. I... I guess I am." A surge of arousal washed through him, need heavy between his legs. I really am. He could do anything to me. Oh, gods, please let him take advantage.

A sing-song tone came to Roxis' voice. "Completely... helpless." He lifted Vayne into a sitting position, his hand teasingly brushing his erection as he pulled up his pants. "You know, there was a noticeable lack of begging for mercy back there. I'm not too satisfied with that."

Goosebumps crept up Vayne's thighs, a whimper escaping his dry throat. "Come to think of it, neither am I."

Roxis smirked. "Good." He trailed a fingernail down Vayne's now-covered length, making his hips stir with the need to thrust into that touch, but leaden muscles held him down. Nonetheless, Roxis saw the twitch, or maybe felt it, and a little frown crossed his face, his hand poised purposefully inches away from that yearning, sensitive spot. "Do I have to start beating you all over again?"

A sharp, stinging slap against tender flesh: the image flashed through his mind, and his eyes closed as he shuddered. The idea of that was only making him stiffen further, as if trying to expose himself for the abuse.

Part of him didn't know if he could stand any more pain. But a much bigger part of him didn't know if he could stand the lack.

With all the strength he could muster, he pressed up against Roxis' hand.

Firewater -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (574 words, Roxis/Vayne, yaoi, smut-ish)

Too tame to be smut, too designed-to-make-you-feel to not be. If "smut" included magic this would have a high rating, let'sputitthatway.


Do you want me to turn down the cauldron? Roxis whispered against his ear.

No.... I like the firelight. I like the way it catches your eyes.

Roxis chuckled. Really now, he said, in a tone that made it clear he felt little surprise, was only seeking to make Vayne squirm further into his lap at his voice.

True to his prediction-- or maybe his wish-- the boy swallowed a little, his eyes darting away, though they couldn't help flicking back to Roxis, like he secretly sought to be trapped in that incendiary stare. Like some part of him hoped, and some part of him feared, that one too-long look at those eyes would strip him of his will, like the victim of a basilisk.

Roxis was taken with the idea. A predatory king of serpents, few natural superiors. Yes, he could live with that image.

It was Vayne's turn to make him shiver, though, when he felt small, cool hands wind their way into his hair, soft fingerpads against the back of his neck. The temperature of the room should not have left his touch so chill; faint whispers of ice, to match the cold brilliance in his eyes. Firelight and icewater. A perfect pair they made, twin sets of jewels framed by silver and gold.

It took him slow, hazy moments to realise that Vayne wasn't just petting. His hands moved with purpose, quick nimble motions, unclasping the tether that held back his hair and portioning it out with his fingers. The weight of his own long hair against his skin was warm, warm around the cool flickers of Vayne's touch; he closed his eyes, then opened them again, thinking Vayne would want to see him, but then he remembered what Vayne would want most of all, and he allowed himself to simply sink into the experience.

His eyes opened again to a strange awareness: a bright light cast around his face, a sudden spike of heat. He looked to Vayne, who seemed lost in concentration; he tried to look behind him, but he didn't want to dislodge Vayne's hands. What are you doing? he asked, his voice husky with only wonder, knowing nothing Vayne attempted would ever be bad.

Firelight, Vayne said, and the words came out like a prayer. I saw this vision in a dream.... A man with hair aflame, a wild look in his eyes.... I think he was a Mana. I thought it would suit you, too.

Drawing his hands back from behind Roxis' head, he brought them around in front of him, a glassy shimmer spreading out from his fingertips that formed a reflective pool. In its surface, he could see the strands of fire woven into his hair, still hanging loose, a curtain of gold and flame. The tiny threads were worked through it like jewels, beads of pure energy that needed no other light source to glitter and dance. It was beyond princely garb; a wonder that only magic could have achieved.

It's beautiful, he gasped, for a moment feeling so lost, so unsure how to respond to the display.

You're beautiful, said Vayne, dispelling the mirror, leaving the firelight to flicker in his eyes; and in the way it danced there, his flame mingled with Vayne's icy pools, he refound his courage, and moved in.

His hair tumbling over Vayne's shoulders, wreathing them both in pearls of fire, the cauldron-light suddenly seemed pale.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Unmade In His Image -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (4053 words, spoilers, violence/gore)

This needs revision, but posting it here for now so I at least won't have forgotten to should I never actually rewrite it.

I've sort of had this fic planned since forever; it was one of my first fic ideas for this fandom. It's also pretty brutal.


The cards' motions rippled the air between them, Roxis' Mana-enhanced moves slicing through space and time, bending reality into right angles of light. Vayne threw his blade up to cover his face; a katana of Anna's, a light weapon they'd figured he could handle, but it wasn't Sulpher, he wasn't used to anything but Sulpher, was so weak without Sulpher, they both thought at the same time, and the relentless flurry of Roxis' attacks was threatening his grip on the sword.

Planting a foot behind him to try and steady himself, Vayne felt its weight crack the loose earth beneath, causing him to slide further into the shale; he wasn't expecting the weakened footing, and the next blow threw his balance enough that, in putting all of his weight behind his block, he lost it completely, twisting on his ankle with a yelp.

Dropping the sword like it was hot, his hands curled into cringing fists, Vayne collapsed on his side, balled up fetally in the dirt.

"Please, gods, no more of this...." he whimpered.

A bark of laughter escaped Roxis. "Giving up so soon? You really don't have it in you these days, do you?"

Vayne's body shuddered, as if something had hit him; he wasn't that injured, Roxis thought, yet Vayne was never one to cry wolf in a fight. Maybe he'd struck a blow he hadn't noticed.... But speculation fell by the wayside as with some effort, Vayne lifted his head to regard him, the haunted look in his eyes briefly stripping Roxis of the power of complex thought. "No more...."

"I heard you perfectly well the first time," said Roxis, trying not to think about what that look could mean. He'd only seen that look in one circumstance before: it was the look of survivalist terror in a beast's eyes just before you struck it down. But Vayne had never cared about survival. Indeed, he'd always been cavalier when it came to his own safety. "I'm hardly so barbaric as to sheathe my blades in a man when he's down."

Vayne didn't seem to be listening. He'd gone from staring at Roxis to staring at his hand, blood pooling on his forehead anew from where he'd wiped it with his palm. It wasn't a deep wound, barely a scrape, but he seemed to regard it with all the horror due a mortal blow. "Can it be over now... please...."

"It's already over. Come on, get up."


They'd retreated to the inn they'd been staying at. Vayne had sat in a hunched little ball looking sorry for himself, Sulpher curled at his side, until Roxis had, grudgingly, tended the wound on his forehead, all the while muttering that Vayne could have done it himself. Since when had the boy been so squeamish? Roxis was the one who usually flinched at gory scenes, but he could at least bring himself to dab at the gash with a cloth and the contents of a healing vial.

"I feel sick," he said, softly, and indeed he was shivering and going pale at Roxis' touch.

"Does it hurt that much?" said Roxis. Now he was really beginning to worry about Vayne. Maybe he had hit him harder than he'd accounted for; a stab of guilt accosted him at the thought that he might have treated a severely injured boy so flippantly. "...Did you take a blow anywhere else? Let me see under your shirt." The two were used to dressing each other's wounds, and Roxis seeing Vayne's naked torso wasn't anything new to either of them by now. But Vayne shrank away like he never had before, burying his face in his arms with a suddenness unmindful of his injury.

"...what was that? I can't even hear you," said Roxis, in response to the muffled mumbling that ensued from within Vayne's deathgrip on himself.

Vayne raised his head just enough to be heard, his eyes glassy with tears. "I said don't come near me, don't look at me...."

Roxis frowned, sitting back to give Vayne his space. This wasn't like him at all. "What's going on?" he said. "This isn't normal for--"

"--no, don't go, stay here, please," said Vayne.

"You said you didn't want me near you. Make up your mind." Roxis scooted back up the bed, feeling like a yo-yo.

"...I don't want to be alone... but I don't want you to see... I... Roxis, I don't know, just don't leave me, please...."

Roxis sighed, and attempted to rephrase the question. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"It hurts everywhere...."

"Then let me look at you. Come on, it's for your own good." Gently, more gently than he ever had before, he took Vayne's hands and guided them away from his face. "If you're injured, we'll have to treat it." This time, Vayne made no move to protest as Roxis unbuttoned his shirt, just stared at the ground and looked uncomfortable.

Roxis carefully lifted the fabric away from Vayne's skin, trying his best not to aggravate any cuts or bruises that might be underneath. "...You're perfectly fine," he said, confused. "You're not even scuffed."

"But it's not right...."

"What's not right? I'm... sorry if it's embarrassing you to show yourself, but you've never minded before...." He closed the front halves of Vayne's shirt back over his chest. This was an uncharacteristic reaction, but still, now that he could see he wasn't injured, there was no point in making him suffer further.

"I'm not right, Roxis... my body... my everything... I feel like I'm rotting away.... You can't see it, it's under my skin, but it's everything... all of it...."

Roxis put a hand to Vayne's forehead, but the wound nearby was too warm for him to tell if Vayne was feverish. "...Are you sick?"

"No," Vayne said, in a voice that could have cracked the sky. "I'm human."


Suddenly, a lot of what he'd been saying did start to fall into place. "...Wait, but... you've been human for a while now, Vayne. Is something new happening to you?" The next words that came caught in his throat, and he stammered them out awkwardly. "...A-are you dying...?"

A little bit of his world seemed to slip away with that admission, and in the silence that followed he tried to claw the words back, unsay what he'd said, stop the possibilities spilling out into empty air.... Vayne, dying. He'd always maintained that Vayne was his rival, nothing more, that he only pursued him to claim victory over the boy who had humiliated him so terribly at Al-Revis Academy. But if he searched his heart honestly, he had to admit that that was a façade, and a ridiculous one at that. Who follows someone around just to keep fighting with them? And now, the sickness he felt at the possibility of losing Vayne was forcing him to accept that he viewed the boy as a friend, or maybe something more.

But the specifics were beside the point. Vayne. Dying. What it came down to was that if he lost Vayne, he wouldn't know what to do.

"...Only inside," Vayne said eventually, breaking the silence and filling Roxis with a strange combination of relief and discomfort. "It's just... oh, Roxis, I've made such a terrible mistake, I wish I'd never...." His words trailed off, and his fists clenched and unclenched in a futile gesture. "...I wish.... I... I...." His hands flew up to cover his face, and great, heaving sobs began to rack his body. Sulpher mewed uncomfortably, clearly wanting to help but no longer having any real ability to reach out to his once-pactmate.

Roxis couldn't stand it any longer. As embarrassed as he was about the simple act, he closed the distance between himself and Vayne and wrapped an arm around his shaking shoulders. "...You can't wish any more, can you," he said, softly. "Is that what hurts?"

"It-- it-- it's all of it, Roxis, it's not feeling right, it's being so... it's not about being weak, I never wanted to be strong, it's the life in me, I feel like it's gone, I don't feel like anything...."

Roxis let the information sink in as Vayne shivered in his embrace. Vayne had never been a human. Oh, he'd looked like one, but it had just been a seeming, an appearance that existed because Mana had to look like something. He'd wished to just be an ordinary human, but he'd made the ignorant assumption that human was something he could change back to, a state of being he'd ever inhabited. Now, he was trapped as something he had never been made to be, without the ability to change back. ...And not just any something, but a something far less grand, far less brightly-souled, than the sacred being as which he'd lived his whole life, unawares.

Oh gods. He really had made a mistake, hadn't he....

At a loss for what else to do, he combed his fingers gently through Vayne's soft, tousled hair. Even that spoke to his original nature; a silky, silver-grey mass that accepted his fingers like the plush fur of a cat, certainly too smooth for human hair. It felt like heaven. But that, like the rest of him now, was only a pale reminder of what he had used to be. The magic that had birthed it was gone, leaving only those shallow signs that it had ever been there at all.

His touches didn't seem to console Vayne, but nor did they seem to harm him, so he kept stroking, hoping he could embody some small measure of peace for the boy. As he did so, he found his mind drifting back to thoughts of how that hair was so inhumanly soft, how it was now just one last lingering fragment of something that had been so much greater.... A lump rose in his own throat at that; and if it made him balk, how much more must Vayne be hurting, now?

He couldn't be left like this. There had to be some solution. But what could it be?

"...Theofratus made you," Roxis managed to say, eventually, after some thinking. "He made you like this-- like-- like you were, with alchemy. So maybe alchemy could change you back." Not that he had any idea how.

"But... but I killed him. The other me, the one who held the key to my powers. I made him go away...." Vayne let out a little choked sound.

They sat wordless for minutes, the silence only punctuated by Vayne's small sniffles and his restless attempts to get comfortable against Roxis. Somewhere in the inn, a clock ticked heavily, and out of a sheer lack of any idea where to start with this he found himself counting the seconds. Each one a sliver of Vayne's chance to be whole again, forever slipped away.

"...Where do people go, when they die?" Vayne asked plaintively, as if he'd only just begun to consider the idea.

"The Above," said Roxis. "The light." You got through three years of alchemy without figuring that out? ...No, you probably never even had a reason to wonder where people went. Deep down in your heart, you knew you'd never die. Until you made it otherwise, until you wished the truth away.

"Then... then that's where I have to go, too," said Vayne, and he fisted his hand into Roxis' shirt, like he'd decided. "To get my other self back. To try and find what I lost... no, what I gave up. I have to try."

"Don't be ridiculous, you'd just get yourself killed-- oh. Oh. No." With those words, the rest of his world summarily slipped out from under him. "That's your intent, isn't it. Oh, gods, Vayne, please don't tell me it's that bad." He knew it was that bad. It had to be. But couldn't Vayne, couldn't he just-- no, he was being selfish, just wanting him to stay for his own sake, but... gods. How had things come to this.... Why had he ever made that wish?

"I can't deny it," Vayne said, surrender in his tone. "This... it means everything to me. If it's a gamble between death and being whole, I'd rather either than live on like this. I... I'm sorry, Roxis. I can't. Any longer."

Roxis' words were thick in his throat. "...You won't be changing your mind, will you."

Vayne shook his head. "...Will you... will you keep holding me, while I...."

"What, now?" Roxis blanched. Can't I at least have some more time....

"I... I don't want to wait," said Vayne. "Out of mercy... please let me go...."

Roxis pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaling deeply. This was such a lot to commit to all at once, but there wasn't time to spend weighing the consequences. Vayne would go whether he did this or not, and.... "If you're going to do this, I-- I may as well be the one to...." He couldn't finish the sentence. "So... so you don't hurt yourself, any more than you need to... oh gods, Vayne." Involuntarily, he burst forth with a gasp, and tears began to spill down his cheeks.

"Thank you, Roxis...." Vayne sounded almost joyful, compared to moments ago. How long had it been since he'd heard that emotion in his voice? Too long, and he hadn't even been paying attention.

"You're welcome," he choked out, not sure it felt like the right thing to say. Damn it, there wasn't a right thing to say. Just... damn it.

When Vayne leaned back into his arms without a word, exposing his throat like a submissive animal, he almost startled out of his skin. He didn't know what he'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't this. And yet, why not this? Of all the actions that were typically Vayne, such blatant surrender was hardly the most infrequent. It just baffled him, utterly, that anyone could render themselves so very helpless and seem to find it comforting.

Vayne had never been human, and even now, the alien soul he possessed struggled within that flesh.

Taking out one of his bladed cards, he pressed the steel edge against Vayne's throat, closing his eyes. --No, this isn't going to work. The card didn't even cover the width of his neck, and it would take far more leverage than he could have while holding him to bring it down with enough force to sever his spine. Likely, he would end up with Vayne gasping bloodily for breath in his arms, taking hours to die.

The image made his stomach lurch. How can I even be contemplating doing this? He was going to kill another person, a teenage boy just like himself. Except Vayne wasn't like him, he was nothing like him, and that was why he needed to, because Vayne could never be happy living as just another teenage boy. Ever since he'd seen that hollow look in his eyes, he'd known that to the core. In every sense that was meaningful, Vayne Aurelius was already dead; and this, only a quest to revive him.

But how? How do I do it? He glanced over at the katana Anna had synthesised for them; but that, too, would not allow him the leverage if he was to continue to hold Vayne. Smother him with a pillow? That would be kinder, at least, less brutal; but it still wasn't swift enough, not for his liking, not if he had to hold Vayne down while he struggled and twisted and his instincts fought his needs. If Jess were here, she could probably synthesise a poison that would kill him in moments; but he didn't have that skill, and there weren't facilities for alchemy at the inn, in any case.

In desperation, he called on his only remaining option. He didn't like to make her do it, but she was the only one with the power to make this painless. Eital, please....

The being of light manifested on the ground beside them. No further discussion passed their lips; the request was simple enough, and he could tell from her eyes that the Mana knew, more acutely than he, what Vayne's incautious wish had brought upon him. Sulpher hissed at her, protective of his master, but the cat could not know what was most merciful here, and she paid him no heed but a solemn, sorrowed glance.

Poor child, she intoned of Vayne, and closed her jaw on his throat.


Roxis lifted his head, fighting past the waves of dizziness and the colours that spotted his vision, trying to make out the blurry shapes that made up the room he was in.

It took him some moments to recognise Vayne, or at least the form that had once housed him; his neck snapped at an ugly angle, his frail corpse lying in a tangled heap on sheets soaked through with blood.

I'm sorry, she tried to tell him, but her words failed to reach his mind as the world fell to blackness once more.


It was several more hours before he could remain conscious around Vayne; conscious, and without his guts being stabbed by nauseous bouts that he struggled to fight down, being in no state to either change his clothing or leave his room for the outhouse. Eventually, his body had succumbed and he'd fled from the room, hastily grabbing his cloak from a chair to throw over his bloodstained garb. His face was probably still flecked with it, but details; people could assume what they liked, as long as it wasn't from clothes stained almost collar to toe by the blood of another human.

Human. Almost as much as the fact that they'd killed a man, it was the fact that there'd been a man to murder that turned his stomach inside out. Vayne shouldn't have bled, shouldn't have been able to turn cold and pale like he was now, his eyes empty of life and that unnaturally fine hair clumped together with dark, sticky fluid. It gave him shivers even separate from his feelings for Vayne, a cold, clenching feeling deep inside like when he'd been to see the sealed Mana down in the ruins. The corpse of a once-Mana, a thing that should not be.

There was little hope of dressing Vayne to look presentable, but he dressed himself, leaving his old clothes in a pile on the floor. What to do with them, he didn't know, any more than he knew how to deal with the body in his room. He couldn't exactly leave with him via the front exit, and he wasn't strong enough to haul ninety pounds of dead weight out the window; not while climbing through, and for all that he'd done this day he remained unwilling to just push Vayne out, even if he followed himself.

He could flee in the night, but the innkeeper knew his name, and there weren't many Rosenkrantzes left in this world. Besides, he wouldn't, couldn't, leave the body. What if Vayne came back to it, what if he healed himself from beyond and found Roxis had left him all alone? On top of that, he'd either have to take Sulpher, leaving Vayne truly alone for the first time in his life, or abandon the cat with his dead master and no (other, he thought with a shudder) form of sustenance. He wouldn't do that to either of them.

Which left him only one solution: he stayed with the body until Vayne came back.

If Vayne came back.

If he didn't rot first.

Suddenly, he knew why the loved ones of dead men went mad.


So bright. The light was pure enough that it pierced him, stripped him to his elements, and he felt small and humble in his nakedness. A lost shell of a thing, and even this transcended world could not make that right alone. He wasn't meant to be. This glory, the embrace of these golden cords, was not for him; it made no sense to honour something whose nature was aberration. He needed to seek the one who completed him.

As everything was one here, he didn't have to seek far.

"Hello, Vayne." The voice was liquid to his parched soul. "I was wondering when you'd choose to die."

"You knew, all along...? You knew I'd come here?" He would have turned to track the source of the voice, but it seemed to be all around him.

The sound the Mana made was somewhere between a bitter chuckle and a sob. No-- not just a sound, but an emotion, a sharp clarity stinging painful in his heart. "You'd have to, eventually. But I knew you'd come sooner rather than later. You're nothing, without me."

To one who had been born and died human, they would have been harsh words. But Vayne knew it was true; he was only a husk, and the other him was only being honest.

He wouldn't have wanted anything less.

"But why did you let me.... Why'd you let me become human, knowing it would only turn out this way anyway?"

He knew the answer before he even heard it. "That was your wish."

"A wish to do harm, though.... Is that really what this kind of power is like? Something that would let me make such terrible mistakes?"

"You've already said it; I knew it would end like this," said the other Vayne. "You couldn't do any harm that wasn't temporary at best; and then, only to yourself, selfless creature that we are. Maybe this will have taught you something about learning to live with yourself, instead of running away from the truth."

"With myself...." The word lingered on his tongue, mocking him. "But I'm not myself any longer."

"That's true," the Mana replied. "But that's not how you wish it."

The familiar concept, so briefly understood yet, he realised now, so centrally precious to him, resounded dully in his heart. "I can't grant wishes any more."

"No," said the Mana. "But I can."


A rap at the door startled Roxis out of his torpor.

"Mr. Rosenkrantz? Mr. Aurelius?"

"Come in--", he said, with instinctive politeness-- no, no, damn, damn it, don't come in, gods, please! Too late....

He didn't have time to throw a blanket over Vayne. Standing up and acting now would look as suspicious as if he stayed here, shivering, the broken body at his side.

There was nowhere to run.

--Do you need my help? his Mana echoed in the back of his mind.

No, there's nothing you can do-- I don't want to hurt them... damn, damn, damn, I'm an idiot, I screwed up....

The door swung open.

Oh gods, Vayne, please. Please come back. Please come back.


In this close proximity to his severed self, he could feel the tug on him, vaguely. To be wished upon.... He'd barely had a chance to know the feeling, yet it felt like life to him. Life and breath and everything important. "Someone's calling you," he said softly.

"They're calling us," replied the other Vayne. "You're a part of me, small as you are, and you're one I'd like to have back."

"So... you'll come back with me?"

The Mana smiled, bright shimmers in Vayne's heart. "If that is what you wish."


The innkeeper passed through the door, just in time to have her vision eclipsed by the light that flooded the room. She didn't have time to see the corpse, but what she did see, when the light faded, was no less strange: the boy who'd checked in earlier, haloed in lingering golden sparkles, dressed in bloodied clothing and embracing his travelling companion on a similarly bloodstained sheet.

She blinked to make sure her sight was true, and amended her pre-prepared speech to take account of the new situation. "Mr. Rosenkrantz, Mr. Aurelius, you're overdue for tonight's fee. And I expect you'll be covering the cost of those bedsheets."

The silver-haired boy let out a cascade of laughter, and grasped hold of the bedframe with his small, pale hands. It turned to gold.

...Alchemists. Well, given that was enough to cover a year of inn stays right there, she figured she'd leave them to it.

The door closed, stirring up gold dust that glittered in the oddly-prismed light.

Monday, 26 October 2009

No Respect For Elders -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (627 words, spoilers)

This is probably the saddest thing I've ever written. If you've played MK1 and/or 2 you should be able to figure out when it's set.


"...When I grow up, I want to be an alchemist," Claire proclaimed loudly, holding Penny's beribboned majorette staff aloft and twirling it in the air. "Like this, see-- swoosh, swoosh! And I'll do magic."

Penny snorted. "You're so freaking stupid, oh my gods. People don't be-- like, they don't even have alchemy schools any more. That sort of stuff doesn't exist."

"Oh, yeah? Well, why'd they have 'em in the past, then, if it doesn't exist?" Claire tapped the end of the staff on the ground, like she was preparing an incantation.

Penny snatched it back. "Don't do that with it, you'll get it all dirty. Anyway, it's like... oh, gods, how am I even supposed to know? I guess they just discovered it was all made up or something. Anyway, it's stupid, and you can't go to school for it. Just because you hate chemistry."

"It's not that I hate chemistry!" Claire snapped back. "I mean, yeah, Ms. Hartog is kind of a pain, but it's not like it's just that, or anything. It's just.... Oh, you wouldn't even understand! You're just dumb!" Throwing out her arms in a gesture of defeat, she turned around and stomped off. "I'm going home!" she added over her shoulder, unnecessarily. The words betrayed the tears in her voice.

"...Yeah, well, you're dumb!" Penny called after her, not caring. Great, now she'd have to wash off her baton. Well, if Claire wasn't going to hang out with her, she might as well go home and do that, before mom saw it and got mad....

"--G-gah! Sorry!", she said, flailing as whoever she'd accidentally bumped into sent her teetering off balance. She'd thrown out her arms instinctively, but it turned out not to be necessary; a thin, frail hand caught her by the elbow and, with some difficulty, guided her back to a standing position.

"Gee, thanks. Wasn't looking where I was going." She brushed off her dress, and looked up into the face of her benefactor. He was an old man, short and withered though still taller than her eight-year-old stature, with a receding shock of silver-grey hair. His ice-blue eyes were crinkled with pain, and remorse flickered in her heart. "I'm sorry... I didn't hurt you, did I?"

For a moment, he just stared at her, blankly, and she began to wonder if he was crazy. A lot of old people were crazy, especially ones who used to be so-called alchemists. She'd lost count of the times she'd overheard some toothless woman at the market rambling on about the "good old days", as if life had been better back then. You'd needed someone who'd locked themselves in a basement for three score years and ten just to make a healing potion, when nowadays anyone who'd done some half-decent scientific study could turn out medicines. Sure, they didn't shimmer like gold when they caught the light, or all that junk people talked about, but who cared? All that mattered was that you got better. It wasn't like pretty made a difference in healing someone up.

"...No, it's all right," he said eventually, in halting tones. "These days, what you say is quite true. ...I only wish that it weren't." Making an uncomfortable attempt to smile kindly at her, he continued off in the opposite direction, the way Claire had gone.

"...Wow, that's not even what I asked," she muttered, shaking her head as he doddered off. "Really was just another crazy old guy."

I only wish that it weren't. Was everyone she was going to run into today really this dumb? You'd have thought an old man would know better. "Yeah, well, if wishes were horses," she said to herself. As if alchemy, or wishing, had ever got anybody anywhere.


Vayne as an old human man is so horribly horribly sad. D: This image just got into my head and wouldn't go away....

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Too Good To Live, Too Young To Happy (Mana Khemia spoilers)

(I couldn't resist the subject line; is love. Someone clearly got derailed somewhere along the line there. And I love that the word Japan always sticks in place of anything when they don't know what to say is "happy". It's like their "smurf". And I think that's utterly adorable... but I digress.)

So I wound up engaged in longdiscussion over on lj-mana_khemia_fic about the philosophical and ethical issues that arise from a being who can grant any wish, and one person brought up the TVTrope Too Good For This Sinful Earth in association with Vayne. Basically, if you don't want to subject yourself to a productivity downgrade, this trope covers cases where a being is seen (by the authors, by the other people in their world, or both) as being too good, pure, and/or innocent to live in the world without being corrupted by its flawed nature. It's often accompanied by some kind of power that the being has which, due to their goodness and eagerness to help, could easily be turned to corrupt ends. Thus, it's a statement that anything which transcends a certain threshold of beauty is too dangerous/too vulnerable to continue existing, and must be destroyed for its own sake and possibly the sake of the world.

There are problems with this that involve Vayne specifically-- namely that, as a being who can grant any wish including his own, he could wish for world peace, plenty and understanding, or simply transcendence of everything into an enlightened state, before anyone gets to him. But I think there are also problems with it in the greater philisophical sense.

One, as I mentioned, it seems like essentially this is saying that any being who meets a particular threshold of goodness and positivity needs to be struck from the world. Doesn't this, therefore, continue to ensure that the world stays a place that only contains lesser beings, with not much good in their hearts, and thus remains a place that people will judge as unfit for greater beings-- thus keeping people from ever improving? Simply put, if you destroy anything that's "too good for the world", the world may never be able to reach a level where most beings are that good, because it will lack the influence of the beings best positioned to help it grow. (Note that I don't quite agree with this because I think the world will continue to evolve no matter what, but it seems at best perverse to kill off the very best of your society and force it to advance the slow way. If every time anything is born which has a significant chance of advancing society by large leaps, you insist that it dies, then you're resigning yourself to unnecessary struggle and suffering. And there's no reason to do things the hard way-- that's just a conceit people invent because we have to do things the hard way and we like to think something good is gained from it. Something good often is, but there's a lot gained from doing things the easy way, too.)

Not only are you keeping the world from improving this way, but by saying something is "too good for this world", you're also making a statement that the being can't or shouldn't improve the world. It's not just a practical case of "this will hamper the world's ability to grow"; it's also a philosophical position which argues that the world is a sick place and cannot or should not be healed, since every time a creature came into it with powers for good that could help people, you'd argue they should just be sent packing to a better place to let us wallow in our misery, since we're just helpless. What of the possibility that such creatures were sent to us to help us and know what they're doing? And even if not, how pessimistic is the idea that that help shouldn't be given a chance? That's not just looking every gift horse that comes your way in the mouth, it's kicking it in the teeth.

Which leads me to my next point: aside from all else, I think it's incredibly immoral to murder something beautiful and transcended. A life is a life and lives should be valued no matter how humble or cruel, but as I said in a post a while ago about Firefly's witch-burning episode, I think there's a particular evil-- and it's very rare that I actually think the word evil is warranted-- to trying to get rid of something specifically because it is good, pure, magical, etc. I think that the only way the word "evil" can possibly make sense is if it's defined as "something which directly defeats or destroys good"; I don't think people can be evil, but I think something which attacks and eats away at the existence of goodness in the world is an evil, and in that sense I think the removal of high and beautiful creatures from the world, with the express intent to get rid of that good, is an evil. Even if you say it's "because the world cannot bear it", if you've admitted the being is pure, noble and good and that that's your reason for trying to kill it, I would call that an evil act.

Even if you don't necessarily agree with the word choice, I'd say it's a horribly immoral act, to destroy beauty and wonder because it is beauty and wonder. It's like going out and murdering kingfishers because they're pretty, or something. Maybe it's because you think the beauty of them will inspire people to idle daydreaming and not enough work, maybe you're just a card-carrying Saturday morning cartoon villain who wants the world to lack colour, maybe you think it will force people to do something about the state of the world-- whatever your motivation ultimately, if part of it is that you think there needs to be less beauty in the world for any reason, I am against you to the end. That can't be justified, in my opinion. It's one of those things I feel particularly strongly about.

So yes, that makes it tragic if Vayne is killed for being what he is-- and yes, a good tragic story can be beautiful in its own way. But I think to say that "it's tragic, but there's nothing that can be done about it because the world forces us to bring these tragedies about" is a way of looking at things that, itself, is just as immoral and problematic; in that it denies the possibility of goodness, of moving beyond what we are, and keeps us from trying to look at ways to right things.

When confronted with a being like Vayne, shouldn't we, in our position as beings whose nature is always to strive for improvement, be looking at him and considering how his potential could help us, rather than simply saying he's too good to live?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Stigmata (Warning: Spoilers for Mana Khemia)

...I have mentioned that STIGMATA from Mana Khemia is a really awfully sad song, right? I thought it was sad the first time I heard it, but I think that running in the recent MK RP I've been in has given me a whole new awareness of just how awful the game's ending is.

It's one thing to see it, coming into it already knowing there's going to be a sad ending, and going, "oh, yes, another one of [WARNING: TVTropes link ahead!] those". It's another to actually be roleplaying this delightful, sensitive, radiant, and wholly alien being coming tentatively into the full wonder of his powers, gradually becoming more confident as he embraces them more and more, everyone around him finding new growth and new understanding in their lives as they spend time around him... who, just because he's that full of love, randomly walks up to a turtle on ic_secrets, who isn't part of his own canon and only exists to pass silent-but-implied commentary on other people's posts, and grants him a wish to be less clumsy... and then think about how the game actually ended, with him wishing to be stripped of everything that actually made him a decent magical being as opposed to a confused and doormatty human.

The thing about STIGMATA is it recognises this, or at least when read in one way. It's the final battle song, and it's also a beautiful song vocally, and it seems to be a lament by Vayne's Mana self (who is actually a character, and expresses disapproval about all of this) for what Vayne has given up.

Music here, lyrics below. AFAIK, there's no single site that compiles the romaji lyrics (for singing) and the translated lyrics (for understanding) into one file, so here you go, a tiny service to fandom. Thanks to Lazy and to Chudah's Corner for the translation and romaji respectively.

Tojikaketa hitomi ni itsuwari wo utsushite
In my closed eyes, I could see nothing but falsehood

Karamiau sadame wa ayamachi ni yakarete
My destiny is entangled in mistakes

Me wo fuse inori wo sasageru fukaku aoki yami no naka de
I close my eyes and offer my praying to the deep blue darkness

Hizamazuku mono no nigirishimeta te ni kizamareta shirushi no you ni
Oh, the frozen eye that belongs to the God of Destruction, thirsted for tears of blood

Magakami no itetsuku hitomi yo chi no namida wa kawaku kotonaku
Covering the night, shrouding the sun, with thy gigantic jaw

Yo wo daki hi wo ooi hirakareta hatenaki agito
I kneel down, holding my hands tight as the wounds of stigmata engrave upon my body

Hirugaeru osanaki haoto yo fuki yuku kaze no na wo tsutsunde
Oh, the sound of the fluttering tiny wings, they still embrace the name of the blowing wind

Kanata eto hakobi yuku todokanu inori to shitte mo
Even though they know their prayers would never reach the faraway places

Soredemo hito wa uta darou aragau inochi no sakebi wo
Nevertheless, people still sing their screaming of chaotic fates

matataita yaiba no kiseki yo chi no ishi wa taeru kotonaku
Oh, the flickering locus of blades, testament of blood is already dead

Yo wo egaki hi wo torae sashitsuranuku kaki no hi no ya
Drawing the night, seizing the sun, with those arrows of flame that pierce through everything

Iro aseta furuki koto no ha yo sugisarishi toki wo kuri tata ne
Oh, the ancient words of fading colors, they still turn the cogs of passing time

Tokoshie ni tsutae yuku kanawanu chigiri to natte mo
Even though the promises they want to express for eternity would never be granted

Soredemo hito wa egaku darou tsuienu inochi no homura wo
Nevertheless, people still sketch the flame of their undying lives

Oh, and if you need a pick-me-up after all that, have a lovely comic. Yes, it's an oldie, but it's a goodie; like Ovaltine at bedtime, sometimes you just need to go back to those staples.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Learning Your Wishes -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (Roxis/Vayne, 413 words, sex, spoilers)

Just a random little ficbit. Yes, this is yaoi, so proceed at your own risk.

Learning to make love to Vayne wasn't quite like anything Roxis could have predicted.

It wasn't that he didn't respond to Roxis. For the most part, he responded like any ordinary boy, or at least like the stories said and Roxis would've; he whimpered and writhed most delightfully, he rocked his hips into Roxis' touch, the words please and more tumbling from marble-carved lips.

The difference was in what he responded to.

He hadn't noticed it at first; his thrilled explorations of Vayne had coincided well enough with teasing touches and nibbles to all the right spots that the reactions seemed to fit. But from time to time, he would find himself just leaning back to admire the slender vision before him, letting his mind run wild with thoughts, and note that Vayne's sudden cries and shivers were timed perfectly to the high points of his fantasies.

It could have been just a fluke, so he tested the theory more rigorously. It was true. Even without the binding of will he'd put on him that time, what made Vayne feel best of all was whatever Roxis wanted.

When that realisation had dawned, he'd come right then and there, collapsing on top of Vayne; the erratic shudders that ensued beneath him, every one an unspoken command from Roxis' own body, had only made the moment sweeter.

He lay there, in the bliss of the afterglow, and allowed himself to just dwell on that. The possibilities stretched out before him like a lazy summer morning, rich and full of untapped potential. He could make Vayne come crying his name from a room away, from a continent away most likely. If he wanted Vayne to feel pleasure, he need only give himself pleasure.

A chuckle from deep inside his skull made one eyebrow twitch. What?

--Well... you do realise that means that if you want to torment him....

Roxis groaned. ...Thank you, dear soul. You always know how to make the best of a situation.

--Hohoho. Any time....

Her presence receded, the light of their mind-bond fading to a few soft glimmers in his sight that, he eventually realised, were just the sunlight catching in Vayne's hair. Still lost in the memory of bliss, his lips slightly parted and swollen from kisses, the room's evening glow stroking the soft curves of his face, he looked both angelic and fragile, thoroughly breakable.

A little self-torment, he was beginning to ponder, might just manage to be worth it.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Quicksilver -- Mana Khemia fanfiction (3006 words, spoilers)

Heavily inspired by the song of the same name by the Cruxshadows, which I thought would, if Mana Khemia had ended as it should have ended, make a great song for Vayne. Also possibly very strange. Or not. I don't know.

WRITTEN ON A PLANE YOU GUYS so I have no idea if it's good or not. Also, makes no sense unless you've seen the end of Mana Khemia, srsly. Obviously contains nuts spoilers.

the future belongs to the brave

You are not wrong, you who believe
Your will defines your destiny
But if you act in selfish fear
The truth means nothing....

You are not wrong, if you perceive
The message veiled in mystery
But if we bury what we dream
We're left with what remains....


"So, this....

This is what I am."

Vayne stretched his limbs; near-imperceptibly, but Isolde could see him tense, then relax, like one awakened from sleep. It was as if he was stretching out his soul, teaching it again to fully occupy a body it had forgotten.

"This... is what you hoped to banish from this world."

She kept her eyes on him as she spoke, though unease flickered at her heart, serpent-tongued. "Now do you understand? The purpose of my actions... the reason I can't allow you...." She paused, watching his expression slowly morph; from that of the conflicted, wild-eyed boy who had stood there a moment ago, to something that now carried itself with unearthly repose and grace, its icy eyes calmly watching hers. Devoid of malice as it was, she still felt her gaze waver under that stare. "Knowing yourself, knowing this power... you must appreciate it. The extent of what you can do. Why you mustn't stay in this world."

"No, Isolde," said Vayne, with a lazy blink. It left, for a moment, a blurry film over his eyes. "I don't think I do."

Cold fear eclipsed her. Gods, save me.... It's too late.

"I do... have power." The words came slow and easy. "And now, I know so much more about myself. You're not wrong, when you say that. But when you say I must see what it means.... it seems that you're the one who doesn't understand me." He smiled softly, sadly; she could not tell if he was trying to dampen the impact of his words in prudence, or if he truly felt compassion.

"It's true, I was created by Theofratus' hand. My father...." She tensed at Vayne's recollection. "But from the same source from which all Mana come. That source of goodness and truth that, ultimately, drives alchemy. I mean no harm...."

"You might not mean it!" she hissed, drawing back. "But how can you know what you'll do? In the heat of the moment, in the midst of fear...."

"I'm not afraid, Isolde." He took a step towards her.

"Get back!"

"You're the one who's afraid." He moved with feline grace, sliding through the space between like oil on water; his form had not changed, not significantly, but she saw the new motions that worked under his skin. Light began to halo him, glittering off the tips of his hair. His features were softened through the aura.

"Stay back, or I'll pierce your heart!"

The smile never left his face. "You know you can't do that."

She saw no mockery in that smile, no human, vain defiance. He smiled because the simple calmness of truth cocooned him. It was as he'd said. He had no reason to fear.

She allowed, for the first time, her eyes to fall from his.

"So... this is how it ends," she said.


"Theofratus' son-- his creation," she corrected herself. "To take my life, as you took his." Breathing in strength, she returned her gaze to him. "I can't win against you, but it won't keep me from fighting!"

She felt a hand touch against her shoulder. "Ah!"

"Why pick a fight you can't win?" There was sadness in his features, now. "I'm asking sincerely. I really want to know, Isolde-sensei." The slip back into the more deferent form of address reminded her of the old Vayne; the two mingled in his expression, not struggling for dominance but blending into one seamless entity. The two sides of himself were finding peace with each other. "Hey... can you hear me?"

Snapped back to reality, she tried to regain her train of thought. "...Because...!" Fire rose in her voice. "Because it's all I can do, any more! I won't let you simply destroy it all... I can't let you... but there's nothing...."

Vayne shook his head. "There's no need to disgrace yourself in front of me. I don't want that.... Let's just go back."

"No... if I just let you live, I'm already disgraced.... And his name...."

"Even if you could destroy me, then my father would never have a chance to prove himself. I want to live... in a way that proves to the world.... That he didn't do anything evil."

For a handful of moments, their own breathing was all that resounded in the still air around them, as the other's words settled on their minds. Vayne, his pale hand still resting on Isolde's shoulder, filled the chamber with the light of his presence: a fuzzy glow, white and pulsing, that caught upon dust motes and lit them up, for brief instants, with brilliant flares of colour.

"This place feels so old...." He took a ragged breath, not befitting his youthful form; it was as if he tasted the ancient nature of the air and allowed it to live within him. "I never noticed these things before.... Before I knew I was a Mana, I never cared that much about anything. I did whatever was asked of me without complaint, but I didn't know why. Now... that reason...." He swept a hand through the air, stirring up the little dust-glimmers, a childlike serenity crossing his face at the dancing display. "It doesn't really change anything, but at least I know I have a purpose. Now, I know why I act, why I feel these things.... And knowing that... knowing this power, feeling the whole world through it, echoing in my heart like lightning, like life.... I couldn't possibly...."

A tear streaked down his face, alive and shimmering in the light.

"I couldn't possibly do any harm to this world, knowing that. Do you understand?"

"How can you say such things...." Her own voice was thick with tears.

"I don't know...." He was crying, but not the way she was. Even through his sobs, she could hear the smile warm in his words. "I don't know, Isolde-sensei. You tell me. You're the teacher.... I don't really know anything. I just exist.... But... I want to help this world." He paused for a moment, a new thought arising in his mind. "Don't you?"

"...What? Of course...."

"Then why.... Alchemy can help this world. And you teach because you want to bring the world alchemy, right? But this isn't.... Destroying a Mana.... Running from the truth in fear.... Isn't it your wish that I should grow, to know this light, the way alchemy meant for us to? Have you forgotten what it means to pursue this?"

"...No, Vayne.... You're right. I used to believe... that alchemy's powers could.... But now, seeing all it has wrought...."

"Then why do you still teach?" His voice was flecked with genuine surprise.

She laughed, bitterly, through her tears. "Maybe I don't know. Maybe I don't know why I do or say such things. No... No, I suppose it's... because if students will learn this... it's my duty to make sure they don't use it for the things he used it for... to make sure they don't make mistakes. Such a dangerous power...." Another wry laugh escaped her. "How can I be the only one who sees it?"

"Maybe because it isn't true."

"Of course you'd say that."

"Look at me."

His words reached her ears, and she realised she'd been staring at the ground again, watching the ripples his light picked out in the movement of dust through the air. "It is an ancient place," she whispered. "You're right...."

"Don't turn away. Look at me...."

She looked up, her head as heavy as it had ever felt. It was a titanic effort to make herself regard his form, to meet his face, now, all those words echoing in her mind. Who knew what she might see there, what might turn itself upon her. Who knew....

His eyes caught hers, benevolent, placid. She could feel the wish-power that swelled and tumbled within him, but his expression betrayed nothing of the turmoil. It radiated. Light streamed out from him in waves that felt almost casual, thick tendrils of power that curled and undulated like a cat's tail; they spread from his back, from his arms, like long and flexible wings. She remembered him, suspended in light, lifting himself to the heavens by his own power. Those streams of light didn't look like they could bear a body aloft, but she was confident they bore his weight, when he willed it.

"Be brave, Isolde-sensei," he said, and the words seemed to come from everywhere around. "Look upon me with the eyes with which you saw your own Mana, when you pacted.... So long ago, now. So long ago, dear Isolde. But remember. Remember. We all remember...."

The walls around seemed to echo with them, the voices of a choir. And for a single moment, her fear dissolved, and the world resolved before her senses, crystal-clear.

"You're...." She swallowed. Why say it? But it was the only thing left to say. Everything she'd fought for felt so hollow in this light, and now the only words left.... "You're beautiful, Vayne."

"Mm." It wasn't an arrogant agreement; merely an acknowledgement of truth.

"...So what now?" Her eyes stung with tears again, partly from holding them open; there was nothing to do but stare at him.

Vayne gave a little mental shrug, and somehow she felt it, rippling through the light around. "I don't know. What did you want to do? ...I meant that seriously, by the way. I'm not really good at knowing what to do, when people don't tell me." He rubbed the back of his head, the first truly human gesture she'd seen from him in a while, and she barked out a laugh.

"Heh. Never change."

"I already have," he said, simply, sadly. Sorrow for her, not for himself.

"...I don't know either. I don't know what to do now. I just...." The room around her thrummed like a heartbeat, alive with power. "...I just wish that... you would... that you could...."

Vayne hmmmed, a sing-song tone that echoed his beatific smile. "That I would what? Go away? Not exist?" It was a playful taunting, a joke he hoped to share with her, a joyous dismissal of old fears. Her wish already resounded in his heart; intoxicated on his newfound powers, he couldn't help but feel it.

...that someone would understand me....

His senses bathed in the fire of her request, eyes narrowed to catlike slits, he let his hand fall to cover her heart. Even through her robe, it felt like a molten brand.

"Of course.... Anything you wish."

If she'd ever considered, idly, before, what it would be like to have her thoughts and feelings read, she would have thought it would have felt like something. It didn't, really. It was him doing the feeling, not her; she simply watched the emotions flicker over his face, his expression shifting like quicksilver. That one person could contain such multitudes... but then, she remembered, she contained them too. Just never all at once, like that... and now, the same things that she contained, he did too....


Sulpher.... Is it okay?

Meow.... (I don't see why not.)

But you're my-- I mean, I'm your Mana... I never want to leave you.

Meow. (You'll always be my Mana. We can all stay together.)

If it really works like that....

Myaaan. (You can wish for it to be however you want, remember? ...I don't mind, in any case. She did save my life.)


Sulpher and Vayne, talking in her mind...? The words came to her only blurrily, a watery echo she had to struggle to make out. And the more she fought to understand, the more it did feel like something. Like descending into the darkness. Where was Vayne? The world was so... the light so faint....


Vayne? What is it? Not now....

Isolde, hold on....


Stark whiteness filled her hazy vision. Not the pleasant, numbing glow of Mana-light, this, but an all-too-familiar banal huelessness. The infirmary.... Ugh, no. How did I get here? Vayne. Vayne was.... Damn, did he trick me...?

The thought flickered across her mind, but made no impact, like an old memory; a sudden flash of pain, followed by the ease of knowing that truth was in the past. Her heart felt calm, all her surface thoughts refusing to stir its placid surface. Buoyed on the recognition of that, she kept herself from sitting bolt upright and scanning her surroundings, and simply let herself lie, feeling out her body for injuries and the wider room for presences with a detached curiosity.

She didn't seem hurt, and the sounds and sentiments of the infirmary were much as they ever were. Melanie was behind the curtain, preparing some horrible concoction no doubt that would harm more than it healed. I'm not even sick. Gods only know if I can convince her of that, though.... And closer, another presence... no, two... no, one... or was it just her imagination? She blinked to clear her vision, and surveyed the room with her eyes.


Ice-blue eyes met hers, framed by a shock of silver-white hair. Two over-large feline ears protruded from it, white feathery fur spilling out from the openings. She had to admit it looked quite grand.

She wasn't about to say that, though.

"I didn't know you possessed a sense of humour. And what's with all that? You look like Nikki."

"Ahaha, you don't like it?" Vayne rubbed a clawed hand through his hair. "I can change it...."

Isolde waved her hand dismissively, though internally she was blushing at the show of deference. "Don't bother. ...I am fond of cats, anyway."

A smaller black form hopped up onto the bed. "Always reassuring to hear," Sulpher mewed.

"...And I'm going to regret saying that, having two of them talking in my head."

"You're happy, though, right, Isolde-sensei?" said Vayne.

"Sensei...." she mused. "Is it really fitting for you to be calling me that any more, I wonder...."


"Never mind. As for happy... it's been a long time since I ever was. I really don't know."


"But I do feel... hn. It's been a long time since I felt this way, too. Maybe not since my first Mana.... The burden I carried inside... does feel lighter, somewhat."

"That's good...." Vayne smiled and took a place next to Sulpher, curling up into an effortless ball that looked like it should have been uncomfortable with still mostly-humanoid limbs.

"And maybe, with time, with this bond.... Maybe what you did will stop mattering so much to me. I don't want to promise anything, you understand. But if you're to be my Mana, it wouldn't make sense for me to... and I really don't...." She reached a hand out to absently scratch at his ear. "I think... that now... it's impossible for me to truly hate you, Vayne."

"...A happy ending, then?" offered Sulpher.

Vayne laughed nervously. "...Well, if we can get out of this place without Melanie trying to pour some weird gunk into us...."

Isolde rolled her eyes. "...My thoughts exactly."

"And goodness knows what I'm supposed to say to my workshopmates...."

"Yes, it's a good thing we're graduating," said Sulpher. "Although I suppose we won't be leaving the school now. Not that I mind... I rather like this place."

Vayne nodded. "I go where you and she go. Just don't go in two different directions. ...Ah, but! Speaking of graduation!"

"What about it?" Sulpher asked.

"Well, if I'm the Mana, and Sulpher's the pacted.... Shouldn't he technically be the one who graduates?"

"That's assuming I let you graduate," said Isolde.

"W-wait, what? But what did I...."

"You did put me in the infirmary."

"I wasn't responsible," said Sulpher. "I insist on getting my degree."

Isolde laughed lightly. "You two are good humour," she said. "But, Vayne, in all seriousness.... I do believe that if anyone deserves to graduate, it's you. You embraced the transcendence that alchemy is made for, and I.... Even I had let that knowledge become clouded, in my own fear. You showed me something I needed to remember, and... well.... Well done."

"Thank you, sensei," Vayne said, ducking his head a little.

"Please. There's no need to call me that now."

"She really can't make up her mind, can she?" said Sulpher.


And the strange laughter of one cat, one human, and something both yet neither echoed through the building, until Vayne's friends were eventually drawn; and there was much to explain, and even after all was said, and the jokes had been made, Vayne felt like he'd never hear the end of it.

Except he would, in short order. They were all graduating, and he was staying here, or leaving; whatever Isolde chose. It was an unspoken understanding: he and Sulpher didn't have plans, after all, and Sulpher had always gone wherever Vayne had gone. He'd never really had any direction in life, never known where he was going or what he was doing. But as a Mana, he felt content not going much of anywhere of his own accord.

Being with his pact-mates, helping their wishes come true....

That seemed like a peaceful kind of life, to him.

So that was the way it would be.


Theofratus.... I had truly underestimated you.

I still don't know why you longed for death. Alchemy is transcendence... I'm remembering that again, now. But was there really nothing more you could have done with your time and knowledge? Was that really the best way to leave this world, in desperation and in fear, rather than on the wings of eagles? If only you'd stayed with Vayne.... If only that hadn't been your first wish.... Maybe you'd have found the peace I'm beginning to see.

I don't know why you left. But the gift you left behind.... Through him, your son, your creation, I'm learning that your leaving wasn't the end of my life. And if you really did have to go, I'm thankful that you still gave me that.

I wish we could have been a family. But in your absence, I'll be all I can for him.

And if there is anything left of your heart that cares... know that he is everything, to me.

I must move on with my life. I'll commit this letter to the fire, and hope it is the last time I dwell on this sorrow. Rising on the updrafts, like the flames that burned your body, I'll wish that it reaches you.

With love,

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Why Atelier Iris 3 is actually a very alchemical story.

[Huge swathes of spoilers for the end(s) of AI3.]

In a sense, though it's not immediately apparent from the superficial story, Atelier Iris 3 could be said to be a game about how alchemy is disrespected and ignored in the world, and how it comes to be respected again.

The first statement is implicit in the plot; the second is not. But if we recognise that, after Iris's sacrifice, people are going to put together "Iris was an alchemist, and we disparaged her for it" and "Iris was the only one of us who could make things right" and realise that, at the very least, alchemists are people who are capable of turning away fundamental negative forces and tendencies that threaten to destroy us as intelligent beings-- as opposed to being people who do strange and disreputable things, who adhere to philosophies and practices that are outmoded or even dangerous, who generally have nothing to offer the world and may even do harm to it-- it becomes obvious how, by the end of the story, the opinions of the townspeople of Zey Meruze regarding alchemy might change.

Uroboros' physical manifestation, in this sense, could be taken as a symptom rather than a cause. "Uroboros" is really no more and no less than "the stagnation of the people's development". People in Zey Meruze have let themselves abandon ways of life that helped and advanced people, out of fear, apathy and inertia ("our lives are fine as they are! Why do we need this weird alchemy stuff causing upheavals?"). They've come to prefer to live mundane lives that don't ask anything much of them on a spiritual and philosophical front: alchemy, and by this I mean the discipline that we know as alchemy in this world, challenges the soul and the psyche and asks the practitioner to refine themselves, which forces them in the short term to go through transformations and confront realisations that might be uncomfortable in order to ultimately become better people. When people see short-term suffering and struggle, and the benefits lie beyond that, in the future, they tend to shy away. Their lives are chugging along well enough. Why put yourself through suffering to be even better? Aren't things okay now?

But that tendency to settle for "okayness", ultimately, creates more suffering in the world; because as long as things are just "okay", they aren't good, they aren't perfect, they aren't refined, and we experience suffering. Accepting "okayness" means accepting a certain level of suffering, and not wanting to move beyond okayness implies that we will never move beyond suffering. The only way to permanently move beyond suffering, spiritually speaking, is to advance ourselves to the point of transcendence-- which requires some short-term sacrifices which at the time feel more acutely uncomfortable, yet are preferable because they are temporary.

The tendency to settle for "okayness", to let the cycle of life go around and around without moving forward, is synonymous with Uroboros: the snake eating its own tail, the wheel of life and death and reincarnation that Buddhist practice exhorts that we move beyond. And so the people of Zey Meruze, in their denial of alchemy, their denial of spiritual striving and insistence upon living simple, unchallenging lives, are in a sense Uroboros.

Uroboros appears physically so that it can be defeated, because the world has come to such a crisis point. When Iris defeats Uroboros in the physical, she also defeats Uroboros in people's hearts. Her actions-- the fact of an alchemist, whose ways they disdained, saving the world through her wisdom and selflessness, which they doubted she possessed-- inspire them to the understanding that alchemy isn't a mindless practice but is in fact the only thing that can save them from Uroboros/stagnation.

And here's the interesting part, and the part that is really very alchemical: she had to defeat the physical Uroboros to inspire the philosophical change in people's hearts, but she cannot truly defeat Uroboros until she has inspired that change, because if the change is not present in people's hearts, then all you've done is defeat some superficial manifestation that wasn't really causing the problem. It's the classical end-boss quote from many RPGs: "as long as darkness remains in people's hearts, I will return someday". What's little-understood is that it's also an alchemical truth. In alchemy, you change physical materials in order to change the spiritual self, but it's spiritual growth and purity of the self that allows you to be subtle enough to effect the physical change. Thus they really occur simultaneously. In changing one you change the other.

So I like to think of Atelier Iris 3 as being set, at the beginning, in a world where alchemy is in decline, and through that decline, Uroboros becomes strong, and a hero-- someone with courage, power and wisdom, though on more refined and spiritual levels than most RPG heroes usually have it-- rises up to physically defeat Uroboros, in doing so showing the people the value of alchemy and truly putting Uroboros to rest.

What's nice about this interpretation, too, is that it provides the necessary characteristic of growth to the story-- in a classical story, a conflict arises, it is resolved, and by its resolution things are made not just as good as they were before but better. Without this interpretation, AI3 lacks the "better"-- the danger is averted, but things just go back to the way they were. If we say that people learnt something about alchemy from this, there's growth; the conflict was worthwhile not just because it restored things to a status quo but because something was gained, and that makes the story really feel fulfilling.

And best of all, that is also in accordance with the rules of alchemy: a trial, a suffering, is undergone, something is deconstructed, in order to bring that thing into a more refined state than before, to purify it, to get rid of something unnecessary through the struggle. Fairy tales are good alchemical metaphors, and I think, viewed in the proper light, Atelier Iris 3 actually makes a pretty good fairy tale. Is it original? Not especially-- most fairy tales aren't. But it tells a story people need to hear, and what's nice about it is that it specifically associates this story with alchemy, which allows a careful viewer to draw out more meaning and truth from it than they otherwise would.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The One Who Called Himself The Morning Star -- Atelier Iris 3 fanfiction (1,369 words, spoilers)

A ficbit that I've been wanting to get down for a while. It's not as coherent as I'd like it to be; it's basically just some drifting snapshots of a train of thought.



Blades of light-- no, metal, but reflecting the light, like steel talons polished until they blazed under the sun, blazed with a light that seemed almost to surge forth from within. The wings of a warrior angel, each one honed to the truest edge, rainbow light coruscating off the tiny imperfections in the surface: the scores and scratches where other blades had scraped along the metal's finer surface, where acid blood had tarnished the otherwise flawless finish. An impeccable figure of glory, yet carrying a subtler message to her eyes and mind: there is beauty to be found in weakness, behind blemishes and downfalls, in those things which we would otherwise cast aside.

You're right, Iris thought. There isbeauty in weakness. In things not fitting the pattern, and going their own way....

But Fanatos, you are not the only Mana.... Your ways are not the only ways.... And there are some patterns... that were never meant to be distorted.

Even you must feel that, now, joined like this....

She watched the motions of the brilliant armour, guided by Edge, the human who now wore its form. The last few times they'd fought, she'd barely been able to stop staring at it; it seemed to hold a puzzle for her, a visual illusion that set her perception on edge, trying to unravel it, trying to make the parts make sense. What part of this picture doesn't belong? The disparity, the conflict, was giving her motion sickness, but her eyes couldn't stop being drawn.

With time, her watching had paid off, the pieces falling into place. It wasn't Fanatos, the dark Mana, who was in some way incomplete; even if humans had dubbed her "the Mana of Evil", there was nothing in this picture that was truly cruel. She reflected that which people did not normally desire, fallings, failings, the tribulations of life; but only because even suffering could know beauty, even the darkest things could retain some component of grace. She was that flicker of grace in all evil things, the light of wonder within all that seemed hopeless.

In the few battles they'd fought together, she'd become certain that, as with any Mana, she could not dislike Fanatos. Indeed, she'd learnt a lot from just studying the shining creature. Even without words, there was a certain communication that went on between an alchemist and her pact-bonded.

She only wished the Mana could have that communication with Edge. That either of them could.

The armour of Fanatos dwarfed him, and within it, his hard, brutal motions seemed ill-fitting to the grace of the great angelic construct. It was like watching a play put on by untrained actors, who thundered and blustered through lines that deserved to be carefully weighted, even-handed. She wasn't much of a critic, but she knew when the actors were getting it right, because she'd forget they were acting and just lose herself in the story's ebbs and flows. But the sight of Edge, encased within Fanatos' mighty wings, kept jarring her, drawing her attention to the flaws in the pattern.

And each time, like a reader woken from the thrall of a story, she found herself feeling, suddenly, very alone.


They talked about it in her workshop-- not her house, really, more a workshop with a bed, the trappings and trimmings of alchemical labours spilling out into every available nook of the space. She liked it that way, a living space that felt like it was honoured by her craft. Edge thought she should clean up more often.

"So... what's it like, Edge, using the Blades?"

He looked up at her from his sword polishing, his hair frazzled and smelling of ozone and ash, damp sootish strands hanging over his eyes. He looked at ease, here, within the aftermath of battle, more at ease than he had out there dancing with the Mana. Iris didn't know quite what she thought of that. "It seems like it's working so far, I guess. I mean, we're getting through our quests a lot more quickly now." His eyes flickered up to hers, taking in her seeking gaze, seeming to grind over in his mind, for a moment, what she might be asking. "...Thanks. I wouldn't be able to do that if it weren't for you."

"No, that's not what I meant. Getting to join with something like that, I.... Doesn't it feel different? To what you're used to?"

"Yeah, I guess, now that you mention it." He gave the blade of his weapon a pass with the whetstone, the harsh ringing noise seeming to punctuate his words. "It does feel different." Another stroke, another metallic hum. "I'm stronger. Lighter. There's more I can do. Iris, why are you staring at me?"

"Stronger...." She turned the word over on her tongue, not sure what she expected to find. It felt hollow. "But doesn't it... mean anything to you?"

"Mean anything? Should it mean something?" His words rung with the cold scraping of stone on metal.

Yes, she thought, it should mean something, but I can't explain what. There are so many things that mean so much, but I can't begin to have the words for you. Your ears only hear the ringing of that sword... I'm not strong enough to drown it out.

She touched her hand to her chest, unconsciously, the energy fields around her fingers mingling with the tight, tangled knot that clenched at her lifeforce. Do you know what it means to speak with the Mana? she asked of its creator. Do you know what it is to live the way I do, to make alchemy your blood and breath? Do you understand the art you claim to know? Do you?

Does anyone, any more? Anyone but me?

She knew that even if she got an answer, it wouldn't be one she could trust. But for a simple "yes", she thought, she would run a thousand miles across the land, into the maw of her own grave.


She didn't ask Edge to leave the workshop, that night, but her silence eventually drove him out; knowing, perhaps, that she longed for things he could not be and could not even know. She watched him for a time through her window: a silhouette sitting on the steps, his back to her house, the moonlight glinting dully off his sword. Like he was a wraith, half-real, only the sword alive.

She turned over in her bed, letting the more comforting scene of soft candlelight reflecting off wooden furnishings drive out the spectral images. Had they really grown so far apart that these were the thoughts that filled her mind, now, when she thought of him? A ghost of a person, unable to see the truth she lived? It wasn't that she hated Edge; she didn't hate anyone, not even the man who had cursed her to die-- especially not-- not if--, she started to think, and pushed the thoughts out before they could form-- and he'd done so much for her, been there for her through so many hard times. She was just... disappointed, she supposed, that he hadn't grown along the same path as she, hadn't even found a vantage point from which he could understand anything that made her live.

Anything she'd live for.

Anything she'd die for.

She took one of the books from her bedside stand. Thick with allegory and metaphor, with universal truths gilt in ancient symbolism, it took her on a ride from life through death, and beyond-- against a backdrop of falling angels and morning stars, rapture and redemption, the preciousness of transformation. Her head spun with the heaviness of it, and how it made her think, all at once, of her own fragile position with regards to life, and the burnished, flame-ringed outline of Fanatos's armour cloak, and the shadow-image of one who could wear it and honour it-- an eyeblink's image, one she would not let herself hold onto, replaced with formless what-ifs and a hollow sense of longing.

With the tome as her pillow, she drifted into sleep, and there dreamt of a rising star that eclipsed her very soul, and burnt all her life away.