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,