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.

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