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#14291796 Jan 19, 2020 at 06:52 PM · Edited 2 years ago
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Kwang Su was dead.

It wasn't a natural death, though a natural death hadn't been far off for the sickly old man. Vahn did his best to bear that in mind, but it didn't make it any less horrifying to have witnessed and played some part in his murder. It didn't assuage the guilt he felt burning in his chest.

When the young Harani was first made aware of his maternal grandfather's failing health, he had been given two options: attend an audience with him in which his will and fortune would be passed down, or reject the offer and forfeit the right to any inheritance whatsoever. Instinctively, Vahn wanted to reject the offer outright. He had no use for personal wealth, and didn't want anything from a man who he had feared and hated his entire life. He was doubly wary because the offer was brought to him by another, who by his very nature disturbed and offended Vahn’s good nature. It would have been so easy to say no in that very moment, but another suggestion rang in his ears.

Twenty years ago, Kwang Su blamed the death of his daughter, Rena Su, on Kaile Draren, calling for his execution. Technically, Kaile did have some relation to her death, but it wasn't malicious, nor heinous. It wasn’t murder. Allegedly, due to complications with Vahn's birth, Rena passed in labor, scarcely able to look at her newborn son before her soul departed for the Hereafter. It was instinctive for Vahn to feel the alluring draw of vengeance against Kwang for issuing such injustice against his father. For depriving Vahn the privilege of knowing his father, and having him in his life, when his mother was already so cruelly taken from him.

Vahn thought on it for a day, then wrote to Dariuss, the messenger that disturbed him so deeply, with a blunt statement that he was declining his grandfather’s offer. Evidently not willing to take 'no' for an answer, Dariuss went to Vahn's island home, with nigh military force, and gave him no other choice. Dariuss was no fan of necromancy, and believing Kwang’s experiments to be in some part necromantic, and perhaps to counter Vahn’s failing confidence in him, the Firran mogul lined everything up to murder the Su partriach, and leave the will in Vahn’s name. Vahn wasn't mentally prepared to face his estranged grandparent, and he was even less prepared to watch him choke on toxic gas. Ultimately, the green-haired pacifist of a Harani didn't have much of a constitution for murder, even though he'd certainly committed an awful lot of it as of late.

He felt so panicked, his entire body became numb, and for a moment, he nearly lost consciousness, but his second nature--the foreign, animalistic one that often felt like it was torturing him or ripping hip up from the inside out--made him stubbornly cling to wakefulness. When his body stopped tingling, and his own senses returned to him, he was on his knees, sitting across from a somewhat plump, elderly servant woman, wearing a red square of fabric atop her head, and a MagiCorp breathing mask matching his. She was the sole witness, outside of Dariuss’s men, to survive Kwang’s execution. Vahn’s eyes darted around the room, looking for Dariuss or the MagiCorp muscle he'd brought with him, but they were all gone.

Slowly, his pale blue gaze dragged back to the older woman, meeting her eyes. She was probably about seventy or so--maybe younger. Despite having witnessed the aftermath of that horror, she didn't seem focused on the death of Kwang, but on the subsiding panic and distress of the young man before her. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and the woman was grasping his shoulders.

"There you are. Stay with me, sir," she said with earnest concern. "I'm here to help you."

Vahn made a face; a frown with a twist of confusion and pain, readable even behind the mask. He let out a shuddering sigh, echoing through said mask. "I-I'm sorry," he stammered.

The woman shook her head and took his quivering hands, standing, and urging him to do the same. He stood with her, a little weak on his feet. "I've sent for the coroner, sir," she said, gently guiding him back through the hallway in which they sat, headed for the outdoors, just to be certain they were clear of the noxious fumes that took down Kwang and his guards. Others had already come and gone, observing the aftermath, unmasked, and unbothered, so she knew it was clear, but even so, she wanted him to feel safe. "Don't you worry about any of that nasty business."

Once in the cool night's air, she removed her mask and dropped it, then reached out to help Vahn with his, discarding it equally as unceremoniously. She squinted at him, recognizing something in him that gave her pause. He swallowed, his thoughts returning to him little by little. "I want t-to go home," he whimpered.

"This is home, sir," she said. "My name is Jie, sir. I was a friend of Ichal's." She invoked the name, not of her now departed master, but of the grandparent who raised him.

Vahn blinked blearily, wiping at his eyes again. "W-what?" he asked.

Patiently, she guided the boy to a bench overlooking an immaculately raked, white-sand garden, just a step below the outer deck of the manor. "More importantly," she said, glossing over his initial confusion. "I serve the lord and master of these lands. And that's you, now. You have a host of things to do, young lord."

It took very little to make as gentle a man as Vahn cry, and sure enough, the tears were still free-flowing. "I... I don't want this. I don’t want any of this."

Jie wore a patient smile, giving his shoulders a rub. "You can forfeit the will, sir, but the people here will all lose their livelihoods. Leadership is required to keep this place in motion, and that burden rests squarely on your shoulders. Unless you’d prefer to sign it over to someone else."

Vahn sniffled, trying to regain some of his composure. She'd mentioned his guardian twice now, once before the nasty business of killing Kwang, and the way she chided him using simple reasoning reminded him greatly of Ichal -- his departed paternal grandfather. "I'm s-sorry. I don't... I don't know how to lead."

"Let us help you," she said, watching him closely, trying to puzzle out what it was about him that felt so familiar, and yet so peculiar. She had known both of his grandfathers, and both of his parents as well, but it wasn’t that, that made her curious. "This is Su Village. Your predecessor used Harani engineering to transform some craggy, unusable land into something better, and then he brought in human help, like myself, and Ichal, and many others."

"Did… did you know him?" Vahn asked, tempering his sorrow in favor of curiosity. He missed his grandfather so much. He had for years.

Taking his use of tense to mean that Ichal had indeed passed away already, Jie looked somewhat sorrowful, but she remained professional and attentive to her new master’s queries. "I did, when I was younger, sir," she replied. "He was a hard worker. A brilliant man too."

The green-haired youth couldn’t help but smile past his tears at that. Though a very broad description, that was indeed his grandfather--a man made hard by decades of hard labor, with a severe work ethic, but the heart and mind of a scholar. When he was young, Ichal told him stories about his work. He mostly tended to the wet farmlands, sowing and harvesting rice and other crops throughout the year, hauling heavy barrels of produce and wine, as well as clunky machinery. It sounded like he had a lonesome life, despite being a part of the Su Village’s community. He never told Vahn about his friends or colleagues. He barely even spoke about his own lover, who had sent him his infant son, Kaile, one day from afar with a letter explaining why she couldn’t raise him.

"Now then, there’s a lot of work to be done, so I’m going to send for the handmaidens to get you into something more befitting of your position," she explained, looking the very plainly-dressed man over.

"I really--" Vahn protested. "My- I- I left someone at home. H-he’s probably worried sick. I need to see him."

"Much of what needs to be done right now is time-sensitive, sir. I can have someone sent to fetch your friend," Jie offered.

Vahn winced, but nodded. That was a fair compromise. He wasn’t quite sure how many hours had passed since he left, but Vrekka wouldn’t have done anything reckless in so short a time. He still felt a burning desire to simply discard any responsibility to this place and his predecessor’s estate, but that creature inside of him seemed compelled to stay as well. As unfamiliar as Vahn knew and felt this place to be, that entity felt it had returned to its birthplace. Where Vahn felt lonely and isolated, the beast felt reassured--it felt a sense of belonging.

The next day, following a very restless night of attempted sleep in a bed far too large to feel normal, was a whirlwind of confusion. Vahn met dozens of people who all briefed him on what needed doing, and what was immediately expected of him. Today, he would be standing in witness of his grandfather’s funeral pyre, then he would be sent with an entourage to Mahadevi to continue Kwang’s work of currying favor with foreign, royal authorities. There was very little else Vahn would hate to do more, and he was still fussing over whether or not he’d get to see Vrekka, despite promises that he would be sent for.

For the funeral, he was adorned in fancy red and gold embroidered silks, with a golden hair ornament and a feather to top it off. He felt incredibly uncomfortable, and as the isolation and fear started to overwhelm him, he found himself reduced to tears again at the funeral. During the funeral, he began to feel bouts of pain--some sort of anger within, at himself, that he was so weak and scared in this moment. That he wasn’t feeling proud and confident in his new role. The beast within was chewing away at him. Though some noticed his internal struggle, nobody said anything at all to him during the funeral.

After the funeral, he was escorted back to the estate and, very briefly, left alone to wait for someone to arrange for transportation to Mahadevi. He was so incredibly exhausted and spent, he just wanted to lay down. The brief solitude was actually a bit of a relief, even though waves of pain were still rippling through him. Alone, with nobody to witness it, the pain grew more intense, and more severe, and he found himself groaning and crying. His awareness was impaired for a moment, and he felt like he was losing some control over his own body, and his own mind. Parts of his memory were blackened, drowned in silence and numbness, and when some amount of awareness came back to him, he wasn’t where he’d been standing before.

He was in a bamboo forest, on the ground, with a Harani man bent over him, cradling him in his arms, searching his eyes with concern. There were strange little moths or butterflies drifting about overhead, which seemed to be made of nothing more than light. They vanished and reappeared at random.

The Harani man smiled down at Vahn when he saw that sense of awareness creep back into his gaze, and he helped him to sit up. This man wasn’t dressed like any of the attendants Vahn had been seeing all day. He was dressed in rough-hewn cotton and burlap clothing, worn and ruddy. His eyes were gray, and his fingernails looked just as cloudy and gray, at a brief glance. The smile this man offered Vahn seemed a little peculiar -- not malicious nor conniving, but simply odd, or crooked.

"Helllooo--” the man said to Vahn in a sing-songy voice. "It was getting you, so I brought you here. Here is good!

Vahn half-blinked, looking confused, though not really perturbed by the strange man. "Mmh, where is ‘here?’" he asked weakly.

"The Flutter Grove,” the man explained, breathing with excitement, and child-like wonder, despite the clear and evident fact that he was a full grown man. "It’s where the flutters play. Even in winter! The beasties love it. It makes them gleeful!

"Beasties?" Vahn repeated questioningly, looking up again at the dancing spectral butterflies. The heat that he often felt at his core, especially when his body was racked with pain, wasn’t burning. He didn’t feel that innate anger.

The other man leaned forward and pressed a finger against Vahn’s chest. "Thisss,” he explained. "It’s a hungry monster, but it likes to play. That’s how you stop being eaten.

Vahn turned his attention onto the man again, quirking a brow. Though it sounded like gibberish, that statement made more sense than he was willing to admit.

"You’re new. We’re Gray,” the man said. "Both of us.” He patted his chest, thumping it loudly.

"I- I’m the Wa-..." he started, then he paused. The whole reason he used a false name was to evade the attentions of Kwang Su, or at least, that was what he believed. It was Kwang who would have wanted to hunt him down if he had realized that Rena’s offspring survived. And now, that threat was gone. Why was he still using a false name? "I’m… Vahn Draren."

"Oh! Hello, Vahn Draren,” he said eagerly. "Would you like to be our friend?

Vahn nodded faintly, instinctively. It never occurred to him to reject such an offer unless the person offering was very clearly twisted or black-hearted. This “Gray” seemed as innocent as a child, so rejection didn’t even cross Vahn’s mind.

Gray beamed. He was so used to being ostracized and rejected because of that same child-like nature, in the body of an adult man. "Hooray!" he exclaimed. "Then let’s, all of us, be very good friends! I-- I, here, I have a present. I love presents. I love giving presents, Vahn Draren!"

He reached behind his back, fishing around in rustling brush for something, and then he offered Vahn a little lantern. It was a red and gold color that perfectly matched the strange robes he head been outfitted with, and it was heavy, as though there were something inside of it. The little light flutter bugs were terribly drawn to it, as though it were stuffed with some sort of bait that they loved. A tiny ornament resembling the little creatures was fastened to the bottom of the lamp. These light-creatures flew around the lantern, passing through it like ghosts.

Vahn gently accepted the lantern, fascinated by it, watching the little creatures play. He lifted a finger to try to touch one of the little butterflies, but it passed straight through his hand, and it felt warm, and tickled. In his core, he immediately felt joy. It wasn’t his own joy, but rather, the creature within him. He still felt somewhat sad and lonely, yearning to be back home with his lover, but at least the pain stopped, and at least that animalistic instinct inside of him had shifted from wolf-like anger and violence, to pup-like whimsy.

"Isn’t it wonderful?" Gray asked. "My beastie loves it! Yours should too!"

"It- It seems to..." Vahn agreed absently. He wasn’t sure, intellectually, what the hell he was talking about, but on a very emotional level, everything seemed to make sense, and he felt a powerful sense of gratitude for this strange child-like Harani man.

Gray surged forward and hugged Vahn, then, rather abruptly, leapt to his feet and exclaimed. "The fuddy-duddies are coming! I have to go~" And, without any further explanation, he turned the opposite direction and darted off, deeper into the woods.

Vahn rose to see if he could follow, but, as soon as he looked back over his shoulder, there were concerned servants and handmaidens stumbling down a decline at the edge of the woods, from the direction of the estate, calling for the “young master.” It was a slightly rude awakening to realize that they meant him. He pressed his lips together, looking again in the direction Gray had flounced off, and realized the man was nowhere to be seen. So, he somewhat begrudgingly, albeit politely, surrendered to be brought back to the estate and further prepared for his diplomatic trip to Mahadevi. As he followed his ushers, he touched the little red bulb Gray had given him, and he felt that sense of ease and joy at his core again, at least somewhat balancing the more dominant distress in his heart.

When would he be able to see Vrekka again? When would he be able to reach out to the people he loved? He wanted not only to see Vrekka again, but Kora, and Lysander, and Shesmetet, and Aurumin. His closest friends, who he felt so cut off from now.
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