A long time ago, long long time, I was stupid.
That’s funny, don’t you think? Me, stupid. But I was. I was.
They fed him to me to keep me there. Fed me on him until I could hold a shape, until I could live, if living in a flask is living. A week, he told me later. That’s how long they were uncertain if he was going to keep breathing.
I don’t remember; I was too busy learning how to have a body without really having a body, but he told me afterward and I knew. I knew humans were that stupid.
But I was stupid as well and so I thought that would be the end of it. I’d tell the stupid old king what it would take and he’d be angry but resigned and send me back to Van. And then perhaps they’d stop asking idiotic questions of me for a while and perhaps I could persuade Van into stealing a camel and shaking the sand of this moronic city off his feet and my flask. Possibly strike out across the desert and see what was on the other side of it. Back then we didn’t know Xing very well, but we knew it was there and that was enough for me.
If it was there, I wanted to see it. I wanted to see everything, learn everything, know it all and do it all, and I thought…
That stupid king, stupid old human. I saw him decide. I saw it.
And those he surrounded himself with, his magicians and soldiers and advisers, they stood silent. Not one of them said no, I waited, I waited for someone to say this is stupid, don’t. No one did.
It was going to happen and I was still in the flask. Van had asked me what I wanted and I’d told him and he’d said… but I was still in the flask. We were still here in this stupid city and he was still human and I still was not.
I told him, the stupid old king. I told him the rest. The moron believed me. Me, an artificial life, the thing they made out of Van’s life, tied me to this world with his blood, and they believed everything I told them.
They got what they asked for. They asked if I knew how to make someone immortal. They didn’t ask me to make them immortal.
And Van, afterward, he looked at me and he was afraid. He never was before, not when I was black mist, one eye and a great many teeth, but when I looked back at him with his own face he ran. And so I walked the other way.
He was once used to take me places. He was the reason I knew what the city looked like outside the labs and the palace. And he didn’t care. Not that people stared or that he wasn’t allowed to take me out where people could see me. His master beat him for it more than once, but Van was Van. He wasn’t going to be a slave for the rest of his life. He said I wasn’t either.
He really was an idiot. He still is, even now when he’s trapped in my gut choking to death on my, our essence, our life, he still believes like a stupid, hopeful human.
I was too angry at first, perhaps. Too angry, too afraid, more of myself than anything else, and then it was so hard to hear anything but them.
Them. All those lives inside of me, those people. My people, so angry, all of them, and I was angry, and for a very long time that was all he was to me, the epicenter of my anger and my guilt.
I didn’t remember. Not until Pinako. Until Trisha.
I saw my son born, held his weight up, supported by my hands between elements, and I remembered my friend. The flask weighed less than Edward did at birth.
He was light in my hands, almost nothing. So easy to carry, but even if he’d weighed more than I, I would have found a way. I would have done it.
He gave me a name and the freedom of my thoughts; he gave me companionship in a place where there was none for a slave, he as much a slave as I. I knew the weight of his shackles as I knew my own and still, I did nothing.
He would call me an idiot now for harboring these regrets, and I am, an old thoughtless idiot. Then I was merely younger. Still an idiot, and the years have not changed that. My regrets are double my considerable age, which I suppose is only fair when one’s foolishness outweighs one’s good intentions.
I have always meant well. I meant to earn my freedom, to find a way to free him from his flask. But I was young and the young have no sense of urgency or proportion. It would be well, I was certain.
Now I think of time wasted and time passed and there was so little time before and far too much afterward. I see Edward, years willingly lost to him in pursuit of his brother’s restoration and I am ashamed. I feel how much I am to blame for the fruits of my own willful stupidity and ignorance.
Dwarf in the flask, Homunculus, you gave me a name and I never asked for yours, my first friend, my brother.
I am sorry.