"My name is Sora," he says, and I disagree. But I don't get to decide these things. These things are decided by forces much stronger than myself. So I nod, dumbly, though I cannot return his smile. Because his name is apparently Sora now--misremembered or cruelly administered as a symbol of his new self. His hair fades to red at its ends and I feel the centuries between us.
He knows nothing.
I didn't even know the beacon had fallen.
I have been too long out of Glenwood.
Sora is everything my memories say he should be. He's kind. He's personable. He worries that I may have hit my head before he stopped my fall because I am staring at him with unfocused eyes. Perhaps I did. I almost desire the possibility wherein I have fallen and lay dying with this as nothing more than a disjointed hallucination as my thoughts scatter in my last surge of being. I always think of him, of Sorey, when I'm exploring ruins. My thoughts are never far from him, my words addressed to him as I speak aloud my observations. He's always there even when he isn't. And this is the same, though far more painful than I'd ever imagined.
Because his name is Sora now. Sorey is dead. Maotelus has destroyed everything there was of his vessel and remade a fire seraphim in his image.
"You should lie down," he says earnestly. "You don't look so good." His concern is as easily bestowed upon a stranger now as it has always been. He has the same heart which could never bear malevolence. He's goodness to his core despite all he's lost that taught him how to be.
"I'm fine," I lie, finding my voice.
He smiles. I try. It hurts. He was my closest friend.
We talk endlessly as he leads me to his home within the ruins to rest. I'm in shock but I can't ignore the voice that once whispered to me from across the pillow. He loves ruins. He loves exploring the lost temples and trials he finds in the last vestiges of countryside. He loves the Celestial Record and can quote endlessly from the tome as though he's memorized every passage inside. Again. He loves the books I wrote even more. We discuss them all and it feels like old times. He asks my name and I remember he's not the same.
"Rulay," I say, not wishing to confess to being both author and character in the stories we've discussed on our walk.
I don't tell him I knew him once. I don't tell him he's mistaken his name or that the books he loves about Shepherd Sorey are about him too from his previous life--his human existence. It would be selfish. I don't want to make him think he's anything less than what he is now. He's happy. He's unburdened. When he talks about the books and ruins his green eyes sparkle with delight and his face lights up like a star in the night sky. He deserves this peace even if it comes from letting go of what was and being only a spirit of the present. He deserves this and so much more. He's lost nothing in this way, his sacrifice given and his service repaid. So few people still exist who would even care that Sorey as he was is never coming back. Just me, really. Because he was my everything. I'm so proud of him, though. So in the end, it will be okay.
His camp is sparse. There's a bag of books and burnt logs from an old fire but little else to call this home.
"I've never met anyone else who likes the same things I do," he tells me as I'm lead to sit on a piece of rubble beside the ashes and dead embers. "Most people I've met are bored by archeology and history. I guess if I was ever going to meet someone else who shared my interests, though, it would be in a ruin like this."
"Ruins are full of the spirits of people who took interest in them," I say.
He laughs and it sounds like the melody to the song I sing in my heart. "Guess this is the first time I was fast enough to save one of them," he jokes.
I don't feel saved but I know this will pass.
"Have you traveled much in Glenwood?"
"I have," I let him know.
"Then have you seen Camlann and Ladylake and all the places written about in the books?"
I nod and he's nothing less than a spark of energy bursting with questions. His spirit was always a bright flame of unrivaled intensity: excitable, adventurous, passionate and bold. The fire element suits him well. He wants to know about the castles and their underground secrets. He is curious about the crucibles and Pendrago's shrinechurch. He doesn't know he's already read the entirety of my accounts but he seems content with the brevity of my spoken replies.
"And have you ever met the Prime Lord and Sub Lords who served Shepherd Sorey?" he asks.
So far, I have not lied to him. Not entirely. And I cannot fathom the will it would take to do so even now. "I have," I say, knowing the questions that will follow. "It's been a while since I last saw them but they were all well when I last left Glenwood."
My name spoken by his voice runs a shiver through my being. "Yes," I reply, though my own voice seems gone. I don't manage to say anything more.
I don't need to. He's driven to excitement in envy. "That must have been amazing! Meeting the seraphim who visited all those places and wrote all those books! He's my all time hero!" he exclaims and I feel warm and sick at the same time. "I read all the books about his adventures before I ever found the ones about Shepherd Sorey. I just... I couldn't believe he lived through all that and didn't become a dragon, you know? First learning about his human life, then watching his mother die without ever telling her who he was, then having to kill Zenrus and then Shepherd Sorey sacrificing himself too in the end... I mean, when it was all said and done, he lost everything in the span of a few hours. And he did it with so much grace, you know? Just... he honored the ones he loved and who loved him so fully. I don't know if I could be that person. I mean, everyone who died for a good cause did a noble thing but... but they didn't have to live with it. It was over. I mean, I had to go back and reread all the other books Mikleo had written just to fully appreciate it. They fought an enemy that was made cruel by loneliness and in the end they created the loneliest hero. I'd give anything to meet him but I don't know what I'd say. Probably just end up saying a lot of nonsense. But he's just.. amazing, you know? I can't imagine what it must be like meeting someone like him."
I want to scream and I want to cry, but I do neither. I'm not a little boy anymore. I don't have to be true to my heart.
I worry about my prose, though. I wrote about my adventures with Sorey so long ago. Perhaps I wasn't as objective in my writing as I thought.
"He's... normal," I say, not wanting to diminish his hero even if I disagree with his praise. I'm nothing special. I was just a baby back then by most accounts--eighteen years old in a lifespan that spans centuries. I was brash and stubborn and headstrong and proud. Sorey was the good one. I was just a whining toddler along for the ride.
Sora doesn't seem off put by my limited comment in the least. He's all but laughing, his good cheer overflowing. "I guess even amazing people can seem pretty ordinary once you get to know them," he says with insight I wouldn't have believed him to possess. He's the extraordinary one, I think. And in all likelihood, he'll never know it.
We don't eat, and for the first time in centuries it feels weird to me not to. He's no longer human, though, and so neither of us need to hold to any pretenses. I grew up eating but learned not to after less than a decade. I can almost feel hunger, though, as I watch him tend to a new fire. I learned a lot of things by growing up with Sorey--things that didn't even make sense to my biology. I was once an echo for sensations he alone could feel. Now, between the two of us, I'm the only one who feels the phantom pangs. I'm the one who thinks of this as a home even though it's just a campsite in a temple with a fire solely to grant us light.
I don't know what to do. He stares at me and turns away, bashful, embarrassed at being caught as he starts up again to fill the silence. He wants to check my head for injury and I allow it in fear of the quiet where nothing is said and nothing happens. I take down my hair and try not to look at him as I do. I feel his hands glide over the thick waves at my shoulders--far below my crown where his concern had been placed. I wonder briefly if he knows how much it's grown, if inside there is some innate sense of what I should look like which I no longer conform to. I'm older. I'm taller. He's neither. He's not even Sorey.
He parts my hair to inspect my scalp, pressing against the thick tresses which feel heavy down my neck. It hides my face, though, and places him at my back. He can't see me close my eyes and grit my teeth. It's my first moment outside his observation and I know instantly that I'm not strong enough for this yet. Maybe someday but not right now. I can accept that this will all be fine and in time I will be able to let go of my hopes and dreams concerning Sorey. For now the pain is just too much, though. He's so tender when he touches me and I know he doesn't remember how ticklish I am behind my ears. Sorey would never miss a chance to sneak a tickle in if I left myself unguarded. Sora's touch is light and gentle. He doesn't know me or us or even himself.
"Does it hurt?" he asks as my breath comes out as a shudder.
I tell him it doesn't, and its not a lie because he means my head. My head is fine. My head understands everything I'm learning about this seraph. It's my heart that's causing me duress.
He puts his hands on my shoulders and I have to stop myself from leaning into him. I wish he felt less familiar. I wish he had truly become someone different from my Sorey in more ways that just the absence of his memory.
I take his hand and turn towards him. He moves his free hand to press my hair back from my face. We kiss because I lure him closer; because I'm brash and stubborn and headstrong and proud. Because I'm never going to have my Sorey back. Because if I do nothing, he'll ask me why I look so sad. Instead he asks me "what was that for?" when his lips are far enough away for a whisper.
"For saving me," I reply, though I still don't feel in the least bit saved.
And because he's excitable and adventurous and passionate and bold, we spend the rest of the firelight with no space between us. The temple echoes with our heated breaths. My clothes pad the floor below us; his fall in indiscriminate patterns along the fallen columns all around. I outrun all disappointment in my actions with mind-numbing euphoria. I'll hate myself for this later but still cherish it like a sweet memory; I know myself well enough to know when I'm in the middle of a big mistake I can't avoid--won't avoid. Most of my life is made of warning signs I didn't care to obey. I don't care to be a voice of reason now.
Neither does he.
That doesn't mean it ends without regret.
"I didn't... I don't normally--I mean I've never... this wasn't my intention," he stammers, and I know his mind like I know my own heart even knowing he doesn't know me.
I stroke his face and smile. It's easier to do now. I've made a permanent mark in his blank slate. It's a start. And I'm selfish. I can't help but delight in that conquest somehow.
We sleep and we wake. We dress and he apologizes profusely. I love it. I love how careful he becomes in the morning. Everything is a worry that I think poorly of him regardless of how many times I remind him who started it. We don't talk about Shepherd Sorey or Mikleo. He only wants to speak to me about me with nothing more asked about the books we share so much knowledge of. We explore the rest of the water ruin together. We argue over dates and cultural significance. We clean up the campsite to leave no evidence we were ever there.
We leave together. Nothing is said; it's simply assumed. We travel towards the next town in hopes of learning of some other location to explore. He calls me Rulay and I remember to call him Sora. And it hurts. It hurts like dying each new day. But he's still just as excitable and adventurous and passionate and bold as the man I once knew. And if this pain is the price to pay for the wonder that is being at his side again, then that is a sacrifice I will gladly make.
Because I've never been very good. That was him. Always him.
But I know, given time, this will all be okay.
I'm very good at passing the time.