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I'm in town until the 23rd.
Why don't you stop by?

The note came in a clean, sharp, ivory-colored envelope, not anything like the grimy package he'd sent a year ago. But the missive was short, clipped, and confident—unmistakably his—and written on stationery from a local hotel.

You arrive at the hotel around 8 o'clock on the night of the 22nd, dressed in an unassuming brown jacket and slacks. The lady behind the counter beams as you tell her your name.

"It's no problem," she says warmly, handing you a keycard. "Your father mentioned you would turn up. He's in room 1604. Please give him my regards."

You stare at her, slightly puzzled.

"Shawn Kosugi is one of the hotel's most esteemed guests," she gushes. "His lecture tour's been bringing in quite a bit of publicity!"

"Oh," you reply, forcing a grin. "Of course."

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The elevator ride takes ages, and so does the walk to his room. As you walk down, down, down the almost interminable hall, you're uncomfortably reminded of having to go to the principal's office. But it's not like you know what's going to happen here, anyway; what's the point in dreading it?

You knock briefly, then slide your keycard in and open the door. Shawn Kosugi, world-famous historian, biologist and astronomist, explorer extraordinaire, actual professor of history rather than an assistant professor, is seated in a chair in the corner of the room rather comfortably. He obviously wasn't going to get up.

"Come in," he says. "I was hoping you'd pay me a visit."

 

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I was hoping you'd pay me a visit. The words trickle through your head slowly. You keep them there, analyzing them from every possible angle, searching for hidden meaning and tone. Predatory, maybe, or sharply condescending, the way you've always remembered him. But there's nothing there that you can find. 

You step inside.

"Have a drink," he says. There's a bottle of wine next to him on the table. It's about two-thirds of the way full.

You sit down across from him and begin to fill your glass. Neither of you say anything, but your brain is kind enough to start filling in the silence for you: "You're still wearing that ratty suit? What's the matter, can't you afford a new one? Oh, I suppose you can't. Ah, the hard life of Lemeza Ko—"

"What's that?" your father asks, leaning over the table and prodding at your hand. You're jostled out of your thoughts and put down the bottle; your wine glass is far fuller than it needs to be.

"This?" You look at your hand. It's nothing much, just a scar on the side. Actually, you'd forgotten it was there. "Just something I picked up at work."

"At work?" he replies, chuckling. "What, from a letter opener?"

 

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You raise the glass to your lips, forcing them to pull back in a wry grin. "Yeah, dad, a letter opener."

Of course it wasn't from a fucking letter opener. It's from the time you hurled yourself from a minecart directly at the jaws of a fifty-foot lizard, clinging to its face for dear life and driving your knife as far as you could into its skull. (The knife slipped.)

"At least," you add, "that's what I tell people."

 

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He laughs at that, actually, because he understands. You smile again, a little more easily this time. "It's a hard thing to keep secret, isn't it?" Shawn says, and you can tell he's been dying to talk about it. 

"Is it? I figured you'd written up the whole affair by now," you reply mildly. He grumbles. One point for you. "Definitive Proof of the Unified Civilization Theory, by Dr. Shawn Kosugi, Ph.D..."

"It's not proof of anything," he replies, exasperated. He reaches down to the worn leather bag that sits at his feet, roots around in it, sits back up and tosses something onto the table with a toylike clink. "You can have this. It's junk, as far as I'm concerned."

You stare at it. It's a crystal, craggy and flawed, but it catches the light and reflects it with a purity that makes your heart ache. You've seen this before. You had it in your hands for only a few minutes, but you could never forget how it felt.

"Keep it," Shawn says. "It'll get the museum off my back."

 

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"I can't take this, Dad." 

"Then pitch it into the ocean," he says. "I can't stand the sight of it anymore. Damn thing nearly turned me into a laughingstock, but I suppose I should have known better."

You blink. Shawn Kosugi, a laughingstock? 

He turns away a little in his chair, taking a sip of wine and staring angrily out into space. After a moment, he catches your eye. "I came this close to making a statement in front of the board about my findings," he says, leaning over the table and pinching his thumb and index finger together. "This close."

"And then you realized..."

"And then I realized," he says, with a wave of his hand. "I'd be laughed into retirement. The 'Treasure of Life' proves nothing. It is nothing," he repeats sharply, and all of a sudden something wakes in your blood.

"It isn't nothing!" you shout, leaping to your feet and pressing your palms down hard on the table. Shawn leans back, blinking behind his glasses. It's the first time you've seen him taken off guard, but you're too angry to care. "Is that what you think? It's a 'piece of junk' just because it doesn't get you a writeup in a journal, or another interview on TV, or—or tenure?"

"I already have tenure," he points out, and you stalk away from the table, incensed.

 

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You turn and pull out a cigarette from your jacket pocket. You light it and take a drag in frustration, trying to marshal your thoughts. His attitude is one thing, but your reaction is another, and frankly, it unsettles you. You understand why he would call it a piece of junk, and you already know how self-centered he is. So why the violent reaction?

Maybe because you remember it like it was yesterday. You remember how hard you sweated and fought and agonized and prayed to reach the center of La-Mulana, how you left the ruins far more changed than when you began. But more than that, you remember how you killed her with your own two hands, as her spirit reached out to you and begged you, wordlessly, to stop.

"I can't take it," you repeat. "Give it to Xelpud, or something."

 

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You hear Shawn's quiet voice from behind you. "He doesn't want it." 

"Then I can't help you," you reply, turning back around. He's filled his glass, and topped yours off too. "Give it to..."

You're about to say "the museum," and then you stop yourself. 

"See?" your father says. "I thought the same thing. I'd rather have it sink to the bottom of the sea than in the hands of someone who doesn't know anything about it. I suppose we could try that girl Mulbruk," he sighs.

"Say," he adds, glancing up at you, "weren't you two—"

 

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"No," you reply flatly, cutting him off as you sit back down. "She stayed at my place for a few weeks when we came back to the States. I don't know where she is now."

"That's a shame," he chuckles, swirling the wine around in his glass and staring into it like a crystal ball. "She was rather fiery. I think she had a crush on me, you know."

"You're drunk."

"Yes," he confesses, grinning. "But she talks in her sleep. Kept mumbling dirty things about a man in a hat."

"Dad," you respond, staring at him incredulously, "we both wear hats."

He pauses, takes another sip, and shrugs his shoulders. "Fifty-fifty. I'd take those odds."

 

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All this time the crystal (the Mother's tear, you can't help but remind yourself) has remained on the table, listening to your conversation, catching the light and reflecting it back at you silently. Despite yourself, you already know how this is going to end. You're going to leave this room with it in your pocket, one way or another. 

There's nobody else it could be, you think to yourself. Just like there was nobody else who could awaken the Philosophers, put every piece of the puzzle together, and finally do the dirty deed. "You're the chosen one," they told you. "Sorry, but I guess we all have to do tough things once in a while. Have fun."

The thought of it makes resentment and bitterness bubble up inside you, and you narrow your eyes as you stare into the depths of the Treasure of Life. "I can't believe you," you seethe. "Calling me here just to pawn this off on me..."

Shawn gives you a look. "I thought you'd be overjoyed," he says, "considering that I got it from you in the first place."

"Got it. Stole it," you clarify, giving him a stony glare. "Is that what's about for you? You ignore me except when you want to take something from me, just like a thief?"

 

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"A thief!" Shawn repeats, laughing out the words. "Me, a thief! That's a riot coming from you, boy, a riot," he says, leaning in, and his eyes are shining behind those glasses and he's staring you down like a butterfly pinned in his collection. "You think I don't know all about that lovely assortment of forbidden artifacts you've got locked up in your house? I'm not stupid. You were more God than man by the time you came out of that cave—"

"I don't have them locked up!" you shout, because you're lying. "I donated them!"

"Not all of them," Shawn says pointedly. A bolt of ice shoots down your spine, and your fingers tighten around the stem of your glass. "I noticed a few things were missing from the collection."

"Don't do this, dad—"

"Small things, Lemeza. Just a few ancient weapons, maybe a couple trinkets to let you breathe underwater and stop time at will, and a little number by the name of the Holy Grail. Who are you trying to fool?" he says, and his words hit you in the chest like darts, one right after the other. "What, do you pull them out at night and play pretend?"

 

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A thousand expletives run through your head and you don't decide to say any of them. Instead, you drain your glass, give your father a tight-lipped smile, and say "You know what? I think we're just about done here."

You stand up, and as you stand up you grab the Treasure of Life from where it's been sitting on the table. Your father doesn't blink, and only gives you a cold and critical look. "It's your responsibility, anyway," he says. "It belongs to you. Not me."

Somewhere, there's a grain of truth in what he's talking about. If destiny is a concept with any validity to it, instead of just an excuse for other people to use you as their tool, then you were destined to have this, the same way you were destined to be the killer of God. 

"Business as usual," you reply, turning towards the door. "It won't be the first time you've thrown something away because you didn't want to deal with it."

 

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As you close the door, you hear the beginnings of "Lemeza—" behind you, but you don't stop to see his face.

 

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You make your way down the street, your hands jammed tight in the pockets of your jacket. It must have rained while you were inside, and moisture hangs in the air and clings to your suit. As your shoes scrape against the street wetly, you run your fingers over and around the crystal in your pocket, wondering.

Your apartment is dark when you return, and you keep the lights off. You lie down lengthwise on the couch on your back, still in your suit jacket and shoes, and let out a long, soft sigh as you start to unwind. You feel tired, but not as anxious or shaken as you thought you'd be. Mostly you're just drained.

You lie there for a moment, your hands folded together on your chest. Briefly, you remember stepping back into your apartment one late afternoon and seeing the long, relaxed form of that girl in the setting sun. 

She had been lying here, just like this, her eyes closed and her chest moving quietly up and down. The curtains behind her billowed inwards from the warm summer breeze, slow and soft like clouds, like time itself had slowed to a crawl.

"Mulbruk is very happy here," she said quietly. Maybe she was sleeping, or maybe she was talking to you. With her, it was hard to tell. 

"I'm glad," you remember saying, sitting down on the far side of the couch. She lifted her long legs and put them over your lap, very casually. She did everything casually.

You sat like that for a long time, you and her, your hand resting gently on her calf, her eyes still closed serenely. 

You were never involved with her, not the way your father or the elder would make off-color jokes about, but these moments you shared were some of the happiest you had ever known. It felt like having your cake and eating it, too—a living reminder that La-Mulana had happened, that you hadn't dreamed it or gone crazy, that the high highs and low lows and the sheer magic of it all still lived inside both of you.

"What was it like, living in the ruins?" you asked quietly, worried that Mulbruk was tired of repeating the story.

But she opened her eyes, gave you a great big smile, and told you again, like a mother to her child. 

 

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