Blades of light-- no, metal, but reflecting the light, like steel talons polished until they blazed under the sun, blazed with a light that seemed almost to surge forth from within. The wings of a warrior angel, each one honed to the truest edge, rainbow light coruscating off the tiny imperfections in the surface: the scores and scratches where other blades had scraped along the metal's finer surface, where acid blood had tarnished the otherwise flawless finish. An impeccable figure of glory, yet carrying a subtler message to her eyes and mind: there is beauty to be found in weakness, behind blemishes and downfalls, in those things which we would otherwise cast aside.
You're right, Iris thought. There is beauty in weakness. In things not fitting the pattern, and going their own way....
But Fanatos, you are not the only Mana.... Your ways are not the only ways.... And there are some patterns... that were never meant to be distorted.
Even you must feel that, now, joined like this....
She watched the motions of the brilliant armour, guided by Edge, the human who now wore its form. The last few times they'd fought, she'd barely been able to stop staring at it; it seemed to hold a puzzle for her, a visual illusion that set her perception on edge, trying to unravel it, trying to make the parts make sense. What part of this picture doesn't belong? The disparity, the conflict, was giving her motion sickness, but her eyes couldn't stop being drawn.
With time, her watching had paid off, the pieces falling into place. It wasn't Fanatos, the dark Mana, who was in some way incomplete; even if humans had dubbed her "the Mana of Evil", there was nothing in this picture that was truly cruel. She reflected that which people did not normally desire, fallings, failings, the tribulations of life; but only because even suffering could know beauty, even the darkest things could retain some component of grace. She was that flicker of grace in all evil things, the light of wonder within all that seemed hopeless.
In the few battles they'd fought together, she'd become certain that, as with any Mana, she could not dislike Fanatos. Indeed, she'd learnt a lot from just studying the shining creature. Even without words, there was a certain communication that went on between an alchemist and her pact-bonded.
She only wished the Mana could have that communication with Edge. That either of them could.
The armour of Fanatos dwarfed him, and within it, his hard, brutal motions seemed ill-fitting to the grace of the great angelic construct. It was like watching a play put on by untrained actors, who thundered and blustered through lines that deserved to be carefully weighted, even-handed. She wasn't much of a critic, but she knew when the actors were getting it right, because she'd forget they were acting and just lose herself in the story's ebbs and flows. But the sight of Edge, encased within Fanatos' mighty wings, kept jarring her, drawing her attention to the flaws in the pattern.
And each time, like a reader woken from the thrall of a story, she found herself feeling, suddenly, very alone.
They talked about it in her workshop-- not her house, really, more a workshop with a bed, the trappings and trimmings of alchemical labours spilling out into every available nook of the space. She liked it that way, a living space that felt like it was honoured by her craft. Edge thought she should clean up more often.
"So... what's it like, Edge, using the Blades?"
He looked up at her from his sword polishing, his hair frazzled and smelling of ozone and ash, damp sootish strands hanging over his eyes. He looked at ease, here, within the aftermath of battle, more at ease than he had out there dancing with the Mana. Iris didn't know quite what she thought of that. "It seems like it's working so far, I guess. I mean, we're getting through our quests a lot more quickly now." His eyes flickered up to hers, taking in her seeking gaze, seeming to grind over in his mind, for a moment, what she might be asking. "...Thanks. I wouldn't be able to do that if it weren't for you."
"No, that's not what I meant. Getting to join with something like that, I.... Doesn't it feel different? To what you're used to?"
"Yeah, I guess, now that you mention it." He gave the blade of his weapon a pass with the whetstone, the harsh ringing noise seeming to punctuate his words. "It does feel different." Another stroke, another metallic hum. "I'm stronger. Lighter. There's more I can do. Iris, why are you staring at me?"
"Stronger...." She turned the word over on her tongue, not sure what she expected to find. It felt hollow. "But doesn't it... mean anything to you?"
"Mean anything? Should it mean something?" His words rung with the cold scraping of stone on metal.
Yes, she thought, it should mean something, but I can't explain what. There are so many things that mean so much, but I can't begin to have the words for you. Your ears only hear the ringing of that sword... I'm not strong enough to drown it out.
She touched her hand to her chest, unconsciously, the energy fields around her fingers mingling with the tight, tangled knot that clenched at her lifeforce. Do you know what it means to speak with the Mana? she asked of its creator. Do you know what it is to live the way I do, to make alchemy your blood and breath? Do you understand the art you claim to know? Do you?
Does anyone, any more? Anyone but me?
She knew that even if she got an answer, it wouldn't be one she could trust. But for a simple "yes", she thought, she would run a thousand miles across the land, into the maw of her own grave.
She didn't ask Edge to leave the workshop, that night, but her silence eventually drove him out; knowing, perhaps, that she longed for things he could not be and could not even know. She watched him for a time through her window: a silhouette sitting on the steps, his back to her house, the moonlight glinting dully off his sword. Like he was a wraith, half-real, only the sword alive.
She turned over in her bed, letting the more comforting scene of soft candlelight reflecting off wooden furnishings drive out the spectral images. Had they really grown so far apart that these were the thoughts that filled her mind, now, when she thought of him? A ghost of a person, unable to see the truth she lived? It wasn't that she hated Edge; she didn't hate anyone, not even the man who had cursed her to die-- especially not-- not if--, she started to think, and pushed the thoughts out before they could form-- and he'd done so much for her, been there for her through so many hard times. She was just... disappointed, she supposed, that he hadn't grown along the same path as she, hadn't even found a vantage point from which he could understand anything that made her live.
Anything she'd live for.
Anything she'd die for.
She took one of the books from her bedside stand. Thick with allegory and metaphor, with universal truths gilt in ancient symbolism, it took her on a ride from life through death, and beyond-- against a backdrop of falling angels and morning stars, rapture and redemption, the preciousness of transformation. Her head spun with the heaviness of it, and how it made her think, all at once, of her own fragile position with regards to life, and the burnished, flame-ringed outline of Fanatos's armour cloak, and the shadow-image of one who could wear it and honour it-- an eyeblink's image, one she would not let herself hold onto, replaced with formless what-ifs and a hollow sense of longing.
With the tome as her pillow, she drifted into sleep, and there dreamt of a rising star that eclipsed her very soul, and burnt all her life away.