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Lethe And Starlight
by Gray Brangwin


The starlight fell through the window, casting a shifting, silvery light that illuminated a lean figure that tossed restlessly on a bed. The odd, mingled chirps and predatory cries of the Dezolisian nightlife echoed through the night air, the howling blizzard muffling the harsh utterances into gentle, muffled sounds. Were it not for the unearthly shriek of the blizzard itself, the night could almost have been called restful.

None of this, however, was what disturbed this figure's sleep this night.

All of a sudden, the figure sat bolt upright, momentarily entangling himself in the sheets and flailing about for a moment before freeing himself with a sharp curse.

The figure was that of Rune Walsh, the Fifth Lutz (only the rest of them didn't know that yet), yadda yadda yadda and all that rot. And he was having trouble sleeping because... he couldn't get to sleep. Illogical, but true. And it frustrated him no end.

He was also wearing nothing above the waist and little below it, a situation which would cause him much embarrassment in a minute. Flinging open the door with another curse, he stalked out into the hallway, and promptly slammed into the cleaning lady.

He was back into the room before the stunned Dezolisian even opened her eyes again.

Rune bit off another curse as he quickly threw his robes on. It was beginning to become quite a habit, he realized, and quickly chalked it up to Chaz's influence, even though the hunter rarely, if ever, let an expletive escape his lips. Had to be. Nothing else it could be.

He cursed again, for no apparent reason, then headed out the door.

If Rune had been one to tell stories of past misfortunes (and had he been in a slightly better mood), he would have had quite a story to tell. The five of them (of which two would have gladly reduced the number to four by means of eliminating the wisecracking priest) had travelled to Zosa to purchase new weaponry, having heard of esper-forged weaponry being available there. The rumours had been right, and they had been set to travel to Reshel in the same day when the snowstorm hit.

Well, not precisely hit. Under the present conditions, the snowstorm hit every day. It was more of a sudden intensification of the blizzard -- in other words, it got stronger. And bigger. And meaner. And -- well, most would get the picture by this point, but Raja had seen fit to regale them with ludicrous jests about the aggresive propensity of snow all the way back to Zosa. And again on the way back to Tyler -- except somehow the snowstorm had also disrupted their navigational systems, and they ended up wandering through the snow for five hours, before ending up back at Ryuon. Five hours of boredom. Or rather, five hours of Raja jokes.

Except for Rika, they'd rather have had the boredom.

They'd staggered into town, tired, weary, and barely able to stand the driving snow -- or at least Chaz and Rune had, Rika being the bundle of excessive hyperactivity she become every so often, Raja being used to the climate, and Wren being Wren. Anyway, they took rooms at the inn at an insanely inflated price, wanting nothing more than a good night's rest. At least Chaz and Rune had.

Now, through some accursed jest of Light, Darkness, and everything in between, Rune couldn't sleep.

Needless to say, it frustrated him no end.

Biting off another curse every second step, Rune flung open the inn door, sloshing through the semi-solid snow -- or at least he tried. The snow was too tightly packed. Left with no recourse, he cursed again, then threw Flaeli firebolts at the wall of snow. That done, he gritted his teeth (still cursing) and sloshed through the icy semi-liquid. Not much of an improvement.

Still, it allowed him to reach his destination: Gyuna's bar.

Once through the door, he strode (or at least shuffled) over to the bar, letting the comforting waves of heat exuded by the crackling blaze in the hearth wash over him. The tavern was rather empty at this time of night, most having left for the comfort of their own homes and hearthflames, but a few still hung around in the corners. The maudlin drunk they'd encountered the first time round, two female Dezolisians singing some bawdy songs, Gyuna, and a red-shirted shape with blond hair face down at the bar--

Wait a minute. Blond hair. Red shirt. Sword balanced precariously against edge of bar.

Rune thought about it for a moment. Then he shrugged and sat down beside the unmoving figure.

"Hello, shorty. Never thought you drank," he said lightly as he motioned for a glass of Germican Lager. "Looks like you can't, after all. Hahaha.."

Rune was taking his first sip of the Dezolisian brew when he felt the impact across his shoulders. Perfectly surprised, he spent several moments hacking up the mead-like brew from his lungs before being greeted by a steely, hostile gaze.

"I'm not quite that gone yet, thank you," Chaz managed, before lowering his head to the table again -- this time, facing Rune and not the countertop. "Onl'.. Only had five drinks before you came."

"Heh. Probably been drinking the light stuff, else you'd be passed out and drooling instead of semi-coherent. Ah well, light stuff, heavy stuff, you had the right idea, I guess.." Rune raised the glass to his lips again, taking a deep swallow and swirling the bittersweer brew around his mouth for a while before swallowing it. "If Wren weren't an android, he'd probably be in here with us right now."

Shakily raising his head and motioning for another drink, Chaz took a moment to answer. "Heh. Prob'ly. Five hours stuck 'n a confined place wi' Raja. Light help us."

Rune chuckled, taking another sip from his tankard. "Hah. Help us indeed. Still," he said as he took another gulp of Germican Lager, "The best brew can help us forget anything."

A sudden flash of emotion passed over Chaz's face at this. Rune almost missed it -- as it was, he couldn't tell just what it had been. But it was unmistakable how Chaz's face settled into a more moody version of his usual guarded friendliness, and his tone shifted from bantering to flat and expressionless. "Yeah. Forget anything. Anything at all.." He snatched up the glass Gyuna set down before him and immediately set about draining it dry.

Something about that drink... Rune's eyes widened. When Chaz came up for air, Rune tapped him on the shoulder, getting him to blink rapidly to clear his vision and then turn his head (slowly) towards Rune. "What?"

Rune swallowed. "Did you mean that you drank five of these when you said you'd had five drinks?"

Chaz blinked owlishly. "Yeah.." He stared questioningly at Rune. (or at least he meant to; he ended up staring questioningly at something slightly to the right of Rune.) "What? It's the light stuff, like ya said. No danger."

Rune slapped his forehead and let out a tired sigh. "Chaz... I hate to tell you this, but Dezolisian Light is the heaviest stuff they have here."

The swordsman blinked twice, then slowly gazed at his half-empty glass. "Oh. I guess I must be more drunk than I thought, then," he said faintly. For a moment, he appeared to be considering something -- then he tossed back the rest of the tankard's contents in one gulp, set the vessel back on the countertop, and motioned for one more.

Rune just stared at Chaz. "You're going to have a hell of a hangover come morning, y'know," he stated matter-of-factly. "Just try not to stain the floorboards too much with your vomit."

Chaz only smiled. "Heh. All I ev'r suffer from's the headaches. No vomitin', ever. It's a gift."

Rune stared venemously at Chaz. "I hate you."

Chaz grinned, then winced. "Don't be. Come morning I'm going to feel like my head's been split in two. I c'n already feel it... ow, my head..." The swordsman massaged his temple for a moment, then drained half the contents of the glass tankard. Before Rune could say anything, he continued. "But to forget... just to forget, this night... it's worth it." He motioned for another drink even as he drained the one he held in his hand.

Rune sipped his in silence. It was obvious that Chaz hadn't just been referring to today's events when he mentioned forgetting. For the first time, he asked himself how much of Chaz's previous life he still retained.

Glancing at the swordsman, who was currently drinking himself into a stupor, he thought it best not to wonder this night. Rapidly draining the rest of his drink, he motioned to Gyuna for a Dezolisian Light.

It had always been one of his favourite drinks anyway.

*

Two figures stumbled through the heavy snowdrifts left behind by the blizzard. Or rather, one stumbled while trying to drag the other through the snow. Of course, being drunk as well as burdened by the draggee's sword, the dragger wasn't having much more success than the draggee. Had one been closer to the two, one might have heard an endless stream of slurred conversation from the dragger, who seemed bent on distracting himself from the unpleasant task of slogging through snow. One might also have heard the occasional thousand-year-old expletive.

Considering this, it was probably better one was not around to hear, lest one find oneself on the receiving end of a Flaeli.

"..can't believe you downed fifteen Dezolisian Lights. But you just haaad to pass out halfway through your sixteenth. Stupid reskhath shorty."

"I h'rd that..." the draggee mumbled. It was obvious that the draggee was still conscious, from the occasional dilation of his pupils. Barely.

"Good!! Maybe n'xt time y'll learn not to drink so much. Even I never go past nine a night. Vaka." Rune snarled viciously as he tried to push through the snow without falling over. He was succeeding. Barely.

"Huh. Sev'n seems ta have been more'n enough to get you drunk.."

"I am not drunk!!" Rune snapped at the thoroughly sloshed swordsman. Short he may be , he thought, but he sure as hell is heavy..

"Hn. Then why're y'legs trembling and why're you zig-zagging, hm?"

"That.. that... SHUT UP!!" Resolutely ignoring the short giggle from the blond weight, Rune pushed onward, mentally telling himself that his face was flushed from anger, not from embarrassment, and certainly not because he was drunk. Anger and irritation. Yes.

He stumbled and almost fell on the next step. Okay, maybe a little drunk.

He did fall on the next step. "STOP LAUGHING!!" he yelled at Chaz as he tried to pick himself up. The hunter complied, albeit slowly. Or rather he did until Rune stood up and fell over again, Chaz falling heavily on his chest.

"Heeheeheeheehee.."

"Get off me! And stop laughing! Gaahhh!!.."

All of a sudden, Chaz's eyes sparkled with a mischievous glint. Instead of getting of Rune, he snuggled closer to him, putting his hands on the wizard's chest. Rune froze in sudden shock ('Whattheheckishappeningthiscannotbehappen--'), giving Chaz the opportunity to lower his head to the wizard's ear and whisper breathily, "What? You don't like me being this close? Hm?"

Rune stayed completely still a moment longer, then began thrashing wildly, which didn't have much effect beyond pushing them both deeper into the snowdrift. It did, however, have the effect of making Chaz collapse into laughter and push himself off Rune. (Thankfully not falling back down onto him.)

Hurriedly scrambling to his feet, Rune glared balefully at Chaz. "Not funny. Not funny at all."

"Oh, it looked pretty funny from here! Hahahaha..."

"Grrrr..." Rune tried to get up so he could Tandle the hysterically laughing hunter, but failed and fell again. Cursing (again), he stuck the end of Chaz's sword into the snow and began struggling to his feet. He quickly paused, though, when Chaz flopped back into the snow beside him.

"Rune? Let's just sit here for a while, 'kay?" Rune looked over at the hunter. He had an odd expression on his face, a lopsided grin that seemed curiously... unrestrained. His eyes, too, seemed a lot clearer than they usually were.. neither shadowed by darkness nor shadowed by undefinable emotion. All in all, he almost looked like he were a child again.

Rune set himself down onto the snow heavily, unsure just why. Perhaps it was the drink... but somehow, he knew that it was and it wasn't.

They sat in silence for a while, the continuing light snowfall brushing delicate white flakes across their faces. The stars were clearly visible above them -- the same stars that shone upon Motavia, and that used to shine upon Palma. Dezolis' sole moon shone wanly beside them. This night, it looked (no doubt because of the Dezolisian Light) as if it had a face -- the vague outlines of Palman features appearing on the surface. Strangely, though, this made it seem no more alive than before.

Chaz abruptly reached down to his belt, and unhooked a metal flask about the size of a tankard. He handed it to Rune. "Here, have a drink."

Rune accepted the container, and cautiously took a sip. "More Dezolisian Light? How'd you get a flask of this back on Motavia?"

The hunter grinned. "I didn't. Got it from Gyuna last time we were through here. Thought we'd need it, since our speech seems to be clearing up."

Rune blinked at the last comment, but took a long draught anyway. Immediately, he felt the artificial warmth of the strong brew envelop him, casting off the chill of Dezolis' perpetual winter. Sighing contentedly, he settled back onto the soft snow, passing the flask back to Chaz.

Chaz drank deeply from the flask as well, then turned his eyes towards the night sky. Beside him, Rune lay with his eyes half-closed, basking in the safe warmth of inebriation. They stayed like that for a very long time, passing the flask of Dezolisian Light back and forth -- hours, it seemed to Rune, yet also no time at all. He didn't know -- he took comfort in not knowing, realizing that the more he knew, the less he had. Idly, he wondered if that applied to all things. He hoped not -- but then he thought no more about it, as Chaz passed the flask back to him.

As he drank, Chaz turned his eyes back towards him. "Rune?"

Rune swallowed another mouthful of brew and wiped his mouth with his arm. "Yeah?"

"You ev'r had anything you want'd to f'rget? Anything y're forgettin' right now?"

"Depends. How'd I tell ya if I'd forgotten it?" They shared a chuckle at this. "But yeah.. yeah, I'm forgettin' something right now. In fact," he lifted the flask to his lips again, "I think I'll forget even more of it riiiight now.."

When Rune passed the flask back to Chaz, he got back another question. "Tell me... whaddaya think of Rika? Truthf'ly."

"You mean other'n that she's hot?" Chaz's attempted rap on the head hit only snow. "Kidding, kiddin'..." Rune leaned back into the snow, a thoughtful expression (or at least a reasonable inebriated facsimile of one) on his face. "To tell the truth? Don't really know. She's like a child.. inn'cent and all.. easily amused, too, if she c'n laugh at Raja.." Snickers. "But sometimes.. I don't know.. I kinda envy her a bit.. other times I pity her. I don't know what I really mean. Maybe I don't mean anything." He accepted the flask back from Chaz and tossed back another shot of Dezolisian Light. "Pah! Sometimes people jus' drive me insane, tryin' to figure 'em out.."

When Chaz didn't reply, Rune continued to ramble on. "I don't know.. it's like, sometimes, y'know..." he waved his arms around in the air, struggling for words to express what he wanted to say. "..it's like, you keep wanting to just be left alone.. then when you are, y'just feel so... alone. Am I makin' any sense?" Not that I'd know what that was like, he thought bitterly to himself. Not after that day..

He passed the flask back to Chaz -- or at least tried to. Some moments later, when Chaz still hadn't taken the flask, Rune turned to look at the hunter and found him staring straight up into the sky, a forced smile on his face and eyes half-closed, something -- could those be tears? -- shining from under his eyelids. At length, he spoke, in a rough, forcedly cheerful tone. "Heh. Yeah. People. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Suddenly sitting up, the swordsman slowly removed the flask from Rune's fingers and swiftly brought it to his lips, draining the last of the brew. "Never can. No matter how much y'try."

It was a while before Rune responded. "Chaz.."

The swordsman replied without turning to face the wizard. "Yeah?"

"Forget, Chaz. Like you said -- for this night, forget."

For long moments, neither of them moved; indeed, it seemed as if nothing did. The starlight, now unfiltered by sheets of snow, lit the entire town with a silvery glare, and it was as if the whole town stood still -- the flickering shadows of firelight through gaps in windows, the wavering shadow of a passing bird, everything -- a tableau frozen in ice. Even the few drifting snowflakes seemed to move and yet not move, staying still yet continuing to float to the ground. And the snow around the two figures, too, seemed to move and not move, shift as if it were water, a river that ran nowhere and everywhere, shining silver in the stars' unseeing gaze.

Then, slowly, Chaz lay back down, his eyes closed, barely disturbing the snow as he let go of himself and his memories. After a short pause, he moved his arm across his eyes, as if to shelter himself from something only he could see. And the moment passed, and time resumed.

They spoke no more. Lying in the snow, both sought their own Lethean waters, one in the vast, speckled emptiness of the night sky, and one in the shadows of his own soul. Perhaps they were looking in the same place; they only knew that they were looking. They cared of nothing else.

But, after a while, Rune said something. "Chaz?"

"Yeah?"

"If we stay out here much longer, we're gonna freeze."

"Guess ye're right.."

"What about the flask?"

"Ah, leave it. Gyuna tol' me everyone does it."

"If you say so.."

"...uh, Rune?"

"Yeah?"

"Help me up?"

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