|Mizu Kagami - By Arashi|
This takes place in Malorie in Chapter 6 of scenario 1. Thanks to Galm for the title! /this means thoughts/.
Moonlight played along swaying leaves, rippling water, gently rustling grass and the tousled brown hair of the figure standing by the riverside.
Synbios had discovered only recently what insomnia was, and he and it were not getting along well. Part of him didn’t even *want* to sleep, because that meant nightmares. /On the plus side,/ he thought to himself, hands shoved untidily into pockets, /I’m getting better at slipping past Dantares without waking him/. The guards at the gate had been snoozing, as well. He’d needed to get out of Malorie, if only for a little while. He needed time alone. Walls may make you safe, but they also made you claustrophobic.
The river that ran alongside the city had been something to head for, so he’d headed for it. Sometimes the only thing you could do with a mood like this was go for a long walk and let the wind blow away the fears.
He flopped down on the riverbank in a tangle of limbs, letting the breeze cool his skin in relief. It felt good to be without all his armour for once. Sometimes he felt as if all that steel stifled him. Without it, he felt like a different person. Not a general, an army leader everyone relied on. He was just him. It weighed him down, he thought vaguely, both physically and emotionally. He wondered if the other generals felt that way, like it was more than just an indication of their profession and rank… /Medion/, he thought, remembering the intricate splendour afforded to an Imperial prince. /I wonder if he feels the same./ After all, the last thing Medion would want was a constant reminder of his position, his duty… what an unenviable one it was.
Synbios shook the feeling off, unwilling to let himself descend into unhappiness. He leant over the riverbank and stared at his reflection in the water, dark hair and pale skin rippling and swaying gently. Large green eyes stared back, their brightness dulled by the recent tragedy. So much more vulnerable than he would have liked. He wasn’t good at hiding the way he felt, and never had been. That was one thing he *did* envy Medion, sometimes. Medion had that blank, polite, expressionless look perfected, the one he hid all his feelings behind, that he used to pretend he didn’t care what people said or what he had to do. They all wore masks, he supposed. His own was one of cheerfulness and confidence, worn even when he didn’t feel that way inside. Medion’s was just… all-consuming. It was as if he was trying to pretend there wasn’t a real person under there, that he didn’t have feelings at all. Did he wish it really was that way? There *was* someone under there, Synbios knew it. A kind and gentle person, just trying to forget the things he was made to do. It showed in all the little ways. A flash of pain in his eyes when the Empire’s cruelty was discussed, a small smile and averted eyes as Synbios tried to thank him for saving his life.
Medion again. He’d been thinking about him a lot lately, trying to decipher the mixture of feelings the thought of the young man produced. It shouldn’t really matter… it wasn’t like he was going to see much of Medion now. He wondered what the prince was doing right at that moment. For some reason, he had begun to feel a sense of dread whenever he thought about that young Imperial he had come to think of as his friend. Why was that? What were his instincts trying to warn him of?
He wasn’t sure what it was he felt for the young prince, although he thought it might be pity. He was pretty sure he could see through that mask of pretense Medion wore, and he didn’t like what he saw. Underneath all that… under the quiet confidence and regal grace… Medion was a mess. He didn’t know what he wanted, and even if he did, wouldn’t have known what to do about it. He had no one to confide in. Sure, he had friends, but he wasn’t close to them. Synbios could be open and honest with Dantares, Grace maybe, when he had to be, and was most of the time anyway. Medion could never be that. It was strange, the boy thought, how he didn’t even know Medion very well, had only even spoken to him about three times. Despite that, how could it be that he felt he knew him better than those closest to him ever could?
Even feeling that, he’d like to be able to know Medion better. He wanted to help. The prince clearly had doubts about himself and his country, and his loyalty was so obviously at war with his principles. It must be eating him up inside. Yes. He certainly felt pity for Medion. Whatever happened, he would never wish himself in Medion’s place… a terrible place to be, somewhere trapped between betrayal of himself or betrayal of everything he knew. Did the others understand that? *Could* they even understand, could anyone, not in his position? Campbell was Medion’s best friend… but did he see what Synbios saw, what was hidden behind the almost flawless mask? Did he too fear what would happen if the mask ever cracked, if Medion ever lost his hold on that iron self-control for a second? If Medion truly let himself feel, let himself think about everything he surely blocked from his mind, it would not only break the mask, it would break him too. There was too much. Too much relying on Medion’s willpower to keep himself going. If only Synbios could be there. Talk to him. He wasn’t sure it would even help, whether Medion would ever trust anyone enough to let go that pretence and talk. About his father, his childhood, the way his life was a path he’d been forced to take, and the way he’d had his choices and his freedom taken from him…
Synbios really wasn’t sure how he knew all this was relevant, or even true. He just did. It was just something he could see when he looked at the other young man, as if he knew without having to be told. It was all part of the link he felt he shared with Medion that he didn’t understand. Did Medion understand him too? Did he know the things about Synbios that he hid away? There weren’t many. But everyone had their demons. At the moment, it was his father’s death. It haunted him far more than he let the others see, in his daydreams and nightmares both. But he couldn’t let anyone realise that, even his friends. They all relied on him, and he had to be strong for their sake. If the leader fell, so did the army. And if they saw that their leader was suffering, so it would affect them, and cause them worry and distress. He didn’t want to burden his friends with that; they had their own grief for Conrad as it was, without having to worry for him.
Medion, though… Medion didn’t just have demons, he had most of the legions of hell after him. More things to fight, physical and mental, than anyone should have in a lifetime, never mind one so young. And his father may as well be dead, for all the love and support he had from Domaric. It would be better for the world and Medion both if he were.
Synbios lay down along the side of the river, trailing his hand in the water and turning his reflection into tiny rippling, broken picture-puzzle pieces. It ran through his fingers like liquid moonlight, silver silk slipping from his grasp. His reflection… so much like human life, he thought philosophically. So easily broken into tiny pieces, by the slightest outside influence. So easily broken, a person’s mind.
He was worried about Medion. A young man he barely knew, but felt an almost frightening link of empathy with. A man he knew he would see again. A person he knew he could help, if only Medion would let him. But what was so wrong? What tragedy were his instincts warning him of? He and Medion were friends, but enemies too: friends in the heart, foes in the mind. Would the time ever come when they had to fight? Was this what that frightening twist in his chest was, when he thought of his friend? A warning, a rebuke for ever letting himself feel for someone with whom friendship was so dangerous? A prior knowledge, perhaps, that it would all end in tragedy…
If that time ever came, what would Medion choose? Would he follow his heart or his mind? His emotions or his loyalty?
The warning came again, reminding Synbios of the way Medion locked his feelings away, refused to let himself suffer that way. Follow orders, obey Domaric, fight for the Empire, *don’t let yourself think about what you’re doing*. It was the only way he could deal with things.
/That isn’t true, though,/ he argued back at himself, a hint of almost desperation there. /Left to himself, that’s not how he works. Back in Saraband and Railhead… he didn’t have to do those things. And he saved my life at the waterfall. He fought against an army that had allied itself with the Empire. When he did that, he was following what his heart and his ethics told him, regardless of what anyone else thought. He knew what Edmund and Garzel had planned was wrong, and he didn’t want Benetram and I to suffer at their hands. If he had done what his loyalty demanded, he would have left me to die. Could he do that again? Could he leave his upbringing and everything he has ever known behind, and follow his heart? For me? An enemy, a boy he barely knows? Could he do that?/
He could. Surely, he could. He had to. Yet Synbios felt a chill that had nothing to do with the cold as he imagined what could happen should the war ever come to a climax. With the destruction, the wholesale massacres that had been so commonplace in recent days, his own army was left the sole main defense of the Republic. And Medion’s army? Surely, with the exception of Arrawnt’s supposedly rogue faction, the one mobile army currently capable of invasion.
One way or another, sometime soon, this would all come to a head. If that meant him and Medion…
It couldn’t happen. It couldn’t. The gods could never be that cruel. But right now, even the gods couldn’t help them, could they? Elbesem was weakened and helpless, and in his absence people turned to a Vandal god they believed would save them, when it sought only destruction. There was nothing left. Nothing to come to his rescue. He was the rescuer now, the Republic’s only hope, and if he failed, there would be no second chances. And he didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to start. He was a blind man in the dark. The Bulzome cult was always one step ahead, and the Empire one step behind, waiting for them to trip.
Synbios buried his hands in his arms, and for a moment, just a moment, let his own mask fall away. And there, on the bank of the river, lay not the proud commander of a near-invincible army, but a tired, frightened teenager who had just lost the most important person in his life; a boy for whom even that heartbreak was too much, and stood only to lose more, everything he had and everything he knew and everything he loved. Everything he had let himself believe in.
One thing he knew for sure. The fall of the Republic would be the fall of Lord Synbios. And if it came at the hand of Prince Medion, then the guilt would destroy Medion too. Everything would be lost, and what was lost could never be regained.
His body shook with tears. And as he brushed them away, Synbios couldn’t help but wonder what kind of man Domaric could be, that he could believe rulership over a land dead and bleeding and power over grieving, dispirited people could ever be worth that.