If Love Were Only Part of the Equation
“Dragons live forever, but not so little boys...”—Puff the Magic Dragon
Mia had given some of her staff the order to pack Nash’s things for him, but he chased them out and did most of it himself. He was a pack rat by nature, and he would have felt uncomfortable having someone else pawing through his prized possessions or wondering why he’d kept certain things. His closet took awhile, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. He had quite a wardrobe since he had saved clothes he didn’t wear anymore. The brightly colored tunics he wore as an apprentice were buried in there, including the regal looking purple and black velvet one he only had worn on the most formal of occasions—mostly weddings. Without even bothering to fold it, he threw it in the bottom of a box and piled others on top of it.
The robes he had been favoring as of late he handled in the same manner. He did not like them as much as the tailored tunic and pants sets, but it was expected that the faculty of the Guild dress in the correct regalia, no matter how unflattering it might look. Most of them were muted dark colors—greens, blues and browns. He wondered if he really needed all them now—he would be expected to wear the robe of the Premier in public—and Mia had already seen to getting those made. Might as well take them all...they are comfortable...
His desk took the longest to empty and pack, and not just because it was barely visible under his mess of papers and books. He delayed opening the top drawer until last as it was his secret place for special things—fearing the memories the contents would bring back. Finally, after everything else was done, he unlocked it, found a small box in the pile Mia’s staff had left in the room, and began to remove the articles from the drawer. Hoping that if he worked quickly, and did not give thought to what he was putting his hands on, he might not stop and think about each one. He was wrong.
The first handful of junk came out—pens with broken nibs, scraps of paper with notes that had served their purpose ages ago—and went in the trash. A few buttons and ties from robes and tunics he no longer owned or couldn’t find followed suit. He kept a small key, even though he didn’t remember what it went to—just in case.
Next came a bandana. It was one of the ones he had worn on the Quest, to keep his hair out of his eyes. Wrapped into it was a silver comb—a gift from a girl he did not wish to remember. In those days, he always wanted to look his best, and he never went anywhere without these items. Although the memories were not exactly fond ones, they had been an integral part of his persona at one point, so he put them into the box. I was so narcissistic.
Digging into the back of the small drawer he found his oldest possession; a small, dirty scrap of paper folded and refolded so many times that the creases appeared to be engraved into it. He did not need to open it; he knew full well what it was. Carefully, as to not damage it any further, he placed it on top of the bandana.
Another piece of paper buried at the back of the drawer followed. Rolled and tied with a ribbon, half of it had been burned (that was his own fault, he recalled) and for some reason he had kept what he’d manage to salvage. It had been his treasure at one point; he kept it in a pocket of his tunic and carried it wherever he went. He opened it, and smiled for a moment, as he looked the picture of her, innocently bending over to pull on a shoe. He gently rolled it back up, retied the ribbon and put it atop the other riches of the drawer in the small box.
Satisfied he had gotten everything, he put the small box of treasures into a larger one and placed an ‘x’ on it—to make sure he would be the one to carry it. Finally finished with the ordeal of packing, he wrestled one of his older (and most comforting) robes out of one of the boxes, grabbed his sketchbook, and made his way to the library.
The library was vacant when Nash entered; he made sure of that. Not being in the best moods, he did not want to run into anyone he might have felt obliged to entertain in conversation. He could have gone back to his room, or to his new rooms, but neither felt right. One was too confining and the other was not quite yet official. He just wanted a place to sit—alone, but not with those boxes and in a place he was familiar with. The pile of boxes in his old room made him uncomfortable in a way he just couldn’t explain. Perhaps it was the sudden change he was about to make or maybe just the fact that with them, his room seemed more claustrophobic than usual. I just might sleep here, too. I doubt anyone would notice.
The Library of Vane used to be one of Nash’s favorite places. He had been a serious student, quickly moving to the top of his class and gaining the favor of his instructors. Before his Quest, he had spent quite a bit of time in here studying, as far away from his annoying roommate as possible. The original library had been destroyed in the Fall, along with many of the books it once held. Now, the new library (built atop the remains of the original) retained much of the same shape and size, but the lack of books gave it a hollow feeling, making the place look both useless and eerie. He had been assigned to try and replace the works that had been destroyed, and while he managed to restore some, many were so ancient or so unique, no duplicates could be found, no matter how or where he had searched. Another failure...
He settled himself into a huge lazy chair that just emphasized his small frame. He had never been a large person (most of his friends towered over him) and at one point in his life this bothered him, but not now. His instant reflexes and the power of the storms he wielded made up for his lack of athletic ability. He remembered Jessica once saying to him: “You’re a skinny little runt with no butt.” No one ever accused her of being tactful, that’s for sure. Annoyingly accurate perhaps, but never tactful.
The next Premier…isn’t this what I always wanted? Perhaps at one time…when I thought I could do anything...but now? Can I handle the responsibility? Can I actually run this place? I’m just a month past 21. Can I do it without letting her down—again?
In a desperate attempt to distract himself, he flipped open his sketchbook and produced a pencil from behind his ear. Touching pencil to paper, he closed his eyes and just let his hand move. He had always had a touch of artistic tendencies and these days he used them to relax—to just sit and sketch, not really thinking about what he was drawing, just letting his mind and hand connect to create some sort of picture.
A few moments passed and he opened his eyes to see a figure he had drawn over and over—once upon a time. Just like a fairy tale, but not quite. It was not detailed, but it did not need to be. He traced a gentle finger along its outline with certain amount of deference. Then his expression hardened and not even a second later, the page had been torn out of the book and the pencil broken. Idiot.
Jumping up, mad at himself and frustrated with being temporarily homeless, he looked out the large windows at the front of the library. It was dark now, but he could see the white wall that had been erected around the city after it fell to earth. The Fall had caused tremendous damage; the Grindery did battle with Mia and all the force she could pull out of Vane and the few citizens who remained. Alex, Kyle, Jessica and he had readily allowed her to use their powers, for whatever good they were worth. Even though she broke the magical barrier around the Grindery, all the magic in Vane had not been enough to keep it in the air after it had been hit by Ghaleon’s magical weapon. Engulfed in flames, the city had fallen from the sky, sliding a good quarter of a mile once it hit the ground. Miraculously, his group had survived—some of the people who insisted on staying in the city had not been so lucky. I was so proud of her—she kept our city from being blown to dust...
Vane had landed on its side, digging a massive trench and, in the process, creating a hill of sorts. They had spent almost six months (and a small fortune) grading the land back flat so that structures could be erected. Fortunately, when word of the Fall of Vane spread, benefactors began sending money, supplies, and workers. Jessica’s father, Mel, had been one of the most generous—donating a fleet of workers and resources to build something they desperately needed and had never had before—a wall.
The wall around the city glistened in the darkness. He didn’t like it for some reason—it made the place look too ordinary. Vane was supposed to be (and had been) something special; now it just seemed like a typical city. Contained within that generic wall were a few shops, the home of the ruler, and the ever-present din of commerce, construction and repair. For months he had longed for the sounds to return to the silence of study and rush of magic, and it finally looked like this was going to happen—once Mia’s staff got the place decorated for the Festival. Well, it will look the part, at least. The New Guild would make the difference by restoring the essence that had been Vane to the city—he hoped.
Turning around, he glared at an object set in the middle of the room atop a low pedestal and covered in a rich red velvet cloth with symbol of the house of Ausa embroidered into it. He walked towards it—very, very, slowly—and stared upon it. With a strange type of archaic respect, he lifted the drape and looked upon the object it obscured. Sealed in a glass case, and cushioned upon a backdrop of red and white satin was an ancient piece of paper. This was one of the few things that had survived the Fall; mostly because of the massive tomb in which it was encased. Once a generation, it was removed and another name added to it. He walked over to it and put his hand on the glass. He did not need to read it; he knew those names by heart. Closing his eyes, and letting his hand drop off the case, he thought back to Alex and Luna’s wedding—almost two years ago, in July.
Alex and Luna...the perfectly sickening happy couple...Save the world, get the girl...and live happily ever after...if only it was that easy...He understood why they waited awhile after the end of their adventure to get married; they were both still quite young compared the rest of the Heroes. Still, when the time had come, their hometown, Burg, had planned quite an elaborate wedding for them, even by small village standards.
The journey there had been hard on Mia—she did not adjust to sea travel well at all. He frowned as he thought of how she had hated that trip; the boat they had to travel on from Meribia seemed to move every which way at night and he would watch with worry as she tried to sleep and just could not. Jessica gave her some herbs to try and help her, but they did little good. She ended up getting sick in the middle of the night and stumbling up to the deck. He followed and held her hair for her while she was being ill over the rail. He stayed up the entire night, making sure she was all right and trying to be of some comfort for her seasickness. He remembered how she made him laugh (after a moment of shock) when she said, “the only cure would be to get off this piece of shit.”
A long day and half passed before they had finally made it ashore, her relief at finally setting foot on solid ground again was palatable. Another few days of travel, and they arrived at Burg. He had been here once before, but did not recall much about the place. The villagers greeted them like old friends and he wasn’t sure if he liked that or not. When they reached the home of Alex’s parents, they were welcomed by him and Luna, and directed to a room upstairs. He must have seemed quite distant, because he distinctly remembered Mia asking if he was all right. Just as he was about to give an answer he had been trying to find the words for over the past few months, she was distracted by Luna calling upstairs asking all of them to come down and see something or other. As she went downstairs, he remained there—making a lame excuse about being tired.
He remained up there all afternoon and evening, not even coming down for dinner. Mia brought him a little something to eat, but he spent more time staring at it than anything. Shortly after nightfall, Kyle and Alex came upstairs, and found him sitting and staring out the small window. They asked him to go with them on some kind of night walk, but he barely responded, giving only a small shake of his head and a soft ‘no.’ Kyle teased him and Alex begged, but he still flat out refused. Finally, frustrated with both of them, he stood up and (with a particularly nasty glare) ordered them to get out. A split second later, before he could even realize what happened, Kyle effortlessly lifted him off the ground and flung him over his huge shoulder like a sack of potatoes saying, “Looks like you really don’t have a choice buddy.”
He remembered screaming some sorts of insults, and threatening to shoot a lightning bolt where Kyle would be sure to remember it for a LONG time, but was still carried down the stairs and past the kitchen where the women were sitting. “We’re borrowing him for a little while, Mia. Don’t worry...we’ll bring him back in one piece, well... we’ll try!” Kyle called out with a laugh and as everyone joined in, the large man carried the small (and beyond irate) mage outdoors.
Kyle returned Nash to his feet in front of Althena’s statue, in Burg’s weak excuse for a town square. After a few moments of playful anger, the friends sat in a content silence, enjoying the warmth of the July night and the mystical appearance of the statue. Backlit by the Blue Star, and adorned with flowers for the wedding tomorrow, she looked very maternal yet the shadows gave her a strange, almost sad, expression.
Finally, Kyle spoke. “You got us all worried, Nash. Hiding upstairs like that. Do you not like us anymore?”
“No. It’s nothing like that.”
“Well then what is it?” Asked Alex.
“You two wouldn’t understand.”
“Try us,” said Kyle dryly. “We may not be Vane Educated, but we are your friends.”
He winced at that comment, and then sighed. “I look at the two of you, and I am jealous. You both have these wonderful marriages—or will starting tomorrow. And Kyle, you even have a daughter. I keep wondering, why can’t I have that?”
“What do you mean why can’t you have that? I thought you two were... I mean, ever since my wedding you and Mia have been together.”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“Then explain it to us, please,” said Alex.
“Maybe it happens where you’re from, but where I’m from, you just don’t walk up to the Guildmaster and ask her to marry you. It just doesn’t work that way. Especially...especially if...”
“Maybe if you stop looking at her as your superior and started thinking of her as just your girlfriend, which she should be first and foremost—“ interrupted Kyle.
“I do see her as that first! It’s just...not appropriate. I don’t even know why I ever deluded myself with the thought that it could work out—because it can’t!”
The other two men were silent, allowing him to continue. “You know, when I first arrived at Vane, I didn’t think much of the fact that Mia’s mother didn’t have a husband. I had always just assumed he was dead, and it wasn’t my business anyway. But as I’ve been working in the Library, I’ve come across some books—histories of the Ausa family—and I made a strange discovery. I knew that all of the rulers of Vane were females—its common knowledge that it is a matriarchal state. But what I learned was that they were all single females. It’s a bizarre family tradition of sorts, I guess...”
Kyle laughed at him and then asked, “Well then where do they get the next generation?” but when he saw the hurt in Nash’s eyes, he stopped, and scratched his head.
Partially ignoring Kyle and gritting his teeth, Nash spoke again: “Not once, not in any of those books did it ever mention a husband for any of them. The children’s fathers weren’t even mentioned...as if men were a type of commodity that didn’t merit recognition. I don’t understand it. My only guess as to all of it is that the Ausas have adequate problems without needing to worry about relationships. Keeping that Guild running is enough—let along rebuilding it.”
Alex said quietly, “Traditions can be broken.”
“I don’t think I could ask her to forsake what her family—what Vane believes in—just for my own happiness.”
“Well do you need to be married? I mean, the way it sounds you two already live like you are.”
“To a certain extent, but I’d like to at least have some degree of commitment other than my current status of ‘to serve and protect’ as a member of the Guild. I know that sounds selfish, but still...”
Recomposed, Kyle asked, “Have you talked to her about it?”
“I mentioned the idea a few times. The first time, about three months back, she expertly dodged with ‘we need to get the Guild rebuilt before we worry about things like that’ comment. I tried again a just before we left and got pretty much the same response.”
Alex said gently, “She loves you, Nash. Everyone who has seen you two together knows that. I think you should put your reservations and titles aside and ask her—I want to see the two of you happy.”
Solemnly he nodded, and for some reason, looked up at the statue behind them. If he hadn’t known better, he could have sworn he saw her earlier sad expression shift, as though she had suddenly begun smiling at them. Clearly trying to change the subject, Kyle broke into his thoughts with a hearty laugh “Alex is getting married tomorrow and he’s still sober. We’ve got our work cut out for us, Nash!”
Oh rah. I thought you gave up this shit...
Fortunately, Alex verbalized his thought, “Haven’t you forgotten that neither of us drink—or at least in the capacity that you do? Besides, if I’m not sober tomorrow, I’ll be in deep dragon diamonds—and so will the two of you.”
Kyle and Nash looked at each other and shuddered; Luna’s rage was not something they wanted to see any time soon. Kyle muttered something to the effect of them being no fun, and then guided his smaller friends back to the house, giving exaggerated sighs of disappointment with every step.
Nash shook his head, banishing the sudden memories to the back of his mind, and stared at the sacred document locked under the pristine glass. Shivering, he pulled his dark blue robe closer around him. Although it was May, the library had become unusually cold and he paused for a moment wondering why it was only now that had noticed it. He walked over to the large fireplace against the far wall. A cross of his fingers and a few muttered words yielded a small spark to ignite the wood someone had left in there. In a moment the room was bathed in a comforting yellow-orange glow, and he absently sat down right there in front of the warmth—just staring into the fire.
Fire…Fire and Ice…how those elements suited her so! Over the past four years he had seen the girl he was infatuated with transform into a confident and strong woman. She had evolved during their Quest; able to see the wrongs in the right they were doing she learned to accept them as unavoidable, when they were. While Jessica and Kyle would go into battle cheering for killing their enemies, she did not. Always quietly proper, she spoke her thoughts but with a bit of reservation—unlike Jessica who just blurted out whatever came to her mind. He admired her for standing up to him, when like a fool he double-crossed them, and he loved her for forgiving him so readily. He frowned to himself as the memory of that betrayal ate at his soul like acid for a moment. She had forgiven him—they all had—but still he wondered if he would ever forgive himself.
Staring into the fire looking for comfort of some sort, he thought of how he helped her melt away her timid and inhibited nature. Behind that cold and dense wall, he had found the real her—an expected raging inferno of emotions. He sighed audibly, thinking how he had encouraged her to try new things—explore new feelings. And she had. Her mother said we were the future of Vane. Some future...
Three days ago, in her office, he had just wanted to take her in his arms and tell her everything—every secret that had driven them apart, every fear that ate at him when he looked upon her or thought of what they might have become together. He wanted to ask her to forgive everything that had ever been said in haste and every assumption that he had made. It killed him to stand there and insult her. I called her ignorant...
It wasn’t the first time he had hurt her with his words, no, the first time (but not the last time) was before she sent him on that mission six months ago...the one from which he would return from and the ‘them’ that had once been would be dissolved into ‘she and he.’ I should have seen it coming...I was deluding myself to think it could ever work out...
December. He hated the cold, and he hated traveling in it even more. I am doing this so she does not feel she needs to go...she needs to be here... After her mother passed away in August, Mia had become intense, driven, and completely focused on the rebuilding of the Guild and Vane. She had shut him out, focusing on her work, day in and day out. Time and again he had tried to break through her barrier of frozen determination, to make her see what she was doing to herself, turning herself into, but she would not listen. “The Guild is all that matters...” That had become her response to everything, her credo. It drove him insane.
He spent the night with her before he left. He knew they would not see each other for least a fortnight, since the trip would be so long, and although he dreaded them, there were some things that had to be said and could not wait. He wanted to try and reason with her, about this behavior and how it was going to wind up killing her...killing him...killing them, but she would not hear it.
“You don’t understand.”
“I damn well do understand! I see you working yourself to death to prove yourself to yourself. Don’t you see that you don’t have to do that?”
“I’m not proving anything to anyone. I’m just trying to make our home what it used to be. Don’t you want that?”
“Yes, of course I do. But I don’t want to see you killing yourself to get it all done this week. We knew it would take time when we first started.”
“We are running out of time,” she replied, refusing to meet his eyes.
He fumed. This was the same argument they had been having for the past few weeks—when this mania had reached its zenith. He had found her in her office at three in the morning that time, furiously scribbling notes on some structural drawings. She looked horrible, and he used that to drag a confession out of her—she had not eaten or slept for two days. He had forced her to leave the office and get some rest—going as far to threaten to use a sleep spell to knock her out and carry her to bed himself. After twenty minutes of quarrelling, she finally conceded, and ended up sleeping for three days.
“No we are not! This is ridiculous! Mia, your mother is dead. She is not going to come back, even if you rebuild her city! She is not going to be mad at you if you cannot get it to fly again, or even get it open right away! She understood the efforts we were making—she helped us with them, but she would cry right now if she saw what you were doing to yourself!”
She rolled over and started crying, her back to him. Realizing the harshness of his words, he reached for her shoulder, but she pulled away. “Damn you, Nash.”
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. I hate to make her cry...Damn me.
He brushed at her hair, speaking softly, “I love you, Mia. I just don’t want to see you become so consumed by your passion for Vane that you forget about yourself...or forget about me...about us. I haven’t seen you smile in weeks, and I haven’t seen you do anything for yourself in about twice as long. Isn’t it about time you let it go, if only for a moment?”
She turned back to face him, wiping her face. “Vane is all I have.”
“No it’s not. What about me? What about Jessica? What about the rest of the people out there that love you? That depend on you?”
She put her hands flat on his chest and looked him in the eyes, “I have to do this. I’m sorry that you can’t understand why, but I have to. I have not forgotten about you or any of our other friends, but this needs to take priority for me right now. I think it’s helping me deal with some of the pain and anger I still have from my mother’s death...and something else...I love you, Nash. I am not trying to shut you out, and you have done more than your share to help me with my work. But I need to see it finished—soon. Please understand that.”
He hugged her to him, wondering what the ‘something else’ was, but feeling it was not appropriate to ask at this moment.
A few minutes later, she kissed him on the cheek. “You should get some sleep so you are ready to travel tomorrow.”
He forced a small smile and wrapped a protective arm around her, the discussion replaying itself in his head as he fell asleep. Damn me...I made her cry...
When Nash awoke in the library the next morning, he was surprised to find himself wrapped in a woolen blanket and the fire put out. Gazing down on his coverings he saw the symbol of the Ausa family woven into the red fabric. He smiled—just a little—as he rose to his feet. He brushed the wrinkles out of robe, ran his fingers through his hair, and then folded the blanket reverently and placed it over a chair.