It was most decidedly strange in such a familiar way. The manner in which he gravitated to the epicentre, the place of origin, ground zero, was – he suspected – a subconscious reaction. He might be lying in someone else’s bed with said someone else and automatically consider his location in relation to where his former life was led.
He considered that perhaps it was one of those habits that may never quite be eschewed, one that he might have a hard time weaning out of his system and day-to-day endeavours. He did not know how long this would remain a part of his daily repartee, or if he will manage to remove it at all.
These little mental fugues became more frequent with the years, as it were, and they didn’t seem anywhere near abating, even all this time removed from their breaking, their parting of ways.
And the strange meeting a few days prior, fortuitous? It had been very odd, seeing her again. Lucia had looked beautiful yet somehow ill, something was amiss with her. This only confirmed the rumours that had reached Irien’s ears; she was actively employing the dark flow.
Old man, I see time has paid its kindless attentions upon you.
She has been scathing, as always with her enemies and those out of her favor.
Oh but time has nary transpired on your visage, has it?
His rebuke hardly sardonic, she was as beautiful as she had ever been, perhaps even more so than when they had been on friendlier terms. How terribly vulnerable he was when it came to her.
What brings you out of your hermitage, old man? It has been a long, sunny season without you.
She never was able to overcome his decision to leave, to sever the ties. Oh, he had intended for civil relations to be maintained with his former student and erstwhile lover, but she had simply been unable to let matters be and thus forced him to end all communications with her, secluding himself in his hermitage.
In the intervening time, while he toiled away in the winding mazes of his mind, she had effectively changed the game she played. She had climbed the political rungs and now inhabited an aery tier from which she dispensed terrible judgment on those below her. She had indeed learned much from their time of amnesty, but she appeared to have forgotten elementary lessons, maxims that guaranteed one’s continued wellbeing and enduring safety later in life.
I merely crawled out to see the sun for a spell, that I might warm my weary bones and perhaps catch a fancy flight or two. You need not be worried about me attempting a coup on one as high as you.
It was true. He would not move against anyone unless they moved against him first, and only with force at that. He was more than content to allow the terrible rumors about him and the little not-so-subtle maneuvres carried out against him to carry on freely. He didn’t mind being vilified so long as they left him alone in his diminutive and unpopulated fief.
Do not delude yourself, greybeard. I have little to fear from one such as yourself, I know. It is only curiosity that has brought me out tonight, having heard that you were around.
The signs of her being suffused with the dark flow were obvious to one who knew; the eerie gleam of the eyes, the heightened voluptuousness that seemed something other than human, the almost charged atmosphere in the user’s proximity. It was sad to recognize this in her and to know that he may have had a hand in her turning to the darkness.
I do hope we might be able to have a pleasant chat. How fare things for you aside from the obvious?
He hoped, but knew better.
Don’t patronize me, old man. I have nothing but disdain for you and all that you have become since we parted ways. You lose yourself in flights of fancy with the Aery nymphs, hardly discerning of you. I say, you will find your mind lost from such flights! And of the dark flow you have fed, insanity coming off of you and infecting those around you. Even in your little plot of land, that pitiful ghetto you call a forest, ears have mouths that repeat and bear me tidings of your so-called exploits. You really are a fool, old man. A fool and a half and more… You sicken me.
Some of it was true, yes. He did confer with the nymphs often for a time, but he had found that return to more youthful exploits quickly lustreless and so turned his attentions inward, to his labyrinth of self. As for the dark flow, he had taken the noxious vapors in on occasion, but dabbled only and regretted his poor choices almost immediately every time regardless of the superhuman abilities in conferred. He had been low for a long time after parting ways with Lucia, after all, and had only tried to fill the hole somehow, to numb the cold and merciless void he had made for himself…But of her? He knew she had been as reckless, if not more so, than he. He had learned from those common allies, ones who had been closer to her than he before she shunned them all after she had reached the upper echelons, that she struck accords of flesh and spirit with both princes and nymphs and had joined with new allies who were widely known not to be trusted. Power, after all, held an unmatched allure for her. The glamour, the shallow bright lights of the summit, they were hers now.
He could have told her, then, that he knew. Contested her accusations, mostly baseless, with rebuttal, slinging back with more eloquence than her pretty little head could possibly produce the crimes he knew she perpetrated both on others and herself. He could have retaliated with such venom as he had rarely employed in his long life. He might have taught her a lesson in words that hurt, that cut, that burn, that salt the earth of the soul. He might have shown her a study to remind her that, in governing such as she did, with iron fist and forked tongue and drinking the blood of the young, she squandered all good will and one day would find herself deserted. But he could not hate, it was beyond him. He broached no ill will and would not begin with one whom he had loved so dearly.
In the end, all he gave her for that tirade, one that truly hurt because he had once had such high hopes for her, was a sad smile and silence. He simply stood up from where he had been sitting then and walked on, refusing to brandish verbs against her. Let her think of herself as the victor. She is the aggressor, surely, but not the vanquisher. Glory is vain and feeds not the soul. Anger is a tool that breaks in the hands of the inexperienced but is sharper than sharpest silver when applied with wisdom, calculated. Her anger was as ineffectual as rain; it would get him wet and ruin his clothes, but he would eventually dry himself and the water would evaporate, leaving him cleansed.
Irien may be a hermit and largely unimportant in the current landscape, but like a master director presiding over an orchestra, he influenced events from a distance, his absence as effective, if not more so, than any movement he might effect. He still hoped his loquacious absences would yield a positive effect on her, but knew better than to actively care.
A few meters removed from her he turned to look back and say one final sentiment, a truth.