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 PAY
XANDER
 Posted: May 28 2016, 12:16 PM
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tiefling bard
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« Dreams Margaret, 1 »

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The first bad omen was when Regus had to ring the bell more than once. He came off the street up the narrow walkway, passing through the iron gate with a quick step. The rose bushes under the two street-facing windows were being torn up by the angry rain. Far from being welcomed in immediately, given he was expected, Regus was forced to linger on the stoop.

He rang again; no one came. Only on the third ring did a timid maid creep to the door, revealing only as much of her face as made her audible. Her name escaped him. The servants blurred into two categories with Regus: the quivering, mousy types, with small eyes and vibrating shoulders, and the staunch bulldogs who spoke in low, barking voices. She was of the former type.

"The master," she murmured, "is not at home." Thunder rumbled in punctuation.

"Impossible," Regus laughed. "We have seats at the theater." It was not at all impossible, but better that he did not say.

"I am very sorry..." And just like that, the maid started to close the door, without any invitation to come inside.

Regus was well-aware that Ariel's servants were not particularly fond of him. Some of them had been with Ariel since he was a boy, and they found Regus's influence questionable. None would be so bold as to turn him away if Ariel was not at home -- or would they? Times were changing.

Regus shoved his foot in the narrow crack between door and threshold. The maid gasped, and stumbled back. From there, it was easy to shoulder his way inside, and throw her his coat.

Taken aback, the girl fled down the hall as Regus ascended the stairs. Had Ariel overslept? She returned with the head butler and another one of the servants as Regus inspected the master bedroom, where Ariel was no need to be seen. The covers were made, his desk tidy. Past the murmur of his own thoughts, Regus could hear one or two bulldog servants huffing and puffing about his unceremonious imposition.

Regus interrupted, "What did he say, before he left?"

Ariel had said nothing. He had been reading.

The library in Ariel's house was small, closer to a study than a true library, but he made excellent use of his space. Soon his bedroom would have to acquired shelves, so rabid was his collection. Scattered across Ariel's long table were various books of philosophy, the pages marked, one lying open. Regus turned them over, flipped the pages. 'In the dark night of my soul I feel desolation. In my self-pity I see not the way of righteousness.' Nothing could upset Ariel as quickly as a sense of cosmic disorder.

Was the master morose? Oh yes, terribly.

"Well," Regus said, heading back to the door, "He shouldn't be too hard to find."

*

While the years had mostly dissuaded Ariel from self-destruction, he could not completely absolve himself of that queer impetus. He explained to Regus that, as a scholar and a philosopher, he had an obligation to experience everything. Moreover, as Ariel moderated his feelings of superiority with nobler, humbler attitudes, he was apt to conclude that there was nothing beneath him, nothing he could reject. When he vanished into the seedier side of town, into the broken-down dockhouses and inns where addicts and thieves brooded, it was half because he hated himself, and half because he was insatiably curious - and his curiosity distracted him from hating himself.

Where was he tonight? Why tavern, what dingy apartment? With whom? Regus called upon several favorite haunts before he found Ariel wandering down the planks of one pier, swaying on his feet, the rain flattening his hair. Ariel's shoulders drooped inward. His face was cast down. He might well wander into the bay; that might well be his intention.

Regus caught up and took him by the shoulders. Ariel did not startle; he looked black to see who had touched him. Then, after the moment of recognition, he swung his fist towards Regus's face.

Barely dodging, Regus released him. "What was that for?" The pier was slippery. Lightning flashed.

"You," Ariel slurred. "You... villain!" The hunch of his shoulders deepened. The anger in his face was exaggerated by his visible intoxication.

Regus sighed. It was very wet and very cold tonight. His coat had soaked through. Now he had to contend with whatever nonsense conclusions Ariel had discerned from a long day of reading, and a night of recklessness. "What?"

Ariel dragged his hands up his face, then through his hair. "I tortured her, Regus. I tortured her. She's never coming back..." His face contorted in pain, then anger. "And you knew! You knew, and you let me!" He looked up from the pier to glare at Regus, seemingly half-certain of his words.

Ah, so this was about Iris.

Yes, Regus had known. He had watched as Ariel ruthlessly punished his lover for wanting too much, wishing too much. She tried to take refuge in her dreams, but he followed her there too, recording her mistakes, forging chains from her inadequacies. Ariel thought himself a benevolent jailer: the key to freedom was reckoning, a confrontation with the ugliest, harshest truths, and if Iris could not stoop to pick it up, she was safer within his confines.

Ariel seemed to believe that he could selectively destroy parts of Iris with surgical precision, whatever he felt was an unnecessary expression of imperfect human nature. It was inevitable that such a prisoner, at the first opportunity, would flee, and never return.

Yes, Regus had foreseen that inevitable end. He sighed again. "Ariel, please..."

He was thinking too carefully about his response. His reaction was too delayed to avoid the next punch, which struck him squarely in the face.

The force of it sent him back another few steps. He tasted blood, running down his nose, onto his lip. The pain made something sparkle behind his eyelids. How long, since someone had hit him? Regus burst into laughter, doubled over in the rain. It was just like Ariel.

"Fine, fine!" He had to shout now, over the sounds of the storm. "I knew, so what?" There was a certain beauty in admitting it.

"So what?!" Ariel lurched forward and seized him by the collar. He shook Regus as best he could - not too hard, with his own balance at stake. "Why didn't you stop me?!"

"Oh, Ariel... You were such a child. You needed to grow up." Regus smiled.

"Grow up?! Into what?!" Regus straightened up, to look into Ariel's face. There was madness in that pale face, those blue eyes - eyes electric with rage, and grief, and fear. "What does that have to do with her?!"

"Sacrifice." Regus settled both his hands on Ariel's. "Sacrifices must be made for progress. For greatness." He felt Ariel tried to pull his hands away, and tightened his own grip. "You are no Abraham. If you were told to slit Isaac's throat, you would defy God Himself. That is your nature."

Ariel leaned away, straining harder. The fear in his eyes glittered with renewed intensity. He no longer wanted to have this conversation. With a breath, he sobbed, "I didn't want to sacrifice her." The rain made it difficult to tell if he was crying. "I could have changed!"

"If you could have changed, you would have. This was the way."

Ariel's knees buckled. Regus had to lean forwards to catch him, as the other man melted into dead weight. "I love her."

"There, there." He patted the back of Ariel's head, trying to adjust the man's arms to wrap around his neck. "It was a great sacrifice." In many ways, it was: Iris had been a terrific influence on who Ariel was, on who he decided to be. But his obsession with her eclipsed any other calling. "There there, there there. God has heard you."

"Are you God?" Ariel settled his weight in his feet, and lifted his head away from Regus's chest. In many ways, he was still a little boy.

Regus laughed again. "Far from it."

Ariel dropped his head again. "Then you can promise me nothing."

"Didn't you wish for greatness, Ariel?" Regus's voice became light and sing-song, the words like a lullaby. "How did you intend to pay for it?" He could remember Ariel at fifteen, wandering the meadows outside of town, picking wildflowers and wishing he could be something, be someone. He had glowed in the sun.

Ariel sobbed again.

"You must pay." And paid Ariel had. Pay he would, for as long as he lived, for as long as he wanted greatness.

"Come along now. Let's get you home."

--------------------
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