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Raven Heart - Part IV

Raven Heart

Part IV

It had been a very long time since the two of them had met face to face. Since the end of the conflict with the Malice, at least. He had long since been sealed away, but here they were, hovering a short distance beyond the border of some obscure reality no one had ever heard of, staring each other down, and it felt like almost no time had passed at all.

Okin arrived with Valki at his side, of course. He looked older. Not physically, but the eyepatch added a few years. A fur pelt of no doubt some great beast he had slain was draped over his shoulders, and Gungnir was strapped to his back, a position it very rarely left these days. Together, they made him look bigger than he really was.

Bacchae came alone, and he looked exactly the same as he had all those years ago. Same shocking white hair, same curling horns, same unsettling grin. The only difference seemed to be that he’d ditched the cloak for a long, black coat. And maybe he looked a little more… at ease then Okin remembered. Or maybe he’d just gotten better at hiding those pesky human emotions he so often complained about.

“Howdy there, kids,” he grinned lopsidedly at the two of them. “Nice coat. Still trying to police the cosmos?”

“Someone’s got to, with people like you running around,” Okin sighed. “You still trying to mess it up?”

“Hey, I’m a changed man. I’ve settled down, taken a page out of your book. I’ve put myself in charge of a whole city. Been chilling there a long time, actually.”

“Discord, right? I’ve heard about the sorts of things you get up to there. I honestly have no idea how that whole thing hasn’t torn itself apart several times over.”

“Well, you know, if you don’t act like such a tool, people tend to actually listen to you.”

Valki stiffened. “Remember who you’re talking to.”

“It’s alright, you’re never going to get him to stop being an ass.”

Bacchae wiggled his fingers in her direction. “Hello to you too, Valki. Wait, oh, is that…?” he craned his neck. “Ahh, there’s that stick that’s always been up your ass, pokin’ right out of your mouth. Has it gotten longer?”

“If I thought I conceivably could, I would beat you senseless.”

“Violent as always! Ya ever try therapy?”

“You first.”

“Please, you two,” Okin stepped in between them, already sick of the bickering. “We are not here for you to tear each other’s throats out.”

Tilting his head, Bacchae crossed his legs in thought, as he floated a few feet backwards. “Oh yeah, why are we here again? I uh, may have been high on some of that fuckin’ wizard weed when I got the call and don’t remember any of it.”

“But you still remembered to show up?” Okin chuckled.

“Hey, I’m a high-functioning drug addict.”

Valki scoffed. “That’s debatable. We are here because the Morrigan told us to be.”

“And, uh, did she happen to say why?”

Shaking his head, Okin frowned. He’d been wondering about that himself. “All she said was that it was important.”

“Oh cool, then there was nothing for me to forget.” Bacchae rolled his eyes. “Can’t be that important if she can’t even bother to show up. And also, I don’t meet with people who keep me in the dark. That’s what I do to other people. So, I’m taking off. See ya in another hundred years or whatever.”

“Do I need to hold you at sword-point?” Valki growled.

“That won’t be necessary.” The others looked around as that all too familiar, lilting voice reached their ears. They blinked, and there she was, cloak fluttering despite the lack of breeze. Though her face was mostly covered, a pair of smiling red lips peaked out from under her hood. “Apologies for my tardiness,” she bowed her hood slightly. “My labors never cease.”

“You know if the teacher is twenty minutes late to class we’re legally allowed to leave,” Bacchae stated matter-of-factly, staring the Arbiter of Death square in the face.

Okin and Valki turned to each other in confusion, but as per usual, neither of them knew what the hell he was talking about.

“Be that as it may,” also as per usual, the Morrigan appeared entirely nonplussed by the inane things that emerged from the trickster’s mouth, “I’d appreciate your full cooperation. It will all be much easier that way.”

The other three all went silent as they detected a small threat in her tone. But when none of them moved, the feeling quickly passed.

“If you don’t mind me asking: why are we here?” Okin broke the silence. “And where is here, anyway?”

The Morrigan turned to the reality next to them, and Okin finally noticed something odd about it. The haze that often coated the insides of the bubbles: it was thicker than usual, a little more turbulent.

“Right there, a new reality is being born,” she said, the faintest smile visible on her lips. “But this is not just any reality. It is a very special place, bound particularly tight by causality.”

“Wow, neat,” Bacchae chimed in. “Why do we care?”

“It’s about to become very important to you as well, at least I hope it will.” When the others still blinked in confusion, she sighed. “I should just start from the beginning. When the two of you sealed the Malice away all those years ago, he developed a fervent hatred for both of you.”

“Not to brag, but I think I was already on his shit-list by that point.”

“So you were,” the Morrigan said shortly. “Regardless, over the years he’s been slowly picking away at his bonds, hoping to return to the cosmos proper. And he’s using the two of you as an emotional anchor of sorts. Already he’s gotten strong enough to manifest small parts of himself beyond the seal, and it won’t be long until he returns fully.”

Okin frowned. “So we simply have to defeat him again, right?”

“Nay,” she shook her head. “The very fabric of the cosmos suffered considerably the last time he was allowed to make war. I’m not sure it will survive another. At least not now.”

“So, then what can we do?” Valki had an odd look on her face, like she suspected something that the others didn’t.

“That’s simple,” the Morrigan replied. “The two of you need to disappear.”

“What, like hide?” Okin asked. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the Malice is using our very existences as a catalyst to break his seals, then it shouldn’t matter where we are or who we pretend to be.”

“You are correct. Which is why you need to not exist at all.”

At her words, Bacchae zoomed backwards a few feet. “Whoa, whoa! Are you… threatening me?”

When Okin also looked like he still didn’t understand, Valki sighed. “She’s talking about fragmentation.”

It took the two of them a moment to process what she’d said, but when they did, Bacchae proceeded to flop on his back in midair and started pulling on his own horns. “God fucking dammit not again!”

Okin, meanwhile, frowned. “I thought that was only something you could do to Anomalies?”

“Generally, yes,” the Morrigan paused, considering how best to explain. “The gods cannot die, so they merely fragment, because they are built of so much, metaphors made flesh. Mortals must die, as they can only ever truly be themselves. But beings such as you: Seraphim, Daemons, whatever he is,” she nodded in Bacchae’s direction. “You are all somewhere in the middle. You cannot simply break into a million fragments as the Trickster once did…”

“Can you stop walking on my grave, please?”

“But if the correct tool is used, you can be split in twain.” She held up one finger from each hand to demonstrate. While the right one was flesh, the left was merely bone. “Body… and soul.”

“And if you are split like that,” Valki looked downwards, “then you will no longer exist.”

Okin froze. He wouldn’t exist? He had never even considered what that would be like. Would it hurt? He supposed it must not, since he wouldn’t be able to feel anymore. It was an indescribable feeling, like a giant pit was opening up beneath him.

“One half of you will be your essence, your memories, which without a body will slowly drift into unconsciousness. The other half… will become mortal. In this way, you can become someone else, and hide from the Malice.”

“But if we’re not here to face him, what will happen if he does still return?” Okin asked.

“An incursion is inevitable,” the Morrigan admitted. “But some of the seals are still very much in place. They will weaken him. When that incursion does occur, we can expect causality to take care of the problem. Once it is all settled, I can then rebind the seals and you can both return.”

“You can do that?” Okin was surprised. He’d never heard of fragments coming back together. One would have thought that Bacchae would have tried that by now.

“Of course,” she nodded. “But I must warn you. Souls are made of the finest porcelain. If broken, it can be easily repaired. Yet even fully reassembled, the porcelain is no longer whole. It is now made of many different pieces fit together. By fragmenting yourself, you will never quite be the same.”

Another frightening thought. Yet Okin didn’t even consider refusing. His very existence had been wrought to protect the cosmos. If this was what must be done, then so be it. He would gladly accept the consequences.

On the other hand… “But what if I say ‘no’?” Bacchae had been unnaturally quiet this whole time. While they had been busy with explanations, the smile had dropped off his face. He was looking downwards, but upon not receiving any response, he glanced back up at the others, his eyes dangerously bright.

“I would ask for a reason,” the Morrigan seemed unphased by this response.

“A reason, of course, as if it isn’t fucking obvious. This, all of this,” he gestured wildly to himself, “is the result of your… machinations. And now you’re telling me to do it again? On top of that, you want some entirely new shmuck to run around with my face while I have to wait around in the void? For who knows how many goddamn years?”

“Aye, I suppose I am.”

“Well, unlike those two, I’m not your little toy soldier. I didn’t ask for any of this. Not to work for you,” he pointed to the Morrigan, “or to put up with your bullshit,” next to Valki, “or to have my very existence torn apart by Mr. Goldenboy McSpear-Up-His-Ass,” and finally to Okin. “So forgive me for being a little ticked off.”

“Do you think we wanted anything else to do with you, either?” Valki face reddened in anger.

“Bacchae,” Okin said in a lighter tone than she had. “I’ll admit this is all a little… unfair. But, what has happened has already happened. We made a powerful enemy back then. If we don’t do this, then the entire cosmos might very well be undone.”

“Oh boo hoo, cry me a fucking river. If he comes back and remakes it all, life will still continue, you know? It’s not like it’ll all be over. You’re just afraid of change, all of you.”

“Interesting words from someone so adverse to the idea himself,” the Morrigan smiled softly.

Bacchae opened his mouth, thought better of it, then frowned. “Well, I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite.”

“Ultimately, there is nothing I can do to make you consent, barring repeating the circumstances of your first meeting,” she continued.

“Which is a fight you will lose,” Okin crossed his arms over his chest.

“But please, as a former ally and equal, I beg you to agree.”

Valki gasped as the Morrigan knelt down in front of the horned man.

“I am only trying to protect the cosmos that I know somewhere deep down, you love as much as the rest of us. All I ask is a temporary sacrifice, one that I vow will not be in vain.”

Bacchae’s face scrunched up as he fought with himself. “Okay, okay, please don’t do that even I’m uncomfortable,” he finally winced out, and the Morrigan stood. “God dammit I’m really going to do this, aren’t I?” he sighed. “But lemme make one thing clear: I’m not doing this for any of you, or the cosmos or fate or any bullshit like that. I’m doing this cuz I got a whole city of shitheads that I don’t wanna see vanish. And it better fuckin’ be here when I get back.”

“You won’t ever have to leave it,” the Morrigan rose. “I will deliver what is left of your memories to wherever you see fit.”

“Well then, I know just the perfect place,” he grinned wryly. “You’d better stick me down there in the heart of the city. Right in the middle of the labyrinth.”

~~ o ~~

There was no small amount of time to get their affairs in order, but it wasn’t enough. Okin spent it busy, directing lesser Seraphim on keeping his realm in order while he was gone, preparing for every possible thing that could go wrong, and having a very… important conversation with Valki.

Bacchae got drunk off his ass and forgot to do much of anything. Part of this was calculated, however. At least that’s the excuse he made to himself. Discord would tear itself apart if he just announced he was leaving. It would be much better for him to slip away and leave them all a little afraid of him coming back to anything less than how he’d left it.

But there was one thing he did make sure to do. He told Jack. If there was one single individual he could count on, it was him, a confidant older than even Jack himself knew. Bacchae knew that he could trust him. And he needed him to be there, when the time was right. Insurance, if you will.

Before either of them knew it, they were right back there, floating before that newly birthed reality, which was looking much more outlined than it had been before. That was where they were going, or at least, whoever they would become.

“Please, before they go,” Valki looked pleadingly to the Morrigan, “Grant me one boon.”

“You want to go with them.”

Valki looked down. The Morrigan turned to Okin with a questioning gaze, but he met it with one clear of surprise or confusion.

“I know it is a selfish request, but I can’t agree to just stand by and watch.”

“I must warn you,” the Morrigan began. “Your presence will.. complicate things in ways you might not expect.”

She nodded solemnly. “I am willing to accept whatever consequences it brings.”

“Then very well,” the goddess nodded. “I wish you luck on your journey as well.”

“God you’re all so mushy,” Bacchae groaned. “Can we just get this over with?”

He was the one who went first. He and Okin had to laugh, if a little bitterly, at the repeated circumstances. But dutifully, Okin ran Gungnir clear through his chest with no resistance.

“Son of a bitch that hurts,” he wheezed. “You did that on purpose didn’t you, you absolute motherfucke…” but he didn’t get to finish his final curse before he promptly melted away.

Valki was next. They didn’t exchange any words, the time for that was long past. All he did was hold her hand for a minute, trying to iron into his body the warmth of it, so that maybe it would still remember even after he was gone. He tried to make it as painless as he could, but he didn’t think he succeeded.

Now, finally, he turned the spear on himself, and here he hesitated. He glanced up one more time, to where the Morrigan was watching him patiently. “I’m about to commit the ultimate sacrifice in your name,” he said. “All I ask is that you remember that.”

She nodded. “I shant dare forget.”

Briefly, he stared at his hands in front of him and wondered just who they would belong to. With an odd sense of deja vu, he steadied himself. There was no point in asking questions like that when he would momentarily discover the answer. All he had to do was hold the spear up… and take his own life with it.

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