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Title: The Essence of Wisdom
Genre: never before has the "angst" genre been so fitting.
Fandom: Fire Emblem 8
Characters/pairings: Knoll, Lyon. I've been told it reads like onesided Knoll-->Lyon, as well.
Warnings: Uh, does intense gloom count? I think it should.

"Above all, we must abolish hope in the heart of man. A calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom." Alfred Victor Vigny

He is intimate with the darkness, having learned the facets of its soft caress on his face and the meaning of its sultry whispers in his ear. He cannot say he loves it as once he did; in fact, he has grown to dread its fingers snaking up his spine, its subtle rhythm slamming into his heart, but least it is familiar. The sliver of candlelight slipping through the crack beneath the door is an unwelcome stranger, the sound of footsteps and voices harsh to ears accustomed to only the echo of his own breath. Perhaps they will continue past his door and leave him here to die the death he deserves, the death of a coward.

He'd met the darkness when he was barely six years old, when his mother first brought him to the library she spent her days in. He could barely remember her face, pale and fragile like his own, but he remembered vividly the smell of leather and paper and dust, the rows of black-bound books reaching far above his messy-haired head and touching the stone ceiling of the castle. He knew his letters, but the stamps and runes on these were foreign, mysterious. Exotic. He was in love.

His days, from then, were spent in the shadow of knowledge, devouring tome after tome at a rate, he learned later, was unheard of for a child. It didn't matter, at the time – it was intoxicating, mesmerizing. The letters and runes slipped into his dreams by night, danced in his mind by day. He tasted them in the food his mother begged him to eat, felt them in the bruises the other children dealt on the rare occasions they'd meet. And when it was him at his mother's side, begging her to just try to eat a bit more, just try to talk to him, just once more, he saw it swaying in her wide eyes, heard it slide through her lips with every rattling breath, watched it take her in its arms and carry her away. It was then that his love consumed him.

He knew nothing but the darkness for another year, as he abandoned the futile attempts to go outside with the other children. Fists tangled in long, ragged hair, sun scorching too-fair skin. . . he had no need of such things. The company of the books was far less dangerous, far more rewarding. In their grasp, he was more than a tiny, helpless boy – he was the hero Grado, slaying demons with ease, the saint Latona, adored by the people far and wide. Never mind that heroes never woke up with their faces plastered to the pages of ancient tomes, or that saints never fainted after days of forgetting to eat. He was all of them, and more, despite the failings that might otherwise creep into view.

His love found competition after that year, in the form of a visitor only a few years younger than himself, but a good deal smaller, weaker, with eyes that searched the rows of books the way his own had so long ago. A visitor who was far from the ordinary fare. He had hastily bowed, a bit too low and far too clumsily, but instead of being met with rebuke, he heard a quiet voice say, "You don't have to bow to me. I'm just visiting. Please, stand up." It had taken him a moment to honor the request, but when he did, he was met with a smile and a warm introduction, a hand extended for an informal shake. Even in his youth, he saw, through that smile, the lingering darkness of doubt.

The prince's visits became more frequent, his eager questions a welcome respite from the silent reverie of ancient spells and long-forgotten fables. "What does this mark mean?" "What is this a picture of?" "Will you read this out loud for me?" Every request met with obedience, the sort of blind loyalty he'd owed to none but the shadows before. He never knew of the whispers around the castle, or the protests rallied at the emperor by the clergy. He knew of his "mentor", or rather, at this point, the man who watched him read for hours and frantically scribble notes and diagrams, taking the prince under his wing, and knew of watching the other boy fall in love, too.

He never noticed, either, the way their hair came in the same color, or the way the sharp lines of their faces shared the same shadowed silhouette on the wall, until the prince pointed it out in a joke. "Maybe if you didn't wear that awful cloak all the time, you could pretend to be me," he'd said. "You look like you could be my older brother, you know. Of course it's not so, but you don't have any family, right? It would be nice to pretend." Somewhere beneath the ever-present smile, there was a trace of longing, laced with the doubt that had danced in the prince's eyes for as long as they'd known each other.

It was ten years after the darkness first sang to him that he began work on the prince's pet project, the stone he'd read so much about in his beloved books. He couldn't quite grasp the fixation with it, but a new sort of darkness whispered promises in his ears, promises of greatness, importance, strength. And though it filled him with dread, the smile on his prince's face reassured him, and he continued on despite the soft murmurs of terror that crept into his thoughts.

He knew the darkness well, but it was foreign in his prince's voice, a frightening echo that plunged his mind into winter, even as the words spoken were of saving people. He had seen the same visions, unwelcome images of storms and destruction flashing in his sleep, but he could not say why the talk of all those lives saved made him want to retch. It was a darkness that did not whisper at the edges of his hearing, but screamed laughter in his face when least he expected it, then pulled him back with promises of comfort and warmth when he tried to run away.

It slipped into the prince's words as he returned from his time with the royals from Renais, coiled around his tongue as he said, "I think I love her," and then, much more quietly, added, "She could never love me." The other man realized he knew nothing of women, save for the glare of clerics and the foggy face of his mother as she drifted away, and felt the distance grow between them as he apologized for a feeling he couldn't understand. Darkness would not reject him; knowledge would never turn him away.

The darkness seemed to love the prince more than it did him, and far more than he could ever have loved it back. It lingered in the orders he was given, colder and harsher than once they were, to continue the research on the aura of the stone, and taunted him with the occasional glimpse of an old smile. No longer were there jokes of brotherhood, or mentions of love for foreign princesses. Yet still, he found himself craving its embrace, found himself moving in time to the songs it softly murmured in the night. Pen hit paper and he began to copy ancient spells in books once forbidden, not stopping to question the urge even once.

The visions came unbidden, this time by daylight: the earth seizing like a thing possessed, throwing tiny houses into fire and ruin. Innocent men and women, crushed and burnt beyond recognition; children strewn, wide eyed and starving, in barren streets. By the sound of the prince's gasps, he was not alone in these sights. But he wondered if it was him alone who glimpsed, for just a moment, the sight of that coveted princess, holding someone close and sobbing.

The shadows in the prince's eyes were his own, and not the foreign midnight that had crept into his gaze in the previous months, as he begged for a companion for his father's final hours. He didn't say it in as many words, but it was a despair the mage knew well. He watched the emperor's breaths shorten and rasp, not for the sake of any unspoken shadow, but for the sake of a friend who could not stay on his own. The darkness took his emperor the same way it had taken his mother, but this was a face he would never forget. As the silence was broken with the quiet order to break the seal on the stone, he heard his voice object, but knew that it was useless. Just as they had his prince, the shadows had taken him, and he could not resist their call.

The darkness in his emperor's eyes was not the subtle kind he had grown to love, or the ancient kind that sang to him in his sleep. It was lifeless, dead, and yet begged for release, release he could not grant. It was not the same as the primal glint in the prince's eyes, the tug of a smirk at his lips as the lighter of two stones was broken by bare hands. At last, he collected the courage to speak.

"We have gone too far. We must stop now."

And he swore he saw just the slightest twinge of remorse in that hideous smile, far from the one he once knew, as the word "treason" fell into the silence.

It is a badge he will wear with honor, the little honor he has left, as the darkness sings the same mocking lullaby it sings every night. At least this is the last night he will face it, the last night he has to recount his many mistakes. He still cannot say he hates it, though he has wanted to for what seems like ages. He stares as the candlelight lingers, and flinches as the opening door reveals the light's full strength. Has he lost track of the hours? Is it daybreak already? He does not move, not until the hand of the man with the candle is extended to him, a sight that brings on memories unbidden.

"Are you all right?" he hears. And the darkness laughs in his face as he nods.


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July 2011

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