Where the Circle Ends
by, January 4th, 2017 at 09:08 PM (237 Views)
Originally written for Kirby's 2016 Secret Santa contest.
6565 Words. Estimated read time: 25 minutes.
Working from the prompt:
Sand and dust grinding under his feet were the only sounds in the air as he leisurely ascended the worn steps in the darkness. He had already climbed dozens of floors - he had lost count after the first twenty - but there was no impatience in his step. Neither was he tired. At one point he may have felt anticipation at what lay ahead, but he couldn't say that now.
While there was no anticipation, he still felt something akin to anxiety. Today was a special day, an hour of reckoning. The end of another test, whose results would mean life or death for the entire world.
Within the depths of the long-forgotten skyscraper, there had been no wind to carry away the dust his passage had kicked into the air. Only the intermittent sound of a distant rumbling, like far off thunder, disturbed his silent ascent. Now, however, far above, he could hear the faint whistle of moving air passing over a not-quite sealed opening. He couldn't help but give a sigh of relief. He was getting a little tired of the stairwell. It felt like he had been climbing for hours, so it would be nice to have a change in scenery.
After a long last few minutes, he finally came across the source of the noise - a heavy metal door, slightly ajar, marking the end of the ascent. A dull light peaked around the edges of the door, indicating it was still very much daytime. He would have preferred to do this at night, but unfortunately the actors were not so kind as to adjust their performance for him, so he had no other choice than to go out now. Otherwise he might miss the whole show.
With a gentle push, he shoved the door forward. Even cracked open slightly, the door still stuck for a moment before the rusted-over hinges gave way, and with a loud squeal the door swung open. Though his first instinct was to retreat from the soft, grey afternoon light, he instead stepped out onto the roof while shielding his eyes with his hand.
The light was...unpleasant, to say the least. But it was not harmful. Certainly, standing in direct sunlight was incredibly dangerous, even for a vampire of his calibre, but there was no threat of that now. Looking up, he could see that as always, a sheet of steel-grey clouds covered the sky from horizon to horizon. Just as the wall of clouds had blocked the moonlight from ever reaching him at night, they also blocked the sun from ever reaching him in the day. So while being out and about during the daytime wasn't pleasant, it wasn't nearly as dangerous as it had been in ages past.
Stepping over to the edge of the roof, hundreds of stories in the air, he gazed across the desolate wasteland around him. Meeting his eyes was a mosaic of greys and browns, stretching off into forever. Though he had picked the tallest tower he could find, all around him lay buildings of comparable sizes, each as dark and silent as the one he had just walked through. Beyond them lay smaller buildings, and past those open land, but they were all the same. Though the buildings around him reached for the sky, those far away huddled around the ground, and the land farther out stretched out into a featureless desert, they all spoke the same message to him.
They had each once been part of a thriving city, a nation whose movements shook the world, a culture whose accomplishments endured thousands of years. But now they just stood here, silent and abandoned, members of an audience that could only wonder if this was the final episode.
And they were the lucky ones.
Taking his eyes off the silent monuments, he looked up at the sky once more. It would only be a short while until the show began. And while in a way he was eagerly awaiting its conclusion, he also kind of wanted to just...put it off. Delay the inevitable conclusion that it would bring. The faint drone of aircraft overhead, however, promised to him and the silent audience he accompanied that there would be no putting off the conclusion that today would bring.
He supposed it wasn't really fair to call this the beginning, though. After all, the people of the planet - he could hardly call them human anymore - had been locked in combat for almost seven full days. But try as they might, they were running out of time. If they did not end things quickly, they would lose, and though it was only one battle in the war, it was probably the most important, most desperate battle yet. Winning here meant that they would live to fight another day. Losing would put an end to their resistance in its entirety, across the entire world.
To him though, it didn't mean much.
Whether they won or lost, his fate had already been sealed long ago. Watching this battle unfold was no more than entertainment for him.
After only a few moments of watching over the scenery before him, the faint sound of footsteps reached his ears. He had to admit, he was a little embarrassed at having taken so long to recognize someone was following him, but within that confined stairwell, if they had kept a reasonable distance away, or climbed a parallel stairwell, he supposed detecting them would have been impossible. Regardless, as the footsteps approached, it was clear their owner was not attempting to be stealthy.
He shrugged to himself. It was his own sloppiness that prevented him from realizing he was being followed, but he couldn't say he would have done anything about it if he had noticed.
The door to the roof squealed once again in protest as the second visitor in centuries stepped onto the roof. Turning to greet his new company, as he met her eyes, his smile froze on his face.
After a brief moment to get over the shock, he broke the silence.
"Well, if it isn't Elesia. You certainly look...different."
"How kind of you to notice," her response came back dry. Whether that was because of the name he called her or because of his comment that she had changed was anyone's guess. It was probably a bit of both, actually. "You look the same as always, Roa."
"Well, in the end, I just can't say anything but my original look suits me. Don't you agree?"
With a snort, the girl - or perhaps he should say woman now? - stepped up beside him and looked out over the dead cityscape.
Even as she showed no apparent hostility, he couldn't help but keep his guard up with her standing so close to him. It wasn't that she was a threat to him - not anymore - but that had never stopped her from trying to kill him in the past. Now, though she didn't seem particularly happy to see him, there was no aggression to her demeanour. She was certainly armed, but even standing no more than a few feet away from him, he couldn't sense any hostility from her at all.
But what was even more unsettling was her appearance.
Though her clothes had obviously changed from the Church garments she had worn a thousand years prior to something more suited to surviving in an empty wasteland like this one, what was more terrifying was her face. It looked...older. This woman, whose appearance hadn't changed since she turned 16 over a thousand years ago, had now clearly aged. She still appeared quite young, perhaps in her mid twenties now, but the fact she had aged at all had terrible implications.
"Well I guess that settles it," Roa chuckled to himself. "This really is the end of the world."
As if to agree with him, a handful of small streaks of black smoke fell from the clouds above, descending into the empty city before them. The distant rumble of ruined aircraft crashing into abandoned buildings filled the air.
"Is that why you're here?" the woman said, her voice distant and tired.
"Yes, actually," he replied with a wry grin. "I figured if today was the last moments for the remnants of humanity, someone as old as I am should probably be here to send them off."
"Which one are they fighting this time?" Her voice was almost disinterested as she looked up at the cloud wall above, as if expecting she could see through to the battle occurring above it.
"No idea," he shrugged. "I can tell you it's not Jupiter, Mercury, or Pluto. Saturn doesn't seem the type to try for a full frontal assault like this, either."
"So Venus, Mars, Uranus, or Neptune? If you put it like that, it almost seems like humanity is winning."
"As long as you ignore the fact that humanity itself is down to a few dozen members," he replied with a laugh. "But hey, who's keeping score?"
"I thought you would be," she replied in a condescending tone, matching much closer to the Elesia he remembered. "After all, its your food that's getting annihilated out there."
"Oh don't worry about me," he answered her feigned concern with an honest deflection, "there's still plenty of blood out there for me even if humanity is wiped out." Pay no mind to the fact that supply is shrinking rapidly as well, he added to himself.
Though he spoke casually, he still watched her out of the corner of his eye. Despite her calm demeanour, he still couldn't relax with her nearby. Their past together had just been a bit too...bloody. Not that he minded bloody all that much. Maybe that was a bad metaphor.
"So," he continued, "we know why I'm here. What about you?"
Without even being able to see her face, he could somehow feel her eyes roll. "To kill you, of course." Her answer sounded suprisingly sarcastic, considering how hard she had tried to do just that in the past.
"Well, you better get on it," Roa replied with a short laugh as another handful of aircraft plummeted from the clouds. "If you don't hurry, we might both die before you get the chance."
At that, she turned to him with a look of genuine surprise. "You can actually die?"
"Of course," he replied with a grin. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I hold the record of most deaths for a single person." Seeing her expression turn flat, he laughed again before giving a serious answer. "Technically no, but if there's no one left to have children, it might be difficult for me to reincarnate, don't you think?"
"To think the Serpent of Akasha would meet such a boring end," she spoke once again with feigned pity, turning her gaze back to the clouds above.
"Indeed," he replied, turning his eyes to follow hers. "I'm going to have to do something very creative to avoid that, aren't I?"
Silence fell over the pair as yet another wave of aircraft plunged to their deaths. It seemed as if this was truly going to be the end. Despite having a full seven days to muster their forces, it seemed as if they hadn't managed to mount a sufficient defense. What a shame.
Another quick glance at his companion's face told him very little. Her face was as impassive and unreadable as ever, no indication that she had any vested interest in the result of the battle overhead. Or in her arch-nemesis standing beside her, for that matter. She really had changed a tremendous amount since the last time he saw her, and not just physically.
It was almost like she had given up.
"Do you miss her?" She spoke again, breaking the long silence.
Taken off-guard by the question, Roa turned back to the desolate cityscape, maintaining a thoughtful quiet.
Did he miss her?
There was, of course, only one person 'her' could be. And while he had never really had the chance to spend any real time with her ever since their...falling out, he could always rely on her to come find him again. Wherever he was, whenever he was.
But not this time.
This particular incarnation of himself had been roaming the world for decades. After bringing a single city to its knees covertly, he then openly waged war against those around him. He was as brazen as he had ever been, encouraging his enemies to come to him, to fight him, to strengthen themselves...to provide an even more powerful host for his next incarnation. He had not been disappointed with their response, but...it never ended. She never came to stop him, as she had many dozens of times before.
It was something he had understood implicitly, but had avoided thinking about consciously.
The Earth was finished. The World had died. And so she was gone.
She had handed him the keys to eternity, and she had become the one thing other than eternity he could honestly long for.
But those intense feelings had faded with the centuries. Every time he reincarnated, he felt more distant from her...more distant from the Roa that cared about her. And in a way, he was grateful for that.
Because he could answer that question honestly now. He could mourn her end without being hurt by it.
"No. She had nothing left to offer me. I am grateful for what she has given me, but she was already no more than a ghost of my past. Clinging to her now, the image of her now, would just be unsightly."
The girl snorted derisively. "I take it back, Roa. You've changed a lot. Are you even the same person?"
He met her comment with a sly grin. "Of course not. The Roa you knew died long, long ago." Looking up at the clouds again, he spoke in a much more solemn tone. "Of course, there is a possibility that she is not completely gone. Maybe a small fragment of who she was still lives above those clouds, waiting for the sky to open so she can descend again. So she can put an end to everything on this husk of a planet."
"That's why you stopped attacking humanity, isn't it? Not to keep your food stock alive. You just wanted them to survive long enough, to see if there's anything left of her in the Moon."
Roa's only response was a grin and a shrug.
As she said, after it was clear that she was not coming to put an end to him, he had put a stop to his conquest against humanity. After the Aristoteles had arrived, he had even turned his efforts to assisting humanity, helping to fight off their impending doom. His legion of the dead had been effectively annihilated in the confrontation, and had accomplished little more than delaying the deaths of the nearby humans by a few months. But considering his opponent, he felt like that was a tremendous accomplishment.
Of course, he didn't care one way or another about the humans he may or may not have saved. It was all simply an attempt to keep the game going, to lure the Moon into descending.
He may have had no more emotional attachment to her left, but if there was even the most remote possibility of even a fragment of her remaining, he felt obligated to seek it out.
He wanted to seek it out.
"Is that why you haven't tried to kill me, either?" She pressed.
"I haven't killed you because I have nothing to gain by doing so," he replied dryly. "Besides, murdering such a long-time friend would spoil the moment. These kind of spectacles are so much less interesting when you are watching alone."
"Even if I could kill you before you saw her again?"
Roa laughed. "Could you kill me?" Her bitter expression was all the answer he needed to that question.
Sure, she could injure him gravely, as could any human. Her magecraft, if she deigned to use it, would certainly be a powerful weapon as well. But without the Scriptures, she couldn't hope to cut his cycle of reincarnation. And without the World's influence to protect her, she couldn't hope to survive an encounter with someone who was physically and magically superior to her in every respect.
With the Scriptures and Sacraments of the Church, she might have been able to put an end to his eternity. She certainly had had ample time to train, and as far as skill was concerned, she was almost certainly superior to him, who had had to restart from scratch every twenty or so years as he died and reincarnated. But with the collapse of the Church, the conceptual strength of the Scriptures and Sacraments had vanished. She no longer had any tools left that could do more than inconvenience him.
She knew that, of course. He suspected that's why she hadn't bothered to attack him when she first arrived.
"If you know you can't kill me, why did you follow me up here?"
This time it was her turn to shrug. "If only I knew. I've spent my whole life trying to hunt you down and kill you, but with this state of affairs, that seems meaningless now, doesn't it?"
Roa gave her a sidelong glance. He had been wrong before. He had thought her listless demeanour was because she had given up, because she had given in to despair.
But her tone held no despair. Her blank expression gave no indication it was hiding hopelessness, no sign that she had surrendered to her fate.
Rather than having given up, it was much more...like himself. Like she had already won.
"I never did really ask you, did I?" Roa spoke up, watching as what must have been the last few planes fell from the sky into the city below. "Why did you want to kill me so badly? I always assumed it was out of revenge, but if that was the case, you wouldn't be here right now, would you?"
After a brief moment, as if considering whether to tell the truth, she replied. "Revenge was certainly a part of it. But more importantly, the idea of living forever was...unpalatable, to say the least. Especially after what I...what you did. I couldn't die until after you did, and you had already taken my whole life away from me, so hunting you down was killing two birds with one stone."
"But now you can die all on your own, so all you have left against me is a thousand year old grudge." Her silence was all the answer he needed.
She had what she wanted. The centuries had dulled her rage against him, and had turned revenge impossible for her anyways. But now she was fully capable of dying, regardless of his own continued existence. Therefore, she had no more reason to fight.
"I will die along with the rest of humanity," she said after another long silence. "And with humanity gone, you will die too. In the end, I guess we'll end up dying together. It seems fitting, in a poetic kind of way." Despite the obvious revulsion she felt in saying so, she was right in a way. It would be fitting if the two who had once been one would disappear together.
"Sorry, but I'm not disappearing with you."
Elesia blinked a few times, as if stunned. "How do you plan on living on without any food, or any hosts to reincarnate into?" Rather than challenging, her tone was more confused. She didn't seem to doubt what he was saying, she just didn't understand where his confidence came from.
Squinting his eyes at the cloud wall overhead, he strained his ears to listen. Over the sound of the wind, he could faintly hear the drone of an aircraft's engine. It was faint, meaning there could only be a small handful of them left, maybe two or three. Perhaps even only one. But they were still there.
"Long ago, before she killed me again, she asked me a question. 'Where does the circle end, Roa?'"
A parasite like you can't survive forever. You need a host to feed off of, after all. Where does your circle end? Are you just going to hang on to the last pitiful moment, when you starve to death?
She must have known at that time that humanity was on its way to decline. Or maybe she was just guessing as such, considering the state of the planet at the time.
"No doubt, she intended it as a question to intimidate me, to make me question everything I was doing. But even so, it piqued my curiosity. It may seem an inane inquiry at first, but as a seeker of eternity, it seemed like the perfect question. Naturally, she killed me before I came to a satisfactory answer, but it stuck with me, so I thought about it long after."
He couldn't remember how long ago this story had taken place, but it wasn't really important. His companion continued listening in silence, looking at him with as blank an expression as ever.
"The next time we met, I had yet to come up with an answer that satisfied myself. Sure, it seemed like a paradoxical question, but if I admitted that, would I not admit that the eternity I sought was a paradox as well? So I turned the question back on her. She was far from a scholar, but it was her question, so I figured it was only fair to get her opinion." Even as faint as his recollection of the event was, he still couldn't help but laugh as he recalled her answer. "She said, 'wherever I cut it.'"
Elesia gave a wry smile. "Sounds like her."
"As much as her answer lacked seriousness, it was quite a valid one. Even the symbol of eternity, even a circle will end if you cut it off. However as valid as that response was, it didn't really solve the paradox, did it? So over my next few incarnations, I continued to mull over the problem."
After a great deal of mental effort, he came to the conclusion that there was no answer. A circle would only end if you cut it. That was what it meant to be a circle.
He had accepted long before the question had been posed that his eternity was a false one. Even if he could outlive humanity, an eternity alone was no different from death. If humanity was to end, he had no qualms with following them into the great beyond.
But as that end came within sight, it made him think. Could he find a way to live beyond humanity? Maybe there would be no meaning in it, but was it possible? This inquiry, out of pure curiosity, revived that old question. Where does a circle end?
This time around, however, he realized his mistake. He had approached the question as a magus, as a philosopher, as a scientist. He was looking for an answer in logic, in fact. In reality. But the reality was that it was an impossible question. So if there was going to be an answer to such a question, the answer itself would have to be just as esoteric.
After approaching it from that angle, he had found his answer easily. As if it had been staring him in the face the entire time, just waiting for him to recognize it. And when he had, it changed everything.
It took only one more incarnation, the last one 'she' put an end to before she disappeared, for him to realize that answer. And as such, he had finally done it.
In another moment of poetic justice, just as Elesia had shed her false eternity and accomplished her goal of mortality, just as she had found the answer to the question that was her life, so too had he. By answering that one question, true eternity had fallen into his hands.
An inhuman shriek suddenly tore the air. As if the sound itself had physical force, a hurricane-like wind buffeted the pair atop their skyscraper, knocking both of them backwards. After the initial shock of the sudden wind, they both braced themselves against it and rose to their knees, wide-eyed faces turning to the sky.
Curtains of dust and sand blew into the air, as if the city had suddenly been struck by a sandstorm, but with their elevation their view of the sky was still unobstructed. After a few moments, the shriek trailed off, as did the wind that accompanied it. As if time itself was stopped, the clouds of sand and dust hung in the hair, obscuring the view of the city below.
Both of them watched in silent awe as the clouds above burst. A form bigger than they could imagine, comparable in size to the entire city around them, fell from above the cloud wall as if in slow motion. Still wrapped in clouds, its form was mostly obscured, except for a pair of enormous wings, each large enough to put the skyscraper they were standing on to shame. The form fell as if in slow motion, dozens of kilometers away from where they were standing. After what seemed like forever, but had likely only been a few moments, it crashed into the ground.
As the sound of the impact reached them, a shockwave tore the city. While not as powerful as the hurricane force winds of just moments prior, an enormously powerful gust of wind tore the clouds of dust from where they hung above the city, throwing them away like light throwing out shadows. At the same time, the tremors caused by the entity striking the ground threatened to throw the two off their feet once again. Even as they watched, the more unstable and decrepit buildings of the city collapsed, kicking more dust and dirt into the air to be carried away by the shockwave.
By some miracle, the skyscraper they were standing on remained firm, and as the tremor subsided and the shockwave passed, they both slowly rose to their feet, eyes still locked on the fallen creature.
It had landed just outside the city bounds, annihilating the nearby structures. The dust cloud it had kicked up from landing prevented them from seeing it in any sort of detail, but they had seen enough of it while it was falling to know what it was.
It was an Aristoteles.
And it was dead.
"...they did it?"
Elesia was the first one to break the silence.
Roa threw his head back as he laughed. "They actually did it! It took them until the last possible moment, but they actually managed to bring down another one! I can't say I expected it, but I am certainly impressed! I guess that's what happens when you underestimate humanity!"
Though he had convinced himself he had no preference as to the outcome of the battle above, his jubilance at seeing the human victory showed how much of a lie that had been. Even Elesia beside him could only look in shocked disbelief at the truth before her. Despite being caught in the very jaws of defeat, the humans had somehow managed to succeed. And the two of them had been here to see it.
Still unable to keep his eyes off the plume of dust in the distance, he spoke out of a strange euphoria. "It looks like humanity will last for a little while longer. In fact, such a resounding victory puts them one step closer to winning the war, doesn't it?" Though he knew he gained little from the victory, he couldn't help but feel like he had just won an enormous gamble.
"That makes three." Her disbelief was still clear in her voice as she muttered to herself. "Three Aristoteles have been defeated."
"And it's all thanks to humans like you," Roa said with a playfully patronizing tone.
The victory here was entirely unprecedented. At worst, they had lost hundreds of lives in trying to take down this Aristoteles. Compared to the hundreds of millions wiped out by Type Jupiter as it died, that was almost a bloodless victory. It was almost like humanity had a chance to win this war.
Of course, neither of them would say that. As euphoric as all of humanity was doubtless to be after news of this victory traveled, there was one sobering fact that kept this momentary feeling from becoming something more.
Three Aristoteles had died.
One wiped out an entire continent in its death throes.
One was killed before entering the atmosphere, but killed humanity's strongest defense in the process.
And this one had died mere minutes before it had reached the ground, minutes before it would have spelled the end of humanity once and for all.
Every victory they had had come at a tremendous cost. Humanity was straining under the weight of those costs after just two, the third showing just how close they were to losing everything.
And there were still six more.
Humanity may be able to hold on for a little longer, but win? Such an assertion was naive at best.
But even as that threat of despair hung over humanity as a whole, it had little sway over the two witnessing it. One who had sought death for more than a thousand years, and one who had already found a way to cheat it. Humanity's continued survival meant nothing to them.
After another long silence, once the shock of what they had witnessed finally subsided a little, Elesia finally turned to him.
"So? You told me her answer, but what about yours? Where does a circle end?"
"It's so simple," Roa replied with a smile, still feeling the excitement of the spectacle he had just been fortunate enough to watch. In fact now that he thought about it, the two of them might have been the first people on the planet to see an Aristoteles die and live to tell about it. Aside from whoever had managed to kill it, theoretically. "It's almost embarrassing to think of how long it took me to realize the answer."
Breaking a piece of concrete off the edge of the roof, he walked over to the door he had entered through earlier. He had no need to explain it to her in such detail, but he was in a good mood now. Closing it firmly, he used the broken piece of concrete to carve a circle into the door's weathered surface. Slowly, methodically, he drew the circle as large as the surface would allow. After a few moments, the line met its own tail, forming as perfect a circle as he could manage freehand. Turning to face Elesia, who had followed him over to the door, he gave another triumphant grin as he pointed to the top of the circle, where he had finished carving it.
"Where does a circle end? The same place it begins."
As if watching the Aristoteles die had broken her expressionless facade, he could see her work through the implications of what he had just said. First, a raised eyebrow at such a simple sounding answer. Then, confusion as she began to see what he had said. Finally, wide eyed shock, as she realized the answer behind the answer.
"But wait, there's...how could you...but what..." One by one, she raised objections, shooting them down herself before she could even finish voicing them.
"It's simple, right? I had already created the solution, almost two thousand years ago, and I hadn't even realized it!"
"You already transfer your soul to the Root while you wait for your next reincarnation to be born. But since the Root exists outside of time, you just need to specify a place to incarnate in the past. That's basically time travel!"
"And that's where true eternity lies, is it not? An infinite eternity is impossible. You cannot exist in perpetuity as an individual, as you will eventually, given enough time, come to an 'end.' So the answer is of course, to pursue a finite eternity. In other words, a loop."
Elesia raised a hand to her forehead as her mind raced. He could see it in her widened eyes, see that she was realizing the simplistic genius of the solution. Without looking at him, she finally managed to raise an objection she couldn't immediately answer. "If you can select a host after you have already moved to Akasha, it seems reasonable. But if you go back in time, don't you risk causing a time paradox? If that happens, you'll be annihilated. Nevermind the Counter Force, reality itself will crush you."
"Oh, that's easy." Using the chunk of concrete in his hand, he scratched a line to indicate where he had started and finished drawing the circle. "Sure, if I replace the soul of someone else in the past, that might create a time paradox. But what if I replace my own soul? From the perspective of the Root, nothing will have changed. Certainly the quality of the soul inhabiting Michael Roa Valdamjong will be different, but the true essence of it will remain unchanged. There will be no paradox."
Just as Elesia seemed like she might crumble under the revelation, she lunged forward. Even faster than he could react, two black keys emerged in her hands, punching through his left shoulder and right arm and pinning him to the wall behind him. With a grunt, more out of surprise than pain, he gave her a quizzical look.
The black keys of the old Church held no conceptual power now, but they were still sharp. They weren't really that much of an obstacle to him, but he supposed that was as much of a weapon as she had against him. Seeing that she still had no real means to hurt him, he decided against retaliating for now.
Her expression was one he hadn't seen in many hundreds of years from her. She was not impassively expressionless, as she had been earlier today. Nor was there anger or bloodlust in it. Instead, it was a much more pleasing emotion.
"No...you can't! I can't let you! I can't let you do everything all over again!" She all but screamed as she threw her body weight onto the swords, trying to keep him pinned to the wall despite the fact he wasn't resisting. He could have resisted. He could, with the swipe of a hand, crush her skull, and finally kill her for good. But where would the fun in that be?
"Oh don't worry," he said with another manic grin, "it won't be the same. No, not at all. This time, I'll be much smarter. I'll know much more. I will know all my mistakes before I make them, and be able to correct them before they happen. And though I will have to wait eight hundred years to do so, I will remember to take especially good care of your body this time. It was such a waste, dying so young when I was you. And with so much potential! No, this time I'll get something much more useful out of it."
"As if I'd let you!" Now, with the threat being personal, there was fury mixed in with her fear. But with both her hands tied up with pinning him to the wall, she had little she could do to hurt him.
Or so he had thought. Without missing a beat, without breaking eye contact with him, she began to chant. A chant he knew all too well, a spell she had learned from perusing his own memory.
Roa threw his head back in laughter once again. She almost never used magecraft, especially against him. This showed just how truly desperate she was. If only she could also see how futile it was as well.
"Oh, don't worry so much, Elesia," he managed to say before lightning arced across the entirety of his body, igniting his clothes and charring the skin underneath. This time, there was very real pain. After an unintentional cry of pain, and a few deep breaths to regain his composure, he continued before she could begin chanting another spell. "There's nothing you can do to stop it now. Even if you could kill me, the deal is already done. But you can't kill me anyways."
"Just watch me!" She shrieked as lightning arced across his face, destroying one of his eyes and the majority of his nose. He hadn't even noticed her using an incantation that time. Had she learned some magecraft he wasn't aware of over these past thousand years?
"Oh, my poor Elesia, it's not because of you." As he spoke, he felt his body becoming lighter. And as his smile widened, he could tell she recognized it too.
As his body began to dissolve from the feet up, she dropped one of her black keys and punched a hand into his chest, as if to grab his heart. Though normally his body would be much too tough for a human to do so, the weakened state of his dissolving body made it like she was punching through wet paper. Of course, for the same reason, she wouldn't be able to find what she was looking for there.
"You won't find me again before you die, I'm afraid," he continued as she desperately tried to trace back to where his real body was. "But we will meet again. The next time we meet you won't remember who I am at all. But don't worry..."
The remaining black key dropped from her hand as the rest of his body turned to dust, the Dead he had been possessing disintegrating as his controlling influence left it.
"...I will remember you very well. You were always one of my favourites!"
As his body lost the last of its form, the dust it had dissolved into floating away with the strong wind at the top of the skyscraper, the sound of his laughter echoed across the rooftop.
As a despair she could barely understand drove her to her knees, collapsing under the weight of such a complete loss, Elesia looked up at the engraving of the circle on the door Roa had made.
Where did the circle end?
For Michael Roa Valdamjong, it didn't.