Chapter 16:

The Wind Always Blowing, Final Erosion to Sand

Setting Sun Story: Beta

Eastern Alleys - Arrabelle - ???Bookmark here

Sneaking her way through the plethora of alleyways that weave in and out of the East End, the Barracks Sector, and the city center, Arrabelle comes to a crossroad. The tall buildings that keep her hidden, apartments and government structures whose make and use goes unquestioned by the public, meet in a grid formation at this one spot.Bookmark here

She rests her head on the wall next to her, pulling back to bring her face upward, and take in steady breaths through a straightened neck.Bookmark here

To her left, the road heads off into the sounds of warfare, raging deeper in the barracks. To her right...Bookmark here

Zalach, lying motionless, his eyes closed, his front bloodied, and his left arm resting over his chest, covering something. His broken arm sits over his legs.Bookmark here

His great-sword is unscathed, but seemingly took a hefty chunk out of the ground.Bookmark here

"Zalach!" She cries, limping with a hand at her kidney, keeping stress on the area down.Bookmark here

One of his eyes fidgets beneath the lid, Arrabelle dropping to a knee and putting her burn-scarred hand on his shoulder.Bookmark here

The stands of his eyelashes unfold and fan out, a dull brown eye peeking out at Arrabelle.Bookmark here

She holds her breath. It's strange, there doesn't seem to be any light, any pop, or color coming from it. It reminds her of someone else, someone long gone.Bookmark here

The graying face of his lost soul pulls itself together.Bookmark here

Zalach smiles.Bookmark here

"What the hell is that getup?" He jests, a whisper all he can muster in bearing such little energy.Bookmark here

She pauses for a moment, looking down at the corny uniform, her apron now cut up, burnt at, and stained in blood.Bookmark here

When she turns her eyes back to Zalach, she notices his arm, crushed into broken mess from stopping his fall.Bookmark here

"What happened to you?" She asks.Bookmark here

He leans forward just a touch, his ruined armor squeaking with each adjustment.Bookmark here

The metal frame pulling from the wall, Arrabelle spots the wine red fluids that drip down it, puddling at the corner.Bookmark here

She gasps, moving his arm away from his chest, revealing a heavy gash where Lerik's blade ended him.Bookmark here

"You- we need to stop your bleeding!" Arrabelle orders in a panic.Bookmark here

She tears another piece of fabric from her apron, pulling Zalach forward to try and help.Bookmark here

He actively works against her, wrenching himself out of her grasp despite the pain it causes to the massive hole through his body.Bookmark here

"Stop," Zalach mutters.Bookmark here

"D-d-d... Don't move," she commands.Bookmark here

"Let- go!" Zalach shouts as he wriggles. Arrabelle once more ignores him.Bookmark here

"DAMMIT ARRABELLE CUT IT OUT!" Zalach bellows, grabbing her arms with his left hand as he starts up in an intense coughing fit.Bookmark here

She finally stops, her eyes dashing across every small wound on his body.Bookmark here

Having her attention, he softens his throat, and looks into her eyes.Bookmark here

"I need you to listen to me," he explains, keeping a tight grip on her hands. "These guys are no small fry. You hear me? You aren't going to win this fight."Bookmark here

Zalach notices something, turning her hands over in his to reveal her right. Her knuckles are balled up one fold in, so her bandage is still visible.Bookmark here

"You tried to pick up one of their swords, didn't you?" He inquires, knowing full well she did.
Bookmark here

"How did you-?"
Bookmark here

"That settles it... you're leaving, now."Bookmark here

Arrabelle rips her hands back, grabbing his right arm, and getting under it to help him up.Bookmark here

His arm, as well as the rest of his destroyed body, alights with pain.Bookmark here

"We need to get you to safety, Zalach," she cries in a choked voice, never before seen from Arrabelle. She pulls up, and Zalach groans, bringing his left arm over to plant it on her face, palming her away.Bookmark here

"Leave, Arra."Bookmark here

"My first job is to help you!" She yells with confidence.Bookmark here

"You don't have a job you stupid little brat! We kept you out for a reason!" He lectures in return.Bookmark here

"What?"Bookmark here

Arrabelle's mouth curls downward in scared surprise. She has no clue what he's talking about, but something about it strikes her poorly.Bookmark here

"You don't have to fight for this, it's meaningless now," Zalach insists, grabbing his broken arm, and leaning it back in his lap.Bookmark here

He looks over to Mountaincleaver. Arrabelle can't see it, but Zalach is sure that the heart still beats softly inside.Bookmark here

"You knew that no matter how it did... this day would've come at some point, right?" Zalach asks her.Bookmark here

He leans over to it, crawling toward his blade as more blood seeps from the stab wound. The dirty slash is made clear as his back turns up, Arrabelle unable to pry her eyes from the unsightly ripping of metal in his battered gear.Bookmark here

He stops and breathes deeply after reaching her... his truest friend.Bookmark here

Grabbing the heavy weapon, he slides the handle back, turning his head over to spot Arrabelle, whose eyes bear great pity.Bookmark here

Zalach holds it out to her.Bookmark here

"It's time to see the world, Arra..." Zalach says, fully aware of a sly callback he's making to time only he and Arrabelle know.Bookmark here

"This isn't what I want anymore, I'm not sure it ever was," Arrabelle admits.Bookmark here

"I know."Bookmark here

The mournful understanding is followed with his signature smile...Bookmark here

Always smiling...Bookmark here

The two lifelong friends sit in silence for a moment, mentally saying their goodbyes to one another, something they could never do verbally, it just wouldn't be right.Bookmark here

As Zalach's thoughts begin to slow, his heart reaching the conclusion to the song it for so long beat, an exceptionally large boom is heard in the Barracks Sector... the doors to the training hall have now been breached.Bookmark here

"Everything's going down, Arra, it's over for this place."Bookmark here

She looks over her shoulder as smoke rises to the black, gray and orange sky, visible only in the pocket of space between buildings.Bookmark here

Mountaincleaver is put right in her face.Bookmark here

"I hope you can recognize her true feelings," Zalach says, hiding his desire to scream countless pleas for her future.Bookmark here

Arrabelle stands up, looking down over her old mentor, who only hangs on in waiting to see his dramatic legacy continue. Her nose is stuffed and runny, something she'll later blame on the poor air quality.Bookmark here

Her hand takes what feels like a year to move, but eventually does, strapping her damaged skin over the old leather handle, and wrenching it up over her back, her other hand running along the ever-smooth surface of its curved spine.Bookmark here

A delayed breeze, drawn out by the shock of nearby combat, blows through the alley, catching her hair, skirt, and frills of the well-worn uniform.Bookmark here

She looks queenly from Zalach's angle, but just the same as a heartfelt goodbye, he couldn't give her some sappy truth. Taking a different approach to it...Bookmark here

"I just saw your panties," Zalach says, using his last chance at friendly embarrassment.Bookmark here

She lets it slide. In fact, she knows what he's really thinking, holding back rare and uncharacteristically delicate tears.Bookmark here

"Get out of here kid... carve a path, right out of this place," Zalach whispers to his greatest apprentice, pushing his head toward the street to the city center.Bookmark here

No words can fall from her mouth without showing something she wouldn't wish anyone see, so she decides simply to walk on, without another comment.Bookmark here

"Ah, one more thing before I head out," he calls out, putting up his hand to beckon her.Bookmark here

"Don't do this, Zalach, just leave it there," she responds, holding back everything.
Bookmark here

"Shut it, ya' punk. I want you to take this to heart, really."Bookmark here

Arrabelle waits, as Zalach nods, beginning.Bookmark here

"I'm saying this to you, not as your mentor, not as a soldier... but a friend. You aren't some kind of freak. There's nothing wrong with you, you got that? Just keep moving, and you will find your stride. It's a little awkward at first, for sure... taking on roles such as ours. But that isn't even all there is, I mean, what, you're twenty now? How many times I gotta tell you, what anybody else thinks, it doesn't fucking matter. It's only you... only what you think of yourself, and that you know you're worth something."Bookmark here

Arrabelle starts to nod quietly.Bookmark here

"-and not as a hand! Not as a head! You're a fucking human being, Arra! For once in your life, understand that!"Bookmark here

She turns around fully to deliver a response of understanding, but he's already gone. With those last words, his eyes closed, and he planted on his face an everlasting smile.Bookmark here

Always with that Goddamn smile...Bookmark here

She drops the blade, and embraces his abandoned vessel, her tears swelling and dropping down onto his metal shell... This moment is only between Zalach and herself... no one will ever hear of it.Bookmark here

The Winds of Change: OutroBookmark here

???Bookmark here

Zalach lays back, the calm yet overwhelming warmth of unconsciousness rinsing away every sin that lie embedded in his flesh-bound life. He surely closed his eyes, embracing the end, but somehow, he still feels.Bookmark here

He opens them back up, finding nothing but pure black: no shade, no texture... just complete nothingness.Bookmark here

His naked body appears in full, but no light touches this place, nothing to illuminate him. Everywhere, up, down, left, and right... Is void.Bookmark here

Slowly, like the flare of the Sun's light against the lens of the eye, the soft shine of a bubble appears.Bookmark here

It's perfect and grand.Bookmark here

Each color seems to bounce off of its form in full scale, swirling around inside the spherical mass endlessly.Bookmark here

Then, as if catching it from nowhere, the birth of a light, expanding from the bubble's deepest heart. The golden hue cuts at the bubble's rim, and trillions of tiny dots push their way through the surface.Bookmark here

"No fucking way," Zalach whispers, breaking the mood.Bookmark here

As it grows and grows, the bubble's form becomes weak, and with a loud, simple, and gratifying pop, Zalach's becomes encompassed in a world of stars.Bookmark here

Tallsoul Residence - Arrabelle - ???Bookmark here

I don't think this was ever how I wanted it to go.Bookmark here

Long ago, I dreamt of some valiant means of obtaining my role in this world; dreamt of all sorts of things I now know to be horrific.Bookmark here

To take up the mantle of a friend lost in death, to carry the weight of their lifetime... what a glorious story, I must seem so strong to an onlooker.Bookmark here

Arrabelle reflects solemnly on what the world brought to her doorstep.Bookmark here

Zalach was right, I can't fight here... but does that mean the only option is to escape?Bookmark here

Arrabelle, no longer trying to hide, stands on a doorstep herself; her own.Bookmark here

The winding paths through the East End lead her to her house, front and center on the Main Road, where most of her neighboring abodes currently lay destroyed. The invaders on the East side are still focused on the assault of the barracks, and any stragglers most likely were drawn down into the East End Residential District, as the Main Road here was practically empty.Bookmark here

She could've strolled off into freedom, but something had to be done first.Bookmark here

In the center of the first floor's hall. The painting still stands.Bookmark here

For the first time in years, Arrabelle faces it head on.Bookmark here

With frail, white skin, her mother's forced smile carries on. Under a sheet of fading black hair, her dull, gray eyes look outward... such a sight she painfully saw in Zalach's final moments.Bookmark here

Arrabelle stares eye to eye with her.Bookmark here

"This is the last time I'll get to see you like this," she sighs.Bookmark here

The painting obviously doesn't respond... and Arrabelle, after withdrawing from her mother's eyes so many years ago, feels she can't even imagine a farewell response.Bookmark here

"I'm sorry things had to end the way they did... I'll never forget it."Bookmark here

Having said her last goodbye, she makes for the door, ready to put Baustas behind her.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.