He shut the door, leaning against it for a moment, resting. He could still feel Cade's continuous cursory brushes over his shields, but he kept them clamped down. Cade would not cease seeking permission to answer – but he kept refusing it. His brother need only see the hate and the arrogant anger and pride that had always been at the forefront of his mind since this disaster started.
He straightened with a sigh, turning and making his way to the bed. He ran a hand over the coverlet before carefully sitting down. It would do no good for Cade to see what lay beneath the shields.
But then perhaps Cade could make sense of it. Could tell him why the structured, organised world he had built with all of its safeguards and traps for intruders – perhaps his brother could tell him why there were cracks and chasms in it, marring its invulnerability. Perhaps his brother could explain why everything that seemed so certain was teetering now, their foundations inexplicably crumbling.
He closed his eyes again, wincing and resting his head in his hand. It would not be long now. He would be gone to what reward he deserved, and Cade would no longer forced to choose between his brother and his duty – between family and honour. Milana and her friend – Terik? - could again rest easy. They could sleep comfortably at night, could dream of their homes and family and of the world when the war was over.
He breathed in sharply. Where was his home? A stone room, iced from years of his habitation? A harsh word and another chore? Had he been predestined from birth to play this role – to play the villain to his brother's righteousness? When Milana thought of her home, it wasn't with disgust – she wanted to return. She longed for the company of her family again. So many others were the same – so many others desired their family's presence. And yet, he was glad they were gone – glad that he had destroyed them all.
He grimaced, gritting his teeth against the pain that stabbed through him. Some slipped through a widening crack in his shields, and he abruptly tightened down his defenses again as Cade reached out to him for a moment before returning to whatever he had been doing before. This was such as he deserved, and so much more. But he would not force his brother to endure the same. A wry smile twisted his lips – perhaps he should have merely allowed Cade access to his mind all of those years; allowed him to feel all that he had felt, to see where he had abandoned his elder brother. That was the crueler torment – and he knew in his heart that was why he had never done it.
Perhaps in the future Cade would at least forget him. If he could keep his shields locked down now as they always had before – if they would serve him well one last time – then he could leave Cade with just the world to fight for, not the memory of a brother that should be remembered with anger and hate rather that the sorrow and love his brother would undoubtedly feel. He could never ask forgiveness, never deserving it – but to be forgotten? To fade away with all his mistakes? To be left in peace at last somewhere? An underserved mercy itself...
He lay down, curling up tightly. He knew that it was hardly enough to stave off the sickness or the pain – but he couldn't help the instinctive action. Even the broken reached out for some sort of comfort, and the undeserving for quiet. He was so cold, so freezing; and he lifted his hand to see if even his powers had turned against him in disgust, as they should have done long before.
He prayed, and he smothered his pleas. He asked forgiveness, and mocked himself for being so weak and selfish as to ask for that after all he had done. He lifted up his hands, and knew that none would reach down to the level to which he had fallen. He quietly – loudly? He could no longer tell after all this time – asked for mercy, but knew that none could be given to one such as him; and could not bring himself to take it even were it offered.
He could feel his stressed shields slip and shatter and he hated them even while he couldn't care. So many years they had been there, tested by 'family' until they were impregnable. So many years they had stood as a buffer between him and the rest of the world – and they had finally surrendered; had finally been asked too much.
And yet he was falling, uncaring. He was standing in the centre of a burning city, watching the destruction he had wrought bring down his own mind. Perhaps the original fires were not of his own making – but he had not put them out. Never surrender? Never give up? Never let another see weakness lest it be used against you? And he had failed at those basic rules as he had everything else. He had surrendered and given up, and he had let another use and manipulate him. He wished now that he was stronger – that these foundations had not so readily broken. Were they even his buildings anymore. Was this city – this ruin – his ever?
He fell to his knees on the stone ground – distantly wondering if this was where he would die, lost within his own mind. The smoke was suffocating him, and he could hear the screams of the people again – could hear the cries of those he had beaten and broken. There were rivers running through the streets, and he could smell the blood and the tears – and he wondered how he had missed this. He looked around at the aged and continuing destruction around him, and he knew that he had not missed it – he had hastened it. He had pulled the city down atop of him while pretending all was well – had sought to bring about his end and his just deserts.
The end would hardly bring him peace, but it would leave his brother and his people free. He could feel panic on the other end of the telepathic link, and he harshly pushed his brother away. Cade need not see him die – he would want to save him. The boy could not understand that sometimes death was better – he would want to save him. He would pray and would try to heal him – and he didn't want that. He wanted this all to end. He reached for the emptiness that death would bring, even knowing what waited beyond that particular river. He felt as if he was being torn apart with pain, and couldn't tell if it was physical or spiritual anymore – but it hardly mattered. It was all he had ever – or would ever – know. Death would be a mercy, and he hated himself for knowing this.
He knew there was someone else with him in this dying city. There had always been someone else locked herein with him. The voice was gentle, always calling him. There was disappointment, and sorrow – but the voice promised no condemnation. It promised hope and life; but he wrapped his arms tighter around himself, still kneeling. That voice was still beyond a wall, and he could not find the door now even if he tried. The voice promised a rest and a family – but he pulled away in fear, even as he leaned closer in longing.
He closed his eyes tightly, opening them again to see Cade leaning over him. And so it would end, if he was afforded any mercy. Since the Lord would not break down the wall that had been built around him, could not reach the man that had fought to never surrender – he would die. He would die regardless, but now he would die alone in the ruin he had created. It was all he could admit asking.
Seven-times tried, silver is tarnished -
A broken, soft metal with a beauty cold.
Easily forgotten, a stone in the dark,
A passing rock sitting next to gold.
What use is silver? What is it's worth
When it's easily trampled and divers weights sold?
Sterling is lasting, and stains can be cleansed -
The silver-crowned heads more wisdom hold.
AN: Nope, COMPLETELY off. But I actually like this one, so I'm not going to bother rewriting it. Sorry... Cade's poem worked much better – but Ryden's is better as a whole. 12-15-2015