My Own Paradise
He climbed the high hill with his usual grace, intent on getting to the top. Reaching it, he leaned against the rough bark of the tree there and slid to the grassy ground, contemplating the confusing thoughts in his mind. It was so long, green and fresh; just as he remembered. Everything was just as he remembered. It was so exact that it couldn't be real. But this dream hadn't come with this sense of peace for a very long time.
He let his pale blue eyes scan the horizon that was so familiar, yet almost forgotten. How could he have let the memory of this place slip his mind? Had he fought only for the absence of this memory then? Had he gotten revenge in the name of this place based solely on the anger of having this dream tormented and humiliated out of him?
The tall grasses swayed in the light breeze coming off the lake. Ao no Mizuumi. The hill over looked the glassy surface as well as the house-tops of the small village of his people behind the tree he was leaning against. Their small homes and dirt paths so humble, yet radiating welcome and a comfortable living.
He chuckled bitterly. Yes. He had declared vengeance for these people. This place. His only joyful memories, twisted and tainted by later memories of what the Kutou army did to them. And he made them pay. Just as they deserved.
Nakago looked around again and frowned as the breeze took his hair and ran invisible fingers through it. He held his hand in front of his face. If he had really returned to his memory of his old home then he should be no more than a boy. However, if he had retained his body's shape when he died…
Died. Nakago snorted to himself. So. This is what death is like? Somehow more anti-climatic than he thought it was going to be. He at least deserved the oblivion he always thought was promised him, didn't he? The tranquil sleep? Either that or he would probably go to Hell or something along those lines.
He glared at his hand and then his arm but couldn't decide whether it was a boy or a man's arm. Just like a dream. He knew it was his and could move it as he pleased but couldn't describe exactly what it was that was clothing it, though he knew there was cloth. The odd thing was- it didn't seem to matter.
Even as he pondered over the significance of this bewildering enigma, the reason for pondering such a trivial thing seemed to seep out. No longer wanting to know whether he was a boy or a man, Nakago dropped his arm to the side again. The village was almost calling for him to return: enjoy supper at the fire with his mother, take a walk with Taria through the forest, be happy.
Happy. What a strange thing to think of feeling. He hadn't felt it, allowed himself to feel it, for so very long.
Why? Why couldn't he just cease to exist? Why did he return to this place that had haunted his nightmares? Why didn't this feel like a nightmare anymore?
As he thought of this frustrating questions, he felt them begin to slip away. Angered at the lack of obedience from his own thoughts, he grasped at the questions and didn't let them go. He was a man that needed to know how things worked, and needed to control it.
His mother. She was here. Just as he remembered…but… too perfect. Too exact to the description his heart would give of her. If he even had a heart left.
He looked toward the village again. His gaze passed over the translucent blue smoke coming from the huts, imagining the little gardens and clothes left out to dry. "Why here?" he murmured to himself.
He heard a quiet response from his left just as he sensed another presence. "Because this is where your soul chose to go. This is your heaven."
Whipping around, he confronted the figure also leaning against his tree. She was close, but not touching him. She had one leg out straight and one bent with her arms around it. Her head was bowed and her eyes closed with her long hair tucked behind one ear. "Soi…"
"Yes, it is I, Lord Nakago," she raised her head presently and tilted it so she could admire the water of the lake. She whispered, "You have a beautiful heaven, Nakago." A wistful expression passed over her features.
"What are you doing here Soi?"
She winced and looked down at her knee that was swathed in loose, white pants again. Her attire was simple with the white pants, sleeved tunic and sandals. The only piece recognizable in her outfit was the red sash around her waist. "I am here to explain things to you in the capacity of the last death you regretted, even slightly." She smiled a tiny, sad smile there. "I suppose I should feel honored."
Abruptly she looked up and stood up. Not liking the advantage she had on him there, he followed suit. "You know how this-" he gestured to the landscape "-came to be? You haven't been dead that much longer than me. By all means though, enlighten me."
"You don't understand. Time is not a factor here. If you think of the world when you were alive and list its factors you would say: matter, energy, thought, forces, etc. You would also include time in there. But here there is no time. There really is no matter or forces either, but our comprehension does not reach that far."
"But I can count how many seconds it takes you to say this. Surely you don't believe that there is no time here. Such a place can not exist."
"Can you, Lord Nakago? I suppose you can. If you chose to limit yourself. A second can take a minute or a million years depending on whose counting. Relative to our former reality, there is no comparison. You say that I died not long before you. I have knowledge of this and you know it to be true as well, and yet I have been here for such an extent I can no longer tell you when I arrived because when does not exist. You can not tell me when you arrived, can you Lord Nakago?" She finally turned to him, her gray eyes unaccented by the paint she used to put around them.
He stared unemotionally into those eyes for a moment, raking his senses for the answer to her question. He found that she was right. It wasn't as if he had forgotten, or that it was unimportant, as his self-inquiries had seemed to silently declare themselves earlier. It was as if the answer just had never existed. It felt as if the question shouldn't exist either. Maybe it didn't.
For that matter, the suction at his mind had stopped. He could think normally with out his thoughts fading or losing priority.
Soi nodded, seeing her answer in his expression. "Now it is time for you to get the rest of the answers you want that I am able to give you."
"Who is it that decides what information you can and can not depart with?" he jumped on her words.
"No. It's not that. I will tell you everything I myself know and was told."
The wind once again swept across them, taking Soi's long, magenta hair and making it flow and ripple behind her with every gust. Nakago looked away from her and watched the water of the lake try vainly to escape the rough breeze in small waves. "Then tell me. What did you mean when you said that my soul chose to come here?"
"It did. You did. This is heaven to you. What your soul needs to be content and happy is all right here. That is the point of living. When you die, your soul picks out your favorite memories, the ones where you were the most satisfied with life, and puts together your own personal paradise. Which is why life should be lived to it's fullest for every person."
"Then there is no God? No gods that rule and judge whether and individual person deserves this heaven that they create?" He half-smiled in amusement.
"No, not exactly. Seiryu and Suzaku are gods. But they are gods of life, of the living, and have no control over our souls once we have become separated from our flesh. I don't know how this system came to be, if you can really call it a system. We control our utopia of fantasies to a certain extent, but here you can not control other's paradises usually." Soi laid a hand on her breast, "This is one of the exceptions, Lord Nakago. For those that are not content to live in a fantasy with out understanding, we are sent. I, again, don't know why it is the last regretted death that comes to the summoning, but it is believed that it is the mind or heart that calls that person over. Some last instinct makes them pull on that buried scar, perhaps."
"Last instinct…that is plausible. What are the 'extents' of controlling our heavens, exactly?"
She turned to look past the pine tree toward his village. It was a strange sensation for Nakago. His village, people, mother and then Soi were from two different times in his life. Two different realities for him. To see them together was almost disorienting. It wasn't the violation he might have expected it to be, but odd just the same. A glance into his mind by her and a mixing of feelings that went with the two separate representations of his two separate lifetimes by him.
Oblivious, she went on, "Well, as I've said, the soul picks apart our memories, not our dreams or ambitions. Once you die, you stop changing. You have been but you will never be again in that life, so your potential dies with it. If your dreams don't come true during your life, or your dreams ended up making you miserable, then they will not be included in your afterlife. You will never look beyond the age at which your body died, for you don't remember appearing that way," she grew quiet for a moment and continued staring at his home and the surrounding lands. "I know you wanted to rule the world, Nakago. Be a god of both worlds. That it was your dream, what you wanted. I'm afraid it can never happen here, because you don't remember being a god. Also because you can not really rule anyone here."
He was silent for a while as well before he closed his eyes and gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. "It does not matter any more. Go on. You can't rule or control anyone here. Is it because this is everyone's paradise?"
"In a way, yes. Everyone has his or her own heaven. Everyone's souls make up their own, so technically the people in that village," she swept her hand across her view of it, "aren't really the people you knew. It is what your mind remembers."
His eyes quickly turned to her, startled. "You mean that our 'utopia' is actually made of fantasies? That my mother there is just my memory of her and not the real person?"
"Sort of. It's not that simple, Lord Nakago. Please, don't be angry with me. That woman," she hesitated, picking out the appropriate words, "your mother, is your mother. It is her image, personality, and spirit as you remember her and she will react as she would from those being pieced together. It is not her soul that resides in your heaven though. Every person has their own version of paradise, as I have said, but a problem arises when you put souls together. There is conflict between the two paradises. For some, they need nothing more than to remain with another soul for an eternity of happiness, and so their heavens mesh. Sometimes they share the same one, or similar ones. That is another example of the exception. People can't change their paradise to suit them if they never experienced what they want to add. If the want to be with another soul is strong enough, if it is mutual and there is no major conflict between their ideal worlds, then things and ideas from one soul can cross over and be introduced to the other one. Sometimes, whole towns might share the same utopia, though it is very rare, and, having lived with out conflict, will spend their afterlives in the same manner as their lives but with individuals adding a unique touch here and there. That is the only way for a dead person to experience something new. Well, maybe not the only way, but it is the only way for something new to be put in your paradise. Do you understand, Lord Nakago?"
"I understand, but I don't see how it works, how humans could accept only a carbon copy knowing that they made the person with just their fantasies. In my experience, people want it all and are never satisfied with cheap copies or unauthentic fulfillments to their desires. Maybe those lacking confidence would receive the fake world and all it's empty people and be grateful for it, but surely there are others that won't be appeased by soulless clones," he turned to look at her form in challenge. He knew all these things to be true about the pathetic race known as man. How much could the species change from life to death? Especially when your afterlife is taken from your life in the first place.
"You are correct that humans- living, breathing humans- would not find satisfaction with spending their afterlife with only shadows. Yet, you are thinking within the boundaries of your material world and flesh body again. This place," her gaze swept back to the lake before tentatively meeting his piercing gaze, "this is the heaven you made and whether you know it or not, it is where you were and will be most happy. You will have noticed all your conflicts and questions seem to leave you? As if they are mist and the wind off this lovely little lake simply blows them away?"
"A most disconcerting experience," he agreed, prompting her to continue.
"Yes. It is the nature of this place. All these places. While living you are always looking for more, for better things. You always desire something greater. Some call it greed, but with out it nothing could be accomplished. If no one wanted to improve their lives, no one would work and the race would die out. If no one wanted to understand the world, if there was no curiosity, then there would be no books, research or advancements. A living human by nature wants. They fulfill their needs, but will forever want. When that human dies, that want almost completely dies with them. These places, their heavens, exert a force of their own, an overwhelming feeling of contentment. They know longer need or want to understand the whys and hows. Just the desire for that knowledge is gone. Not unwelcome when learned, but you can exist without it. The same with material things. If you wanted something when you were alive; if you had it and it is not here then it never pleased you in the first place. If you didn't have it, then you will no longer want it because you can exist without it now."
"What you are saying is that my dream of ruling Kutou, ruling the world is gone. That even though it came true and I ruled Kutou, that it wasn't what I wanted? What I spent my life trying to gain is-"
"No," Soi interrupted, "You wanted it. You got it. It never made you happy though. Life is the pursuit of happiness, as you yourself have said before. The definition between happiness and satisfaction is a thick line. Ambition and enjoyment. This is the place you were happiest. You have no one to blame but yourself, Lord Nakago," she added hesitantly.
"And the ones who made my life miserable? What about them? I have suffered because they made me suffer. I am who I am because they made me this way. Do they have a paradise as well? Of course. This system is indiscriminate, isn't it?"
Soi hung her head, "Yes, they have their own paradises. But you are wrong. You are not who you are because they made you that way. You are who you are because of what life threw at you and how you endured it. You dealt with it as you chose and that decided what kind of a man you became. Nakago, you weren't an evil man!" her voice shook with conviction. "Yes, they did affect your outcome, but they didn't decide who you'd be. You weren't evil, though. There is no such thing. You did your best and look what the result is!" She gestured dramatically to the distant mountain of violet mist, the shimmering lake, the cozy village behind the trees and the wild surrounding them.
"Why is it that I can think straight, like a human right now?" he murmured, ignoring what she said.
Retreating to her calm, informative mode, she brushed away the earlier passion and answered, "I am here. When I leave you will be left to the forces of your heaven again. This is just so you will understand. Some of the need to understand the world around us remains and that is why we explain to each other what we can. So that it does not disturb our tranquillity."
"I see," he responded. "Soi, if this is not my mother's paradise, than what is? She knew nothing else."
A glaze passed over her gray orbs. "You are half right. Her heaven is this place, but it is too different than yours. There is a factor that would cause you great conflict, unless you could learn to overcome your hatred. There is another soul with her…"
Nakago was silent.
"Your father, Nakago. She is with your father, but you are there, too. Just as you have your mother here, they have you there. If you can accept him, accept them, than your soul can join theirs."
"I thought that you couldn't learn anything here. Would that not include forgiveness?"
"Because time does not exist, your thoughts mellow out. You don't necessarily learn forgiveness, it just comes with understanding. You come to understand yourself more, and admit more truths to yourself about everything. What you blamed a person for might, on the pure reflection here, not be something you hold against them any longer."
He gave a wry laugh. "I get it. I'll go into a daze when you leave and forget that I killed him. That he abandoned my mother for death."
"You will not forget. You will understand." She contradicted quietly.
Nakago's eyes hardened. "I don't see how."
"Then you will never reside with their souls in peace. It makes little difference in the end but try not to close your heart to the idea. You may change your mind when I leave."
"When I'm brainwashed you mean," he snapped, but managed to stay calm at the same time. They were both soundless for a couple minutes, not looking at the other. Finally Nakago smirked, dropped his eyes and sighed. His smirk faded. "I apologize Soi. You've already explained that to me. Tell me more. I want to know everything. Can we find out what is happening to those that are living?"
"Yes, sort of. The difficulty is that there is time there. It affects us here. If we look at their lives with out concentrating, we could look into any part of their lives. Most of us prefer to look at them in intervals. Every time we peek we look at the life of that person one week or month after we last did. From their timing. You just think of them. There is no magic pool or cloud. It's just a way of knowing."
Nakago chose not to experiment for now. He half-heartedly sneered, "Can you tell me what is happening right now with our favorite people, the Suzaku seven, and the priestesses?"
"There is no 'right now' but I can tell you what happened a week after you died, if it would please you, Lord Nakago?"
"Yes," he said with another amused smirk.
"Very well," she said, closing her eyes in concentration, "Lady Yui is walking down a street in the real world with her school books in her arms, in deep thought. The Suzaku priestess, her brother, Tamahome and another young man are in one of those wagons with out horses that you showed me in Tomo's shin. They seem happy."
"Heh. I will have to keep my eye on them. If I still have the will to do so later."
"If you have no more questions, Nakago, I shall leave you to your peace," she said, looking away in pain.
Nakago caught this expression. "I do have one more question. Where will you go? Back to your paradise where perhaps another shadow of me is waiting with open arms and a cold bed?"
"Oh, Nakago. How I wish that were the case," Soi stared across the water unfocused. Regret and sadness washed over her lovely features. "I could stand spending eternity with my fantasies. I am one of the weak, unconfident souls that would be grateful and take it, if I could get it," the edges of her eyes crinkled as they flooded with tears. She let out a small sob and looked him in the eye. "I do love you Nakago! But it isn't enough," her head shook back and forth as he waited for her to continue stoically.
Gaining control of herself, she did so, "You were the only good thing in my life. The only person I ever loved in any way, the only one who was ever kind to me. It wasn't enough though. I made a mistake. I lived for you instead of me. At the time I thought that my options were to live for you or not live at all. I loved you but I was never happy. You gave me no happy memories and any love I had for my family was tainted beyond repair when they sold me," she was breathing slightly ragged, but she was in control. She was looking at Nakago, but not seeing him.
"I told you that we need our happy memories to create our heavens. I did not lie. While I was on the cusp between life and death, falling over the rim, my mind tried to peace together one for me, and you are right, you were in it. But my soul was restless and couldn't find the right elements for me to be forever content. I haven't lived enough. I remained there for awhile and all this was explained to me," she paused here, reminiscing, "I stayed there a long time. Yes, time. For I kept my mind with you until you died and have been resting here ever since. I don't know how long I've been here. I don't remember when I came."
"You haven't answered my question, Soi. If you can possibly get away without having your own paradise, have you come to exist in mine?"
"No. It is yours. It is not my place to intrude unwelcome. I told you, I am here only to explain. As for your question; I will go with the other 'disturbed' souls that had no chance to live. The other children that never knew happiness." There was finality to her words that whispered to him not to ask more.
The wind changed and blew against their sides, sending Soi's unbound hair once again dancing in the air. The silky tips just touched his hand as he thought.
"Thank you, Soi. For explaining. You know that I have been hated, used and lied to most of my…existence. So have you. I don't presume to imagine how you managed to remain unspoiled by your bitter tastes of life. When you proclaimed you loved me, I didn't believe you entirely. Others have declared the same thing and changed their minds for obvious reasons or were lying in the first place. Many have said those empty words; 'I love you'. Those weak emotions…"
Soi winced again.
"Ayuru!" Came a call from the path to the village. "Ayuuuuruuu!"
Nakago turned to face the voice of his mother. "…What's ironic about this is that it was those 'weak emotions' that caused my downfall. That defeated me and ruined my hopes. Of all those lies of 'I love you' and similar sentiments, though," he start to walk slowly down the hill toward his home, never looking back at the spirit behind him, "Of all of them, in the end, the only one I knew wasn't lying or exaggerating, was you…"
Standing at the top of that grassy hill, still watching him stride down the slope, Soi's eyes began to fill with tears again at his good bye.
"…Perhaps one day, Soi, when you are happy, we may come understand each other better as well. Maybe we will meet again, and share a world… but there is no time here, is there? There is no 'one day'…"
Nakago's shadow in front of him suddenly lengthened considerably, outlined in an ethereal white light. Turning around to Soi again, he witnessed her still standing there, tear-filled gray eyes gazing at him in loving pain, with a pure white light too powerful, too something, to be of this world, shining behind and a bit to the side of her.
The light of Life.
It grew in size and brightness, all but engulfing the Seiryu warrior Soi. 'Kaen,' was whispered in his mind, 'Kaen'.
"There may be no 'one days', Nakago…Ayuru… but maybe we will… one heaven…" Her spirit said hoarsely, hopefully. Then, to his sight, her body disappeared and was replaced by a transparent light, out-shone by Life's luminance a step away. The human soul in it's truest form.
The radiating light that made his sunny paradise fade away embraced her. Through it, or maybe in it, Nakago could see a woman. Covered in sweat and breathing hard, her hand was being held by another. Nakago realized that he was witnessing a birth. In Lady Yui's world, no less.
Soi's spirit light floated towards the bulge in her enormous stomach. Her last words for him entered his thoughts as if they were his own, 'This is what happens to children that never know happiness. We are reborn. Given a new life to try and live. Goodbye Lord Nakago…my love…'
Her soul entered the womb just as the woman gave a scream at the pain of the recent convulsion. A hand matching the one she was holding came up and brushed away her light red hair from her damp brow tenderly. She smiled weakly at him as she relaxed for a moment. She was having a baby. Their second child. A little girl for them to cherish. And her name…her name would be…Kaen…
Nakago gave a half smile as Life's light disappeared.
"Ayuru! Where are you!"
He began a light jog the rest of the way down the hill and through the woods. To reconcile with his father… After hating him and all his kind so long. He then felt his hate start to seep away. He had done what he had to do at the time and…
"Ayuru! There you are! Come in and have something to eat!"
"Yes mother. Thank you," he wondered briefly if his mother still saw him as the little boy she knew and loved or as Soi had seemed to see him, as a man. Then, it just didn't matter.
'Perhaps one heaven…I will reunite with all of them… the ones I… loved…"
He let his paradise invade his being and, for once, felt…content.
Icy B. Discordia
A.N.: Could some one give me a better title? I don't like this one