Standing atop the roof of the Usual Restaurant, Setsuna smiles to herself. She's not in that room guarding a door that never opens. There's morning sunlight warming her face. She told off Diablo after attacking him unprovoked and got away with it. In fact she's not been in this good of a mood since the other Senshi where on Twisted. Of course that fact makes her frown slightly. Letting out a soft sigh, the Guardian lowers her gaze to the street below as she watches people heading out to start their days. It's a good day.
Change is only ever positive, by nature; that the world shifts upon its axis is an indefatigable truth, carrying with it the weather and the seasons, ending and beginning lives. Through those lives, evolution. Why is it, then, that the very beings who benefit most from this cycle are so besotted with a return to their roots - with memory, and with nostalgia? As far as one comes, there is ever the wish for a return to the old and good, and ever an enjoyment of that which NEVER changes...
Through the glow of the rising sun comes what can only be described as a 'murmur'. A whisper on the winds, the undercurrent of which carries a powerful pulsation running to the deepest of senses. Twisted's beautiful Guardian may feel the hairs prickling upon her neck, she may think - for a moment - that she hears a voice beneath the breeze. Quiet, confident but humble. It says her name.
And then, amidst the crowd below, a pair of eyes belonging to a simple bystander flash upward. She's nothing to look at, just a woman clad in jeans and a lightweight jacket, her dark hair pinned back by a comb and her eyes a not-unpleasant shade of brown. No... look closer. As they catch the light, irises glow a burning amber, flashing with a distant recognition. A beat later, the woman is gone.
This time it carries beyond the breeze, the soft and familiar voice of a woman long lost to this realm. Turning will reveal a far stranger figure perched upon the rooftop, slender limbs esconced in the folds of a dark purple robe. Within the hood, amber eyes blaze with a subdued fervour that seems almost to look directly through the Guardian. Wisps of hair, once dark, fall grey and lifeless against the outer portions of cloth. The Diaduin Emepherea shakes gently as she crouches, as if with a palsy - and her aura! If she felt ageless before... now, she simply feels old.
"It's good to see you."
There's a creak to the tone too, and as the errant goddess straightens, her bones protest. She reaches up with quivering hands to cast down her hood, and there are the wrinkles; careworn, her face is that of a matriarch indeed, and one who has borne many burdens. Still, it's unmistakably Emi, the creases beside her eyes and the lines upon her cheeks highlighting that same, gentle smile. Her spirit is undimmed, perhaps even brighter than it was at their last meeting. A good day? It may be.
The Senshi's expression changes swiftly as she watches the figure make its way towards her. Her named whispered softly causes her to frown as her mind momentarily considers the possibility that someone has come for her for leaving her post once more. There's guilt in that decision and it's not something she reflects on lightly. All of that vanishes as the last person she expected to see suddenly stands behind her. While it's still not clear how or why, the emotional attachment to the one she credits her creation almost forces her to break her stoic attitude.
Setsuna says, "M-moth..." She catches herself with a blush as if saying the word would get her in more trouble than all of her transgressions combined. "My Lady, how good to see you. How may I assist you this day?" Emi was, after all, a member of a Council she respected and saw as her superiors. Her responsibilities must always come first, even when dealing with family."
Emotion. It's been so long since Emepherea was able to express it; her existence has been one entrapped, bound to a purpose and bound to another's successes and failures. At noticing the crimson seep through her daughter's cheeks, her smile tightens and she reaches one frail hand to her forehead, fingering aside silvered strands to find the object that rests there, as it always has - and finding nothing. Her smile falters, and amber eyes glimmer as her own feelings swell.
They've all lost so much. They've carried so much with them...
"Mother," she speaks the word with a shake of her head, pale skin shifting loose against cheekbones that at least remain the same. There's a quality to her aged appearance that a few possess, a childlike vestige persisting in the dimpling of cheeks and the expressive shift of her features. Old, so burdened, but not truly tired, the Diaduin steps forward and places her hand upon Setsuna's shoulder. It falls low, shaky fingertips just above the collarbone, her palm resting flat. "Mother is more than acceptable, Setsuna. You owe me no assistance, nor fealty."
There's a pause, and a sigh, as Emi looks over the Guardian's shoulder and swallows delicately. Amber eyes are wide and damp as they roam back to Setsuna, confiding and trusting as they have always been; but touched no longer with the fury of purpose, the need to be a figure of power and authority.
It may be the first time that she's appeared truly... human, to Setsuna. If she ever might.
"Just tell me how you've been."
Unable to help herself, Setsuna smiles and nods as forced habits are dismissed - if even for a moment. She sense something is amiss, but not enough to read the clues written all over Emepherea's face. She watches her carefully with a raised eyebrow trying to make sense of it - but abandons it the moment she's asked to speak. "I am... Well." There's a smile again on her lips that might have been forced. It's obvious she's hesitating to speak. Worries about what might be too much to speak about are creeping into her thoughts. She's broken a lot of her own taboos. It would probably do well for her to realize most of them no longer apply.
"I've been trying to protect Twisted in your absence. You know what it's becoming? It's almost there now." She speaks of course of the world's slow shaping into that of Chronos caused by its connection. "A particular someone makes it difficult..." The Senshi keeps from speaking his name, least he hear this conversation. "...is that why you've come? I do not regret what I said to him - or that I attacked him. He's taking too many liberties to this world and its people." She almost seems to grow taller as Setsuna focuses on protecting this world, a trait her mother would probably be proud of. "Someone needs to stand up against it."
A frown gradually touches Emepherea's wrinkled brow as she watches the play of thoughts within Setsuna's face, and though the smile is slow to fade it may be all too clear that she's concerned. Whether this is taken for a professional investment, or something quite different... well, that becomes equally apparent as her daughter continues on. Emi's hand flexes gently, the shivering subdued by contact with the Guardian; perhaps the ailment is more than simply physical?
"My dear child," she says softly, with a note of playful humour lighting up those profoundly-expressive eyes, flickering a brief glance aside in the wake of the far younger woman's display. "I am... sorry, for leaving, but you make me glad that I did." She draws and releases a breath, lowering her hand finally and folding it with the other across her breast; the sleeves of her robe now shrouding her small, frail body. Already dimunitive, she seems to have shrunk further of late. "You have grown, Setsuna." Suddenly she laughs, merriment resounding through an otherwise time-wearied tone, and that amber gaze sparkles now. "I fear you mistake me, however."
"I asked how *you* have been. Whatever fears you might have, you can speak plain of your feelings." She cants her head to one side, an ages-old gesture that evokes the goddess as a child. Her smile teases further, grows conspiratorial, and there's a subtle shift in the air around them - a similar pulsation to earlier, that grows outward and then continues to ripple subtly about the edges of the rooftop. Silvered hair billows in an unseen, unfelt wind. "Whatever you have done, or mean to do, anything you say here is between *us*. You have nothing to fear."
Setsuna looks away at that statement unable to fully accept it. It's obvious she wants to however. With a nervous biting of her lip she gives in. It is her mother after all. "I'm angry. I'm filled with this desire to help everyone and protect them. I want to see them put in a better place - one that is not solely created to make another look better. I'm also tired of being alone." She looks back with a gaze that implies it was not directed at Emi. "I've outlived the flow of time too many times and now it's locked with the nature of what Twisted has become. Once cannot go forwards or backwards - and no one here understands or grasps this concept." Shockingly she lets herself slump slightly, despite the Garnet Rod still clutched tightly in her hand. "I miss my friends. I miss my family." Does she mean more than just her mother? Does she have FAMILY? "I've had to be underhanded just to be here, leaving the gate in the hands of others who don't deserve the punishment of guarding it... But I cannot maintain my duties and be here as well." Abruptly she sits down and lays her staff across her lap. "I do not know what else to do, mother."
They're as alone as they can be, whilst also overseeing the pleasant morning. It lends the certainty of intimacy to the conversation, and even Emi herself seems to relax a little. She nods in understanding as Setsuna pours out her heart, meeting the hard gaze with a steady one of her own, some of that old conviction still there through the age and the habitual kindness. Of course she understands; they may be mother and daughter, but in many ways they are equals, too. Much of their suffering, and many of their trials, have been shared through the ages of this plane.
When Setsuna slumps, Emepherea shifts her footing, ready to sink down with her until they are both seated. The tiny goddess does so less suddenly, grace fluid through the motion in spite of her physical condition. Her legs fold beneath the robe, joints clacking faintly.
"You could allow yourself a little freedom," comes the reply thereafter, along with a soft little smile that clears all from Emi's eyes but absolute, unyielding compassion. "You have left the gate already, Setsuna. One rebellion, however small, is still that; the rules are broken, aren't they?" Her smile twitches, a pale cheek dimpling. "The greatest asset a world has is the people who dwell there, the people who strive every day to better their own lives. Reach out to them, put your faith in them, and you might be surprised how much of your burden can be lifted. We were not put here to stand alone; the power we wield, it's not to be used selfishly, so why should we be bound to the aether? You've spent so long alone..." She trails off, sadness seeping into old features.
The outward barrier pulsates, and the Diaduin twitches momentarily. The moment passes.
"Perhaps it's time that you were not. Look out there," her tone is inviting, and she gestures to the city streets below, the faint shimmer-haze of the barrier obscuring little. "Do you see none who might fight the same battles we feel forced to? Do you see nobody, perhaps, who might accept the power you wield... and rule in your stead..." Her lips purse, and she leans in, placing both hands now over Setsuna's, upon the staff. Amber eyes bore into the Guardian's. "These are decisions you *can* make, Setsuna. If you make them, I promise you will not be alone."
Setsuna stares at her with concern in her eyes. So much is said that simply go to prove how little Emepherea seems to know about what has just transpired. Instead of interrupting she instead lets her carry on - almost afraid of interrupting her. Maybe she's just missed hearing her speak? Never the less the time comes when she stops and the Senshi must speak. "You've been gone too long... Was it really necessary? I've spoken to him. I've expressed the people's demands for a new Council. I've even reached out people who would be good to begin such a Council. I've made new friends who even now are helping me to allow me to be here so that I can step away from the gate and my duties."
Frowning slightly she looks down at the roof below her and scoots closer so that their crossed legs are nearly touching. "I wanted to make you proud. I've put my duties before everything except my friends and I've tried to keep them close. Like you told me I should." Hesitating only slightly she reaches out a gloved hand and rests it on the Goddess's knee as if scared it would burn her. "Will you be here to see it all end, or are you here for only another fleeting moment?" It's a question she admittedly doesn't want to know the answer to, but she's grown use to the distance. Even if she loathes it.
Emi has undoubtedly changed, far more than the outer shell alone suggests. Once as steadfastly bound to duty as her troubled daughter, the Diaduin seems to be willing to release those same burdens that have caused her body to buckle and crease. She's not shared enough of her past that the Guardian might recall how she was as a child; a rogue deity merely stumbling into her duties, never bound by them, exploring the world and finding her way without the constraint of an abiding order.
"Nothing is necessary."
Her statement stands alone, for a moment, hanging detached from the loaded question posed by Setsuna. The aged goddess glances down at the hand upon her knee; which, to the touch, feels surprisingly strong, if neither heavy nor resistant to the display. Her smile fades, and she looks up with a faint toss of her head, silvered locks brushing wisplike against her shoulders.
"Were we all to stop persevering tomorrow, things would reach an end as they always do. Time cannot be stopped, the world cannot be saved or doomed. Everything we do is a choice, just as those below us," she tips her head toward the street again, the pun pronounced with the flicker of a girlish grin. "Make their own choices." Clearing her throat with a soft 'a-hem', she focuses on Setsuna with renewed intensity. "I am choosing to stay, but not as part of the Council and not..." Words fail her in that instant, and weathered teeth close upon her lower lip. Looking askance, amber eyes grow wide with troubled thought, and then she turns back. The ghost of a smile. "Not as I am, or have been."
The air is almost cold now, the rays of the sun no longer providing their warmth. An unseen breeze once more stirs Emepherea's hair, and it may carry with it the spectre of a real one; there's a strange shift in the atmosphere that suggests as much, as the entire plane reacts to this moment.
"You *have* made me proud," Emi continues quietly, almost cautiously, "But all other things tire me. I have bound my will to this world, and I have used what was left to provide the means of survival to another. What power I have left is... dwindling. I could use it to aid you, but this body-- this person," it sounds like a correction, and pale cheeks flush faintly with shame, as if she forgot - for a second - who and what she was. "I may cease to be. I could live on as a concept..."
There's an 'or'. There must be.
"Or, I can make the choice to just be Emi." That's spoken so plainly that it's disarming, a sweet ring to her tone suddenly so full of life and desire; as if she could want nothing more. "I always wanted to be a normal girl, to live a life full of fear and joy and uncertainty and dreams. And now I have so many more reasons to do that," she pauses, renews her smile - and this time, it's only for Setsuna, not to ease or comfort her but to express love and gratitude. "I have you. I'd be one of those you serve, and fight for, but... perhaps, I could be your mother too. Until the end."
The Guardian looks strangely solemn as she shakes her head in response. "...or I stop being selfish and use the Garnet Orb you entrusted to me and I return your lost youth, taking away your powers and responsibilities." As if on cue the jewel on the end of her staff shimmers. "Which would result in you forgetting about me." Moving her delicate hand once again she grips her Mother's hand, looking deep into her amber eyes. "...and eventually I'll get to be born so that history can repeat itself." It's no surprise she understands her own origins. She has guarded the gate of time far longer than the history of Twisted itself. A history that extends further than its actual physical creation. "As before, once again." She forces a smile, but her eyes are clearly beginning to water. "We cannot keep putting it off forever." An uncomfortable silence hangs in the air as Setsuna waits for her response. Why must she always put her duties first?
Mother and daughter both share that one, perhaps admirable, attribute; others first, their happiness a distant dream lost to literal aeons. In the span of such time as they have spent, the difference between them is difficult to comprehend - in some ways, it no longer exists. Once time is irrevocably entwined with a soul, that soul becomes essentially timeless. To guard time itself, to nurture a world through growth and ruin, one must by necessity release their care for its passage...
Is it selfish to want anything else? When the word is spoken, Emi visibly recoils, her breath catching and heart fluttering dimly in her too-thin chest. A shudder overcomes her that is nothing to do with age, nothing to do with the renewed grasp of ten full aeons upon her mortal-esque form. For one who has only ever sacrificed, to be offered that gift by another? It burns, it sears, and for the first time the little goddess no longer feels selfless. She feels like a compulsive martyr.
"No!" When the word comes, it practically explodes from her thin lips, pallid features drawn and amber eyes bulging in their sockets. Her breath quickens, coming in quick pulses as she fervently shakes her head to and fro. "No, you... you can't..." The protest is there before she can even consider it, her impossibly-vast mind a maelstrom now. Where is the wisdom? Where is the judgement? She has maintained the balance for so long, and now...
...all that remains is fear, and a self-destructive care for the 'girl' before her.
The Diaduin Emepherea has fallen so far, she can only clutch at a straw. For the lack of it, she clutches at the hand around her own, bony fingers entwining, squeezing with a quickly-ailing strength. To express the words she cannot find. Tears blinked back start to fall.
It's a bizarre moment when two people who've existed outside the standard flow of time try to comfort each other. Age and heredity have little to do with these two beings. It's obvious to Setsuna who her mother is and would be, even if her own actions are what pushes Emepherea to become the woman who would one day give her life. The Guardian gazes upon the face she's always known, but yet never truly gotten to know and she forces a smile - reaching up to wipe away a tear from her face. The tiniest bit of makeup coming off onto her pristine white gloves. "Okay. Okay we won't. We'll leave this place to make its own fate and we shall see if our fates allow us to continue so that we save the ones we love."
The woman sighs heavily, hating to see her mother like this. She knew they were only going to be given so many chances to cross paths. She only really knew her for the few years before being handed over to the service of her Queen. "...or, we do this now and the multiverse rewards you for everything you've done and you get to lead the normal life you deserve. Would you really give that away...?" In her mind she finishes the statement, oO(...just to be with me?) But of course Setsuna doesn't say this. She can't. The words hurt too much. This whole situation hurts too much.
Can the many-storied ages of this world culminate, for one who began them all, in a single selfish act? A single choice motivated out of the need for personal gain? In her desire, the Diaduin Emepherea forgot to consider the question. Her soul has long been split in twain, one half bound interminably to the fabric of this plane and the other carried with her, cut away in portions to preserve the balance until she sits now so damaged and uncertain as to be almost mortal...
But there's the inescapable certainty of it all. That even the gods must fall. For a cycle to be complete, all things must end and begin, eternally. An incomplete cycle is nothing but a line, after all; and what manner of god allows their improbably-distant lifetime to end in destruction? There must always be a rebirth, time must always fold in upon itself that everything might exist. Without that defining link through each and every age, without the resonance of an eternal mind dreaming...
"It's... not about rewards..."
Her protest is tiny in the face of time and space, but Emi draws herself up nonetheless, a final shudder setting her narrow shoulders aquiver. How has she grown so tired? How can the ageless age so much? She's already staring at the answer. The Alpha and the Omega, two halves of a whole, endless by their union; the action and reaction, death and rebirth, always there are two. Two that is one. She feels the same bond that Setsuna feels, the same infinitely lonely pain, because they are destined for this-- always have been, and always will be. Yes, it hurts. It hurts because it must.
Without the agony of loss, there can be no love. For this world or any other.
"It's about duty."
Her words come with sudden strength, and though a chill runs through every fibre of her being, the Diaduin Emepherea blinks back her tears and holds straight her brittle back. "If I could," she says more quietly, leaning forward to set her forehead to Setsuna's, the gentle nudge of skin on skin accompanied by a wave of pure energy - sightless, soundless, but there by their union. This is the moment where the twain meets, a fixed point in time. Already the age bleeds from Emi's features, the inevitable occurring without the action that ensures it; because it will, because it must.
~If I could, I would stay with you forever. If I could be cruel, I would damn them all...~
Her voice spreads through the aeons now, through everything, the tiny goddess' bitter promise creating war and strife, friendship and marriage, every good and every bad all at once. The conundrum of every lifeform with a sense of morality - to act for the self, or the good of all, embodied now at the very source of that quandary. This is where it begins. This is where it always began.
"This," she says now more simply, the lines easing still from rumpled flesh. No longer speaking from the heart of power, but as what she will be and is; a mortal, afflicted by the same fears and doubts. "Is what I've been running from. From the cruelty of my duty, from giving up everything for the sake of others. I thought I was being forced by my father and mother, that I ran from a pair of tyrants who would lock me in a cage - loved by all, but never free. I was wrong."
She laughs suddenly, but it's a mere breath on the winds upon the rooftop. Her barrier has fallen away without need for thought; she no longer has the power to maintain it, relinquishing that as she both relinquishes and embraces her godhood. Because that too must end. Everything passes.
Pulling away from Setsuna just a touch, she lifts her head and plants a kiss upon the Guardian's brow. She lingers, amber eyes veiled, inhaling the scent of her daughter and allowing calm to fall upon her body - knowing that what comes next is a panicked flight, is fear and uncertainty. She'll come to with a scream, crying and striking out at unfamiliar air, when she is reborn.
"I was running from you. I was running from me. And now I must run again." She draws another breath and pulls away, gently disentangling her hand from Setsuna's. The very real, very mortal breeze stirs her silvered hair, and her amber gaze opens to the warmth of the sun. Then, Emi gives the biggest smile, a wellspring of emotion bubbling through the expression to reach her eyes and imbue her very spirit. "Never forget that I love you, and never forget that you're doing the right thing..."
At the last, her voice cracks, and her lips quiver. Tears spring forth, spilling quickly from her eyes before she can get them closed. Eyelids fluttering, she forces them open anyway, too eager to preserve this final moment before it's all gone; and grateful for it. How many can say they face the certainty of death, knowing the trials to come? How many can prepare in their final moments, without doubt that the future and the past are the same, and hold only what they always have?
This is their gift. This is her reward.
"Do it, Setsuna," she urges, shaking all over, a child's smile quaking to life, "My daughter."
Despite all her training for this, she's not prepared. Lifetimes of knowing she must do this doesn't help the pain she feels inside as that one moment with her mother fails to last long enough. It's not fair for it to begin so suddenly and end so quickly. The whole of time and the moments that matter the most are the shortest. Setsuna doesn't fight the tears that come stinging to her eyes, the vision of Emepherea fighting to do the same is just too much. Instead she nods her head trying to be the ever obedient daughter. Rising to her feet she looks down at the already regenerating form off her frail mother and lets out a sigh which comes from the bottom of her soul.
"With this act we complete the chain which binds this world..." She holds the top of her staff against the Goddess's head, it's violet light already beginning to brighten. "The link which maintains the flow of time in this the place where there is none..." That wind begins to blow again, swirling around the two women as the transfer of energies begin. "With this act your soul is free, the ties that bind are now undone..."
The violet light screams forth blinding the two of them and momentarily echoing the infinite white that the gate of time is hidden within. The energies unleashed are an eruption, a blast wave of positive light. As with all things it's over too quickly and once more the roof of the restaurant and the city beyond is returned. It no longer matters that the person before her is no longer the Goddess she knew. It only matters that her soul is the one that would mean more to her than any other. Despite the confusion it will cause Setsuna drops the Garnet Rod letting it clatter carelessly at her feet and lunges forwards wrapping her arms around her future mother.
"...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Nothing will stop that flow of tears now. The moment is over and she's failed to say the three words that burned inside her from the instant they first crossed paths. To the probable confusion to the person awakening in her arms she says it anyways, "...I love you too."
Tenderness yields to solemnity, the smile fading from Emepherea's lips as the staff falls. The guillotine blade upon an existence long-overdue, severing a lifeline that could only drift to meet itself once more; but with no less finality than if it, simply, ceased to be. In this moment, the ageless woman is no longer shaking nor crying. She holds her breath, and everything stops. Light penetrates that same totality, pure and potent power drowning the Bradhadair - the unextinguishable flame at the heart of this plane's existence. Here, now, she is overwhelmed...
When the Guardian's fervent blaze clears from view, Emi is falling forward. Strange that she has grown larger and heavier than her prior form, but the subtraction of physical years is all too discernable; her skin has gained a touch of colour, and tautened around the cheeks and neck in particular. A few worry-lines remain about her eyes, and her forehead is also faintly marred, but she is clearly from from the gates of the underworld. Odder still, then, that her hair remains a silvery sweep, more robust and blessed with thick, full-bodied life but still marked by an infinite stress.
Still, in Setsuna's arms she is a warm weight, healthy lungs rapidly working to press her insistently and fearfully against this sudden contact. With the clearing of her mind, Emi is instantly panicked, and that newfound strength is brought to bear in a desperate struggle as soon as those soothing words reach her ears. There lingers in the passage from age to youth a dim recollection, rapidly fading, of a torturous quantity of sadness - of terror and trepidation, the power of negative emotion overriding all other concerns. She hears an apology and then she hears the most potent words known to an educated adult mind; she hears that she is loved, but she knows too the source of that pain.
Like a child beaten and bloodied, she yields momentarily and then fights, forcing herself from the Guardian's embrace with a flurry. Amber eyes are wild, almost animal, as she stares at the strange young woman before her. "What have you done to me?" She asks in a rush, her dulcet tone fractured and afraid. Without knowing why, she pulls pale hands from the sleeves of her ill-fitting robe and clasps at her breast and shoulders, then to her hips. Fingers tighten until knuckles glow white, and then she's stumbling back across the rooftop. "Get away from me!"
It comes with an unsure defiance, a hand extended palm out to ward off what she cannot comprehend. Her heart pulsates, emotion leaping into her throat, empowering her to *shriek* her parting words.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Whirling upon bare feet, slicing them upon the harsh ground, the reborn Emi Goodman breaks into a run toward the roof's edge. Overhead, clouds roll across the morning sun, turning the day grey as the horrified young woman scrambles to lower herself to the world below. Her grip fails at the end, and she drops into an ungainly fall to the alley behind the Usual Restaurant, the clatter of a trashcan lid almost concurrent with a pained grunt and the harsh thump of a shoulder impacting awkwardly on asphalt. A few seconds later, the scampering of footsteps takes the Diaduin Emepherea from her daughter's life - and, in a way, from her own. She has been rewarded; and she is alone.
In the awkward silence that follows the only sound on the rooftop is that of Setsuna's sobs. For all of the time that she stood before her gate wishing for company she's never felt as alone as she does at this moment. Her Mother's final words echoing in her ears. No, her Mother's first words. After several minutes she reaches for her staff with a shaky hand. The warmth from the sun making her skin crawl. Gripping it tightly she rises to her feet, pushing the hair sticking to her face from the dampness away. Unable to help herself she looks for the form of Emepherea knowing already that she's gone in so many ways than one. She is now nothing more than one of the many people who reside on this world known as Twisted. With a new determination, Setsuna's knuckles tighten inside her gloves. She will protect this world until her dying breath. It's people now meaning more to her than ever...