Mirth and Shadows

© 2000 by Sofía 'Toffee' Francisco

This page was last modified: 2000/10/21

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"Everyone carries around all the selves that they have ever been, intact, waiting to be reactivated in moments of pain, of fear, of danger. Everything is retrievable, every shock, every hurt. But perhaps it becomes a duty to abandon the stock of time that one carries within oneself, to discard it in favour of the present, so that one's embrace may be turned outwards to the world in which one has made one's home."

(Latecomers, by Anita Brookner)

I was the first one born on that year, and little did I know that I would be the last one to die. It was a good year - the elders said - with good crops and gentle weather. No one remembered a better year for celebrating, and so my birth was turned into a party that encompassed all the Island, and all of its people. I remember that day... as all my people remember their births. There is no forgetting for us, no slow erasing of memories, and no surcease from sorrows deep inflicted. It was a good year, they all said. It was also our last.

We, the people of the Island, never really gave our differences a thought. We lived longer, yet we dwelled over simple things more than the rest of the world did; we loved stronger, and found no jealousies to marr our feelings; we thought deeper thoughts.. and this was perhaps the beginning of it all. We, the people of Mu, were not human... we were just another type of life, and another type of feelings. Humans ignored us for most of the time, or so we thought. As it turned out they had forgotten we existed at all , and so left us in peace. Until they remembered.

It has been a long time, since then. I have had many names in my life, but only one represents my past - the name my mother gave me - Mirth. It was a human word, meaning joy and happiness, it was given to me on the day I was welcomed to my people in one glorious celebration. A celebration that lasted for three days and was over all too soon some said. And I lived my first year as the child of joy and good will. No one knew what would happen months later, no one knew our past would return like that. But it did.

His name was Shion, and he came in peace. He came shrouded in dark clothes and with dark golden eyes, and he gave me a new name, though he did not know it then. Neither did I. But as I look back now I realise that from that day on things changed. I changed them. He filled me with stories of humans and battles that caught my heart and enlightened me in all the pleasures of childlike curiosity. So I ran off one day, wanting to see these creatures that lived less than us, and were so battle-hardened. I found them, of course; or perhaps they found me.

Before the day was over the men - poor superstitious farmers - had found the portal I used to come to them. They held me hostage, rallied a small army together and fell upon us with all the fear and anger of a threatened human. We never meant to hurt them, we were a peaceful race that hated to fight, so no one fought back. Humanity remembered we existed after that. In the years to follow I realised that my name would never be Mirth again, for I had unknowingly killed my people. I needed a new name, but no one knew so no one gave it, save for Shion. He just looked at me, and I knew it. Maybe he too had known. I was guilty.. but I was also alone. The name he gave me had no words I knew then... only years later when he was dead did I realise what it had been: Dishonour.

Most of us died on the first few days, refusing to fight, hoping vainly that there would be a consensus born out of peace and understanding. There was none. In less than a week our small yet peaceful land was turned to dust, and we were forced to leave. They had a fox's cunning, theses humans. Seeing that we lived off the land they burned our crops and covered all our lands with salt. Nothing would ever grow there again. We had only one chance to survive, and it meant leaving.

The Island of Mu was evacuated, and the portals were closed off forever. The few of my kind who made it ran away and lost themselves in the world, dreaming of no dreams, and no memories to hold this day in their minds. But it was locked inside us now, forever. I did not leave with them, however. Shion did not let me go. At first I thought that he wanted me to pay for my crime, for having let the humans find us. Kill us. But he had other plans for me. He just took my hand, the small chubby hand of a one year old child, and led me far away from where we stood. We never returned.

"Do you have a name?" He asked me that night, as we walked up the steep road among a chain of mountains I did not know. I shook my head, not looking up at him. Mirth was not my name anymore. I slipped and he hoisted me up, frowning... and there was that look again. It was like he hated me, yet not quite like it. I saw pity in his eyes, and pain. I did not understand the teary brightness in them though. He pulled me into his arms and carried me during the rest of the night.

When I woke up we were no longer moving. Shion had stopped on a wide flat piece of land among the towering mounts, and had set up a camp. I looked at him, at the sorrowful expression on his face, framed by a mane of strange metallic-grey hair. There was something regal and self-possessed in his stance that spoke volumes of this man's upbringing.

"I can't just keep on calling you child..." Of course he knew... names were something important to our people. We would often have many names, and they were always given to us when our own no longer suited. But there had been no one to give me a new name when all joy left my heart. Only him.

"Name me," I defied him, perfectly aware of what this meant. If he were to name me then he would become my parent, from then on. I was an orphan, and those, too, were renamed when taken in. He regarded me steadily, and sighed.

"Stand up," I did as he ordered, and all of a sudden he was kneeling in front of me. He put his hand on my forehead, brushing the twin spots that marked out my race, and spoke the words: "Under the gaze of the stars, I name you." The ritual for one's first name, and the significance was not lost on me. New names did not erase the past, they just made us richer. But this was different, this was to be my first name, my true name. I would have no past before this one. It was an aberration, but I accepted it, because I could not stand the guilt of my sins. I looked up at him, waiting to hear him speak, to know whom I was to become.

"Rise... Kage."

I was dumbfounded. What did it mean.. this new name? "What.. what did you call me...?"

"Shadow... in a language called Japanese."

Shadow? Shadow!? Oh... the irony of this name, that it was my first name yet it meant I was nothing but a shadow. A reflection of what could have - or should have - been the truth. I didn't protest though. It was a fitting name.

* * *

Things became rather peaceful then. I had known my people - and particularly those of my kin - had had a talent for mind powers, like telekinesis and such like. Shion took it to an entirely different scale; he had it mastered down to perfection, and was as dangerous as he was silent. He also wanted me to learn all of this, from him. But I was too young still, he said. So he built a spire at the edge of the plain, using only his mind, and told me that this would be my home from now on. This would be my land.

He would come and go, in the years to come, teaching me only theory and spending his nights looking up at the stars. He gradually warmed to me, too, as I grew older and more capable. I had caused him so much pain... he, too, grieved for our people and our Island. I knew he should hate me, yet his eyes grew softer and softer each time he visited me. I used to talk to him, even though he rarely answered back, telling him of what I had learned and seen. I stayed away from humans, but observed them from time to time. Their young grew slower than ours... yet they lived shorter lives in general. Shion would smile sometimes, and nod.

"When will you train me, really train me?" I asked on one of these visits, when I was five years old. He gave me a long appraising look and then sighed.

"Next year maybe... I want you to be stronger."

And I did my best to become stronger. For he had raised me, he had given me a name and he had given me a home even though I had destroyed the land of our people. I realised, much to my surprise, that I had grown to love this quiet warrior.

On my 6th birthday, he announced to me that my training would start, that I was old enough. I was happy that day, but he was sadder than ever. "It's the way it must be," he muttered softly when he thought I wasn't listening. These words would haunt me even years later.

I learned a lot, all in all. All of humans, their legends, and their lands. I also learned of Shion's cause, of his Goddess, and what I would become.

"Healers," he said softly. "Are the less frequent and most needed. Only us, the people of Mu, can do this. You will heal humans, and these." He gestured towards his Cloth, a golden ram that shone like the sun. I felt its power... the low hum that ran along each curve and each small disguised rune. Yet I could not understand how I would heal it.

"Why only us?"

"We are the descendants of those who forged these clothes, centuries ago. It is more than just knowledge, it runs in our blood, just like violence runs in a human's heart. Those marks upon our foreheads... they are what is left of our ancestors' Third Eye, that could see into souls, and give life to the non-living."

"Like give life to metal?"

"The Cloths are not made of a simple alloy like metal... There is blood and starsdust in their making, but yes, that is the concept."

I learned all of these things, and remembered them as our kind did. Forever. The look never vanished from his eyes though, and this hurt me more than anything else. To erase this pain I strove to please him every time, until I was once again proven to be a failure. Try though I would I could not learn to heal either the living or the nonliving. I simply could not.

"It is a matter of heart, Kage," he would whisper to me sometimes, as he stroked my hair and gazed at me with his elegant and soulful eyes. A matter of heart, he said. I was only a shadow... How could I even dream of having heart enough to heal others, if my own soul still writhed in agony every time I saw my face reflected back at me?

"Yes, teacher." He smiled, seeming to like being called that. So I did it often. But I still could not heal a single thing. He was never reproachful about it either, and his simple acceptance of my incompetence maddened me, adding to the humiliation my soul carried already.

I would have liked to stay like this for a long time... just living and learning beside him. Things were not meant to be this way though... and I didn't see it coming. Looking back I can remember the warning signs. His silence grew deeper and more brooding, his eyes shone sadder than ever, but he never said anything, so I passed it off. Until he came to me one day, eyes glimmering with tears and knelt in front of me. I was eight years old and growing, but he wanted to be at eye level to me this time.

"Kage... listen to me... I will have to go soon, for good. I will not come back... No, don't interrupt me! You must stay here. Stay and complete your training. Learn to heal," he was rambling, pale as a ghost.

"But teacher! I don't know how to do it! You can't go now..." Shion put his finger over my lips, pressing his forehead to mine as a father would do with his child.

"You know all the theory, all I can teach you. The rest is up to you. You are no longer a child... maybe you never were.. but you must listen to me. Sometimes..." he drew in a deep breath. "Sometimes you must let bad things happen, so good things can appear. This is one of these times... There is a balance in everything, Kage. Light and dark... sun and moon... always. I cannot stop this from happening... just like I could not save you."

That stopped me. "Save me?"

Tears fell from his cheeks then, and he bit his lip. "I am sorry, Kage. I had to do it."

"Teacher... what are you talking ab--" again he silenced me, this time more firmly, and breathed in deeply.

"I knew what would happen when I told you all those stories, back in Mu. I knew what would happen the day you left to see humans... and I let it happen..." His voice trailed off as he saw the cold hatred my eyes must have reflected.

"I thought... you... hated me... you let me believe it was... my FAULT!" I cried out, clawing at him desperately. He just drew me into his arms, like he had done all those years ago as he carried me up to this place. I fought back but ended up crying into his shoulder. He stroked my head and tightened his arms around me each time I sobbed.

"It wasn't... not directly. It had to be that way... just like you had to become my heir. Destiny chose... and I found you. I'm sorry... It was my fault... It was I who..." He could not go on... and he didn't need to. It hurt. To realise that the look of pain and hatred had always been directed at himself, the outward shine of his tainted heart. To realise that he had loved me just as much, and that he was trapped by a power greater than our small meaningless lives.

"Teacher... will you come back... ever?" It was such a small question, but the cutting pain in his eyes gave me all the answer I needed. No, never.

"You will learn, I know this for a fact. I am proud of you, Kage. In time you will find a new name, one that speaks of who you are, and who you were." I let go of him, and stared deep into his eyes, those golden orbs of pain and silence.

"Someday." But I said I would, and that was as good as a promise. He got up and smiled, tracing the line of my cheeks with gentle fingers.

"You will. You were chosen for this. You are the last one...but you are also the first." This made no sense to me, but I knew that now was no time to ask. Shion left that night, after sharing our last meal together.

His Cloth arrived a few weeks later, its song muted by the death of its bearer. I stroked the warm surface, marvelling at the thrum of power that beat under the seemingly unfeeling gold. It was special, and thrilling. Yet Shion... I grieved his death, feeling a pain as deep as the destruction of Mu. But I remembered his words, and his hopes in me. And destiny had chosen things this way for a reason. I grew to believe that two years after my teacher's death.

The woman came one morning, and stood before the spire, covered from head to toes in a long white cloak lined with white fur. I stared at her, and finally came out to greet her.

"Welcome, human. What can I do for you?" Formal words for a formal looking woman.

"The light shines upon all shadows eventually, you know," her words echoed through me, making me shiver.

"Who are you?" I demanded, more than slightly unnerved by her, and the fact the she obviously knew of me.

"A humble peddler. Will you buy?" She carried a basket filled with white flowers, the same shade as her dress. I looked at her face, and took a step back. Her eyes were purple, like glowing amethysts that reflected the light in gentler shades of violet and blue. Her skin was dark and smooth, her features fine. But her hair... it was almost like Shion's, only paler and less curly. Who was this woman?

"I have no need of flowers," I told her quietly, choosing to be courteous so as to not upset her. She smiled and offered a perfect white carnation.

"Flowers are not for you to buy. I can, however, sell you a future."

I stared at her, confused. "Future?"

"Tell me of your Island, of this place called Mu, and I will give you a story that will become truth in time." It sounded dangerous, it sounded risky, yet somehow I could not tell her no. Something inside me - instinct perhaps - told me that I should accept. I took the flower and inhaled its soft perfume.

"What do you wish to know?" She smiled and started asking me about it, about my family, about our crops and the blue skies. And as I spoke to her I remembered all those things I had ignored up to then, all those happy memories, the celebration that marked me. Mirth, my true name. My mother and father, who died so unnoticed under the catastrophe that befell us. Shion's voice as he told me the stories that he knew would bring us to our ruin. All those things, so achingly beautiful, so vivid in my mind as I talked to her. Each green blade of grass, each smiling woman coming back from the river.

"It was a beautiful land... but things change. You were the last, but you will also be the first." Her words were so like my teacher's the I felt myself jerk in surprise. "Hear me, Kage. You will receive a new name, and find the power to heal. You will also start anew, what you once destroyed. But you must always be true to your heart, not to the orders of any Priest or Goddess even. Follow your heart, and the time of happiness will come. You may still get your name back."

"You know my name... but I don't know yours..." I had to know her name. It was important, somehow...

"Moerae... or Morgana, if you prefer." She smiled one more time, and turned to leave.

"Wait... I don't understand..." She shook her head laughing and put a hand on her hip.

"You will in time, Kage, believe me."

I never saw her again. A few months later things did take a strange turn. A considerable group of my people started arriving, saying that they had heard it was safe here. They set up a small town below the cliff where my spire stood. They came here for me, they said. The last one.

It was only then that I understood. I was the last child born on our Island. That last one that would remember our sun-warmed air and the rustle of trees in midnight, when the breezes blew. The last one who would remember our celebrations, and our ways. But I was also the first to come to grow up on this human lands. On my 10th birthday the few surviving elders called me down, telling me that they had important news to give. I came, curious and worried, never expecting to find the ritual fires of Naming lit around the main square.

"We are gathered here, because it is time to finish this, to end our past's pain, and being anew. This is what cycles are about: renewal. Come forward, Kage." I walked up to them, confused.

"What is this about?"

"You will be the last one to be named like this, things must change. But for you, the last one, we will do this one last time." I felt fear then, of what they would choose. These last few, who knew who I was... what I had done.

I knelt before them, and felt a hand on my forehead. I remained like that, too afraid to open my eyes and see them. "Under the gaze of the stars, we name you. Rise, Mu."

I gasped as I heard their choice, looking deep into their eyes in search of any malice. There was none. At last... I was forgiven. I would be the one to carry the final memories of our lost land, to all those younger ones who would be born on a world not their own. And I would teach them of this and of what we lost. But we would not longer be the people of Mu... yet I carried that name. It was who I was. The last one, the first one... our past's Mirth as well as our Shadows... and now, I was Mu. Completion.

It was strange, but knowing that was forgiven lifted a heavy load from my heart, and I grew to love the world around me, human as it was. The small town grew, thriving on their simple lives. The people of Jamir.. the Jamilons, humans started calling us, and this time there was no hostility in them, for they could see us plain as day. I finally managed to Heal not long after, freed from my pain and more in love with this life than I had ever been.

On that day, I won my cloth

In the years to come I never went to Sanctuary, knowing that there was nothing there save for corruption and pain. It was not yet time. I would go, when I felt the call for it, and things would change then. A few years later one of the older women died in childbirth, and I took the boy in. His name was given to him by the town, Kiki. A simple name, a name that would not be changed. Yet this child, the first to be given an immutable name, gave me a new one to call myself. He called me teacher, when he learned how to speak.

I liked the way it sounded.

The End

Author's Note:

Toffee said: Hiyas all! This was a moment of Mu-worship, very rare in me. I hope all those who like him enjoy this story, and those who don't... well, I hope they enjoy it, too!

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