Koiji - Love's Pathway
Love’s Pathway

        He’d heard the rumors of an old witch who lived in the woods. They’d said that she was older than possibly time. He thought that he would go and see for himself if the rumors had any grain of truth to them. Most rumors started from a fragment of truth, he had discovered.
        And so, he stood on the cliff overlooking the small village pinned between the foot of the cliff and the foreboding forest where the witch was rumored to live. He’d been warned that getting into the village was nearly impossible. Impossible, that is, for anyone without the higher magics.
        Magics had long fallen silent, the great magic users of days gone by a thing of legend and mystery. Listed in those ranks were the Great Queen of Sailune, Amelia Wil Tesla Sailune, the Legendary Shaman Zelgadis Greywords, and the Golden Phoenix, once known as the Dragon Spooker Lina Inverse.
        But time had passed, and those who knew them were all but gone. All but.
        Little did the people of the small town he’d left that morning realize that he himself was Zelgadis Greywords. He didn’t really make it known, after all. In fact, it had been twenty years since he had offered his name to someone, and another ten years on top of that since he had heard it spoken to him with recognition.
        Thirty years since Amelia had passed away.
        Twenty years since the young princess of Sailune had asked him who he was when he visited Amelia’s grave.
        He hadn’t gone back since.
        He looked off into the distance for a moment, and then squared his shoulders, calling his magic to him. Time to visit the village.

        The villagers had all scrambled off and hidden when he'd arrived, and so he'd pressed onwards, moving into the forest. By sheer luck he'd stumbled onto the path, and found himself at the door of a rickety old cottage.

        He lifted his hand to knock at the door, but a voice as whispery as light footsteps on dry leaves caught his ear. "Welcome, traveler. Enter." The door fell open before he could lay hand upon it.
        Warily, he entered the meager establishment, looking around at the dismal room as he entered. Again, he heard the voice. "You must be here for a very important reason, young man."
        He frowned slightly. "Why is it that you think that?"
        There was a raspy chuckle, and the voice continued. "No-one comes to visit a witch simply because she is there."
        As he raised his eyebrow at her logic, he saw a movement across the room. What he had taken to be a pile of rags was moving, and with a jolt, he realized that it was the witch herself. She moved slowly, as if the weight of all Time were upon her, and he saw her back was hunched, her hands horribly twisted like the branches of a tree. Her hair was as white as the first fallen snow, and when she turned to look at him, he saw that her eyes were clouded and blind. She might not be a true magician, but she was indeed old.
        "I... beg forgiveness for intruding. I... was curious..." He started. "It has been a long time since I have followed a rumor to an almost conclusive end... so I was not truly expecting anyone to be here."
        She waved a crippled hand at him, almost as if she could see him through those clouded eyes. "Don't worry yourself. So. Come and tell me what it is you seek."
        He stepped forwards, and she rested a hand on his arm for a moment. "Ah..." she said quietly. "I see. And you want that undone...?"
        He blinked at her. Was she truly a witch? He'd sensed no magic, and yet... "Yes."
        She shook her head slowly. "The magic of Shabranigdo is more than I can easily defeat, young man. But you come sit, and I will try."
        He followed where she led, for he had little choice. Twisted though her hands might be, she still had an impressive grip. When they arrived at the table in the back of the dilapidated old house, she bade him sit. "Now, tell me what it is you seek."
        He found himself opening his mouth and telling her everything. He started with the day he met Rezo and on through to the day that he watched Lina's spell go wild and consume her in the golden flames, only for her to somehow overcome it at the end and gain the name the Golden Phoenix, and how he lost her to the madness of the Nightmare Magic.
        All through his tale, she was silent, nodding and listening. Rarely did she offer comment, but when she did, it only served to remind him more of something that had happened. "You have had enough adventures, it seems, young man. And though I wish it were different, all that I can offer is yet another tale."
        He tilted his head. "And what is that?"
        She laughed her dry rasp and shook her head. "Tonight, you rest here. Tomorrow, I will tell you more."
        He nodded, rising. "I will return to the village tonight."
        "They will not have you. You are not them. You will stay here." And with that, she shuffled off to another room that he hadn't seen, and he was left in the open living area.

        The witch moved to the back door of the hovel, stepping outside and letting the moonlight fall on her. As the light of the moon touched her, a golden shimmer swirled around her until it completely covered her for a moment, and then was gone.
        A slender redhead stood quietly on the doorstep for a moment, crimson eyes glancing back towards the closed door. But then she turned, picking up her skirt, and stepped off into the forest.

        He dreamed.
        He stood in the forest, a voice calling him from everywhere, and he couldn't find it. The voice was so very much like Lina's, and he spun around and around, listening to her call his name. "Zelgadis... Zelgadis..."
        "Lina!" He called. "Lina, where are you?"
        "I'm right here, Zelgadis..."
        He turned to see her standing there, as real as the last time he'd seen her, only the magic-madness was gone from her eyes, replaced with tears. She was dressed in long flowing skirts, the browns and greens of nature swirling around her to blend in with the forest behind her. "Lina!"
        She smiled faintly to him through her tears, and reached out her hand.
        As he reached out his hand, she vanished.

        He awoke on the musty cushion, the old witch tending the fire and starting to brew something that smelled like coffee. Sitting up, he looked over to her, but before he could say anything, she turned her sightless gaze to him. "Ah... did you sleep well, young man?"
        "I... slept," he admitted.
        "Sometimes dreams tell us what we are truly looking for. What is it that you are looking for, I wonder…” The old witch mused as she poured a mug of the liquid for him.
        He surprised himself by blushing as he took the mug. “I… dreamed of an old acquaintance.”
        “An old acquaintance…” she whispered. “An old acquaintance. Like as not, it’s a girl, by your blush.” She chuckled softly as she poured herself a cup of coffee. When she spoke again, her voice was stronger, but still whispery. “Splendorous bird with pinions of gold, what is it you see with your crimson eyes? Why do you weep with tears so old, when you can soar within the skies?”
        He almost dropped the coffee mug. His dream… put into words like a spell… “What was that? What were those words?”
        She took a sip of her coffee. “It’s an old rhyme that’s been around this area for quite a few years now. It’s rumored that it’s a spell… but no-one’s been able to cast it. It’s part of that tale I told you about last night. Are you up to the rest of it, young man?”
        If it was related to what he thought it was… His determination crept back to him, and he felt as if he was standing at a point of great importance. If he turned and walked away from this… he’d never know. He had to know. “Yes.”
        The old witch smiled feebly, bobbing her head as she hobbled over to a chair and eased herself into it, turning her sightless gaze towards him. “It is said, a long time ago, the most precious bird in the world came to this forest. Only she wasn’t truly a bird. She was a woman with the saddest eyes and long red hair. Others have caught glimpses of her in the forest, unable to catch up to her, watching her rise into the air if they got too close.”
        His coffee forgotten, he listened to her words. “When do they catch these glimpses?”
        The old witch chuckled. “Aye, there’s the rub. She’s said to only come at night. I’d try to see her myself, but these old bones aren’t at all what they used to be.” She took another drink of her coffee.
        “I’m going to find her. I’m going out there tonight, and I will find her.” He had very little doubts in his mind that it was Lina, trapped somehow still in the magic of the Golden One. He’d been a fool to let her go, Amelia had told him so. But at the time, he’d thought that Gourry…
        Gourry. Part elf, part human… the crown prince of Mipross. He’d had to go back and leave them behind. And when he did, it had left a hole that no-one else could ever fill. Lina had laughed at Zelgadis, explaining that Gourry had been the brother that she’d never had… and probably never would.
        And they all moved on without the swordsman.

        “Young man, where did you go?” The old witch asked, and he jumped. He hadn’t realized that he’d fallen into memories.
        “I’m right here. I’m thinking how best to find her tonight,” he replied in a partial lie.
        She bobbed her head again. “It won’t be easy, boy. But you… you have the old magic. You might just have what it takes.”

        He spent the day walking the forest, learning places where he might find her. And then, to his surprise, he rounded a corner on the path he was following and recognized the place from his dream. This. This is the place… he thought to himself. And so he sat down to wait.

        Hours passed, and Zelgadis hoped the old witch wasn’t waiting for him. But the sun was beginning to set, and there was no way that he was leaving now. So he waited some more, until he heard the whispering of footfalls on the leaves. He stood quickly, holding his breath, lest he make a noise that might startle whoever it was that was approaching.
        Through the leaves, he saw her, her red hair tumbling over her shoulders as she walked the path that he himself had walked just hours before. If he hadn’t been holding his breath, it would have caught in his throat at the sadness he saw in her eyes. The words that the old witch had spoken came back to him, and he wondered if it was a spell to release her from that sadness. But if he released her from it… who would she be? Lina? Or the Golden One?
        She stepped into the clearing, freezing only moments after as her gaze fell upon him standing there in the shadow of the moonlight. The tears caught in her eyes almost broke his heart, and with that came the resolve that no matter how she was released, anything would be better than this.
        “Splendorous bird with pinions of gold, what is it you see with your crimson eyes? Why do you weep with tears so old, when you can soar within the skies?” His voice was a whisper, the old magic coming to his command and rippling away from him with a gentle shimmer.
        He watched her gasp, watched the magic ripple touch her, and for a moment, he saw two achingly beautiful golden wings extending from behind her. The signs of the Phoenix right there, golden feathers glinting in the magic and the moonlight.
        And as he watched, the feathers began to fall, golden shimmers dissipating before they touched the ground. Tears long caught in crimson eyes fell down her cheeks, and she reached up to catch a feather in her hand, looking at it and watching her tears fall upon it. “Crying…” she whispered. “I’m crying…”
        He watched for a moment more, and then dared to whisper her name. “Lina?”
        She looked up to him, recognition flooding her eyes, and dropping the feather, she ran straight into his arms, sobbing into his shoulder.
        He brought his arms carefully around her, realizing that the spell had been broken, the Golden One rejected. But… but as to how he felt… he loved her, yes. Had always loved her… and he knew that love was one thing the Golden One hadn’t understood. Looking down at her hair in wonder, he couldn’t have been more surprised when she tilted her head up and kissed him.

        The old witch reached out and caught the golden feather that Lina had thrown away, looking at it for a moment before it shimmered and faded, magic spilling into her hand, transforming her into the very image of the Golden One. She watched the two in the clearing for a moment, all of her questions answered. Love was indeed the stronger magic.
        L-Sama smiled and disappeared, leaving the two alone in the forest. She understood now. Love conquered all when it was true. While the path might be obscured, it always found a way.