"Sure. Or we could start with meeting Joske. The Mark Bearers. Why not start with my childhood?" Dorian rolled his eyes. His restless left leg had begun to shake, foot vibrating against the headrest of Praggos' chair, heel striking the padding where the genius' head had started to wear upon the regal old leather. "After Xa-Koro..."
Why didn't you just tell me, Cael? I would have done anything for you. I was the same kind of idiot as him. I was your monster.
"I went back to Ta-Koro. Joske found me there and we made plans to follow Echelon." I kissed him. I wanted to kiss him so many times. I wish he would walk through the door right now so I could kiss him again. That was how people usually heralded another downward spiral in his life, wasn't it? Barging through the door uninvited? "I guess he still needed me for whatever he had in mind, but Joske didn't like sharing his plans - or wasn't good at explaining them. But I think he wanted someone else he was sure could handle Echelon. Or maybe he wanted someone to tell him that finishing Echelon himself was the right thing to do. I wasn't worried about it. Echelon wasn't the hardest fight I'd had in my life, and Joske..."
I wanted to protect him. He was my hero.
"...Joske had other plans. He needed to see Angelus, he needed to restock, so we split up and planned to leave Ta-Koro together. But I got attacked by Grokk, and after Grokk...went down, I tried to link up again with Joske. He'd left without me. So I followed him to Ko-Koro, wondering if he'd stop somewhere, wondering if there was a way we could link up. Idiot. Idiot! It would have been the easiest thing in the world, just use your Kakama and run back, idiot..."
The chair vibrated more intensely. The wood creaked mournfully on the Fowadi's deck.
"I don't know who got the drop on who," Dorian muttered, hand cradling his chin and fingers curling tightly into a fist beneath his Calix. "Joske, Echelon, whoever. But they were at the Temple of Peace, already fighting. Joske was losing - of course he was losing, why wouldn't he lose, he couldn't even light a match without..."
A bloodied, dinted lighter jingled on its chain, a slender silver locket on a neck that had grown painfully tense. Dorian's tendons were tauter than rope. It bobbed, and the lighter jingled again.
"I was two snowbanks -- three? -- back from the Temple. I had a clear shot on Echelon. I don't know if that was too far, if he had time to hear, or a, or a, or a Muaka or something, maybe it roared, I don't remember..."
Maybe you screamed. Maybe you laughed. Maybe you told a stupid joke. Maybe your own rambling was too loud in your own head.
Maybe there was blood, surging in your ears, and your brain shorted out at the thought of losing him.
"I fired at Echelon--"
The glass trembled in his hands.
"--he was magnetic, I should have just remembered--"
A shaky breath hissed through his pearl teeth.
"--I didn't mean--"
Please believe me. I didn't mean to. I would have taken them for you.
And the glass slipped through prosthetic fingers that, for the first time in years, the Toa had lost all control of. He gulped in a breath, covering his eyes and temples to hide from the pity of the four Aggressors.
"Just ##### hand me the bottle, okay man?" he asked Praggos. "Please?" The Toa of Ice did so, and with his left hand - his trigger finger was still failing to respond - he cupped the decanter and took a long drink. A bourbon-colored tear ran from the corner of his mouth, down his throat, and pooled on the top of the locket.
"I buried him there. He's at the Temple of Peace, where nobody could touch him again. Echelon had already taken what he needed and left for the Vault, but I went to Ta-Koro. I wanted to...explain myself."
I'm forever ##### explaining myself.
"Merror and Agni were both there. I guess by then Utu was dead, huh? How'd it go? Did he suffer?" His throat bobbed again, and his leg was growing so increasingly erratic that the chair was starting to scuff the ground. "I hope not. Guess at least Joske didn't weigh as much as a Kane-Ra soaking wet, right? Probably sucked burying that tall glass of water."
I'm sorry I left you too, big guy.
You really were my friend.
"When I got there, Tuara had--"
By now, the tears were running freely, and he wiped them and drank with the same graceless motion.
"--taken a hostage by the bridge. Her own brother. Come to find out, the two of them had...chopped a body. Someone one of them had killed, and scattered him across Ta-Koro. My Tuara." His teeth sank into his lip, attempting to cushion what was threatening to become an open, pathetic display of regret. "My Tuara. I keep asking who she could have learned a trick that gross from. It's so obvious, right? It's always been so obvious."
You made me want to grow old, firefly.
"She asked me to believe in her, but I...I couldn't. The Guard was on one side, she was on the other, and I just...I just wanted to get to the Vault. I tried to explain, but...she didn't even care. Maybe she was beyond caring. After all we've all been through, I don't blame her. Any of you? Blame her?" He gulped down another glass' worth of bourbon in a swallow, beginning to long for the days when this stuff was proving hazardous to his health. "By then, I was starting to worry that Echelon would get to the Vault. He had to be closing in, and I just...there was no time to explain about Joske, or the Vault, any of it. I couldn't even apologize. I wanted to, so so bad. Before someone..."
Dug him up and saw the holes.
"Heuani," he whispered. "That was the hardest fight of my life. Any of you ever fought something that dominant? Not something stronger than you, not smarter, but...dominant, like you would enjoy the way he beat you. Broke you. You're fighting two killers at the same time. I remember fighting so hard, and I remember really, really thinking how much I didn't want to die. Not there. Not in that cesspool." His right hand had returned to him, and he wrapped both hands numbly around the bottle the way he had wrapped himself over Joske's bleeding form, nurturing it, begging its forgiveness for draining them both dry. "Ever since Mangaia, I've been dreaming that I'm back there. But this time I die. And after that, everyone..."
Everyone goes on just fine without me.
When else is a good time to die?
With you, Joske. That would have been perfect. I wanted to be dead with you.
That's the only reason I went.
"So I just went to the Vault. Alone. Joske never made it." Two-handed, he lifted the bottle up and tilted his head back with his longest drink yet. Tears ran from the corners of his eyes, and down the ridges of his Calix. "Like I said, Echelon. Not the hardest fight. It's pretty easy when you don't care about your own life, really, you just have to give as good as you get. I put as many bullets into him as I did Joske, I think. I don't really remember t-that much." He was starting to talk around the bottle, words blowing little whirlpools into the alcohol that was keeping him from breaking. "B-But I remember...the Vault...I stabbed him...and when I did it opened the..."
His foot was kicking the chair now, like a convulsing body, the way Heuani must have choked the life from Cael - a long, powerful limb in an ungraceful death throe, kicking the chair and dragging marks into the floor. His other foot was twirling around the strap of his canvas bag, the lone anchor and chain between Dorian Shaddix and shooting off into madness.
"He was inside," the would-be hero whispered hoarsely, his apology a garbled mouthful of whiskey and tears. "I'm sorry. I'm so ##### sorry."
Why did you want it open, Joske?
You had to have known.
"I j-just wanted to do something right."