Mortal Kombat - Sense of Self

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Description: "One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself, / And whether I come to my own today or in 10,000 or ten million years / I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait. / My foothold is tenon'd and mortis'd in granite, / I laugh at what you call dissolution, / And I know the amplitude of time." -- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

It seems as if, across all of Shang Tsung's island and palace, even the most peaceful locations are twisted in some way that strips them of their restfulness. Some dark corner, or terrible sound, or piece of sinister-looking art that draws the eye... *something* prevents even the most otherwise prosaic places from bringing any kind of rest to the weary psyches of the fighters in Mortal Kombat. And that's just the places that SEEM peaceful otherwise. This is to say nothing of places that are already grim and sinister in appearance even without the tiny touches that suggest the hand of some dark and sadistic artist in the creation of this cross-dimensional battlefield.

And yet...

The Warrior Shrine, for all of its grim memorials and its name suggesting battle, is perhaps the closest one might actually find to achieving a place for real meditative peace. When a battle isn't being fought here, it is a place of impressive quiet; only the sound of running or dripping water, and the occasional grinding crunch of shifting or settling stone, is there to interrupt. This is not to say that blissful meditation is going to be easy, here; the pond, the rock garden, the dim hallway lightning all still have that slightly unsettling cast to them. But here, at least, the statues overhead -- pristine in spite of everything -- feel as if they are watching, waiting... as if somewhere inside the perfectly-carved stone, the tiniest spark of life still burns.

At the foot of the statue marked 'The Atavist' sits a figure. While one could find peaceful meditation (or something close to it) here, this man definitely isn't trying; his back is pressed against the statue's base, his legs pointed outward in a narrow 'V', toes up, palms pressed into the ground as if he's supporting the weight of his torso on his hands. Chin tilted up, looking at the ceiling with bright green eyes, but the gaze doesn't suggest he's LOOKING for anything; indeed, he doesn't appear to be 'looking' at all, his pupils glassy with distraction. The short, messy red hair contrasts with the sable of his shirt, a short-cut changshan stopping at mid-thigh.

And that's what he does. He sits, he thinks. He waits.

It's been some time since Howard Rust, Jr. carted off the body of Aya Hazuki to god only knows where on the island. Since then, Frei has sat in silence, expecting to vanish at any second and finding anew, with each passing moment, that he's still here. It confirms a few of this theories, pokes holes in others. But since his state is only semi-corporeal at best -- he's not sinking through the floor, for example -- it's nost as if he has much to do right now BUT think.

The statue he was sitting against, for the longest time, was mere disfigured rubble. Not too long after Rust Jr. left, however, the rubble shaped itself into the form it has now... a form that Frei knows all too well.

He hopes it's not a bad omen.

Zach Glenn had decided to revisit the Warrior Shrine. He was a bit busy being freshly back from the dead at the time, but thinking back on it, he recalled some kind of familiar presence in the room. He walk up to the podium marked 'The Paladin,' and takes a handful of the powdered stone. He stares at the wreckage for a moment, then tilts his head to one side.

The yellow gem set inside the shackle on Zach's right wrist glimmers, and he walks over to the the statue of the Atavist. He instinctively stops short of where the shade sits, as if noticing someone and not wanting to trip over them.


An actual flesh and blood human not trying to actively be stealthy would have a hard time entering this room without being noticed; the uneven stone floor, the lack of much ambient natural sound. That's not to say that it's impossible, but without trying, it's not easy. And that's *before* you account for someone who can sense the flow of life itself, as most fighters can to some degree.

Maybe it's a vantage point that makes his gaze less obvious; maybe it's that ghosts don't trigger than 'someone's looking at me' sense that people have about others' gazes. Maybe Zach notices subconsciously and that's what draws him to the statue Frei is sitting under. It could be a lot of things. But the shade is definitely watching the American as he looks around the statues, well before he almost trips (figuratively speaking) over Frei himself.

There's... well. A resemblence, certainly. But something different, too. Just like the last person he spoke to in this very room. Still...

The expression on the redhead's face is friendly, once approached. He holds up a hand, waving the tips of his fingers in sequence. "Ey there," he says, in a voice that Zach can most definitely hear. "Aren't you a little tall for a stormtrooper?"

Zach blinks once, narrowing his eyes. Zach can hear the speaker, but not see him. But he /does/ drop into a low crouch with his weight on his heels. He grins a bit at the line.

*Huh? I'm not here to rescue you, if that's what you're hoping. Not just how I would.* He glances at the empty air, then up at the statue. *Did you know that person,* he asks, gesturing up at the Atavist.

Yeah... the eyes not actually looking AT him, but instead toward and kind of around him are a dead give away. Whoever it is that's standing before him -- and Frei has more than a hunch at this point, having heard the voice to go with the face -- can't actually suss out where Frei actually IS. Which would be disconcerting, if Rust Jr. had not been quite able to see him just fine. So that's probably not the issue. Plus, if it is who he thinks it might be... well, the not-quite-spoken voice really does fit all those pieces together nicely.

'Did you know that person?'

Frei can't help but laugh, as he leans back against the statue and looks up again; from this low angle, all he can see is the stone recreation of the Hazuki heirloom blade, saya and all. "Did I know her? Well... the answer to that is really, really freakin' complicated, but the simple version is: yeah, I knew her. Maybe better than she knew herself, in some ways."

He pauses, unable to keep himself from letting his mind wander to where Aya's body is now, or what the hell he -- or Rust, the only other person besides Aya's killer to know what had happened at all -- is supposed to DO about it. This probably accounts for the heavy sigh he gives before he continues talking. "And as for saving... I suppose I could use some saving right now, but from what and how, that's a whole different question." Cryptic, this one, isn't he?

Turning to look at Zach's face again, even if the American can't see it, he asks a question of his own. "Are you one of the fighters in Mortal Kombat? I admit I don't know everyone's name yet..."

Zach considers the comments for a moment. Cryptic in a lot of ways, but the speaker is willing to share. Zach is willing to extend some reciprocity. He shifts his weight, folding his legs under him Indian style. He leans forward, placing his elbows on his knees. He glances up at the statue, a faint grin tracing his features.

*I was,* he concedes after a moment. *Right up until I died. My name is Zach Glenn.*

'Up until I died,' huh? But the flow of chi does not lie: the person in front of him that Frei is raking his green-eyed gaze over, one eyebrow raised in appraisal and surprise, is most definitely alive. While the rules seem to be sort of fast and loose here on this island, a few things seem pretty consistent, and 'alive means alive' in the traditional sense appears to be one of them.

"Well," the redhead begins, smiling. "You look pretty good f--"

'My name is Zach Glenn.' Well that shuts up Frei pretty good, and in the most obvious way; even if Zach can't see the mouth suddenly falter, still open for a fraction of a second before closing, he can certainly hear the abrupt way that the voice cuts off mid-word.

The resemblence, here... it's a little closer, a little too on the nose. He could believe that Howard Rust, Jr. is Howard Rust's son, but believing that the man in front of him is anything other than the Zach he remembers... no. A few extra inches taller doesn't account for the rest of it, that's for damn sure.

Awkward pause aside, however, the shade has a swift recovery. "Well. Nice to meet you, Zach. My name's Frei. And it's nice to see you haven't let death... you know, get you down. As it were."

There's a pause, before the speaker asks, in an offhanded tone more fit for wondering if Zach would like a drink of water than its actual content: "Tell me something, new friend Zach... do you believe in past lives? Alternate dimensions? Things of that nature."

Zach lets out a breath that might have been a chuckle. *Someone wanted me back pretty badly.* He gestures with his right hand, showing the soul shard. *These things carry a lot more power than some people know.*

Then Frei asks about past lives.

Zach leans back on his hands, his body shaking in motion that can only be laughter. Strangely, there is no sound. *I know who you are,* he says, the laughter in that mental voice. *Sorry to steal your thunder, Frei, but I know who you are. Ayame Ichijo did something at the end of your world. I know everything that the Zach you knew does. I never could figure why she did it, though.*

In a way, not having to explain it all, to go into all the ridiculous detail... it's kind of a relief, which would certainly explain why the redhead breathes out, relaxing back into the cool stone of the statue, even if that sensation is somewhat wasted on him. "Well that saves time, doesn't it?" he asks, mostly rhetorically.

Locking his fingers together, Frei extends his arms over his head in a broad arc, pushing upward, stretching muscles that technically don't exist, breathing air that he technically doesn't need. Being 'alive'... technically. "It's not the same for everyone, you know," he adds idly. "Just since I..." He pauses. Does he WANT to tell the story of being Aya's spirital 'passenger' for the past two years? Where would he even START? "Ayame woke up in a whole new life, here. A whole new history. Looks like you did, too. And then there's Rust, or should I say, Rust's *kid*... or maybe an alternate version of Rust, since I never asked him about his father in the--"

He suddenly cuts off, letting out a long sigh, running his hands through his hair. "You get the idea. I didn't land here in another version of me, though. The person -- for lack of a better word -- you're speaking to is the original, the one and only." Which... depending on Zach's recall, might explain a lot, since shortly before everything came to an end in the old world, Seishirou Ryouhara literally incinerated Frei's body.

Shrugging his shoulders, he looks up at the ceiling again. It's not even a very interesting ceiling; mostly stone and tile. Why does he keep looking at it? "'Someone wanted you back', huh?" he says, tilting his head slightly to look at the soul shard. "Are you saying someone literally brought you back from the dead?" The incredulity in Frei's voice is... a little hypocritical, given the situation.

*I have my own set of memories,* Zach corrects. *I ALSO have his memories. I've never worked at the YFCC, or instance. I have my life, he had his.* He considers for a moment. *But that's not the case with you either,* he realizes. *You... Did you share space with that woman?* He frowns. He does not like the effects that the memories have had on his own life, he cannot even begin to imagine how much trouble such an arrangement would make. Zach had never known about Frei's death; there had been a lot going on around then.

*And that is exactly what I am saying. The person who wanted me back, she literally brought me back from the dead.* He frowns, then looks at the shackle. *Glen. Get your ass out here,* he demands. The soul shard glimmers, and Frei can see Zach Glen, from that time this world forgot appear. Zach blinks twice; something about the new shade's appearance apparently allows Zach to see Frei for true now.

*Heyya,* Glen says on the same bandwidth. *Long time no see, Frei.*

"That's... partly true, but the rest is, to be honest, personal," Frei says, guardedly, in response to the question of if he shared 'space' with Aya. In truth -- a truth he hasn't shared with anyone yet, including Ayame, the person who at present knows more about the situation Frei and Aya endured than anyone -- it was rather more personal than what anime and manga might have one believe about two souls in one body. He's had nothing to do but reflect for the past day or so on precisely what that means... a time made all the more complicated by his sudden separation from the only form of awareness he really had from the very minute the old world ceased to be, and his first real sense of 'presence' in this one.

"Sorry. I'm not ready to talk about that yet. Not until I have some real, reliable answers." And, he adds to himself, some thoughts that don't make my stomach (existent or not) twist into uncomfortable knots when I focus on them.

The rest, though... the appearance of a second Zach -- one that is immediately recognizable -- does catch Frei's attention. He wants to give an old friend a big grin, but in truth, the best he can manage is a wan smile. Life is complicated right now. "You could say that," he says in response to 'Glen' implying it's been a long time, because it has. Perhaps longer than either of them knows, in the reckoning of time across different worlds.

He looks distracted, though, as his eyes drift to the side, and he mutters: "Another 'memory', huh..."

Zach frowns, picking up on Frei's troubled countenance. *I won't push,* he says. He forces a breath through his nose when Frei suggests that Glen is just a memory.

*Not even a little bit, Frei,* Glen replies. *At the end, Rust and I, with some other people, we fought this being who... He was the next best thing to a god. We won, but we were too late. Things were too far gone. We didn't save the world so much as avenged it, I guess. There are... Gods I guess? Some of them admired the fight I put up, gave me a job offer of sorts. I'm kind of a guardian spirit these days.* He looks to Frei, concern evident on his face.

*How can we help you,* both Zach and Glen ask, apparently of the same mind on the matter.

"And what do you think a soul is?" Frei asks, voice suddenly sharp. He's had a very tense day, and it shows. "What is a person, when you get right down to it? You ever stop to ask yourself that?" A hand comes up, running through Frei's hair again; a nervous gesture, maybe, since he seems to keep doing it, but given how agitated he seems, that's to be expected. "The thing that makes us who we are is memory. Of our lives. Of other people's lives. We remember them; they remember us. And the world, well..."

'The memory of us,' he'd told Alma. 'It's still out there.'

Pulling his knees up, Frei looks at the floor, and finds that now that someone's actually pressed him about it, now that there's no issue of Aya to distract him, and someone right there who might, remotely, understand even a fraction of it, the entire story of it all comes out untempered and raw, in a blur of words, Frei's eyes locked on the floor as if following a line downward through his knees.

"There were 'gods' at the end. Oh yes. And they had a plan, or so I was told. So I saw it all. That fight you're talking about. The orbs, the 'Ones from the Past'. I saw the actual, LITERAL end, like a stormfront that washed away everything and the next thing I knew I was aware, again. Through someone else's literal eyes but I was AWARE. The 'memory' of me still existed and you know what?"

The redhead turns to Zach -- well, Zachs, plural -- and his face contains an anguish and possibly even a trace of fury that he rarely, if ever, demonstrated in his life in the old world. His old life had been troubled but existentially certain, rooted, foundational. Now? What is there, really? "You can't help me. Neither of you. I had thought: maybe now, I can rest. Or move on. Or be reincarnated. SOMETHING. But instead here I am! I don't even have a BODY. I don't even know why I'm still here! Other than some stupid... ugh!"

He falls silent, then leans forward and hugs his knees. "It's nice of you to want to help. But I don't think that's possible. Maybe you could have helped her," he adds, tilting his head just enough to indicate the statue above him, "since apparently the dead can come back to life. But her body is gone to god only knows where and as for me? I'm not even sure I'm 'alive' to begin with."

Zach rocks back a bit from Frei's rage; he feels it as a palpable thing, wincing a bit. Glen winces, compassion for the man he had considered a friend. Glen glances at Zach, who is still looking at Frei. Zach looks like he is trying not to weep for the man he remembers but never met. He understands a bit, yes. It's apparent, on the sleeve as it were.

He reaches for Frei, as if to put a hand on the man's shoulder. The hand stops short, as Zach realizes he cannot actually /touch/ Frei. *Maybe... maybe we /can/ bring her back,* Zach says thoughtfully. Glen turns sharply to regard the monster hunter, his eyes narrowed. *What?* Zach asks. *Dahlia brought me back, no scars from the fight and completely dressed. Emerged out of that statue, as a matter of fact.* He gestures to the remains of the Paladin.

This is all a lot to process, and after pouring all of that out -- and seeing the reaction of both of the people watching -- Frei just feels exhausted, and it shows; he heaves another breath out, runs his hand through his hair *again*. But Zach's suggestion that *someone* could be saved, even if it's not him, does catch Frei's attention in a sort of distracted way. His brow furrows at the mention of 'Dahlia,' until what memory he retains of the events of Aya's life before her death kicks in.

"The... girl with the sanjiegun. Aya -- the woman on the statue -- met her right after she came to this island. Or more accurately, was brought here. She's the one that brought you back?" That IS unexpected. His memory of the meeting is understandably imperfect, but the impression Frei-via-Aya got of the Scarlet Dahlia was not someone who would go to the effort required to bring someone back to life... or even CARE about someone enough to bring them back to life. He hears the word 'Why?' line up on his tongue as a followup question and stops himself from asking just in the nick of time. None of his business, anyway.

"It would be... nice, if there were some way to bring her back, if only so she can leave this place and never look back." After all, if Aya comes back to life... in his discussion with Rust, Frei argued that the tiny spark of a soul that remained in Aya's golden magatama was hers, hence his sudden reappearance. So maybe, if she came back, it would be...

Then what would that mean for him? He'd told Ayame that if it meant Aya having a happy life, then Ayame should do 'whatever it took' to make that happen... even if it meant exorcising Frei into the dark beyond.

Well... did he really mean it? Or were they just words to say? If he was willing to accept oblivion for her, would he be willing to accept an immaterial, lifeless immortality for her too?

"Don't... do it for me. But maybe..." He clears his throat; whatever his state of not-quite-there is, he still FEELS like he has a body, with all the nervous gestures thereby. "Rust -- I guess I should say, Rust's kid... or grandkid, or SOMETHING -- took her body. I don't know where. But I asked him to keep it safe. So maybe if you find him, he'll know. But I don't know what it takes to bring someone back, and I don't have anything to give you to help."

*He and Kawamoto have become something of an item,* Glen supplies by way of an explanation. *She wanted Zach back.* There's something in Glen's voice that suggests that he does not completely approve of the situation. Zach regards Frei gravely.

*It's entirely possible that bringing her back will keep you with her, you know. Unless you know how Ayame did... whatever it was that she did,* Zach says. *Even if it sounds like you're ready to move on to whatever comes next, there's a chance that that won't happen.*

Glen has other concerns on his mind. *It's not safe for either of us to be out and about like this,* Glen says carefully. *Zach can give you a place to rest while we get this sorted. If you want, I mean.*

The blank look on the redhead's face suggests that he has no idea who 'Kawamoto' is -- other than the family name of the Scarlet Dahlia, probably -- or why 'Glen' seems to not be thrilled at the idea that she loved Zach enough to raise him the dead. Still, it's an interesting piece of knowledge, and perhaps enough of Frei's usual good nature remains that he says, in a gentler tone than he's been using for the past few moments, "That's sweet... insofar as any sort of young romance where your lover brings you back from the dead during a lethal tournament to decide the fate of the Earth where she also appears to be competing can be."

The slightly sardonic smile he follows that up with suggests that, perhaps, there are more romantic venues for such a gesture, though beggars obviously can't be choosers.

Leaning back against the statue once more, Frei leans his head back, and lets his legs sprawl out again. It really is as if he has been tensing like a coiled spring through this entire conversation and is only now letting that tension out... though 'unwinding' does not necessarily mean the same thing here that the colloquial use suggests.

"I know. Or rather, I know that nobody knows anything about this at all. Any of a thousand things could happen. But Aya... she deserved better out of life than to have her throat slit by some knife-wielding cartoon maniac on some random-as-heck island in the middle of nowhere. If something happens to me in the process, well... no big loss. I've had a good run already."

*And yet,* Zach says, *You're still here.* He has a thoughtful look on his face when he thinks that. Glen looks over at Zach, curious. *What's keeping you here, Frei? I mean, you can't do much for Miss Hazuki just sitting around here staring at the statue. I would think that you're basically in the wind, as they say. Free to do or go where you wish. I would have thought you'd get back on the wheel, or gone to heaven, or whatever it is your system of belief contends you should do.*

Zach leans in, locking eyes with Frei. *And yet, despite that, you're still here. Maybe you /think/ something is keeping you from moving on.*

Glen looks back over to Frei. *But whatever it is, you can ponder it somewhere safer than here. Zach and I have a bit of a quest.* At this, Zach looks at his shorter double. *I talked to Nakoruru.*

*The one Honoka thinks is-* Zach is about to ask.

*She'd contend she's nothing of the sort,* Glen cuts in. *But she says she had something that could fix the problem with your voice. Even if I can find it, I'm going to need you to bring it back to her.*

"Really?" Frei says, tilting his head to look at Zach curiously. The words sound somewhat sarcastic, but his expression isn't; there's no hardness in the eyes, no telltale frown-in-the-making on the lips. "And where would I go? Until Rust... Rust Junior?... to hell with it, he's Rust now, I can't keep tripping over this. Until he walked out of here with Aya's body I wasn't even sure I could leave this *room*. Nothing about this situation is certain. It could be that I can't leave the island. Or maybe I can fly wherever I want." Briefly, he thinks back to what 'the afterlife' was like, in the old world: sitting on the dock on the shore of Lake Biwa on a summer day, watching the water and doing little else.

All things considered, it still has a bit of appeal.

Shaking his head, Frei goes back to looking into some random distance, brushing his hands against the rough stone floor of the shrine. "There's a British author, Terry Pratchett. Or at least, there was in the other world. Who knows?" Here he turns and gives Zach (and 'Glen') a faint smile. "Maybe here he's a kung fu master. Or he was hit by a train." Another shrug. "He had a saying in his books: 'freedom without limits is just a word'. What he meant was, real freedom isn't the absence of limitations. It's the knowledge of what you can do inside those limitations. And according to Pratchett, it was the scariest thing in the world, once you realized what it meant."

He makes no further commentary on what might be 'keeping' him here. In truth, it may be that Frei doesn't really have a good answer to that question... or, perhaps, he *does* have an answer, but is too upset by its implications to actually go into them at length.

The names that Zach brings up later in this conversation are another matter. At the mention of Nakoruru, Frei gets a thoughtful expression, looking off to the side distractedly. "The Ainu girl, the one with the spiritual powers. Well, I know she has some healing abilities. So I suspect she really can help y--"

THEN Zach brings up Honoka, and for the second time in this conversation, he's brought up short. That image of Lake Biwa, so recently in his thoughts, surges back with a vengeance... replaced by a young woman who was... a lot of things. Angry, sad, hurt, surprised. Confused.

Walking off into a fishing village to be with her family at last.

"Honoka, huh..." Frei says aloud, voice barely audible. "Well. I hope things went... a little differently here..."

*She's a yakuza boss,* Glen says evenly. *And a circus performer. And his girlfriend,* he jerks a thumb at Zach, who scowls a bit. *Still using... questionable means to affect what she proclaims is social change. She's very angry about what the Japanese did to her people. I think I would be too, were I in her position. But she is still alive to do so, so /that/ is different so far.*

Zach, meanwhile, is considering Frei's words. *Freedom is not much without being willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Freedom and responsibility is a pretty groovy thing, though,* he says in something approaching agreement to his reference to Pratchett. *It's... we don't need to completely address that here and now. It's just something I thought you should consider. If and when you're ready to talk more about it, I'm willing to listen.* If he's alive to do so, anyway. *But I'm pretty sure I can take you out of here, if you are willing.* He holds up that manacle again. *These things basically carry souls. As next destinations go, it's probably a crappy one, but it /could/ be an okay place to get some rest and be a little safer while you do.*

She's a what now.

Frei's surprise at 'Glen' casually rattling off that this world's Honoka -- who Frei realizes must be the 'Kawamoto' that was referenced earlier -- is not only a circus performer but also a leadership figure in the Yakuza is probably warranted, all things considered. The look of confused surprise is soon replaced by one of distracted recollection, though, a hand coming to his chin. "She and Aya met. Multiple times, actually."

Almost all the other people he can remember Aya crossing paths with had some sort of sense of recollection, a distant memory, one that Frei now understands were HIS memories, and not hers. But did Honoka...?

He breathes out in something between frustration and resignation, bottom lip slightly forward so that the puff of not-actually-real air makes his not-actually-real bangs flutter. Let's hear it for lifelike special effects.

At Zach's rather too-earnest offer of somewhere to 'be', inside what Frei now understands to be another of these soul shards, he shakes his head to decline. "I appreciate the offer, really. But I think I'm through with roommates, if it's all the same to you. No offense meant." He brings a hand up, rubbing the back of his neck and looking around. "The truth is, if Rust was able to take Aya's body away from here, then there's nothing binding me to this spot, not really. Believe it or not, I don't think it was Aya who was summoned to defend Earth in this tournament," he adds, tilting his head upward toward the statue before looking at both Zach Glen(n)s. "I'm pretty sure it was me and she got dragged along for the ride. Which... is a fun thought to entertain given everything that's happened, lemme tell you."

Closing his eyes, he exhales another breath out. "So once I feel like I can, I might get up, leave, look around. But I think I'd like to just be responsible for myself for the time being."

Zach leans away from Frei, his concern for the shade evident in his expression. Glen, however, interposes himself between the two. He debates getting right up in Frei's face about this line of logic, and decides it won't go anywhere. Frei's too sure of himself for that. He tries something else.

*I get precisely what you mean,* Glen says, glancing over his shoulder at Zach. He debates something for a moment and decides that since he's been shining lights on shadows already, he might as well continue. *I can say with all certainty that he,* he jerks a thumb back at Zach, *Would not be here right now, if it were not for the memories I had given him. To see him fight, you'd think that his talents were a lot like mine. And you'd be incorrect to think that. That's not where his talents lay. He's a sensitive, not an energy wielder. The only reason he is as good as he is at it is because he has had an excellent teacher,* Glen taps one temple, *And because he has worked hard at it. It's a safe bet that if did not have both of those things, he would not be in the mess he has put himself in.*

Glen turns to face Zach. *If I had known what Ichijo was going to do, I would not have taken part in it.* Zach blinks at this. *Like Aya, like pretty much everyone, you deserve the chance to forge your own path without the kind of interference we've brought.* He turns back to Frei. *So we've done these things, severely disrupted the lives of what are effectively total strangers either by accident or design. It has not exactly gone well for them, you have to admit. I plan on doing what I can to get Zach through this. What do you plan to do?*

What was the advice he's given so many times in the past, to people in something strongly approximating this situation? Hell, it's the advice he gave to Rust Jr. less than a full day ago on this very spot. It's advice that Frei feels very comfortable giving because it is, in his experience, almost never wrong.

"I'm going to be me," he says with a wan smile. "As hard as I can. That's all anyone can ever do."

He pauses for a moment, then actually stands up for the first time since Zach arrived and since this conversation started, turning to look at Aya's statue. Though his path drifted from the way of the sword, he still knows much of its secrets. After all, the Hazuki Ittou-ryuu style and the Musou Tenkei-ryuu style are both branch families from the Yagyu Shinkage style. They have a lot in common. Looking at the statue he's reminded of the famous Yagyu quote about being the reflection of the moon on a still lake. Disturbed by nothing, reflecting everything. But in Aya, that stillness represents potential, to act decisively and swiftly. When she became aware of Jedah Domah stealing souls -- an awareness that is largely Frei's 'fault' -- she didn't waver, or wait. She acted, immediately. Confident. Not unafraid, not *certain*... but confident.

It occurs to the shade of the guardian that, perhaps, he should have trusted all along that she wouldn't do anything that she didn't believe in, regarldess of what he did, said, felt, or remembered.

Now he turns to Zach -- *specifically* to Zach, and not to 'Glen' -- with a more kind, less tired smile. "Remember that, okay? You are you, no matter what similarities there are, no matter what you remember... or think that you remember. No matter what. You are unique and that matters. I think... it might have been more merciful if *this* world forgot about some of us," he says, closing his eyes for a moment.

Turning to look at Aya's statue, he shrugs. "But that's not what happened. What's past is past. What destroyed *our* world," he adds, inclining his head at 'Glen', "were people who thought they could change that. But freedom means taking responsibility, and changing the past, rewriting the world... that's not responsibility. That's just a very aggressive form of cowardice. Whatever happens, you accept it, you move on. You act consistent with your principles. By your own will."

How weird that now, Frei should find Seishirou Ryouhara's words on the subject echo in his ears, long after speaker and listener parted ways.

Glen frowns a bit. This answer was... surprisingly consistent. *And I'll be me, just as hard as I can,* he says, and then vanishes, the soul shard on Zach's wrist glimmering sharply before fading out.

Zach pulls himself to his feet, dusting off the tails of his longcoat as he does so. *It was nice talking to you, Frei,* he says. *It's hard to find people to talk about this kind of thing with, who understand, I mean.* He has a smile on his face. It's a tired smile, but it's more of a 'good day's effort' tired than the 'soul weary' for once. *I'll always make myself available, if you want to talk more.*

Log created on 01:34:06 10/23/2016 by Frei, and last modified on 20:42:41 10/23/2016.