Friday, January 25, 2013

Circular Logic

"Donna toki datte 
Tada hitori de 
Unmei wasurete 
Ikite kita no ni 
Totsuzen no hikari no naka me ga sameru 
Mayonaka ni..."
—Utada Hikaru, "Hikari"


Adrian is dead.

Those were the three little words that refused to leave the minds and hearts of the agents of the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society. Silence reigned in the usually bustling Library Arcanium out of respect for its late Librarian, and a more pervasive, crushing atmosphere could not have been had if the entire Library had been submerged in the ocean and sunk to the bottom of the mid-Atlantic trench. Even the footsteps of the agents as they went about their day seemed muffled. People took their meals alone or in small groups, and usually went to bed early, although no one snored anymore. Many, for that matter, couldn't even sleep.

Tash was the new Librarian, but much of her firey energy had been greatly subdued. And who could blame her? The love of her life had just been cruelly ripped away from her while they were still in their first flush of romance. A handful of Counter Guardians had taken up temporary residence in the Library to give her some on-the-job training in her new duties, and she accepted her lessons quietly. When not handing out orders or maintaining security, not a single sound came out of her, save for a short gasp of air every now and again, as if she had only just remembered to breathe.

Meanwhile, Michael had taken over Tash's duties as Chief Agent. He was very good at it, much to the relief of the lower-level agents—strange as it seemed, Sues and Stus were still out there, and regular missions continued regardless of this tragedy. Several of them thought to take advantage of what they thought would be disarray and lax security in the Society, but thanks to Michael and a few quick-thinking agents, they were quickly and quietly prohibited. Privately, though, he was just as conflicted and confused as any of them. Adrian was his friend, his brother, the one who continually pushed him to be better. It didn't seem possible that a little thing like a few thousand Sues could put down a man like that. Michael clung even more to his sisters and his fiance, but couldn't help but wonder what the wedding would be like without a best man...

Aster, if anything, was the quietest of all, at least when compared to her previous effusive personality. She had no soul, but she felt this loss, more deeply than she had ever felt anything before. And that fact scared her. It scared her a whole lot. But, lacking the emotional experience or the knowledge to deal with her confusing emotions, she simply burried herself further into her manga, refusing to speak to anyone but Tash, Chrys, or Mizuho unless absolutely necessary.

All over the Library, silence reigned.

It echoed.


Monika walked into the monitor room to a sight that had made itself very familiar over the past week.

"No matches found."

The digital voice coming from the computers bore no emotion, and neither did Valerie's response to the news, despite the number of times Monika knew she must have heard it. The healer simply selected another fandom from the list and ran the search again, and picked up the book she was reading while she waited for the results.

The book was something Ari had insisted on, and Monika had supported the little dragon's reasoning on the subject. Valerie's mind worked at its best when she wasn't trying too hard, and reading was an excellent way to keep it flexible and relaxed. Of course, whether or not she was actually reading the books was a matter of chance—sometimes she was, sometimes she wasn't, and sometimes she simply stared at the pages, completely lost in her thoughts.

Watching her team leader's eyes as she began cleaning up empty plates of food and neatly stacked the various books that surrounded her—reference books and other volumes, not pleasure reading—Monika guessed that today was a staring-at-pages day. Instead, Valerie was using a soft song to keep her thoughts in focus.

"Shizuka ni... deguchi ni... tatte..."

Monika had no idea what the words meant, but they probably had some significance to the situation. Val's songs usually did, even if she didn't realize it most of the time.

"No matches found."

Valerie's soft voice ceased, and she put her book down again. "You don't have to do that, you know."

Monika paused in her routine, an old blanket draped over one arm and an empty plate in her opposite hand. "So?"

Valerie cracked a small smile, and Monika congradulated herself on a job well done. Cleaning up after her friend during her search was not the reason she kept coming, after all.

"Kurayami... ni... hikari o... ute."


Time passed.

Life went on.

Tash emerged from her shell eventually, but as a very different person. No longer was she bright and cheerful, but moody and sullen, as though a piece of her soul had died that day. She threw herself into her work, as though desperately trying not to think about everything she'd lost. And yet, at the same time, she wore her lover's old trenchcoats everywhere, and was rarely seen without one of his books in hand—particularly the Codex of Index, his last gift to her.

Aster emerged as well, and contrary to the Leader's behavior, she went on exactly as she had before the war, as though nothing had happened, as though no one had died. Michael eventually withdrew from even Claire, claiming that Tash needed her support more than he did, but if there was anything wrong, he didn't show it. Some of the quieter agents such as Cristoph and Rhia took refuge with each other. Others, who did not know Adrian as well, continued to go about their duties in silence out of respect, almost as though they were waiting for the unspoken signal that it was okay to be happy again.


"How is she?" Terrie asked her teammate quietly as she emerged from the monitor room.

"The same, mostly," Monika replied. "I think she's getting better—she's less obsessive, at any rate—but with my limited abilities, I really can't be sure..."

Stacey and Danielle, who were also there, exchanged a glance. "Has Pheonixia said anything?" Stacey asked. "She's gotta know what Val's doing, they're her computers..."

The tall blonde shrugged. "She's keeping out of it. I think it's because she understands about coping strategies and whatnot. I have to say, I kind of agree."

Danielle tilted her head. "Agree with what?"

"Keeping out of it," Monika replied. "Valerie knows what she's doing, whatever it is. She's not the type to have a psychotic breakdown, and since we all made her start wearing her obsidian pendant again, she's not about to have anyone else's psychotic breakdown either." She shrugged. "At this point, the most helpful thing we can do is leave her alone and trust that she'll pull through when she's ready."

The redhead scowled. "I hate waiting."


 "No matches found."

Re-setting the search was almost automatic by now, though Valerie sort of wished it wasn't. Then again, it was probably a sign of recovery if she could be genuinely impassive while waiting for each result instead of just squashing her emotions down. The difference, however, mattered little at this point. As long as she kept searching, she wouldn't have to face all those uncertainties...

It wasn't supposed to happen like this... she thought sadly.

The sound of flapping wings was heard, though nothing new could be seen in the room. If you want guarantees in life, then you don't want life at all, chosen, Ari's voice whispered gently into her mind. You want a rehersal for a script that's already been written.

The healer nodded sadly. She'd come to terms with that fact already, though it didn't help her state of mind, particularly when she'd never felt so helpless before in her life. How are things on your end?

The same. Ari's form slowly materialized on top of the monitor, though her image was translucent, like a bad TV image. I got a few of the younger Eirans to agree to help out, but even they haven't found anything. It'd help if we actually knew what happened to Adrian that day, but as it is... she trailed off.

Valerie paused, thinking. And the others?

Lae can't be spared, but Ezra's been asking around in whatever fandoms she's familiar with. A few of Danielle's people have been doing the sameViktor even tried riding the Currents, but no luck with that either. Ari hesitated. I wish we could do more, but there's only so many people we can spare, what with the

"I know," Valerie said aloud. Absently, she fiddled with the obsidian arrowhead pendant strung on a long ribbon around her neck, so that it rested right over her solar plexus. Ari... she thought hesitantly, what's happening with the other agents? I feel blind with this on, but I don't dare to take it off...

Ari's translucent image glided gently off the monitor to land on Valerie's shoulder, though the empath did not feel her weight as she would have if Ari were fully present. It's not as bad as you think, Ari replied. It's taken a long time, but things are getting back to normal. You don't need empathy to see that, just walk into the common room on any given day.

"...And Tash?"

She's gone home for a much-needed vacation, chosen.

"No matches found."

Valerie's hands slowly built into fists, tears threatening behind her eyes. "I feel so selfish..." she whispered in a pained voice. "They've all been needing my help, now more than ever, and I've just been sitting here doing nothing..."

You haven't been doing nothing, chosen, her guardian interrupted forcefully. You've been doing the most important thing.

"But what if I'm wrong? All of this will have been for nothing. Everyone will have been hurting for nothing..."

Valerie... Ari's image flickered briefly, then solidified as she turned her full attention to her charge. Your friends would have been hurting with or without you. The death of a comerade, superior, and friend is not something you can just magically make go away, not even with empathy. You're strong, but you're not omnipotent. And you spend so much time feeling and understanding others' emotions that you often forget to feel and understand your own.

Tash came back.

Emily came out of hiding.

Fewer and fewer Counter Guardians roamed the corridors and Tash needed their instruction less and less.

And then it happened.

It started when Tyler stumbled upon one of Adrian's traps, one he had not yet discovered. The sight of the dimunitive agent hanging upside down by one ankle would normally have been a hysterical one, had it not been Tash who found him helpless there. They exchanged a silent look, and even Tyler had the sense to be terrified of what her reaction might be. However, after a moment that lasted an eternity, a small, helpless giggle forced its way past the Librarian's lips. Soon they were both laughing until their sides hurt (not an easy thing to do from Tyler's position), and neither of them knew or cared if her tears were from sadness or laughter, or even if there was a difference. The laughter spread down the corridors, through the basements, up into the rafters, reminding each and every one of them that survivor's guilt can only take them so far, and that maybe, just maybe, it was alright to be happy again.

That was the turning point. Not just for Tash, but for everyone.

Noise slowly returned to the endless halls of the Library Arcanium.


"Anything new?" Valerie asked.

"Not since last week," Danielle reported.

Valerie repressed a sigh of disappointment, as it would have made wolfing down her food difficult. The two women before her - Stacey and Danielle - had brought their lunches and her's up to the portion of the monitor room that had been all but sectioned off as Valerie's "second office." With Pheonixia's help, the healer had gotten through about a third of her list in just under two months... with no success.

A part of her reminded herself that, if there was anything to be found—anything alive, anyway—it would surely have decomposed by now. But, no matter how much time passed, no matter now much things finally started going back to normal, Valerie simply couldn't shake this odd feeling in the back of her mind. Ever since they had returned to the Library after The War—there really was no other way to describe that day other than The War. Capital T: capital W—every since that day, something had been tugging on her empathic senses, something that didn't seem to be blocked by the obsidian around her neck, which served as a shield booster. That in itself would warrant further investigation, but for the incessent pulling. It never weakened except during her nightly meditation, but every day the call seemed to get stronger.

"What about you, Stacey?" she asked around a mouthful of cereal. "Have you gotten any visions lately?"

Said blonde lowered her eyes. "My visions come and go, Val. You know that." She took a deep breath. "And no one from the other side's heard anything either. Are you sure—"

"More sure every day," Valerie responded instantly. "I can't tell where it's coming from, but it feels like him. You can't feel it at all?"

Stacey shook her head. "Nothing."

They hear the door swing open, and Monika and Terrie arrive to join them, pulling up a couple of unused chairs and balancing their meals in their laps.

"No matches found."

Valerie grumbled and rolled her eyes, then swiveled around in her desk chair and recalibrated the search with one hand. Monika eyed her team leader sharply. "Val," she said, "when was the last time you slept? I don't think I've ever seen you this jumpy, except on a sugar high..."

Said healer tapped a few more keys, then swiveled back around and continued eating. "Umm... probably yesterday, I think. Or maybe the day before. Don't worry!" she added hastily, "I'm not sick or anything! I think it's just because I've been meditating more, trying to figure out this pulling sensation I've had. I keep trying to find out what it wants, but I keep hitting brick walls..."

"You still wearing your obsidian?" Terrie asked.

"Yeah, but it has no effect on this. It's like..." She paused momentarily, trying to think. "Y'know that feeling I get when someone I'm close to needs me for something?"

Stacey nodded. "There's an imbalance, and empathy compells you to set it right. But obsidian should block that."

"Exactly," said Valerie. "That's weird enough by itself. Now combine it with that feeling I usually get when Ari's watching me—sort of like there's someone standing behind me, watching me from over their shoulder, but not focusing on me entirely."

Danielle wrinkled her nose. "That has got to be weird..."

"So you've been meditating to try and get inside your own head?" Stacey asked.

Valerie nodded. "To figure out what I'm supposed to do with this feeling. I can't help but feel like I'm missing something... Like this feeling is trying to lead my thoughts in a particular direction, but I always get sidetracked when I get too close..." She shook her head. "For now, all I can do is continue with my search, because that's the only thing that feels right right now. But even when I find him, it'll only be half the puzzle..."

"If you find him," Monika reminded her.

Valerie shook her head. "I can't explain it, Mon, but I know he's out there. That's part of what this feeling has been trying to tell me, I just know it."

"Val," Danielle said gently, "you gotta admit, you are prone to wishful thinking..."

"Or Creation," Valerie shot back fiercely. Though none of the others understood the meaning behind that, Danielle was immediately silenced.

"I can't explain it," the healer repeated after a time, "but I feel him there. Somewhere. It's just..." She struggled to find the words to explain the turmoil in her mind and heart. "I feel like I have to find him because I'm going to find him, and I'm going to find him because I have to. Does that make any sense?"

"Kind of smacks of circular logic, to be honest," Monika replied.

"Or time-travel," Danielle joked, grinning.

"I dunno," Terrie said lazily, balancing her spoon on one finger, "All of life is a gigantic circle if you think about it. And if you find yourself walking a circular path, that must mean that where you want to go is someplace you already were." The spoon tilted dramatically, and the brunette flipped it upwards and caught it deftly. "Right?"

Valerie smirked at her friend. "When did you get so wise, Wiseguy?"

Terrie smirked even more broadly in response. "I didn't. Got that one off a fortune cookie."

They laughed, and the laughter felt good. It felt right, in a way that Valerie hadn't felt for a long, long time. There was still much to do, she knew, and her pent-up emotion were far from drained. But the time of mourning was over: the blood-soaked twilight had ended, as had the darkness of night. It was time for the sun to rise again.

Feelings like these don't have to make sense, Valerie thought to herself. All that matters is that I finish what I started.

The end... and the beginning... was in sight.


"Donna ni yokuttatte
Shinji kirenai ne 
Sonna toki datte 
Soba ni iru kara 
Kimi to iu hikari ga watashi o mitsukeru 
Mayonaka ni."
 —Utada Hikaru, "Hikari"

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