Length: 1,600+ words
Rating: R. Precautionary NC-17 warning for theme. But what I've posted just makes it PG. Unless you consider the theme. Then it's R again.
For mainiefied, and ranchelle.
The Rutenberg Lion, Wolfram hears his brother spoken of, with awe and with more than a little fear. The words are touched with sadness by those who knew him, who remember the dark-haired, smiling man with love and now with grief, when they hear of what he has had to become.
Wolfram listens, unobtrusively, because anyone who realises that the youngest Mazoku prince is listening will instantly turn the conversation to other matters, or stop talking altogether. And sometimes Wolfram gets lost in his thoughts, in his memories of a smiling, dark-haired man watching over a little boy and a butterfly in the castle’s rose gardens, of afternoons by the river, his tiny hand almost lost in his brother’s, of the man who taught him how to read, how to hold a sword. Almost, he can’t reconcile his memories with the stories he hears, and would want to disbelieve them, if only for the fact that Wolfram knows that the Conrad in his memories was once real.
Wolfram pretends, to himself, that he doesn’t want to see Conrad again. That he doesn’t care whether Conrad lives or dies. That he doesn’t care if he never sees Conrad again, and that it would be all the better if he didn’t.
But his body betrays him.
He hears Conrad’s voice and races for the door, leaving an abandoned easel and a paintbrush scattering paint as it falls to the floor.
He can’t stop the way his fingers curl unconsciously into fists when anyone speaks Conrad’s name.
Can’t stop the way his hands won’t stop shaking when the names of the dead are read out, because he’s listening for Conrad’s name.
Can’t stop the wild relief that courses through him when he doesn’t hear Conrad’s name. Can’t stop the panic that comes alive in him when he realises that that doesn’t mean he never will.
Can’t stop the way he runs to the palace steps when he hears a division returning, hoping against hope that it will be Conrad’s.
Can’t stop the way he keeps making up excuses for being near Conrad whenever he’s back in the castle, even if he never speaks to his brother unless he absolutely has to. He still hasn’t forgiven him for being what he is. He doesn’t think he ever will.
Can’t stop the nightmares that wake him, biting himself to stop from crying out Conrad’s name.
Can’t stop the way his heart wrenches when the day ends and he realises that it’s one more day since the last day he saw Conrad.
Wolfram remembers, makes himself remember, the day he found out what his brother truly was. He relives the sense of betrayal as if it was yesterday, because, in his heart, it has always been.
But a part of him dies for all the days he doesn’t see Conrad, for all the moments he wonders whether Conrad is still alive.
He doesn’t know why the way he’s felt began to change, but if he knows it was the day that a horrible mistake was made with the messages, in which the Mazoku charged with reading out the list of the dead had mixed the list up with a list of soldiers who had successfully defended a critical town. Conrad’s name had been read out first, and while Cecilie’s reaction had ensured that the mistake was swiftly rectified, the moment he thought that he’d lost Conrad forever was the moment that changed everything.
Wolfram wants to seize all those he hears speak Conrad’s name and make them tell him all they know. But no one can tell him what he want to hear - that Conrad is still alive, that he will live, and most of all, that Wolfram will see him again. Wolfram wants to scream aloud at the unfairness of it all. He knows, now, that Conrad may never be the man he remembers, and that makes him hurt in a way he never thought he could.
But Conrad has always made him what he never thought he could be.
Wolfram’s paintings grew darker, wild swirls of olive and ochre against dark umber backgrounds, as the deaths mounted and fewer and fewer Mazoku returned to the ones who loved them.
He watches Yozak ride off with Conrad and his heart knows fury, for he has never had to be jealous of anyone in his life, and it burns that it should be this half-human, this companion of Conrad’s, who can follow his brother into the world outside the castle walls, who can go where Wolfram cannot, who can know Conrad in a way Wolfram never will, who owns a part of Conrad Wolfram will never know. Ever since Wolfram found out what Conrad was, it seems as if Conrad has been slipping out of his reach, but Wolfram has never admitted, even to himself, that he cares. Until now. More and more, he begins to wonder if it is too late, and more and more, he begins to realise that it may be.
The youngest son of the Maou was as yet not of an age to be in the battlefields. But Wolfram’s compatriots and training comrades felt the young prince’s desperation even in the practice sessions they had. Wolfram left more and more of his training comrades with bruises that took days to fade, refused to end fights even when it was clear he had mastered his opponent, seemed to be taking their practice sessions far more seriously than he should. There was a newfound desperation to the way the young prince fought, a new intensity to even the most basic of his training sessions.
Everyone was on edge, in those days of war.
But Wolfram was on fire.
Everyone called the Rutenberg Squadron the squadron with no training, no weapons. No chance of survival.
But this was never true.
Conrad would never have let it happen.
Even the slightest second of training helps, helps to keep you alive that one second longer. Knowing when an enemy will strike keeps you alive, helps you duck that blow. Even running, helps you keep your breath, helps you stay alive. The training that teaches you where an enemy will strike, so you will know how to duck. Even giving a soldier a simple stick will help them stay alive, help them turn a sword if they know how to use it.
Conrad and Yozak taught these men, these untrained half-Mazoku. Taught them how to hold the ancient swords they were given. Taught them basic first aid. Taught them the basic techniques of swordfighting – how to turn a blow, how to parry, how to counter. How to keep one’s guard up. How to watch an enemy. How to stay alive.
No sensible soldier would send a man into battle without any training whatsoever, unless he was sending them in to be slaughtered. Every man deserves to be able to fight for his own life, even if the odds are so heavily weighed against him. Conrad believed that. And Conrad would never have sent anyone into war without doing all he could to help him come out alive.
Wolfram watches them, from the castle’s balcony. Conrad chooses the west side of the castle for which to train these men, ensuring that they get all the light they possibly can from each day, because war makes men realise how little time they have, and makes them understand that they must make the best use of it as they possibly can.
Painting is his excuse for being there, the reason he gives his mother, even as he sees her exhausted from the toll this war is taking on her. It’s not as if it’s a lie - the sunset turns the sky scarlet and vermilion and would make a great theme for one of the young prince’s many paintings, if Wolfram could take his eyes off his brother and turn them to his art. But many a canvas lies untouched as Wolfram stands with his paintbrush forgotten by his side, watching Conrad and Yozak train the men.
Wolfram knows Conrad feels every death as if he was responsible for it. He knows how a battle has gone just by looking at his brother’s face. And he knows that if there is a way to keep any man alive for just one moment more, Conrad would do it.
And he wonders how, as he watches Conrad teach these men how to stay alive, why it feels as if a part of him is dying.
Then he hears whispers of the battle that is to take place in the canyons of Suberara. He hears the rumors – twenty divisions of human soldiers, all of them experienced veterans, responsible for the heavy casualties the Mazoku suffered in Dai Shimaron and Cabalcade, authors of the catastrophic defeat at Little Shimaron.
And this is what the Rutenberg division will have to face.
Wolfram imagines – for an artist’s mind can do little without an imagination - the banners of Shin Makoku flying in a wind dark with despair and wild with pain. He imagines the army that awaits his people. He knows that they will hold nothing back, for as much is at stake for them as is for the Mazoku.
But this time, he knows exactly what he will feel the moment Conrad’s name is called out among the dead. He knows exactly how he will feel when it is time for him to learn just how much he has finally lost.
And that is when he knows that he has been waiting, and that he can wait no more.