Published: June 10, 2022.
The Shadowlord speaks to the daughter that is not his daughter.
this was written for the lovely "something very special" nier gestalt fanzine!
the title is a latin phrase translating to "time, devourer of all things."
A worthless sentiment for him to consider, but he doesn't rejoice in the inevitability. Sympathy finds no purchase in the Shadowlord's chest for the familiar man, impaled on the buzzing blood-and-ink magic, nor the girl he shall steal away. It helps no one to know, fixes nothing in this shattered world. But, still, it feels like something he should at least think.
It should never have come for this man and girl to know anguish. They should never have existed at all.
Here, framed by a backdrop of artificial birdsong and grayed sunlight, is where he lays her down. Clad in strange attire, this facsimile of his daughter could so easily be mistaken for a stranger at first glance, but her face--he would always know her face. Were he to forget, dissociate back into the warmth of memory and far from where he stands, he could recontextualize. Exhausted from a dress-up day at school, or even a holiday party, she stumbled through the door to the sofa, passed out before he could usher her to bed.
The strangeness of it all holds his stare rapt. The daughter that is not his daughter, and yet the daughter that is his daughter. Contradiction swells larger than any pathetic, obligatory sentiment in him. He needs her, and the reason he took her will not change no matter what, but he cannot seem to move away from her.
(He misses her voice.)
He doesn't need her to speak. Her body--her shell--serves its purpose; nothing else is required beyond her mere continued existence. Silence inundates the room, and it suits him fine. To let her speak would complicate matters, and yet--curiosity wells in him. Maybe it is just a passing impulse. Maybe it is a miserable, cloaked attempt at easing his fraught heart.
Less a bad idea and more a foolish one. An unnecessary one. But, a millennium has come and gone, and for all that he is a soul-made-tangible, he is still human. Not everything can be rational.
He will regret it. He knows that.
He lets her awaken.
Her eyes flicker open, and he isn't in her immediate field of vision. She stares blearily up toward the vaulted ceiling, light and airy and perhaps not wholly unlike the library of her village. But, too clean, too empty, and much as she might squint and try to convince herself it is what she knows to stem the tide of panic, there is a limit to avoidance.
They are alike in that way. A thousand years or so dulled him, and still it shakes him to gaze upon her. In this form, he never knew his daughter, but her face (inherited from her mother, thankfully), her hands (soft and small to his rough and large)--things are not so far off from what he knew, what could have been.
It is a question of who teeters more when she sits herself up and turns to meet his golden eyes.
Slow, slow, like two wary animals circling one another, she tries to take account of him, but she is young and confused. The calm granted to her by ignorance degrades quickly. Tears well in her eyes, and her fingers twist into her shirt. Such a disorientating juxtaposition, from the seconds-long upheaval of her familiar life to this strange, empty place.
"Dad?" she asks. She looks left to right, up to down, only to center back on his form, shadows and blood and magic grafted together to house a soul. Her breath heaves, a precursor to sobbing. "Y-you're...a Shade."
His silent, intense observation strikes her, and she is shocked, like she expects him to rend the flesh from her bones. But, the safety she might be feeling is an unknown thing.
"Where...wh-where's my dad?"
He watches her, unmoving beyond the cycling of his magic-wrought flesh.
And, when her eyes widen, he knows she comprehends: he stole her.
She makes one last show of coherence: "Please...I want to go home...back to Dad."
You cannot , he tells her.
You cannot leave.
Sound grates out of him in a garbled static, nothing in which she can discern familiar words or even tone. It's an oscillating screech of intent Replicants are not designed to understand. Individual expression should not have been within their ken either, yet--
They cannot communicate. The longer he neither replies nor heeds her please, the deeper her despair goes, her clarity of speech degrading into sobs and scarcely audible cries for her father.
She weeps for the embrace of the father he is not. He longs for the smile of the daughter she is not. What a sad, impossible bridge they meet on.
And despite everything he knows and everything he vows to do, a pang of sympathy for her arises in him.
Because she is and isn't his daughter, and he is and isn't her father, and things were never supposed to end up like this. Those scientists promised to help Yonah if he helped them, contributed some asinine stabilizing factor to a project they yammered on about being for the greater good. For society, for Japan, for Shinjuku--macro to micro, and all it meaningless to him if Yonah couldn't survive.
One century bleeds into the next, and now the due date of that promise is fourteen-hundred years past. He is the memory of something more, the remnant of a man who wanted something so much much he seared his memory onto the fabric of the world.
Yonah. His daughter. The body that belongs to her and the soul that doesn't.
The girl is a failure of that promise, a facsimile of his daughter that suffers the same as she did. She cries with a voice he recalls, but it is not he she desires to save her.
Such worthless, worthless, worthless sentiment, but how--
(--can he not regret this at all.)
Gone, that spark of emotion. Quick to live, quick to die as he extinguishes it. She must see him harden, for her weeping subsides for a single terrified moment, and before her tears might continue, he returns her to her unnatural slumber. Drowsiness takes her, eases her reddened eyes shut, and she slumps onto her side.
Quiet. Her even breathing. His penetrating stare.
Peace claims her, smooths the grief and fright from her face. He is unnecessarily careful with her, though he knows she cannot awaken on her own as he approaches to hover over her. Gently, with the lightest of touches, he brushes back her hair.
Sentiment has no bearing on the outcome.
No matter what, he needs her to pay a price she did not ask for. There is no way around it, no excuse or justification he can gift himself.
He will sacrifice this girl that should never have been, and he will do it gladly.