Being Alone

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Lyvia had nearly found sleep when the light appeared.

The first night in the orphanage carried strange emotions for her, unfamiliar yet close to a past that she had once held. Life had taken trust from Lyvia, like it had taken everything else, but habits of survival waned here, their edges dulled by the safety of a roof overhead. Her cot, though narrow and thin, was still far removed from the cold cobblestones of the capital. Sleep beckoned, warm and enveloping, tenderly lowering her eyelids with the promise of true rest.

Then the door opened.

“Wake, child.” Lyvia recognized the voice of Cynn, the headmistress. “Come.”

Afraid to lose what respite she had found from the streets, Lyvia obeyed and sat up. Her legs swung over the side to land on the cold floor, and she walked into the light of the hall.

Blinking, Lyvia took her place alongside the other children. All of them, ranging from eight to ten summers, had arrived there today, freshly collected from the streets of Noxus. A pair of brothers, three scrawny urchin boys who clutched each other’s hands in grubby unity, and Lyvia. Both groups shuffled away from her, retreating to the familiar.

“I know the hour is late,” said Cynn as she walked down the line of little faces, “but there are many demands upon the time of our patron. Still, he wishes to welcome the newly arrived.” There was something within Cynn’s words that Lyvia could not place. “It is an honor.”

It was then that the children noticed him with a start, as though he had appeared out of thin air. Tall, slender, clad in a wealth Lyvia had never known, the patron approached them. Cynn demurred into the background, her expression impassible.

Slowly, the man walked from orphan to orphan, his pale eyes casting them in an odd scrutiny. He passed the brothers without a thought. Lyvia felt her pulse quicken as he paused, the eyes falling upon her, and felt it slow again as he continued on. The trio of urchins bunched together, each defending the others, and the patron barely spared them a glance.

“Her,” the man said to Cynn, his voice low, silken.

Cynn’s arm was on her shoulder now, leading her to another room. It was empty, but for a single chair. “No harm will come to you,” Cynn said, an attempt to dispel Lyvia’s fear. “It is an honor,” she repeated, closing the door behind her.

Lyvia crossed to the chair, and sat in it. She watched the door intently, the sole means of entry into the room, only to notice a moment later the shadow stretching out from behind her.
The patron.

“Please,” he said, raising his hands as she bolted to her feet.

Lyvia did her best to contain her fear, to remember what Cynn had told her.

“Think I am here to hurt you?” he asked, his voice languid, accent cultured.

Lyvia shook her head, but it was far from convincing.

He feigned puzzlement, laughing softly. “My dear, has life not done enough?” He circled around in front of her. “No, my child, I am only here to hear about your life, and what has brought you here.”
He gestured kindly to the chair, and slowly Lyvia took her seat.

“I’m from Berlin,” she began.

“Yes?” He nodded, urging that she continue.

“War took papa,” said Lyvia, trying to keep her voice level, to betray no weakness. “So we came to the city. Mama went out to find work, but after four days we stopped waiting for her to come back. It was just my sister Vira and I. I kept her safe.” She fought her voice but it faltered. “Then Vira took sick. I couldn’t protect her, and then I… I was…”

“Alone,” he said softly.

Lyvia’s chest swelled with a tide of pain. Of loss. “Alone,” she repeated, and a tear struck her cheek.
“There!” he breathed. She recoiled as he reached toward her.

“Close your eyes,” he said, his voice hypnotic. “Focus upon that feeling. The pain. It has mounted for you in this unforgiving world, nowhere to go but bottled up inside. Feel it rise up, above your neck, slipping up over your nose, your ears. It threatens to swallow you, but just at the precipice, it yields. Face it and feel it break against you. That is strength. Turn your mind upon it, and allow it to drain from you.”

She let the pain flow out of her in sobs, feeling the cold of glass against her cheeks, softly touching beneath each eye. A torrent of despair, taking her breath, then it was gone.
Lyvia opened her eyes.

“Thank you,” said the man, and Lyvia noticed a vial in his hands, “for sharing.”

“You,” Lyvia dared to ask, seeing something she could recognize in her patron despite everything else about him. “You’re alone, too?”

He took his eyes from the vial, glanced at her. “I have seen much of this world, over many years—yes, almost all of it alone.”

Livia sniffed, looking up at him. “Will it get better?”

“For you?” He smiled gently, his eyes glimmering for a moment in a gentle show of sadness. “No.”

“She is unharmed?” Cynn asked as Duke stepped into the hall.

Duke arched an eyebrow. “Were you harmed, Cynn, all those years ago when it was you in that room?” He tilted his head, producing a thin ampoule in his long fingers.

Cynn’s eyes locked to the slender tube of glass, its frosted length dulling the contents to a soft ruby.

Cynn snatched the ampoule, her eyes darting as she secreted it in the sleeve of her robe.

“Until next time, my dear,” Duke chuckled, then he turned and left.

The moon was full that night, bathing the Rome streets in radiant silver hues. Duke stopped at the fountain in the orphanage’s empty courtyard, dipping a finger into the still water. Whorls of crimson bloomed from his touch, rushing across the shallow pool until it was a depthless claret. Stepping briskly up to the lip of the fountain, Duke dropped into it without sound or splash.

Duke rose from another pool within the dark halls of his manor, emerging dry, it was as though he had never touched the liquid. A chill wound through the yawning cavern of shadow and stone arches, brushing over shuttered windows and priceless artworks collected over a thousand lifetimes. His step was light across thick rugs, barely disturbing the layers of dust that caked them as he ascended a staircase.

For a moment his thoughts lingered on the child, Lyvia. Doubtless tonight had been a strange experience, but he had seen enough mortals to know this night would not define her life. She would live, and then die, like all the other little sparks around him. Her name, her face, their interaction would slip away from him, as they always did, to where he wondered if they had ever existed at all.
People. The creatures surrounded Duke yet stood upon the opposite side of an impossible gulf, tantalizing and impermanent. A thin, crooked smile came to him. He was melancholy tonight. He rolled the vial of tears in his fingers.
The studio beckoned.

Maudlin thoughts aside, of all the countless mortal lives he encountered, there were a select few Duke refused to forget, and so he labored to do what his mind could not. To remember them, those brief moments their lives touched, what felt like an eternity ago. In this case it was less than a millennium, the memory springing suddenly into his mind despite the vast time since last they met. For this one, he chose paint.

It was nearly finished, a work most would not find out of place alongside the masterworks adorning his lonely walls. He had certainly had the years to hone a craft. All the details were done: the gentle tumble of auburn hair, the tanned skin, features that alone were commonplace, but combined effected a demanding, regal aura. The expression, unthinkable loss. It was all there, save the whites of his eyes.

Duke opened the vial, tipping it into a pot. The innocent tears mingled with the paint, and with the touch of his brush, came alive when laid upon the canvas. Nothing else, in all his travels, could match the splendor it wrought.

What was his name?

He found he could not remember.

The absence stabbed at him, a name gone, but at least the face preserved. The whites of his eyes would keep his memory here.

Like a lonesome soul, he sought me out from beyond, Duke mused with a smile. More melancholy, but fitting perhaps.

After all, there was nothing in the world as beautiful as sadness.

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