Some things can't be fixed once they're broken. Cassandra is learning that. [post SCIV, vaguely Raphael/Cassandra]
Normally Cassandra would revel in such brilliant sunshine. She is a child of Greece, after all, sun-drenched Greece, and sunshine is such a constant in her life that even a few gray days tended to get on her nerves. And there is little else she loves more than traveling, with the road unfurling at her feet and the sun warm against her back. But today the sun is aggressively hot and bright - even for the middle of July - and the road is near-burning hot, even through her boots, and her skin is beginning to crack and peel from the merciless rays beating down on her neck.
Cassandra straightens momentarily, lifting her gaze to the castle that is her destination. She still has a way to go, but she looks for signs of some activity anyway - smoke from oven fires or servants walking along the battlements. There is nothing, though she expected as much - this is a place that truly only comes alive at night.
(If it comes alive at all.)
Cassandra shakes her head as if to clear it. What an odd thought-
She continues on to Sorel's home.
- - -
It has been six months since Cassandra had last visited Romania, but only two since the fall of Soul Edge and the spirit sword - both shattered by her own hand. (If there is one thing Cassandra excels at, it is breaking things.) She is not sure what, if anything, to expect when she arrives; it seems inevitable that something will be different, though exactly what might change she doesn't know.
Cassandra knows what she wants to happen. She is sure that with Soul Edge gone the dark powers sunk deep in Raphael's soul will have withered and died, the malfection breaking like a fever, with he and Amy left warm and alive and all because of her-
Oh, she'd be modest about it, of course. Cassandra remembers how Raphael had doubted her, and though it had hurt her deeply while she had been on her quest it would be easy to forgive him in light of her triumph. Easy to forget the cruel words he'd spoken when they last parted, when he takes up her hands in his and kisses them, whispering words of thanks in a language she can never quite get her head around but loves to hear anyway. (Especially in his voice, especially when it's breathed out warm and soft against her skin.) Easy to forget that he thought she would ruin him, when those eyes- blue eyes, not red, because she's killed the dark things that stained them with malice- meet her own and promise something secret and sweet.
And there would be no need at all to forgive Amy, Amy who has suffered so much - because she will rush out in the bright sunshine without fear and wrap her small arms around Cassandra's waist and she'll be warm and alive in Cassandra's arms, like every child should be; and her solemn face will break open in a rare smile and she'll laugh and in the face of such unbridled joy Cassandra will not remember when Amy had turned away from her when Cassandra promised to put an end to Amy's endless nights.
It is quiet as Cassandra walks up the path leading to the castle. The quiet doesn't surprise her; this path has always had an eerie silence. The malice radiating from deep within the castle blankets the area in fear, smothering any sounds of the living. But the source of that evil power is gone now, and Cassandra realizes that for the first time she can hear the songs of birds in the trees surrounding her, the rustling of small animals in the brush. It is still silent
(like no one's here)
but it is a good silence, a living silence.
Cassandra had planned on arriving solemnly, with a mien befitting a woman who had saved the world, but she cannot hold her joy in check any longer so she breaks into a run, her excitement bubbling up out of her throat in laughter. She trips on one of the rose bushes growing wild and unchecked along the path, but she only laughs harder - too bad being a hero didn't bestow grace with all of that glory! - and hopes that Raphael isn't watching while he waits for her because she knows he'll tease her to no end if he saw -
He'll probably tease anyway, she thinks giddily, when she greets him all hot and sweaty and laughing like she's gone mad; but she thinks of his stern mouth curving into a smile, helpless in the face of her mirth, and maybe he'll join her- and even if he doesn't just seeing him free, the sun shining on his skin and in his eyes, will be worth everything.
- - -
She expects things to be different, but not like this.
The massive doorway is smashed in, splintered wood and shattered stone strewn all over. The harsh summer sun pours into the breach, illuminating the thick layer of dirt and debris that nearly obscures the rug leading inside. The damage is not new. Here and there weeds poke out of the debris; inside the dust is thick, disturbed only by the comings and goings of small animals.
Had someone attacked the castle? It is the only explanation Cassandra can think of, as she starts to pick her way through the rubble. She tries to quell the fear rising in her heart. It is a near-certainty that someone has attacked, but armies had tried to breach Raphael's stronghold before, and they had failed
(before you broke the sword)
Cassandra reaches the main hall. Normally it would be dark as night in the room but the brilliant sunshine pouring through the breach provides more than enough light; and Cassandra gasps in sudden anger at the sight that greets her. The room has been ransacked, the beautiful furniture and paintings and statues smashed and torn, their remnants scattered everywhere. The marble steps leading to the upper levels are stained black with soot and- had they burned...?
And then Cassandra is running up the stairs, to Amy's bedroom- if any invader had made it this far, unchecked, she knows Raphael would have barred the way to his daughter with his own body. Cassandra cries out his name, her voice echoing through the ravaged hallway, but there is no answer. She nearly runs past Amy's room in her haste; the door, decorated with the red roses that Amy favors, is gone- torn away. Swallowing hard, Cassandra walks through the entrance. The room is burned beyond recognition. Only the charred remains of a once-magnificent bed frame indicate that once, someone had lived and slept here. The soot is so thick it reaches Cassandra's ankles.
A choked sob escapes Cassandra's throat. Her first instinct is to turn and run, to pretend she has not seen anything at all. Instead, she grits her teeth and kneels down to sift through the thick, oily ash, looking for signs of a body. She finds nothing in the ash and a part of her thinks that maybe, Raphael and Amy have escaped; that even now they are wandering somewhere - wondering, perhaps, if she will find them...
(A lie, and you know it.)
"No, I don't," Cassandra says aloud, to the empty room, to the doubt that fills her heart. "They could have left, they've done it before-
(but you broke the sword!-)
" -and the damn sword doesn't matter, it's gone, I killed it, it can't hurt anybody anymore! Sophie and Pyrrha are f-fine, they- they'll get better, and Raphael and Amy are safe too, I just have to, I have to find them..." she is babbling; she can hear the shrill note of hysteria creeping into her voice, loud and discordant in the deathly silence of the bedroom. Cassandra claps her soot-stained hands over her mouth and tries to collect herself, and there is nothing but silence and the truth of what she has done.
She had been sure that destroying Soul Edge would save everyone. Raphael and Amy and Sophitia had told her she was wrong, that they couldn't survive without the hideous poison of Soul Edge running through them, but in her heart she knew they were wrong, they had to be wrong, because it wasn't possible for something so cruel and evil to truly sustain anything worthwhile. Even if it could, Cassandra would still be there at the end, and her love and her goodness would fill in the gaps left behind- after all, hadn't he said she could do that, dispel evil, save them all? (No, no, she remembers but does not want to, he had cursed her, called her a fool, and his hand rubbed the spot where the Holy Stone had burned his flesh.) So she had shattered the sword, and her world shattered in turn.
Cassandra remembers finding Sophitia, and how her sister had turned away from her, Pyrrha unconscious in her arms, how her niece's eyes have yet to open. She thinks of Sophitia standing vigil at her daughter's bedside, her flesh paling and melting away, leaving her all bones and dead-white skin and unforgiving eyes. Cassandra wonders if Sophitia will still be there when she returns, or if her sister's body will have given out (is it giving out now, while she sits here?) -and horribly, there is a part of her that wishes for such an end, because she is not sure if she can bear to face those dying, angry eyes again.
Unbidden, she wonders what he must have done in his final days, the poison in his blood withering to ash in his veins, bringing him to his knees even as his enemies broke and burned this dark sanctuary he had made. She wonders if Amy had been like Pyrrha, unconscious until the end, or if she had watched as her father fell before the world he hated and waited for the fire to burn away the stain of her existence- and it is too much, too terrible, and Cassandra sinks to the ash-covered floor and weeps. The brilliant summer sun shines fiercely through the window, the heat of it so strong Cassandra can feel the burn of it through her clothing.
"I, I'm sorry," she chokes out, apologizing to her sister, to the love that she never called love and now never would, to the children lost by her hand. "I thought- I thought I was enough. I thought I could fix it."