One day, perhaps, you will make atonement for what you've done. Ico/Wander and the Colossus crossover action.
The dove circled the castle from high above, riding the sea wind as easily and smoothly as local mariners rode the ocean waves. She did not live in the abandoned ruination below, nor did any of her kind; they roosted in the woods along the coastline, instinctively fearing predation of their eggs and squabs by seagulls. The only time doves landed in the crumbling fortress on the islands was when they were searching for food, and that was exactly what this particular fowl was doing. Of course, nothing living made a home in the ancient structure, not bird nor fish nor mammal, but that fact was neither here nor there to a songbird of the forest. The only thing that mattered to her was finding enough nourishment for herself and the nest of squeaking fledgelings she had brooded and hatched, nestled somewhere in the coastal thicket far away.
She flapped noiselessly and dropped lower and lower, finally coming to rest on a grassy expanse in one of the many forgotten courtyards that dotted the interior of the mazelike architecture. Hopping hither and yon in search of small insects and grass seeds to fill her crop, the little bird never noticed the soundless shadow as it slunk closer and closer, readying itself for a sudden rush and leap at this unsuspecting prey. It crept towards the female and her flock with an unnerving silence, and none of the doves ever noticed it until the creature was almost upon them. Then and only then did it pounce and strike.
The birds finally noticed their pursuer as it rushed amongst them and as one took to the skies in fright. Flight was their only means of protection and escape, and they were ever quick to use it, cautious and wary of bigger birds and other predators looking for a quick meal. The castle had always been a safe haven from most earthbound things that leapt and grasped and tore, however, and maybe this is why the she-bird was a little slower than usual in taking off. Whatever the reason, she found her flight suddenly cut short by slender, glowing talons that gripped inexorably around her delicate body, translucent claws that kept the frightened creature from the skies. She flapped hard in terror, fighting hard against this prison, and as suddenly as the pinioning hands had closed in on her they opened and released her back into the air. With a flurry of feathers and the sound of beating wings the dove was off again, racing to catch up to her own kind and leave the horrors of the castle behind.
Yorda watched the white bird fly away with a small smile. She had always wanted to touch one, to hold it in her hands, but watching their flight was even better and she would have never kept a living thing in captivity, to pine away and die. A butterfly fluttered past and her fascination with the birds quickly switched to the insect, everything but the momentary joy of chasing it across the lawn forgotten.
Ico had watched Yorda's bird-stalking expedition with something like mild bemusement from his spot on the grass nearby, lying underneath the boughs of one of the young saplings that grew scattered about the courtyard. Every time they stopped for a rest in a garden or a sunny spot open to the sky this same ritual was performed; it was as if the strange girl had never been allowed to see the birds or feel a summer breeze on her cheeks. The sunlight dappling through a stream was enough to captivate her to the point where Ico had a hard time tearing her away; he knew she knew the seriousness of their situation, he just wasn't sure she was as acutely aware of it at all moments as he was. There would be time for chasing birds and butterflies once they had escaped their prison. Together. As exasperating as she could be, Ico would no sooner leave her behind than he would climb back into his sarcophagus and pull the top down. It was simply unthinkable and unadknowledgable.
He yawned, feeling his lids grow heavy. The soft grass, the warmth of the sun after the cold interior of the castle, the roar of a nearby waterfall ... It was all too much for the boy after the stress of the previous forty-eight hours. He fought it gamely, but eventually exhaustion overtook him there on the knoll. If his corporeal body could not escape the castle, his mind at least could flee its battlements for some time. His breathing slowed down and quieted as he finally came to peace in the arms of sleep.
Yorda, tired of the sport chasing the butterfly afforded her, came padding softly back to her companion with a handful of feathers only to find him curled up in the grass, fast asleep. The girl herself needed almost no rest, the same strange forces that sustained her without food healing any tiredness she might feel, so she settled down to keep watch over her strange friend as he slept. Yorda had dreamt much in her inprisonment, dreams of flight and white wings and escape through sunny windows to join the birds, and in her strange, innocent mind wondered if he too dreamed of the same things she once had. She lay an affectionate hand on the boy's sleeping head, almost a caress, and continued her solitary watch beside him.
It was late afternoon, and Ico did not know where he was.
All around him, in every direction, there was sand, more sand than the boy had ever seen in his short life. Reddish dunes were shaped and unshaped by the winds, rising and falling like the waves of a distant ocean. The temperature was surprisingly cool despite the harsh surroundings, and above it all rode a painfully blue sky, the kind one only ever saw on crisp fall afternoons or in dreams. The medium-sized tree Ico leaned against threw long shadows on the grassy earth (for grassy it was, a bright swathe of green fed by a spring farther down the slope) and provided welcome shade to the slightly disoriented visitor.
He had no idea of how he had arrived at his destination and could not recall where he had been before he arrived or any detail at all of his previous life. Everything up until this moment was a blessed blank, and while Ico expected he should be terrified with this total memory loss and sudden deposit into an unknown land, he was not. He was quite calm, tranquil, and almost happy, for reasons beyond his understanding. There was an air of expectation that kept him from panicking, as if he had been ordered to come here and had fufilled his half of a bargain in doing so. All he had to do now was wait.
But wait for /what/? This too was uncertain.
A white-tailed lizard dashed past and scuttled into a large clump of boulders that loomed on the other side of the oasis, the only life Ico had spotted thus far other than the occasional hawk wheeling in the firmament above. Nothing else stirred other than the wind in the trees and the sand in the desert. The minutes ticked by and still nothing occurred, the mysteriously-expected Something not yet daring to show its face. The horned youth found it harder and harder to keep his eyes open as the sun sank lower and lower into the west, but eventually his eyes slid shut and his chin nodded onto his chest. The sky above turned to a deep purple and the stars came out one by one, reflected in the clear waters of the spring-fed pool below. The harsh wind that had been blowing slackened to a cool breeze, ruffling Ico's hair gently in the desert night. All was seemingly at peace.
In the strange way that dreams have of thrusting the dreamer suddenly into a situation without any warning or prelude, Ico was suddenly awake and aware that he was no longer alone.
A dark shadow, sitting on a boulder above the pool. He didn't seem surprised at Ico being there, just as Ico himself was not surprised to see the shape crouching there under the stars. He was in a strange place with a complete stranger, but still he was not alarmed. So this was who he had been waiting for. He was sure he had never met the mystery man before in his previous life, but felt that he knew him well somehow anyway.
Though the starlight was pale and watery, Ico could make out the features of his new companion just as well as if torches had been burning brightly at every corner of the oasis. He was tall, fair-skinned, and had a grim face despite appearing no older than twenty. His eyes were tired and a little sad, as if he had lived a grievous and wearying life in those scant years. His clothes, to the younger boy's wonder, were similar in fashion to his own - the stranger even wore a poncho like in design to Ico's. Twin nubs of horn sprouted from under his shock of reddish, shaggy hair, and this did not surprise Ico either. It had almost been expected, really. He wore a mighty sword at his side and a bow on his arm, obviously a great warrior of some kind. His horse cropped the grass contentedly nearby, never straying too far out of earshot from his young master.
"Hello," the young man said.
"He-hello," the young boy stammered. Quiet onced again blanketed the landscape. The two sat in strained silence for some time, regarding each other from across the spring, before the warrior spoke again.
"It's my fault, I suppose. Perhaps I should apologize, but I could not justify the apology if I spoke it. If you had seen her face, you would understand why I had to do what I did. Why it had to be done."
Ico shook his head, confused by the words. "I'm sorry ... I don't understand, sir. Is something the matter? Do we know each other?" For the first time he felt slight concern, as the young man's voice had held a hint of the same sorrow that resided in his eyes. The shadow on the boulders rose in one fluid movement and leapt down onto the grassy knoll, pacing back and forth agitatedly like a great cat in a cage.
"I knew it would cost me dearly - perhaps even my life, or my eternal soul. It mattered not, for it was all for her. I did not know it would cost so many others so much, so many innocents over so many years. I would not change what I did if I had the chance, if given another chance, but it still grieves me when I see what my actions have wrought. And my soul cannot rest, though I long for it."
Now the younger boy was even more confused. He began to wonder if his companion was altogether sane, and if he were dangerous if this was not the case. He glanced nervously at the sword hanging at the stranger's side, but his companion didn't notice, or if he did he did not acknowledge the look. He continued to address Ico in strained, clipped tones, pacing ever closer on his long legs as he did so.
"Five thousand years of it. Five thousand years of being born again, only to die each time at her hands. Oh, that is the bitterest part, at her hands. That was notpart of the bargain. DO YOU HEAR ME, FOUL SPIRIT? THAT WAS NOT PART OF THE BARGAIN!"
He screamed it into the night, as if there were a traitorous third party listening in on their conversation. The only reply was the blowing of the wind and a concerned snort from the black horse grazing in the darkness; no other sound reached their ears. The warrior sighed and for the first time levelled his gaze directly onto Ico. He spoke again, quieter this time, and there was a gentle pity in his words.
"To answer your question, yes, we know each other. We know each other quite well, although you will not remember it. We have always known each other, since the day you were brought naked and screaming into the unkind world. It is my sins that damned you to the sarcophagi, you and every one like you for a thousand generations. You will not understand, and when you awaken you will not remember my words or this encounter. But it is my prayer that somewhere deep inside, you will retain the message, retain it and act upon it. Do you understand this much?"
He leaned down and grasped the young boy by the shoulders, staring into the confused and frightened eyes as if he could burn his message onto their retinas and thus impart the message that way. The inflection in the wanderer's words when he finally spoke had the weight of ages behind it, five thousand years of pain and suffering and helpless children screaming in the dark trying to fight their stone fetters until thirst and starvation and isolation took their pitifully short lives away, the only thing left their miserable spirits in thrall to the dark power that sat on the throne. Ico could hear them crying down the years in that voice, all the way back to the first - a beautiful maiden with a cursed fate, clapped in a stone box and left to die while her love raged impotently at those who deemed it necessary.
It was for the good of the village.
He could barely make out the stranger's words over the voices screaming inside his head. The memory of his previous life came rushing back with the cries and he recalled everything - Yorda, the castle, the coffins, the Queen. Shadows with glowing eyes and a terrible loneliness, reaching out for him. He cried out and would have shied away, but the strong hands of the elder boy held him fast.
"She wants to make him whole again. She may know it not, but the spirit inside her craves to be one once more. /YOU MUST NOT LET THIS HAPPEN/. Free us, boy. Finish her and the thing she carries. The sword will destroy utterly any parts of the demon's spirit you may run across, but you must not let compassion stay your hand when the time comes to do this thing. Pity is not a virtue you can harbour when finishing this great a task; I know from experience. Save your pity for when the fight is finished and done, understand? The fate of your soul and my own and a thousand others rests upon your actions, including that of the girl in the cage ... and of her mother."
He paused for breath, then leaned in so close to Ico's face the boy could see the dark circles underneath the man's eyes, the frown lines and the creased forehead. "Can you do this? /Do you understand?/"
And Ico bit his lip, cast his eyes downward for one fleeting second, then looked up and nodded.
It was as if a yoke had been taken off the older boy's shoulders, a great weight lifted from his back. He slumped to the ground next to Ico and sighed deeply, still sounding greatly wearied.
"Then perhaps there is still hope. I have faith in you, Ico. You have a good heart, and you are kind. That in of itself may be enough to carry you through what must be done."
He smiled for the first time and ruffled the young boy's hair in a brotherly fashion. He said more to Ico, an older sibling counselling his younger brother on the many things he would encounter in the world, but the words were long-ago lost, and have no importance in this story. And when Ico awoke, he had no cognizant memory of his dream, no rememberance of the stranger or his words, save one line that made no sense to the boy yet comforted him greatly for reasons he couldn't quite grasp.
You are never alone, Ico.
They stood in tableau, the two of them, the instant frozen in time like an insect in amber. The woman, millennia-old, with a sword through her chest. The boy, pale and trembling, on the verge of collapse from the shock of his wounds and the stress of the battle he had just won against all odds. The final painful irony of the scene would not have been lost on he who had started the whole blasted juggernaut in motion some five thousand years ago; he would have noticed the placement of the sword's blade in the shadow-queen's chest, the way the boy had lost a set of horns instead of gaining them. It was as if all the horrid actions that had taken place in the temple so long ago were being played back in reverse, the wrongs suddenly righting themselves.
Should you be alive ... If it's even possible to continue to exist in these cursed lands ... One day, perhaps, you will make atonement for what you've done.
The shell that had once been Mono exploded in a final burst of power, the last remaining bits of the demon's energy evaporating with her in a backdraft that sent Ico's puny form flying across the room and headfirst into one of the stone walls. The final symbol of the entity's curse snapped off the boy's head in a shower of blood and clattered to the floor, leaving him unconscious, but absolved. He and all who would come after him - and all who had come before.
It had been bought at a heavy price, but atonement was finally earned.
As it was in the beginning, it was now in the end. The girl awoke from her stone slumber to the castle crumbling and, as her mother had done five milinnea before after her own awakening, she cradled a boy in her arms. The boy had no horns, and the girl was composed of darkness instead of light, but there was no doubt about it.
Things had come full-circle.