"The paths that I once tread are all but gone..." Janus loses his last connection with what he once was. Vignette.
"My Lady..." he began, glancing about him uncertainly. He saw no enemies - nothing but green grass and blue sky, and the faint, acrid smell of smoke. He'd been about to ask where he was. The place was familiar to him, and yet something was missing.
Then he turned - and saw the ruins of a dwelling, resting on a level spot in the mountains. His mountains. He suddenly realized that he could recognize every shadow, every ridge that stood in relief against the blue sky. This was his home... and that ashen pile of broken stone, could it be...?
He could not look away. "Why?" There were a million questions in that single word.
"The memory of this place was in your thoughts," she answered. "It is best that you know its true fate."
In a trance he walked to the foundations of his childhood home, laying his hands on the stones - expecting them to still feel warm, as if the flames had only just died. The stink of charred wood and ash hung in the air, stinging with every breath; black stains covered his hands when he pulled them away.
"They destroyed it," he said, still not quite believing it. He'd known it would happen from the moment of his capture. Why did it surprise him so? "When Father died... they must've destroyed every trace of our existence."
He bowed his head, fighting back the anger that shook him. Everything he'd ever wished to fight for had been destroyed... and what was worse, the ones who had burnt his home to the ground were the same ones he'd sacrificed so much for.
There was nothing he could do. How could he ever be forgiven for this... he'd allowed them to take the things that had meant the most to him. He'd failed at his tasks, and this was the price.
"This was not wrought by your hands, mortal." The Valkyrie's voice came as if from nowhere. He turned to her, as she walked serenely through the wreckage. Her head was bowed as if she shared his sorrow and anger... and who could say that she did not?
He did not have an answer at once. True, he had not done this with his own hands, but his actions... "I was the last... the only son. If I hadn't been cast out, then..." He let the sentence hang, unfinished.
She understood, anyway. "Perhaps... or, it may have changed nothing."
He nodded absently as he stared out across the wreckage. He had never fully realized how much his old home had meant to him, until then. He'd thought he'd cast his childhood away, but there it was - shattered and scorched, laid out before him in condemnation.
It was little wonder that he could not accept it easily. He'd been an idealistic child, staring up at mortal cathedrals and castles and believing with all his heart that they must have been the works of the gods. Even when he'd grown cynical and cold, his heart hardened by seemingly endless battles, he'd always believed in the beauty of his land. In the end, that belief had overcome his love for the gods, and for himself. Ironically, even the knowledge that his actions would kill his mother and cast his father into shame would not stay him - he'd existed as only a vessel for his country's will.
He had known, on a deeper level, that he was throwing everything away when he accepted the assassination order. But he'd denied it, had pushed away the nightmares and the nervousness and the thoughts he'd deemed traitorous - or even heretical, at times.
He'd let nothing destroy his illusions. But now they were crashing down around him, and he was left to face reality. And this place had been his very last illusion, his last bond to the past.... He rubbed his fingers together absently, staring at the black stains and wondering if perhaps some of them could be cleansed.
He turned to her, trying not to let his anger show - a pointless effort. She surely already knew. "Lady... please, send me from this place." His voice wavered, just a bit. "I wish to leave this world."
"Why?" she challenged, her voice solemn.
There was a moment's pause. When he spoke again, his voice rang with a new conviction. "I allowed others to mold me into what they wished... all for my father's sake. My actions were only meant to win his pride. I sacrificed much for his approval." He swallowed, hard, remembering the long nights of lying awake, wondering if he'd done enough - and if he was still worthy of his name. And the days of constant training, until he could not move - cursing his weak body, wishing he had received Father's strength. "I brought dishonor to my own name, because it was too late... I was already lost. There are too many dark deeds here... too many memories. There, I could start anew... I could redeem my honor."
The Valkyrie bowed her head, and for a moment he thought he'd offended her. But then she looked back into his face, her gaze steady. "And what will you make of yourself there?"
"I... don't know. But I'll act for my own sake. I won't squander this chance again."
She nodded. It seemed that he'd given the right answer. "Not yet," she said, "but only because I fear for your life if you are not properly trained. But you will be welcomed in Asgard, I promise you that."
Relief swept through him, at the kindness in her words. He'd not expected to receive such praise . "...thank you, Lady Valkyrie."
Originally a challenge by a friend; inspired by a song (Distant - Rubicon II by VNV Nation) which is about as long as the story.