Coupled with a constant state of mental disarray, Amon struggled to make sense between the waking and sleeping hours. He was aware of drifting in and out of troubled dreams. Unlike the recurring dreams he once had of Xande, these were different. More personal. More vilifying.
The first thing he was aware of was the feeling of soft, deep carpet under his feet. The familiar scent of a place long-known filled his mind. As his eyes adjusted, he knew where he was. The Final Curtain.
Great, ornate red carpet stretched from one edge of the stage to the other. Far up on the walls hung balconies that were placed for an audience only imagined in a fevered madness, but rarely truly used. The whole place was an indulgence gifted because others lacked the courage to deny his whims and demands.
In the center of it all, he saw himself.
Himself as he once was – towering and imposing, dripping in deranged finery, face hidden behind a skull-like mask. It had been so long since he’d thought of himself this way that he was nearly taken aback at the sight.
Completely vulnerable, he stood before his monstrous once-self, and wondered where this nightmare would lead. He couldn’t even tell if his Other was looking at him at all.
For once, he understood the disorientation that he caused others when he watched them from behind a mask.
“So, you’ve finally taken the stage,” spoke his Other. The voice was familiar, but older, worn weary by the long years. It still held the strength of a performer, but there was no pomp in his tone.
“Why am I here?”
“You say that as if you actually left,” the tone became amused and sly.
“I did leave. ‘Twas more than you could ever do.” Amon growled.
“Don’t get self-righteous with me. Shall I remind you that under it all, we are the same?”
“I’m…” The Elezen grit his teeth. “Trying to change that.”
“He’s trying to change that, he says. What say you, good people?” His Other gave a mocking flip of his cloak, gesturing grandly to an invisible audience in the balconies. “Shall we give him a round of applause? Let’s hear it for… growing attached to the commoners! Losing sight of everything that’s important! Trading a life of kings for a life of struggle! Giving in to weakness and failure!”
Amon winced, the words slicing him. Knowing exactly where all his doubts lay.
“’Tis over with,” the Elezen’s voice was low, a sour taste in his mouth as he admitted defeat. “Xande is dead. The Tower is beyond my reach. ‘Tis no bringing any of it back.”
“Have you even tried?” His past-self loomed above him, suddenly huge and frightening.
“I don’t think–”
“HAVE YOU EVEN TRIED?” His Other’s voice rose into a roar, echoing through the vast, empty room.
Amon let out a ragged breath. Standing his ground, he snapped back, “NO! I haven’t! I’ve seen this new world, and ’tis no place for something like you in it.”
“Since WHEN has that ever stopped YOU?”
The Elezen winced and said nothing in response.
“You are content to let everything we built fall to dust? Our life’s work thrown to the winds! The Allagan Empire fallen without a chance of revival! All for what? Because you suddenly grow a conscience and decide to ask questions of morality?”
“Perhaps everything fell apart because we asked everything except the right questions!” Amon shouted back, his voice small in the midst of what he faced.
His Other peered down at him for a long moment, then he began to chuckle. This turned into an outright laugh. A terrible, inhuman sound without emotion or mirth. “Did that just come out of your mouth? You are so precious. Really. Do you think ‘asking the right questions’ now is going to excuse your past deeds?”
The Elezen looked away, taking a deep breath. “No. ‘Twon’t. But maybe ’tisn’t about me.”
“’Tis always been about us,” came the retort, spoken in a melodramatic cadence. “Even our greatest schemes were always about the glory we’d achieve as we brought the Empire greatness. Argue if you want, but I know your mind. ‘Tis no logic in fighting with yourself.”
“Maybe not. But I do know one thing that you don’t.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“I know what life’s like outside of the Tower.”
“Color me unimpressed.” His Other leaned back and mimed playing a violin sadly. “What sentimental drivel. Next you’ll be troping about how your fuzzy magical friendships taught you more than all your years slicing people apart in the lab.”
The Elezen snarled in return, a vicious look twisting his face. “I also know I’m not falling back into this… this mind-clouded insanity that corrupted everything I did. Look at you! Look at how pathetic I became!”
“Mmm…. We shall see if you have the strength to back those words,” a grin touched his Other’s voice as he turned and walked away, “Or… if you’re just as pathetic as I am in the end.”
Amon stumbled as the world around him began to tilt and distort. A sign that the nightmare was breaking up, giving way to consciousness.
Just as it all faded to black, he heard the voice of his Other, a sound within his own mind. So clear and enticing came the words: “The Tower is sealed to you, but ’tis always Azys Lla.”
Amon woke suddenly, letting out a shaken breath. However, the name remained on his lips. He whispered to himself, “Azys Lla.”