Note: this takes place in an AU where Luscinia is just Also There alongside the canonical sage's wizards. Don't think too hard about it.

Location Story: The Ruins of Serenity (Luscinia)

Chapter 1

Akira: We've reached the Western Tower; today, we'll be heading to the Ruins of Serenity.

Chloe: Rustica has mentioned them before! They're ruins that have flooded by a lake up in the mountains near the Northern border, right?

Rustica: Indeed, Chloe. The flowers that grow on its banks bloom all year, regardless of the weather. It's quite a beautiful place.

Chloe: It does sound kind of odd when you think about it, though... it's not the kind of place I'd expect from either Western Country or the Northern Country.

Luscinia: ...

Shylock: Its reputation for being such a calming place as its name suggests may be as much for its isolation as for its actual charms, don't you think? There are only a few small villages anywhere nearby. It's quite out of the way.

Murr: And it's a ways away from the Western Tower, too! It seems like a bit of a stretch to even call it Western, don'cha think?

Akira: Well, it was easier than going to the Northern Tower...

Shylock: No matter. While we travel, Master Sage can fill us in on what our mission today is, hm?

Akira: Right. Apparently, there's been reports of a poisonous magical plant growing in the villages nearby ever since the Great Catastrophe, and they believe it has something to do with the Ruins.

Rustica: How odd. The flowers that grow at the Ruins aren't poisonous at all... I discovered once that they make a lovely tea, in fact.

Chloe: Please tell me you don't go around picking mysterious flowers to make tea out of them...

Rustica: But how lucky for us that we have someone so versed in herbalism among our number!

Luscinia: ... hm.

It does feel like Luscinia is particularly well-suited to this mission, but he had seemed apprehensive when I told him about it, but then he seemed even more disquieted when I told him he could stay behind. I never know what the best way to handle him is...

Luscinia: ... we have a long flight ahead of us.

Chapter 2

Rustica: Isn't it as lovely as I told you it was?

Shylock: Fufu. Your descriptions did not disappoint.

Akira: It really is beautiful...!

Chloe: Look, though. Do you see, under the flowers?

Murr: It kind of looks like one of those plants that strangles trees, doesn't it? Just bigger, and all over the ground!

Akira: We'd better land somewhere they're not growing.

We land, and from the ground, it's easy to see that Murr's assessment was correct. Under the carpet of white and blue flowers, the ground is covered in a latticework of pale, thorny vines. Every few feet along the vines is a large blooming flower, so dark red they're almost black.

Rustica: Yes, those certainly weren't present the last time I was here.

Chloe: And when was that...?

Rustica: It must be our culprit. Don't you think so, Luscinia?

Luscinia: ...

Luscinia stares at Rustica like a wary cat.

Luscinia: ... keep your distance.

Akira: (He definitely means that in more ways than one...)

Luscinia kneels and reaches out a hand for the flowers. The pale flowers shy away from his hand at first, then right themselves; but the ashen vines on which the dark flowers are growing begin to creep towards his hand, twisting and coiling like snakes.

Luscinia: I thought so.

Shylock: What was it that you thought?

Luscinia: Hydra oleanders. They're parasitic magical flowers. Stubborn, poisonous-- and aggressive besides.

He pulls his hand away. Then, a pale vine snaps into the air like a snake, striking out at the place his hand had been just a moment prior.

I'm the only one who jumps.

Akira: I'd say so!

Shylock: What is there to be done about it?

Luscinia: Once an infestation sets in, it'll choke out everything for miles. If they try to kill them without taking care of the source, they'll just come back with a vengeance.

Akira: I guess the name is apt...

Luscinia: ... the rest of you, go to the villages around here. Kill the flowers when you find them. Don't touch them if you can help it.

Chapter 3

Akira: What about you?

Luscinia: I'll take care of the source here so it doesn't grow back once the others kill its offshoots.

Akira: I'll stay with you, Luscinia.

Luscinia: ...?

Akira: You never know, you know? I can't really do anything to help kill the flowers, but if there's any support I could give you...

Luscinia looks conflicted, but I'm choosing to believe that when he glances away without an argument that he's accepting my offer to help.

Shylock: Hm. Shall we leave them to it, then?

Chloe: Will you be alright?

Rustica: This is his specialty, after all. If we can count on anyone to handle it, it would be Luscinia, wouldn't it?

Luscinia: Of course I will.

Akira: (He must have dealt with this plant before... but I kind of can't imagine Luscinia putting in the effort to kill something like this. He doesn't strike me as the charitable type.)

The other Western wizards set themselves to dealing with the surrounding area, and before I know it, I'm alone with Luscinia standing next to the lake.

Luscinia: ... Master Sage.

Akira: Is something the matter?

Luscinia stands staring at the flowers for a few long seconds, and he doesn't look at me when he speaks.

Luscinia: You're not a wizard, so your promises are cheap. ... but I want you to promise me something anyway.

Akira: What is it?

Luscinia pauses. I look again and I notice that he's hugging his own upper arms, like he's trying to withdraw into himself.

Luscinia: If anything happens here-- if you see anything, I mean-- don't tell the other wizards about it.

Akira: I won't.

Luscinia: I mean it. I'll tear your eyes out.

Akira: (There's that Northern-born attitude... his words are harsh, but they don't match his tone of voice at all.)

Akira: I won't breathe a word to anyone, Luscinia, I promise.

Akira: (He doesn't seem convinced. But what could he possibly be afraid of happening...?)

Chapter 4

Akira: So what are you going to have to do?

Luscinia: The only way to kill the oleanders for good is to destroy whatever magic it is they're feeding off of.

Akira: That would be... killing the other flowers, right?

Luscinia: Very astute, Master Sage. If you killed the memorial flowers, the oleanders would wither without their magic. If you set this entire lakeshore on fire, the problem would be solved soon enough.

I look closer at what Luscinia called memorial flowers; they look like forget-me-nots. They're beautiful, and it would be a shame to kill them.

Akira: (I can imagine Murr deciding to take that approach without hesitation... I guess it makes sense why he didn't mention it earlier.)

Akira: Is there... any other option?

Luscinia: ...

Luscinia: Amasumentes.

At his incantation, the oleander vines in front of him retreat to clear a path towards one of the crumbled buildings in the flowers. The vines skitter like ants who had been hiding under an upturned rock.

Luscinia: Move quickly. They'll only retreat for a few moments.

True to Luscinia's word, the vines are already starting to creep back towards each other like water flowing into an empty space, albeit much slower. I follow close behind him.

Luscinia: There isn't anything else you can do. You can only stall it.

Akira: (He sounds almost pained...)

He doesn't say anything else until we reach the crumbled stone house. Behind us, the vines have already started to close up the path back out.

Luscinia places a hand on the ruins. The stone that used to be part of a wall is covered in vines and the memorial flowers. He glances towards the middle of the remains of the crumbling building; the bare foundation has cracked and buckled over the years, and flowers are growing up through the gaps.

There's a small mound near the center, completely overgrown by the vines and flowers of the hydra oleanders. The vines spider out in every direction, and without the memorial flowers to shelter them, I can see them writhe and pulse.

It's incredibly disquieting.

Luscinia: ... Master Sage, I will tell you this now. Please do not tell the other wizards about this, but I am not going to kill these flowers.

Akira: ...?

Luscinia looks around, looking at the flowers all around us. He seems to be speaking to himself more than to me.

Luscinia: I have to keep them alive. I haven't let them die yet, and I don't plan to.

Luscinia: It's my own fault for letting it get out of hand... they shouldn't be the ones to pay the price for it.

Chapter 5

Akira: Luscinia?

As though shaken out of a trance, Luscinia turns to look at me. I recognize only then that the look on his face is one of guilt-- it puts to shame every time I've accidentally let a houseplant die because I forgot to water it.

Luscinia: These oleanders have been growing here for centuries, Master Sage. I've kept them under control, but I haven't had the chance to come back in a while, since...

Luscinia trails off and subconsciously lifts his hand to the back of his neck-- where his sage's mark lies.

Akira: It must really be important to you to put in this much effort, if the oleanders are as dangerous as you say they are.

Luscinia: ...

Then there's a bitter smile on his face; it doesn't reach his eyes at all.

Luscinia: Who do you think used to live here, Master Sage?

Akira: (There is definitely a right answer here, but I feel like it would be wrong to say it...)

Even so, I can't say nothing.

Akira: Was it you, Luscinia?

Luscinia: How clever you are, Master Sage. That's correct. This is where my f-- ... where I was born.

Akira: (Luscinia has never spoken a kind word about his family... I don't expect this place to be full of happy memories for him, but...)

>> Option: They must be very sentimental to you.

>> Option: I'd have thought you'd let it go to ruin on that basis, to be honest.

Luscinia: Every time the oleanders start to grow again, I simply contain them.

Luscinia: Surely, you understand, Master Sage. Even if it would be easier to kill them, I can't bring myself to do it.

Akira: Where did the oleanders come from, then? I can't imagine they simply sprouted into being, either...

Luscinia: ... well, they're magical, Master Sage.

Akira: (I guess that makes sense, but...)

Luscinia: ... but. Some people insist they can grow where there's lingering resentment and hatred. Fitting for something that chokes out everything else, hm?

Chapter 6

Luscinia: Does that answer your questions, Master Sage?

Akira: (Not really, but Luscinia is already so reluctant to talk about himself that I realize I'm getting more than I should expect.)

I nod.

Luscinia: Hm.

Luscinia: Well. Please stand back, Master Sage. Try not to breathe in too deeply.

I take a step back, careful not to step back into the creeping vines behind me.

Luscinia: Amasumentes.

At Luscinia's spell, the mound laying in the center of the stone foundation begins to twitch wildly. The quiet mountain air fills with the sounds of slithering and rattling. Vines and roots begin to pull out of the ground with a horrible groan and hiss. They snap audibly, leaving vines writhing on their own and trying to dig back into the ground.

However sprawling the system of vines had been underneath the memorial flowers, I realize that it must have been extending far underground. After all, hadn't villages miles away been complaining about the flowers?

Luscinia is concentrating hard, his brow knitted. His entire body is composed, rooted to the spot, as his magic does work I can't even begin to understand.

As the vines finish pulling back and the air grows quiet again, I realize that the mound at the center of the building foundation was in fact a pile of ancient human bones.

The last vines retreat inside a half-crushed skull, leaving only a single dark-red flower and a few stray, hair-thin ashen vines growing out through one eye socket.

Luscinia drops his hands, and heaves a heavy sigh. He looks extraordinarily tired.

Akira: ...! Luscinia, that was--

Luscinia: Spare me the empty praise, Master Sage. It would have been more impressive a feat to burn it.

As he speaks, he moves to hug his own arms again.

Luscinia: My apologies, Master Sage. I'll... have to come back at some point to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Akira: (I can't deny that it probably would have been more efficient just to nip it in the bud, so to speak, but this is clearly important to him. I can't begrudge him that.)

Luscinia: ... please tell them I simply killed it, Master Sage.

Luscinia: None of them need to know about my sentimentality.

Akira: Of course.

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