Mellow stared up at the towering mountain stood before him. A light gust caused his hood to flap against his face. To say the mountain was overwhelming was an understatement - yet, to call it an obstacle was to miss the point entirely. The sun was still down, and without any other clear indication of time, Mellow checked his pocket watch.
About three in the morning.
He took a deep breath in as he shoved the watch back into his coat's inner pocket. If he was right about the direction he was facing - which would be north - the wind was coming in from the east. Neither with him nor against him.
Pulling his gold-engraved, ebony wood mask from his coat, Mellow rested it gently upon his face. He pulled his scarf up over the front of it. The cold of the mountain was intimidating, but it was only a slight nip in the air from ground level. He resisted the urge to check his watch again, knowing hardly a minute had passed where he'd stood there, paralyzed by the nigh-insurmountable task he'd granted himself.
"Come on, you bastard. You're not old yet, just move," Mellow told himself. With a deep, shaky breath, he took his first step. His body practically moved on autopilot, one foot following the other in a rhythmic drum muffled by the dirt below him. Wolves howled in the distance, rebellious youths stayed up vandalizing churches in the town nearest, but there Mellow was - making his way up a mountain when absolutely no one asked him to.
A chill ran down his spine as he walked, and a thought sunk in. You know you might die, right? This isn't a safe journey.
He shushed his inner monologue, not because he didn't care, but because he knew he'd care too much. Maybe he would be attacked by wolves, or fall off the mountain, or even freeze to death, but the monks would save him, right?
Some part of him doubted that, but as comforting thoughts went, that was all he had.
Why are you doing this, anyway? No one asked you to. No one benefits.
Mellow disregarded the intrusive thoughts as they came. It was true - he didn't know why he was doing this. Only that he had to.
He pulled his coat tighter as a particularly harsh gust of wind blew over him. Yet, he couldn't allow himself to be deterred.
Eventually, he found his way into the snow. The cutoff from grass and dirt to pure white upon the ground was so sudden, in fact, it caught him entirely off guard. He pulled a match from his pocket, then lit the lantern hanging down from his oversized backpack, shutting it thereafter. As he shook the match's fire out, he saw something in the distance. A shallow cave, if you could even call it that. Just large enough to comfortably set up camp.
He adjusted the bag weighing heavy on his back, then headed inside. Nothing but chilled stone and a quality of dampness in the air. Yet still, much better than taking a break in the snow.
His back was set upon the ground, and a campfire was laid out, lit by his still-burning lantern. He could quite look forward to his food, given it was mostly just dried and salted meat, but he did have to eat. It was still a long journey ahead. A familiar face sat beside him as he heated up his meat.
"What are you trying to prove, Mellow? Do you simply wish for others to know you're strong?" Mellow's hard-to-define, mind-confined doppelganger inquired, wrapping his arms around one knee while the other leg laid straight across the ground. Mellow took a bite of his meat with closed eyes, almost as if to ignore Smiley, but his response did come eventually.
"I think you know I don't have the answer to that. We're of one brain. A person and a half, if you will," he responded. There was a certain comfort in having Smiley there, yes, but the deep-prodding questions were not entirely welcomed.
"I'm aware. Are you aware that if you die, we both die? Yet, you're risking that and you don't even know why?"
Smiley awaited an answer. None came.
"Mellow... Doko. Do you even know who you are?"
Mellow flinched at the use of his real name. He meant to shoot a glare at Smiley, yet his expression was tired, his eyes were soft.
"I have a feeling you're about to tell me."
"No. No one can tell you that but you. Yet... you let them."
Mellow finished his meat and stood up. He turned around briefly to grab his backpack, and when he looked back to the fire, Smiley was gone. He decided it best to keep moving forward.
As he came further up the mountain, the wind harshly flapped the ginger's hood against his face. His mask protected him from actually getting hurt, but he could feel it indeed. He stood still and lifted his mask for a moment, taking a far-too-cold swig of vodka from his canteen. Unfortunately, he couldn't bring water, he knew it'd freeze. As he picked up walking again, he felt as though someone was marching alongside him.
His aunt Marb.
His dead aunt Marb.
"Doko... You have grown into a warrior. I wish I could have been there more. To watch you grow, to see you learn. Fen odo, my nephew."
Doko sniffled as he saw her, and immediately attempted to swoop her up in a hug. Yet, she was not truly there. Not in any corporeal sense.
"Aunt Marb, I... It's been so hard. Everyone expects me to know what I'm doing, but I don't. I never have."
She shook her head, the red and blue over her right and left eyes respectively glinted by the light of his lantern.
"You don't give yourself enough credit. So maybe I set up the land deal with Sarissa. Rozania. You were the one who followed through. You acted when it would have been so easy to give up. My pride for you is boundless."
The two kept walking side by side in silence. It's not that Doko didn't want to speak, but he couldn't manage a single word between his sobs. His tears dripped down his face, absorbing into his mask before they got a chance to freeze.
His mask, of course, was used to this by now.
While he may have been freezing on the outside, seeing his aunt one last time gave him a powerful inner warmth that fought the chill fiercely.
And still, Doko continued, even when he could no longer see or feel her walking beside him.
He came to the peak of the mountain, dipping a toe in the metaphorical grave. He felt weak, his legs wanted to give out. But ahead, there was another figure. Medium-length ginger hair. A dress shirt with rolled sleeves. Leather gloves with light plating on the fingers to protect from poorly-aimed hammer strikes.
A golden glint set upon his goggles from the rising sun. Doko removed his mask to look clearly at the man.
The figure turned around to face Doko. He looked exactly as his grandma had described.
"You certainly took your time." He turned to face the rising sun once more. Doko walked up to stand beside him, feeling a gentle breeze roll over his face and blow his hood down.
"I've tried so hard to be like you. The way you... helped people. They actually cared about you. No- they still do. I just- I don't understand."
Mellen chuckled, setting his hand on Doko's shoulder. He could really feel it there, even if there was no weight, no pressure from his hand.
"No amount of effort can make you someone you're not. You know the tale of Amdalla? I'm sure it's made its way down to you."
Doko nodded slowly. Amdalla was a figure of dah'Rini mythology. He was said to have made his own journey up a grand mountain, only to slay the great beast that sat atop it.
"You're a lot like him in a lot of ways. You're a warrior at heart, but much like Amdalla, you don't want to fight. You were simply born into it."
Doko wiped a tear from his eye, sitting down with his legs hanging over the edge of the mountain. The height of it was even more staggering from up top.
"But I want to stop. I'm just so tired."
"The curse of our bloodline. I've never known an Aurelius to be without sleeping ails." He sat down beside Doko, keeping an arm around him. "We're fighters, but... We all have our moment of breaking. When it all just becomes too much. And I've also never known an Aurelius to survive that."
"So there will come a time when I can't take it anymore... and die?"
Mellen shook his head. "That moment already came when you started up the mountain. Yet, look around. You made it to the top alive."
"Then... What do I do? Was I not supposed to survive the trip?"
"You're simply of a greater will than your ancestors. I'm no exception, my moment came far too soon. As for what you do now..." He stood up once more.
And rise, he did.