He thought she would be here. He didn’t remember who she was, but he thought she would be here.
The fact she wasn’t would’ve made him angry, if he still had the capacity for anger. But anger, hate, joy, passion, cleverness. Love. All of it was taken from him. He didn’t feel anymore. He couldn’t remember anymore.
Except for her. The Woman in White. He remembered her.
So he tried to find her. He’d already wandered far. Seemingly aimlessly, but whenever he arrived at his destination, he felt a connection to her. To the memory, the last one he had left.
She was shining, though no longer holding the Sun’s spear or wrapped in her white and golden cloak. She was there with him, her self laid bare. And he was there with her. He had dropped his own defenses, of which there were many, and given himself to her. She lay next to him and looked serious for a moment, as if remembering something. Whether from earlier that day or from years ago, he couldn’t know. But then she looked at him and smiled, her features deep-set and dark in the covered tent. Even in the darkness of the tent, far removed from the fire and the revel outside, even without the Sun’s spear and her golden cloak, she shone.
Bits and pieces of that memory, and only that memory, came back to him consistently. Not his name, not his home, nothing else. Only the Woman in White. He thought she might know why. So he strove to find her.
He’d had no success.
First, he’d arrived at a broken amphitheater. The round was ringed with bruised stone seats and columns. The proscenium was shattered. If he’d been himself, he would’ve been able to tell: a battle’d taken place here.
There was a battle taking place now, but this one was merely play. Two boys with dull swords clanged them together, shouted. Every few minutes, they would step back to where they started. Make the same movements, shout the same words again.
He wondered if they were like him. If they had only the one memory to return to. If that was why they repeated the same sequence over and over and over. He was doing better than that, at least.
But eventually, the boys broke from their battle. Sweating, each congratulated the other on a job well done. One, taller and with red hair, flipped his sword in his hand. He caught the sword by the blade, effortlessly, then handed it to the other boy. The other, darker in both hair and complexion, took the sword, sheathed both. The boys gathered their things and prepared to leave.
He’d hidden among the rocks while the boys fought. He did not want them to see him. But now, as they started to walk away, he decided to emerge. If he was going to find the Woman in White, he would need help.
When the boys saw him, they ran. The dark one dropped the swords and his satchel and thought nothing of leaving them behind. He chased the boys through the forest, hoping he could explain what he needed, though he did not truly know. They were faster than him, which didn’t seem right. He was…trained? A warrior? He remembered battle. His last battle. He remembered a mighty river, rising. He remembered a satyr who wanted to be a god.
At the thought, a demon leapt out of him, unbidden. Horned and laughing and flying on ragged, star-filled wings. The demon surged ahead of him and swept through both boys’ bodies, leaving them stopped and stunned in his wake. The demon flew up toward the night sky and either blended in or disappeared. The laughing stopped, so he assumed the latter.
The boys still did not move. He approached them, slowly, all the while trying to remember the thoughts he’d had, that had given rise to the demon. But when the demon left him, the memories had left as well.
He grabbed the red-headed boy by the shoulder, turned his body so they stood face to face. The boy did not resist, nor did he show any sign of being able to. His face was blank except for his eyes, which glowed purple with starstuff. And suddenly, Daxos (Was that his name? Daxos?) could feel the memory resurfacing. The one he’d been able to hold on to. The one of the Woman in White. He did not want to lose it like he’d lost the other. With what will he had, he fought to hold on to the memory, as it attempted to surge out of him.
He felt the memory leave. He did. But it was also with him still. He still remembered her shine. Still remembered her smile.
But now, the boy remembered too. As if reshaped by the force of the memory, the boy now shone as the Woman in White had shone. His head was consumed within tongues of flame. His body gleamed with starstuff, adding further definition to his already fine physique. The boy’s will was gone, burned out by the intensity of Daxos’s memory.
Daxos (That name felt right, Daxos. He would continue to call himself that, if he could remember it.) moved on the other boy, converted him as well. Maybe he would’ve felt sorry, if he could still feel sorrow. As it was, Daxos summoned both boys to him and gave them this command:
He made his way through the continent like this. He forgot his name again, then remembered it, then forgot it. But he did not forget her, and he forced many others to remember. By the time he’d made it to this place, the place he’d hoped to finally find her, he’d created an army of scouts and searchers. Even now, they continued scouring the continent for her. Hoping only to bring her to him.
But she was nowhere to be found. He now stood in front of Theros’s largest temple to her patron, the God of the Sun. The people going into and out of the temple avoided him or recoiled as he approached the entrance. He did not care. He was not here for them. He did not need any more scouts. He would find her here.
A golden laurel wreath hung over the staircase at the back of the temple, huge and impressive. Marble columns led him up the aisle, past ornate wooden pews and benches and sun-shaped stained-glass windows. Again, at the sight of him, most of those in the temple left. But the priestess at the Sun God’s altar stayed put and waited for him to arrive.
“It is you,” said the priestess, examining him. “Those archers you met yesterday…they said they saw your markings. Your tattoos. But I told them it couldn’t be you. That you’d never willingly put on the mask of a Returned. But here you are.”
The old woman reached a hand out to him, to help him up the altar’s steps. Despite himself, he took it. For some reason, he trusted this woman. In all his wanderings, nobody’d ever freely offered their assistance.
“Is this some ploy, Daxos?” she asked. “A ruse? Did you even die at all?”
He stood, impassive. Dwarfing the woman, though they both looked worse for wear. She looked him over more closely, taking in the slight rotting of his flesh, the broken bands on his gauntlets. The wildness of his hair, the unmistakable golden gleam of his mask. He was a Noston. This was no ruse.
“The story of your death spread,” said the priestess. “Most have heard how Xenagos…”
No, not there. It wouldn’t do to start there. The Returned did not remember, as a rule, but still. There was no need to provoke him.
He tilted his head down, to get a better view of her through his mask. She knew something. She knew more about him, and the Woman in White, than he did.
He needed to know what she knew.
“I came for her,” said Daxos. “The Woman in White.”
The priestess heard, and she knew. He could tell. She knew who he was talking about. She knew the truth. She knew where the Woman in White was.
Daxos reached out a hand. Instinctively, the priestess flinched. But Daxos only gently grasped her shoulder. He did her no harm. He did not force his memory on her. He did not want to burn her knowledge away. He needed it, desperately.
The priestess considered the shell of a man in front of her. She did not know what was left of him, this former brave and clever warrior of Meletis. But she knew she could not deny him what he needed. Even if it cost her life.
“She’s dead, Daxos,” said the priestess. “Elspeth is dead. She fell slaying Xenagos in the heavens.” The priestess paused, looked at the laurel on the wall. “Or at least, that’s one version of the story. There are others, which I can not utter here.”
Daxos took his hand from the priestess’s shoulder. He tried to mourn. He knew he should mourn. But sharp feeling, the pain and anger and rage that comes at a moment of loss. He could not feel that. He wanted to; he tried to. But he could not feel it. It was beyond him, as he was now.
So he did not rage. And he did not lash out. Instead, he simply turned to face one of the stained glass windows. The sun was setting. Night would come. The moon, the stars, the darkness.
But then, the sun would come up again.
Daxos turned back to the priestess.
“I was dead. Before. I think,” said Daxos. “If I can come back. So can she.”
With that, Daxos turned and left the Temple of the Sun God, a new mission in hand.