Shawn lagged at the back of the group as they escaped from the crumbling ruin, running as fast as their legs could carry them. Slowly he picked up the pace, passing the shopkeepers and philosophers with a childish kind of glee.
He waited for Lemeza to come into view, his heart pounding hard with a tension that kept mounting. He wanted to see the look on his face when he grabbed the Treasure of Life, leapt over him, ran off laughing at the top of his lungs…
He ran and ran, and Lemeza was nowhere to be seen. There was only the survivors, and Shawn, and his confusion, as he headed towards the rising sun.
There was never any question that Lemeza had made it out alive. "Of course he did," Shawn blustered, half to himself and half to the assembled faculty of Lemeza's university. "There's no way he's still in there. I'm positive," he explained. "Give him a few days. I'm sure he's just enjoying his vacation."
Shawn may not have gotten the Treasure of Life like he planned, but he'd escaped from La-Mulana with more than enough for a traveling exhibit and lecture tour. He threw himself into it, penning as many journal articles as he could until his hand ached, then switching to phone calls with directors of every major museum in the country.
"It isn't quite complete yet," he told them. "I'm missing the centerpiece. But it shouldn't take long."
Each successful deal he struck gave him a giddy lightheaded feeling, the feeling of victory. But at the end of each day his energy dropped like a rock, leaving him exhausted and anxious, trying to shake off some apprehension he couldn't define.
Every night before Shawn climbed the stairs to his bedroom, he stole a glance at the front door of his house. Nothing happened, but he gave Lemeza that one last chance to pull himself up, ragged and caked with mud, to his doorstep.
Weeks passed. Shawn grew irritated when people asked him about the whereabouts of his son, and even more irritated that he didn't have an answer.
"What do you think I am, his nanny?" he snapped. "I don't know where he is. He's old enough to do whatever he wants. Maybe he decided to stay in La-Mulana," he scoffed, "and in any case, he'd rather die before telling me anything!"
It wasn't as far-fetched an idea as it sounded. Shawn himself had lived in the ruins for weeks. No reason Lemeza wouldn't be able to.
But his exhibition couldn't tour without a centerpiece, after all, and so Shawn ended up back in the jungle where the ruins had once stood. He couldn't raise the funding for a full excavation, but he didn't mind. He preferred to go it alone.
The village had long been abandoned. The inhabitants had escaped, migrated away one by one, like Mulbruk and the philosophers and all those other ghosts that he hadn't seen since. The only one he'd kept in contact with was Elder Xelpud, who always seemed be on the periphery of Shawn's world.
But his hut was empty, though his generator and a few other implements remained. Even the birds and snakes that were native to this area had seemed to disappear.
The main entrance to the ruins had caved in, but the door into the Tower of the Goddess under the waterfall still opened for him. The monitors set into the walls were cracked and lifeless and the hum of distant machinery could no longer be heard, but he still felt his way through the dark, unfamiliar landscape.
The ruins were cavernous and quiet around him. The girders and cables of the tower jutted out at odd, grotesque angles, like the ribs and sinew of a giant corpse.
Which is, after all, what the Mother was.
Shawn tore his mind away from it and continued to search.
He moved through the ruins as if in a dream, numbly crossing from ancient chamber to empty spring with the mindlessness of a sleepwalker. He could hear Xelpud's voice from somewhere inside him, or behind him maybe, chastising him for refusing to eat.
"You can't just work for days at a time and then binge on whatever you want afterwards," Xelpud scolded.
Shawn, the memory of Shawn, looked up from his bowl of curry and laughed. "It's fine. I'm a tough old cuss, you know that. Though," he chuckled, "not nearly as tough or old as you."
Xelpud shot him a disgusted look. "I'm not talking about just you," he said, and nodded towards a vague shape, a hole in Shawn's recollection. "What about him? You want him picking up your bad habits?"
"Stop it," Shawn said out loud, and his voice reverberated off the stone walls, echoing until it disappeared somewhere further, deeper, into the dark.
Weeks passed, again. At least, it felt like weeks, but Shawn couldn't be sure--he'd stopped writing his journal entries long ago, and his periodic trips back to the surface told him nothing about how many days had passed in the interim.
He sat in Xelpud's hut, eating some curry he'd prepared from some of the bats and birds he'd spotted in the ruins. He peered out through the jungle canopy, catching a ray of the sunlight on his glasses. How many hours had it been? How many days since he last saw the sun?
Shawn's eyes widened.
Of course. The last place Lemeza would have gone. The place he would have reached, or died trying.
He had been to the Temple of the Sun already, but had stumbled through it in a daze, seeing nothing, hearing nothing. Now he rushed back to it to search again, leaving his food half-eaten on the surface. The eye of Wadjet had faded and fallen from the wall, and the tall columns had broken and collapsed in some places, but still he could make his way through most of it, landmark by landmark.
The Room of Isis…
The summit of the pyramid, crumbling…
The collapsed sphinx that Shawn himself had destroyed, with his own hands…
Nothing. He made his way back to the top of the Temple, near the entrance to the Spring in the Sky. His blood started to burn in his veins, and the muscles of his arms and legs ached with frustration.
"He's got to be here, here," he hissed, looking back and forth, turning round like an animal in a cage. He turned toward the cavernous expanse of the Temple, stretching out far below him, and he raised his voice. "I know you're in here, Lemeza!"
"You're a coward!" Shawn yelled, and his voice, sharp and piercing, sounded like a gunshot in the quiet air. "You spineless, good-for-nothing coward!" Of course, it wasn't true, but it wouldn't be the first time Shawn had provoked him on purpose.
"Running away with the greatest treasure in the world, hiding it away so you can't tell anyone what happened--" He sucked in a breath. "Or what, didn't you see the rope I left for you in the shrine? Were you so dense that you missed it?" he ranted. "You're either a coward or an absolute idiot, and I'm going to find you so I can say it to your face!"
There was nothing. The endless silence swallowed up his words, and in that silence, Shawn heard something hit the ground behind him. Something small. Something nearly imperceptible.
A pebble had come loose from the ceiling. It bounced off the ground with a tak, rolled towards a crumbling passage a few feet away, and bounced off the rungs of the ladder on the way down, tak, tak, tak, and lodged itself into a mess of rubble at the bottom of the shaft.
Shawn stared at it in disbelief. That room had long since caved in, and anyway, it had been an obvious trap from the beginning, one so easy to spot that Shawn had laughed at the idea of Lemeza stumbling across it in the first place.
He slowly made his way down the ladder. There was barely enough room for him to stand at the bottom, and the debris blocked the passageway completely.
With shaking hands, he started to pull away the stones.
This is it, he thought. It's here.
When he pulled the last great chunk of stone away from the rest, he saw the flicker of something reflective in the dark and his stomach grew cold and tight.
It was him. He was lying on his side next to his MSX, his tattered, olive-green hat a foot or so away. The bones of one hand rested against the ground. The other was tucked close to his chest, and something shone underneath it.
Shawn knelt down and slipped his hand under Lemeza's and pulled it out. The Treasure of Life gleamed in the meager light.
He stared at Lemeza's body, his hand tightening around the crystal so hard he thought it might crack.
"I can't believe you would do this," he whispered. "Why?"
"Why?" he repeated, in a hoarse, strained voice. "I knew you would make it out. Out of anyone, you would make it." Because you're like me.
"Did you--did you do this on purpose?" Shawn's voice rose, and he felt anger and shame and sadness well up in his throat with it. He shoved the Treasure of Life forward, spitting out the words. "Did you think you'd get one over on me? Sticking it to me even from beyond the grave, hiding somewhere I couldn't find you? Is that it?"
Shawn turned away and slipped the Treasure of Life into his pocket. The heat left his body with the anger, leaving only a cold hollowness and a feeling of revulsion at those ugly thoughts, ones he knew weren't true, selfish things that he grasped at anyway for some reason he couldn't even begin to unravel.
Lemeza didn't deserve that. Of all the things in this world, he didn't deserve to have lies spat at his body.
Shawn took off his glasses, wiped them clean, rubbed at his eyes. Lemeza had his MSX with him, and on a hunch, Shawn had brought an extra battery with him. If he could power it on, he might be able to find a note.
He hooked it up and the screen flickered to life. Shawn wiped away the dust on the monitor with his sleeve and peered at the screen through his bleary eyes.
It wasn't a note, but a program window with a list of files in order. Shawn clicked on the first one, and the rich, slightly tinny sound of old music from old video games filled the small space they were in.
Lemeza had listened to these songs as he died.
It all hit him now. His son had tried to escape and failed, panicked, made a mistake that Shawn himself had come close to making over a dozen times in his career. His son had saved his life, all of their lives, even those of people who would never know, and he had died for it in the dark like an animal. He listened to this music as he sat here in this space, suffocating, starving.
He had died here while Shawn pretended otherwise, even though every night he hoped beyond hope to see Lemeza at his door to hate his father once again.
The part of Shawn that would have held back his tears was too tired to try anymore, and he cried. He knelt by Lemeza's body, winding his fingers into what remained of his son's. "I'm sorry," he croaked. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He drew in a breath, sobbed, and pulled away, letting Lemeza's hand drop back gently to the floor. He wouldn't have wanted that--he wouldn't have wanted Shawn holding him, giving him empty apologies, looking for his forgiveness. Of all the things in this world, he deserved better than that.
Shawn sat in front of him, his hands balled into fists on his knees, his teeth gritted tight.
"I'm sorry for calling you a coward," he said, trying to keep his voice even, "and I'm sorry I waited so long to find you."
He swallowed hard.
"I'm sorry for--for relying on your work. Poaching it." The Treasure of Life weighed heavily in his pocket. "Stealing it."
"I'm sorry that I never came back," he continued, and his voice began to waver and break. "I'm sorry. I never thought I'd be a good father," he confessed. "I thought your mother would raise you…while I worked…."
The words were pathetic and ugly in his mouth, but he dug his fingernails into his palms and kept going.
"Because I knew she'd do it right. And when she died--when she died, I didn't know what to do with you."
Shawn bowed his head down, fighting every urge to swallow his confession. "I ran away because I was afraid, Lemeza! I'm sorry! I'm sorry for being too scared and selfish--to do it myself!" He gripped the ground with his red, painful hands, sobbing through his teeth. "I'm sorry for bringing you here, and I'm sorry I left you behind…"
He drew in a breath, shut his eyes tight and forced out his words in a yell that reverberated through the ruins. "And I'm sorry I wasn't enough of a man to tell you this when you were alive!"
"Here?" Xelpud says. The summit of the cliff overlooks the ocean, in view of the setting sun.
"Yes," Shawn responds. "I thought he'd prefer to be buried in Japan." He pauses, and then adds, "I couldn't just leave him there."
"Yeah," the elder agrees. "He wouldn't have wanted that, I'm sure."
They're both quiet. Shawn's coat is rust-red, like his suit, and he wraps it tighter around himself as the sea wind pulls at his clothes.
"It's the least I could do," he says.
"Mmm." Xelpud makes a vague noise that means he doesn't disagree.
"I just--" Shawn says, frustrated. He's still struggling to speak sincerely, to say what he means instead of what gets him the upper hand, and it's not something that comes easily to him. "I feel--"
"I know," Xelpud says. "You feel awful and nothing will ever even begin to make up for what you've done. Or haven't done."
Shawn sighs. "That's about the size of it, yes."
"But," his friend adds, tapping the ground with his staff, "it's a hell of a lot better than never facing it at all."
They stand together like that for a few more moments. Xelpud, always perceptive, sees Shawn's gaze travel further and further into the distance. He reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder, gently pulling him back to earth.
"Listen," says the elder. "He wouldn't have wanted you to die, either."
Shawn looks at the ground. Lemeza's grave is small, plain, a cross on the cliff.
"He would never have wanted that," Xelpud insists firmly, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "And if you had, I'd be giving him the same talk too."
"He'd probably say it was about time," Shawn says, half-smiling. "He hated me."
"Maybe," Xelpud replies. "But he had some pretty complicated feelings when he found that laptop of yours in the ruins."
Shawn stares at Xelpud blankly. "I…I'd forgotten all about that," he says weakly. "I was going to tell him later--that it was just a prank."
"I told him it probably was, myself," the elder grumbles. "Want to know what he said?"
"'It'd better be a joke,'" Xelpud blusters, bringing himself up to his full height and doing a pitch-perfect imitation of Lemeza when he got mad. "'Because I'm gonna kill him myself when I get out of here!'"
Shawn laughs, then Xelpud. "Ready to go back?" says the elder, grinning at his friend. "It's nearly dark."
"Almost," Shawn chuckles. "Go on back to the house. I'll catch up."
Xelpud turns and heads back down the hill. Shawn watches him leave, then turns back to the small, plain cross on the cliff. Someone has left a wreath of laurel leaves around it. He assumes Mulbruk, but he can't be sure.
Slowly, he kneels down, hangs his talisman on one arm of the cross, then stands back up. His hand slips into his pocket, and he pauses--then he pulls his arm back, and sends the Treasure of Life hurtling off the cliff into the sea.
The waves crash far below him, and Shawn Kosugi turns and walks away with the setting sun at his back.