My Father, My Soldier, My King
The castle was different then Cecil remembered. He wasn't sure if it was because there was no longer a reigning monarch, fake or otherwise, or if the increased tension in the small party of five centered on the looming final battle before them had overtaken most of his senses, but whatever the case, the atmosphere had shifted radically by the time the companions walked in through the large, double doors.
The Paladin glanced around at the initial chamber they walked into, taking in the familiar sound of small popping noises coming from down both sets of staircases near the sides, where the Mages practiced refining their crafts. The white stones in the walls were still gleaming and rough, and as he let his fingers trail over several of them he was reminded of when he used to walk through the castle with the King while on his way to Dark Knight training, back before the Dark Sword had weighed so heavily in his blood-stained hands.
Cecil let his hand fall back down to his side, staring down the hallway that led to the basement, which he knew to be little more than supply rooms and storage chambers. His eyes darted around the doorway that was always closed, and he felt something run up his spine- a shiver of fear and apprehension that he couldn't explain.
A warm hand wrapped around his forearm, and he tore his gaze away from the strangely eerie doorway to find himself looking into Rosa's dark, warm eyes. She smiled slightly, as if sensing his unease at being back in the castle once more, and didn't remove her fingers from his arm.
"What are you looking for?" she asked quietly, so that only Cecil could hear. The Paladin shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, and glanced back at the rest of the party. His other three companions were lined up near the doors they had just entered in through, looking around the chamber with three very different expressions. Rydia's was open and curious, because she'd never seen the inside of Castle Baron before, and her arms were crossed over her chest in what appeared to be a defensive pose, just in case. Kain's eyes were cast down, like he didn't want to look around the place that held so many memories, so many pieces of his troubled, dark past. Edge was glancing around the room with an air of haughty indifference, though the sparkle in his eyes gave away his appreciation of what the inner sanctums of the castle were really like.
Cecil cupped Rosa's cheek with one of his hands, letting his thumb lightly trail along the contour of her cheekbone.
"Dont you feel it?" he asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "That energy?"
Rosa pursed her ruby lips and appeared to concentrate, her eyelids fluttering half closed. One spiraled strand of flaxen hair fell in front of her eyes, and neither made a move to push it away. Cecil waited for her to open her eyes once more, and when she did, she nodded very slightly, one pale eyebrow rising up in an unspoken question.
"I don't know," Cecil shook his head, sighing heavily, answering what she hadn't vocalized. He turned back towards the doorway and felt an inexplicable pull at his stomach, almost like someone was trying to draw him inside the stone confines of the basement. It was a feeling that tugged on his heart, his chest constricting almost painfully, and as he stared at the wooden portal he saw something shimmer just briefly in the air, a shape that he could neither describe nor identify.
"Down there?" Rosa asked, her voice finally loud enough that the rest of the traveling companions could hear it. The other three stepped forward to stand behind the blonde Mage, and all four looked to Cecil with the expectancy that he had come to expect from them. He wasn't sure exactly when it was that his role had become one of a leader, but he was well used to making the decisions that had brought them this far.
Even though he hadn't been able to explain his decision to return to Castle Baron once more, they had followed without question, with a strange, unfailing loyalty that Cecil was sure he would find no where else.
The Paladin raised one arm and pointed at the arch of stones, nodding in response to Rosa's inquiry.
"Down there," he repeated, letting his hand fall.
"The basement?" Kain asked, sounding somewhat puzzled by the choice. "There's nothing down there."
"No," Cecil said, taking a few hesitant steps towards the portal and feeling the tug on his naval grow stronger, as if physically pulling him forward against the old, splintered wooden door. "There is."
Rosa glanced back at Rydia, and the two seemed to share a significant glance, and then Rosa shrugged slightly, her cloak slipping down to cover her upper arms.
"Alright," the blonde Mage conceded. "We'll follow you down."
Cecil flashed her a grateful smile and reached forward, his fingers falling around the surprisingly warm door handle. He took a deep breath, pausing only for a moment, and then pulled the door open with a sharp crack. Whatever he was expecting to happen didn't, and he found himself simply staring down the same dank, dark hallway he had always remembered the basement having.
He started down it, feeling somewhat less confident that there was anything in the mold-infested depths after all. His boots made soft clicking noises on the stone tiles, which echoed through the narrow hallway, and he could hear his companions footsteps mimicking his own, which the exception of Edge, who seemed to move with a near silent grace.
His companions said nothing as they made their way down the hallway. Cecil grabbed one of the torches on the side, knowing that they were perpetually lit with a Black Mage's charm to keep any of the castle guards from coming down and becoming disoriented in the darkness. His liked the feeling of the wooden handle in his hand, because the grains were scraping lightly against his palm and the feeling reminded him strongly of one of the times that the King had journeyed with him into the same basement to collect several history parchments, when he had been much younger.
Cecil tried to push the thoughts of his old mentor out of his head, because Cagnazzo had long since disposed of the monarch, and Cecil had already taken his revenge on the Devil of Water. Dwelling on memories long gone wouldn't help them with the fight against Zemus.
They came to an intersection of corridors and Cecil stopped, raising the torch high so that he could read the inscription on the wall. He already knew what it said, but gazing at the black tiled words made it seem more real, and he didn't quite know if he was supposed to go down the hallway that led to the royal vaults or in the other direction towards the supply storage. The pull at his stomach had stopped immediately once he'd taken a step into the stale basement air.
"Where are we going?" Rydia asked from behind him, her voice loud in the unnaturally still surroundings. Cecil raised the torch higher, wishing that he hadn't led the group down to the dank cells, and he swallowed hard. From his left came a burst of air, which was completely impossible given how he knew the basement tunnels had been laid out, and he turned towards it, both frightened and curious about its origins. On the breeze there seemed to be a voice, a hoarse, raspy voice and it said only one word.
Cecil. Hearing his own name coming from the blackness beside him sent a new wave of fear tingling down his spine. He stared down into the hallway looming before him, both hoping and dreading that he would see something moving in the depths, something that was calling to him from beyond the grave.
"Cecil?" Rosa's question snapped him out of his reverie, and he turned back towards his companions with an ungraceful jerk, aware that his eyes were probably wide with anxiety.
"This way," he said, his tone warbling slightly. "We go this way."
"What are you hoping to find in the Royal Vault?" the Dragoon asked, sounding more annoyed than confused now. Cecil shook his head, knowing that his friend may not have seen the gesture but surging ahead anyway without another word, torch held high in order to shed enough light that none of his companions tripped over a stray stone.
There was another extended period of silence, and Cecil glanced back only once at the figures trailing behind him. Rosa was staring ahead, looking determined. Kain was behind her, looking far more dubious, his gaze arcing around the hallway as if he was taking every detail in. Rydia and Edge were behind him, and the Ninja had an arm slung around the young woman's shoulder. As Cecil watched she tried repeatedly to shrug it off, looking annoyed, and then when she couldn't dislodge it from around her neck she sighed in an extremely huffy way and glared at the ground in front of her feet, looking an awful lot like a petulant child.
Cecil shook his head, repeatedly amazed by the strange companionship they had almost unwillingly formed, and the welcome comfort that existed between the five.
He took several more steps forward before he came to curve in the tunnel. He knew that taking the doorway to his left would lead to the Royal Vault, which contained hundreds of jeweled crowns and diamond encrusted scepters, most too ornate and gaudy to actually be used by a ruling monarch. But as he glanced to his right, down the sloping path that he had never before gone down, he felt his heart beat faster in his chest as if his body knew something he had not yet realized.
Without a word to his comrades, who by this point were probably resigned to simply follow him down his strange hunt, Cecil took off down the curving corridor, painfully aware of the fact that the darkness they were walking through was constricting around them. The light from the torch he held was dimming, even though the flames on the straw were still flickering wildly. He pushed his arm higher, hoping to dispel some of the inky shadows, but it didnt seem to work, and within a few minutes' time, the light from the torch was all but extinguished.
There was a gasp behind him as the room was plunged into a menacing darkness, and Cecil wasn't entirely sure who it was. He stuck his free hand forward and took several uneasy steps, waving his fingers ahead of his body in an attempt to avoid running face first into a stone wall.
"What happened?" Rosa said, her voice low.
"Where are we?" asked Edge. Cecil didnt answer either question, because honestly, he didn't know himself, and continued walking forward until quite suddenly, light filled the stone-lined chamber they were in, and all five jerked around in surprise, eyes wide and muscles quivering in alertness.
The room itself was almost uncannily large, with a large, open area in the center and then a small ledge near the left hand side, where there was a deep crimson carpet similar to that lining the throne room in the upper halls. There was a throne sitting atop the red fabric, just a plain, wooden throne, which was strangely empty. Cecil met Rosa's gaze for a moment, taking in how frightened her dark eyes looked, and then turned his head towards the empty throne, knowing that somehow, everything was centered on that single object.
Cecil, came the strange, raspy voice again. The Paladin stiffened suddenly, his lips pursing as he recognized the hoarse undertones in the noise.
"Odin?" he asked, his voice coming out as a wavering whisper. Both Rosa and Kain whipped their heads around to stare at Cecil, both companions wearing nearly identical expressions of disbelief on their features, though Kain's face was half concealed by his helmet.
There was a strange feeling in the air, as the energy shifted drastically, and then all of a sudden there was a figure sitting in the wooden throne, arms resting on the sides, chin held high. The crown on the man's head glittered in the strange, eerie light that filled the chamber, and all three former Baron residents gasped in succession.
"Odin," Kain repeated, his voice thick with awe.
"Your Majesty," Rosa curtsied slightly, staring with wide, anxious eyes. The former king of Baron stared hard at them, his eyebrows thick and pointed, and his fingers seemed to drum on the wooden armrests of the throne.
"Cecil," the apparition said, turning his steely gaze towards the gaping Paladin. "I have been watching you."
"Odin," Cecil said, feeling uncomfortable in the presence of the former King. "I didn't know..."
"It's no matter," the spirit swatted with one hand. "I am more powerful this way."
"But, you were like a father to me." The Paladin struggled with the lump that had somehow lodged in his throat. "If I only would have known that Cagnazzo had taken your place, I never would have left Baron."
"Cecil," Odin's voice was booming in the chamber, as if his words reverberated off of every stone in the walls. "There was nothing that could have been done about Cagnazzo. It's in the past."
"But," Cecil started once more, shaking his head.
"No," Odin cut him off with another dismissive wave of his hand. "Now, time is of the essence. I will test your strength, and if you are deemed worthy, I will allow the Summoner to call upon my help."
Rydia looked somewhat frightened at the proposition, more so than she had been when facing the same trials with both Queen Ashura and King Leviathan. Cecil took a step forward, trying to come up with the words to stop the fighting, so that he could talk with the man he had once idolized and looked up to, but Rosa held her arm out and stopped him.
"Cecil," she said softly, her voice gentle but her arm held firm. "We have to."
Odin stood then, and the five companions all stepped backwards, stopping in the middle of the large stone chamber. The spirit of Baron's King walked towards them, feet inches off of the tiles, until he was facing them, arms outstretched at his sides. And then, in a flash of light, the image of the former man was gone, replaced with a knight riding atop a six legged-horse, holding his gleaming blade towards the trembling group.
"Challenge me!" Odin's voice boomed throughout the chamber, and Cecil took a deep breath while trying to calm himself as best he could. He glanced over at Kain, who nodded slightly and moved further down, taking up a tense battle stance. Rydia flanked out between the Dragoon and Cecil. On the Paladin's other side stood Rosa, fingers clenched around her Crossbow, and then Edge stood brandishing both katanas, knees slightly bent in anticipation.
"Begin," the king said, and Cecil didn't need to be told twice. He lunged forward with the Excalibur, slashing at the knight's mount, which reared up and let out a shrill shriek of terror. One of its hooves caught the Paladin in the chest and sent him flying backwards, landing on the stone tiles with a muffled groan, his sword clattering to the ground several feet away from him.
He heard a soft chant and then furious rush of noise as bolts of lightning rained down from the ceiling and struck the knight, and then several metallic clangs as arcing swords came down hard on steel armor. There was a small pop as Kain launched himself into the air, and then Cecil felt a familiar tingling sensation all over his body, giving him enough energy to push himself up off of the ground and reach for his discarded weapon.
Odin was swift, and he dodged most of the attacks. Cecil got in a few good slashes at the horse, but each time the king's mount would merely rise up and kick him away. Kain's aim was true, but the former king was faster, and the horse dodged the lance as the Dragoon came down hard on the floor. Rosa was more preoccupied with healing the energy drain than shooting her Medusa arrows, and Cecil was incredibly glad for her abilities. Rydia got a few spells in, but they seemed to merely faze the knight instead of harm him, and even Edge's lightning quick Ninjitsu moves only hit home half the time.
It wasn't until Odin raised his huge sword high over his head that Cecil became truly worried about the outcome of the battle. He'd seen the former monarch fight before, and a long time ago he had been completely mesmerized by the king's amazing abilities on the battlefield, and he knew all too well what was coming up next.
He twisted back to face his companions.
"Move!" he shouted harshly, throwing himself out of the way. He knew that once Odin had lined up his attack, it was very difficult to change its direction, and his only hope was that the others would understand the intensity of the situation and take heed to his warning.
Rosa, too, seemed to remember the signature move of her king, and with a startled gasp she threw herself to one side of the room, rolling several times as her curls bounced against the floor. Edge, moving faster than Cecil had thought possible, slid to the opposite wall, holding both swords out and breathing hard.
It was only Rydia that couldn't get herself far enough away from the path, and as Odin started forward, letting out a fierce battle cry, the Summoner threw her arms over her head in the only defense she had left. Cecil wanted to tear his eyes away, for he didn't want to see Odin's assault on the wisp of a Mage, but he couldn't stop staring at the cowering girl standing directly in the wake of the thundering horse.
"Rydia!" he called out, his voice hoarse and pleading, but she didn't get the chance to answer, or even raise her eyes to meet his, because Kain darted behind her and wrapped his arms around her middle, propelling both of them into the air with a hard shove of his foot. His lance clattered to the floor, and was kicked across the tiles when mere seconds later, Odin and his mount rushed past in a roar of power and magic, sword stretched out in front of the knight.
It was when Cecil was staring at the king's back that he realized this was the pivotal weak spot of the incredibly powerful move.
"Go!" he exclaimed, rushing forward as fast as he could to arc his sword over his head and bring it down hard on the knight's back. Edge, once again moving with a strange and almost unearthly fluid grace, followed the Paladin's example moments later, and as the former king of Baron cried out in anguish, a well-aimed Medusa arrow hit him square between the eyes.
Both horse and rider toppled to the floor, and for a long moment there was no sound, save for the labored breathing of the three companions still standing on the ground.
There was a loud clang as Kain landed behind Cecil, with the trembling Summoner latched on tightly, arms thrown around his shoulders and face pressed into his armor. She seemed quite unwilling to let go of her savior, and Cecil certainly couldn't blame her for shaking like a leaf, because he too had once been in Odin's path, and could remember just how terrifying an experience it could be.
The knight and horse sprawled across the stone tiles disappeared then, and once more the king's translucent form appeared before them. The former king was smirking, one thick eyebrow quirked upwards, and he extended a hand out to Cecil, who reached for it gingerly.
"You have passed," the king nodded. Cecil knew the man well, and the slight twitch of his lips showed that he was pleased. "You make me proud."
"Thank you, sir," the Paladin whispered, aware of the emotion choking him. Even though he couldn't really feel Odin's fingers curled around his, he knew that they were there, and the fact that the man he had once called father was proud of him and his accomplishments sent a warm shiver of pleasure lacing through his body. He couldn't stop the wide smile that split across his face.
"You held true to your heart," Odin continued, dropping his hand back down to his noncorporeal side. "Even when you thought that it was still I who was giving you orders."
Cecil didnt answer right away, because he couldn't get the words to form in his increasingly dry mouth.
"You are strong," the former king gave a curt, quick nod. "And you follow your instincts. Baron couldn't ask for a better leader."
"Leader, sir?" Cecil started, blinking. Odin merely smiled at him, the grin looking both slightly wolfish and mischievous.
"You will know what I speak of, one day," the former king said. His eyelids fluttered closed, and Cecil knew that he was departing from the chamber. He wanted to hold his hand out and to beg the man he had once called father to stay, but there was a strange popping noise and then a flash of light so brilliant that Cecil had to cover his eyes.
When he opened them again, Odin was gone, and the room was lit with candles hanging on the sides of the stone walls. Whatever aura had previously been in the chamber had dissipated, and now all Cecil could smell was the stale, dank stench of mildew.
He turned to find Rosa standing next to him, beaming. There were unshed tears in her dark brown eyes, and as she slid her fingers into his, he squeezed her hand tightly.
"You were brilliant," she told him, a flush covering her cheeks.
"So were you," Cecil smiled in return. He turned to the rest of the group, who were waiting a few yards away. Edge was fussing over Rydia, going on and on about how she could have been killed by the attack, but the Summoner wasn't even looking at the Ninja. Instead she was staring at Kain, the expression on her face one of pure adoration, similar to the looks she used to give Cecil when she had been young. It seemed to embarrass the Dragoon, who kept shifting his gaze uncomfortably to the floor.
Cecil let his gaze linger between his companions for a moment, taking in the fight that had just transpired, and Odin's final words, which were ringing uncomfortably inside his head. He couldn't quite grasp the meaning, but realization was starting to dawn, in the dark recesses of his mind. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, but found that it didn't help.
"Let's go," Cecil announced to his comrades. "The Red Moon awaits."
And as they left the large chamber, Cecil bringing up the rear, he turned around just once more to look at the wooden throne sitting on the crimson carpet. He let his gaze sit upon it for several moments before smiling one last time, the corners of his mouth quirking upward, and then he left it behind him, following the others up and out of the dark basement tunnels.
All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition
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