I Don't Care What Happens Chapter 1

The Return

A soft light fell upon her pale outstretched fingers, flickering as the single flame swayed under her shallow breath. Back and forth it danced, the shadows that engulfed its weak light in constant flux. The ebb and flow, light and dark, it was yet another reminder of him. The thought allowed the tiny flame to best her, and immediately she felt the heat from the burning wick. She steeled herself, forcing her attentions once again onto the candle. She watched the yellow blade that cut through the darkness, reaching straight upward. Being as gifted as she was in her craft, she could sense the miniature blaze. Forces that moved the world birthed her little fire, and she could feel the pull that the energy of the flame had in her own body.

It was what they called magic, the endless dance of the elements of the planet. They swirled around the candle's flickering flame, wind, water, and earth. As fire was physically manifested here before her, the whisper of the other elements seemed to be there also, offering definition to the flame. There was a very specific order about the discipline of magic, due entirely to the understanding that all four elements were equally potent. It seemed a paradox that there should be such order with the concept of magic, an expertise that though it boasted a long tradition, was still very much unmastered.

Order was what he took delight in, order and justice. Her thoughts were again straying from her focus on the candle. He was a man of principle, solemnly upholding the laws of the kingdom and its ruler. Many thought his position of captain was ill-fitting, assuming that his dark armor signified an allegiance to dark thoughts or darker actions. The truth could not be more opposite to this sentiment. The strong arm of the state broke its own laws daily, and yet her lover was the only man in this blood thirsty nation who still held honor. His was a heart set on the code of laws, the standard of their great nation, a standard of justice and order.

Suddenly, the flame shot upward and outward, catching her off guard. The sudden flare burned her outstretched hand, and she recoiled with a sharp cry. She backed away from the table in the center of the room, on which the candle stood. Immediately, her eyes found the floor, as shame would not allow her to look into her teacher's face.

"Where are your thoughts, child!?" a deep voice whispered hoarsely across the room. The flame of the candle grew, and the shadows of the room slid away into the cracks of the basement walls. Her instructor took a step forward, with his hand already out, palm down, manipulating the flame. His eyes, yellow and glowing from behind a dark veil, seemed to press down upon her, making her head bow lower in disgrace.

"I'm sorry, master," was her reply, the only thing she could muster under her instructor's menacing gaze. She knew what was to be expected at this point: A barrage of insults, reprimands, and threats. This was not the first time that she'd felt the wrath of her teacher, but that did not lessen the bite that his words held today.

"You fool! You know what kind of power it is we're dealing with!" He yelled, bearing down on her. She quaked under his domineering presence. "Do not take this so lightly!"

She opened her mouth to respond, to quietly apologize for her mistake, but the verbal assault continued.

"Baron is only as strong as those who fight for it! Those who fight are only as strong as those who can protect them!" The instructor was clearly frustrated at her lack of attention, but despite his yelling, her thoughts remained on the dark knight. "You waste my time here, teaching valuable lessons that lesser wizards could master far sooner! Should I find one who is more willing?" The threat was not an empty one, she knew.

"No, sir."

"Then mind what you are doing, and show me that you belong here, as a white mage! Earn your place in Baron's army!" The light around the room jumped with each breath as he yelled at her, the flame bouncing back and forth, tied to its wick.

The candle's beacon taunted her as it swayed silently in the air. She quickly quieted the feelings of disgust that she felt for the light, and rubbed the spot on her palm where she'd been burned. After a few quiet words, the red skin turned back to its milky white hue, healed.

She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, focusing once again on the candle. Her instructor walked back to his post, across the room, with the candle between him and his student. He raised his hand, and the flame diminished, so much so that it almost extinguished.

"Continue," the instructor growled. His command very clearly conveyed his annoyance. Staring hard at the tiny beacon, she placed her hand over it once more. The fire grew as the instructor controlled it, calling the surrounding energies to feed the small flame. She steeled herself again, and uttered more almost silent words. A barrier formed in front of her hand, and forced the fire's heat away from her skin. As the flame grew at the behest of the instructor, her incantations strengthened the barrier spell. The two magics strained against each other until finally the wick burned as high and as hot as it could. Her hand felt no heat, but instead she was acutely aware of the forces at work before her. The fire against the barrier, black versus white, the onslaught against her shield.

Her shield.

Thoughts suddenly turned from the enchantment to the man in black, the man of order. Immediately, she felt the ache of his absence. She wanted him close, next to her while she fought this stupid flame, this dumb trial, and this harsh teacher. He would stand between her and the instructor, and all threats and insults would bounce back off of her barrier. The ache she felt burned.

And her hand burned also, before she even realized it. After another deep breath, she strived to push him from her mind, and soon she had regained control of the spell, deflecting the heat and holding off the instructor's magic.

"Finally." The growl from beyond the little flickering light was less intense, though still contained disdain. He was starting to get what he wanted. "Now you must concentrate harder."

She held her hand aloft and listened as her teacher breathed a few indiscernible words. Immediately, the light from the flame grew brighter, and she could see the candle wax quickly rolling down the column as it melted. Where the blade once swayed, a shining orange orb stood fixed in the surrounding darkness. She could feel the power of magic as it rushed through the room, sensing her trainer's control over the flame. It was growing larger and larger, until the candle wax looked like a puddle of water on the wooden table. The heat was intense, and she could feel it on her body. Between her hand and the flame, a soft blue light shone, revealing the power of her barrier spell.

The fire ball swirled and burned beneath her, dangerous and beautiful. She could hear the air all around her, rushing toward it, being sucked in like short breaths, and then consumed. Over and over again, the sound came, and each time, the light of the flame pulsated brighter and brighter. It sounded to her like the quiet whoosh that follows a swinging sword, or of wind over grass. And suddenly she realized, it sounded like an airship landing…

He's returned!

At that thought, the soft blue light of her shield vanished. The small firestorm flared out with a surge of magical power. The flame engulfed her entire arm, and almost caught her flowing white robes. She screamed as the burn over her arm began to throb violently. She had already begun the cure spell when the instructor began to charge across the room.

"Get out, Rosa! Get out now!" He shouted. He flipped the table over on its side and continued to approach her. Her body trembled and a lump formed in her throat as he came at her. She held her arms against her body, shielding herself from his wrath. His arm was outstretched, and cowered under it, expecting him to strike any moment before she realized he was pointing at the door. "Now!"

Turning quickly, Rosa wanted to run to the door and cry, but was afraid of showing her teacher any more weakness. He was well known for his violent temper, and she feared the extent of her punishment for her lack of interest. The door flew open as soon as she found it, and the instructor's string of frustrated screams and ruthless curses melted into the din heard from the grand hall above. With each quiet footstep, she struggled to stop the flood of tears that had started to run.

At the top of the stairs, however, she forgot the events that had just unfolded. Her heart dropped, and her stomach twisted in a strange sense of delight. Her breath caught in her throat, her blood ran hot, and a rushing warm feeling slid up her back and out through her arms.

"Cecil." His name escaped her lips, a whisper that she barely heard herself, above the cacophony in the huge corridor.

Sunlight spilled in from the great hall's western windows and streaked across his black frame, highlighting the curves of his plated armor. He strode with purpose in his step, a long sword at his side swaying left and right with each footfall, and a large, shimmering blue stone cradled securely under his right arm. His head was held high, staring straight ahead, looking toward the throne room. The tall dark figure dominated the scene around him, standing out in this cool gray corridor. All the others around him stopped, and slid away from his path toward the king's hall.

Next to him was Baigan, the captain of the castle guard. His red cape flowed behind his royal blue and gold lined uniform, slithering side to side across the stone floor. His blond hair was short, and stood up straight, stiff despite his quick pace. His eyes were narrowed, but even from across the room they betrayed his true thoughts as he quickly glanced at the shining azure jewel. The expression on his face was both eager and delighted, and Rosa felt as though he were restraining himself from unhinging his jaw and devouring the huge gem.

Rosa stepped into the hallway, about twenty paces behind them, and followed. They passed through a tall archway and entered the military hall. To her left, Rosa could see crewmen of the Red Wings, many of which were seated at a large table sharing a beer and talking excitedly. No doubt their conversation centered on the morning's exploits. On the other side of the hall, a number of men sat around another large table, like that of Cecil's crew. These other men sat close to one another, each holding a stein full of beer, speaking quietly. Baron's dragoons were cold, calculating, and ruthless. Rosa knew one of them, a tall man with blue armor. Tips of his long blond hair peeked from under his helmet, which strongly resembled the skull of a dragon. Behind him, propped against the wall, was a long spear, which Rosa knew he carried everywhere.

Cecil's best friend, Kain, took a long swig of his beer and pushed his mug to the center of the table. He stood up and reached for his lance. As he did so, he swayed slightly, and looked over at Rosa as he righted himself. Rosa turned her head, avoiding his gaze, and just caught sight of Cecil and Baigan slipping through the double doors that led to the throne room. She stopped short of passing through the same entryway, determined to wait for Cecil once his meeting with the king was completed. She stood quietly, her back to the dragoons, feeling rather exposed as the only woman in a room full of male soldiers. She didn't want to attract any more attention to herself than she already did, a radiant blonde in flowing white robes. She was reminded of the flame, solitary, standing out in a vast expanse of darkness. Her thoughts shifted from the lesson earlier to what was going on in the throne room.

Through the thick doors, she heard Baigan telling Cecil to wait. She leaned in closer to the door, completely unaware of the fact that she was, in fact, eavesdropping. Straining hard to hear through the doorway, she was surprised when she heard a voice close behind her, almost in her ear.

"Hello, Rosa."

Rosa jumped and let out a sharp cry, startled. She spun around to find the tall man in blue armor bearing down on her. She let out a relieved sigh and a nervous laugh when she recognized the cool cobalt eyes peering through the slits in his helmet.

"Kain, you scared me." Rosa said sheepishly. She took a step back, and was now up against the door to the throne room. There was no noise from the other side.

"What are you doing here? A pretty girl like you should be careful around us scoundrels." He cocked his head toward the Red Wings crew and back toward his dragoons. His voice sounded gravelly after his beer, and his breath was heavy with the scent of the draught.

"Waiting for Cecil." Rosa replied. She pressed her body up against the doors, shrinking under Kain's commanding presence. Although Kain had been friend to both Cecil and Rosa for many years now, his demeanor had changed drastically for the worse, in her opinion. When she'd first met him, he was a compassionate and vibrant youth, but he was a different person from the boy that she used to know so well. After becoming a dragoon, he'd hardened. His compassion turned to power lust, and his energy went solely into combat. Rosa had heard stories from Cecil of Kain's raw power in battle and she'd seen herself the kind of intensity that he carried now. Despite his place at Cecil's right hand, Kain made Rosa feel vulnerable. Being alone with him was unnerving. Having Cecil at her side would have helped.

"He's with the king, isn't he?" Kain asked.

"Yeah." Suddenly, she heard a voice that sounded like Cecil's, like he was trying to defend himself. She looked into Kain's eyes, and could tell he heard it too. Suddenly, very clearly, the both of them could make out the king's voice.

"Silence! Dissension only leads to treason, and that, I will not tolerate! I hereby relieve you of command of the Red Wings!"

Rosa's jaw dropped, and her expression was mirrored by Kain's. She turned to the door, fearing more shouting, or worse still fighting. Her fears were confirmed once she heard the clang of armor, as though people were being pushed around. Above the clamor, she could make out Cecil's voice, pleading.

"Kain, please! Do something!" She knew that Cecil's comrade was already gearing up to charge in. She just prayed that no blood would be spilt.

"Rosa, you shouldn't be here." Kain coldly told her. He pointed to her arm as he readied his lance. "Go to the infirmary to patch that up." With that, he pushed her aside and slid through the doorway.

Kain's words fell on deaf ears. She heard nothing beyond a piercing ring and couldn't think beyond the things she'd heard through the doorway. Sympathy, confusion, and fear welled up inside of her, and a cold chill ran down her spine. Cecil's world had just been turned upside down, and hers followed suit. She was beginning to lose herself in a maze of questions, all without clear answers.

She shook her head and tried to arrange her thoughts, but the flood of confusion stayed. Why was this happening? What had Cecil done? She'd heard accusations of treason from within the royal hall, but that didn't make sense. Cecil was not treasonous. Rosa doubted that Cecil was capable of even considering any traitorous designs, much less engaging in any. It approached heresy. Cecil's entire life was centered around his captaincy. It was his law, his order, his religion.

The myriad of questions that were running through her mind were suddenly cut short when she heard a pair of doors ahead of her groan as they opened. She knew that just beyond the threshold that she stood nearby, Cecil and Kain were approaching. Now, more than any other feeling, confusion and apprehension set in. No doubt Cecil would be whirling from his dismissal still. She didn't want to complicate his thoughts more so by being in the way.

Her breath caught in her chest as she turned and quickly withdrew, heart racing. Hoping above all else that Cecil didn't catch sight of her as he entered the military hall, she ran. She fought with herself as she flew, her mind in dispute between wanting to be next to him or to leave him for the time being. Her retreat took her back through the grand archway that separated the military partition from the great hall, and to the left, toward the East side of the castle. She twisted around a corner and leaned up against the cold stone wall. She finally gasped for breath after finishing her sprint, and bent over, winded.

Looking down at her hands on her knees, she realized what Kain had meant when he commanded her to go to the infirmary. Her right hand was still bright red, skin withered and cracked. Due to the healing spell that she'd already begun, the pain was gone, but it was quite apparent that the wound required much more attention. She closed her eyes and managed to steady the flow of air in and out, despite being breathless only moments before.

Soft words were spoken on soft lips that moved ever so slightly. Despite the major distractions of the events of the day, she managed to focus enough attention on the task at hand. Her unmarred hand glided over the wrinkled flesh, and as her angel voice lilted, drowned out in the busy hall of Baron, the ruby hue faded again into the milky white that was her usual skin tone. She rubbed her arm as she ended the spell, and leaned back against the wall.

She closed her eyes as she silently continued the debate. There was no doubt in her mind that Cecil was crushed by his dismissal. His captaincy had meant the world to him, and to lose it so unceremoniously could lead to nothing but shame for him. If she saw him now, would his embarrassment be too much to bear? Still, her heart beat wildly as she thought of him, wanting nothing more than to be at his side. His touch would calm her trembling body, and the disastrous lesson would fade away while she was in his arms. She needed him, no matter what. That idea was what made the decision for her.

"I don't care what happens, as long as I'm with him," she whispered to herself. With that, she straightened herself up and turned back toward the great hall. Immediately, she saw his dark frame sliding down the hall like a shadow in shifting moonlight. Again, her heart beat wildly and her stomach twisted in a confusion of emotions. She still fought the idea that maybe Cecil wanted time to himself, and seeing her while he was in disgrace would embarrass him. She didn't want to hurt him, but after everything that had happened today, between his sudden orders and her disastrous schooling session, being together felt like the only option. So she followed.

Cecil was moving quickly on his way to his chamber, but Rosa was drawing nearer. He climbed the stairway at the western side of the great hall, out onto the walkway along the parapet. Outside, the sun shone down from the western sky, orange in the late afternoon. Rosa almost lost sight of Cecil as the sun glared from behind his strong figure. She was able to see his silhouette slide back down into the second stairwell across from her, and she quickened her pace to catch him. The room at the bottom of the stairwell seemed dim as she glided down from outside. Cecil's quiet stride took him toward the door ahead.

"Cecil!" She raised her arm toward him and smiled. She quitted the last few steps as he turned toward her. His face was obscured from her sight, hidden behind the dark helmet, shadows cast across his eyes. His plate armor, marked with countless scratches and dents from combat, crested and fell with each breath. The definition of his powerful arms could be seen through the chain mail he wore. Rosa wanted his arms around her, and she wanted the embrace now. "Thank goodness you're alright. I was so worried. You left on such short notice." She stepped closer to him, waiting for him to seize her in the gentle way he did.

"We're fine." Cecil's voice was cold, harsh, and thick, muffled from within his helmet. Rosa stopped her advance, his demeanor confirming her fears that he didn't want to see her right now. His manner softened, but remained grave. "I wish I could say the same for the Mysidians we slaughtered…" Rosa's heart skipped a beat. He never spoke so brazenly, but she could tell by the way his eyes found the floor that shame gnawed away at him. She wondered if she should tell him that she knew about his dismissal from the Red Wings. Cecil turned away from her and headed for the door, so she decided not to press the matter.

"Cecil!" She called to him, stopping him from walking out the door. He turned toward her again, waiting for her to continue. She slowly approached him, wanting to press herself up against his body. She wanted him without the damaged metal barriers between them, the cold coats of armor that kept his warm body from meeting hers. "I'll visit you later, okay?"

"Very well." Cecil's voice was still icy. It suddenly reminded her of Kain's, that frigid tone that had chilled her only minutes ago. She shrank back from Cecil and began to climb the steps back toward the parapet. Her heart hung heavily in her chest, fear playing in her mind. Was Cecil changing as Kain had? If she looked at him, would she see her lover, or another heartless soldier? She turned once more for a final look before taking her leave. The image of his towering stature, dark and foreboding as he watched her depart, didn't fully silence her fears.

Chapter 2

All That Glitters Is Cold 4 Fanfic Competition

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