And bear unmov'd the wrongs of base mankind,
The last and hardest conquest of the mind.

- Alexander Pope


There was nothing to distinguish one day from those preceding or following it in the wastelands. Centra drank up distinction, kept it and held it like a sponge made of sand and dry dirt, wind and dry heat. It was not a jealous land, but a tired one--it had lost long ago all will to be.

The dawn was colorless. The air was bitter, lukewarm and stagnant.

Dyne walked beneath a sky more grey than blue, heart bared to the world that would see him hunted and slaughtered. The world that would love him in time. The world that would adore him, revere him, if only because it had no choice.

(There is no choice to be had.)

His lieutenant approached him, clearly in awe even when the thin light of dawn revealed him as the fragile being he was. He paused some paces away, unsure whether to kneel or stand. "My lord--"

Dyne turned to him. "My slave."

The man's hands twisted around one another, his eyes shifted uneasily. "My lord, I have a question."

"Then ask it."

"Last night, I--and forgive me, my lord, once again, I trespassed without knowing, but last night--" he swallowed. "I accepted your terms, my lord--with all my heart, I do, I accept them! But I wondered--I wanted to know--"

"You would know your task, then?" Dyne's gaze was piercing. "You would learn the full scope of your loyalty?"

"Y-yes."

Dyne smiled, and stretched out his hand. "Then I will show you."

With a strong mental grip he reached out and took the man--split asunder any last threads of defiance, any barriers to his own will. The man gasped, body jerking uncontrolled--Dyne sifted mental fingers through his thoughts, taking in the texture of his mind. (Not like Leonhart's. But for now, I do not need it to be.)

His smile widened, lips pulling back over glinting teeth. "Do you love me, my second?"

His Lieutenant was on his knees, head pulled roughly back and face to the sky, mouth and eyes open wide in rapture or agony or some middling thing, gasping as his mind crumpled like a banknote, like some fleeting figment of nightmares or dreams--twisted and slamming down deep in him so that he could only choke on its ruins, thick and dark like blood and dying. Dyne watched him, hungering at the sight.

"I am Dyne," he spoke, orating magnificently for the sake of the caught and enthralled. "Great Hyne's Descendant, mugger, murderer--and lord. This much, all shall know. I bear the Light."

And what was that, again?

He smiled, and it was a thin serpent smile against the atrocity of wasteland and dry wind.

"No Knight exists there to hinder me, no Sorceress exists there to dim me..." he forced his will deeper upon the man, watching him in his weakness--watching as he strained for breath and reason, as he clutched at the tattered threads of sanity Dyne left him. Dyne felt a thrill of pleasure at the sight. "Even should I become the world's enemy--"

Covet not.

"--I am Dyne Ascendant, Power of the Gods, God of the Powers--"

Judge not. The serpent's words were thin like the scent of drought rain on a still wind. The Lieutenant's lips were taut with a silent scream.

"And the world is mine, as you are, in fealty, in duty--and in love."

Tempter and deceiver.

Damned and damnable.

Base and bestial.

And his Lieutenant cried out once, a sharp call against the starkness, a choked gasp of ecstasy--so strange, so unnatural that Dyne's heart skipped and skipped again, a biting tattoo against his ribs and lungs. The sound of scales on smooth scales hissed inside his mind, and he laughed in a sadistic, childlike glee.

Dyne Ascendant.

"And all the world shall love me," he said, walking to the man as if he walked over a carpet of petals, as if the dry shifting dust was soft as velvet and rich as silk beneath his bare toes. He slid his hand over his Lieutenant's crown, twining his thin fingers in dark thick hair, beaming down as any lord might appraise a beloved pet. "They shall love me as you do. All the world."

And man and serpent were silent before him.

-

"Face my wrath for seeking thy sealed power."

Things of ancience, things so terrible that once buried the world forgot them. Only Sorcery bid them rise and move--only the Light made the shadows dance.

"Face my wrath--"

SeeD is sworn a sacrificial oath. There are knights and nights and Knights, and then there is death.

"--my wrath--"

And every strike, every parry, every desperate attack brings him closer to dying--or to killing and breaking, cutting and piercing, doom echoing back within memory and the creeping, terrible fear.

SeeD is sworn to kill the Sorceress. This much, everyone knows.

"--for seeking--"

Odin rides out of the storm and the thunder. Odin dies.

"--thy sealed--"

The moon shines brightly through the clouds on the gargoyles below, on the seated queen in her crimson robes. Xerampelinae.

"--power."

Kurse all SeeDs.

He should know by now that it is a vain crusade.

Curse all SeeDs--

Dyne is not afraid and tells himself this over and over, holding it like a lantern against the implacable dark. SeeD is sworn to kill the Sorceress. All in vain. Sorcery is immortal and interminable. Given that, all bearers are equal.

Time will not wait. The hour grows near. Soon, soon enough, the world will love him.

Leonhart will love him, and die before he hurts him.

He dips into his mind like an ablution. His sensations, his words, his thoughts, his emotions...

He laughs and sinks deeper, as if the memories are his own. And how are they not?

How sad.

Even if he becomes the world's enemy--

"I'll be your knight."

And to Dyne's ears, the words can only be for him.