A/N: Woo! Another update! Well, as a warning in advance, this chapter is unrepentantly fluffy in places, slightly angst-y in others, and just plain daft everywhere else. I'd watch out most for the fluff though, it can be pretty dangerous...
Also, I'd like to thank absolutely everyone who reviewed! I didn't know there were so many people here who liked Disgaea! Or my writing! Anyways, thanks muchly again, I adore all feedback! So, that means keep up the good work! Leave me MORE reviews! I'll stop now...
Chapter Three: Of Shadows and Light
Unsurprisingly, it's a demanding task to stealthily sneak back to one's bedroom when every single inhabitant, possibly of the entire Netherworld, seems to be guarding the damned hallways. Actually, that was a severe understatement; my mission was nearing the not-so-coveted ranking of: IMPOSSIBLE.
I had more than considered remaining in the diary room, deep within the bowels of the castle, but I doubted that the Prince would appreciate barging into my room at some godforsaken hour, only to be met with the vacant, synthetic eyes of the blow-up doll I'd stashed in a tangle of inflatable limbs beneath the moth-eaten covers of my rickety bed.
In fact, I'm pretty sure he'd be downright aggravated, seeing as I was sort of meant to dispose of the 'evidence' from that one conditioning session… Well, you could hardly blame a girl for keeping SOME blackmail material; even if such memorabilia does have a larger chest than poor, stunted Etna...
However, the truly horrific thing about that doll was that it was one of a sizeable number of KitKats, Succubae and Prism Mages; made for your interactive pleasure by means of terrifyingly inaccurate mouldings of harrowingly generic humanoids…
Then again, somehow, I think I was more perturbed and disgusted by the knowledge that my employer had actually dressed them up to the nines; sat each plastic pal down at a doily inundated table and had then attempted to converse with said inanimate objects over something as ingenuous as tea…
Fortunately for me, however; shock and fear swiftly give way into sensations of opportunism and utter hilarity. I keep that picture in my secret alcove –along with a rather large stash of negatives, in case of emergencies- framed and diligently placed on the decaying writing desk, proudly revealing unto the Netherworld: frilly pinafore-clad Laharl, brandishing his hostess' teapot whilst congenially demanding if 'Miss. Twinkle' would like to partake of a lightly buttered scone with her hot, caffeinated beverage… served on the good china, of course…
Chuckling low in my throat, I fondly petted the photograph; Laharl was too cute for words sometimes… when he wasn't being bossy, or annoying, or deranged. All in all, uninhibited moments like those were very hard to come by, which was almost confusing, because the Prince spent the majority of his deluded little life making an ass out of himself. I guess the rarity came from him braving mortification and humiliation for a good and just cause, or about as selfless as someone like Laharl could manage without shrugging off the last vestige of his credibility.
I sighed melodramatically as a crash came from the hallway; probably another vassal had tripped over the Lance of Longinus, having mistaken him for a candelabrum.
I guess I was going to be here a while longer… Stupid, incompetent vassals, I leave for two minutes and the entire castle falls to pieces.
I couldn't pinpoint just what seemed to be the main reason for my foul mood, there were just so many bitter, enraged facets of my overall vexation… Was I upset that my solitude and sanctuary had been disrupted? Was I just plain old bored that I was trapped in this grotty, undersized room with absolutely nothing to kill time?
Was I left barren and destitute when Flonne's given name left the Prince's lips…
I turned my suddenly liquid eyes to my latest diary entry, just to distract myself from my messy, pointless emotions.
All this time, that woman was among us as one of the Prinnies...
Ha… as if that had been a challenge to fathom out. The stupid, ditzy bint couldn't even say: Dood, properly.
Not to mention the godforsaken peace, love and general flower power crap. If the whole reincarnation deal wouldn't have rendered the entire process beyond redundant, I would have shown her what I thought of: 'Demons can love, too!' with the business end of one of those ineffectual fish-gutting knives.
I should have figured it out as soon as she adopted Flonne as her confidante… two peas in the same pod or however the expression goes. They had so much in common I wouldn't have been hard pressed to suggest that the angel-trainee was just throwing her voice to make it seem like the otherwise mute Prinny was talking.
She just watched over the Prince without saying a word...
This, however, I can't even begin to comprehend… She made it seem like a weakness on her part to want to hold her own child. She was the one that was always preaching the concept of love to an unwilling choir… how could she be so selfish, or selfless, as the case may prove to be, as to not indulge in a reciprocated wish for one final embrace?
I could wrap my head around the need for secrecy, if they were doomed to be forever separated… then, perhaps, it would be better to just stay dead, gone but never forgotten… but Love Freak, mark two pretty much blew her cover out of the water, and I know that Laharl's not THAT stupid as to remain completely oblivious.
I can even understand how much of a travesty it would seem, to fall back into a maternal role, wearing the skin of another cloned sinner, although the crime she committed was noble, justified and… and although I had always hated her out of envy and spite, I respected her for her loyalty, bravery… even her love.
How could she stand it...? I don't get it...
Maybe it's just because I'm egotistical, maybe because I know under normal circumstances I would never be entitled to even the barest hint of genuine affection, but I'd need to at least offer explanations, closure, and possibly impart some words of wisdom, just to set the boy firmly back on the straight and narrow.
She never saw what he was like when he was broken. This emaciated, hollowed out husk, still far too sickly to take such liberties with his frail health. I can still hear him screaming that he didn't care, that he wanted, needed his mother, and would gladly die if it meant that he could be with her.
I guess you could say that I half fulfilled my promise to the late King… even if it meant force-feeding that limp, lifeless automaton with burnt out embers for eyes… I kept him alive, cradled him as if he were an infinitely fragile creature borne of glass, until his heart healed and hardened, which was better than nothing at all.
I only wished that I would be the one to melt the shard of ice that resided within his constricted chest.
She was always like that... She always filled my heart with discord...
No matter what her actions, I always found some way to fault them… perhaps I really haven't changed at all, although so much time has elapsed. I'm still a jealous, vindictive child, snarling possessively to all those who threaten my favourite toy. Maybe I have merely displaced all of my misguided affection for the King onto his son? Much as Laharl has uprooted his feelings for his mother in order to cultivate them under Flonne's watchful gaze.
Whatever it is, it sounds unhealthy and incestuous, which does nothing to refute the popular speculation that the Netherworld is controlled by a bunch of candidates for an insane asylum, abounding with neuroses enough to spare.
Joy of happy, happy joys, not only am I hopelessly depressed and introverted, I'm also mentally unhinged.
But, my hatred from back then is gone...
I wonder if it's just because I know she's finally out of the picture? No, I know that she will always hold a place in his heart, and that I will never be held in such high regard.
I really feel I should hate her though, I mean, come on, she practically bellowed that she was rooting for the other woman!
What the hell is so wrong with me? Apart from the madness and the anti-social behaviour and the passion for bloody violence… but some people might interpret those as virtues instead of vices!
I still can't believe the audacity of that woman… If she's decimated my chances… well, I wouldn't encourage you to bet on my odds even before said divine intervention, but now? I doubt I'm even the long-shot.
Oh well… I don't have to hate her, but I also don't have to like her very much at the moment…
Has time erased it...? Or...
Has it merely been transferred to Flonne? Ha!
I'm beginning to think I'm going soft, I feel little animosity for the daft little angel, sometimes migraine-inducing annoyance, but I never genuinely wanted to do murders on her… most of the time…
She was sort of like an innocuous little pet, harmless in itself, but always prone to massacring the curtains, or accidentally having certain parts of its anatomy falling off and into one of my new shoes. Can you imagine the horror of ramming your foot into a decaying horse weiner? How the hell would you sew it back on if it was all… pulpy and… ew?
Note to self: it's not worth the sheer volume of mental scarring that comes with keeping a zombie as a house pet… Not even for all of the Hel and plunder in the world; not even for the opportunity to get Laharl back into that maid outfit and blackmail him into dusting the palace's antiquities in their entirety, all the while announcing that he felt: Pretty and witty and gay.
The chaos seemed to have died down, so I cracked open the door, just enough to allow a miniscule chink of candlelight to flood the room. I took a brief peek into the hallway, concluding pretty quickly that it was totally deserted.
Longinus was now balanced horizontally, and potentially facing the wall - I could never really tell where his eyes were, which I'd found disconcerting since childhood. Feeling a stab of something akin to pity, I righted the spear, who was avidly grumbling to itself about the 'youth of today'. I managed to discern: hoodlums, whippersnappers and 'when I was their age' from the bitter tirade, but managed to quickly tune out the heated ranting as I noticed that the Prinny Squad had all convened in the throne room.
I sauntered in, doing my damnedest to make it look that I was deliberately, fashionably late, as opposed to having effectively surrendered myself to the authorities for skulking about the halls in the middle of the night.
"Dood..." The Prinnies began to back-pedal furiously when their Overlord graced them with a glare that could melt glass, in retaliation for omitting an honorific. "Prince," They hastily corrected, "there's some kind of anomaly in the Stellar Graveyard." Mission accomplished, they began to scuttle away, or at least make themselves as inconspicuous as armed penguin rip-offs could be… One seemed to be cowering beneath a lampshade…
"Invaders from another world?" Our benevolent, unquestionable leader sulkily demanded. Awww, bless his black little heart, someone was being kept up past his bedtime.
"I have no idea, dood." An indiscriminate Prinny replied nonchalantly. It wasn't the most tactful of responses, but Laharl could hardly expect anything different from anyone but the Dimensional Gatekeeper herself.
"Invaders...?" Ah, enter Flonne, clueless and redundant as always. "Are they angels who are here to take me back?" She asked, somewhat too excitedly. I'm quite sure anyone bothering to listen in on this merry interchange of thoughts and ideas might interpret that she didn't ENJOY spending lengthy quantities of time with us! And that's absurd, right? Who wouldn't willingly give both their arms and legs to bask in the glorious presence of yours truly?
"I doubt it." I snorted indignantly, feeling vindicated to make a snippy, harsh rebuttal for Flonne's unwarranted meanness. "That place attracts a lot of weird things besides stars." I added, feeling bound by some unwritten law to remove her from the locked, darkened room of oblivion. "Flying saucers, probes, brain suckers, midgets with glowing fingertips..." I concluded smugly, thoroughly enjoying the fact that in the angel-trainee's case, enlightenment almost always went hand in hand with corruption and mental-trauma.
"Oh, my... That means there may be people who are hurt." Surprisingly, Flonne seemed to have obtained a good grasp of just ignoring me when I broached the more, unwholesome of topics. She did, however, pause to scowl at me when I jabbed my poking finger into her spine and made one creepy, potentially drug-induced inquiry, growling out: "Phone… home?"
"Let's go, Laharl!" Her response came in the form of combating my perverted, oddly shaped alien banter with a one-woman/pre-pubescent pep-rally.
"Forget it. It's probably just a piece of trash." He whined, re-establishing his pouty face after the brief snicker at Flonne's expense, no doubt at her scandalised, violated expression upon being poked.
"Laharl!" She wheedled in return. I remained silent, but was unable to restrain a particularly violent twitch. When she turned everything that was cutesy and saccharine about her up to full, unrelenting power, the response it invoked in me was reminiscent of what most people would attribute to nails on a chalkboard.
"Geez... Shouldn't an Overlord be doing something more important than this?" The Prince relented, obviously sharing my sentiments. I guess he was more sensible than I gave him credit for, most of the time he just kept blithely pushing until he was subjected to the mighty wrath of self-righteous, hella pissed off Flonne, the self-styled caped crusader for justice, equality and eternal looove!
Being one of those aforementioned sensible people, a thought like that will never leave the contents of my own impenetrable interior monologues.
Which doesn't necessarily mean I'm afraid of the angel… not that she isn't scary… she's pretty damned terrifying when it comes to do-gooding and accidentally setting things on fire while attempting to bake.
Oh… wait… I'm trying to prove that I'm NOT reduced to quailing and whimpering in fear whenever she passes by. I'd like to set the record straight, and announce that there is only ever quivering when Flonne has asked me to aid her in the cooking process, and has then enlisted my presence in acting as a guinea pig who will be forced to ingest her inevitably blackened concoction.
Otherwise, I doubt she could even scare Maderas, and he jumped at his own shadow these days…
I was about to move to test such a theory, when Laharl called me back. The others had long since departed the throne room, and I had apparently spaced out, which did oh-so-much to preserve my shrivelling dignity.
"Yo…" I forwarded lamely, steeling my emotional reserves to give me the strength not to buckle under the Overlord's almighty death glare. I failed miserably, and ended up staring wistfully to my footwear for answers… or at least a relatively good excuse.
"Do you really wish to test my patience, Etna?" He questioned, presenting me with an image of himself that was more calm and unmoved than I had ever thought him capable of establishing. "You are on probation; which means that when I summon my vassals to report to me in the throne room, you should round up every last subordinate, and have them presentable and in formation before your generously awarded five minutes are up." He stated wearily, agitation beginning to fray the edges of his tightly held composure. "This does not mean that, under even the most extreme or grievous of circumstances; that you can show up half an hour after the remainder of the rabble, who took a leisurely twenty minutes to get here in the first place!" He hissed, a ruby eye twitching beneath the pressure exerted by the pulse throbbing above one fine blue brow. And then I saw it… an improbable, miniscule flicker of fear that permeated through each vermillion iris.
Laharl was still new to his kingship, lacking in trusted advisers and connections forged by the deeply ingrained tendrils of influence that stemmed from his throne. If he let the façade slip for even a second, he would be challenged, overthrown, cast aside from his birthright. His worth needed to be proved through rigorous, unrelenting order and unquestioning loyalty.
He had chosen me to mould him into a worthy successor to his father's legacy, as he had selected Flonne to forge anew the unspoken bond he had shared with his people as a child. Laharl the Terrible had begged the help of a common servant girl, who had aims far above her station.
It wasn't quite closure, but I think I had finally come to an understanding with the late Queen. I didn't have to like the woman, and I didn't have to approve of her candidate for her son's future hand in marriage, but it didn't matter, because we were both connected. We would protect this boy, the skinny, unsure little boy that was left bereft of love and support by circumstance, by cruel twists of fate.
"It will not happen again, Overlord. The vassals will be reprimanded and drilled until they are more practiced in the art of timekeeping. As for my own difficulties with punctuality, I shall make sure that I am more, attainable, in future." I replied, tone soft but serious. "Few great men are without a faithful shadow." I grinned toothily, delighted by the Prince's relieved, slumped posture and wide, baffled eyes, flickering between alertness and exhaustion. "I shall make the preparations with the Dimensional Gatekeeper, if I am excused?"
"I worry, Etna… when you're not there…" He murmured, biting the inside of his cheek to stifle a yawn.
"I know, Prince… that's why I stay." I replied, muting the affection in my voice and biting back a kind smile. The dreaded warm and fuzzy feeling was beginning to spread through my mutinous body, and if Laharl picked up on it, which wasn't all that likely, seeing as he was already half asleep, I'd probably never live it down.
"Promise… you won't… leave me… too… Etna… promise…" He mumbled; eyelids drooping as he shifted, tucking his legs under his chin and curling his arms around his stomach, becoming hopelessly tangled up in his cape as he strove to find comfort on his unyieldingly awkward, makeshift pallet.
Lying curled up on his throne, dead to the world, revealing an innocence that was hard to come by, now that sleep had stripped the hard, frowning lines engraved in his soft face. I was hard pressed not to smile fondly at the silly twit, illuminated in the soft glow of the candlelight.
Did he not know how little my promises were worth? Did he not realise that I was not the one he should be asking forever of?
"I promise. For however long you want forever to be." I whispered, snuffing out each of the candles before leaving the Overlord to his catnap.
Since when was I one to bow out of a competition gracefully?