Summary: Possessed by a strange and powerful evil, Albel Nox is transformed into the dreaded 'Drakhyl'; a demon dragon of legend, whose sole purpose of existence is death and destruction. The only hope for the people of Elicoor Two is Nel Zelpher, the warrior spy who claims to love him and a young boy, who bears the mysterious mark of the mythical 'Shadow of Sanctity', perhaps the only weapon capable of defeating the Drakhyl.
Disclaimer: I do not own 'Star Ocean Till the End of Time' or any of the respective characters, except my own.
Warnings: Language, violence and character deaths.
Chapter One: Call of the Drakhyl
"Is that the best you can do, you pathetic maggot?"
The teenage boy facing the Black Brigade captain hefted his training sword and gritted his teeth, sweat running in streams down his face. "I am trying, sir Albel!" he cried, his chest heaving with exertion.
"Not hard enough! You think I accept weaklings like you into my brigade? Hah! At this rate all you'll be good for is kitchen work!" Albel sneered, flicking dark hair negligently out of his eyes.
Anger and humiliation flashed in his face, and with a loud yell, the boy charged at Albel, swinging his sword awkwardly. Albel rolled his eyes and almost lazily, parried the series of slashes and thrusts until the boy fell back, exhausted.
"Feeble," Albel proclaimed with a disdainful sniff. "Now, let me show you how a true swordsman handles a katana! Prepare yourself, maggot!"
His eyes widened with fear and he shot backwards, stumbling in his haste to get away from his teacher. "W-wait, please, sir A-Albel!"
Would he, known and feared as 'Albel the Wicked', even stop to listen to the request of a fifteen-year-old boy?
The clang of steel on steel rang through the arena, accompanied by a terrified squeal.
Of course not.
Kivar was sent flying with a kick from Albel's boot and he landed on his backside with a yell, staring in shock at the broken remains of his now shattered sword. At the approaching footsteps, he glanced up wildly at the glaring soldier.
His red eyes were cold. "Get on your feet, maggot."
When the novice remained flat on his rump, a stunned expression on his face, Albel sighed in irritation. "By the gods, you maggots are all the same. On your feet," he ordered, grabbing the boy by the collar of his shirt and hauling him to his feet.
Kivar stumbled upright, his face flaming with embarrassment.
Albel regarded him with narrowed eyes and the boy shrank visibly under the captains scrutiny. "Your movements are clumsy, and you swing your sword like a child swings a stick! You stay in one place, when you need to move! That is why you have feet, you pitiful excuse for an Elicoorian!" he hissed.
"Who am I?" Albel barked suddenly.
"W-what?" he stammered, confused by the question.
In an instant, Kivar knew he had made a mistake. Why? Perhaps it had something to do with the sharp steel pressed against his throat.
"A 'what'? Is that what I am, boy, a 'what'?" he snarled. "Tell me who I am!"
"S-Sir Albel Nox, Captain of the Black Brigade, and…" he whimpered, as cold steel pressed more painfully into his throat, "M-Most skilled and c-celebrated swordsman in all of Airyglyph!"
"Then why, pray tell, am I wasting my time on training you? I, Albel Nox!"
"I d-don't know!"
"I'll tell you why," he growled, leaning closer to the boy's face. "Your uncle, who happens to be my King, ordered me to train you himself! If I had had a choice in the matter, I would have told him no. But unfortunately, I am trapped here every day, teaching a hopeless brat skills he obviously does not want to learn!"
"I-I am sorry if my meager abilities are a disappointment to you, sir Albel," Kivar said, "But I do want to learn, truly!" At this, he straightened up proudly to face his teacher. That, however, proved to be a mistake. The next moment his head was ringing from a stinging cuff around the ears.
"How dare you! You want to learn, do you? You dismal attempts are laughable at most and you expect me to believe that you want to learn?" he bellowed, spittle almost flying from his open mouth. "With an attitude like that, how do you expect to become even mildly proficient at this sacred art! Get out of my sight, now!"
Fury flickered in his gray eyes and Kivar swallowed a rude retort, his throat burning like it had been drenched in acid. "Yes, my lord," he said quietly, his teeth clenching painfully as he turned to leave. Hot tears pricked behind his eyelids as he bent down to pick up the broken pieces of his sword but he kept his face hidden from Albel, determined not to let him see him cry.
He stiffened, wiping one dirty hand across his face before turning to his teacher. "Yes, sir?"
"I expect to see you back here at dawn tomorrow. Is that clear?"
Even though his tone was harsh and showed no hint of remorse, Kivar brightened considerably. "Really, sir?"
Albel glared at the young boy, whose face almost glowed with excitement and his gaze softened for a split second before hardening again. "Tell the smith I sent you, and get yourself a new sword. Not later, now. If you forget, I'll tan your hide if you come to your next lesson without one," he said curtly. "Or else, boy, I will make you practice without defense and mark my words, you will rue that day for the rest of your natural life!" he snapped, his red eyes darkening ominously.
Kivar nodded his head eagerly and then looked up at him hopefully. "Sir Albel, will you-?" he began but Albel cut him off.
Knowing that he had crossed some invisible boundary, Kivar shut his mouth. But the bounce was visible in his step as he crossed the Training facility rooftop.
"Good morning, Lord Woltar," he said happily, bowing to the old man standing in the stairwell doorway. Woltar raised a brow. "Good morning to you too, Kivar."
The echo of his footsteps clattered away and Woltar turned to Albel with a bemused expression on his face. "Training going well, then eh?"
Albel wiped his face with roughly spun cloth and grunted an almost unintelligible greeting.
It seemed like Albel was in one of his moods again.
"Well? The boy looked quite happy to me, which is surprising really, considering how hard on him you were."
Albel turned to his former teacher. "The boy has a long road ahead of him," he said bluntly. "He lacks natural talent, motivation and he's a coward. If not for the king, I would not even consider teaching him further. This is, Woltar, a waste of my time and talents. If it had been my choice initially, he would not-"
"But it was not Albel, and that is the point. For some reason, His Majesty is insisting that you teach the boy and even I could not persuade him otherwise."
Albel snorted. "If His Majesty is hoping that I can turn the boy into the brave and fierce warrior he believes is lurking beneath the surface, he walks a fools path. It is an impossible task, Kivar is a lost cause."
"Do you really believe that, Albel?" Woltar asked, an amused twinkle in his eyes. "Then why do you continue giving him reason to look up at you?"
"I do not," he said flatly, "Let the king believe whatever nonsense he wants, I am the boy's trainer and I know the truth." He barely glanced at Woltar as he sheathed his sword. "What are you doing here anyway, old man?"
"His Majesty wished to be informed of the boy's progress and I said that I would, considering that I was returning to the mansion."
A nasty grin flitted across his handsome face. "Reduced to the king's messenger boy, eh, Woltar?"
Woltar gave him a cool look. "The king wished also to send someone that he could trust implicitly, Albel. And you would have probably ripped off the head of anyone else, without sending any news of Kivar. Remember, he knows you very well in that respect."
Albel shrugged. "Probably, yes. Well then, you heard what I had to say about the boy, did you not?"
"You know very well I cannot tell His Majesty what you just said! Give me a proper report worthy of repeating to your king, captain."
He gave a menacing glare to Woltar, who by now, was all too used to it and he ignored the ugly look. "Fine!" he snapped irritably. "What do you want to know?"
"Do you truly find the boy lacking? I think you have the wrong impression of him, Albel."
The glare that Albel gave him could have melted solid steel but Woltar continued, unperturbed.
"It is his nerves, I think, that are the cause of his poor performance. That, and the fact that he is so eager to please you. Your reputation as a swordsman, and as a 'difficult' person is very intimidating. Under the circumstances, I would say that he is doing rather well for his age."
Albel crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you finished yet, old man?"
Woltar sighed, familiar irritation creeping up on him. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with Albel Nox was as effective as attempting to grind a mouthful of iron nails into powder with your teeth. "Yes, Albel. I can see I am not going to get any more out of you."
There was a bored look in the red eyes. "What did you expect from me? A glowing report of how wonderful the maggot is? How someday, his skills might even surpass my own? Don't make me laugh! I am not one of those wretched fools who aim to lick the king's feet like dogs for praise and approval! I will tell him exactly what he needs to hear and when. So I will give that report, old man, and you can go back to your mansion because I will deliver it personally," he hissed.
"Then I am sure," he answered, a spark of mischief dancing in his eyes, "That His Majesty will be waiting with bated breath until that moment."
Albel glowered and Woltar smiled. "I take my leave of you Albel, and hope you stay in good spirits until we next meet. And try not to give the doctors any more work than they already have. They have complained numerous times about the sheer number of trainees that you send through their doors every week."
"But do they mention that those novices have the best and most superior skills to any other cadet in the Airyglyph military force?"
"No, I daresay they forgot to mention that little detail."
"All the more fool for them."
Woltar patted him on the shoulder, feeling the muscles tense and then relax in guarded trust. "Take care then, Albel."
His only reply was silence and he chuckled. On his way back to the stairwell door, he passed a Black Brigade soldier, whose face was a picture of apprehension and anxiety. "Do not worry," he said quietly to the soldier. "His bark is worse than his bite."
The soldier looked even more nervous. "Only if you haven't felt his bite, my lord."
The laughter of the Storm Brigade captain echoed behind him as he made his way across the rooftop arena towards Albel.
"Sir Albel, I have a message from the Lady Nel," he said loudly.
With his back turned to him, Albel waved his hand imperiously.
"The Lady requests that you dine with her tonight promptly at nineteen hundred hours, and asks that you be…properly attired."
"What does she want now?" Albel mumbled to himself under his breath.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Nothing. Inform the lady that I accept her invitation and that I shall dress however I please."
The soldier hid a smirk behind one hand as he looked earnestly at his captain. "Will that be all, my lord?"
"Unless you want a sparring session soldier, you had best return to your duties. At once!"
Albel watched him scurry away with something close to disdain, but since the soldier was one of his own, he relented and settled for thinking that he was perhaps, only half a maggot.
He turned back to the wall, leaning his muscular arms on the rim. The day was nearing its end, with the sun now slowly setting over the mountain that rose behind the Kirlsa training facility. It was his home, or the closest thing that Albel had to a home, excluding the mansion that belonged to Woltar. But Albel preferred to stay here as he rather thought of it as belonging to him.
The stoic swordsman sighed and continued to gaze into the distance. Then, he froze as an unearthly shriek reached his ears. The sound was a heartbreaking cry of unbearable loneliness and grief, and it chilled Albel to the bone. He felt the hairs on his arms rise and a terrible cold swept over him. What was that sound?
The haunting call seemed to be crying out to something and as Albel stood motionless, he felt as though somehow, it was calling out to him. And some part of his consciousness, buried deep within his mind, stirred in sleep and answered.
Startled at the feeling of closeness, Albel pushed instinctively against the strange presence enveloping him in a warm embrace, but it only gripped him harder.
When hot pain flared all over his body, he gasped and fought against the spirit that held him like a lover. "NO!"
The pain was awful and it felt as if his skin was being stripped from his body. When he shrieked in agony, he was only vaguely aware that it was exactly the same as the creature that held him under its spell.
His throat, seared with liquid fire, burned as he screamed again, but this time it was a bellow of fury. "I will not be controlled!" he shouted, wrenching his mind firmly from the probing tendrils attempting to wrap themselves around his brain. With another surge of desperate strength, he hurled himself away from the place where he knelt and the creature shrieked in rage when it realized that it had lost its hold over him, whirling away in a blaze of fire and ash. Before it vanished, Albel saw it through hazy eyes: a monstrous being of fire, shooting into the darkening sky, crimson eyes smoking with ferocity.
Albel, bent on all fours, breathed hard and vomited all over the stone before collapsing onto his side. His whole body was shaking and he lay there, trembling for what seemed like hours, before he felt he could safely stand without falling over again.
He rose shakily and steadied himself, his mind a mess of disturbing memories and burning questions.
What had happened to him?
The hideous creature with the beautiful cry had tried to possess him and cold fury ripped through him, accompanied by a feeling of dread. Horrified, he remembered the eyes of the monster and a murderous thrill rippled across his mind.
The monstrous beast had his eyes. The same crimson orbs had stared back into his, when he had gazed upon its gruesome face.
To be continued…