Disclaimer: I own the things that I own, I don't own the things that Squenix owns. -sighs-
I: Sublime Servile
It was dark.
Always so dark.
Good. I loved the dark, relished in it. They gave it to me as punishment and I turned it into my haven. It was the only repose I had here, in this cage.
How dare they treat me as though I were some animal?
I paced the small area of the cell as I always did, pausing every now and then to do a couple different exercises. This was a custom of mine because, no matter how long they kept me here, I would not become weak. Nor would I break down.
Eventually Sephiroth will find out where I am.
And once that happened, I would be free again. I would lead the army of Sorthiel against Solastria and purify the land of their mar. It was the bidding of the goddess Sorthia to do so, and my divine right to serve her purpose.
The world would be better off without them.
I sighed, suddenly weary, and sat down with my back against the cold wall. It was night…so quiet…and I drew in deep breaths of the fresh air that wafted in from the double-barred window at the top of the prison. I imagined that I was back in Gula with my brother, the night before Solastrians raided the city. We were sitting on a grassy hill enjoying one of those rare evenings where the ground wasn't blanketed by snow and all the feeling in our bodies wasn't being sapped out by the cold.
It had been rather nice, that evening.
'So you're the Breaker now, huh?' I teased him lightly, poking his arm. 'Why are you called that? What's your bharune like?'
He smiled at me, almost wistfully. Though my brother was only two years older than I, I had always looked up to him, envied him even. 'I saw her in a dream, and she was beautiful.'
I closed my eyes and lay back in the soft grass, tucking my hands behind my head.
'She truly represents Sorthiel, through and through,' he murmured, almost to himself, and there was a loving note in his tone. 'An angel formed out of the very ice of the Kashish.'
I gave a bitter chuckle, brushing my silver hair back with one pale hand. "Where is your angel now, Brother?" I inquired darkly of the empty cell. "Where was she when Gula was seized?"
But that had been three years ago, and I had not seen my brother since. Surely he had survived…though he had only been fifteen at the time, he had already become one of Sorthiel's seven Drene…
And I everything, but nothing. How could Sorthia forsake me to this place?
Yet things were changing, I could feel it. The sensation was carried by the wind, reflected by the snow. At first it had been a subconscious awareness, but as I paid more attention to my surroundings I began to notice the subtle alterations.
Footsteps passed by my cell more often. For the last few weeks, they began to feed me in increasing increments, and on consistent intervals (as opposed to whenever they remembered I needed sustenance to survive as well). At first I had attributed this to a change in the warden, but no, it wasn't that.
They were allowing me to replenish my strength. They were replacing the gauntness and hollowed look of my body with its proper, healthy appearance. And, though I wasn't sure what they were up to, I wasn't going to turn down the offer of rejuvenation.
Soon, I would find out…
I was somehow glad of the blindfold that had deprived me of my sight for the last three years. I wasn't sure I wanted to know where that bastard Xaldin was taking me. I didn't fight.
Why? Because any place was better than the stinking cell he had left me to rot in. Perhaps Sephiroth or one of the other Drene had found me finally, and were negotiating my release. Or maybe the war was over. I hadbeen vigorously groomed and bathed for this trip, after all, though it had been an event I don't care to recall any time soon.
But I knew something wasn't right when the air became warm – too warm for Sorthiel – yet I cooperated anyway. Perhaps I felt it useless to exert any effort in a futile escape, because it was painfully clear I could not have overcome Xaldin's entire escort without a weapon. I think I was just glad to be outside…
The ride there was long, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Though sightless, surrounded on all sides by soldiers, I couldn't get enough of the clean air, the affectionate breeze, the warm sun…
Et dren, how I missed the sun.
Cool night would fall again before we approached our destination.
The calm I felt was uncanny. Perhaps it was an omen…that I was heading towards something good, or productive. Or, if not that, at least somewhere I was supposed to be. Still, I can't say I was completely at ease when I was forced to dismount my horse, a heavy cloak thrown over my shoulders and tied at my neck. My eyes narrowed behind their cloth cover when I felt Xaldin draw close, pulling my hood over my head and biting out a terse command.
I did, seething silently. If I had possessed any sort of sharp (or even blunt) object, I would've stabbed him in the back with it. It had been Xaldin who had captured my home, Xaldin who had condemned me to my prison, and Xaldin who had, most likely, killed my brother. One day, the Whirlwind Lancer would die by my hand.
Doors opened and I heard someone announce Xaldin's presence, then the ground beneath my boots changed from stone to something even more smooth – ceramic tile. Sound echoed oddly in this place, so I immediately connected it to some large dining hall. The scent told me of its cleanliness, of the ornate costumes and exotic perfumes of the participants, and of the various foods and wines that were being relocated from plate to hand, hand to mouth.
Clearly the place of some noble.
I heard Xaldin stop and did so as well, listening to the murmurs of the onlookers. It was lucky I was extremely fluent in Solastrian, as one of my status was expected to be.
"Comte de Raelius," I heard Xaldin speak calmly. "I've returned from my expedition with a gift of allegiance."
I started, my stomach clenching – that was it, then? I was to be a gift for some fat, old aristocrat? The very thought caused my fists to ball in anger and my jaw to tighten with rage. How dare they? I was not some—
But a thought struck me, and I forced myself to relax a little. Actually, this could be a good thing. I was far from weak and quite skilled with a sword – I could take on some filthy count much easier than an armed warrior like Xaldin. If I was calm and patient, I could be free.
Still, I tilted my head up slightly, gathering the remainder of my dignity. The quests were starting to quiet now, and I could feel there eyes on me, wondering what was beneath this cloak I donned…
"The last remaining blood of the northern aristocracy, carefully preserved for whatever usage your lordship may see fit," Xaldin spoke, and I felt my stomach clench again.
No, I reasoned, pushing the feeling away. He must by lying. There was no way Sorthiel would've fallen; no way the Drene could've been defeated by the likes of these.
But Xaldin's tactful words had gotten quite a reaction from the crowd, as everyone erupted into a buzzing murmur. And the good commander…he was nervous, I could detect it in his tone. The thought caused me to smirk a little inwardly.
This dissipated immediately as I was approached, and I felt my body tense and someone began to untie my cloak. A man – I could tell by his scent, the way he towered over me, and his strong, demanding presence. Despite the shiver that traced up my spine, I tilted my head up once more towards the other, dignified.
There was no way I'd let him see me flinch.
But I could feel the dominating aura that radiated from him, and I knew Xaldin was nothing compared to this man.
Certainly1 he wasn't the count…how could he be…?
The cloak slipped from my shoulders and fell to the floor with a heavy rustle, and exclamations broke out over the crowd once more. Yes, admire me, you Sols, you should thank your god for allowing you to lay eyes on a real work of art. I'm sure all of you are so inbred that your bodies have begun to mutate somehow, with arms growing out of your head and whatnot…
It would've been a lie to say I wasn't a little pleased at their gawking.
I straightened, keeping my expression neutral, waiting on some cue on what I should do next. I could feel the man that had untied my cloak studying me, and I heard him lift a hand, grazing a few fingers along my hair. These digits trailed downward, and I felt him check the tightness of my collar. It was tight – I had made the warden fight to get it on.
The collar. I had worn it for so long I barely even felt it anymore. Recently, though, it had been changed…now it was decorated with small studs of some smooth metal. I imagined this was to make it a little more appealing to the count.
"Rather bold of you, to bring me a male," the man spoke, and I was struck by the virility and richness of his tone. It was a paradox within itself, deep but light with amusement, powerful but also tempered. So…this was the count…
My stomach clenched again when his fingers slid, feathery light, over my collar bone and down my chest, pausing at my toned midriff. He hesitated there a moment before withdrawing his hand. It seemed as though Xaldin had made a wise decision in dressing me in only these leather pants, leaving my torso exposed for eye candy.
"Years?" The count asked, and I recognized that the inquiry was directed towards the commander from the shift in the direction of the voice. So I allowed Xaldin to speak for me.
"Seventeen, my lord."
The count turned his attention back to me. "Hold up your hair and turn."
I hesitated a moment, unable to comprehend why he would ask me to do such a ridiculous thing. Deciding this must be some silly Solastrian custom, I raised my arms to oblige, hearing the metal rings that adorned the leather bands around my wrists clink slightly as I did so.
I heard the chatter break out again as I completed the rotation, I wondered if it didn't have something to do with the collar. Suddenly there was seemingly random, but enthusiastic, applause, and I released my hair.
What weird creatures…
It took a few minutes before the room was calm once more and I shifted a little, unsure of what I should do and what would happen next. I heard the count clear his throat a bit and could feel that everyone's attention was once again on us.
"Very well," the count spoke clearly, for the entire audience to hear. "Your new name shall be—"
"My name," I cut in sharply, unable to stop myself, and reaffirmed a posture to reflect my noble bearing. "Is Riku."
Derision resounded from the spectators, something which I found oddly pleasing. What did they think, that I was just going to accept everything like a good dog?
My identity was one of the few things I had left.
I half expected to be back-handed or some such, and inwardly braced myself for a blow. But no such display of wrath followed, and after a moment I heard the count chuckle softly with amusement.
That's right. Remember it.
The count's voice dropped as he exchanged words with another, and then I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.
"This way," said a voice of a female, and she led me from the hall.
"I am not some piece of property," I stated to the woman who had led me away – Anathasia, I learned her name was. "And I will not bend to the whim of this Xehanort."
She sighed a little, standing at the doorway of the small room she had ushered me into. What was to be my room, as it turned out, though it was not much bigger than my cell. Still, it was clean, and I sat down at the foot of the small bed.
I could've taken my blindfold off to look around, but I was so accustomed to having it on that the thought didn't even occur to me…
"If you behave yourself, you'll see that the count is a good master. I assure you, young Riku, there are much more wicked hands you could've fallen into."
My stomach writhed sickeningly. What exactly was expected of me in this place…? Would I be put to work, cleaning and such? It didn't matter, I wouldn't be here long.
Surely an opportunity for escape would present itself soon.
Anathasia moved towards me and smoothed my hair a little, leaning down to kiss my forehead. The gesture made me think despairingly of my opuren, the closest thing to a mother I had ever known. I got the feeling she was accustomed to comforting new slaves, but I felt a little grateful anyway.
"Try to sleep," she said, and I heard her step out of the room, pulling the door closed quietly behind her.
Alone now with only my thoughts and suddenly both mentally and physically exhausted, I laid back against the bed.
"Sorthia…" I mumbled, draping one arm over my head. "What am I to do…?"
A/N: Yes, this is the companion fic to Ebony Rain. I think once it catches up to Ebony Rain I'll start updating them simultaneously.
I don't think it'll take long for this one to catch up, since I can't update Ebony again until I go to my dad's. D: I forgot my binder with all my story notes in it…
I'm sorry if it's confusing, I sometimes forget that not all the people reading this have read Ebony Rain. I'll try to keep this in mind in the future, I promise! And for those of you who have read Ebony Rain, I'd greatly love your feedback. Is it interesting even though you know what's going to happen? Or not worth the read? Like it better? Worse? Please let me know!