The Four Heroes
A/N: Welcome, my dears, to this potentially epic story. I will hereby attempt to tell Dyne's story, and those of Mel, Lemia, Ghaleon, and even the Goddess herself. There will be a few other familiar characters, and some placed by my own hand. I realize that this has probably been done, but I must write this down. It isn't going away otherwise. I am posting it here in the hopes that someone will enjoy it. I appreciate reviews, but I will keep writing and posting anyway.
And can anyone tell me where I found the name Cassedonin? It sounded familiar to me when it popped in my head, and I almost didn't use it for fear of treading on someone's toes. But it fit him so well, it simply had to be his name. And so it stayed.
Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own anything.
I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Cass and Althena
The old man climbed the alabaster spiral stair, knowing that it would be the last time he did so. He felt no sadness, no remorse, and no fear. Only a sense of release that carried his tired limbs effortlessly upward. There were no lights, for the walls themselves seemed to glow. The Goddess Tower provided its own light, evidence of its divine resident.
He felt foolish in the old familiar armor that was no longer so familiar. It was too loose in some places, rubbing him raw in others. The long fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword were gnarled and deformed with age and use, his pale hands liver-spotted and skeletal. He puffed only slightly as he climbed, and he was thankful for that much, at least. He would not appear before his Lady bent over and gasping for breath, leaning on his sword because he could not hold himself upright.
No, he would not shame himself that way. His Lady deserved every ounce of strength and determination he could muster. Anger at himself and his own feeble humanity burned away his weariness, and a frown transformed his creased face from a tired old man to a semblance of the warrior he once was. Fierce and unwavering in his loyalty to his Lady, merciful yet incredibly determined, he was at one time the mightiest warrior in the world, the Guardian of Althena, Dragonmaster, and one of the greatest Sorcerers the Magic Guild had ever seen. Now he was merely an old man, clad in ill-fitting armor, climbing a seemingly endless stairway to lay down his sword for the last time.
Finally, he would be able to rest.
The door appeared suddenly several steps ahead of him. He would have sworn that it wasn't there before. Cursing his weakened eyes, he stopped before the pristine, unmarked portal. The words of the incantation came unbidden into his mind, and instinctively he placed his left hand upon the exact center of the door, letting the spell flow from his lips as he did so. When the spell was completed, a thin, vertical line about two inches long appeared midway upon the right side of the door. As if he had done it every day, he touched the point of his sword to the glowing line. It slid smoothly into the flat, white plane, and when it was hilt deep, he gave it a little twist. There was the sound as of a latch opening, and the door swung inward on silent, unseen hinges. The door released his weapon easily, and he stepped into the dark opening before returning the blade to its sheath.
A whispered voice sang in his ear, the haunting ballad a strangely self-mocking counterpoint to the sweet words of love and compassion and kindness that followed the melody.
The room he entered was a large, round chamber; the old man knew it to be the very top of the Goddess Tower. It was filled with that bittersweet song, along with a few errant echoes of ancient hymns and a misty blue, sourceless light. The serenity he had always felt in this sacred space was now tainted with doubt, and he began to worry.
"My Lady?" His voice was soft, hesitant, unwilling to disturb the divine presence in any way.
"Yes, dearest Cassedonin?" Her voice was a gentle caress upon his mind.
He hadn't thought he would react so strongly to her presence after all of his years in her service, but he felt himself beginning to tremble. And he dreaded what he had to tell her.
"My Lady, I--" he found he couldn't say it. A terrible sense of failure engulfed him, and the resolve he had worked so hard to maintain suddenly left him. But the void where it had been moments before was soon filled with centuries of weariness.
"Cassedonin, your heart is troubled. What is this terrible thing you must tell me?"
He felt a twist of guilt in his chest. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he said, "My Lady, it is time for me to sleep."
There was silence in the Tower, and the infinite glow that had always illuminated the walls dimmed, fading slowly to complete darkness. Cassedonin waited, knowing he could not rush his timeless Lady.
After a period of time that seemed to last hours, but had probably eclipsed only moments, the soft luminescence returned, and standing before him in all her unearthly beauty was his Lady, the Goddess Althena. The garment she wore was as soft and fragile-looking as snowflakes, falling in intricate drapes and folds from her shoulders to her ankles. Her sapphire hair flowed in an unbound waterfall over her bare shoulders and down her back. Her skin was white and shimmering like starlight, and her eyes dark and depthless as eons. Her graceful hands were clasped together at her waist. She was ageless, eternal, at once infinitely wise and innocent as a child.
Even in his advanced age, he towered over her, but her presence seemed to fill the room to capacity, making him feel tiny, and as awestruck as he had been when he'd first seen her, so very many years ago.
Her expression was troubled, and the song that now filled his ears was one of sadness, confusion, and cold, empty loneliness. "Why do you wish to sleep, my Cassedonin?" Her voice betrayed a hint of anxiety, and Cassedonin knew that it would be difficult for him to convince her to let him rest. He drew a deep, weary breath, but was comforted when she moved to step into his open arms. Holding her close, he argued his case.
"It has been many, many years since I overcame the trials of the Dragons and became your Protector," he began, his voice calming further as she held him. "I have watched as all those I knew and loved grew old and died. I am weary, Althena. As much as I love you, I cannot go on living anymore. My heart will die long before my body does, and I do not wish to become that kind of creature. The kind that I have spent centuries fighting against. Would you wish that for me, Lady?" He looked down into her gentle face, seeing tears standing in her eyes. He realized suddenly that they were dancing, waltzing to the sad melody that came from Althena's heart. Her tears shone in the dim light of her chamber.
"Never, brave Cassedonin. I would never let that happen to you." She laid her head on his chest, holding him close as they danced. After a few turns around the chamber, her head still rested near his shoulder.
Her next words surprised him, more than anything else she had ever said to him. He barely heard her ask, in a voice as unsure as that of any young human, "What is it like to...to love someone?"
His brow furrowed in confusion. Had he heard her correctly? "Surely, my Lady, you know what it feels like to love. You of all beings." He scarcely noticed that his voice was richer, stronger than it had been for over three hundred years.
She lifted her head then, and her eyes were troubled. She pressed her lips together in consternation. "I know what it is like to have and to feel the love of millions. But one...I have never felt the love of only one." Her gaze turned inward, and for a few moments he knew that she did not see him, nor the chamber surrounding the both of them. Then she shook her head, and met his gaze. "It is a mother's burden. My love may not be reserved for one, but for all of my children. What is it like to love...only one?" She searched his eyes as she awaited his response, and he saw reflected in her brilliant eyes a sight he had not seen in years: a tall young man with curly black hair, properly filling out his armor, oiled sword sheathed professionaly at his hip. His strong warrior's body moved with vigor, his eyes glittered with determination and purpose. He could feel those same eyes widening, and his heart ached for the youth he had left behind, that which she was granting him one last time. Perhaps this was how she preferred to remember him, strong and young. Perhaps this was how she would always see him, and not as the tired old man so near the end of his life.
He twirled her about just to see her magnificent hair fly in a sapphire circle. He suddenly felt as if he had all the time in the world. When he held her close again, he considered her question, not quite sure how to begin. And then the words just came. "It feels warm and happy. At once you are filled with relief and excitement; relief that you have finally found your purpose, excitement because at last, you have something, someone to live for. It amounts to the same thing, I guess. When you love someone, you feel...safe. You have somewhere to rest your heart, someone to protect it. It is always knowing there's someone interested in what you have to say, someone who will comfort you in pain and sadness, join you in happiness, and support you in everything you do."
Althena's face wore an almost awestruck expression. "Amazing that one person can do so much."
"Indeed. It is at once the most wonderful, and the most frightening experience imaginable." Cassedonin smiled, turning her about the seemingly endless room at the top of the Goddess Tower, reveling in her grace and skill as a dancer. Of course the Goddess of Love and Beauty would be a wonderful dancer. She all but invented it. Her eyes, black as velvet and infinite as the universe, flickered up to meet his, drawing him in as she seemed to delve the depths of his mind, searching.
"You have loved one before."
Cassedonin nodded, then felt silly for doing so. It had not been a question. As if the Goddess Althena needed to ask what was in one's heart. .
Althena's eyes narrowed, as if she were considering something. "This woman you loved...if you saw her today, what would you say to her? What would you do?"
Cassedonin felt his throat tighten with emotion. And was amazed once again at her naivete. Didn't she know? Then he thought that perhaps she did know, that she always had. When he spoke next, his voice was gruff. "I would tell her I love her, and I would hold her, and dance with her. I would never leave her, ever again, if she could say that she loved only me." He gazed down at her, slowing his steps. When they stood still, facing each other, he caressed her right cheek with his fingertips, willing her to understand.
But he could see by the slight confusion in her eyes that she didn't understand. She couldn't. Besides confusion, there was also sadness, and he would have gladly handed up his soul to the King of Hell himself to obtain the power to rid her eyes of that deep, echoing sadness. She blinked away tears, and glanced away from him. "And if she couldn't say it?"
He pulled her close again, pressing her head gently to his shoulder. "Well, at least I could die knowing that I had told her, that I had given all of my life to her, without regret. I would never ask it back, for it was freely given, with all the love in my heart."
Althena's arms tightened around him. "I can feel the pain inside you," she said, "and I know that I am its cause. But for all my power, I do not know how to ease it." She pushed away from him, unable to look at him. "Forgive me, brave Cassedonin, but I cannot let you sleep, not yet." Her voice wavered. But then she looked up, and there was steel in her eyes. Another Althena he had never known.
"Before the Dragonmaster goes to his rest, he must seek out his replacement, and train that one to protect me. That is your final task. When you have completed it, then may you rest."
Bitter disappointment flooded him, centuries of weariness washed over him once more, bending him beneath its weight. But he refused to give in to it. "Anything for you, my Lady. Where am I to find this replacement?"
When Althena looked up again, she saw her Cassedonin as he truly was now, old...and weary. Ready, so ready to sleep.
"There is a village called Burg on Caldor Isle. You will find the next Dragonmaster there."
He took her hand and bowed low over it, kissing the back of it in reverence. When he straightened, he saw himself once again in her eyes, but they bore a different image this time. His eyes, once as green as sun-drenched fields, now were tinged with blue, and watery with age. He knew that she could not lift him above all, love him above all. But he loved her anyway, and as he said, he had never regretted it. Cassedonin straightened, not so tall in his age as he had been in his youth, but the bearing of a warrior was in his very bones. He placed a gnarled fist over his heart in salute, then turned and made his slow, weary way out of her chamber to begin his final mission.
When the door closed behind him, he thought he heard weeping from the other side.