Leo was six years old when he saw her for the first time.

General Alexandre Cristophe returned from a successful mission, to the great relief of Leo's mother. Leo failed to understand why this mission was so different from the others, why his mother had sat up late jabbing at her stitchery to hide her worried eyes, why she had entered his room in the middle of the night to rock herself in the corner watching his pretended sleep. But his father returned, with stories of fairies and unicorns for Leo's eager ears.

He led his son into the newly built lab, full of glass and metal. Leo held tightly to his father's hand as Alexandre led him through the steel corridors, until they came to a room filled with glass tubes and wires.

Leo's eyes grew round as he saw the creatures from his picture books right before his eyes. He almost broke away from his father to go and look, but a stern squeeze forced him to snap to attention and face the amused countenance of Emperor Gestahl. He mimicked his father, bowing low and solemn. With a gesture from the Emperor, he was allowed to run along the walkway and peek at the creatures.

They were strange and enchanting. He saw a blue creature with fins blowing bubbles in the tube's serum, he saw a red demon with eyes like his mother's rubies, and he saw a woman with strange blue skin. He saw a monster almost like a man, with thick hair and hooves like a goat; he saw a strange looking cat and a unicorn.

"Look how wide his eyes have become." He heard the chuckling behind him.

He looked up to his father and the Emperor's smiling faces. His father took his hand again but Leo didn't want to leave.

"Don't worry, Leo. You'll have plenty of time to see them again later."

Consoled, he trotted along with his father into another room. Cid, the curious man in the banana suit was rummaging through a drawer as a nurse scribbled a clipboard beside him. In the center of the room on a cold sterile table sat a tiny little creature.

Leo's father roared with laughter when Leo asked if it was a doll.

His father hefted him up so he could see the toddler better. She looked at him with green eyes flecked with gold. Her hair was green too, and short. Leo had never seen hair that color and he reached out to touch it.

His father slapped his hand away and told him to look, not touch. The child simply stared at him, her thumb in her mouth.

"Hi," Leo said.

She stared, and then smiled, a wide toothy grin.

Cid walked over with a needle, the kind Leo hated, and Leo was promptly led out of the room. He peeked over his shoulder at the girl as he left and her eyes followed him on his way out.

Leo wanted to go see her again, but he father left on another mission.

And this time, he didn't come back.

When the regiment returned without their general, his mother kissed him on the cheek and left the house. They found her dead the next morning.

Emperor Gestahl entered his dead general's home with a solemn assembly of General Cristophe's peers. They found Leo in the parlor, struggling to lift his father's sword. The entourage stood in respectful silence as the child fought to bring the sword to bear. He finally raised it and saluted his Emperor as he had seen his father do many, many times.

Emperor Gestahl accepted his salute, and told him that he would someday be a general, just like his father.

Leo forgot about unicorns and creatures with sparkling wings in the days that followed. The other generals took him under their wing, and the young boy began a soldier's life. They taught him how to use his sword, trained him in tactics and warfare. By ten, he could outfight any boy his age. By eleven, he could take on most of the cadets in the army. He was a protégé in war.

And honor.

He learned to serve his Emperor, the man who had given him a life to live.

But he never forgot that there might be a little boy out there who would come home to an empty house and find that a sword was his only family now.

Author's Notes

This was actually pretty tricky to write. I chose not to use a child's voice, but I still wanted the work to reflect a child's innocence. Very interesting to try and achieve, but hopefully it came out as intended.

This is going to be a multi-chaptered arc. I know, I know, I need to learn to handle writing something that's actually plot-driven, but this is a step in the right direction as I try to learn just how to do that. We'll also see how much of this I can actually get done… This semester is the most insane one I've ever taken on. But of course, when life gives you tons of reading and papers… write fanfics!

Enjoy!

SJ