In The Marble Halls Of Althenia


Prologue


Dedicated to my Pahoyhoy for all her amazing support for this story and for all my others over the years. I love you.


The sun slowly peaked over the eastern borders of Althenia, bathing the land in her warm rays. The kingdom had been anticipating this day for many years. For this day was a cause for celebration and rejoice. By midday, every citizen would be gathered in the large square that sat at the foot of the vast marble palace carved directly into the cliff face of the northern hills. For today, Althenia had finally been blessed with an heir to the throne.

The lord of these lands, Ansem the Wise, had never taken a consort to the crown, which had called into question how an heir would be produced. For years, the issue had remained unaddressed due to the war that had occurred just beyond the borders, in the neighboring kingdom of Ysirya to which the Althenians had been called at aid. With a long standing treaty between the two kingdoms, Ansem had answered that call, taking his warriors to help defend the smaller country from the invading forces of the nation of Thorsin. Together, the two nations were able to defeat the invading barbarians. For his assistance, Ansem had solidified the alliance that had stood between the two kingdoms for centuries. However, now that the kingdoms were at peace once more, it began to raise the question of an heir to the throne once again. The war had called into question the king's mortality and who would take the throne if Ansem were to die. That question had finally been answered with the arrival of the heir.

The kingdom of Althenia was populated by three races, each living at peace with one another for as long as the chronicles recorded. The elfkin were fair, long lived and users of the Earth-sense magicks. Their senses were heightened by the voices of the earth to which they were the guardians of. They made up most of the population of Althenia, and lived in peace with most of the surrounding kingdoms. Though they could eventually die of old age, it was usually only after centuries that that happened. Most of the time, an elfkin was called to the Havens after falling in battle or another accident.

Alongside the elfkin lived the Fae. Physically identical to the elfkin, Fae were only distinguishable from their brethren through Othersense. By using Othersense, one could tell that Faefolk not only had the Earth-sense, but that they were blessed by the Goddess with control over the air spirits as well. This made the Fae masters of illusion and stealth. Faefolk were rare, only appearing a few times a generation, when both a bonded pair had extraordinary Earth-sense of their own.

The final race of Althenia was the Magus. Rarest of all the inhabitants, there were rarely more than ten living at any given time. Longer lived than even the elfkin, a magus was born when one of the Faefolk bonded with an elfkin with only the barest hint of Earth-sense. As if the Goddess had decided to twist the fate of the bonded pair, she would bless them with a child that possessed control over all the elements, to the strongest degree.

The king of Althenia had always been from the same bloodline, a line which boasted some of the strongest Earth-sense that the kingdom had ever known. When Ansem the wise had never taken a consort to continue his blood ties to the throne, it had caused worry for his people. However, late last evening prior, a royal proclamation had been issued that an heir had been blessed upon Ansem the Wise, a babe the king had named Riku. The only concern that the people of Althenia had about the child was that if the King had never chosen a consort, how had the child been blessed upon him? The public wanted to be sure that the child was indeed the legitimate heir to the throne. So before the ceremony presenting Riku to the kingdom, the king had summoned his most trusted advisor, and Althenia's elder Magus to confirm the babe's parentage.

Of all the Magus that lived in Althenia, Vexen was not only the oldest, but the most powerful and wisest. His control over the elements had manifested all at once when he was young, and at full strength. Coupled with a high level of intelligence, Vexen had quickly gained a spot on the counsel of Magus Elders, and in turn on the King's Counsel. That had been in the time of Ansem's father, but the young prince had quickly developed a kinship with the prodigal Magus.

When the former King fell ill and eventually passed to the Havens, he left Althenia's throne to his son, including his counsel. Over the years, Ansem began to trust Vexen's wisdom and knowledge, as well as his magical abilities, above anyone else's. This elevated the young Magus to the head of his own counsel, but to also being the King's personal advisor. That was why when the announcement of Ansem's son's arrival came late last night, the Magus had already known about it. The palace page that had brought the news had also brought a summons to the palace for the morning to Vexen as well, not that he needed one. After all, with no consort, the arrival of an heir was going to bring to light questions of how he had come.

Knowing that this would be a much more official summons, Vexen dressed himself in the long white counsel robes that left little skin other than his hands visible from the neck down. The only adornments on the pale fabric were a single wide chain around the Magus' waist. The silver was inlaid with gems the colours representing each of the elements that Vexen had gained mastery over. Surrounding each of those jewels were tiny runes that spelled out the incantations that harnessed the powers of the elements. The vast number of colours and runes were proof of his status as the most powerful of the Magus in all the Kingdoms. Pulling his long blond hair free of the collar of his robes, the Magus picked up the final item that was proof of his standing, a tall walking stick, more tiny runes carved upon its length.

With that final preparation, the blond Magus then began to make his was way out of his small dwelling. On his way out, he spared a moment to nod towards a light haired Fae, fixing ambrosia blooms in a vase near the door. Without a word, he continued out the door and into the early morning sunlight that already was warming the land. Despite the early hour of the day, there was already a lot of activity in the Kingdom with everyone preparing for the celebration of the heir's arrival. Vexen had the feeling that no matter what he discovered about the circumstances of the young prince's birth, the babe was already finding a place in the hearts of the kingdom's inhabitants.

The journey to the palace was a little longer today than usual as so many stopped to ask the Magus if the news was true or not. His answer was always the same, that he couldn't confirm nor deny anything yet, but he still assured them that celebrations would be held this afternoon. By the time that Vexen finally made it up to the grand palace of Althenia, the sun was already half way to its zenith, making the white marble of the palace walls seem to glow. The guards that stood outside the double doors both just nodded to the Magus, allowing him in without question or announcement. He was welcome here at any hour. He didn't even need to ask to be informed where the king would be.

Making his way through the alabaster hallways, Vexen headed straight for the king's private chambers. Once again, the guards just nodded the Magus into the room, pushing and holding the doors open for him. They all must have been informed of the summons that had been sent out, but at the same time, this would not be the first unannounced visit that he made, nor would it be the last. Looking around the sparsely furnished room, Vexen was unsurprised to see Ansem the Wise sitting in the centre of the room on a large and comfortable chair. This was not an uncommon position to find the ruler in, with the exception of the small bundle held in the King's arms.

"Welcome, my friend. I am pleased to see you," the king of short, pale blond hair said in the deep baritone that could instill fear into enemies with a single word. The voice echoed through the room, though the speaker never raised his gaze from the swaddled bundle cradled in his arms.

"And this must be young Riku who has the entire kingdom up and about at this early hour," Vexen said, approaching his seated monarch.

With a soft smile, the elfkin pulled the corner of the soft blanket away from the infant, giving Vexen a good look at the babe. Riku's skin was as pale as the moonlight and judging by the soft strands of hair that were scattered sparsely over his head, his hair wouldn't be much darker. As if reacting to the light, tiny eyes opened, revealing irises of the clearest aquamarine that Vexen had ever seen. And with a colour so vibrant and clear, it was a sign that when his Earth-sense awakened, Riku's natural magic would be strong. After receiving a nod from the infant's father, the Magus extended a single finger and placed it in the centre of the child's bare chest. With only the barest whisper of a spell, the point on Riku's chest where the Magus touched began to glow, runes appearing from nowhere.

The illuminated symbols told Vexen all about Riku's origins. He could sense the blessing of the Goddess Shiva in the young body quite strongly, but no matter what he did, the Magus could only find Ansem's prayers in Riku's blood, no trace of another. Had the Goddess truly blessed Ansem with this child without a partner? In all his years nor all his research, he had never heard of the blessing of a child without two prayers. For a child to be born to his parents, the first had to commit themselves to one another in a hand fasting ceremony. Then when they were ready for their son to be born, they would enter a dream trance and travel through the spirit realm until they met up with the High Goddess, Shiva. She would then decide if the two would be worthy of a child of her blessing. If so, she would send them out of their trance, babe in arm. It had been known for a bonded pair to spend as little as a day in the spirit realm, arguing their worth, and times it took over a week. Shiva wasn't a cruel Goddess, but she was highly concerned with the preservation of her people and wanted to be sure that each child was wanted.

After examining the evidence that had been presented to him over and over again, Vexen finally had to admit what he had been suspecting. "Well, congratulations seem to be in order, your Highness. I see absolutely nothing to dispute that fact that young Riku here is your son."

"We will go ahead with the announcement ceremony later today as planned then," Ansem had a tired smile on his face that just shone with pride, all of it directed at the small babe in his arms. As Vexen pulled his hand away from Riku's chest, the King then folded the blanket back up over his tiny body.

Knowing that his magical abilities would no longer be needed, the Magus then took a seat that was offered to him, a chair that wasn't nearly as padded as the King's, but none the less comfortable. Vexen was no longer the King's advisor, nor a Magus, but was now Ansem's oldest and closet friend. "How long was your Dream Walk?"

"A little over a day," answered Ansem as if knowing exactly what his friend was about to ask. That was the average time that Shiva took for the blessing. It might be the only thing about Riku's arrival that was normal. "And before you ask, your findings were correct. There was no other involved. It seems as if Shiva is working in mysterious ways right now. But I will not question Her motives."

"Interesting," said the Magus, truly fascinated by the whole situation. This had never been known to happen in Althenia's history before, and Vexen wanted to hear all about it. Along with being an elder Magus and advisor, Vexen was also the lead chronicler of the Kingdom's histories. He would want to record everything. "So, as you were the only one, how difficult was it to convince Shiva on your own?"

Ansem let out a soft sigh, prepared to answer these sorts of questions. In an unconscious move, he began to run his finger along the pointed tip of his young son's ear. "I thought it would be more difficult than it actually was. It almost seemed as if Shiva wanted me to have Riku."

Vexen nodded, trying to decipher what all of this could mean. Obviously the Goddess had some sort of plan in place for young Riku, something that may not take place for years. Whenever it happened to be, the Magus would continue to observe and watch over the small child until that time passed.

Before he had the chance to analyze the possibilities any further, the doors to the King's chambers were opened once more and two elfkin entered, each one with a long sword hanging from their hips. Without a word, they walked through the large chamber towards their lord and King, kneeling and bowing their heads when they ended up in front of chair that held the King. The two warriors had both come to Althenia from Ysirya after the war, deciding that this was where they were meant to be. During the battles against Thorsin, they had proven their skills and often threw themselves in harm's way to protect Ansem despite him not being their monarch at the time. For this, Ansem was pleased to welcome the two into his court when they asked to return with him to Althenia. Over time, they had again and again proved themselves, but now as the personal retainers to the king, there was nothing that could stand up to them. Because of this, Vexen was sure that these two probably knew about Riku's arrival shortly after he himself did.

"Ah, Cloud," Ansem said and the fairer of the two elfkin nodded, looking up to reveal bright blue eyes. "And Squall," at that, the dark warrior looked up, his own steel grey eyes shining in the warm morning light. "I'm glad that you both came."

"Of course, your majesty," Cloud said as he and his partner both bowed their heads again, never rising from their crouched position.

Ansem just smiled softly at the typical silent nature of the two. Neither of them ever were the most talkative, but for some reason, Cloud always seemed to be the one to answer for the both of them. "I'd like for you two to meet my son, Riku. The Magus Vexen has confirmed that he is indeed my heir."

Squall and Cloud finally both rose to their feet then, taking in the sight of the small boy in their King's arms. "Congratulations." This time, the two warriors answered as one.

Nodding his thanks, the King adjusted his son's blanket once again before looking back at his retainers. "I understand that you have been recently hand-fasted to one another."

Despite being put on the spot so suddenly, neither man made any outward reaction to the comment. "Yes, your majesty, at last moon." Once again it was Cloud who answered. Vexen sat quietly off to the side, merely observing the reactions of the two stoic warriors to what Ansem was about to do.

"I also heard that you would be planning to enter your own dream walk soon as well. Is this true?" the king looked over at the two warriors and was not surprised that neither of them moved a muscle, with the small exception of a brief shared look.

Cloud then cleared his throat. "You heard right, Majesty. We were planning on entering our dream walk by the next full moon."

"I am sure that the Goddess will bless you with a strong and healthy son. And to thank you for your loyalty and bravery, he will betrothed to Riku." Ansem's words caused both warriors' eyes to widen with a look of gratitude in both the bright blue and steal gray. Neither of them had expected anything like that, and especially not so soon after arriving in this kingdom. When they were in the middle of battle, both Cloud and Squall felt more loyalty to Ansem than they had to the elfkin that held the throne of Ysirya, Odine. Odine was an intelligent ruler, and for the most part was a just one, but he did have a cruel streak and when the cruelty struck him, there was nothing to stop him. So when the war ended, the two best warriors in Ysirya followed Ansem the Wise home. Though Odine was less than impressed upon losing the two greatest sword masters either kingdom had seen in centuries, he did acknowledge that he owed Ansem much for his aid, and if all it would take to even that debt was losing the services of the two warriors, he would manage.

Crossing one arm over their chests and lowering their heads Cloud once again spoke for both of them. "It will be our honour, your Majesty. It is more than we could ever ask for."

Ansem let out a light chuckle as he stood up, Riku still held securely in his arms. "Nonsense, it is something you have both earned. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe that there is a ceremony announcing Riku's arrival that I must prepare for."

Vexen continued to observe as the two warriors gave a final bow to their King before making their way back out of the chamber. Normally the Magus would have questioned such as a decision as Riku's betrothed, especially so soon after the babe's arrival. However, this was one decision that Vexen had to completely agree with. Already able to sense the latent power that resided within the young prince, if the warrior skill bred true in Cloud and Squall's son, a son born of that child and Riku would have unmatched skill and power. "I have a question, your highness."

"You want to know why I am choosing a consort for Riku before the child has even been born," Ansem questioned as he looked out the large window that took up the entirety of the southern wall, and from there he was easily able to see the crowd that was gathering in the courtyard. The entire kingdom really was going to be gathering there for the presentation of Riku.

"Actually, no I wasn't. I understand your reasoning there, and I completely approve of it," Vexen said as he began to examine several of the runes that were etched into his staff. This was a hard subject for him to bring up, but it was something that the Magus knew had to be discussed. "Who all have you personally told about Riku's arrival?"

An audible sigh was heard from the King so Vexen knew that he understood the question despite the vagueness and cryptic nature. "I know what you're thinking, Vexen. Yes, I was the one to inform my brother before he heard elsewhere."

"What was his reaction?"

Letting out a dry and humourless chuckle, Ansem turned back to face his friend and advisor. "As you could expect, he acted as if he was glad, but it was forced and faked. We all knew that he was dreading the day that I had a son as it would be he was no longer the heir presumptive and second in line for the throne. We all knew that he wanted nothing more than for me to die in the war. I know how much he wants the throne, and how bad of a King he would make. This puts one more obstacle between him and it. Why do you think that I want Riku betrothed to Cloud and Squall's son before he's even born? I want those warriors to look over my son, because we both know that Xemnas will do anything to get to him."

The Magus was not only surprised to hear this, but impressed as well by the King's forethought on the matter. He had been concerned about how Xemnas would react to his nephew's arrival, and it seemed as if his worries were not only warranted, but echoed by Ansem. With a light sigh, Vexen stood up and walked across the stark white room until he was standing beside his friend and monarch. "I just pray to Shiva that all these suspicions prove to be false."

"As do I, my friend. As do I."


Well, I'm back and with a brand new story. I have been talking about this one for over four(!) years now, and it feels good to finally be writing it. Ask Pahoyhoy, she's been after me to write it since I told her all about it the very first time that I visited her. Yes, it's been that long. And after all the stuff that I have gone through the last six months (my life was literally flipped upside down, but for the better), it feels good to be writing again.

This is the first chapter of what is going to be a nice long story, probably between 20-25 chapters. I have it all planned out, so its really just a matter of writing it down and getting it out of my head. I'm really hoping to have a chapter out every month or so, but I will not promise that as we all know how busy my life can get. I am going to hold off of writing oneshots until I get the first five chapters done though so I can dedicate my writing to this story.

As always, I hope that everyone likes this story and I look forward to hearing from everyone with your thoughts! I do have the next chapter and a bit already written, so the next chapter shouldn't be too long coming! Until next time!