In The Marble Halls Of Althenia

Chapter Two

I Know, this is a lot later than I thought it was going to be. Its because of a mix of life, hateful computers and general hullaballoo. Yup hullaballoo. Anyway, here it is, better late then never!

After experiencing the wonders of the ambrosia chamber, the alabaster walls of the palace seemed so odd to the young prince. There had been something about being surrounded by the crawling vines that had called to a part of the elfkin's soul deep down. It might not be the sign that Shiva was suppose to be sending him, but Riku knew that it wouldn't be long before the Goddess did send him the sign that he was looking for. But for now, all the youngling wanted to do was find his best friend and tell him about these amazing new discoveries.

Making his way back through the corridors towards the royal family's private chambers, the young elfkin wondered briefly if Sora would now be in a training session with his parents. It seemed as if every time he was looking for the young brunet, one or both of the sword masters would have him training. Not that Sora didn't also have plenty of time for playing and just being a child; he just spent a lot of time in the training arena and loved every minute of it.

"Ah, Young Riku. Where might you be going?" A voice broke the young prince out of his thoughts and distracting him temporarily from his search. Looking around for the source, Riku soon saw the elder Magus walking towards him, carrying several scrolls in his arms.

With a slight bow of respect, the young elfkin offered his father's advisor a smile. "Father just showed me the ambrosia chambers. It was the most amazing thing that I have ever seen! I can't wait until Shiva sends me my sign. I want to be able to manipulate the ambrosia as Father does."

Vexen gave the prince a friendly smile. "Ah, then I expect you are off to find Young Sora to share this news with him then?" the Magus was thoroughly surprised and pleased at the friendship that had formed between Sora and Riku. The two younglings were not aware of their betrothal as wished by their parents. The king and his retainers chose to keep that fact from their children to see how their relationship developed naturally and not with the pressure of the inevitable hand fasting looming over them.

The prince just nodded with a broad smile. "Yes, I am. Sora's Earth Voice finally woke today! He said that he heard the Voices tell him that it didn't like my Lord Uncle Xemnas."

"Ah, I see," the Magus nodded, shifting the scrolls in his arms a little.

"Why did the Voices say that to Sora and not to me? My Earth Sense is stronger than his and has been awake much longer," there was a slight pout in the young elfkin's voice that caused a single corner of Vexen's lips to turn upwards. He was not at all surprised to hear the jealousy in Riku's voice. After all, the prince had never been around any one who was able to communicate with the Earth Voices better than him, nor hear Voices that he couldn't hear.

"Upon waking, Earth Voices that don't normally speak to anyone will say something and will never be heard from again," the Magus explained, trying not to allow his personal thoughts to be known to Riku. After all, there was no sense in forcing his opinion onto the young prince, especially since there was nothing to back up some of those opinions other than some hearsay and rumours.

The answer seemed to satisfy the young prince for a few moments as they continued to walk down the bright hall. The Magus made no attempt to engage Riku into conversation at the moment. He would speak again after his mind went over all the details of what he was told. If there was one thing to be said of the young heir, it was that he always thought things through. "Lord Vexen, can elfkin survive without ambrosia? I mean without succumbing to insanity?"

This time it was the Magus who was quiet as he thought over the question that was asked of him. True Riku was still only a child, but there were some things that even one so young should know about, especially when one would have to deal with that type of situation before too long. "There is a small tribe of elfkin that live on the northern borders of Althenia that the Goddess has forsaken. This is because they have strayed from Her teachings and don't rely on ambrosia to keep their sanity."

This began to really peak the prince's interest. He had been hearing rumours and warnings about those elfkin all his life, but any time that he asked his father about it, the King would always get a frightened and angry look in his golden eyes and say to never ask about them again. "What do they rely on then?"

With a sigh, Vexen briefly worried that the King didn't want his son to know about these things yet, but decided that it was better for the prince to learn about this from him rather than piecing together bits of the stories on his own and not having all the information. "They are what we call Blood Elves. They were once elfkin like yourself, but they decide to stop taking ambrosia. When they begin to feel the onset of the insanity, they begin the process. The rest of the tribe will find an unwilling victim and sacrifice them in the name of the dark deity, Diablos, and drink the blood of the victim. It is a very dark path, one of which most of us don't like to think about, let alone talk about. Their magicks are dark and tainted, the earth voices repudiate them. They are not something that anyone of their right mind will associate with or bring up in polite conversation." Noticing that the young prince was no longer along side him, the Magus paused and looked back to see Riku stopped several steps behind him, aqua eyes wide as can be and skin blanched even more than normal. Vexen could not fault the young elfkin on his reaction; it was really something that frightened even the strongest of warriors.

"Where do they get the victims?" the young elfkin's voice was whispered and a slight tremble laced it.

The Magus walked back over to the prince, and shifting his scrolls to one arm, he knelt down and placed his now free hand onto the shaking child's shoulder. "You have nothing to worry about, young prince. As long as you promise me that you will never travel to the northern border alone."

"I promise!" The prince nodded with fear apparent in his proclamation. The magus felt confident that the young elfkin's reactions were genuine and they would have no problems with him trying to wander into the forbidden territories.

"There's a good lad. Now, I believe that I have kept you from searching out your friend long enough. Go and find him and share your news," Vexen offered Riku a soft smile and used the hand he had resting on the child's shoulder to push him off in the direction he had been off in earlier.

"Thank you, Elder Vexen!" Riku said in a fully different tone of voice than only moments before. Without waiting for the elder to say anything else, Riku began to run down the alabaster hallway towards where he knew Sora would be. As usual, the young prince dodged servants, elfkin and others as he ran with haste. Precious minutes had been wasted while talking to the Magus, but he knew not to dismiss the Magus' words, or advice. His father often told Riku how important of a figure Vexen was to the kingdom and to its ruler.

The blanched walls blurred by him as he made his way down to the training arena, hoping that the brunet elfkin would be practicing on his own. A vine covered railing signalled the approach of the prince's destination. With a grin, he stopped running and allowed his soft leather boots to slide on the polished floor the remaining distance until he crashed into the guardrail with a smile. Grabbing onto the vine strewn wood, the young elfkin looked down into the sunken courtyard. There was a square in the centre made of loosely packed sand, various racks for weapons and wooden benches lining the perimeter. This was the palace training grounds, and each of the guards and palace swordsmen were all given time each day to train and practice here. These days however, chances were that you could find either Master Squall or Master Cloud, or more often than not both, here training the young prince and their son, or sparring against the warriors. There really was no one in the entire kingdom with the same level of skill as those two.

As usual, the two swords masters were there, each wielding a long practice blade, methodically moving with one another with such fluid motions that it looked more like a dance with the blades swinging through the air. It was truly mesmerizing to watch. Off to the side on one of the benches was Sora, watching with rapt interest in the skill they exhibited. Upon first observation, one would never know that the two swords masters were bonded with the way that they attacked one another relentlessly. If he didn't resemble the two elfkin that were sparring in front of him so highly, there were those who would doubt that Sora was the son of the two warriors. Though after watching the grace and proficiency that both elfkin had with the swords that were swinging as they flew through the air, no one was going to question it.

Knowing that his friend and playmate would be entranced by the spar for quite some time, the young prince sighed. He had been hoping that Sora would not have been caught up by his parents fighting. There was so much that he was excited to tell his friend about. Riku was not patient and didn't want to wait for Master Squall and Master Cloud to finish their spar and the subsequent training that they would be giving Sora afterwards. With a heavy sigh, the young elfkin folded his arms and rested them on the vine covered railing.

"And what does the young prince have to sigh so heavily about this day?" A voice said from behind Riku, causing him to jump a little. With a start, the young heir turned to come face to face with his uncle for the second time that day, but this time his friend's words were still haunting the back of his mind.

With a smile, Riku then stood to his diminutive height and looked up at his uncle. "Hello, Lord Uncle. I was just watching Masters Cloud and Squall training this afternoon."

The elder elfkin looked down into the arena, and there was a brief moment that the heir thought that he saw something flash over the amber of his uncle's eyes, but it was gone so fast that he couldn't identify what exactly it was. "Ah. To think that ones of such skill would travel so far from home with no real purpose."

Not fully understanding exactly what Lord Xemnas meant, Riku just smiled at his uncle. "Father showed me the greatest thing today, Lord Uncle! I got to go in and see the ambrosia chamber."

"How wonderful," Xemnas said, not looking down at his nephew.

Unaware of the elder's growing hostilities towards him, the young prince continued on. "The Lost Kings allowed me to release the seals on the door really quickly, too! And when I finally got into the chamber, it was nothing like I had ever seen before. It was beautiful. Were you amused by it when you first entered into the chamber too, Lord Uncle?" The excitement in Riku's voice was easily heard.

Xemnas however stood there, as stoic as ever with a look of complete indifference on his face. However, due to the excitement that Riku was experiencing at the moment, he either did not notice it or chose to ignore it. "I was never permitted entry by the Lost Kings."

Bright aqua eyes went wide at those words. "Not even once? But Father said that until I was born, you had access to the chamber."

After many years, the elfkin Lord had learned how to school his emotions and anger. "He was mistaken."

"Oh," the prince murmured, afraid that he may have crossed a line and upset his uncle. "It was really beautiful! The ambrosia blooms were so large, too!" Quickly dismissing his uncle's mood, Riku then began to launch into a description of the inside of the chamber as best as he could remember.

The elder elfkin allowed his nephew to ramble on as he seethed inside. He had spent many long years as the heir to the throne and was satisfied that he would eventually become ruler of Althenia. That ambition was fuelled and supported by the fact that his brother had never chosen a consort. However, with Riku's arrival, it had put a halt to those plans that he had. Even more detrimental to the stopping of his plans was the coalition of the peers his King had surrounded himself with. Those warriors who possessed unsurpassed skill with their long blades. That blasted Fae who seemed to know and see far more than they should. And that Magus whose power was so high that even Xemnas dared not challenge him.

"And then Elder Vexen told me about the Blood Elves and how bad and evil they are."

When the young prince said this, it broke the taller elfkin out of his rage fuelled thoughts. "So he told you all about the abandoned Blood Elf settlement that lies just to the north eastern edge of the gorge?"

The young prince's ears twitched at those words. Exploration was one of his favourite past times, one that he shared with his best friend. They were forever looking for new locations to explore and play in. And now his uncle had just given him a new and unexplored area to discover. But then Riku recalled the stories that Vexen had told him earlier that day. "No, Elder Vexen did not mention anything about that. Is it truly abandoned? Would it be safe for me to visit it?"

The dark skinned elfkin's amber eyes went wide. "Of course it's not safe for you to visit. My dear nephew, if you want to go exploring there, please promise me that you will ensure that you always have one of the elder elfkin with you. Blood Elves are notoriously territorial. There is no saying that if you go exploring there that those miscreants wouldn't show up there. Your magic may already have manifested itself and be stronger than any other elfkin of your age, but it isn't infallible. Many of those traitors would love to get you in their grasp, young Riku."

A little surprised at the concern that his uncle was exhibiting for his safety caused the prince to raise his eyebrow. Xemnas was not known to be a strong magician nor an overly skilled warrior, instead using his command over others in order to succeed in battle. However, Riku had seen his uncle in the past sparring with both magic and duel swords, and it had been enough to frighten the prince. The only word that he could use to describe the demonstration was vicious. It had surprised him further when Master Cloud and Master Squall refused to spar with him, giving reasons such as he didn't use a traditional style and they didn't trust him. Riku hadn't understood Sora's comment about the Earth Voices not liking his uncle, and still he couldn't make sense of it either. If such a fierce fighter like his uncle was frightened about going into the abandoned settlement, maybe it really was a place that he should stay away from.

"Alright, Lord Uncle Xemnas. I won't go there alone," the younger elfkin said with a smile.

"There's a good lad," the Lord said with a pat to his nephews head. "Now, it seems as if your little friend has finished his training. Run along now and tell him all about what you saw today. But remember, you promised me that you would never go to the abandoned settlement on your own."

"I remember. Goodbye, Lord Uncle!" the prince gave the smallest and barest necessary bow as was protocol before looking down into the training area to see that Sora was carefully replacing a wooden practice blade onto the rack as he wiped his forehead, the two elder warriors sheathing their blades at their sides. "Sora!" Riku called, waving at his friend when the young brunet looked up. Receiving a smile and an enthusiastic wave in return, the silver haired elfkin began to run down the marble hallway until he reached a stairwell. He descended the stairs at a reckless pace that would have any of the elders warning him of a broken neck if he continued to run on the stairs like that. What they weren't aware of was just how advanced the young prince was with controlling his Earth Sense.

Without exerting even the smallest trickle of power, Riku was able to listen to the Earth Voices telling him where each step was and what steps to avoid in order preventing falling. He had found out long ago that if he did happen to make a misstep, magic would seem to radiate straight from the ground, condensing around him and stopping him from colliding with the ground, while the earth itself would rise to meet his feet before returning to its previous state. It was something that no one other than Sora had ever seen happening, and neither of them had ever heard of happening to anyone else. It was something that Riku was reluctant to share with any of the elders, especially his father.

When he finally made it to the bottom of the stairway, the prince didn't stop his pace, continuing to run through the corridors until he came to the training area. Obviously Sora had prepared for his arrival, holding the door open so that the prince didn't have to slow down. Once again executing the tiniest amount of magical force that would not register to anyone's Other Sense, Riku made the earth become almost adhesive, his feet sticking to the floor of the training area and allowing him to stop instantaneously.

Seeing the two swords masters bowing with their arms crossed over their chests in respect for their future king, Riku nodded in a sign for them to rise. Long ago, he had asked the two swords masters to stop doing that, that it wasn't necessary for them to bow to him, but he only received the response that it would not be their place and they bowed out of respect for him and his father. Obviously they would be bowing to him until he took the throne and then they would not be able to ignore direct orders such as those from their King. At least their son did not share their same ideals on protocol towards the heir.

"Riku! I have to show you the manoeuvre that Papa and Father just showed me today!" The young brunet exclaimed as he ran back to the weapons rack and removed his wooden practice blade. Taking only a moment to move into the proper stance, the brunet then swung the blade downwards before spinning and slicing the blade back up and following that with a series of cross slashes, finishing with five fierce jabs. Riku could see both Master Squall and Master Cloud watching with critical eyes, but when Sora finished the new move and neither of the swords masters neither offered any sort of criticism, the prince knew that his friend had executed the technique with perfection as usual. Though he would never actually admit it, Riku knew he would never be able to match the brunet's sword skill no matter how much training he had.

"That was incredible!" the silver haired elfkin exclaimed with a grin, genuinely happy for his friend's mastery of the skill. "Father took me to the ambrosia chamber today. Soon I will get a sign from Shiva to say that I will be able to help manipulate the ambrosia so that we can use it better."

"That is a big responsibility, your highness. It is not something to take lightly," Master Squall said in his soft voice that was far gentler than one would have expected from the stoic warrior.

"Yes, Master Squall," Riku said, hoping to sound responsible enough. The dark haired swordsman then walked over to his son and placed a hand on Sora's shoulder. At this distance, it was easy to tell that Sora was Shiva's gift to the two warriors'. Like Squall, the young elfkin had chocolate brown hair and slightly tanned skin, but the natural spikiness to his hair and the bright blue eyes that reflected every emotion were completely Cloud. Where Sora got his happy-go-lucky attitude and sunny disposition remained a mystery to everyone. Because according to the young brunet elfkin, even in their privacy of their own chambers, the two swordsmen acted the same way.

"We believe that you will be up to the task though, Riku. You will one day be what the Kingdom of Althenia needs," Cloud continued as he too walked over to his son, reaching into the small brown pouch attached to his belt and pulled out two small squares of a golden colour, before offering one to each of the younger elfkin.

"Thank you, Papa," Sora smiled as he took one of the ambrosia squares, eating it and smiling at the sweet and smooth flavour that he had grown up on, Riku doing the same. Of all the many ways to have ambrosia, this was one of his favoured methods.

"Thank you, Master Cloud," the prince echoed, his mind suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of the responsibility that would one day fall on his shoulders. However, seeing the two swords masters and their son standing there, and the thought of Elder Vexen and Zexion also standing there, Riku knew that he would never be alone when he ascended the throne. One day he would be King of Althenia and he would need the support of those around him. Of all those in the Kingdom, those five were the ones he knew could trust with his life. Riku had been aware as soon as he knew his position in life that there would be few people that h would be able to trust so completely, even among his own family. He knew that the Goddess had to be watching over him to give him supporters and friends like this so early in his life. He would never take any of them for granted and prayed that he would always be able to rely on them, even when he was standing on his own and he needed them the most. Hopefully though, the time that he would need to call on them in his time of need would be far off. If only the Goddess would hear that prayer.

Oooh, stuff is happening! I promise that the next chapter will not be nearly as long, in fact the next two chapters shouldn't be that long coming. Along with a new AkuSora, a possible Dexion and another foray into the Marvel-verse with more Stony stories. Maybe ;)

Thanks again to WindEarthWater for your wonderful betaing job, and I feel your computer pain for sure lol. And to Pahoyhoy, I still remember taking 2 hours almost 4 years ago to talk to you about all the details of this story, and you bugging me every week since then about starting to write it. And still getting good laughs with me over the original title to this story! I love you and I've already started my less than 60 day countdown until I get to come see you and your L'il Hoy. You have no idea how much I miss you! I love you so much!

And as always, to all my readers, thank so much for the amazing support that I have been getting for everything over the past 7 years on this site! Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought stuff that I write would ever be this popular! Thank you! Until next time, which I promise won't be nearly as long! Later!