In The Marble Halls Of Althenia

Chapter Four

Fear was overwhelming the young prince's mind, but thankfully the training that had been instilled in him for so long now took over. Nocking an arrow, Riku raised his bow, easily identifying the stranger wielding the lance to be the target he should take aim for. It wasn't as if he thought he was more powerful or could take him on one on one, it was that he would be able to hit the lancer before the other archer would be able to hit him. Yet, feeling a set of small shoulders pressing against his back made the silver haired youngling's fear subside slightly. He felt so much stronger with Sora at his back, though he felt no less frightened.

The brunet elfkin had both blades at the ready and had chosen the archer as his target. There was no way that his dagger or his short sword would be any match for the broadsword that the other held. "Riku…" whispered Sora, none of his fear showing in his voice. His parents had taught him well. "Blood elves…""

"Sweet merciful Shiva," the prince's aqua eyes were wide as he came to the same conclusion. Even their presence was having an effect on him.

"Pray to your goddess, Light walker. She has no power here," the obvious lead, the one with the sword, spoke with a chill in his voice that caused the two younglings to press closer together.

Riku took in a deep breath and swallowed, every bit of training that had been engraved in him taking over. "How dare you threaten the future ruler of Althenia? This will spark outrage and battles between our people. Release us and you shall be forgiven."

The blood elf with the bow laughed loudly, while the other two only sneered in the youngling's direction. "Do you really think that we care that you're the bastard son of that false king?" the archer laughed, pulling his arrow further back, the dark liquid continuing to drip slowly from the point. Just as he was about to loose the arrow, a stone flew into the front of his bow, the projectile knocked to the ground.

The lancer growled loudly, the points of the two long spears prodding closer to the two elfkin. "Do not attempt your magicks here, light walker. They hold no power in this land." His voice was deep and held power that the youths had never experienced before. Now they knew just how much trouble they had gotten themselves into.

"Enough chatter. Let's show this little princeling what we do to curious little light walkers that come into our territories," the archer smirked as he drew another arrow, completely unphased by the loss of his first, and prepared to shoot.

The two elfkin took in sharp breaths, sure that this was a battle that they could not win. The Earth Voices had gone silent for both of them once again, and despite the small amount of power that Riku had been able to attack with that single stone, he could feel no other magic ready to answer him. They were going to die. They would not go down without a fight though.

Time seemed to slow around them as they both watched the arrow be released from the archer's hands, flying through the air towards them. They both prepared to dodge the arrow, but before they had the chance to do so, a strong gust of wind arose around them, condensing into a shield and knocking the arrow out of the air once more, causing it to fall to the ground with barely any sound. The three blood elves all looked down at the arrow in surprise, before looking around with expressions of utter contempt as they searched for the source of the magic.

They were not waiting long as a figure jumped off of one of the nearby roofs, landing close to the small group, wind currents arising around him slow and cushion his decent.

"Zexion!" Sora and Riku exclaimed together once they saw the Fae. Though they both felt relief at the appearance of their tutor, both younglings knew that they were still at an extreme disadvantage. Zexion's skills lay in support and defense, so it would do little for aiding two half grown elfkin in fighting these heathen elves.

"Well, if it isn't the King's minion," the archer smirked, moving his aim over to the new adversary. They all knew that the Fae would not be able to protect both himself and the young elfkins, and if he chose to shield his wards, those shields would fall the moment that the caster did. Thus the other two chose to continue their targeting of the lesser threats. Despite the danger that they knew that they were in, neither of the younglings hold on their weapons waivered.

As sudden as the winds had appeared, a complete silence fell over everyone, voices and breath stolen, causing silent panic amongst the blood elves. The elfkin however remained calm, recognizing the tactic and used the confusion to rush over to where Zexion was still crouching. As soon as they were both behind him, a few murmured words were overheard and the two younglings felt a shield of pure wind condensing around them.

"Zexion, I'm so sorry…" whispered Riku, hysteria beginning to colour his words now that the initial courage was dissipating. Sora was shaking so hard that he was unable to sheath his blades without injuring himself, so he settled on just dropping them to the ground.

"Shh. There will be a time later to apologize and discuss any wrong doings," the Fae said, strain apparent on his face and in his voice, belaying just how hard even he was finding it to call upon his magicks in this strange territory.

As soon as the three blood elves noticed that their prey had retreated to behind their rescuer, they began to descend upon them, the panic that the blanket of silence had brought on dissipating momentarily. Gasping loudly, Sora and Riku huddled behind Zexion, knowing that the less space he needed to shield, the easier it would be on him. Just as the two younglings saw that the blood elves were approaching close enough to them that a single thrust of any of their weapons would penetrate the wind shield, two figures landed on either side of the blood elves, swords at the ready.

"Father! Papa!" Sora exclaimed as the two swordsmasters began to attack their opponents relentlessly. Neither acknowledged their son as they swung their blades with precision and despite being out numbered, easily pushed their foes back towards their original position and away from the younglings. Even with the battle moving away from them, Zexion refused to release his shield.

Cloud and Squall moved almost effortlessly with the maneuvers that they practiced daily to perfect. Swords sang as they flew through the air, colliding with lance and blade, the archer being disarmed within the first moments, blood pouring from the slashes along both his hands. Even the lancer was being subdued quickly, taking on Squall. The sword-wielding blood elf was caught up in battle with Cloud, and was still holding his own. Obviously he had the most skill and training of the three heathens, but still was not a challenge for the blond swordsmaster.

A loud clang drew the attention of the three spectators in the direction of Squall to witness the lancer's weapon falling to the ground, it's wielder following only moments later. He wasn't dead, just knocked out. However, even though his opponent was out cold, the brunet swordsmaster did not let his guard down. As his steely eyes scanned over the fallen blood elf, movement caught his vision, causing him to jerk towards it.

The archer had retrieved one of his comrade's lost lances. Brandishing it as well as he had his own weapon, he charged the elfkin, madness reflecting in his amber eyes. Squall however was ready for him. With skillful strokes, the brunet swordsworn's blade connected with the lance, hitting it in the best places to send the vibrations through the archer's already damaged hands. Eventually the blood that was seeping out of the wounds slicked the blade too much, forcing the blood elf to relinquish his hold. With the madness of bloodlust and battle thirst still visible in all his features, the archer remained standing, determined to see this through.

"Stand down," Squall ordered in his icy cold voice.

Reflecting the true insanity within the mind of the blood elf, he just laughed and straightened his stance. "Need I remind you that you are in our territory, Light walker?" though he was unarmed and his hands continued to drip dark blood, he once again charged at the elfkin, but did not make it that far this time. With grace and efficiency, Squall's blade fell four times. Twice, the attacks were dodged by the archer, while two of the strokes hit home. Thick lines of blood appeared along the blood elf's face, including one that traced directly through his right eye. Not crying out, the archer just paused, stained hands going up to his now ruined face. None of his wounds would be fatal, provided he received the proper medical attention in time.

"Traitors…" he growled, clutching his eye and falling to his knees before collapsing completely, as out cold as his comrade.

Just as the archer fell, the loud clatter of steel hitting the ground caused the brunet to look over to his bonded. The blond swordmaster's opponent was also on the ground, twin ribbons of blood red liquid crossing over the bridge of his nose. But like the others, he was merely unconscious, not dead.

"Squall," Cloud said, the barest amount of a gasp lacing his words when he saw his bonded partner. Along the bridge of the brunet's own nose was a single line of dripping blood, thus far unnoticed by Squall.

The steel eyed swordsmaster reached a hand up to feel the wetness. However, they both knew that this was not the place to linger over this. Zexion wouldn't be able to shield the younglings much longer. Though they turned their attention from the fallen blood elves, their defences were not lowered. Blood elves were masters of deception and though they were unconscious at the moment, there was no telling how long they would remain that way.

"Father?" Sora whispered, unshed tears glistening in the corner of his eyes as the two swordsmasters approached the exhausted Fae and the two younglings. As soon as they were within arm's reach, Zexion finally dropped the shield, collapsing backwards, Riku reacting quickly to catch him before he hit the ground. Sora ran over to Squall, attaching himself to Squall's legs, worried at the sight of blood on his father's face. The young prince averted his eyes at the sight of Master Cloud joining his son and partner, limping slightly from a previously unrealized injury along one leg, running a finger over the minor injury that ran along his bonded's brow. Riku didn't want to intrude on the familial moment, knowing that his own reunion with his father would be more lecturing than touching moments. Instead, he focused on helping the weakened Fae to his feet.

"I'm so sorry, Zexion," Riku whispered, a slight shake to his words. This was the closest he had ever been to true danger, and it had left him rather unsettled. "Are you going to be alright? I wish that we could give you some ambrosia."

Though the Fae continued to hold onto the prince for support, his strength was returning naturally. Unfortunately the powerful magicks of the Fae did not allow them to consume ambrosia as the elfkin did. If one did, it would overwhelm their senses and magicks too much, literally burning them from the inside out. It was both an advantage and a disadvantage to them. "Thank you for your concern, my prince. I am recovering as we speak. We should hurry back to your father and Lord Xemnas before long however. They are waiting near the gorge, warding the area from others like those miscreants and holding a bridge stable until our return."

Just as the words left Zexion's mouth, the two swordsmasters approached them, their son held tightly in Squall's arms, fast asleep. Cloud knelt down in front of his prince, ignoring his own injury and placed a strong hand on Riku's still shaking shoulder. "Are you hurt, my prince?" There was neither disappointment nor judgement in the blond swordsmaster's voice, only concern, and that made the young elfkin feel all the worse. Unable to verbally reply, Riku just shook his head. "Very well. Zexion, are you up for travel yet?"

The Fae nodded, taking his weight off the prince. "Yes, but I'm afraid we ought to hurry. My strength is returning from the beacons that I set to guide and ward our return."

"Then let us make haste," Cloud answered, standing and beginning the trek back to the chasm, the others following in his wake.

No words were spoken as they traversed from one guidepost to the next, Zexion pausing at each one to recite a brief incantation before the magic that he had left there on the journey in returned to its caster. Riku could not even look up at any of his protectors, the shame that he felt was far too great. He had directly disobeyed so many, including his father, his Lord Uncle and the Elder Magus. His pride and curiosity had been too much, and now he was learning the cost. Not only had he put himself in grave danger, but he had endangered Sora as well. That he had to be rescued by Cloud, Squall and Zexion, resulting in injuring one enough that it would probably scar and draining another's magicks enough for him to collapse, it all weighed heavily on the prince's small shoulders. Why had he ever thought that this had been a good idea? And why had he dragged so many others along with him?

By the time that they reached the gorge, silent tears were running down the prince's face, unnoticed by the rest of the party. Seeing his father and Lord Uncle standing there patiently, something broke free inside him. Rushing past Zexion, the prince ran over and knelt down in front of his father, tears still falling from his reddened aqua eyes. "Father, please forgive me. I didn't know that this would happen. I am so sorry. I put myself before others, and that endangered them. I was so foolish. Please forgive me."

Ansem then knelt down himself, reaching one hand up to lift his son's bowed head. He remained silent for several moments, just looking over Riku's face and into his eyes. "Your remorse is true. You have learned your lesson of how your actions affect others. You are forgiven, my son." With each word that the king spoke, the youngling's eyes went wider and wider.

He then flung himself into his father's arms, desiring the contact that he rarely craved. With a soft chuckle, Ansem stood up, holding his son in his arms, fully aware that the moment that the embrace had begun, the prince's emotions and experiences finally overtook him and he joined his best friend in a state of unconsciousness.

"Xemnas," the king said, turning to his brother who stood off to one side, completely emotionless while regarding this entire scene.

"Yes, my king?" the small bow he made would almost seem mocking to some, but it was just the way that the former heir was.

"Take a small score of border guards and check the wards around this forest. The ones we erected must have faded over the years. Riku should never have been able to make it that far into the forest, let alone all the way to the village. Please go and ensure they are strong enough that this not happen again," Ansem instructed, trusting his brother with this task.

"Of course, Sire," Xemnas replied, signalling across the bridge for four of the border guards that they had brought with them in case the party of Zexion, Squall and Cloud had not been able to subdue the enemies.

With a sigh, Ansem looked down at his sleeping son, then over to the three that had rescued him. "Thank you," he nodded to each in turn as the guards moved passed him, following Xemnas into the Dark Wood and seemingly melting into the shadows. "I don't know what I would do if anything had happened to Riku. Let us return to the castle so that you can all have a well-earned and deserved rest and we can tend to your wounds."

Xemnas stood just beyond the boarder of the forest, watching discretely as the King and his retainers crossed the bridge and headed back towards the marble palace that could only barely be seen from here.

"Spread out along the edge of the forest Check the wards and reinforce them with sigils of protection and ensure that they were not tampered with. The only magical signatures that should be within those wards are my own and those of the king," the Lord said, instructing the four soldiers that had been left to him. "I will travel into the wood itself and try and eradicate any trail that the prince may have left through residual magicks."

"Lord Xemnas, will you be safe alone? From the sight of Master Squall and Master Cloud, a battle took place. Blood elves are dangerous," one of the nameless soldiers questioned, obviously frightened by the thought of running into those who had injured the two most skilled warriors in all of Althenia.

At the words, Xemnas broke into a truly evil smile, "No blood elf would ever lay a hand on me, and especially not after attacking one of my family," he spoke, his voice sending chills up and down the all the guard's spines, and they all knew that the Lord was telling the truth.

The moment that he waved his hand and sent the soldiers to their duties, Xemnas melted into the shadows of the forest, leaving no trace of his previous position. Easily navigating through the blackened woods, the Lord made his way to the abandoned settlement in a time frame that was unheard of. When he got there, he saw the three defeated blood elves just beginning to pick themselves up off the ground, only now taking notice of their injuries.

"That filthy, traitorous light walker! He cut my damn eye out! He will pay!" growled the archer as the lancer examined the wound, pressing a cloth to it stop the blood flow.

"And are you to tell me that the three chosen warriors of Diablos himself were unable to take down two half trained elfkin?" Xemnas questioned, his voice a dead calm as he announced his presence to the other three.

"Lord Xemnas," the lancer nodded in respect before returning to assisting his companion.

"How were we supposed to know how soon those blasted minions would show up so soon? And that Fae! We didn't expect him either! We were only told that we would need to dispose of the bastard prince," the archer continued to gripe. He was still agitated as he snatched the cloth out of the other's hands to clean his own optical wound, ignoring the blood that continued to flow from the gashes on his hands and along one cheek.

"Xigbar, show Lord Xemnas some respect," the cerulean haired swordself said monotonously from where he was still bowing.

The comment caused the rage that was pent up inside Xigbar to boil even further over. He was smart enough not to move much as the wounds were still open, but his minimal movements did show his anger well enough. "My eye was cut out by that upstart little traitor! I am allowed to be this upset, Saïx!" the archer exclaimed, throwing his cloth to the ground, ignoring the sign of exasperation that sounded from the lancer who then began to slowly bandage his comrade's hands. "Make sure they will all scar, Xaldin. I want him to see me and know that I will be coming for revenge."

Xemnas closed his eyes, and the scent of the spilt blood on the battlefield invaded his senses. "Will someone please explain how such skilled Stygian Daekin such as you three did not manage to kill those younglings when I delivered them directly into your hands? I even went through the trouble of tampering with their ambrosia in order to block out their Earth Voices and keyed the trail for only that bastard son of my brother to find his way here. All you had to do was kill them. They were helpless."

"We were reckless. We did not expect the Fae to join those warriors," explained Xaldin, ignoring Xigbar's ranting and growls as he began to wrap the facial wounds.

The response caused the Lord to growl as he sent a wave of pure dark magic towards the archer and lancer, knocking them over once more. "That still does not tell me why the three of you failed and were defeated by only two of them. I am well aware that the Fae played no part in the battle directly. You had them outnumbered, and yet still you lost."

The two Daekin groaned as the oppressive blanket of power continued to press down on them, the pain from this more than all of their other wounds combined. The agony was both mental and physical, and with every passing second that it continued to press down on them, it threatened to sever their ties to life.

"Lord Xemnas, it would serve you no purpose to kill these two," the steady voice of Saïx said as the swordself placed a brave hand on the silver haired figure's shoulder. It would be a foolish move for anyone else to attempt, but Saïx knew that it would be safe for him.

The writhing figures of the two warriors suddenly stopped, the only sound that either of the dark haired figures were able to produce were gasping breaths, the pain being too much for either of them to manage anything more.

"And what do you have to say for yourself, Saïx? You were defeated just as they were," Xemnas' amber eyes were alight with anger and disappointment as he looked over to see the slightly shorter Daekin with his head still bowed, hiding his face from view.

"Allow them this victory. It will build their confidence and lower their defenses. Those light walkers will now believe that they can take us on and win. Then when they fall, the defeat will be more than they can handle, weakening your brother in turn. His undefeatable warriors dead at his feet, that Fae's throat slit from ear to ear, the Magus drained to nothing but a husk, and Ansem and the bastard under your blade."

At his brother's name, Xemnas sneered, but understood what Saïx was telling him. He would allow those light walkers this day, but not for long. This solidified that they would need to make their move soon. "Maybe we are going about this the wrong way," the Lord said, turning to face the Daekin. He placed one hand under Saïx's chin, instantly feeling the warm trickle of blood on his fingers. With a gentle touch, he tilted the cerulean haired Daekin's face upwards to gaze upon the now marred face.

If the smaller Daekin was in any pain, he didn't show it. Dark blood flowed from the crisscrossed ribbon cuts over his nose, leaving his pale face streaked with tears of blood. "How so, my Lord?"

Removing his hand from beneath the wet chin, Xemnas then reached his thumb out and pressed it against Saïx's forehead, just above where the injury began. At least the cuts were clean, and while they would scar, they would heal and suited the Stygian Daekin. "We were focusing on destroying my brother through others. Perhaps we should try a more….direct approach. And there may be a way for us to remove the bastard youngling at the same time. Without their king and precious prince, those light walkers will have no choice but to accept a legitimate child of Royal blood on the throne." As he spoke, Xemnas ran his thumb down over the other's nose, feeling the separated flesh and the warm liquid that continued to flow from the wound, though it was slowing. Lifting his blood covered thumb to his lips, the Lord then licked the dark liquid lavishly from his digit, relishing in the flavour that sent a chill of pleasure down his spine.

Bowing his head once more, Saïx could only allow himself a few simple words. "You honour us."

"Our son is the first that Diablos has ever blessed upon the Stygian Daekin. He is destined for such a role. The light walkers may not accept me as their ruler, but they must accept him. He was born from a true bond and has the royal blood. He will turn that Kingdom into what it deserves to be," whispered the Lord as the plan began to formulate in his dark mind. His son would be king, and his brother would be dead.

"I look forward to it, my Lord Xemnas," Xaldin said, bowing before finally being able to rise to his feet once more.

"Yeah, that's all great and everything, but before we do anything, we are going to need to recover. And seeing as it is a two day journey back to the Aresseth Mountains and our encampment, we have more pressing matters at hand," grumbled Xigbar as he wrapped a bandage around his head, securing the thickest part over his ruined eye. "You know that they are going to increase their defences and refuse to allow anyone close to the woods. How will we be able hunt?"

Xemnas rolled his eyes, turning towards the crude warrior. As if he hadn't already taken that into consideration. "I am about to return to the palace, covered in blood to tell the tale of how while I was checking the wards preventing light walkers from entering this part of the wood, I was attacked by those three 'blood elves'," he said the title with an absolute distain, barely able to keep his temper in check, "The border guards that were sent to accompany me sacrificed themselves in order to save my life and allow myself to escape."

Xigbar's bandaged face lit up with a smirk that was mirrored, though less intensely, on the other two warrior's faces as the three of them retrieved their weapons, the Lord unsheathing a set of twin rapiers from sheaths along his legs. Each blade had a jagged edge that reflected the darkening skies in a premonition of the blood that would soon stain them.

"What are we waiting for then?" the archer smirked, before following the other three from the long abandoned settlement.

Dun Dun Dun! The ball is rolling now! I love just how…poetic this chapter turned out. And I congratulate everyone who realized this this is a VERY loose adaption of The Lion King. But I prefer to this of it as an adaption of Hamlet ;) For those who never realized it (I did cause I'm not only a Disney nerd, I love me some Shakespeare as well) The Lion King was based off of Hamlet, Lion King II was based off Romeo and Juliet (albeit with a happier ending) and Lion King 1 ½ was based off Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Yay! Nerdness! Yes, I know that Shakespeare did not write RAGAD, but they are still his characters lol. I do however promise that there are going to be major changes in my story from the Lion King story line. It will not be a completely predictable retelling, I promise :D

Thanks to all your wonderful support, I truly believe that your words make me a better writer. And to my Pahoyhoy, the two weeks were more memorable than I can even explain. Though next time the location will be different, the love will remain the same. No words can describe how much I already miss you.

Until next time!