In The Marble Halls Of Althenia

Chapter Six

For the first time in his short life, the palace hallways seemed blinding to the young prince. Fear had taken the elfkin as he ran frantically through the corridors, trying to put as much distance between himself and that sacred chamber that would no doubt haunt his nightmares for the remainder of his days. The horror was too much for him to handle. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, blurring his vision as he ran through the palace, guiding by instinct rather than sight.

"And where do you think you are going, little light walker?" a voice sounded from the shadows that seemed to appear from nowhere. It caused Riku to trip, skidding along the polished floor and into the wall.

"Who...who's there?!" questioned the young elfkin, fear evident in his voice. His entire body was quivering at the moment as he pushed himself up against the wall in an attempt to get away from the voice.

A sinister chuckle sounded as three forms emerged from the inky darkness, all to like the shadow daemons that he just been confronted with in the chamber only moments ago. The fear continued to grow as the three figures took on features that the prince remembered all too well.

"Blood Elves?" he exclaimed, so many things going through his mind at the moment. Why where they here? How did the find him?

The darkness melted fully from them at that moment, revealing their weapons all pointed directly at the youngling, each point dripping that now familiar black liquid that his Lord Uncle had explained to him.

"We prefer that you call us by our proper titles," the lancer growled, swinging his weapon dangerously close to the prince's stomach. Recoiling from it, Riku realized just how much danger he was in now and felt the sting of tears in the corners of his eyes, not even attempting to prevent them from falling down his pale cheeks.

"We are the Stygian Daekin. Sworn to Diablos. We are the Infernal Trinity, His chosen warriors. You got lucky last time, little princeling. Do not think it will happen again. You will not escape again." This time it was the blue haired one who spoke, his tone of voice frightening Riku more than ever before.

"Can you feel it? The pain and death that is just radiating from this place? It will leak out and flood this city, killing them all!" the voice of the archer was malicious and sadistic. There were dark red scars that traced angrily over his face and his right eye was now covered by a swath of black cloth that was the same colour as the clothing that they all wear. It made him even more imposing than before, but no less sinister. As soon as the words reached Riku's ears, the paralysis took hold of him. Could these traitors really smell the death of the Ambrosia and the impending disaster that it would bring upon the entire elfkin race? Could they tell that it was Riku's fault as well? Maybe it was better for him to surrender and allow them to kill him. Then he would be reunited with his father, and then he would no longer need to be afraid of how the elfkin race would revile him.

'No…live on…' a voice whispered from somewhere deep inside Riku's mind, a voice that he could not recognize. Suddenly, many different thoughts began to flood the youngling's mind. If he allowed himself to die here, then he would never be able to atone for this. He knew that he had already condemned the elfkin to insanity and death, but the Magus and the Fae Folk would survive, and maybe they would be able to save some of the elfkin. What good would his death bring to that?

What effect would his death have on those that he cared for? Would it weigh on Elder Vexen and Zexion's minds forever? How would Master Cloud and Master Squall react if they knew that he was the one who was the cause of the inevitable massacre that would occur? How would Sora regard him…or his memory?

Yet if he decided to not allow death to embrace him fully yet, there was the slight possibility that he could stave off the insanity long enough to help discover a way to save the elfkin. Provided they could eventually forgive him for causing all of this in the first place.

A sudden gush of moving air broke the youngling out of his trance just in time to move out of the way of one of the Blood Elf's blades slicing through the air, missing the prince by barely more than a finger length. He had to live. Even if he would be burdened with the guilt and knowledge of what occurred today, he could not take the coward's way out. He would take his Uncle's advice and run. He also vowed to himself that he would not return to Althenia until he could find a way to prevent the elfkin from being wiped out. Either that or he would die, but he would never surrender to the likes of these heathens.

"No!" he cried, pushing his hands out in front of him. At the same time, a wave of pure force shot out, crashing against the Blood Elves and slamming the three of them against the wall with such force that the marble cracked and splintered around them. The three then fell to the floor, moaning and holding various places that were riddled with pain. The lancer however, was not moving at all as dark blood seeped from wounds on his head, running out in long streams onto the floor.

The swordself was the first to recover, standing shakily and brandishing his sword with a hatred that was directed fully at Riku, the crossed scars along the bridge of his nose seemed to burn brighter with that distain. "Stand down, elflet. We sense the guilt under your fear. You are the cause of this stench of death. We will pass judgement for your crimes and that judgement is death!" he declared with the sting of loathing as he charged once again, fuelled by something that Riku could not name.

Before fear could grip him once more, the prince scrambled out of the way of the falling blade, aquamarine eyes going wider as he watched the sword slice into the marble with ease where he had been only moments earlier. It worked to his advantage as the swordself was now stuck. He would either need to face the prince-and whatever magic the youngling could muster- empty handed, wait for his comrades to recover, or turn away and attempt to remove his sword from the embedded portion of the wall.

Riku had no plans on staying there to find out which it would be.

In a split second, the youngling took off down the corridor once more, not pausing to look back. He ran as fast as he could, but for the first time, he was guided by only his vision and own two legs. The Earth Voices were quiet; not letting him know what was coming ahead of him.

Running as fast as he could, Riku rushed through the palace, taking every shortcut he could in order to lose the three Blood Elves, but judging by the footsteps that haunted his own, yet never gained on him nor distanced from him, they were keeping up with him.

"Nowhere to go, light walker," the voice of the archer came from nowhere, yet everywhere at once. As soon as Riku looked around for the source, there was a cloud of swirling blackness that appeared directly in front of the prince. There was nothing he could do to prevent himself from crashing into the legs of the traitor.

Not screaming despite the desire to do so, Riku just gasped loudly. The moment that the Blood Elf reached down and wrapped a scarred hand around the prince's arm, the youngling allowed the fear and desperation to explode outwards from his body in a wall of pure, boundless power.

"What the?!" the Blood Elf questioned before he was pushed violently against the wall behind him, his body once again creating a depression upon impact. Dark blood began to trickle down the white marble, the archer coughing up more before grasping at his stomach and doubling over in pain. "Why you little…" he wheezed. His amber eye went wide when he opened it, surprised at the fact that the youngling was nowhere in sight, nor could he sense the tracking spell that Xemnas had placed upon the elflet. "Damn, where did he go?"

"Where did he get off to, Xigbar?" the lancer questioned, moving slowly up the corridor, using his hand as a support on the smooth wall while the other was pressed against the wound on his head that continued to drip through his fingers.

"I don't know! One moment he was here, then he released some sort of power and he was gone. Maybe if you weren't so pathetic and hadn't collapsed after only that one attack, he would already be dead by now," Xigbar growled loudly, spitting out another mouthful of blood. How could a traitorous young light walker who was scared out of his mind best them, Diablos' chosen?

"Why are you two just standing there?" Saïx questioned, melting out of the few shadows that danced along the corridor. "Where is the bastard prince?"

"He's disappeared, Saïx, and I can no longer sense him in the area. Could he have disappeared? I've never heard of a light walker being able to shadow jump," Xaldin could not look at his leader, not wanting to see the condescending look that would be there.

Saïx sighed, taking count of the injuries that he and his comrades had already sustained. How would he be able to explain their failure to his Lord and Master? In this condition, they would do little to no good, especially in unfamiliar territory where they would be attacked upon recognition. "If we can't sense him, then he is scared, and chances are, he will flee Althenia. And if he is truly that frightened, he will not return."

"You mean abandon the search?" questioned Xigbar as he attempted to pick himself off the ground, wincing as he did. "Lord Xemnas will kill us!"

Xaldin pressed a hand to his side, bringing it up in front of his face as if just noticing that there as dark blood seeping from a wound there as well. "A glyph. We can create one around the entire palace that will let us know if he ever returns. We can tell Lord Xemnas that he was killed and we burned the corpse. And then if the little bastard ever does return, we will be healed and prepared. We will have him before he even has a chance to climb his first stair. We will not underestimate him again. Now that we know what kind of power he houses, we will take him alive and sacrifice him and offer that power to our Lord and with that offering we should be forgiven."

"This is provided he even survives out there. You forgot that those lightwalkers have that reliance on Ambrosia. He very well may succumb to the insanity and eventual death before getting the chance to return. But if he does, we will be waiting for him," Saïx glared, less than impressed that he had failed again.

Everything around him felt wrong. From the uneven ground beneath him to the bright and heated light that washed over him. Additionally, every bone in his body ached and there was a strange scent around him that he recognized as one that seemed to follow Elder Vexen wherever he went. It was the scent of magic. But there had been no one around that sort of power to save him from those Blood Elves. Had there?

With a groan, the young prince began to push himself off of the ground, his eyes opening wide in surprise when his hands came in contact with dirt, grass and rocks. "Where?" he whispered, finally looking around at his surroundings. There was no one else in sight, and even the nearest dwelling was no more than a blur on the horizon. Pulling himself to his feet, Riku felt the panic invading him once more. Could this be punishment for what he had done? Had he been exiles? With a sigh, the youngling knew that it was no less than he deserved. He had doomed his people after all.

Turning around to get more of a look, Riku saw the distant sparkle of water. Could that be Lake Nimu? Had he really been transported that far from home? His fear was confirmed when no matter how hard he looked, he could only see the barest peak of the Rhion Mountain Range, yet there was no glimpse of Althenia's palace that should be visible from a far distance. With his entire body shaking, the elfkin turned to the south, only to see the Gorge. And judging on how wide it was to the other side, Riku knew that he had to be at the southernmost point of Althenia's border, several days journey from the place he called home.

Despite wanting to break down and lose control of his emotions, all that Riku could manage to do was take in a deep breath. He had to figure out want to do. He knew that he would not be able to return to Althenia, not until he figured out a way to prevent the elfkin from dying out. Hopefully most would be able to survive and stave off the insanity. Looking around, Riku continued to suppress his fear as he thought of possible places to go. No matter what, he would need to go across the Gorge. After that, he could travel south to Ysirya. How he would get there might be an issue though. It was painfully obvious to him that however he made it to this place; he had done so with no weapon. A quick check told him that he had only two squares of Ambrosia in his pouch. That would last him a few days at least. Enough to get to Ysirya.

Not seeing any reason to delay, the young elfkin began to trek towards that Gorge. He would figure a way across when he came to it. With a heavy heart, Riku made the decision right then and there to not consult the Earth Voices. He couldn't risk speaking with them and using up the power of the Ambrosia, nor have them relay his position to others. They would know of his guilt and that he was the reason for the loss of both his father and the Ambrosia. So he would do without.

The sun rose three times by the time that Riku had made it to the other side of the Gorge. The journey had been nothing like he had ever been on before. Despite all of his training, he had never expected to be doing something like this. He was hungry, tired and desperately wanted time to mourn. He had distanced himself from those thoughts as he fought his way this far. Even nights were not a time for thoughts, every ounce of his being focused on survival. He had been thankful that he had been forced to learn the natural ways to survive. He was able to create fire and fashion a crude bow and spear, but nothing more. But by nightfall, he would be in Ysirya.

Time before falling asleep at night was devoted to recalling his lessons about Althenia's closest neighbour, and the birth place of Master Squall and Master Cloud. A nation nestled deep within the southern Demetris forest, the elfkin who were settled there acted as guardians of the Elfkin Lands. Bordering on the Erish-Kegel Dead lands, the Ysriyans protected the nation, and stopped those who would travel into the Dead Lands, a journey of almost certain death. Much like the Althenia's of the north, Ysriyans relied on Ambrosia, though in a raw and unrefined state. Unfortunately though, the Ambrosia cultivated in Ysirya just wasn't the same as in Althenia and had no effect when consumed by an Althenian. He knew that Master Squall and Master Cloud got regular supplies of their native Ambrosia as they were unable to utilize Althenia's. Riku could not expect his country to be saved by appealing to Lord Odine. He would have to figure out another way.

Just as the sun neared its zenith, the youngling finally spotted the interconnected dwellings that stood upon tall pillars in the treetops that the Ysriyans used as houses.

He was flooded with relief, but it was short lived. As soon as he had seen the only place that he could think to claim sanctuary, a cascade of additional thoughts overtook his mind, forcing the youngling to pause his journey.

All around him, the forest felt alive. Riku could feel the humid heat embracing him, dark shadows from the thick canopy of foliage overhead doing nothing to give him respite from the heat. All it did was make it harder to concentrate on the dilemma presented to him.

How would he explain his presence in Ysirya? He was still only a youngling, obviously not properly armed, wandering around the forest. If they didn't shoot first, then ask questions, and then he would most likely be fed Ambrosia. Though he had gone through a little less than half of what he started with and could consume that slowly, it wouldn't be long before they would notice that the Ambrosia they provided him with had no effect on him. They would then conclude he was from Althenia and escort him back, which is what he wanted to avoid at all costs.

So his plan would not work. He could not go to Ysirya. Falling down to his knees, Riku could not help the feeling of helplessness and despair that had settled over him. His options were limited now. The next closest kingdom would be Thorsin, though that would be as bad as going back to Althenia. Thorsin would kill him on sight, the moment that they recognized him for Elfkin. The southern kingdom of Humi still held a deep resentment for their northern neighbours, especially due to the sound defeat they had suffered when they attempted to invade Ysirya all those years ago. So that left him no choice.

Finally allowing himself the liberty, Riku fell to his knees and felt the hot tears streaming down his face. How could everything go so wrong so quickly? What could he have done otherwise? There was no way that he would have been able to save either his father or the Ambrosia. All he could have done was what he did. Though, he could have gone to his father first about the sign from Shiva. The sign; that's what had been the catalyst, he was sure of that. The reason why this had happened was that Shiva had forsaken him and in doing so, punished him by destroying his kingdom. Since he came to that conclusion, Riku hadn't even heard the faintest mumblings from the Earth Voices. It seemed as if they had abandoned him as well. He was truly on his own now. The silence sobs continued to take the young elfkin as he buried his face in his hands.

The only choice left to the silver haired youngling was to cross the Eresh-Kegel Dead Lands. He would have to take his chances through the barren desert to make it to the unknown lands beyond. He really had only a vague idea of how long it would take him to get to the other side, and no additional Ambrosia to take on the journey. But there was no other option open to him. Swallowing the last of his emotions, Riku once again picked himself off the mossy ground, standing on shaky legs.

The thought of crossing the Dead Lands was a daunting one, but he was determined to survive it. He had to. But before he could embark, there were a few things that he needed. The first thing, he knew, to even attempt to cross the Dead Lands, was a proper weapon of some sort. The makeshift ones that he had fashioned himself were not going to be enough for even an attempt.

Recalling his various lessons with Zexion, the young elfkin knew that he would be able to purloin the necessary from any dwelling that he came across here in Ysirya, and thanks to the lessons that Elder Vexen had given him, Riku knew where he would be able to find the secluded households that would run less risk of him being seen. He had to do this. He had to survive. For himself, for his people, for his friends, and for Sora. Sora was resilient enough to survive without Ambrosia, he was sure of it. And maybe, just maybe, he had inherited a tolerance for Ysriyan Ambrosia from his fathers. Riku had to believe that. For if when he did return to Althenia, if Sora was not there waiting for him, it might not be worth returning.

With motivation in mind, the silver haired youth stalked the forest that surrounded the kingdom, narrowing down the potential targets of his attack. The biggest challenge that he would face was going to be the elevated platforms that every dwelling was built on. Being built on the banks of the Sobec River caused annual flooding, so the Ysriyans had adapted. But Riku was agile, quick and could climb. He could do this. It was twilight before he decided on the final target. He had discovered the home of an unbonded scout from the looks of it, one who had a vast array of weapons judging by the many he had been adorned with when leaving. Utilizing every ounce of his training that did not require contact with the Earth Voices, the youngling made his way into the stranger's dwelling.

When inside, it did not surprise the elfkin how similar the interior was compared to the homes in Althenia, which served his purpose well. Quickly and quietly, Riku ransacked the house for the few necessary items for his trek. He took nothing that was brand new, nor so well loved that it was bound to be noticed missing. Only items that were plentiful did he purloin, never the last of an item and he never took more than necessary or enough to leave a noticeable dent. Only what he needed.

In total, the youngling spent no more than a mark in the scout's dwelling, but left no trace of his presence when he left. Upon being swallowed by the forest foliage once more, Riku sought out a secluded spot in order to take a quick inventory of what he had gathered.

An abandoned animal hollow close to the river's edge provided him with shelter and protection, and would serve its purpose. On a cloth that had been among his spoils, the elfkin laid out his newly acquired supplies. 3 water skins, 4 jars of potted meats, a few packets of dried fruits, a tinder box and flint, a roll of bow string, 6 arrow heads and a dagger all sat before him, his only worldly possessions besides the crudely made bow and spear and pouch that contained his remaining Ambrosia.

This would have to be what got him through the Dead Lands. But he would make it. He had to. But with darkness falling swiftly upon him, it was foolish to set off tonight. At least tonight he had some semblance of a plan and a few supplies. He was still frightened, but that fear was no longer all encompassing. Building up a fire to keep the wildlife away and provide warmth, Riku stared into the flames and finally gave into his grief once more. This would be the last time, he promised himself. He would no longer be allowed this luxury. After tonight, he would need to distance himself from his past. Until the time that he could return to Althenia with the means to save his people, he was no longer a prince. He was an outcast.

The night was long, and despite his exhaustion, the youngling found himself unable to sleep. Haunts and daemons plagued him through the night, whispering to him so unlike the whispers of the Earth Voices. By the time that the first light began to glow over the horizon, the elfkin swiftly began to gather his items up and set out on his journey.

It was easy for him to find his way to the edge of the forest by following game trails and scouts paths. His mind went into complete survival mode, no other thoughts going through his head. He had to make it to the Dead Lands, and when he did, then he would think about he would survive there.

The forest began to thin out slowly and the ground beneath the youngling's feet was becoming more and more sandy and desolate. He was nearing the edge. The Dead Lands awaited him. Despite every ounce of his soul telling him to turn back and face the consequences, Riku knew that he had to go on.

As he approached the edge of the border lands, the wave of apprehension that fell over the youngling was almost tangible. This was it. There was no turning back now. This was going to be the ultimate test of all his skills and training. He would either survive the trek that should take a little more than a moon phase to complete, or he would succumb to either the elements or insanity. He had enough Ambrosia to last him for only about half the time, but he was determined to survive it.

Looking out over the barren plains, the elfkin could already see why these parts were known as the Eresh-Kegel Dead Lands. As far as the he could see, there was nothing but dust, sand and rocks. Not a single piece of foliage or tree was in sight. This was going to be a journey unlike any other.

The sun was relentlessly beating down on him, draining him of most of his strength soon after setting out. He had never experienced such a dry heat that offered no relief. Nights were no better, the heat remaining well into the darkness and radiating from the very ground beneath him. With no sources of water in sight, it made each step a challenge. At first Riku thought to travel along the banks of Lake Lira then follow the Mymer River, but he soon discovered that for leagues leading to the waters, the ground was nothing but treacherous quicksand, swallowing anything in merely seconds. He would not attempt to traverse that. He would instead go straight through the wasteland.

Days blended together, the terrain never varying except for the fall of night. The only thing that guided him was the sun during the day and the stars at night. He didn't dare rest for long periods, either in the light or the dark. Though he had yet to see another living organism in this vast land, he had seen the results of their presence in the form of skeletons littered here and there with varying degrees of decay and rot. He didn't want to let his guard down and risk meeting exactly had caused the obviously violent deaths. Though he was tempted, he still refused to call upon the Earth Voices or his magic to ward him from the dangers. He had to accomplish this on his own. It was the only way that he would be able to survive.

With the extreme conditions that he was travelling through, Riku found himself burning through his supplies fast than he ever had imagined. Though he rationed himself, he found his provisions were dwindling rapidly and there was no sign of anything to replace them with. When his Ambrosia was gone, the youngling focused solely on making it across the Dead Lands. If he had something to focus on, then perhaps that would be enough that the insanity wouldn't be able to take him.

After spending close to three moon phases in the Dead Lands – an entire phase longer than he had anticipated – salvation appeared on the horizon as the sun began to rise over the Eastern border. It was the unmistakable sparkle of water. Finally! He had survived the impossible. Riku had made it across the Dead Lands. The sight of the water had invigorated him, and despite the taxation he knew it would put on him, the elfkin began to run. He had to make it to the river. That river was his salvation. With each step, he was more and more energized. The river meant water, food and if he followed the river far enough, he would probably find civilization of some form or another.

For the first time since entering the borders of the Dead Lands, the day seemed to fly by. And by the time that the twilight began to light the land on fire, Riku had made it to the lush banks of the river. Despite himself, the youngling let out a laugh that bordered on hysteric, falling to his knees just short of the waters reach. He made it. He was going to be alright.

That happiness was short lived however. Whether it was from sheer exhaustion, lack of Ambrosia or the undeniable stress finally catching up to him, things went wrong quickly. The pain started in his chest before radiating further and further out, until it encompassed his entire body. Crying out, the youngling gripped at his chest as the pain began to syphon all the remaining energy from his body. This couldn't be the end. It couldn't. He didn't survive the journey only to die on the edge of salvation. He couldn't fail now. He couldn't let Sora down…he had to see Sora's smile again. He had to save that smile…and a memory of that smile was the last thing that Riku saw before blackness overtook his thoughts and mind, causing him to fall forward, the icy river waters embracing him instantly.

"…Do we have…"

"…elfkin…there for…days…how?"




"…Say that?...with…"




What's this? Another update in a week? And one that ends with a cliffhanger? You have to take the good with the bad, right? Lol. Who does everyone thing the mysterious broken voices belong to? And how many are there? Hehehe. The next chapter shouldn't be too long coming, though it won't be as fast as this one, sorry. But I am already about halfway through it. I do have a belated birthday fic that I have to finish for my Beloved Pahoyhoy first though. But with my new job, I don't have nearly the stress that I have had for the past year, as well as a lot more free time so it shouldn't be nearly as long.

Thanks as always to everyone for your support on this and all my stories. If anyone has left a review in the past year that I didn't respond to, I am so sorry! My stress level had been through the roof and unfortunately, it was my writing the suffered the most, as you can tell by the lack of updates. Things are turning around now and I have many ideas that I am determined to get posted soon, and I promise to respond to every single review once again! Thanks as always and until next time!