In The Marble Halls Of Althenia

Chapter Seven

Something didn't feel right. The last thing that he remembered before this was coming upon the river, and then the pain. What had that pain been? Why wasn't it occurring anymore? Why couldn't he feel either the uneven ground or the cold waters around him? It felt far too soft to be that. The other thing would be how did he manage to get to some place like this while being so blinded by pain? The easiest way to discover these sorts of things would be best answered by opening his eyes, though he wasn't completely sure that he wanted to find out or not.

"Are you awake?" a voice came from somewhere that the youngling couldn't pinpoint, and it was a voice that he didn't recognize. "Do not worry, young elfkin, you are safe here."

Still confused, Riku finally pried his eyes open, seeing that he was inside a dwelling of some kind, modestly decorated but still maintaining a cozy atmosphere. He was lying on a bed in only his breeches and from the feel of his skin and the stiffness in his limbs; he had been there for quite some time. Directly beside his beside was a chair and seated in that chair was a stranger. "Who…" was all that Riku managed to get out before falling into a coughing fit. The stranger was instantly there to help him, getting him into a seated position, rubbing his bare back until the attack passed and handing the elfkin a mug that after a cautionary smell, proved to hold plain water. Without hesitation, he drank the life liquid down, grateful for the cool and almost sweet water that trickled down his parched throat.

The stranger grinned broadly at the action, but surprisingly to the youngling, there was no malice or contempt behind it, only true excitement. There was something else about this stranger that Riku couldn't identify either. He just felt…different, but at the same time, familiar in a sense. "My name is Demyx, what's yours?" his pale haired caregiver asked, the bright smile never fading from his face as he took the empty mug back. The young elfkin then noticed that the words were accented, as if this – Demyx- did not speak this language normally.

"Riku," he offered before thinking, but feeling oddly comfortable around this pale haired stranger. He decided to err on the side of caution and not offer any other information. He still had no idea who exactly Demyx was, nor his intentions. But he was still curious and to find out where he was and the only way that he would be able to get that information was by exchange. "How did I get here?"

"We found you floating in the Nenki River. According to the Undines that seem to be attracted to you, you collapsed on the northern bank of the Tloloki River and travelled downstream and through the Manewidyn Basin until we found you about half a league from here. That was several days ago. You've been unconscious since then," explained Demyx, the wide smile never once leaving his lips.

Reaching up, the young elfkin rubbed at his eyes, trying to take in the rapidly spoken words. What was an Undine? He had never heard of those, were they malevolent? Or if they helped him, were they friendly? And what did that make Demyx if he could speak to them? Who was this mysterious figure and why had he taken him in? And what was it around him that gave off that different yet familiar sensation? "What are you?" the silver haired youth questioned, looking at the other's face to see if he could distinguish what exactly it was about him.

Demyx laughed at the comment, not offended though he probably should have been. "I'm a humi. I wasn't sure if you would have ever seen one before or not."

The young elfkin slowly shook his head as he took in the humi's appearance. He had unruly pale hair that stuck up on the top, but fell flat in the back. Riku had learn a little of the humi from Vexen, but not a lot, but on closer inspection, he was able to notice the most distinguishing feature that separated the humi from the elfkin. The tips of Demyx's ears were rounded, not pointed like Riku's own. One thing that still confused the youngling was that Demyx had vivid green eyes. He had been taught since his magickal lessons had begun that users of Magicks had eyes the colour of either the clear sky or the lush plains, or a mix of both. The only exception to that Riku was aware to that was his father and uncle. They both had amber eyes, yet both still possessed the ability to use magicks. As far as the youngling knew, Humi as a race had no magical powers, and therefore all had dark eyes, often causing tension between the two races. It had been the primary reason behind Thorsin invading Ysirya recently.

"Do you have magick…" questioned the youngling, unaware if he should ask that or not. His own magick was reacting, but without the guidance of the Earth Voices, Riku wasn't sure how to interpret it. All he knew was that he still didn't want to rely on the Voice for anything.

Demyx's eyes went wide at the question, but his smile never faltered. "I'm surprised that you noticed that. You must be very powerful yourself. But yes, I do. I'm what is known as a Thaumaturage. So is the other that lives here. He will introduce himself to you soon, but he does not speak Elvaen. Do you speak the common tongue?"

That explained the accent. Thankfully, his lessons in the common tongue were ones that he had never skipped. He had been learning the second language long enough that he was fluent. "Yes, I do," he answered softly, switching to the other tongue easily.

"That's wonderful!" Demyx exclaimed, "So why is a little elfkin like you down here? Which settlement are you from? What happened that you were floating in the river?" Now that he was speaking a language that he was obviously more comfortable with, the humi spoke rapidly and hardly took time to breathe.

"I...uh…"whispered the youngling. He wasn't sure if he was ready to speak of his reasons yet, or if he would ever be ready.

Offering yet another smile, the pale haired humi sat back in his chair, "I'm sure that you have your reasons. We all do. In time you may find it easier to talk about it. Until then though, you are welcome to stay here with us. No one will judge you here, or find you. I'll leave you here for now. Whenever you feel up to it, there is some clothing here and I will be outside if you can make it out that far. If not, I will come check on you again soon." With only a final smile, Demyx stood up from his position in the chair that was at Riku's beside and walked out of the room, leaving the elfkin alone, slightly confused as to what had just happened.

Several days in the river? That meant that Riku had been without Ambrosia for close to two moons now. He would have to be cautions and always on guard to watch for signs of insanity setting in. Without the focus on survival he held while he was wondering in the Dead Lands, he would need to be more aware of the possible insanity at all times now. He could still sense his magickal channels open, though that special channel that the Earth Voices used was still blocked off. There was no whispering behind the blockade, but the youngling knew that with a little prying, he could open that channel once again. He also knew that if he was to reopen the path to those voices, the insanity would set in faster. That just reaffirmed to Riku that he was no longer able to rely on them.

Running a hand through his pale hair with a sigh, the youngling wondered what he was going to do. He knew that Demyx had offered him a place to stay, but could he do that? After all, the insanity might set in at any point. There really was no way to know how it might affect him either, if it would be violent or not. Did he want to possibly subject Demyx and whoever the other humi who lived here to that? Especially after they had gone through the trouble of rescuing him?

At the same time however, Demyx had magick. Riku had never before heard of a humi who had been blessed with that power. And Elder Vexen had never mentioned it before in his magick lessons. Could these humi know a way to contain the magick within without needing to rely on Ambrosia or falling into insanity? That thought peaked the youngling's curiosity. Perhaps he could stay here, only until he felt the first onset of insanity. Then he could leave before he truly harmed anyone. And if these humi had an alternative to Ambrosia that Riku could learn about, he might be able to cultivate it and manipulate it to the elfkin's needs and take it back to Althenia, saving his people.

With that thought in mine, especially paired with the thought of being able to save Sora, the young elfkin pushed himself further up on the bed, even that simple movement without the humi's aid taking so much more energy than ever before. How long exactly had he been without Ambrosia or other proper nourishment? It didn't really matter though. He would just have to trust Demyx for now. Seeing the promised clothing folded just beyond the foot of the bed, Riku suddenly could feel his skin beginning to itch and tighten. After all, he was used to washing daily, and since the day that he had left Althenia, the only time that he had the chance to bathe was that night that he spent camped outside Ysirya, and that had only been a cold dip in the river in order to rid himself of travel dust. There was also the time he had spent floating in the river, but neither of those had included the heated water and soaproot he currently desired.

It took great effort, but eventually the elfkin was able to swing his legs off the edge of the bed, his bare feet touching the surprisingly warm floor. Feeling stiffness in his entire body, Riku resisted the temptation to just lie back down onto the soft blankets. Forcing him up took a lot more effort than he was used to, but maybe Demyx would have something to counter act the weariness he was feeling. Through sheer determination, he crossed the room to the fresh clothing, and with more exertion of energy he didn't possessed, stripped off the old breeches and dressed in the clean garments. Both the tunic and breeches were large on him, something that didn't surprise him but confirmed that Demyx and the other that lived here were both older and taller than him.

A thin sheen of sweat covered pale skin by the time that Riku had donned the light clothing. Though similar in style to the garments that Althenia fashion consisted of, these were not earthy in colour, this set in a deep hue of blue, and the sleeveless tunic felt extremely oversized and oddly exposing to the youngling. But judging by the temperature inside the small room, he had to be much further south than he first thought. After all, Althenia was one of the most northern settlements so warmer tunics would be necessary. It all just added to the curiosity of where exactly Riku had ended up.

Pausing in order to catch his breath and regaining some of the strength he had used to get dressed, the silver haired elfkin couldn't help but be surprised at just how weak he was feeling. It was something that he had never had to experience before in his life, being brought up in a life of privilege had seen to that. But that part of his life was behind him now, this was his life now. Demyx and the other would no need to know about his former status.

Eventually, Riku felt strong enough to attempt to follow in the direction that the humi had taken. Each step was a challenge for the youngling, but the temptation of wash water and food kept the elfkin moving forward through the small residence. Once he got out of the bed chamber, the silver haired elfkin looked through the hallway, seeing a bright light at the other end, heat from the sun radiating down the hallway and feeling good against his skin. That must have been the way that Demyx had gone earlier. With one hand pressed against the smooth, dark wood walls, Riku followed the corridor, eager to feel the sun against his skin once again. It would be so nice to feel its warmth again, without the harshness that came with in the Erish-Kegel Dead Lands.

As he came to the threshold of the small dwelling, the brightness of the sun was blinding to the youngling, causing him to lift his hand up off the supporting wall and cover his eyes. It took several moments, but finally Riku's eyes were able to adjust to the bright sunlight and he was able to take in his surroundings. The rushing sound of water was the first thing that he noticed, before the scent of the forest hit him with full force. The small building was set in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by lush and tall trees that the elfkin had no names for. In a small break in the tree line, Riku could see the source of the rushing water, a river. Scattered through the rest of the clearing were items that gave evidence of occupation: a stack of firewood, a cooking pit, canoes, a garden and several other areas that the youngling was not sure of their purpose.

"Riku, I'm surprised to see you up so soon. Do you need any help? I will be right over," Demyx called, causing Riku to look over to another area of the grassy knoll. This particular area was a sight to behold. A large circle of stones surrounded a place that had no grass growing, and the sand was well worn down and the youngling was able to distinguish lines etched into both the stones and into the sand that looked suspiciously like runes. Inside the stone circle was another humi, this one taller than Demyx, but he had vibrant red hair, the colour of the setting sun. Demyx watched on from just outside the circle, arms crossed over his chest. On the redheaded humi's face was a look of absolute strain while he had his arm extended outwards. What he was trying to do was a complete mystery to Riku, until a small flame erupted at the ends of the man's fingers, burning brightly for only a moment before disappearing in a puff of dark smoke.

"Was that fire?!" despite his desire to remain calm, Riku could not hide his surprise at the sight of the flames, a sight that he had only seen the Elder Vexen produce in the past. His outburst brought forth a glare from the redhead, his concentration obviously broken. The glare quickly faded however, replaced with a small smirk that the youngling couldn't place.

The feel of the sun on his skin seemed to be invigorating the youth with the energy that he seriously lacked. Though he still felt weaker than ever before, the elfkin no longer had the irresistible urge to collapse. He maintained his hold on the doorframe, just in case his body decided to give out on him however. He just continued to stare over at the two humi, truly surprised at what he had seen, but at the same time wanted to know every little detail.

Demyx traced a glyph in midair, causing a shimmer to ripple over an invisible barrier. "This is Axel, Riku. He is also a Thaumaturage. Don't try and come over here, we're finished with the lesson. We'll come there." Despite the disappointed glare that he received from his partner, the pale haired humi had a grin on his face as he carefully walked around the stone circle instead of taking the shorter path by crossing through. With his lesson cut short, the newly introduced humi just followed him over to where the youngling remained.

"You wouldn't believe how close you were to death there, kid," the redhead said as they approached the youngling. "If Dem hadn't heard the pleading Undines, you would be at the bottom of the river right now," Axel's demeanour was completely different now, the glare replaced by a grin that bordered on malicious, but wasn't at the same time.

There was that term again: Undine. "What's an Undine?" Riku inquired, his curiosity peaked by these humi and their strange customs, and why they had magick.

Demyx laughed a melodious laugh before sitting down gracefully on the grass, Axel following his example. Taking the few shaky steps towards them, Riku did the same, though his was more of a controlled fall. "I'm sure that you have a lot of questions about everything. I will try and answer what I can for you. Undines are elemental creatures of the water. Thaumataragi can speak with the creatures of the elements they have power over, and we each have the power to control one element. As you saw, Axel here controls fire, and I have power over water, which is why I was able to hear the Undines." With that infectious smile, the pale haired humi explained it all without fear, something that the youngling found odd. He had always been taught to be wary of strangers and other races, not to disclose too much about his powers to them until the Earth Voices, his father or another elder declared them to be no danger.

Though he continued to block out the Earth Voices, his innate powers told him that there were no other beings in the vicinity. Were Demyx and Axel in some sort of hiding? It seemed that with every answer that Riku received, it brought forth three more questions. He couldn't keep them all straight. It was all so overwhelming. "But you are humi. I thought that humi didn't have magick?" Though the common tongue was strange to speak, Riku found himself understanding and communicating using it just fine. Zexion would be proud.

This time it was Axel who laughed, though his was more of a deep chuckle compared to Demyx's musical tones. "You're looking at the only two that we know of. We aren't exactly popular with the rest of the humi, except when they want or need our help."

"I don't understand…" the youngling trailed off, truly confused about all of this.

"Get comfortable, Kid," Axel laughed once again, "Demyx is going into story mode and there will be no way to stop him now."

Ignoring the insult that the redhead had shot in his direction, the blond looked wistfully to the skies and began his tale. "Legend has it that long ago, a Fae and a Humi fell in love, and despite their different races, the Goddess of the Fae Folk blessed them with a child. Now that child was Humi in all sense of the word, though he possessed magickal abilities that even the Fae had not seen before, even in their most powerful kin. In time, that child grew and passed his powers on, as well as the stigma of being not fully Fae enough for them to accept him, but being more than Humi so they too remained wary of him. Because of that, the half-blood was never accepted by either society. His blood line eventually dwindled down until the magic became almost non-existent in his descendants. Every once in a while however, one with those same powers will be born. And when they do appear, they are shunned once again. Their powers don't always manifest right away, but the colour of eyes cause even our parents to spurn us from birth. We are still more than Humi, but not Fae enough for them." As Demyx spoke, Riku felt himself completely entranced. There was so much that he didn't know about the world. He had never heard of this legend, but it didn't really surprise him. Fae Folk and elfkin were notoriously guarded when it came to their powers, and jealous of others that had magick. Even some of the Magus were shunned due to the powers that they possessed. Others, like Elder Vexen had cemented their position in their society, but often that was not the case. Riku suspected that if Elder Vexen had not been such a close confident of his father's, there would have been a revolt between the Fae and Magus after the Ysiryan invasion.

After a lengthy silence in which Riku refused to meet either humi's eyes, the redhead decided to take pity on the youngling's discomfort and change the subject. "So where are you from? I've only heard stories of the different elfkin settlements."

Riku's breath caught for a moment until he realized that the redhead had not asked anything about his past, just where he was from. There would be no need to provide any other further information. "Althenia. It's a northern nation." Though he didn't like mentioning the name of his Kingdom, he knew that he owed the two humi at least a little information. And if he dared to be optimistic, maybe they would be able to give him some assistance in finding an alternative to Ambrosia.

"Wow, you really are a long way from home, kid. Any particular reason why you left? Or are you just an outcast like us?" Axel had another grin on his face, one that told the youngling that he didn't expect an answer from him, but none the less was curious.

Demyx proved to be a saviour when he reached over and smacked the other humi upside the head, effectively wiping the grin off of his friend's face. It was very obvious that they were close; friends, if not partners or bonded. "Don't mind him. He's still a novice who can barely control his powers, especially when he's been angered. He doesn't understand how to handle delicate situations. Your reasons are your own and you do not need to share those reasons with us unless you want to. We're outcasts here. We don't judge. You're welcome to stay here with us as long as you need to, reason or not. So ignore Axel. He doesn't know what he's talking about." The entire time that he spoke, the pale haired humi had a wide grin on his face, a gesture that the youngling figured was normal for the humi. It really was a welcome sight.

Axel just growled at the other humi, rubbing the back of his head where he'd been hit. "Just because you're my magick instructor doesn't mean that you can physically abuse me too."

"Yes it does," Demyx grinned and it was then that elfkin realized that they were acting like this for his benefit. They were trying to make him feel more comfortable here.

Maybe staying here wouldn't be so bad. It was obvious that Axel and Demyx had knowledge of their own magicks, and he could possibly apply their teachings to his own. He was pretty sure that the humi didn't have the same sort of connection as the elfkin, Fae and Magus did with the Earth Voices. He could find out how they controlled their powers and apply that to his own craft. But that still didn't help him with one part of his past that the two did deserve to know about. Before he was able to speak his thoughts though, he was overcome with a coughing fit. Without even needing to ask for it, Axel produced an earthenware mug from somewhere and with only a snap of his fingers, Demyx was able to fill it with clear water before handing it over to the youngling.

Accepting the mug, Riku took a long drink of the surprisingly cold water. It soothed his throat and aided in refreshing him. "Need more?" questioned the blond with that ever present grin still on his lips.

Shaking his head, the youngling just continued to look back and forth between the two humi, hoping that they would not be upset with what they were about to hear, or cause them to second guess taking him in. "Do you know anything of the powers of the elfkin and their magickal control?"

Axel looked at him with pure confusion plastered on his face, while even Demyx lost his smile. "Earth based and you have a Goddess that you worship, right?" the redhead ventured.

"Yes," Riku affirmed, surprised that he knew that much. "We rely on our Goddess, Shiva, to bless us with our magicks, but we also have influence from the Earth Voices. They are the spirits that guide us through our mage craft, and through life. To keep us from being overwhelmed by their presence and words in our minds, elfkin rely on Ambrosia. That prevents the Voices from driving us into madness."

"Madness? How long does that normally take?" Demyx's bright green eyes were wide and there was a look of rapt interest on his face. It just solidified the notion that the pale haired humi was as interested in the histories of the elfkin as any of Riku's own people. It reminded him of some of his friends, one in particular that he had left behind.

With a sigh, the youngling ran one hand back through his hair, hiding his wince at the feel. The action reminded him that his skin still felt light and he was hoping to soon be able to wash. "It differs for everyone. It depends on their will. Some find that madness set in within marks, others it can take an entire season. Then there are still some that are able to stave off that insanity for quite some time. When the madness does take us though, we fall quickly and our magicks destroy us from within, bursting out at our final moments."

"Destroys?!" the two humi questioned at once in very surprised tones.

Riku could only nod. "I've seen it happen. It is not something that I wish to witness ever again."

A look of understanding then dawned on the redhead's face. Riku would need to give him more credit than he had been. Axel was observant. "When was the last time that you had your Ambrosia?"

Letting out a puff of laughter – his first since this whole ordeal had begun- the youngling could not bring himself to make eye contact with his two rescuers. "Depends on how long I was lost in the Dead Lands and how long I was in the river. I don't exactly remember much of any of those days."

This time it was Demyx whose green wyes went impossibly wide. "So, you haven't gone mad yet, but you don't know when and if you might?" there was worry in the humi's voice, something that the youngling found surprising. Why was Demyx worried about him even though he didn't know him? Before, that sort of worship had been commonplace, but now, among these humi that he didn't even know showing compassion for him was a different feeling altogether, one that he wasn't sure he fully understood.

All the youngling could do was shake his head somewhat remorsefully. "I'm not sure. I have blocked the Earth Voices, but I don't know how long that will last. So if I do start acting strangely, I need you to promise to stop me before I become dangerous to anyone, especially yourselves."

Though it was a grim request, both Axel and Demyx nodded, knowing just from the tone of the elfkin's voice that if it came to that, it would be a sign of mercy, but they also knew that they would have little choice in the matter.

I know, I know, more information. But believe me, it is all necessary. At least we know our young prince is safe and Axel and Demyx will keep him that way…maybe ;) Sorry it took longer than I wanted to get this chapter out, I'd like to blame work, but I have to admit that I've been playing a few too many games lately….replayed through FFVII, FVII Crisis Core,FFVIII, KH, KH2, KHDays, KHBBS, Dissidia FF…its all research for this story, right? At least that's what I'm going to say lol. Next chapter is halfway done, but I'm not going to promise anything in case I get distracted again.

To Pahoyhoy, your family has grown even more beautiful! I am so proud of you and can't express just how much I love you! This story would still be in the back of my head if it wasn't for you and you know it!

Thanks as always to all of you who make writing worth it for me, especially those of you who take the time to review. As awesome as it is to see the number of hits I get on stories (which still blows me away), each time that I see a review as well, it means the world to me! Thanks again and until next time!