A Rose Among the Ashes

Chapter 1: The Beginning

Maria quietly crept through the narrow hall of their small house, making her way to her brother's room. Nightmares had haunted her sleep and a foreboding feeling rested, heavily, within the pit of her stomach. The darkness of a still night engulfed the sleeping kingdom of Fynn. All appeared peaceful, but something felt off to Maria, who had always possessed a strong intuition, especially when danger was near.

In silence, she peered into her parent's chamber, as she passed, on the way to her brothers' room. Her mother and father slept, soundly. Even with the burden of her unexplainable anxiety, she smiled at them, sweetly, before closing the door and continuing down the corridor.

Padding up to her brothers' room, she paused a moment, before quietly slipping inside. Vaguely illuminated by the moonlight, she could make out the two small beds resting on opposite sides of the chamber, on which the forms of the two young men quietly slept.

On the left, rested her older, blood brother, Leon, who was on his side, turned away from her, with the covers pulled, neatly, up to his shoulders, and on the right was Firion, her adopted brother, who was the same age as she, and the complete opposite of Leon. The white-haired youth was stretched out upon his back with the covers kicked off and softly snoring, his feet dangling from the edge of the mattress.

Firion and his parents once lived in the snow-covered city of Salamand, to the far north, and were close friends of Maria's own mother and father, but they had died of the plague, many years ago, when Firion was very young. Having no other family to turn to, Firion was taken in by her own and raised along side her and Leon, who were already close in age.

Immediately after Leon and Firion were introduced, the boys clashed in almost every possible way, like opposing elements. Firion was impulsive and hot-headed, and Leon was calm and intelligent, able to make decisions in the most dire of situations. They argued about everything and were always fighting, but to Maria, it seemed more like a rivalry than the two actually despising each other.

Noiselessly, Maria climbed into bed next to Firion, who did not even seem to realize she was there. It comforted her to be with them. She knew Firion would always protect her, and if he failed, Leon would be there to look after them, both.

It felt like hours drifted by, as the stillness of the night continued, until a sudden and deafening explosion obliterated the serenity. Countless more followed, erupting in the distance, sending powerful tremors through their small home.

Frozen, Maria could feel her heart pounding within her chest, before she heard her brother and Firion suddenly stir from their sleep.

"What in Pandemonium is that?" Leon muttered as he threw off his covers and reached for the oil lamp next to his bed. Another explosion quaked throughout the kingdom, this time much louder and closer, causing the glass shade of the lamp to rattle, noisily.

Warm light from the lamp engulfed the room, as bells from the royal castle began to ring in alarm. Moving quickly, Leon caught sight of Maria, before roughly shaking his adoptive brother's shoulder.

"Firion, wake-up!" Leon shouted as the snowy-haired youth groaned and winced at the sudden light.

"Brother, what is happening?" Maria questioned in panic, as the dark-haired youth peered out from their window.

"Answer us, Leon, what are those foul noises?" Firion inquired, groggily.

"I don't know. I can't see anything," Leon responded, in agitation, before the sound of something violently whizzing through the air crashed into the house next to them.

The sudden collision knocked Leon off of his feet, and the smell of smoke began to permeate the air, accompanied by screams manifesting in the streets. The orange glow of flames illuminated their window, as Leon pulled himself up from the floor. The three youths gathered closely around the glass opening to learn what was happening to their once silent and peaceful city.

Families and groups of citizens had begun to flee from their homes and scrambled throughout the streets, as the sound of loud, metallic marching began to follow them.

"Who in the names of the gods are they?" Firion whispered as they watched the monstrous soldiers clothed in black armor, begin to fill the streets, like a river of ink, spewing fire and cruelly slaying anyone in their paths.

"Firion, douse the light," Leon hissed as Firion extinguished the oil lamp. Maria whimpered and covered her dark eyes with her hands, as the bloodbath worsened in the streets below their window.

"We must get Mother and Father. If we stay here any longer, we will all be slaughtered," Leon declared while hastily donning his leather armor and grabbing the sword he always kept at his bedside. Firion equipped his own weapon, as well. His amber eyes were wide, and his hands trembled.

"B-Brother, what is this?" Maria demanded as her blood brother grabbed her by the arm and yanked her out into the hallway.

"It's an invasion," the dark-haired youth calmly responded, like a windless afternoon, as they traveled down the corridor, followed by Firion.

Catching ear of their own front door being kicked open, the three youths paused and hid in the darkness, near the descent of the stairs. Clinging to his arm, Leon could feel his younger sister trembling in fear, as two tall shadows forced their way into the house. With armor clanking, the two ghastly soldiers searched every inch of the structure, tearing apart anything they came into contact with. When they finished, they began to ascend the stairs, and the three youths stiffened, daring not to even breathe.

Without warning, a hand wrapped itself over Firion's mouth, stifling a frightened yell. Whipping around with sword at the ready, Leon immediately lowered it, when he realized it was his father, followed by their mother.

"Father?" Leon whispered as the elderly man placed a finger to his own lips to encourage their silence. With Firion relaxing, the old man removed his hand. He was wrinkled and hardened with age, and his hair was violet, like Maria's, but darker and streaked with faded silver. Their mother bore a kind face, with hair dark like Leon's, restrained into a stringy bun.

Running to her mother's arms, Maria shared with her a silent embrace, before the older woman wrapped a cloak around her daughter's under-dressed body.

"Listen to me carefully, Leon, for there is little time," the old man whispered while eying the shadows slowly creeping up the stairs. Nodding, Leon gave the man his full attention.

"When I say run, you are to take your brother and sister, without question, and flee the city. Head south for Gatrea," he commanded as Leon realized what it was they were planning to do.

"Understood, Father," the dark-haired youth responded, solemnly, as Firion and Maria appeared confused.

"What about you and Mother?" Firion inquired as the two parents exchanged glances at each other and smiled.

"We will distract the soldiers long enough for you to escape," he eventually replied as a look of horror claimed the two youths' faces.

"N-No...Father...you and mother can't leave us. Not like this," Maria pleaded as tears began to stream down her face, as she clung to her mother, who attempted to soothe her, by stroking her hair.

"We can all escape, if we fight. Leon is the best swordsman in Fynn, and I know I'm not very skilled, yet, but we can still...-," Firion proposed before his foster father motioned for his silence.

"It's too late, Firion. I am afraid not you, Leon, or even myself are a match for these men," he responded as an expression of distress and sadness engulfed Firion and Maria's faces.

"But...-," the white-haired youth began, again, before he was silenced, once more.

"No buts, Firion, just do as I say. You've been a good son. As good as blood could ever be," he commented before the two shared a tight embrace. As the two separated, he turned to Leon and extended his arm.

"Be safe and protect your sister," the older man imparted as Leon schooled his expression and accepted his hand.

"Always, Father," he replied before his mother, after she finished embracing her two other children, cradled his cheek in her hand.

"My dear son, be strong for your siblings. You three will be faster alone. Your father and I are old, now. We have lived our lives, and we are content for them to end here for the sake of our beloved children," the old woman explained as Maria began to cry.

"Mother, I...I can't do this," Maria sobbed before the group froze, once more, as the gruff rumble of a soldier's voice invaded the air.

"Did you hear that?" the armored beast growled.

"Aye, it is more human filth. I can smell their stench," the other responded, before the two reached the top of the stairs. Their eyes burned red within the shadow of their helmets, and they smelt of blood and brimstone.

"What are they?! Are they even human?!" Firion thought, while taking in their enormous size and deadly, beast-like claws..

"Run!" their father suddenly belted, before throwing himself at the soldiers, who, swiftly and without hesitation, plunged their swords through his body, staining his once pristine bedclothes in dark crimson.

"Father!" Maria screamed as the monstrous warriors roughly cast aside his lifeless form.

Black smoke flooded the ceiling, as flames began to spread throughout the house. Laughing, the soldiers approached with deadly, blood-drenched weapons, that were larger than any the youths had ever seen.

"Stay back!" their mother hissed as she stepped in front of the dark warriors' paths to her children.

"Mother!" Maria screamed as the older woman smiled at her from over her shoulder, before she, too, was cut down. Laying in a growing pool of her own blood, she looked up to her children.

"R-Run...get away from here...," she muttered as vermillion dripped from her lips. With a monstrous cackle, the soldiers cruelly stepped atop her slowly dying body, as they continued their advance.

Maria screamed in grievous agony at the fallen forms of her parents and tears bled from Firion's eyes, before Leon swiftly scooped up his sister and grabbed his adopted brother by the collar. Surprising the soldiers, as they rushed pass, the three jumped from the balcony to the floor beneath the stairs. The landing to the ground was harsh, but they had no time to recover. They had to keep moving.

Barring the door to their burning house, with a metal pipe found discarded in the street, Leon trapped the soldiers, along with the forsaken bodies of their parents inside. They stared up, one last time, into the raging inferno, that was once their home, before Leon led his siblings through the burning and bloody streets. Firion and Maria gasped, as their eyes caught sight of the massacred and brutally slain men, women, and children. Each horrendously murdered corpse chipped away at their innocence, like wind and water to rock and stone.

"Who is responsible this?" Firion questioned in traumatized disbelief as the three hid in the dark of alleys and abandoned houses, watching the hellish army purge the city, like a flood of fire and shadows.

"Lady Hilda!" a Fynnian soldier shouted as he slammed open the royal princess's chamber door, with a burning lantern in his hand and a spear in the other.

"What is the meaning of this?!" the princess demanded, pressing her silk covers to her chest, as she sat up from her large bed, shrouded in a translucent canopy. She was a woman of widely renown beauty and intelligence. Wearing a silken gown, a crown of blue jewels, the same shade as her eyes, rested amongst her long and wavy, blond hair.

"Apologies for the sudden intrusion, my lady, but this is a matter of utmost urgency. The kingdom is currently under siege. I have been ordered to bring you to your father, King Rayan," the soldier explained before moving aside to allow the royal's handmaiden into the room.

"Dress warmly, Princess, and bring with you only the necessities. By the king's order, you may have to flee the kingdom," the soldier warned before excusing himself to give the two women privacy.

"Abandon Fynn...Absurd!" Hilda declared as she was tended to by her servant.

Finishing her preparations, the Fynnian princess was swiftly escorted through the grand corridors of her home. Castle Fynn was a pristine image of tranquil and lavish beauty, even in the midst of hellish war. The halls were white and polished to perfection. Drapes of royal blue cloaked the passageways, lined with gold, and the windows were of stained glass in the image of a wild rose, the kingdom's insignia.

Upon reaching the throne room, she immediately noticed her father, the two princes of Kashuan, who had recently left their homeland to visit her, and the expert white mage, Minwu, originally of Mysidia, the land of mages.

Dressed in his jeweled, golden armor, King Rayan appeared an idol of heroism and nobility, and with her betrothed, Prince Scott, they were poised for battle, but a distance away, was the youngest of the Kashuanian brothers, Prince Gordon. Appearing frightened and on edge, the young prince waited in painful silence, with his hand trembling upon the hilt of his sword.

The brothers of the fallen star were close in age and similar in appearance, and at times were mistaken for twins, even in Kashuan, but it took only a mere moment spent with the two to be able to easily tell them apart. Prince Scott, already a battle-hardened warrior, was so much more experienced and mature, than the younger of the two, who was highly sheltered and had never witnessed actual combat in his life, and it showed now more than ever.

"Father, what is happening? Who has attacked us?" Hilda inquired as she quickly strode to her father's offered embrace.

"We do not know, my daughter. The army bears an unknown banner and insignia. I have sent what scribes remain to search the records for any scrap of information that might identify them, but we have little time left to stay here," the king responded, as several of his most trusted advisers and generals urgently conversed behind him.

"They tore through our defenses, like a stone penetrates the still surface of a pond. The beasts are capable of powerful, dark magic and are able to summon terrible monsters. Our soldiers are falling rapidly. Soon, there will be no one left to prevent them from breaching the castle," Prince Scott explained as an expression of disbelief took possession of the princess's fair features.

"You cannot mean...Fynn will fall to this phantom army?" the female royal questioned as Scott lowered his brown eyes.

"We have sent for aid, from my home of Kashuan, but there has been no reply. I fear the worst, my lady," Scott added before a group of servants led into the vast chamber five bridled and saddled white chocobos.

"Even if we were to receive a response, it is a long journey from Kashuan to here. The aid would arrive too late to be of any use. We ride to the front! We will not surrender Fynn without a fight, but you, my daughter, will go with Minwu to seek refuge in Altair. I fear to think what will happen, if this army is to take Castle Fynn," Rayan revealed as silent tears bled from Hilda's ocean-blue eyes.

"I understand. Farewell, Father, I beg of you, to return, safely," Hilda imparted as the king embraced her one last time before mounting his chocobo and unsheathing a magnificent golden sword.

"Let us go to battle, Prince Scott, Prince Gordon," the Fynnian king addressed as he rode for the grand castle's doors to meet the dark army head on.

Turning from the princess, Prince Scott of Kashuan approached his chocobo, as well, before he felt a slender and familiar hand capture his arm.

"Scott, please wait...," Hilda addressed in desperation, before the prince swiftly turned around and pulled her lithe body close. Capturing her fair face in his strong hands, he guided her lips to his and kissed her, passionately. A tear escaping down the princess's flushed cheek dampened the red stone of the prince's glistening, gold ring.

Green eyes falling, uncomfortably, to his boots, Gordon waited, for the two to finish their display of affection.

"P-Promise me, Scott, that you will come back alive. I do not think I could continue to exist in this world without you, especially now," Hilda whispered as the Kashuanian smiled and cradled her face in his hands, while resting his forehead against hers.

Granting no response to her plea, he reluctantly released her, before climbing onto his chocobo, and unsheathing the sword he had received as an engagement gift from the king of Fynn. The blade of the weapon was of mythril steel and wrapped in a spiral of gold thorns. A rose, signifying his union to Hilda, proudly embellished the hilt.

Standing aside the white mage, Minwu, Hilda watched as the three men rode out to war, not knowing if she would ever see any of them, again.

"Come, your majesty, we must make all haste for Altair," the Minwu stated before helping the princess to mount her chocobo. Blue eyes taking in her home, she pondered if this would be the last time she would ever see it.


Sneaking their way through the decimated and warring kingdom, Leon, Firion, and Maria finally reached the outer-wall, now riddled with scorched holes, and some of it had been deconstructed, completely. Touching the alabaster stone, Leon examined it in bewilderment.

"Soldiers use magic...blow big hole in walls...," a low voice informed, emerging from the darkness of the wilderness beyond the, once whole, stone barrier.

"Guy, you're alive!" Firion exclaimed as a large youth came into the light of the flames. Incredibly tall and strong for his young age, the youth bore short brown hair and kind eyes, and was clothed in simple garments, handmade from pelts and woven straw.

Firion, Leon, and Maria had met Guy, when they were young children, while having journeyed deep into the forest, unbeknownst to their parents, of course. He was living amongst wild animals within a cave, and at that time, he could not speak a word of the common tongue. Once he learned, he was able to impart that he had been orphaned long ago and had no memory of his parents. The animals and creatures of the wilderness had mysteriously raised and cared for him, ever since he could remember.

"Guy...hurt...," the tall male spoke as Firion and Maria caught sight of a bloody wound atop his leg, glistening in the firelight.

"How did this happen?" the white-haired youth questioned, as the large, young man gripped a blood-darkened hatchet.

"Guy saw them from home in forest...hundreds of them...marching from north plains. Black armor...red banners...They destroyed wall...and started killing...everyone...anyone...even animals! Guy try stop them...but they strong...not human," Guy explained in a somber voice that was betrayed by a look of trauma.

Tearing a strip of cloth from his own clothing, Firion secured the sooty, makeshift bandage around the larger youth's thigh. Flinching, Guy sunk to one knee, when the white-haired youth came into contact with the bleeding gash.

"He's bleeding bad. This should help, but eventually, he will need a more practiced healer," Maria spoke before she chanted a novice cure spell over the wound. She had purchased the cheap incantation from a poor peddler passing through Fynn, a few months prior.

"We cannot stay here any longer. We need to flee south, into the forest," Leon stated while looking up to the dark sky, churning with billowing clouds of putrid, black smoke. Dawn was still a few hours away.

"Come on, Guy, up you go," Firion grunted through clenched teeth, as he hooked the large male's arm around his neck and helped lift him to his feet.

Glancing back at the pair, Leon glowered.

"He's going to slow us down. If it were just me, I could simply leave him behind, but Maria and Firion would never allow it," the dark-haired youth thought, before Maria turned her gaze to his.

"Are you alright, brother?" she questioned as he nodded his head, slightly, in reassurance.

"Let's go," he muttered before the group stepped into the woods and disappeared amongst the thick foliage and trees.

It had been hours, since the four youths escaped to the southern forests, and the pale light of dawn was steadily spreading across the horizon. Cool, white mists shrouded the woods, and the chirping of birds announced the coming morning.

The group had hid and crept passed several packs of black-armored soldiers during the night. It seemed the unknown army were done conquering Fynn and were now searching for survivors, who had fled the city. This caused the youths to wonder what had become of the rest of the Fynnian people, who had remained in the kingdom. Had they all been mercilessly slaughtered?

"Do you think there are anymore survivors, like us, who made it out?" Maria questioned as the four continued their trek through the forests, stepping over fallen logs, thick brush, and ducking under low tree limbs.

"T-They couldn't have gotten everybody," Firion replied, in an exhausted gasp, as he continued to be a crutch for his large and wounded friend.

"Heh, I wonder about that," Leon commented while remembering the massive numbers and sheer strength the ghastly army possessed.

"Guy...tired...," the tall youth suddenly groaned before suddenly slipping from Firion's grasp.

"Guy!" the white-haired youth exclaimed, while quickly bracing his friend against a nearby tree, before he could hit the ground.

"Brother, we're going to have to rest here, for a while. He can't go on like this," Maria declared as she knelt and inspected his worsening wound.

"We can't stop! We're still too close to Fynn," Leon snapped, angrily, before Firion stood up with narrowed, amber eyes.

"There's nothing we can do about it, Leon. He needs to rest, just for a little while," the white-haired youth stated, as Leon turned his back to the three.

"Fine, if we die, it will be on your heads," the dark-haired youth muttered, before walking off toward the woods.

"Brother, where are you going?" Maria inquired as he briefly looking at her over his shoulder.

"Someone's got to stand watch," he responded before disappearing into the forest.

Glancing at Firion, Maria shrugged her shoulders, before continuing to examine Guy's wound, more closely.

"It doesn't seem to be getting any better. If anything, it appears worse," Firion pointed out, as Maria suddenly pressed a finger into the gash, causing Guy to moan and tremor in pain.

"What is that?" the white-haired youth questioned as the violet-haired female pulled out a dark, silvery shard of metal from the bloody wound.

"It's mythril. It is a rare ore found only in Semitt and Salamand. It is known for its magical properties. It must have absorbed most of the cure spell I cast, earlier," Maria responded before wincing and dropping the object into the grass, as its razor-sharp edge nicked her finger.

"Are you alright," Firion inquired as he grabbed her wrist and brought her hand close to examine her wounded digit, dripping with fresh blood.

"It's fine. Just a scratch," she reassured as the snowy-haired youth took another piece of cloth and wrapped it around the injured extremity.

"Thank you," she spoke as Firion looked at her and smiled, as a blush overtook his cheeks. Suddenly clearing his throat, he stood from the soft pallet of grass.

"I-I think I'll go check and see what Leon's doing. Will you be alright?" Firion inquired as she nodded with a reassuring smile.

"Don't worry too much, Maria, we'll get through this," he added while lightly touching her shoulder.

"I hope so," she muttered softly, before watching him vanish into the woods, in the direction her brother had taken prior.

Stepping out into a clearing, overlooking the valley they had journeyed through during the night, Firion's jaw became slack and a sinking sensation developed in the pit of his stomach.

"Gods...," Firion breathed while moving to stand next to Leon, who gazed down into the valley with his arms folded. Beyond the vast, crescent-shaped lake, the remains of Fynn could be seen, engulfed in black, ominous smoke, that billowed high into the morning sky.

"They were soldiers from the Palamecian empire," Leon suddenly informed, as an expression of confusion claimed his companion's face.

"Palamecian? How do you know?" Firion inquired, while remembering the old tomes he had read, as a child under the tutelage of his foster father, about the ancient empire, but most of what he read was simply legend, keeping the enigmatic nation swaddled in mystery. Outside of that, only its location was known, roughly positioned far, far to the south, secluded by a vast desert and towering mountains. No one in the northern territories had dared to travel into that mortal, death trap for centuries.

"There is not a nation I know of that clothes their soldiers in black, and you saw them. They were not human. It has long been said that Palamecia's roots were sunk deep into the forces of Jade and Pandemonium. There is no other explanation," the dark-haired youth explained, as Firion appeared impressed.

"I suppose not, but how do you know all of these things?" Firion inquired as Leon sighed and rolled his dark eyes.

"You would know these things, too, if you actually paid attention during Father's lessons," Leon replied while sudden feelings of sorrow, anger, and regret engulfed Firion, as he recalled their father being slain, while in the effort to protect them.

"W-What else do you know about this place?" Firion questioned, redirecting the subject.

"Anyone who dares venture there never returns. That is why so little is known. They say it is the devil's nation, and outsiders are not welcome," Leon added before a monstrous cackle interrupted him.

"The devil? No, he is not, but I do admit he is close enough," an inhuman voice growled, as several midnight-armored soldiers emerged from the forests surrounding them.

"Firion, go to Maria. I'll handle this rabble," Leon whispered before a woman's scream erupted from the direction of his sister's and Guy's location.

"Hurry!" the dark-haired youth shouted, while shoving his white-haired companion away and lunging at the soldiers, with sword in hand.

Dodging the monstrous beasts, Firion fled into the woods, in search of the other two members of their party. He could hear the clanking and clashing of the battle behind him, as Leon impressively managed to hold his own against the soldiers.

Finally, reaching the tree, where Guy had rested, the white-haired youth discovered his large and wounded friend had managed to climb to his feet, with old hatchet in hand, and was struggling to defend Maria. He was the only force standing between her and a gruesome fate met at the soldiers' hands.

"Kill them all. His majesty has no desire for prisoners!" one of the soldiers snarled, as the battle truly commenced.

"His majesty? Who is it they speak of?" Firion thought while clumsily blocking one of the ghastly beings attacks.

The white-haired youth had only just begun to train with the sword, and Leon, who was a natural born prodigy, was appointed as his teacher. Neither of them liked the arrangement, but the dark-haired youth had excelled so quickly in the art of sword fighting, he had been called upon by the king of Fynn, himself, to become an official teacher.

"Guy!" Maria suddenly hollered, as the large youth was brutally beat down.

Bleeding upon the forest floor, the tall, young man appeared to succumb to defeat, leaving his violet-haired companion to fend for herself. She had only just begun to learn white magic and had little to no combat abilities, at all.

"Maria, hold on!" Firion screamed as he rushed the opponent blocking his path and with every ounce of strength he could conjure, shoved him aside. He was running so fast, he felt as if he were almost flying. He could not allow anything to happen to Maria. He would sacrifice his own life, if it were to spare hers, but alas, it was too late.

Stepping over Guy's body, the ghastly soldier enjoyed the look of paralyzing fear in her eyes, before cutting right through her, as if she were nothing. Her black eyes talking hold of Firion's amber, her face turned ghostly white and became engulfed in shock, before she fell to the ground, at the base of the tree.

Feeling rage consume his entire being, Firion screamed in fury. With tears stinging his eyes, he charged at the soldier, now, standing over her collapsed form, resting in a pool of blood. Finding strength he never imagined he contained, he swiftly disarmed the soldier, before impaling him upon his blade, but instead of a cry of death, he received a horrible and merciless laugh.

"We are not so simple to defeat, boy," the soldier growled before taking hold of the embedded weapon and ripping it away from his grasp. Defenseless, Firion stumbled backwards, before feeling the agonizing pain of a mythril sword splitting apart his flesh.

Amidst holding his own against the monstrous soldiers, Leon suddenly caught a glimpse of his defeated companions. His black gaze swept over their bodies, before falling upon his younger sister.

"No...it can't be," he thought before he felt himself began to seethe.

Roaring in grief and hatred, he cut down his current opponent. Adrenaline rapidly coursing through his body, he approached the soldier, standing over his sister, and plunged his sword through the being's heart, same as Firion had done, and the creature cackled, once more, in amusement.

"I thought I already told you, human maggot. We are not so easy to kill," the soldier reminded before Leon tapped into what strength remained to him, and suddenly forced the soldier to his knees, surprising the dark warrior.

"I heard you the first time," the dark-haired youth responded before ripping the sword from his body and swinging the weapon, full force, at the creature's throat, successfully beheading him.

With a horrid, monstrous scream, the creature rapidly dissolved to dust and ash, withering away, until only the hollow shell of the black armor remained. The other dark soldiers gawked in silence, clearly in shock that a lowly human was capable of defeating them.

Reaching his limit, Leon fell to his knees, as his sword, stained with syrupy blood as black as tar, slipped from his fingers. Gazing one last time at the body of his sister, he closed his black eyes and lowered his head in surrender, expecting their blade to meet the flesh of his neck, at any moment.

"What are you idiots gaping at?! Kill him!" a soldier shouted followed by the sound of boot-steps began to come closer.

"This is it...," Leon thought, clenching his teeth, before one, who appeared to be their leader, signaled for the approaching dark beings to halt.

"What is going on?" the dark-haired warrior thought, as a brief but horrible silence ensued.

"Wait, this one is strong. Let us take him before the emperor, perhaps he could be of some use," the dark warrior ordered, as his comrades appeared hesitant and bewildered.

"Did not his majesty say no captives?" another monstrous soldier questioned, before shrinking back, as the other stepped nearer.

"Do you dare question me, your commanding officer? That, in itself, is grounds for execution, but be grateful I am forgiving," the creature snarled.

"Besides exhibiting skill, he managed to slay one of our own. He deserves a more severe punishment than a quick death," the commander commented before beckoning to two of the others to come forth.

"Bind him. We make for the northern teleportation device, and then, back to Palamecia," the demon commanded as Leon struggled to gaze up, with waning consciousness, into the vermillion eyes of the creature, concealed within the dark opening of his midnight helmet.

To be continued…