Twisting In the Wind
Chapter One: Ominous Overture
The wind screamed wildly on Mount Ordeals that day. Its tone was typically something that the lone man on the summit took joy in hearing; it symbolized freedom from the cold ground and from the limitations of those bound to it.
But no longer. There was no such thing as freedom anymore, not for the dragoon called Kain Highwind. The cries of the wind no longer rang out as a joyous fanfare in his mind, and had not in a long, long time. Kain was bound in the sky as surely as he was on the ground, to the past, to his guilt, to his miserable existence.
I am just a worthless liar.
Who the hell did he think he was? It had been nearly a year since he had participated in the fight against Zemus, and he was still alive. He was still alive. He didn’t know how it was possible. He’d left to ‘train’ immediately after they’d returned to earth from the Lunarian moon; in reality, it was simply an excuse to put himself in a situation which he couldn’t possibly survive. As much as he loathed himself, he was too proud a man to simply kill himself. It was the coward’s way out… not that Kain had any honor to lose. He’d betrayed his friends, over and over and over again, in those times a year ago. Certainly, they didn’t – for the most part – hate him for it, since he could claim being under the control of Golbez as his reasoning. And that was true; his actions had not truly been his own. …But he remembered them. He remembered how good it had felt to let his jealousy for everything Cecil had that he didn’t come to the surface, how incredible it had felt to take out his aggressions on the paladin, to take them out on Rosa when he took her prisoner. So perhaps even the claim that he hadn’t wanted to do what he did was a lie.
I am just an imbecile.
A complete hypocrite. I have been a fool all my life. I thought myself so pure and noble when I opted to train myself to become a Dragoon, even though the king wished me to learn the arts of the dark sword… and look how the tables have turned. Cecil, who sold out to dishonor to please his lord and master, now a shining star of hope… a legendary paladin. And me… Kain the coward, Kain the betrayer. I have dishonored not only myself, but the entire line of Dragoons of the nation of Baron.
I will only complicate you.
I ran away. …I ran away. Was that foolish? I… I don’t know, anymore. Cecil was crowned King of Baron half a year ago, and I wasn’t even there. We were best friends, once, but so much has changed. So much has changed. I was here when it happened. Training my heart, training my soul in hope of overcoming the darkness that had been revealed to me by the power of Golbez. …Golbez. Damn the bastard to hell. He had his chance at redemption, just as Kain had, but when all was said and done, Golbez would not have to deal with the aftermath of what he had done. No, Golbez had refused to return to the earth… Golbez had gone to unending slumber with FuSoYa, gone to escape from reality with the rest of the Lunarians. He had feared he’d never be accepted by the peoples of the planet…
Trust in me and fall as well.
He was right to fear that. I stayed at Baron Castle for all of a week after our return; it was a time marked by suspicious eyes and muttered words of distrust. Even Cid, who was supposedly a friend to me once, wanted nothing to do with me. The Horror of all of this… this life. Perhaps I am unworthy of their trust. I betrayed them once… because I was too weak in will to resist the machinations of a demon. Because my inner darkness made a part of me want the demon to release it.
I am a craven fool. My life is worthless now, yet I continue to exist. My past holds me down, holds me back… holds me together, perhaps. Reminds me that I am not Kain the Dragoon, friend of Cecil Harvey of Baron anymore. It whispers in its sibilant way every waking moment that I am Kain the craven, Kain the traitor, Kain the weak-willed murderer.
I would do anything to rid myself of it. Absolutely anything.
King Edge of Eblan was positively, absolutely bored. The throne room he currently occupied was basically silent, for the moment, and he didn’t really have any audiences with members of court for another half an hour. It wasn’t enough time for him to go out and do anything interesting in, but it was certainly more than enough time to drive the young monarch completely crazy.
As he paced a familiar trail around his chambers, trying desperately to think about anything but the business of the kingdom, he found his eyes wandering up yet again to the twin swords that hung over his throne. The Masamune and the Murasame… trophies from the Lunar battlefield he had left oh-so-recently…. And yet it was though his adventures with the others had been a lifetime ago. Other than one short excursion to attend the coronation of King Cecil Harvey, he had hardly left Eblan Castle. He never would have admitted it, but he wanted desperately to convince the Chancellor and all of his rather doubtful subjects that he was capable of being a good ruler.
It had proven very, very difficult thus far. Edge hated admitting that... it was a form of defeat, of having to say no, maybe I can’t do this. But every time he found himself on the verge of dwelling too long on that disappointment, his mind wandered to the scabbards above the royal seat, and before he knew it he was dreaming of adventures yet untold again.
‘I swear, is it SO much to ask that the Chancellor not space out my appointments so? I suppose I could issue some sort of royal decree and force him to place them closer together, and give me a bit of free time… but I can just imagine what the people would whisper. “The king can’t handle a full day’s work.” “The king needs time to go fishing in the evening.” Bah… I swear, it wouldn’t be so bad if something would HAPPEN. Eblan is so remote, though, that it seems an impossibility. God, I would kill for a bit of exciteme-‘
Edge had paused for but a moment in his rather consistent circuit of the chambers when it flitted across his vision. A simple metal shuriken - not at all unlike the type that Eblan itself produced - flew right across the path he had been walking and embedded itself in the opposite wall with a barely audible thunk.
His body reacted before he even truly realized what had just happened, throwing him into a roll that took him away from the direction of the unseen assailant and towards a food laden table in one corner. He came up with inertia forcing him backwards just before it, and without even a thought used that force to put himself into a backflip that took him over the table and down behind it with ease. As his feet lightly hit the ground, he allowed himself to fall, grabbing one edge of the table and pulling it down with him to form a sort of makeshift barrier.
Dishes clattered to the ground and shattered, spilling sweetmeats and wine all over the stone floor. The din they made almost masked the sound of three more shurikens embedding themselves into the table the young monarch had just pulled down in front of himself, but the white-haired ninja’s ears were difficult to fool.
A smirk crept across Edge’s face as he pulled up the blue scarf around his neck to cover his face and nose, tying it tightly in the back, and he realized he didn’t even care who in the hell this would-be assassin was. It was a bit of action, and considering he was currently unarmed even a bit of a challenge.
Grinning, the ninja king curled his hands into fists and leapt out from his hiding spot with a guttural cry. As he landed in a dead sprint, he found it fairly simple to spot his assailant; the man - a black-cloaked warrior with a katana in one hand and throwing stars in the other - was making no attempt to hide himself. Instead, he simply grinned savagely as his target came at him, and launched another trio of shuriken in Edge’s direction.
The agile warrior proved too much for such a laid-back attack, however, simply changing his momentum and going into a rolling slide underneath the deadly stars, then immediately leaping to his feet almost without missing his stride as soon as they had passed.
It seemed to Edge as though the man had not expected such a maneuver, for as he neared the black-clad assassin, he made no discernable move to ready the katana held in his hand. This lack of consideration became even more curious when the young monarch actually reached him, using his momentum to spin about and elbow him in the face with what should have been enough force to drive his nose into his brain.
His curiosity was rather quickly replaced with pain as, surprisingly, he found his arm exploding into pain as he struck the man in the face with as much effect as though he’d tried to attack one of the castle walls. A curse escaped his lips as the abrupt momentum break drove him from his feet, his arm bruised and quickly swelling.
He managed a brief glance at the strange figure as he skittered back and forced himself back on unsteady feet, and it was only then that he realized what a strange individual he was. His face was misshapen and swollen in places, the skin across his forehead looking as though it had been stretched completely taut by the size of a mass in the front of his skull. His nose was shattered, as well it should have been, but the blood that flowed down from it was but a trickle, and he barely seemed to notice it splattered across his face. His mouth was a hard grim line, a mask in itself that revealed little of the pleasure or displeasure that the black clad man may have felt.
But it was his eyes that Edge noticed the most as he brought his hands up defensively before him. They were a cold, pale blue that almost seemed to lack sentience. It was as the man that stood before him was completely lifeless, his eyes those of a corpse. Edge almost dropped his guard for a moment at the confusion of it all.
Thankfully, though his mind was attracted to deep thought over the meaning of the man’s eyes, his instincts were not. He found himself spinning away from a well-timed katana slash that would have split him from top to bottom had he not been expecting it, and following up with a sweeping kick that only managed to bring the black-cloaked man to his knees for an instant.
Cursing as the bulky man went for another clumsy but powerful slash with his blade, Edge lightly fell back toward the royal seat. After several long moments that felt like hours of ducking, leaping, and rolling away from the assassin’s slashing blade, the back of his legs hit the throne so unexpectedly that he ended up falling back into the chair itself. He took advantage of the unexpected momentum to kick one foot straight upward until it connected with the assassin’s jaw. Pain shot red-hot through his foot as the blow struck, but this time his assailant actually had the sense to fall back as he started spitting blood.
Despite the stinging in his foot, he managed to continue to push upward with his feet until they had gone over his head, and then in the same motion used his hands to push himself upward. This resulted in a back handspring that ended with Edge standing lightly on the back of his throne looking down on his opponent grimly.
“So.” Edge said simply, wrapping one hand around something just behind his back. “Who sent you, my friend?” the other hand went behind him, fumbling over the smooth stone for a few seconds until he found what he was looking for. He waited for a second to see if any answer would be forthcoming, but the large man didn’t even give Edge a glance as he sat and clutched at his jaw, blood trickling out of his mouth. Shrugging slightly, he slowly stretched his arms out perpendicular with his body, pulling the Masamune and the Murasame from their sheaths on the wall just behind him as he did. The magically-forged metal glistened in the well-lit room, and time seemed to stand still for a moment as Edge cocked an eyebrow at his oddly unresponsive foe and smirked beneath his scarf. “Yo, smart guy, I asked you a question.” He remarked, flipping his katanas in his hands so that the blades pointed upwards. The assassin just stood there like a zombie, his eyes devoid of any recognition as he continued holding his mouth.
The ninja king shrugged again, and brought his arms together so that the blades crossed in front of his face. “What’s that? Come down there and ask you? the smirk on his face grew wider, out of the large man’s sight. “Why, don’t mind if I do!”
Almost faster than a human eye could have followed, the king had subtly shifted his weight forward on the throne and pushed off with one leg. A brief battle cry escaped his lips as he somersaulted through the air and landed almost too abruptly in front of his assailant. His forward momentum was transferred directly to his swords, slashing through the black cloak the assassin wore with symmetrical incisions that almost immediately deepened the hue of the material with blood.
The action brought the strange man back to his senses at long last, and he curled up one lip in a sneer that seemed almost artificial as he brought his katana up over his head to make another one of his woodchopper-like attacks. Edge proved the faster, though, whirling about quickly and bringing in the Masamune to pierce the man’s chest.
And pierce it did, but only accompanied with a somewhat muted whine of metal clashing against metal, and a great deal more pressure than the ninja king had expected it should have taken. His blow had been intended to go completely through the man and out his back; as it was, he only managed to make it about three inches into the burly chest before his thrust lost power.
He was almost too shocked to move out of the way as the assassin managed to finish his slashing motion, and in fact had to leave the masamune imbedded in the man’s chest to move out of the way of the powerful attack. Still in disbelief, he managed to nail the man in the back with a roundhouse kick, knocking him to the floor and finally pushing the Masamune entirely through him.
Several seconds later, it became unbearably clear the man was finally dead, his lifeblood spilling out over the fancy rugs and polished stones of the throne room. Edge began to breathe a bit easier, and let the Murasame clatter to the floor as knelt down next to the fallen assassin and tried to roll him over.
He tensed again as he heard several people enter the room at his back, and immediately picked up his Murasame, preparing himself for another fight.
None came, thankfully. “Your majesty! Are you alright?”
Edge sighed deeply at the sound of the voice, and slowly pulled himself to his feet, pulling his scarf down off of his face as he did. “I’m fine, Chancellor. Confused as hell, but I’m fine.”
The chancellor, an aged ninja with wispy gray hair and a stomach perhaps a bit too large for a man in charge of dealing with the affairs of a kingdom of warriors, sighed deeply with relief and shook his head. “Thank the fates. I was afraid we were too late; the guards outside your chambers were dead, and we had no way of knowing how long it had been since they had been killed.” He looked just over his shoulder at the six soldiers that had accompanied him. “I was on my way to your chambers to bring you the statements on the royal treasury, and found them decapitated on the ground outside. It’s a bit…. gruesome, my liege. So I ran into the barracks and got some of your men… but apparently there was no need.”
Edge shrugged, feeling his head begin to pound at the man’s rambling, almost incoherent speaking style. “I handled him, I suppose.” With a sigh he shook his head and looked down at his fists. “There was something strange, though… this was no ordinary assassin.”
The chancellor blinked in confusion, his eyes following Edge as the ninja king crouched down next to the fallen body and pushed it onto its side. “What do you mean, sire?”
Edge’s mouth curled downward into an expression of grim disgust as he wrapped his hands around the bloodied hilt of his sword Masamune, still lodged firmly in the strange man. With a slight grunt, he tugged at the weapon with all his might, eliciting the shrieks of metal on metal again as it was dislodged.
“That.” The white haired man said simply as he tried to wipe the blood from the Masamune with a bit of black cloth.
The aging advisor looked down at the corpse on the ground as if it were an alien being, a confused sentiment obviously shared by the half-dozen soldiers who had accompanied him. “What… what in the world?”
“This… thing has metal embedded in it, like he had a suit of mail beneath his skin.” Edge shook his head at the memory. “And he completely ignores pain… he didn’t seem human at all.
“In any case,” the ninja continued, walking over to his throne, “we cannot simply pretend nothing has happen. We must find out what’s going on here.”
“Wh…what do you mean, sir? What are you doing?” the chancellor’s eyes widened as Edge pulled the scabbards that held his blades off the wall and began strapping them to his belt.
Edge’s eyes glittered dangerously as he met his counselor’s hopeless gaze. “Send a message to the shipyard, and tell them I’ll require a craft for passage to Baron before nightfall.”
“But sir! You cannot simply leave!”
The fair-haired ninja simply smirked and shook his head. “You men get this mess cleaned up, and have our doctors take a look at this body. Maybe we can figure out what the hell this guy his. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some packing to do.”
A deep sigh decanted from the chancellor’s throat, and he put one hand to his forehead. “Madness…”
“We give thanks to you, O God.”
The chants echoed through the long twisting hallways of an otherwise silent world.
“We give thanks, for your Name is near. Men tell of your wonderful deeds.”
It was a world devoid of windows, a world of metal lit with an artificial brilliance from thousands upon thousands of flickering technological marvels.
“You say, ‘I choose the appointed time,’”
Anywhere else, such a miracle of science would have been impossible. But this was the Tower of Babel.
“When the earth and all its people quake, it is you who shakes its pillars down.”
This was the promised land.
“No one from the east or the west, or from a desert can exalt a man.”
The chamber was cavernously large, and barren of any piece of furniture. Nearly two hundred men and women stood within it before a great staircase, a makeshift pedestal crowned by a strange, twisted ball of black metal.
“But it is God who judges. He brings down one, he exalts another.”
Each member of the chanting congregation wore heavy gloom-hued robes, offset by inlaid pieces of shining steel in the sleeves and lined around the hoods.
The chanting stopped momentarily, and a single member of their order stepped forward and onto the first step of the dais. In one hand he held a voluminous leather-bound book, and the other he held high to the ceiling and the unseen heavens. “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of the Machina.” The book-bearer’s pale blue eyes glistened with a feverish light, and his voice rumbled out across the pale hall like thunder. “I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up!”
As he finished the hymn, he turned to the black orb above him and opened the book he held in his hand. “Il mio Dio! Sanguineremo il rosso del mondo per il amore di
“So it shall be!” the dark congregation cried in perfect unison, raising their left fists in tribute to the metallic sphere. The sound of their echoing voices was quickly followed by a muffled clattering on the cold floor as they each fell to their knees and began prayer.
The keeper of the book smiled thinly as he too went to his knees before the great idol. ‘My God, we shall bleed the world red for you.’
“Why do the nations conspire/and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand/ and the rulers gather together against the Lord/ and against his Anointed One” – Psalm 2.