Vagabond Sal (vagabondsal) wrote in temps_mort,
Vagabond Sal
vagabondsal
temps_mort

"The Custom of Demons" - (Kain, FFIV, PG)

Title: The Custom of Demons
Rating: PG
Summary: Kain still believes.
Fandom: Final Fantasy IV
Disclaimer: So not mine, it's not even funny.
Miscellany: Written in 70 minutes for the this is not the worst moment of my life challenge. Not sure that King Baron ever had a first name, but if he does, the one I gave him probably ain't it.

***

This is not the worst moment of my life.

I am lying flat on my back, blood pooling in my lungs and my charred skin already flaking off where the fire demon Rubicant laid upon me his gnarled and malformed hands, and I am repeating that particular mantra over and over in my head: this is not the worst moment of my life, this is not the worst moment of my life, this is not the worst moment of my life, said so that I might affix it to the insides of my head with the repetition of it.

"Rise," Golbez commands languidly. He's seated on a throne of bone, a leg hooked over one arm in a gesture of distracting insouciance. To his left is Valvalis Wind-Walker, and to his right hovers the lich-mage Milon, snickering with wet, hacking lurches of his throat. From what little I've managed to snatch out of Golbez's conversations with his attendants, I suspect that there's a fourth manifestation, a Fiend of Water to complete the elemental circuit, but he's away on some sundry of the Demon-King's affairs.

Small miracles.

"Rise," Golbez says again, and as he says so he curls his fist and brings it down on the arm of his throne. A convulsion seizes me, a wreath of magical lightning wrapping around my body.

I would spit at his feet, but to do so would expend more energy than I might spare.

This is not the worst moment of my life, this is not the worst moment of my life, this is not the worst moment of my life, this is not the worst moment of my life--

"My lord," says Valvalis abruptly, "I believe that the Dragon Sir Highwind is incapable of movement, at present. Perhaps if you'd favor him with a cure or a spell of some sort?"

The Demon-King makes a weary, put-upon noise from behind the faceplate of his helmet, as if having his lieutenant call attention to my current disrepair is some sort of insubordination or gross affront. He moves one hand in a circle, and I feel phantom hands situate themselves along my back and bear me up till I'm floating above the ground.

Rubicant is standing some minor distance away from me, one arm drawing his ever-burning cloak up against his chest. The fire prince's breathing is uneven, and judging from his stance I'd say he's sparing his left leg, the leg that my spear nearly ran through before Rubicant flung it away from my hands; can't be said, then, that this son of Baron didn't hold his own till the end against the flickering of the hungry flame.

Golbez gestures again, a swift, sharp chopping motion, and a halo of green sparks descends upon my prone form. My skin stitches itself together under my armor, and the blood drains out of my lungs and flows back into my veins. The fatigue of the day's trials still lingers on in the bunched muscles of my legs and arms, but the breaks in my flesh have been repaired and the wounds tended with a mage's ministry.

"So, little dragon," Golbez says, rising to his full height and descending from his throne to stand before me; even now, with me floating a good foot in the air, he towers head and helm above me, and it strikes me that the Demon-King may have other intentions in mind besides the dismantling of the captain of Baron's Dragon Guard. "How d'you enjoy the service of my castle?"

"Your hospitality leaves much to be desired, Golbez." I attempt to sneer under my helmet, but fear that the effect is rather lost under the layers of blood and grime that cake my face.

"I might be more generous with the tokens of my favor if you'd take a knee before me."

"Men of Baron do not bend their knees a'fore any sort of evil," I say, with as much haughty disdain as a man might muster if he's detached from gravity and held to account by a warlord of vast and fey magics.

"Oh, if you but knew what riddles and mysteries skulk in the corridors of your castle." Valvalis and Milon trade smiles, her pretty face in sharp contrast to the lich's blasted visage.

"The knights of Baron will avenge this," I say, apro of nothing. "The Red Wings shall lay waste to this rude hut you call a palace, and the knights of Baron will storm this keep and break its inhabitants." The threat is meant to instill fear, but Golbez merely laughs.

"The knights of Baron! Oh, Dragon Sir Knight, but there's a thought to make a man laugh." He leans in; even obscured as it is by his helmet, I can hear the smirk wrapping itself around his face. "The knights of Baron serve the head beneath the crown, and the head beneath the crown serves me."

"King Baron would do no such thing!" I cry out.

He chuckles, a sound entirely devoid of mirth and humor. "Your king, your king...ahh, yes, King Voten di Baron! Stubborn old fool, hatchet-face, beard the color of a cat's unhealthy excrement?" Golbez presses a hand to his chest theatrically. "Yes, I remember him now." Golbez claps, and a--a hole opens before us, a black and yawning thing that soon assumes the likeness of a Baronian castle room. The--

--The king's quarters--

"King Baron..."

The apparition raises its head, as if it hadn't noticed the rent in space till my voice puntuated the air between us. "Mmm? Oh, Kain, it's you. Good. I'd been wondering what had happened to you after that unfortunate, mmm, incident, south of Kaipo."

The likeness to the king is uncanny; I've heard tell that such mages of a suitable ken know the way of bending space to their will. Perhaps this truly is King Baron, then.

"Sir," I say, stammering around the sibilance of the word, "you--you knew about what would happen in Mist? Sir, I don't understand--"

Milon snorts, an ugly, grating noise, and Valvalis moves a hand to cover a small moue of what I can only assume is amusement.

Golbez claps, and the--the glamour shatters, and pieces of King Voten's visage fall away like dead leaves from a dying tree. In his place is left a turtle or perhaps a tortoise, grotesque and massive, an ugly blue monster with ichor and bile sloughing off its flanks.

"Gheh heh heh, so--secret's out then, boss?" The monstrous thing chuckles again, and laps at its face with a preternaturally deft tongue. "Does this mean I c'n eat this one when y'done with him, m'Lord?"

Milon's lost it, now; he's laughing and slapping one hand against one leg, and his laugh when it escapes from between his wizened lips is a dying man's last rattle.

Even Rubicant musters a smile as Valvalis tends to his wounds.

"Cecil will come," I say, feverish, head still dizzy from the revelation before me. "Cecil will ride and bring this castle--"

"Bah! One Dark Knight. What can one Dark Knight do against the Lord of the Many Demons?"

I smile, and marshall my spirits. "You don't know Cecil Harvey, then. He'll come, you'd best save against that day, for he'll come, and his terrible black sword will cleave you in two."

Golbez shrugs expansively, palms spread up before him. "Who can say? Ahh, but wait," he says, "I can!" He flicks his hand out, an almost effete twisting of his wrist. The window into the king--into the Water Fiend's chambers closes, and another tear unfolds itself in the air before us. This time, though, the window opens upon Cecil, and I struggle against the bonds of air that shackle me in an attempt to move towards the hole in the air.

"Ahh ahh, take a care that you don't injure yourself, Dragon Sir Highwind. This is merely a recasting of what's already come to pass; I'd hate for you to do yourself grievous harm in pursuit of such an ignoble end."

This time, I do spit, and Golbez laughs.

Golbez narrates, his voice assuming a sing-song quality as he does so. "But you see, here's where the problem arises with your hypothesis, Kain. I've been monitoring your boon companion, and he displays a shocking lack of concern for your well-being! Gallivanting about righting wrongs and restoring peace unto the land. My, what a perfect, gentle knight this Cecil Harvey! And yet--ahh, and yet, where's the brother's right to arms, eh? Where's the brother's right to vengeance?" His voice slides down an octave like a fool playing with a slidewhistle. "Tch, for shame, Dragon Sir Knight."

It's true, I realize slowly; Cecil moves, and in equal turns I see gather about himself a clutch of travelers to take my place; the girl from Mist, a noble prince, a sage bent with age. I see him cross desert and mountain and cavern deep, flashing his sword by the sides of his new comrades-at-arms.

I don't see him return to the site of the earthquake; I don't see him bind his arm in the manner of a Baron knight in mourning.

I do, though, see him come across--Rosa, yes, of all things he's found Rosa in Kaipo, but she's wounded, taken sick and wrought with illness.

And now the image distorts and shows Cecil setting out, Cecil battling an insect the size of a seige engine, Cecil sinking his blade into its carapace and then wresting a fine lattice of web and stone from its nest. Cecil, riding back to Kaipo, Cecil ministering to Rosa, Cecil settling down next to her in the manner of a man coming unto a woman.

I can't hear his speech, but Cecil's actions have always been more eloquent than his words. He leans in and curves his body around Rosa's, and they fit together in a way that would never allow for the insinuation of my presence between them.

Golbez leans in and presses his fingers artfully along my chin, on the curve where my helmet ends and my jaw begins. The metal of his gauntlet is colder by far than any such touch should be. Across the room from us, Valvalis watches with ill-concealed interest.

"So, little dragon...will you take that knee a'fore me now, then?"

This is not the worst moment--

Not the worst moment--

This is not the--

This is--

This--
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