Has he fallen so far, that he would take another and call her by Rosa's name?
He is faintly grateful that Golbez did not choose to employ the Dragon Knights on this mission. He doubts he has the stomach to send his former subordinates and friends to their deaths beneath Cecil's hellborn sword.
As bravely as Cecil has fought, he is still overwhelmed. They continue to fall back. Kain signals to the Baronian Guard disguised as a monk of Fabul, and he slips into the crowd as they withdraw.
The throne room doors slam closed, and the bar into place. Monsters mill outside the doors, clawing ineffectually at the thick wood.
The doors swing open again, amidst shouted protests from within, and his monsters surge forward to engage them once again.
He follows them in and makes his way through the remains of his forces, seeking the Crystal Room. They have nowhere left to go.
He will prove his worth to Golbez here.
Though the Crystal Room is fully enclosed, the air rushes around him as though he stands at the pinnacle of the Tower of Zot. It is not unlike being in Valvalicia's presence: wind within walls. Cecil gives a shout of joy, rushing forward to greet him.
"It's been a while," he says, with the most casual tone he can muster. Rosa is not here. She would be helping the medics, of course. He will find her after this is done. Golbez promised her to him. There will be time enough later; now he need only kill one man. The little summoner girl is nowhere to be seen either. Perhaps she was slain in the journey here.
"Kain! You're alive!" Cecil pushes back his visor, reaching out as though to embrace Kain.
"So it would seem." Kain steps back, and notes the confusion and hurt on Cecil's face. Good. Let him wonder; the point of his spear will be the sharper for it.
"We'll talk later," Cecil says quickly. "For now, we have some fighting to do."
How simple. How perfect. Cecil truly was wasted as King Odin's heir. Even now, with the evidence of betrayal all but staring him in the face, he fails to see it. Kain smiles behind his visor, and levels his spear at Cecil's heart. "Indeed. Are you ready to face me?"
"What?" Cecil's shock appears absolute. He gapes at the end of Kain's spear as though he has never seen a weapon before.
"Ready your sword," Kain says. It is not that he intends to lose; rather, he would not have it said that a Dragon Knight of Baron slew an unarmed opponent. That would be dishonorable in the extreme.
"Kain?" The confusion and hurt in Cecil's tone is music to Kain's ears. He jabs the point of his spear forward, nearly into the gap left by Cecil's open visor.
"Ready your sword, fool!"
He can see, even as Cecil draws his weapon, that his near-brother still does not believe. He holds the sword loosely, letting the point of the dull, oily-black blade touch the ground. Cecil is waiting for some cue, some hint that this is all a game, and that Kain but play-acts with him.
Such a hint will not be forthcoming.
Kain gathers his muscles and leaps, soaring into the air. The air currents buoy him up, carrying him higher than he would normally be able to go. He directs his spear, and plunges downward with a crushing blow. His aim, though not quite as true as he might have wished, is good enough; he pierces a gaping hole in Cecil's breastplate and watches as Cecil crumples to the floor, clutching at the bleeding wound. His sword skitters across the floor to crash into a crystal pillar.
"You must be under Golbez's spell!" Cecil cries, and Kain nearly falters.
Once, he would never have considered this course of action. Once, he would have stood by and permitted Cecil to rule, to wed Rosa, to have the life that King Odin chose. Once, he would have been content with his honour.
Yet why should he cringe and beg for scraps, when he was raised as the King's son just as Cecil was? Why should he not have Rosa, or indeed even the Kingdom of Baron? What made Cecil so much better, who had sold his honour to the Dark Sword at the King's whim?
He might be under Golbez's spell, but he had chosen his servitude, had knelt and sworn the oath. Cecil had left him in the ruins of Mist to be captured and tormented until he did so; fitting, then, that he reap the rewards.
"Have any final words?" he asks, shifting his grip on the haft of his spear.
Only then does he see Cecil accept his death.
"Stop!" The High Monk is striding forward, clearly intending to interfere. Kain draws back his spear and prepares to strike.
He knows that voice. Despite himself, his grip on the spear falters. He turns to see her, pinned in the radiant glow of the crystal pillars. Her hair cascades down over her pristine white cloak, and her eyes…
….Ever those eyes have watched Cecil, and not him. It is no different now.
Of all the words in his heart, the only one that comes to his lips is her name.
"Kain, you of all people," she whispers, tears streaming from her eyes.
"No, I…" He struggles for words as she all but flies across the crystal tiles, as light upon her feet as a bird on the wing, and sinks to her knees beside Cecil.
The icy grip of magic slides into his bones, turns his muscles to water, grips his limbs like a puppet-master's strings.
"Why do you hesitate, Kain?" Golbez's voice is like thunder, dark and malevolent, like the magic that crackles around him even to Kain's dulled senses. He walks--nay, he stalks, like unto a hunting cat--into the room and paces toward Cecil.
"Golbez!" The Prince of Damcyan starts forward, his lute clutched in his hands. Does he truly think such a weapon a safeguard against magics like these? Does he somehow hope to sing Golbez to death?
"So you're Golbez!" Cecil exclaims, displaying his usual brilliant insight on the most obvious of matters. And this was the man Odin would have named to follow him?
"Cecil, I presume?" Golbez laughs. "Never hesitate to kill, Kain. Now see how it is done!"
"Cecil!" the prince cries, and Kain wonders once more just what it is his near-brother does to inspire such exquisite loyalty.
"No!" The High Monk is rushing forward again.
If it were not such a pathetically mismatched contest, Kain might have liked to see such a battle, but Golbez clearly has no patience for extraneous matters this day.
"Silence!" he shouts, and black lightning erupts from his fingertips. The monk and the prince go flying backward.
"Get the Crystal," Golbez says. The tendrils of magic loosen; Kain's body is his own once more.
Did he choose, he could betray Golbez right now. His master's back is unprotected; Kain's spear is sharp.
He looks at Rosa's fair head bent over Cecil's wound, and bares his teeth in a snarl. "Yes, Sire," he says for Golbez's benefit. His boots thud against the tiles as he climbs the steps and lifts the Crystal from its resting place.
"Kain, please!" Rosa cries, and his hands falter. He can hear her light steps rushing toward him.
"No, Rosa!" Cecil shouts.
Kain turns in time to see thick ropes of glittering magic twine themselves around Rosa. He starts forward, one hand extended.
"Rosa, no!" Kain relishes the agony in Cecil's voice. Let him know the feeling of the woman more dear than life itself being torn from him. Let him savour it for many years to come, as Kain has done. Let him pay at last, as he has never done before, the cost of the blessings he has been given.
"So, you cherish this woman?" Golbez muses, and Kain wonders at his master's penchant for stating the obvious. "Then I shall take her with me to raise the stakes. Until next time."
Rosa floats behind him, bound securely in chains of magic. Golbez had promised her to him as the reward for his service; unlike Baron, Golbez would honour this contract.
Kain tucks the Crystal into its case, and pauses to kick Cecil in the ribs on his way out. "And you won't be so lucky next time," he says.
The airship ride back to the Tower of Zot is short. When they arrive, Golbez summons Valvalicia with a sharp whistle. She arrives in a whirlwind, her hair trailing behind her in a massive golden cloud.
Golbez runs a hand possessively down her side, and then gestures in Kain's direction. "As promised, you may do as you wish with him," he tells her.
She smiles, baring sharp fangs, and performs an obeisance that might be a curtsy were it not so obscene. "You do me too much honour, my lord," she says.
Golbez enters the tower, bringing Rosa with him. Valvalicia sweeps over to Kain. "Were you a good boy today?" she asks in a simpering voice.
He ignores her, standing still as her hair creeps over his armour, seeking out the gaps to slide within and whisper over his skin as she works her way beneath his tunic. She stands back, her smile as fierce as the northern wind that scours Baron in the winter. "Poor little spear-carrier," she says, "you fail even to bring back the treasure Master Golbez requested. Yet still he rewards you, giving you to me instead of killing you. Why?"
He looks away from the smooth white skin she chooses to wear, fixing his gaze on the pillars that form the entrance to the tower. When first he came here under Golbez's command, she wore a variety of shapes, everything from a whirl of autumn leaves to a golden tornado. Of late she chooses to appear as a blonde woman graced with generous curves, and he wonders if she does it as a parody of the thing he desires most.
"I know why," she continues, laughing, as she steps closer to him and toys at the fastenings of his armour with her claws. Her hair, driven by her magic, wraps itself around other fastenings, unsnapping them and dragging the steel away from his skin so that it clashes to the ground. "Your hesitation brought him a new bargaining chip. Now he has what is dearest in all the world to your precious Dark Knight…and, I think, what is most precious to you."
He curses himself for reacting to that, and sees the cold smile that touches her lips. She strips away his breastplate and runs her claws lightly over his tunic. More armour crashes to the ground. "Didn't you know, Dragon Knight? My eyes are everywhere the wind touches. I am it, and it is me. All those nights you stood on the battlements of Baron Castle, thinking of Rosa and savouring the wind on your skin--did you never realize it was I who so touched you?"
He raises a hand to strike her, and her hair twines firm around his arm, stripping his gauntlets from him, the last layer of steel. Her claws rake down his chest once more, tearing his tunic from his body, and then his trousers. She leaps, pounces on him, and throws him to the ground, her body settling easily over his. Clawed hands grip his wrists and pin them to the ground. Her shape blurs before his eyes, less voluptuous, with narrower and slighter bones. The cascade of blond hair contracts and pales, and her eyes change from the blue of an autumn sky to the gold of good whiskey.
"So you would have this woman, this mage," she says, and even her voice seems lighter, less wild. Kain turns his head away, and curses the fact that his body responds to this as though Rosa is the one who kneels astride his hips. "What is it that she gives you?" Valvalicia shifts her body against his, and he closes his eyes.
"Kain," she says, and gods damn this foul creature, who wears this form and this voice, yet he can feel her claws beneath her skin and see the fangs in her mouth. She moves, and he pulls his arms free of her grip. He means to shove her away, but she is looking at him from Rosa's eyes and Rosa's face, and instead he grips her hair and pulls her down to kiss him.
He ignores the sharpness of her fangs, the sting of her claws as she rakes them over his skin. She is Rosa, and she is not; never could he treat Rosa so roughly as this, and yet some distant part of his mind longs to have her just thus, frantic and rushed and sharp at the edges. He is bleeding when they are done, and he flings Valvalicia from him and hears her laughter.
"You would have her as you have had me," she says, "and yet you call yourself a knight." She rises, in her accustomed form once more. "You call me the monster, and what have you just done?"
"Be silent," Kain says, staring at the sides of the Tower of Zot.
She laughs. "And when you tire of wanting her and never possessing, again you will come to me, until at length you admit it is my savagery you desire, and not her sweetness. Is it not so?"
"Be silent!" Kain shouts, and she laughs as her whirlwind carries her away.
He rises slowly and gathers the pieces of his armour. In his mind's eye, he can see Rosa's sorrow and disappointment in him. His hands close into fists, and he grips the armour until the edges of the steel leave imprints in his palms. He is not worthy of her; he has just proven it again, as though more evidence could be needed.
He returns to his rooms, hearing Valvalicia's laughter echoing from every corner.