The Beast and the hunter meet for the first time. Xaldin-centric.
Author's Note: I wrote this while studying Henry David Thoreau in school, so that might be where all the nature stuff comes from (and some of it is even a direct reference). Written as a Christmas gift for Sister Coyote on Livejournal. Xaldin is a tricky one. The name for the Prince is one I made up, but it is French. Correct me if there is a true name for him.
I would appreciate constructive criticism. Please tell me any way I can improve my writing, especially concerning characterization and dialogue.
He arrived in a forest. The trees were merely shadows in the darkness, but he knew them by the scent of life and growing things. The smell brought back memories: of cool green moss and brown earth, broken twigs and half-hidden tracks in the leaves. Xaldin breathed deeply for a moment (but only just--he had a duty to fulfill). Memories were the only precious things a Nobody could have.
He remembered the many autumn and winter days when he had hiked the steep paths of Radiant Garden's forests, bow and quiver strapped to his back and a knife attached to his belt. He had become familiar with nearly every acre of the forests, and knew which animal life and food sources to expect in each area. From adolescence he had been familiar with the bow, and his hands were calloused from much use. Many days he'd brought home a catch for his family, and later when he had lived alone he ate fresh meat nearly every night. Even when he was in the service of Ansem the Wise, he continued to seek a peaceful retreat to the shelter under the trees.
At twenty he built his own house, with timber from the forests he walked, grasses and mud from the wildlands on the outer perimeter of the Garden, and dwelt there in solitude. His was the heart of a hunter, and even in death the old urges could not be destroyed.
Now he hunted with spears instead of arrows, and the wind was his ally instead of his foe. His prey was also of a different kind; he sought hearts instead of animals, although both were game to him.
He braced his shoulders resolutely and started walking. Now was not the time for reverie; not when there was fresh prey to capture.
Dead leaves crunched beneath his boots; this world was in its autumnal phase. The season of death, when the trees lost their life-essence and slept in a comatose state, bereft of their beauty. It was oddly appropriate. Nobodies would never have another summer in the cold dampness of the Nonexistent World. And yet Xaldin did not miss it; he had made his decision, when he had willingly followed Ienzo into the darkness (And Ansem thought Xehanort was the puppeteer?). He regretted nothing.
In fact, a Nobody had many advantages over a human. Xaldin's senses were sharpened immensely. His eyes could penetrate the darkness like those of a cat. His ears picked up the slightest sound, the smallest rustle of leaves or lightest footsteps. He also had another sense, awareness of living beings and the ability to communicate silently to his comrades. The loss of petty emotions was no huge disappointment.
Soon he encountered a pair of tall iron gates, shut against intruders. But he was a Nobody. He feared no human constraints. Like a winter breeze Xaldin sifted his body through the spaces in the iron bars. His body solidified and he moved forward again.
He crossed a bridge of stone spanning a quiet stream, and passed through a pair of a thick doors. He was standing at the corner of a large courtyard. Moonlight cast a pale glow across the gray stones, illuminating several carved statues, standing motionless. Xaldin glanced with mild interest at the images blunt with age and harsh weather. Of more concern to him was the castle that imposed over the courtyard. It was old and crumbling, an ugly rough thing. It was completely different than the smooth, colorless architecture of his Castle. Xaldin thought he liked the change. One could tell much about a man by his possessions.
He began to stride toward the castle wall, an invisible figure in the dark of the courtyard, as his body cast no shadow (for something that did not exist could not impair light).
Slipping under the cracks between the heavy wooden front doors and the stone foundation was a simple task. The entrance hall was dark and silent. Xaldin tucked back his long braided hair with one hand and with the other raised the hood of his coat. For tonight, his task required mystery, and inspiring fear. To give his prey eyes to look into, a face to remember, would limit his ability. For tonight, he was nobody.
The creature once called Prince Alexandre St. Claire thrust open the doors of his bedchamber, his blood still boiling from an argument with the girl. It was so tiresome, dealing with her--
He stopped. Someone was in his room. Someone was in his room!
"Welcome, Prince." The voice was deep and mocking, with a strange hollow quality, as though the speaker was not entirely there. It seemed to come out of the darkness like a winter draft.
"Who are you?" the Beast exclaimed, clawed hands clenched furiously. "You have no right to be here!" A figure stepped from the shadows. He seemed to be swathed in darkness. The Beast grabbed a candlestick near his hand and lit it with fumbling hands. The light seemed to be swallowed in the stranger's clothing. Only the man's eyes reflected any light; they were deep and blue and something inhuman, like shadows under the trees at midnight. He felt his heart stricken with fear.
"To answer your question, I am called Xaldin." He stood straight with soldier's precision, arms clasped behind him, perfectly at ease. He expressed no amazement at Beast's appearance. This disturbed the Beast more than anything else.
"What do you want?" he growled, ashamed at the blatant fear in his voice.
"What I want is not your concern," the stranger, Xaldin said. "But, for now, I'll accept what you have to give me."
"I will give you nothing!" the Beast snarled, striking out at the dark figure. His claws grabbed at air. There was a burst of sharp, cold laughter behind him. The Beast turned, stumbling, saw Xaldin standing beside his precious rose.
"You will do as I say, Beast." His tone clearly showed he expected no argument. "I know of the girl who stays within this castle."
Belle! His breathing was heavy, enraged. "A village wench. She means nothing to me!"
"Is that so?" said Xaldin, gesturing with a black gloved hand. "Shall I kill her then, since she is no consequence to you?"
"No!" The Beast inhaled deeply, attempting to calm his anger. His fears were answered, then. He did care for the girl. It hardly seemed possible.
"Leave Belle out of this, or I'll kill you."
Xaldin laid his hand over the glass case of the rose, his intention clear. "Then, you had better start listening to me."