Descending into the prison block near the gallows felt like descending into the depths of the underworld itself. Celena drew her cloak more tightly around herself, not as much for the warmth but for the feeling of it. The air smelled thick, dark, and musty, like it had soaked in the rage and despair of centuries of prisoners until it positively reeked of them.
The prison itself was a relic of an earlier dynasty, one whose last king was known for excessive cruelty. It remained only for use for Enemies of the State, not the normal criminals caught in Palas every day. There were said to be all kinds of horrific instruments entombed deep below Celena's feet, ones that no one wanted to go looking for, even to reclaim the metal.
The guard guiding her was silent, save for his footfalls against the stone floors. When this place stood unused, it was only looked after by the caretakers of the palace, who could probably patrol the final battlefield on the apocalypse. The guard, on the other hand, was a Asturian soldier who looked as if he would have rather faced down an army of vengeful Draconians than be in this place. Celena could share the sentiment.
But, she had to be here. It was the only way to be sure.
The guard stopped, facing an unmarked cell door, one of several in the row. "Here?" Celena asked.
She heard movement within, as the prisoner had obviously heard them coming, but was not yet speaking. Celena waited for a while, determined to not be the first one to break the staring contest. Finally, she spoke -- just to get it over with. "I know you know I'm there."
"And maybe I don't have anything worth saying to you, /Lady Schezar/." He said her name like an insult. The guard stepped back. Of course he must have heard the rumors. There was a polite fiction that the Crown had repeated on the matter, but in the circles of the nobility and soldiers, the rumors flew. Different to hear it for himself, though.
Two voices, one harsher, and a bit lower, just enough to sound more masculine than feminine, but otherwise sounding like echos of one another. A dispassionate part of Celena's mind noted how different it sounded from the outside. "Why did you come, anyway?" he continued. "Slumming, or just going to taunt your dirty little secret?"
She wasn't going to tell him her reasons; they would just be turned back against her. Better than being trapped in a nightmare, aware enough to see, but not enough to affect anything that was happening. But not by much.
Dilandau took her silence as an answer. "Fine. See if I care. You're having me killed just so this damn country can pretend that one of its own didn't help Zaibach blow it half to Hell."
"You aren't me," Celena spoke. "I think we've proven that."
"Aren't I?" She could hear the manic tone creep into his voice, and couldn't help but shy away from the door. Too much destruction had been wrought by that mania. "I was created from you, Lady Schezar. I'm every nasty thought a good little girl shouldn't have. The damn sorcerers of Zaibach might have given me a voice, but I was still there, long before you left your beloved Asturia. Your brother knew that-"
"Don't you dare talk about my brother," Celena said in a low growl, taking a step towards the door.
"Why do you think he called out to you in battle? He knew that Celena would hear him, even through Dilandau. He probably even knew that not even his precious sentiment could keep me down forever." She could hear the smirk in his voice, the amused chuckle at the end of his words, and she desperately wanted to smack it out of him. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the guard moving towards the cell door, as if to stop her should she try to throw it open in a rage.
Celena took a couple of breaths. Damn it, he's a condemned man. One more day and I'll be rid of him forever. I shouldn't let him rile me like that.
"Whatever happened to Sir Allen Schezar, by the way?" Dilandau wondered aloud. "I'd think he'd be around to gloat too. Then again, he never liked seeing his own dirty laundry. You hated that about him, the way he'd pretend that the years since you were kidnapped never happened."
"My brother gave everything for me," Celena said coldly. "You are not fit to let his name pass his lips."
"Everything?" He laughed, a crazed sound that caused the guard to eye the door with one hand on his weapon. "No wonder you're so angry at me, Celena Schezar. To think that you killed-"
"This visit is over," Celena said abruptly. "Please, show me out."
"You don't think you can just kill me, do you?" Dilandau called to her back as she walked out. "I'm as much of you as that damn mask you wear. Come back and face me, you coward, and let that damn mask down! You think you can kill me this easily? I'm a fucking part of you!"
Asturia didn't have public executions, and the family servants didn't see why she needed to rise in the pre-dawn chill to attend this one. Most of the rest of the people there were on duty -- guards, a clerk, the executioner standing by. She caught a glimpse of red, and took pains to avoid the King of Fanelia. Someone else had seen the need to see their demons put to rest, though Van's were a bit more external than hers. It was still pain to face him, even after all these years. She grasped the locket around her neck more closely.
As the morning sun touched the horizon, the prisoner was lead out of the cell and onto the gallows, heavily chained and guarded. Dilandau looked thinner than she remembered, a soldier's lithe muscle having atrophied in the cell. Perhaps it was only seeing him outside of both his body and his own massive ego. He still looked cocky -- whether he thought the ghosts of Zaibach would come and rescue him, or if he was just too crazy to grasp that he was well and truly going to die on this autumn morning, Celena couldn't tell.
The clerk started reading out the charges -- crimes well beyond the normal call of war. Celena tried to keep a straight gaze, looking either at the clerk, or Dilandau, but she found her gaze dropping to her locket.
She remembered the few peaceful times she and her brother had had after the war, before her fits of temper started bringing out the monster they thought buried on that final battlefield. She remembered Allen -- no natural scholar -- digging through their father's journal and every captured Zaibach archive, learning the forbidden Zaibach sorcery to try to save her. The King and Queen had looked the other way as long as Allen had kept the secret of what he was trying to do, but the threat of arrest and execution for studying such things hung over his head as he grew more and more desperate. Finally, there had been the wild ride to the ruins of Zaibach's capital in the Crusade, with only his men as guards, to salvage what remained of Dornkirk's Fate Alteration Devices to complete what had to be done.
And, when even the Queen was afraid to talk to her, lest one wrong word bring out Dilandau, he would spend an hour every day making sure she wasn't lonely or scared, even if it was just playing chess with her and talking about the weather. Her last memory of him had been of him holding her hand as he began, telling her to not be afraid. That he would fix this, and she would live happily ever after. She didn't think he had known what was going to happen, or he would have had Gaddes and the others closer, his warnings to the contrary.
She kept her eyes down until the clerk had finished and then raised her eyes to Dilandau, trying not to look away, until the execution was over and the body was removed for whatever disposal awaited war criminals. Only then did she open her locket, exposing the lock of blond hair inside to the light, bright in the morning air against the black wool of her bodice. "It's done, Brother," she whispered.
This is one of the few stories I've had where I'm lying down drifting off to sleep when suddenly a character grabs me by the metaphorical collar and starts talking to me, and then I have to get up and scrawl a couple of paragraphs into Text before I can get some rest. For some reason, most of them involve Celena Shezar.
Other than that, this was simmering for a while. Mostly because little of the fic that explicably/inexplicably resurrects Dilandau post-series ever deals with the fact that there are a bunch of countries that won't be very happy with him.
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