Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 4

Like Ashes

by lassarina 0 reviews

Kain remembers better days.

Category: Final Fantasy 4 - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst - Characters: Golbez, Kain - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2006-11-07 - Updated: 2006-11-08 - 2276 words - Complete

Mount Ordeals was normally a peaceful place, quiet and reflective. That was precisely why Kain had come: he felt the need for peaceful contemplation. This morning, however, the silence was shattered by the clop-clop of hooves on stone, and the bright, piping chatter of children.

He leaned back against the sheer stone walls of KluYa's sanctuary, his spear propped beside him, and watched the bridge that led from the other side of the mountain peak. He was surprised that children had managed to come high enough on the mountain for him to hear them. After all, few had the stones to attempt the Paladin's trial, and fewer still survived the climb to the summit to challenge KluYa. The broken, rotting bodies of failed seekers littered the lower slopes of the mountain, feeding (and often joining) a host of undead creatures.

At last a mule's head came into view, soon accompanied by the rest of the animal. Kain scowled. The mule was being led by a pair of six-year-olds, one girl and one boy. They were brown-haired and clad in the green-and-red robes of Mysidian apprentice wizards.

The mule stopped short at the edge of the bridge, and would go no farther. The girl petted it, speaking in a quiet, encouraging tone that raised faint echoes from the stone slopes. The mule flicked its ears a few times, then cautiously lifted one foot and set it on the bridge. At this point the boy seemed to lose patience; lightning flashed and the mule screamed, sprinting forward across the bridge with the boy shouting and running after it. Kain was debating whether he should step forward and stop the creature when gouts of fire exploded a few feet in front of the mule, which skidded to a halt.

"Palom!" The girl raced up and whacked the boy solidly across the head. "I was doing fine with it!"

"You're too slow." Palom sneered at her, then flicked an impudent salute in Kain's direction. "I'm Palom, the genius prodigy of Mysidia!"

The girl glared at him and made a sound not unlike steam escaping a teakettle. When he merely smirked, she sighed and made a very pretty curtsy to Kain. "Greetings, Captain Highwind. My name is Porom, and I hope you will forgive my brother his outburst. We come from Mysidia. Our Elder sent us with supplies for you, as winter is coming on and there will be less available for you to forage. We also brought some letters that the Elder was holding in care for you."

Kain raised an eyebrow. "Your Elder let two children go running about Mount Ordeals by themselves?" His voice sounded strange to his own ears, accustomed as he was to silence.

"Hey!" Palom objected. "I'm the greatest black mage in the world!"

Kain thought of Rydia calling down Meteor upon their foes, her face a study in concentration as a magical wind whipped her green hair and robes about her, and smiled faintly. "I rather doubt that, as I've met her," he replied.

Porom kicked Palom's ankle. "We are apprentice mages, sir. Between my white magic and Palom's love of Fire spells, we were safe enough."

"I see." Kain studied them for a moment. "Thank you for the supplies."

Porom smiled, a sweet and serious expression that reminded him of Rosa. "The Elder also wished us to tell you that if the mountain should become too inhospitable, there are rooms in the Tower of Wishes where you may stay and meditate if you choose."

"Why would you want to sit and think for hours on end?" Palom demanded. "That's no fun!"

Kain smothered a laugh, remembering Cecil as a child that age, with too much energy and mischief for King Odin's army of governesses, tutors, and nursemaids to control. The thought of his near-brother and the white mage brought a pang to his heart that he ignored with the determination of long years' practice.

Porom tripped her brother as he ran whooping about the plateau of the summit, sending him sprawling with curses no six-year-old ought to utter. With a small "hmph" of satisfaction, she turned to the mule, stretching high on tiptoes to unfasten the buckles of the harness that held the sacks of supplies to the mule. Kain stepped forward to help her, hauling the large sacks off and stacking them against the wall of KluYa's sanctuary. When they were done, she offered another polite curtsy. "Fare well, Captain Highwind, and blessings of the Moon upon you."

"Thank you, Porom." The motions of a courtly bow, once so instinctive, felt awkward now. "Safe journey back to Mysidia."

She smiled and took up the mule's lead rope again, leading it toward the bridge. Kain watched her coax the mule across the bridge, Palom trailing behind. They quickly disappeared from his sight, and the echoes of their voices faded not long after.

Kain turned to the sacks of supplies the children had bought and set about storing them. The Elder had sent a sizeable amount of basic supplies, things that would keep for months provided he kept them dry. The last, smallest sack had a packet of letters resting on top. Kain pulled them out and flipped through them. There were seven addressed in Rosa's flowing, delicate script, one in Cid's hurried scrawl, and four in Cecil's slanting, angular handwriting. He opened Cid's first, unwilling to face Cecil's questions about when he would return or Rosa's quiet disappointment.


I hope you're enjoying freezing your ass off on that damn mountain. Baron's not the same without you. Whatever it is you're looking for up there, you'd better find it fast. Your being gone is upsetting Rosa, and you know I won't stand for that. If you're not back here by spring, I'm coming to get you! My new ship can land almost anywhere, including that mountaintop, so don't think hiding up there will save you.


Kain folded the letter and set it aside. Of course Cecil and Rosa would want him to return. They were so good, so forgiving, and they couldn't see that their forgiveness drove him away. He didn't deserve their acceptance. No king should permit a traitor to be anywhere near him.

He set the other letters aside to read later; he had sufficient guilt and self-recrimination weighing upon him without facing Cecil and Rosa as well, if only through the written word. Instead, he investigated the contents of the last sack. It contained fresh fruits, some of which were native to this area and some of which appeared to be imported. The Elder had sent a small sack of plums, and another of the sweet pink-skinned apples that Baron exported. Kain smiled a little to see them, thinking of long autumn afternoons spent in the castle orchards with Cecil and Rosa, devouring apples and chasing each other among the fruit trees.

At the very bottom of the sack was a lumpy, oblong package wrapped in burlap. Kain pulled it out and unwrapped it to discover a small bunch of bananas. They weren't quite ripe, with a tinge of green still at the corners, but they smelled like he remembered from his childhood. Once a month, King Odin had always made time in his schedule to take Cecil and Kain down to the wharves where the trade ships unloaded. Cecil was easily bored with the imports themselves and preferred to watch the men moving boxes about or investigate the sources of the occasional dockyard brawl, but Kain had loved shadowing the King as he moved about the docks.

He first encountered bananas on a warm, breezy spring day when he was eight years old. Cecil had come down with a cold and was ordered to rest, so it was just him and the King making the trip down to the wharves. There were vendors everywhere hawking wares from Eblan, Agart, Toroia, and Mysidia, a cacophony of shouts and scents and colours. He trotted along after the King, swiveling his head to take in as much as possible. When he saw the bright yellow fruits in a vendor's stall, he paused and tugged at the King's sleeve.

"Well, and what caught your eye this time, my lad?" Odin asked, turning toward the stall. He raised an eyebrow and stepped up to speak with the vendor. "What are these?" he inquired.

The vendor bowed deeply. "They are bananas, Your Majesty. A sweet and tasty fruit. They grow in the tropics. Would Your Majesty like to sample one?"

"Yes, please."

"And one for the young prince as well?" the vendor asked as he stripped the yellow skin away to reveal a pale white fruit.

Kain glanced at the King for permission. Odin chuckled. "Yes, one for him as well."

The vendor handed the banana to the King and then peeled one for Kain. He bit into it and chewed slowly. It was firm and sweet, but in a different way than other fruits he'd had.

"What do you think?" King Odin asked, and Kain swallowed fast so he could answer without mumbling through banana.

"It's delicious!" he managed once he'd gotten his mouth properly cleared.

"We'll have two bunches of them, then," Odin said to the vendor. He winked at Kain. "Do you think we should tell Cecil?"

Kain considered this. He would far rather keep the bananas for himself, but... "That would not be honourable," he said, with some reluctance.

Odin laughed. "No, it would not. And I am proud of you for thinking of that." He ruffled Kain's hair, and Kain grinned. This was definitely the best day ever.

Kain shook himself out of his reverie and examined the fruit in his hand more closely. They weren't quite perfectly ripe, but ripe enough to eat. He pulled one free and peeled it. The first bite reminded him of the afternoons on the docks, and he swore he could almost smell the sea breeze. But under it, a faint acrid tang, as of hot metal. He took another bite, trying to track down the elusive half-remembered scent...

They had been coming out of the Sealed Cave. A hushed and cautious sense of victory surrounded them as they went, certain that they had defeated Golbez's plans by retrieving the Crystal. Rydia and Edge were arguing about appropriate locations for Edge's hands (that did not involve any portion of Rydia's body), while Cecil and Rosa quietly debated where the Crystal would be safest. Kain declined to take part in either conversation. He, Rosa, and Cecil were sharing a handful of dried banana slices, eating quickly as they walked.

It started as a faint buzzing sound in his ears, and a slight blurring of his vision. The sweet slice of fruit turned chalky and bitter in his mouth as they stepped through the doorway leading to the exit. His vision was tinted grey, his muscles strangely slow to obey his commands. Icy shivers rippled down his spine while his skin prickled. Such a good little puppet. That voice, so smooth and dark, welled up out of his nightmares as he found himself once more trapped inside his own mind.

He watched, horrified, as he struck Cecil a backhanded blow. His steel gauntlets broke the skin easily, leaving thin trails of crimson blood across Cecil's pale skin. He ripped the case containing the Crystal from the paladin's grasp, and a laugh that was not his own echoed in the cave.

His body turned toward the exit. His legs moved with sure, confident strides across the rocky, uneven floor of the cave. All the while, the thrumming awareness of Golbez's magic shivered across his nerves. He protested the only way he could, imagining horrible tortures he would inflict on Golbez the moment he got the chance.

Golbez was waiting for him outside the cave, wrapped in his cloak of ever-shifting shadow, his face hidden behind his black leather mask. As Kain approached, Golbez raised his hand and summoned an expanding ball of darkness that swallowed the dragoon and the sorcerer, fading away moments later to reveal the top floor of the Tower of Babel.

Valvalicia must have been waiting for them, for she moved out of the shadows behind Golbez's throne, bringing the crisp scent of a mountain breeze with her. "My master," she murmured, gracing Golbez with the most provocative bow Kain had ever seen.

"Valvalicia." Golbez caressed her cheek. "I have brought your plaything back."

Valvalicia's blue eyes sparkled with delight. "Thank you, Master Golbez," she said, her gaze sweeping over Kain from head to toe.

"Kain." Golbez snapped his fingers, as one might to a favoured hound. "The Crystal."

Kain reluctantly unfastened the case, wishing he could hurl the Crystal to the floor and shatter it, do anything to keep Golbez from getting his hands on it, but the icy film of magic coating his skin kept him obedient. He handed Golbez the Crystal with great care and watched him leave, cradling it as with a fragile newborn child.

Valvalicia chuckled in his ear. "Poor little Dragoon, can't jump high enough to escape." Her scent changed, subtly, the rich green bounty of fields in the summer, and then the cloying sweetness of tropical flowers, and beneath it...the faint scent of bananas. His stomach churned in protest.

She unfastened his armour, cool breezes drifting over him as she set aside the heavy plates of metal, and smiled up at him as phantom airy hands toyed with his hair and tugged at the fastenings of his clothes. "Come fly with me," she hissed, pressing closer to him.

Her kiss tasted like ashes to him.
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