Chapter Four: Two Nations Apart (Part One)

Heavy footsteps followed by unfamiliar sounds of clanks and bangs, almost machinery like, echoed off the stone walls as the small group followed a man completely cloaked in a long black robe. He had been waiting for them patiently in the room the Empire calls, The Gates; a place where all symbols from the ground level meet. I knew the room too well since I often found myself coming and going from there, giving and receiving orders straight from the Emperor himself; missions that I no longer care to repeat ever again.

Kyle fidgeted with his armor nervously, it was clear that his ability to remain silent was faltering and if it wasn't for Merlie nudging him from time to time, giving him her furious glare, he'd probably would've broke by now. Even Leanah and Welferd appeared nervous, and who wouldn't be? The Empire had always had that effect on people, even by their own civilians. The dark and sinister atmosphere had always been unwelcoming while dark hidden secrets remain unspoken behind sorrowful faces of the people who live here. Even I hold secrets that could turn the world upside down. However, I was unable to speak or utter a single word of what takes place behind the nation that is known to be shrouded in mystery.

"Well well, look who's decided to return…" A soft whisper brushed against my ear. I could almost feel their lips as I spun around to face them, finding no one but an empty corridor.

I stood silently, my eyes narrowing almost to slits as the footsteps of my company continued onward, not noticing that I was no longer among them. My hand reached behind me without me realizing it, gently wrapping around the hilt of my sword. I didn't need to see the owner of the whisper to know who it was for I knew them well, and the games they loved to play, but I was in no playing mood.

"Show yourself Bel…" I demanded while placing a foot behind me, taking a defensive stance. There was no telling what Bel was scheming, the child-like girl never acted her age, and the one thing she loved to do to keep herself entertained was to play with the emotions of others; a twisted being that had no soul.

Her mischievous laughter swirled in every direction as if it were riding on the wind. The grip on my sword tightened as the tiny figure stepped out from among the dark shadows, her jet black navy blue streaked hair falling to the front of her face, hiding her dark crimson eyes. "You were never any fun little Daren…" She pouted while approaching. I gave her a glare of warning to not get any closer, my sword slowly unsheathing, revealing part of the cold steel blade.

Bel took note of this and stopped several feet away, a playful smirk forming as she flipped her hair behind her. "Just as serious as ever aren't you? That's too bad, I fingered you'd lighten up a bit being outside the Empire."

"What do you want Bel? I don't have time to stand here and chit chat."

Bel frowned with disappointment, her eyes glazing over with forceful tears. She never was good at crying, or even faking it. She probably has never cried in her entire life for that matter.

"How can you be so mean little Daren? I've missed you, even father misses-"

"He's not our father," I cut her off in an angry tone. "And you should stop calling him that. We're not brothers and sisters, we not a family…" I couldn't help but choke at the last part even though my words were true.

Bel let out a sigh; her child-like figure half in shadow. "He won't stop till he gets you back, you know this, right?"

"I know," I began, my tension easing a little. "But I'm no longer part of his 'so called family' anymore. He may have taken my brother, but he'll never have me. I'll die before I allow that to happen…"

"Oh?" Bel questioned, her gaze locking to mine for several agonizing minutes. "And what if you can't escape your destiny? What then little Daren? You are the same as us, what would the Kingdom of Asthyfra think if they were ever to find out what you really are?"

"Shut up… I'm nothing like any of you…"

"Oh but you are, and you know it's true! That's why you fled to that backwashed kingdom. You weren't escaping the Empire, no, you were escaping yourself!"

"I said shut up!" Drawing my sword, I held it within inches of her neck, the monster within me stirring once more as it took everything I had to suppress it. I wanted to cut her down right then and there, to end her miserable existence forever… so why? Why was I hesitating?

Bel smirked deviously, pleased with my reaction. "Do it." She hissed; her eyes widening in excitement.

My heart pounded in my chest, the overwhelming feeling that it could burst any minute forced my hand to tremble, loosening the grip on my blade. Bel took this slight weakness to her advantage. With speed not known to any man outside the Empire, she flashed as if she were a ghost and within a blink of an eye she was directly in front of me, her arms tightly wrapped around my neck and her chest pressed firmly against mine. Our heartbeats bounced off each other in a hastened rhythm and I could do nothing to move away from her.

"You've always thought of me as the walking dead, a soulless creature with no heat, yet my heart beats just as loudly as yours..."

The inner voice inside me began screaming, push her away! Finish what you've started! But yet, I was completely paralyzed. My sword fell from my weakened hand, the clashing sound as it fell to the floor far from my ears.

"You are one of us," Bel began, her lips pressing up against my ear, her body tensing as she held me tighter. "Rather you want to believe it or not, you will always be one of us, remember that." And with that she was gone, leaving me to slump to me knees because until then, it was her who had kept me on my feet.

For the longest time the only sounds were my heavy breathing. I wanted to run, to leave this place and go to where no one could ever find me, but what Bel said was true. As much as I didn't want to admit it, it was true. The one called Father would find me… there was no escape… none.

"What are you doing Daren? This isn't the time to catnap you know!"

Lifting my head, I slightly turned it to look over my shoulder. Kyle stood beside me, his expression a bit confused. "Forgive me… I felt light headed and needed to rest."

"Well you could've said something you know. If it wasn't for Welferd noticing you were missing and sending me to fetch you, we would've left you completely behind."

Taking hold of my sword and using it as a brace, I forced myself back onto my feet, my entire body seemily throbbing like a toothache.

"Are you going to be alright? I know you never wanted to come back here, but-"

"I'll be fine. Let's meet up with the others."

Kyle nodded in understanding, but I could see the questions he wanted to ask written all over his face. Since becoming a Guard of the Asthyfra Kingdom, I've always kept my past locked under key deep within me, and even though the Queen herself was curious about what lies within, nor her or anyone else ever pressed the matter. They accepted it and allowed me into their lives without question, but… how much longer can I keep my secret a secret before they do force me to speak about it? The very thought of it scared me and even Bel's words of what they would think frightened me even more. What would they think of me then? Would they still look at me as they do now? Or will they only see the monster the Empire created?

Closing my eyes I kept moving forward, the words I once said long ago returning to me, my tone just as dark and sinister as Bel's. I remember it clearly now as I did then. My sword resting against the neck of the one I called my best friend, his eyes pleading with mine as I glared down at him, answering his question before ending his breath forever…

"And what if I am just a monster? Better that than nothing at all…"