A shadow slithered in the direction of the Palamecia Desert.
The shadow was feared among the population of the world, and for good reason; The shadow belonged to the vessel of death that was the Dreadnaught, the largest airship in the world. The sound of its propellers were the only hint towards its arrival, as the shadow that heralded it usually meant that you were too late.
But, that was during its bombing run. Now, it instead roared its way back to Palamecia. In time, it would reach its refueling station to resupply before setting off again to enforce the empire’s will.
As the great warship flew across the desert, The Emperor smirked from his position on the balcony of Castle Palamecia.
“You should feel proud. It is not often that there is one worthy of standing in my presence.”
The Emperor’s words did nothing to quell the red hot fury boiling within Leon. In fact, judging by the Emperor’s amused eyes, it seemed like this was the reaction that he had wanted. “You have proven yourself to be one stubborn insect.”
Leon growled. No words could sufficiently express the contempt he felt for the man before him.
“And a rather foolish one as well. Not only do you turn back and choose to fight a hopeless battle, but you kept fighting even as it became clear your cause was lost.” The Emperor’s eyes pierced Leon’s gaze. “Those people you were with. They were your family, no?”
The possibility had crossed Leon’s mind. The possibility that had been bolstered by the image burned into his brain, the image of his siblings lying dead on the road as he was carried off. For once, Leon cursed his stubbornness; He can’t even die simply.
And now here he was, in front of the Emperor himself. He knew that taking a single step forward would result in his swift and immediate demise. Still, vengeance howled within him.
“A shame. They did not have the strength that you clearly possess.” The Emperor said, his voice dripping with mock sympathy.
“So, is this it? Are you just going to kill me?” Leon said through gritted teeth.
“And waste such potential? On the contrary, I have an offer for you.”
Leon couldn’t breathe. Was this a sick joke? A dying nightmare as he lay next to his siblings in a pool of his own blood? Surely this was a trick. A last twist of the knife. The Emperor couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to-
“How would you like a taste of power?”
“Welcome back. I can see that the Dreadnought was finished on schedule. This calls for commendation.”
The Emperor sat on a rather extravagant throne. Such indulgences were common at the higher levels of the empire, but the Emperor himself still made all others seem downright modest. With his head resting in his hand, he stared hungrily at the forces assembled before him.
The Dark Knight’s serious expression did not change at all. General Borghen, on the other hand, was giddy. The Emperor seemed to notice, as he used his free hand to beckon to the former count.
“General Borghen. Step forward.”
Borghen gobbled that annoying laugh of his before strutting forward, puffing out his chest to emphasize the badges he had.
“It is an honor, your majesty! Anything for the Palamecian Empire!” He said, bowing.
Borghen had never been respected in the empire and now was no exception. In fact, not one soldier clapped or so much made any sounds of approval. The Emperor himself looked positively bored with Borghen’s words.
“An honor, is it?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Strange. I had heard otherwise in the report.” The Emperor said.
“Eheh…I assure you that whatever that report says is nothing but slander!” Borghen said, insistence creeping into his voice.
“Really? What the report told me was that progress for the Dreadnaught’s construction slowed down immensely once you were put in charge. Not only that, but there was a spy in your midst who allowed rebels to enter the sewers leading to the Dreadnaught.” The Emperor’s eyes narrowed. “Had it not been for the Dark Knight, the Dreadnaught might very well have been compromised.”
“What?! Y-your highness, that is merely falsehoods, no doubt the brat trying to make himself look good!” Borghen blustered. “I assure you, I was the one who got the Dreadnaught ready and able! It would not have been finished without me!”
“Is that so? I shall need more than your word for it.” The Emperor turned his attention to the procession before him. “Would any of you like to vouch for Borghen’s competency?”
Silence dominated the room. Not a single soul felt the need to step up for Borghen. On the contrary the body language and looks of some of the soldiers suggested that they were thrilled at the thought of being rid of Borghen permanently.
The General grew pale at the silence.
“You…you… All of you…” The man began to fume and he exploded in rage. “You are just jealous! All of you desire my glory for yourselves! You’re cheating me! You’re making me look foolish! Why I oughta-!”
Borghen stopped mid-rant. He turned nervously back to the Emperor, who no longer looked amused.
“If you truly are as competent as you claim, then you will perform this task for me. We suspect that the rebels will go after the one thing that can destroy the Dreadnaught: The Sunfire. The Kashuan royal Gordon is already in the keep, but we have little reason to believe that he will be a nuisance. That still leaves the only other way into the Keep, however: The Goddess’ Bell.” The Emperor pointed his scepter at Borghen. “You are to go there and ensure that the rebels do not get the bell. Is that clear?”
Borghen opened his mouth to argue before wisely thinking the better of it. He waddled out of the throne room, but not before shooting the Dark Knight a dirty look on his way out.
With Borghen out of the way, the mood became ever so slightly lighter. The Emperor turned his attention to the Dark Knight.
“It would seem our new commander is making quite the name for himself.” The Emperor noticed with amused eyes. “Let this be a lesson to all of you: Palamecia is an empire of strength. The stronger you prove yourself to be, the sweeter your eventual reward shall be. As long as you follow this law, you shall thrive in Palamecia.” The Emperor stared directly at the Dark Knight. “Is that not right?”
The Dark Knight gave a stoic nod.
Leon was currently sitting on a bed in Castle Fynn.
It was a fine bed. Much nicer than the ones he and Maria had growing up. Their family was not poor growing up, but it still could not compare to what royalty had on a day-to-day basis.
Leon only recognized this idly, however. Instead, he was much more occupied with the Emperor’s offer. It was surreal. Leon would’ve taken it for an insult had the Emperor not made his interest clear. Leon wondered what Firion, Maria and Guy would’ve done.
Guy probably would not have fully grasped what was being asked, but still refused.
Firion would’ve remained defiant.
Maria, dear sweet Maria, would probably have fired an arrow at the Emperor.
In all three cases, not much changed; They would still be executed. Nothing would change about the fact that the Empire had taken control of Fynn. Nothing could help Deist and Kashuan whom, judging by the way the soldiers talked, had already been done away with. Nothing would stop the rebellion, as rumored, from being stamped out in due time. It would just be a pointless, final act of spite.
The dawning realization of his situation caused Leonhart to snap. Screaming, he began smashing his fist against a wall. He did not care for the pain he felt; He just needed to let loose his wrath upon something. Leon cursed the Emperor for taking everything away from him. Leon cursed the nations of the world for allowing Palamecia to grind them under its heel. Leon cursed the very legions of Hell that the Emperor had aligned himself with and who were now running roughshod upon the entire world.
Most of all, however, Leon cursed his siblings and even himself. He cursed their naivety before everything fell down; Their flights of fantasy where they imagined themselves singlehanded defeating the Empire and saving the world. He cursed Firion, Maria and Guy for selfishly dying, leaving him alone and hopeless. He cursed himself for being so damned weak; Leon’s shame quickly escalated beyond his distress at failing to protect his siblings until the entire invasion of Fynn was somehow his fault for being so helpless, as far as he was concerned.
Then, the Emperor’s words echoed in his mind.
“ How would you like to gain power? ”
Those words were the lifeline that Leon’s collapsing sanity clung on to. All of these bad things happened to Leon because he was powerless. Leon, on some level, had always sought power, but it was power for the sake of others. It was the idea of protecting others who needed protecting that he thought gave him strength. But now, he knew better; the people who needed protection deserved to be oppressed. If Fynn, Kashuan, Deist, the lot of them surrendered, they would not be destroyed or captured. If Leon and his family had simply surrendered to the Empire, then Maria, Firion, Guy and perhaps even their parents would still be alive.
Leon looked at his bloodied hand. If the Emperor wished to grant him power, then so be it. Leon would gain power and, in turn, gain the freedom to do whatever he had wanted. With that power, Leon could show them all how the world works. And perhaps, someday, he could even repay that bastard by showing him that he, the Emperor himself, was truly powerless for all of his boasting.
Leon stood up and walked over to the door. Then, he shouted:
“Tell the Emperor that I have made my decision.”
“What a shame.” The Emperor said a bit too nonchalantly. The Dark Knight’s throat hitched a little. The Dreadnaught had been the Empire’s primary means of assaulting other countries. A single bombing run alone caused scores of deaths and the rebellion would likely not survive another one.
And yet, the Emperor took the news as calmly as if he had been told that it would be raining on a day that he wanted to take a stroll outside. As is, the Emperor remained slouched over on his throne, calm as ever. The Dark Knight would not pretend that he was the more invested one than the Emperor-the Dreadnaught was overseen by him after all, but he could not help but find it a tad suspicious.
The Emperor seemed to pick up on his concerns. With a smirk, he continued speaking.
“It is clear that the rebels have a few annoying gnats that continue to be a nuisance. Fortunately, we still have the rebels' leader; I think it will be quite soon that they discover what exactly is wrong with their princess. Even if they escape my wrath then, I have just the bait to manipulate them as I wish.” The Emperor chuckled to himself. “It has been a while since I visited the Coliseum. Perhaps I shall allow myself a show. What do you say?”
The Emperor turned to look at the Dark Knight. The Knight immediately knew it was a feint; The Emperor knew by now who the rebels that were constantly proving a nuisance to the Empire were. He was trying to gauge the Dark Knight’s reaction. Twice now, the Dark Knight had run into those rebels and twice now, he failed to so much as engage them. If one didn’t know any better, it was almost as if he did not want to fight them.
If the Emperor wanted to see hesitation, then he would be disappointed.
“I think that is a fine idea, sir.” The Dark Knight replied.
“Truly. After the Dreadnaught’s destruction, you must be excited at the thought of watching the demise of those rebels.”
The Dark Knight met the Emperor’s eyes.
“I am looking forward to it, sir.”
As the Dreadnaught skulked its way towards Poft, Leon was deep in thought. The Dreadnaught’s flight path took it to three of the remaining most populous towns: Poft, Paloom and Altair, before landing at a fueling station in Palamecia.
The casualties would be heavy.
Just a week ago, Leon would not have even dreamed of being in such a situation. The idea that he would carry out such a destructive plan would have said more about the person suggesting it than of Leon himself.
As the airship began its approach, Leon knew that, if he went through with this, there could be no going back. No amount of good intentions or perspective warping could justify this. By doing this, Leon was committing himself to his newfound goals of seizing power for himself. He cannot turn back.
The Dreadnaught had arrived.
For a moment, Leon allowed himself to imagine the populace below. The men, women and children that were going about their daily lives. No doubt they had heard of the demonic invasion led by Palamecia, but things were still calm. Nothing would be out of the ordinary until they heard the ominous sound of rotors, much too loud to be those of that other airship. Then, they would notice the land around them going dark. And by the time they looked up and realized what was-
Leon gave the order to open fire.
Poft was bombarded with explosives, loud booms echoing for miles. The city was consumed by flashes of light and blasts of heat. The Dark Knight watched all of this with an unreadable expression. By the time it ended, the town was still standing, but just barely.
The Dreadnaught picked up speed as it hurried to Paloom. Leon smothered the horror and shame of his actions underneath his still searing fury.
The Emperor is dead. Slain by the rebellion.
Weeks ago, Leon would have been ecstatic. Who wouldn’t? After all, Palamecia had cemented itself as a brutal and destructive nation at this point. Few would mourn the country and especially its ruler.
Now, Leon is ecstatic, but for far different reasons. The Emperor’s demise confirmed Leon’s suspicions; The Emperor was nothing more than a weakling, hiding behind others to do his dirty work. Palamecia is a nation of power; Therefore, the only one fit to rule it is Leon himself.
Leon, the Dark Knight, sits on his throne in the heart of Castle Palamecia. He knows the rebellion will try to stop him and he knows exactly who they will send. It will be a very tough battle, but one that will pay off in the end; The only way into Castle Palamecia was via an airship, only one of which existed in the world. Whoever they send, it will merely be a matter of slaughtering them and he will become unreachable.
Of course, there is another reason as well. This battle was fated; While Leon tried to dodge the matter for so long, no longer will he be able to put it off.
He must face his family. Only after they have been defeated can he truly unshackle himself from his doubts.
Still, Leon remains confident. His love for his sister and his brothers is a dim candle, ready to be snuffed out. They have not forsaken everything like he had. They have not felt trauma like he had. Everything that he has done and everything that has been done to him has prepared him for this moment. The bonds that they cherished, most particularly with Leon himself, will weaken them. All he needs to do is kill the Dragoon and the battle will have already been won.
Firion will not fight with his full strength.
Maria will miss every shot.
Guy will hesitate to drop his axe.
And all three will pay dearly for continuing to consider Leon their brother.
And so, Leon waits in the throne room until his visitors arrive. And when they do, so too will his destiny.