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Beneath the Mask

by SpacemanSpiff

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The room was dead, a mechanical chamber filled with thick shadows crawling up every wall and corner. The chains wrapped around her wrists dug just enough to scratch her soul, rending the spirit that had once been so lively that it would've seemed unbridled; a bird taking flight never to come down again. With a horrendous crash she had fallen from the sky, falling into bondage underneath a storm of darkness that had clipped her wings swiftly and without remorse. There were few things in the world as cold as the sting that pierced her skin like this, like needles and daggers, mercilessly feasting on whatever feeling she had left. To move would mean to only force it deeper into her heart, to tear another piece of it away and leave it on the floor to mock her pain, to mock her crushed spirit.

Sounds broke through metal walls, an enigmatic mixture at first, abstruse to her worn senses, her battered self. Though she couldn't be absolutely sure, she thought the noises were getting closer, making their way directly to her. Her mind found so many things that it could've possibly been, and not a single one of them brought out any kind of hope or joy in her. She felt as though she had been killed inside and was simply waiting for the angel of death to take the rest of her with it. Perhaps that's who was coming for her, the executioner finally making it's stop at her door to save her from this hell.

Closer the sounds came to the adamant door that separated her from anything and everything, even her life which seemed farther from her than she thought possible. Now they found her ears a little more coherent, the obvious tap of steel boots to the equivalent face of the floor. She could tell someone was definitely coming for her as she listened to each step land closer and closer. When the steps finally stopped just outside the door, the air in her lungs fell heavy in her stomach, anchoring her last breath as the sound of a key breaking the seal between them shot across the room. Slowly the threshold of light stormed into the chamber, the shadows running for their lives to find some corner to escape to. Being trapped in so much darkness made the intrusion a crippling experience for her unwary eyes.

A solitary shadow stood in the doorway, unrecognizable at first as her vision tried valiantly to make the new light bearable to her eyes. As the blurs became objects, the scribbles becoming words and the grey becoming colors, she started to see what had come for her. Though her heart cried out for Cecil, she only saw a man she had once known, draped in oceanic armor from head to toe; a human dragon.

"Kain," she cried hoarsely, not entirely sure if he was still playing on the other side of the field, "Are you here to save me?"

"Hardly," he replied coldly, a slight grin on his face as though seeing her chained to the wall was appealing, "Master Golbez wants that you be taken up to the top floor. He is waiting for you."

"Kain! Why can't you see through this?!" she tried desperately to break whatever hold the evil sorcerer had on her friend, "He's using you! Snap out of it!"

"Please Rosa! This can be easy or this can be painful, however you choose it."

Her eyes had finally attuned to the new environment, and the sight she saw nearly broke her completely. The eyes that Kain carried had lost all hope within a veil of evil. The once sparkling blue that had made him so handsome, made him seem so strong, had died altogether, replaced by dense pools of darkness.

"I can't believe this, Kain. How could you?" she sounded as though she had lost her most valued possession, lost something she cared deeply for. She had lost a friend.

"I would think you of all people would understand," Kain spoke, not as harshly as before yet stern enough to grab a distasteful reaction, "You're the reason for all this."

"How dare you say such a thing!" she screamed at him, jumping to her feet as best she could against the restraints that begged for her return to the cold floor, "Free me from these chains and I'll show you how well I understand!"

"Dear sweet Rosa," Kain chuckled a bit at the woman's unrelenting courage in the face of death, "Much like the flower, so beautiful and full of spirit."

The glimmering blue bodied knight took a few steps closer, enough to stare ever so deeply into Rosa's eyes with the coldest depths of darkness seeping from his own. What he saw in her was fear beyond anything imaginable; a rabbit trapped in a hole with no way out.

"And yet, take away the water, strip the very thing that brings it life and you have nothing," he forced the words firmly into her ears, "How easy it is to destroy something so magnificent, so pure. It's amazing, isn't it?"

"It's horrid that someone could think like that," she replied to his dead eyes, "The Kain I knew cared more for life than life itself. Where did you go, Kain?"

"I found myself," he answered her with a devilish smile, lips curled like the tips of his horns, "I found where I need to be, where I can do what I need to do. Master Golbez has shown me everything and for the first time in my life I can see clearly."

"That's insane!" she lashed out at him, the chains keeping her hands from leaving a mark on his face, "If you could see clearly then you wouldn't be doing this! You wouldn't have betrayed everyone you know and care for, especially Cecil!"

"Cecil..." for a moment Kain seemed to falter, but a quick swell of anger inside of him pushed it away, "He's just as responsible for this as you are!"

"You know that's not true!" she spat at him, "You can't possibly believe what you're saying, that your closest friend, one you grew up with your whole life, is the reason you answered a call to darkness. He's done more for you than most do for their own kin, and you're going to throw it all away like this?!"

Rosa was so furious that it seemed as though she would rip the chains from the wall and strangle the man before her. To her dismay they held tight to her wrists, the pain shooting up her arms not even phasing her anymore as she stared lividly at Kain's empty face. He stood for a moment as though the words had taken a bit longer to travel the distance to his ears, not a single expression breaking free. He gave no sign that he had even acknowledged her voice, though it pounded the walls so hard that it left a soft ring in the air. Kain's eyes soon found themselves unable to fall on Rosa's face anymore, a small bit of shame dripping from them as he stared at the floor.

"So that's it?" she finally let out, a wave of depression washing over her as though the walls of her spirit had just collapsed on her, "You're going to destroy everything you had, every moment and memory we've all had together. I guess you're right, it's amazing how something so magnificent can be destroyed so easily."

"You have no idea what I've gone through!!" Kain suddenly erupted at the woman in chains before him, a mix of fear and anger spread across his face. Although she was just as cross with him at the moment, she noticed a tear descending his cheek, and she could only feel pity for him. She wanted more than anything just to hold him and tell him that everything would be alright.

"Kain, you know we can get through this," she tried to to soothe his rage with her soft voice in hopes that she could break down some barrier between the man she knew and the man standing before her, "You and me and Cecil, we'll all work through this together. We could never forsake you, we care too much about you. Cecil cares about you more than anything, and he would never do anything to hurt you."

"Your Cecil is dead." Kain quickly struck down Rosa's attempts to break him, pushing her back into weakness as the words sank into her mind. He watched as her face fell into a pit of shock, her mouth wide open yet words were unable to escape it. Her eyes spoke every possible emotion, endless mixes of anger, sadness, and disbelief. Kain seemed to enjoy the reaction as he began to explain, "He was traveling to Baron by sea in hopes to get an airship to rescue you. However, on his way there his ship was attacked by a monster out at sea. There was nothing left after it was over, no survivors. Nothing but the crippled remains of his ship."

Kain continued to watch Rosa's face as it only deepened in woe, a look of someone completely lost drawn ever so dark upon it.

"It only brings me happiness to see what you two had, what I could never have, gone forever," Kain took the knife of agony that currently rested in Rosa's heart and twisted it even more, "So sorry to crush that last bit of hope you had left. I suppose the water has been taken from the flower."

The words beat like drums of death in her ears, beating whatever strength she had left out of her. But one thing about what he said bothered her, and somehow she found the ability to spill the words from her throat.

"What do you mean by 'what we had'?"

"Love, Rosa." he quickly replied with a glare not of anger but of contempt, "Not love as of that shared by kin, but of that shared by a deeper emotion, something I've always wanted to have but could never reach."

"Kain, some people go their entire lives before they find the one they love," Rosa gave what little hope in him she had left as she tried to comfort his aching heart.

"Can't you see what I'm trying to say?!" he nearly yelled at her, "I've already found the one I love..."

Kain had to turn away from her, the look in her eyes too much to bear at that moment. He could feel his heart dropping through his stomach, and he felt it splatter on the floor as he wanted so badly just to pour it out to her.

"But you loved Cecil. As much as I wanted you to be happy, I wanted you to be happy with me," Kain released what he had left of his old self into the room, the one thing he could remember through all the darkness was his love for her, "It felt like stones hitting my chest every time I saw you together. My armor doesn't protect me from the hands of love tearing my heart to pieces, but I was able to hide beneath it. It was my mask to hide behind when I needed to...just as I do now."

Rosa watched Kain as he stood, motionless in the middle of the room, his armor moving slightly in harmony with his erratic breaths. He was weeping inside, yet outside he showed nothing, his face still as blank as when he first walked into the room. Although she could not see it, she could feel it like a stench of evil infecting the air. He wasn't going to change, the man she had once known lost beneath the mask of darkness. She watched him lift a hand to his face, and although he had his back to her she knew he was wiping the tears away. He was releasing whatever hope there was left in saving him, giving in completely to the control of the puppeteer, following the strings of evil that bound him.

"I'll inform Master Golbez that you're ready to see him," Kain finally spoke through an eternity of silence. Without ever looking back at her, he walked out of the chamber, pulling the door shut behind him. Rosa's heart skipped a few beats as he slammed it shut, making sure to lock it. The darkness once again invaded the room, the shadows bravely coming out of hiding to take over. She could only hear the sounds of the key churning metal against metal, assuring her that she had no hope of escape. The steel tap of his boots echoed through and off the walls, stinging her ears as they faded ever so slowly away. In silent darkness she stood, oblivious to everything but the words she would never forget that still screamed in her mind. She had just been torn open and beaten, any and all hope shattered and taken away into the wind. At that very moment, she felt like a flower without water.

Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy IV
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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