You Think You're Stronger

By Athana Soulfire

Single black omen
Rain against the back
Day is ever black.

You think your stronger.

Falling Angels cry
And reaching I could see
but heaven is my graveyard.

You think your stronger.
And your not.

- An excerpt from a song I remember years and YEARS ago- and still can note to this day. If ANYBODY knows what band these lyrics came from- or the title of the song- TELL ME! I can't find it anywhere!

((Set just before the events of LOD.))

It's not that he wasn't tired. On the contrary- he was exhausted. Reactions were slow. Gestures were mindless. A normally able body had been wrung to it's fair strings- drained by thought, no less, and not even action. Even lifting soft, pale eyes seemed an effort. Perhaps as if he was afraid of what he might see. Remember.

But sleep, necessary as it could be, was also impossible. And as the small, ornate clock near his bedside clicked a sharp welcome to the hour of 4 am, he felt himself flinch. A quick, almost mournful recognition of the passage of time. Hadn't it been two a moment ago? and twelve before that? He could have sworn...

But Albert let that flickering debate slide away; unable to hold it, and rather disinterested for the most part. So what if the night came and went this quickly? What did it matter that it was the same for yesterday, and the day before, and then further still. What *could* it matter?

Standing within a small- dim room, and pacing the length of an even smaller oak table, Albert again dismissed the thoughts that drifted amongst his mind. Eyes closed, arms crossed, he'd worn a mental trail into his chamber- walking back and forth along it like some misshapen ghost. Briefly, his eyes might open and flicker to the notations that lay scattered across his desk. A moment- and they would close again.

Time had become, for the most part, an irregular beast that bore two heads. One was a state of person. Something he'd come to know as suffocating and harsh... a form of existence such as now- pacing his room with the limp of weariness. The second would, naturally, come into conflict with the first. Time that demanded action. Time that needed to be swift, cunning, and sharp. Time that was running out; and balancing either was impossible under the circumstances.

Albert stopped; the drum of his boots dying over the floor. Arms still folded, neck bent forwards and brows a line of continuous thought, the young King felt an almost dizzy sensation whirl into his frame. It pleaded sleep- was that it? pleaded rest of a type that seemed far more mental then physical.

"I... need to think." He growled hoarsely into the overwhelming silence- pushing back what urgently implored his reason. He couldn't sleep. He wouldn't sleep. He needed to understand and sort and decide. Grasp the events of the last few days and try to prepare for what lay ahead. This objective alone forced him to turn and raise a hand to the chair that stood idle off to one side. Albert pulled it away from the desk and sat down- back emitting a sharp scream of pain as his frame made the sudden and drastically different transfer in pose. Hours he'd been standing. Walking. Hating things he couldn't understand. One hand reached to his forehead. Elbow propped against the wood beneath it, his eyes took to scanning the papers with renewed anguish.

Heavy losses- spoke the first. Thick, strangled writing.

~Meaning death. Meaning pain. Meaning hurt and despair. Meaning things words leave to hell in the voice of this godawful war. Meaningless at the same time. All of it. This Pointless loss of life I have no power to control.~

The second, what Noish considered to be good news. They'd taken back the 3rd fort with heavy enemy casualties. The handwriting of his minister was somewhat more level now. Cheerful, even?

~But don't you understand? More death. More pain. Now the children in Sandora weep for their fathers. There is not a win. There is not a victor. We play chess with a devil born of our own murderous intentions. We would be called Humanity? We are evil.~

Albert clenched both hands into fists, head bowed into the flickering light of an oil candle that danced lazily upon a slight draft. He turned his gaze- looking to the single open window of his room.

~Why can't I stop it? What good do I serve here- within this castle? Here- waiting for more news of death? Am I king or figurehead? Myth? How can I help? How can I give the answers my people need? The reassurance I do not myself believe in?~

Almost absently, his eyes drifted back to the many letters before him. He noted each signature. Noted each emotion displayed by each separate hand. What was there to see but despair? The occasional more upbeat scrawl Noish managed to produce? On one, a brief comment was slipped into it's end. A heartfelt; "- may Soa be with our Kingdom." No doubt written by a man of the Knighthood.


And Albert felt a flash of wavering anger. As if there was in fact so much- it stumbled in it's sudden rise to a need of violence. It was suppressed, of course, but his teeth clenched with the effort.

"Soa is nothing more then an incompetent bitch..." he muttered- hostile voice gritty over his ears. Soa? Some chose to believe in Soa? The god who was worshiped and held in awe? It's life their life? It- who would *allow* this war? An entity who would oversee such bloodshed? A demon who could not forge an *ounce* of reason into his demented uncle!?

And a flash of motion scattered the items over his desk. Arms shaking as they lowered; quiet shattered as the books and papers tumbled into the darkness of the room. The small clock by his bedside was quickly added to the bout of turmoil as it struck an indifferent 5 am; the chime broken midway in it's violent decent to the floor.

Albert hadn't even realized he'd stalked out onto the balcony until a spurt of light rain painted his face and arms slick with the cold wetness. Ash-blonde hair swept back into the wind even as, with force of habit, he moved to push the strands from his eyes. It shook him slightly- and he was thankful for that... looking down over the city of Bale as his bare hands gripped hard at the railing. No lights. No movement. A night like any other, with the blood red hues of the Moon that Never Set glowering down upon the country.

It was then that Albert felt an arm raise and cover his chest a moment where a touch of electric seemed to flow. The moon gem entered his mind as a fleeting thought, and he turned then; near disgust on his features. His back pressed sharply into the railing even as both arms folded once more. As if cold, disturbed, or perhaps fearful, the king shuddered.

~You hate me, uncle. You carry this war like a play. You kill us both, and you laugh. You kill our people, and you smile. You force me to do the same.~

Albert slipped helplessly to his knees as a surge of weakness overcame him.

~Why? And why can no one answer me? And Why aren't I stronger? Why Aren't I able to stop this? All of this!!?~

He expected no answers, and he was given none. The rain now began to beat more forcefully against his sage clothed shoulders- but he paid it no mind. What would this day bring? And tomorrow? And the next? What would become of Serdio- despite whatever actions he would need to make? Whatever actions might kill more- or protect some?

Frame now laden with the icy precipitation and hair wet throughout, Albert felt his breath catch the cold night air as a sob threatened. His eyes, tightly shut, opened in surprise against the building anguish- and he felt yet more anger. More hate- this time directed at himself.

~You can't keep yourself together, and you want to save your kingdom? ~ His left hand irritably slapped at rain and tears. ~You are a fool.~

Fool or not, some spark of incentive pushed him to his feet and allowed Albert the momentum to stumble inside- out of what was now a downpour. As a flicker of light shot across the sky, he collapsed onto his bed and there lay sprawled- unmoving. Not giving care to clothes that were soaked- and in turn chilled his flesh white.

~I will not let my country die. Answers or no. Fool, if I must be.~

His mind slowly faded, and his frame gave a convulsive shudder. Less then a moment, and Albert was unconscious in the grip of his exhaustion.

The next morning- a thin smile his facade of choice- the king of Serdio awoke to news of Seles' destruction. As was expected, he could only nod- seem the strength he could not feel- and work to aid the survivors.


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