As the sun took leave of the horizon, the first rays of dawn beamed down on Gregminster, highlighting the city's buildings and sending long shadows stretching out lazily. In the early morning light the Imperial Capital could have been a fairytale city, alone in its own world of magic.
As the light fell upon his face, Teo McDohl groaned and rolled over, wrapping his pillow around his head. Clamping his eyes shut forcefully, he fought to regain his swiftly departing dreams. It was useless; he was now properly awake.
"Is it really this early?" he asked aloud.
"Why, surely this can't be the great Teo McDohl speaking. Is the Empire's stalwart defender complaining because he's short on sleep?" The woman's words were harsh, her tone was not.
It was the voice of the woman that was the only spot of light in his life these days. When he had come home for a few days of leave from his duty in the north, the house had seemed so cold and empty. No laughter from Cleo, no stews from Gremio, no one, not even his son. He didn't know how he would have managed if she hadn't shown up. Once again, he thanked fate for corresponding leaves among the officers.
Rolling over, Teo framed her elegant face in his hands. She smiled at him, her blue eyes lighting up.
Sonya Shulen, the Commander of the Imperial Navy. She had a smart mouth and she was fifteen years younger than him and he didn't give a damn. He had had a few flings since his son Hiro's mother had died, but nothing like this. Though he hadn't admitted it outright yet, he loved Sonya and was coming perilously close to becoming addicted to her very presence.
"You should talk, Sonya," he said, deliberately deepening his voice, "You were the one who kept me up all night."
At this she giggled and moved away from him, getting out of bed and scrounging about the floor for the clothes she had hastily discarded the night before. Her mane of golden hair fell almost to her waist, long and luxuriant.
"A good thing we didn't wake the hired help," she said, sliding a pair of lacy panties up her thighs. Too late, she saw him grimace and realized the true meaning behind her innocent jest.
"What hired help?" Teo said bitterly, swinging his legs out of the bed and reaching for his own garments. "All of them ran off with that damn fool son of mine to wage war against the Empire."
She stopped dressing for a minute and moved to his side, laying a cool, slim hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, his heart once again stirring as he gazed into her quixotic eyes.
"Hiro's a good boy," she said simply, "He'll do what's right."
Teo jerked away from her violently, dressing himself in a series of angry movements. As he pulled his shirt over his head, he growled, "It's not a matter of doing what's right anymore, Sonya. He's already gone too far. After that debacle at Pannu Yakuta, Barbarosa's going to be crying for his blood."
Turning away from her, he looked out the window, where the city was just beginning to come alive. Lights were snuffed, animals were tossed out of the house, and early rising shop owners were already on their way to the marketplace. It was so beautiful, so powerful in an elemental way. Gregminster, and by extension the Scarlet Moon Empire, represented a state of peace, safety, and security that could not be found anywhere else in the world.
Now, his own son wanted to end that security. He called it "Liberating" the country, but in reality it would be doom that was visited upon the land, not freedom. For once the Empire fell, the hated Joston Confederation would sweep down and obliterate all before it.
"They're all going to cry for his blood," Teo resumed, "And- and God help me, I can't help but feel that they're justified. I half think that I want him dead myself."
"Teo! You know you don't mean that!" She was obviously distressed. A few tears spilled from the corners of those alluring eyes. "How can you talk that way about your s-son?"
"As of right now, Hiro is not my son."
"Oh, Teo....... tell me you don't feel that way. Oh please, say you don't,"
"I wish to God I could, Sonya," he whispered, "But I do. It makes me hate myself, but I do."
"I have to go," the ice in her tone was unmistakable. Shaking with anger and distress, she scooped up her chainmail and weapons and started for the door.
"Sonya, wait!" Teo grabbed her upper arm, holding her gently but firmly. "Don't go. Don't walk out like this."
"I have my duties," she stated flatly, "As do you."
"But I want you to stay," for a moment, he wavered, indecisive. Then: "Sonya, I love you."
Just a few moments before, that admission would have made her soul sing its own hymn of glory. Now, the words were like bitter ash that fueled the fire within.
"Do you?" she said. "Do you really?" With a sharp movement, she slipped free of his grip and headed for the door.
"Do you doubt me?" Teo was incredulous.
"Oh, I don't know why I possibly would." Her voice was caustic. "Maybe there's just something deep inside that tells me a man who hates his own flesh and blood sure couldn't love a woman like me. I wanted to believe you weren't like the others, but I guess I was wrong."
"Sonya, that's not-"
"I guess a nice warm fuck was all I ever was to you, huh Teo?" The words hurt terribly, seemed to burn a brand on her very soul. Some part of her warned that she was lashing out blindly, needlessly, but she ignored it, reveling in the pain she was causing. "Guess you'll just have to spend a few bits down at the corner, because I'm sure as hell not going to be here tonight."
"No, wait!" His voice was desperate, and a distant part of his mind wondered why he could face the armies of the Confederation fearlessly and be at a loss at a time like this.
"Goodbye, Teo," she said. "See you on the battlefield."
The door slammed loudly shut, a harsh punctuation mark to end the heated argument. As Sonya's footsteps receded down the hall, Teo put his head in his hands. She was gone.
Sonya Shulen strode the corridors of the floating fortress Shasarazade, her mind awash in its own tangled emotions. Her simultaneous longing and anger for Teo was tearing her apart, transforming her life into one ongoing nightmare. The tedious supply lists and stacks of paperwork she was forced to pore over seemed impossible to cope with in her condition, not to mention the organization and training of the troops. She felt like curling up into a ball, hiding in a corner, and giving up.
One moment, she would desire only to be held in his strong arms, hope that things could be like they were back in Gregminster where they had exchanged sly weeks during the daytime and made passionate love at night. The next, she would wish that Teo would be gone forever, driven permanently from her thoughts and dreams.
I am a paradox.
Lately, her feelings had only been intensified. A month earlier she wouldn't have thought it possible, but recent events had again peeled away her defenses, exposing her tender emotions to the harsh, cruel world. Just when she had been about to come to terms about Teo, this:
Teo had been sent to the shores near Toran, where he was to engage his son Hiro in combat. They would fight, and one of them, perhaps both of them, would die. She wasn't sure what to hope for.
She walked along the battlements, her eyes drifting over the edge to the choppy water below. As the commander here, she should probably be trying to look busy at a time like this, but these little strolls around the fortress were all that could occupy her mind for long these days. Leaning against the rail, she emptied her lungs in a single exasperated breath.
"General Shulen?" the voice intruded on her quiet reverie.
Turning around, she saw a young man dressed in the garish blue and red uniform of the Imperial Messenger Service. The color clash was ghastly, and momentarily Sonya couldn't help but think about what Milich would have said about those uniforms.
But Milich had joined the rebels, too, as had Kwanda Rossman. The mere mention of any of their names was like salt poured into the gaping wound that was her soul. Were there no true Imperials left?
"Yes?" she asked, a trifle annoyed but at the same time glad to have anything derail her thoughts temporarily.
"Well, General, uh, I-" he babbled, "That is, uh- I was sent to give you a message-"
"Spit it out, damn you!" it was uncharacteristic for her to bark in such a manner, but she simply couldn't help herself.
"Uh-" he cleared his throat, "The Liberation Army has defeated Teo's cavalry and broken the siege on Toran Castle!"
In a flash, her anger and doubt disappeared, replaced by concern.
"What- what of General McDohl?" It was a testament to all her years of military training that she managed to keep her voice even.
"He is dead, General Shulen. Killed by his own son on the battlefield."
Deep within Sonya, something seemed to shatter. Anguish and pain flooded her entire form, causing her to shudder involuntarily. The broken shards of her soul were like icy daggers being driven in her heart.
She began to run, shielding her face from her men, hiding her tears, all because something in the back of her mind whispered You're a general! You can't go to pieces in front of everyone!
She didn't feel like a general.
She felt like a child.
A scared, frightened child, one who has gazed into a dark abyss and realized that no matter what anyone says, something is out there. And the shocking part, the worst part, the damnable part, was that that something was herself.
Somehow she made it to her chambers and slammed the door violently shut before she totally collapsed. Then, once she was out of sight of the others, all her resolve and anger dissolved into bleak sadness.
Loud, shrieking sobs tore their way from her lungs like wild animals fighting to be free. She fell to her knees, cradling her face in her hands. Teo was dead.
I guess a nice warm fuck was all I ever was to you.
The words had hurt, had been designed to hurt, but Sonya now found that the grief she had meant to cause Teo had instead been redirected to her own inner recesses. She had known the words were a lie, known even as they escaped her lips. But she had never imagined this, never imagined that he would go to his grave believing that such things were true.
What had she done?
"Teo, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry..." Her pleading whisper did nothing to ease her agony. The air was still, silent, as if condemning her. An image came to her, stark, clear: Teo, his mouth open, blood pooling beneath him as he died. And the look on his face, of weariness, sadness, loneliness.
He had left the world thinking that she hated him.
Of their own volition, her hands strayed to the sword belt about her waist. Calmly, dispassionately, she watched as her own fingers pulled the slim dagger from its sheath. The flat of the blade was cool when it touched her wrist.
I want to die.....
It was true. The scandal would be terrible, but what did she care? Soon it would all be over. It wouldn't matter when her men smashed the door down; there would be nothing to greet them but a corpse, and she could be with Teo, in whatever kind of afterlife there was.
But as she started to complete the act in a single sharp motion, she found that her movements were arrested. It wasn't her mind that held her back, or even her soul, but some deep elemental part of her that cried and screamed to live, live, no matter what the cost.
Why? There was nothing here to hold her back. Surely death would be better, be preferable to this living misery?
Then she saw the tiny painting of Hiro that had once been Teo's. It rested on the mantel, seeming to mock her from its wooden frame. Her mind blazed anew with fury. She dropped the dagger, all thoughts of suicide gone, replaced by dreams of vengeance. It was Hiro who had killed her lover.. She would-
(gut him castrate him dig out his eyes)
Hiro's a good boy, he'll do what's right.
He wasn't a good boy. Good boys didn't bring down kingdoms. Good boys didn't kill their fathers.
How could she have been so wrong?
As Sonya dried her streaming eyes, she felt her resolve harden. She had erred in that argument with Teo so long ago, and her foolish stance had caused a split between them that would never be mended. There was nothing she could do now to earn his forgiveness. She could only avenge him. And there was only one way to do that.
She snatched the painting up from the mantel, crushing the flimsy frame in her hand and splintering the glass. The biting pain of the sharp fragments that cut into her fist amused her in some grim fashion.
Finally, she looked down at the now-bloodstained portrait of Hiro, her rage boiling over.
The Liberation Army was inside the fortress! Bare minutes before, they had crushed the main forces of Shasarazade, and now a small band of the rebels was rushing through the halls, smashing what few scattered defenders remained.
Sonya led what was left of the defenders, her sword gleaming in the dim torchlight of the fortress sewers. The rebels were down there somewhere, a pack of greedy rats in her home. Shasarazade might be doomed to fall, but someone was going to pay. They were going to be very sorry they had ever set foot in her domain.
"Forward!" she urged, and the dozen or so soldiers behind her responded,
True Imperials. What a shame there weren't more of them in the world.
They rounded the corner and bumped directly into the Liberation invaders. Sonya's thoughts whirled as she surveyed the group. There were six:
Cleo, Teo's one time servant. Flik and Viktor, two early leaders of the rebellion. A pair of elves, one female, one male. And there, in the back, his staff held at the ready-
"Attack!" Sonya shouted. "The leader is mine!"
Within seconds, cries and the sound of clashing metal filled the narrow passage. All was chaos and madness.
The Imperial soldiers advanced fearlessly, only to be turned into meaty pincushions by swift volleys from Sylvina, Kirkis, and Cleo. Flik and Viktor jumped forward to engage the rest, their swords sweeping in wide arcs as they cut into the attackers. The Imperials fought back, superior armor supporting their sinew and giving them the ability to resist the rebels.
But all this was shut from the young general's mind as she attacked, her teeth set in a grim line.
"Sonya, stop!" pleaded Hiro even as he nimbly avoided a sword stroke, "It doesn't have to be like this! I don't want to hurt you-"
"But Hiro, my dear," she replied, "I want very much to hurt you."
She aimed a vicious slash at his neck, seeking to lop that annoying head from his body. With a grunt of exertion, Hiro brought up the Heaven Fang Staff, warding off the blow. Then, he took the offensive, using only the blunt parts of his weapon as he forced Sonya backwards. It honestly appeared as if he were trying not to hurt her. The fool.
"Sonya, give up," His staff slipped past her guard and glanced off her thigh, causing her to stumble and fall to her knees.
"Die." She leapt at him, extending her blade. Somehow, he avoided being spitted by mere inches, dodging out of the way with only seconds to spare. Giving him no time to recover, Sonya pressed the attack. Sweat broke out on the young man's face as he struggled to parry her blows.
She brought her sword around, smashing the hilt into Hiro's temple with a cry of triumph. He fell, pain filling his head and crimson obscuring his vision. Sonya moved in for the killing blow.
Suddenly, everything went to hell.
The explosion that tore through the fortress was deafening. The water in the narrow canal beside them burst into flame, and everything seemed to be consumed in a fiery holocaust. Searing heat filled the sewers, and a dull boom split the very air.
All the combatants were thrown momentarily off balance, and dimly Sonya was aware of Hiro saying something. To her battered ears, it sounded almost as if he were underwater, but he had to be screaming at the top of his lungs.
"Damn it, who set the charge off early? We've been betrayed!"
Good. Maybe now he knew how his father felt.
Even as heat-induced tears slid down her scorched cheeks, the female Imperial renewed her assault. Yet it was not to be; she was stunned, and her swordsmanship was sloppy. Hiro evaded her flashing blade smoothly and struck back with his staff, catching her wrist and sending her weapon spiraling away into the canal's oil soaked water. The Liberation leader followed with a jab to the chest. It was little more than a tap, but it had enough force behind it to knock her to the ground.
Fresh tears spilled out of Sonya's eyes, produced from sheer anger and frustration. She was beaten, and her forces were also; a single glance showed that they had teamed up with Hiro's cronies to get the hell out of here. And Hiro- the way he stood there, concern on his face- she hated him.
She had tried to end his life.
She had failed.
Now, there was nothing to do but give up, nothing to do but return to Teo and hope he could forgive her biting words and feeble vengeance. Shakily, she rose to her feet. Ignoring Hiro and the rest, she began to walk towards the flames with even, measured steps.
"Sonya, no!" It was the voice of the Fearless Leader himself.
She allowed herself a wan smile. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered now but the searing kiss of the flame, the promise of reunion that lay beyond that barrier of blistering heat.
But suddenly her forward motion ceased as the one called Viktor grabbed her from behind. Was fate really so cruel? Was it going to deny her the last, ultimate release?
It appeared so. As she twisted in an attempt to escape, Viktor only held her tighter, pinning her arms against her sides.
"Not today, pretty lady," he said, laboring to maintain his grip.
"Let me go! Let me go!" she screamed. This lumbering fool of a rebel was all that was keeping her from her beloved. Snarling like an animal, she fought to be free. Biting, gouging, elbowing, anything to make him release his hold. As she slammed her elbow into his groin, she felt his arms loosen.
"Help, Flik! She's gonna get loose! She's gonna-"
She slipped away like a wriggling eel, turning to throw herself into the fire.
Then she saw the man in the blue headband. Flik. His hand drew back, then flew forward. Pain exploded in the side of her face.
She was with him, and it was like before....
"I love you, Teo," she whispered, holding his face in her hands.
For a moment, he smiled, but then his face seemed to melt away . When he began to speak again, his words made no sense.
"-didn't see any rune on her. Just like Teo."
"-isn't being controlled?"
"Not by Windy."
With a start, her eyes snapped open. She was in a dank jail cell, surrounded by darkness and the sound of dripping water. Though her vision was still blurred, she could make out two people standing beyond the bars of her prison.
"Wha....." she slurred. It felt like her tongue was made of iron.
"Lady Sonya!" It was a male voice, vaguely familiar. She squinted her eyes as she tried to recall its owner.
"Alen?" He had been one of Teo's subordinates, she remembered. Why was he even still alive? Had he defected to Hiro's side like so many other cowards?
"Are you all right, Lady Sonya?" That was the other one- what was his name?
"Grenseal?" So he was alive, too. Was Teo the only one with the spine to stand up for his Empire?
"You're not hurt, are you?" Alen asked, the concern evident in his voice.
Actually, she was; the flesh around her eye was puffy and swollen, painful to the touch. This didn't bother her much, however. She had suffered far worse, and the emotion uppermost in her mind right now was not self-pity but rage.
"You- you bastards," the words were like ice sculptures chipped from her frozen hate. "Teo was like a father to you, and you betrayed him."
"No," Grenseal said, his usually light personality becoming deadly serious. "We did no such thing."
"How else do you explain it?" Her words were still unformed, thick, but her wit was sharpening rapidly as she awoke.
"Sonya....." Alen began, "We know you loved Master Teo. He.... was a great man. He saved Grenseal and me, back when the Confederation was raiding the villages on the border and we were just a pair of children. He made us into the men we are today, and we owe everything to him."
"We would have died for him, if he'd asked," Grenseal said. Alen nodded his agreement.
As much as she hated to hear it, their words seemed genuine. Her eyes filling with tears that she refused to release- why was she becoming so weak these days?- Sonya looked at each of them in turn.
"What happened?" It was a ridiculously simple question.
Scratching the back of his head nervously, Alen began the narration:
"At first, we were able to smash the Liberation Army with our armored cavalry. Then, they brought out the secret weapons- the fire spears. They tore through our ranks, and finally the officers came face to face. Master Teo insisted that he and his son were enemies. He wanted to fight him one-on-one.
Hiro defeated Teo, mortally wounding him. And in his dying words.... Master Teo asked Grenseal and I to go with Hiro and protect him. We owed him so much, we had to agree."
"I suppose I can understand that," the words tasted foul in her mouth. "But I hate Hiro. I want to kill him, put my hands around his neck and squeeze until he dies....."
"Don't you think I felt that way at first?" Grenseal countered. "For the first couple of weeks, I could barely stand to look at him. But if you had been there....."
"There was no hatred between Teo and Hiro at the end," Alen continued, "By the time of the battle, Teo had sensed something wrong in the Empire, but still felt bound by his oath. He could not see Hiro as an evil person; he knew his son was truly in the right. They were not mortal enemies, just men on opposing sides......" He trailed off, trying to summon up the courage to finish his thoughts. "Teo didn't hate Hiro at the end, and I don't think he would want you to, either."
"How do you know?" Sonya demanded. "How the hell do you know?"
"The Empire's corrupt, Sonya," Grenseal insisted, "Teo knew that, but his devotion to his duty was unmatched. He could not join his son, even though he believed that Windy was controlling Barbarosa."
"Windy? What does she have to do with anything?"
"You've heard the rumors, Sonya. She's placed runes on most of the generals. Why do you think they all joined us after their defeat? She's evil."
"So she's evil. Why the hell should I care?"
"We want you to join the Liberation Army," Alen said. "Help us defeat Windy."
"How can I join Hiro?" she asked. "How, when he killed the man I loved, took away everything I had?"
"Think of the alternative," Grenseal spat.
They left her in the darkness with her thoughts and demons.
I don't know why I'm doing this.....
After the final victory over Windy, Sonya had seemed to drift aimlessly through the Toran Republic, unsure of her place or purpose. For some weeks, she had stayed with Alen and Grenseal in Rikon, then traveled through the forested country to the south. She had seemed restless, almost as if she were searching for something. In time, she realized that she was searching for herself.
Eventually, she had completed her journey, both mentally and physically. She had come to terms with the real Sonya Shulen, accepted Teo's death once and for all, and finally assessed her decision to fight with the Liberation Army.
She was firmly convinced now that she had made the right decision; she had been in Gregminster during the final battle with Windy. She had seen the evil in the woman. At last she was certain that she was right to have left the Empire- it had been nothing but a desiccated remnant of its former self, anyway.
It was just a week ago that she had returned from her travels to Grenseal and Alen's cottage in Rikon. She had found a telegram waiting for her, and it seemed that with the completion of her physical journey she was also to finish her mental quest- to take care of the last bit of unfinished business that gnawed at her soul.
Hiro McDohl had summoned her to Toran Castle.
She stood now in the castle's airy upper floor, the sea breeze salty and fresh as it wafted in through the windows. Before her was the door to Hiro's chamber. Before her was the place where she would confront Teo's killer.
Sonya rapped smartly on the oak door with her knuckles.
She opened the door and stepped into the Presidential Office. It was a rather misleading name- the room was bare and dismal looking, with just one small window. The sparse furnishing consisted of a wooden desk and a few chairs.
The man seated behind the desk pushed his paperwork to the side and looked up at her. Hiro's personality had changed little in the three months he had been president of the Toran Republic, but the physical toll the job had taken on him was obvious. The rakish, whimsical bandanna he used to wear had been discarded, he wore a formal uniform instead of his usual adventuring gear, and dark bags nestled under his eyes.
"Hello, Sonya," he said, extending his hand in a gesture of peace. She took it reluctantly, remembering that not so long ago she would have gladly used the opportunity to break his wrist.
"So tell me, do you still hate me?" It was a hell of a way to start a conversation, but his eyes bored into hers relentlessly.
"I don't see what difference that makes," she snapped, turning to look out the tiny window. Below, dozens of ships moved across Toran Bay, ferrying supplies into the island capital. "I hope you didn't bring me all the way out here for a heart-to-heart."
"It is rather out of the way, isn't it?" He said suddenly. "Just temporary, of course. As soon as Gregminster is rebuilt, everything will go much more smoothly."
"Hiro, I didn't come for a political discussion, either. If you have an honest proposal, please say so. You're wasting my time."
"Very well," Hiro sifted absently through the papers on his desk with a quiet sigh. "The Joston Confederation is on the move. There have already been several border skirmishes, and there are reports of armies massing for an invasion."
He paused for a moment, once again fixing her with his steely gaze. "I need a naval commander. I want you."
"Me?" she said, taken aback. "Why not Tai Ho or Gen?"
"Simple," he replied. "You are vastly more experienced."
"Hiro- I..." She was at a loss. "There isn't any navy anymore. When Shasarazade went up in smoke-"
"There is a navy. Makeshift, to be sure, but we've scraped up enough private vessels and patched up enough old Imperial ships to have at least a partially effective force."
"Hiro, I just don't know about this. You know the way I feel about you."
"No, Sonya, I don't, not anymore. I wouldn't have asked if I did. But in the end, I guess it doesn't matter how you feel about me. I only want to know if you'll take the job or not."
A wave of confusion and uncertainty filled her, rushing through the narrows of her mind. How exactly did she feel about him? Before the rebellion, she had felt a kind of semi-maternal affection for Hiro, which changed later to worry once he ran off, then shifted to pure anger after he killed Teo. Finally, a grudging respect after the battle with Barbarosa. And now......
Sonya bit her lip, knowing the words that were about to come, dreading and anticipating them at the same time.
"My offer is on the table," he said, returning to his paperwork. "You can take it or leave it."
"I don't hate you."
The release of tension that she felt was incredible.
"Wha-?" he looked up again sharply, dropping his quill pen in astonishment.
"I don't like you much, I doubt I ever will, but for what it's worth......"
"I don't hate you."
The words seemed odd to that tiny inner part of her that would abhor him forever, but she realized that it was time to let the pain go. She didn't know if it was the trial by fire in Gregminster, her long period of soul-searching, or simply the passage of time, but she could no longer hate Hiro.
"I didn't want to hurt him, Sonya," Hiro said. He took her hand gingerly, as if he was afraid it was some sort of poisonous viper. "I didn't want to hurt you."
"I believe you. I don't know why, really, but I believe you." She stopped for a moment. "Teo.... would be very proud of the man you've become. I don't know if I'll ever forgive you for taking him from me, but I'm willing to call a truce. For Teo's sake, if for nothing else. He would want it this way."
"Thank you, Sonya," he released her hand, reddening slightly.
"What about my proposal?"
She looked at him then and- for the first time in what felt like a hundred years- smiled.
"Why not? I've got a soft spot for lost causes."
Well, yet another fanfic is done. I realize that I did take a few liberties with the scene in Shasarazade, but feel I stayed true to the game's original events. Also, though the added scene of Alen and Grenseal was put in to show Sonya's initial reaction, I didn't intend for it to in any way replace the talk between Sonya and Cleo.
Also, I want to apologize for any spelling inconsistencies- Suikoden is notoriously bad for misspelled names. Incidentally, I took all spellings from the game manual.
So, did it suck or was it at least decent? Did I express the emotion well enough, or did the characters seem contrived? Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome. Drop me a line and tell me what you think!