Trails of Difference Prologue

By Emmett J. Smith, Jr.

The sun was shining brightly and the wind blew warmly the day Sonda Liotte ran through the green courtyards of his home at the news he had so long been waiting for. His blue eyes shimmered with joy as his boots clacked at the stone pathway cutting through the four wedge shaped sections. Normally, he would focus on the beautiful arrangement of exotic flowers scattered, but his attention was only locked upon the circular stained glass window that was half opened at the top of a spire.

The teapot creature that served as his gardener smiled as wide as such a teapot can as the man hurried by. The wives of pirate penguins that served as hand maidens gathered in circles and giggling among their gossiping of the news already flooding the halls of Thalmon Bastion, once known as the “Seven Spears” for its tall towers and stronghold to an army but now the home of the Liotte family.

Sonda ran through his hallways and up the spiraling staircase to that room, his locks of platinum blonde hair bouncing on his broad shoulders, his maroon cape flapping behind him.

“Marie!” He called out as the wooden door flung upon, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of his chestnut haired wife laying on a large bed, covered in white sheets. She looked weak, tired, but she smiled with awe and happiness only new parents could show - one that Sonda had shared. In her arms, nestled to and feeding from her bare bosom was their newborn child.

“My love,” she said in a voice almost as light as a whisper, her words like heaven to Sonda’s ears. She took in a soft, content breath as he walked over to her, watching her lover with deep adoration, her knight in his shining armor. He was just as handsome and regal as the day she met him in the capital of the Empire, the day that Irzoile Enaanshalc began to call himself the Deathbringer. Even with such a foreboding omen as that entitlement, there was brightness in that day she shared with Sonda. As troops would assemble, Sonda took her on a walk through the grassy roads, stop at a vendor run by the wives of pirate penguins for pastries that tasted beyond this world, and to finish the night, they talked atop a stone bridge where Sonda confessed his love with her.

That was the happiest day of her life before this day.

“How do you fare?” Sonda asked as he sat slowly on the edge of the bed beside her, brushing his cape behind him.

“Well…quite well, my love.” Marie said quietly as she looked down to the babe in her arms.

“And the child?” He asked as he looked down into the small face nursing from Marie’s breast, pride and love in Sonda as his gloved hand touched over the tiny child’s head.

“More than well. The maids say he is the healthiest boy they’ve ever seen.”

Sonda smiled widely, even with his age in the thirties, his face had that boyish charm about it that many women loved, even though his devotion was for one, “Thank the Goddess. She has truly blessed us today.”

Marie nodded and closed her eyes as she breathed long, resting against the pillow supporting her. She felt the flipper-hands of one of the hand maidens close and out of nature, held the child closer even as she felt his mouth leave her nipple.

“Milady, he is full,” the penguin pointed out with a warm face framed with a decorated pink and silver cap with matching robe.

Marie nodded and said, “Mm, then let his father hold him.“ She opened her eyes to watch her child as he left her arms into those of the hand maiden, who then held the bundle wrapped in white to the eager father.

Sonda carried the child to the window as he held him, watching his son with warmth and pride and with much expectation already. Looking through the opened window, he watched the valley below the bastion where the castle was raised high. The knight turned the child towards the window as he smiled broadly, “This is the land you will protect, my son, it is your destiny.”

The resting mother slowly opened her eyes again and turned her head to look to her husband as she asked, “What will you name him, my lord…my husband?”

He looked back to her then back to the window as he held the bundle closer to his leather-padded chest, “Escad.”

“Escad,” she repeated.

Another voice was then heard from the open doorway, “My lord?”

The knight turned his head to look to his butler, a stocky otter cloaked in violet and wearing large lenses that would befit the bottoms of a pair of mugs over his dark brown eyes, “Renald, this is not a good time. Can you not see my child has been born?” He spoke with a firmness, it seeming like whenever it was Renald that visited there was some trouble about, mostly trifling and the otter knew that.

Renald gulped and adjusted his glasses, “I assure you, milord, it is not what you think. The Abbess of Gato Grottoes visits. She wishes to see the child. I would have sent a maid but they had left for Domina already.”

Sonda’s frown lifted, a smile tugging at his long mouth, “Ah, of course, let her in right away!” He exclaimed with a laugh, the noise having startled the infant who started to fuss.

Marie opened her eyes again to look at her husband quizzically just as Renald left the room, her arms outstretching for Escad, “How did she know today would be the day?”

“Have you forgotten? She speaks to the spirits, my love,” the father explained and smiled to his spouse as he gave their child back to her. She touched his hand gently as they exchanged looks of love, the resting woman nodding her head in understanding as the infant started to calm a few moments after.

The door creaked as it opened moments later, a strong aura filled the room though it was Sonda that felt it more than anyone else. When he looked over his shoulder, there the visitor stood.

The woman stepped into the room, dressed elegantly in bright, red-orange robes like woven fire. Her face was aged yet beautiful, locks of blondish brown curls cascading down her shoulders from the open hood. The sun from the opened window shined upon her, making the golden embroidery trims of her garment shine. She was radiant, her face wise and benevolent like one of the seven angels of Fa’Diel.

In her arms was a stone bowl, painted with detailed and intersecting geometric designs around it. It was covered with a silk cloth and a pleasant scent emanated from it. She held it up as she smiled warmly to Sonda, “It has been a long time, dear boy.”

He walked over to her, brushing his mantle aside and placing his hand over his armored heart, his head bowing, “Laeni…,“ he paused and chuckled, “forgive me….Abbess.”

“Please, Sonda, call me Laeni. I don’t hear it enough,” she said with a brief shake of her head then held the bowl out to him, “A gift for your new joy.”

The man chuckled and took the offering, passing it on to a servant who stepped up to him, “Don’t tell me the life of a head priestess is something you don’t savor?”

The Abbess smiled and stepped closer to the man, brushing a lock of his hair aside though stopped as she noticed a glance from Marie. She closed her eyes and shook her head to Sonda,, “Do not read me wrong, Sonda, I uphold my position with honor and desire. I don’t intend to step down for a while.” She answered just as a tiny girl ran in, a hobbit of a child who had to tilt her head all the way back to look up to Sonda.

She had a brightness about her, her eyes blue like the ocean, her face like a candied apple, round and sweet. She had on a blue dress and matching bonnet, both courtly decorated with flowers of white and pale yellow. The child seemed a touch scared as Sonda looked down to her, even though a smile was upon his face, though it was the voice of her mother that actually startled her.

“Matilda! What are you doing in here, little lady?” Laeni scolded, her hands placed on her wide hips.

Sonda had to hold back a chuckle, his arms crossing over the white steel of his breast plate, “Your child?”

“Yes,” the Abbess replied as she picked up the child, who then bustled in her mother’s arms. She shushed Matilda and looked back to the nun, who was the tot’s caretaker, finally arriving, “She escaped you again?”
“Yes, Abbess,” the nun veiled with a white cloth, matching her jumpsuit said then added, “She is finding more ways to evade me.”

The Abbess breathed in slight frustration, though was careful not to show too much of it in front of the Liottes. She clasped her hands in front of her and turned to face Sonda, explaining, “Ever since she started moving around on her feet, I haven’t been able to keep her still. Even in bed, she moves about all the time.”

He chuckled and nodded, reaching up to stroke his chin, “She’s full of life, indeed. I take it she is to take your place?”

The Abbess bowed her head and answered as the little girl was carried out of the room, “Certainly. Her training in the spiritual arts and ascetics will begin in a few years.”

“That is good, positions such as ours are necessary for this land. I worry, though, Laeni” He said as he walked over to the window again, his wife watching him with concern as he continued, “The beasts have been running loose in the lands, their numbers grow with every day. We can only be thankful the faeries are not destructive these days.”

Abbess Laeni watched the boy she used to take care for. How he had grown, from a lad waving a wooden sword into this man, this Lord. Gone where the mere dreams he spoke of saving princesses and defending the Emperor in the name of valor, replaced by contempt. Sonda now a loyal, yet blind retainer of the mad Deathbringer. She closed her eyes, her brow furrowing.

“In knowing my child was born healthy, I’ll have to take up the sword again. I cannot let demons run rampant in these lands I am sworn to protect. They are just aimless beasts right now…but with vision, a leader….you know what has happened in the past, Laeni. You remember what-.”


“Please, Sonda, enough.” The Abbess finally spoke up firmly, lifting her hand to further harden her stance.

Sonda was surprised at her, pausing before he turned to face Laeni again. He stammered, finding himself that child that she would scold in their youth, but cleared his throat before speaking seriously, “Laeni, don’t you sense it? You see far more than I.”

The Abbess opened her eyes and rested her hand at her side again, watching his stormy blue eyes, “Please, Sonda. I am a healer, do not talk of destruction. I have seen enough of it in the past few years of this land and its rule.”

The knight watched his old friend, attempting to stay calm though his teeth grinded behind his sealed lips and his hand was curled in a fist, trembling at his side. The penguin maid left the room quietly, seeing the tension and Marie averted her gaze to their newborn.

The Abbess could sense it, as well. She managed to smile weakly and directed Sonda to Marie and her child with a wave of her hand and a tender voice, “This is a joyous day, let us only think good thoughts for now…” she paused and added, “We brought decorations for the celebra-”

“I believe I‘ll take a quick ride.” He murmured through his teeth suddenly and stamped towards the door, his armor clanging. The door was shut loudly behind him, making the child scream again.

They were stunned as he stormed off, though they were not overly surprised. Leane and Marie exchanged looks, as the mother tried to calm Escad.

“He always had a spot of a temper, Abbess,” Lady Liotte said and sighed.

“Yes, he has.”

Sonda’s chocobo, a large bird used in the land of Fa’Diel as a steed, trotted through the gravelly trails of the highway. The domesticated chocobos normally were covered with golden feathers yet the plumage of his steed was of a silvery white matching its rider, a gift from the breeding stables in the capital. Though it was not used to being ridden past the forest trails of the bastion’s base.

Flanking them were gray boulders, scattered twigs and sparse patches of more lively flora. The low rumble of Gaeus, the living mountain given a conscious by the witch, Anuella, and one of the Seven Wisdoms of Fa’Diel was heard from the southeast as they reached a fork in the road..

Sonda considered to turn his steed whom he named Argent towards the path to Gaeus, who he had not visited since childhood. But with slight kick to the chocobo’s side, they continued forward. I don’t need his help, Sonda thought to himself.

Only several feet they passed before coming upon a family of rabbit like creatures with no arms or legs and round bodies like gumdrops. The rabites, they were called, perhaps originally named by some child who had gotten bitten by one. Their numbers were small and they were hardly the most dangerous beasts in the land, yet they were not a welcome sight to the knight. They paid no mind to him as they bounced on their way to a rocky hovel nearby. He had seen a flock of black chocobos, wild and dangerous creatures unlike their domestic brethren, and spotted stragglers from a choblin gang earlier as well.

Even the these beasts’ numbers continue to grow. There is something amiss, there has to be, he mused. He had just finished his trail of thought as a wind passed through from the darkness of a nearby cave. Not warm like upcoming Summer, not sweeping like the Autumn afterwards. It was a cold wind like the frost of Winter‘s breath upon his nape.

He pulled his cloak tighter and headed along towards the town of Domina, which he could already see the colorful, straw roofed buildings of in the distance. He wanted to pick up one of those silly looking yet delicious apricat fruits he had loved since a child. It would be just the thing to shimmer him down and he would head back to the Thalmon Castle to celebrate the birth of his child.

The fates would decide a change of plans. The chocobo started screeching, jerking back against its reins and almost smacking the knight in the head.

Sonda growled at the beast, “Calm yourself!“ He yelled then widened his eyes as his vision picked up a form close by in the darkness. An ogre of a beast crawled out from the caverns, it stood taller than Liotte even on his steed. Hulking, it was a behemoth, rotund, its lower half covered in unkempt violet fur, curling horns like a ram’s protruding from its broad head. This was one that would not be expected to be seen in a highway and could only be thought of to stray from the fires of hell, itself…it was called the Chimera Beast. Sonda had read of them yet never expected to come across one like this, on this highway.

The sight of the creature made the hairs of the back of Sonda’s neck rise. He pulled on the reins of his avian steed, trying to calm it from its hysteria but the demon was already charging towards them. The chocobo spread its wings and tilted back, sending Sonda tumbling backwards. The armor had padded his fall but his back still ached from the force of the impact, the knight looking up to see his chocobo having already fled and the creature standing above him, swinging its muscular arm down at him like a hammer.

THUD!

Sonda rolled out of the just in time as the fist pounded into the ground, cracking the very earth beneath it and sending a tremor along the ground. He scrambled to his knees and looked around as he grinded his teeth. Damn. His sword was gone with the chocobo and he had nothing to defend himself.

The beast roared as it swung its arm, claws extended towards the knight, who leaped backwards. Its droopy mouth was foaming at its fangs, its black eyes empty as the infernal void. It wanted his blood. Demons only wanted to destroy life.

“Damn you, fiend…,” Sonda murmured with a deep frown, his eyes diverted to the cave where the demon emerged briefly where a long glint of light caught his attention. A sword. He knew he had to go for it for he stood no chance like this.

He took a step back and waited as the demon lurched forward slowly then swung high for the human’s head. Sonda dived forward, gracefully rolling under the massive limb then rushed for the cave and the light that glinted once more. He made his way down the steep hill into the darkness and slid to a stop. He could already see the demon bounding intensely towards him, using his arms to propel him forward.

He quickly reached to the area where the light was, horror filling his face as he came upon the body of a fallen soldier of Deathbringer’s army, some poor youth that strayed from his group, most likely. Though Sonda had little time to mourn as he grabbed the short sword from its sheath. It was not much but something and the demon was only several feet away.

Sonda realized in spite of the strength and size, the demon lacked the cunning to keep from running right into a quick swipe of metal over his its side. It felt the cold steel slice through its empurpled flesh, black blood spilling from the wound. It did not have time to react as it felt the sword driven into its meaty back.

Sonda grinned as he started to taste victory and started to tug at the hilt of the sword…but it was firmly within the rough fleshed creature. The knight could not pull the weapon out in time as the demon spun around, its arm meeting the knight this time with a sickeningly loud crunch, the slam of Sonda’s body against the cavern wall echoing in the shadows.

The knight groaned in pain as he slid down the wall, finding himself lodged between a pair of large rocks and the wall. The pain was immense, bones shattered and caving in, his legs without feeling and his breath ragged. He gritted his teeth and furrowed his brow as the demon came upon him, its gaze savoring its triumph. Moisture build at the man’s eyes though he frowned, not wanting to give the demon anymore satisfaction.

It waited a mere moment longer, its mouth twisting up into a wicked grin. It snorted heavily at the shining knight before its eyes shone with an overwhelming light..


Emmett J. Smith, Jr.'s Fanfiction