see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer
Halves + Chapter 15
All The Way, First Half
of Lin was dark now that night had fallen. The big room was lit by carefully
covered lamps and four brazeros in its centre, but the room's clutter
and odd angles meant that most of the spectators were in deep shadow up
in the mezzanines. Murmurs ran through the adults of the houses of Lin
as one after another of their children walked to the spot between the
four brazeros and announced their intent to participate in the trial.
Most of the children -some as young as ten, others as old as sixteen-
then walked over to join the other candidates.
A small throng of children, all dressed in clothes of rigid military cut
in blue, dove grey or red, stood between the bookshelves and statues near
one end of the room. Some joined one of several groups forming around
those candidates who were most likely to have a chance of reaching the
coveted position of heir designate of Lin, throwing in their lot with
the rising star of their choice.
Their parents, the members of the houses of Lin, cast curious -and sometimes
cruelly amused- glances at the dais down on the ground on which stood
the three most important members of the present council, Septim first
among them. The man must be writhing. He'd never actually announced that
the child he'd brought back was intended for the trials, though he had
housed him in the school. But it was a bit much of a coincidence to imagine
that he had brought back Treize's son at this point in time only to have
the lad become a minor lackey in his house. How embarrassing that the
boy had disappeared almost on arrival and hadn't been found for the last
Septim himself appeared unruffled; a man in his position did not show
frustration or any other emotion that could be used against him. Inside
He hadn't been expecting much! He thought the boy would come crawling
to him, beg him for protection, some advice, a few rags... He had a uniform
already prepared, grey with blue piping, Septim's own colours, to give
the boy some moral support in the trials. It would remind whatever faction
he joined -Rao's, if he was smart, but Septim would not have interfered
with his decision, as he believed in the spirit of the trial- that the
boy had the backing of the head of the present council and was not to
be taken lightly.
first year of the trial was essentially education in arcana, law and military
skills, no magic or real fighting allowed. But Septim knew from harsh
personal experience that this did not make it easy, especially for someone
that young, with no friends in Lin. It was amazing how much damage children
could do without actually causing too much physical harm. Septim felt
a flush of pride; the children of Lin were no milk-sops, they were wolves!
If the sacred mountains that infused them with magic weren't so harmful
to the human body, reducing their population, then they would have overrun
the pitiful kingdoms around them long ago!
Probably the boy didn't fit in here, he was just too weak. Being raised
by *shudder* the Peacecraft fool had apparently leeched the spirit of
his true family from his blood.
Septim cursed the fact that he hadn't realized his nephew was alive until
recently. He'd never thought Une's son had survived. Then, when the boy
had neared puberty, his power started to grow, and was sufficient to start
showing up in the fortune tellers' casts. His lineage had been clear to
those who could read the ebb and flow of power in the bloodlines of Lin.
Once he knew the boy existed it didn't take too much of a genius to figure
out where and who he was. He'd never quite bought that 'twins' story Marquise
had put out, but he'd just imagined the man had pulled a couple of distant
cousins from somewhere to designate as his heir, seeing as he'd lost his
Septim was a cautious man by nature, but the timetable of the trials of
Lin had forced his hand, and he'd still barely been able to get the boy
here in time. Well, no, actually he'd obviously been too late, seeing
as the brat had failed to show up today.
At least he'd managed to eliminate the Peacecraft heir! That was the main
reason the council had granted him the right to take hostile actions in
Sanq, and also allowed him to borrow power from a gestalt of sorcerers
to give him the ability to teleport out of Sanq and back into Lin before
the white mages could react. That murder had been as important as bringing
back Treize's seed. It was vital to keep Zechs off balance right now,
keep him from spending too much time on the defences near the Gap of Sevring...
Finding a new heir and getting his people to accept him would keep him
busy until it was too late...
Where could the boy be? Thinking of the future reminded Septim that he
would not be part of it, and he was shaken with frustration, though he
did not show it. There were magical wards around the walls of the school,
he couldn't have got out, could he? If he had, he was probably dead in
a ravine somewhere, the mountains of Lin were unforgiving to the uninitiated.
Had someone managed to get to the boy? That had been the only positive
thing about finding the brat so late in the game; his enemies had had
very little time to react. Not that they had to, damn the boy!
He hadn't expected much! Some small position for the child, a little bowing
and scraping to the most likely candidate, enough to get him in the new
council in five year's time. Then Septim could have shown him how to get
further ahead, given them both a small amount of power, a stake in the
The boy would probably not have gotten that far. The first year would
have been very difficult for him, even with Septim's support. A few children
dropped out even in the first year, unable to stand the pressure of competing
studies, the isolation, the infighting. Weeding out the weak, this was
good, Septim thought automatically. The first year wasn't a test of raw
power or anything really intense yet, but it was a good start, and allowed
the youngest to get ready for the real 'fight' later on.
The first year was mainly a time for choosing alliances, and, for the
real candidates, a time to develop presence, charisma, and the ability
to generate awe and fear without necessarily a demonstration of power.
These were qualities that were hard to define, but Lin knew how important
they could be. They would allow one man to lead a nation of strong-willed
sorcerers and fighters. It was an indefinable quantity, but the child
who would be heir would have to make them believe he could carry it off.
Or they would eat him alive.
The last child stepped forward to recite the Acknowledgement. Septim allowed
the disappointment to replace the anger in his gut. Sure, it wouldn't
have been easy... maybe he should have helped the boy more? It repulsed
him, catering to a weakness, but really, seeing how the child was raised...
No, that wasn't why he hadn't helped the boy...
Septim recalled the blazing hate in those eyes, before the boy had concealed
it, quite well at that. Septim knew adults who would have a harder time
masking their hate for him than that twelve year old lad. Recalling that
flicker -and the power of anger that had unleashed itself in the clearing-
Septim remembered finally why he'd not helped the boy. Why he thought
it important to get the child to crawl to him and beg. The boy wouldn't
be able to make it that far in the trials on his own, after all, he needed
to learn to boy and scrape to a candidate, he needed to be tamed. And
he needed Septim, and he needed to know that. A painful lesson but one
that was necessary, if Septim were to mould the weak boy into something
For an instant he thought the boy had shown up as he felt again that hatred
wash against him. He glanced around with the discretion of long habit.
No, it was that oriental boy, the hostage. An interesting lad. His beautiful
features were now schooled once more into that arrogant air of contempt
for his surroundings, the flash had been only momentary. Septim didn't
fear that hate. The people from the oriental isles did not know magic,
though they were powerful warriors, excellent doctors and scientists,
and knew enough shamanistic rituals to keep most monsters at bay. But
no danger to one such as him. He wondered what would happen to the boy.
He seemed... a bit less cautious about showing his feelings today. Maybe
the ceremony was upsetting him. His new master or mistress was being chosen
The last child, a ten year old girl, had left the centre of the room.
She went to stand next to other candidates around Rao, who was gloating
at the number of supporters already declaring for him. There were more
children standing free of any groups than expected. The appearance of
Treize's son had thrown the carefully constructed allegiances into a bit
of a spin, unsure loyalties shaken until they could see which side a potentially
powerful mage would join. Septim stirred, about to take a step forward
to officially begin the trial.
"Nice party. Bit quiet though. Mind if I join?"
The voice lifting from the shadows did not sound like that of a twelve
year old. People looked around, surprised, trying to see which corner
it was coming from.
The boy stepped through the door. Septim actually gaped for a split second,
fortunately no eyes were on the old sorcerer. The lithe figure moved slowly
but surely, and the children of Lin made way for him with nervous glances.
He was dressed in black, from head to toe, a stark contrast to the others.
Septim suddenly felt a fierce smile on his lips. Of course, Treize's battle
colours. Had he cropped his hair? No, it was there, swinging behind him
in a braid that reached down to his shoulder blades, another distinction.
Another sign that he was different. But the way the boy moved, the way
he smiled and looked around him, indicated that he wasn't isolating himself
from the others; he was isolating them.
The boy stopped in the centre of the ring of fire and rapped out the Acknowledgement
perfectly. All eyes were glued to the arrogant figure, almost sounding
bored, radiating confidence and power well beyond his age. Septim's eyes
were flicking over the other candidates, noting reactions, judging. Ah
yes, the Chang boy. His lips were twitching along with the words of the
Acknowledgement, as if ready to prompt the other if he faltered, not that
that seemed conceivable. He'd have access to the texts, he was the only
one here who wasn't utterly amazed... so the boy had managed to find an
ally after all... how interesting.
Septim fixed his eyes on his nephew. Who was looking at him. Septim made
the response of Acknowledgement, noting the well-concealed rage behind
those eyes. Yes, the boy - Duo was reaching for the
top, taking the hardest road, and he had his chances at that. Septim smiled
ever so slightly, catching those eyes, acknowledging the feelings behind
them. A mental sparring. Finally Duo's eyes dropped just a little. He
was still very young, thought Septim, but that would change.
Well, well, well. He thought he would have to break the boy and mould
him, but actually this was better, much better. Treize had been the one
to dare, Septim the one to hold back and not take chances. But apparently
his nephew took after his father, and might still carry them both to power
like Treize had.
He didn't care that Duo hated him now more than anything else in the world.
Septim believed in the trials, in the strength of Lin. If Duo won this,
he would deserve it. He would be what was best for Lin, the strongest
there was. And then Septim would convince him that the old dog could still
teach the young pup a trick or two. Hate was not a problem in their future
relation. He'd hated his brother after all, as much as he'd admired him
and served him, and Treize had despised him as much as he'd counted on
him and used him. Septim smiled like a snake, and found an echoing smile
on the boy's face. "I won't go down so easily boy, but you are welcome
to try. If you have that much strength... you're welcome to try."
"You're a bigger fool than I thought." Septim, on the dais, could hear
Rao's snippy comment as Duo wandered over to the other candidates as if
he didn't have a care in the world. Septim desperately pricked his ears,
trying to hear the soft exchange.
"Just how far do you think you can go?" Rao's voice was very soft, and
dripping with disdain. He'd moved a bit away from his group, hedging Duo
back against one of the brazeros. It was starting; the dog fight for ascendancy,
for the throne.
Duo gave a manic grin -Septim hoped the lad hadn't been pushed too far
in the last three days, insanity did tend to run in the family- and said,
in a voice like a dagger: "All the way, blondie, all the way." Septim
felt annoyed that he couldn't see the play of eyes, as that was where
the real conversation was happening.
Duo couldn't beat Septim yet, but he could apparently draw a stalemate
from Rao, as the later turned with a sniff. "Nice hairdo." He sneered
over his shoulder.
Duo's grin widened as his eyes dropped.
"Nise ass." He commented, in an imitation of Rao's snippy tone.
Rao spun around. "You dare-"
"Well you do keep showing it to me!"
Rao replied something along the lines of it being all that Duo deserved,
but Septim had stopped listening, thinking that if Rao were smart he would
actually listen to the warning that lay behind those words.
Septim, for one, wouldn't be turning his back on Duo any time soon.
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