Between The Sea and The Stars
By: Trevor Dowling
The young knight gazed up at the plethora of stars, a myriad of shining points in the sky combining their forces with that of the two moons to illuminate an otherwise onyx-colored backdrop.
As he sat upon Viper Manor's rooftop ledge overlooking the bluffs, he could hear the sound of the swelling sea crashing violently against the cliff wall below. To most, the wild, chaotic sound would seem to clash with the serene image of dazzling lights amongst the blackened canopy that blanketed the heavens above. Yet somehow the contrast didn't strike Glenn as being odd in the least. In fact, he found it quite soothing and in some ways, very reminiscent of his own life.
The sea was an ever-changing thing, a noisy, rhythmical life form that flowed endlessly, crashing on rocks or beachhead, being perpetually engulfed back within itself in an endless cycle. And for all the noise and all the shifting that goes on within, it seems as if, in the end, it's all for nothing. That it changes so much over time, and yet somehow never changes at all. In a sense, the sea was an immortal being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
An old fisherman from Arni Village had once told him that all life begins in the sea, and in the end, returns to the sea. Glenn wasn't sure he bought into that philosophy, but he did acknowledge that there was a certain truth contained within it. If all people are born from the sea, then the sea is what makes up the masses. Billions upon billions of lives constantly flowing, constantly changing, constantly yelling and screaming into the silent air to be heard, struggling to break free and ascend to the stars, but in the end never really changing, never really getting anywhere. And at the end of their days, eventually swallowed up within the flow of time.
But as with everything, there were exceptions. There were those that had managed to break free of the cycle of life - to find their place amongst the stars. That was where Glenn saw fault in the fisherman's theory.
Looking up at the sky, it was easy to make out one star from another. It was true that some shone brighter than others did, but nonetheless, each had its own distinct position in the night sky where it stood out. When he looked to the sky, Glenn always thought of those that stood out distinctly like the stars, those that shone brighter than the rest of the world. Those that had achieved something in their lifetime: Greatness. Noble men like Lord Viper and Sir Radius. Fierce warriors like his father, Garai, and his friend, Karsh. But the brightest star in the sky always reminded him of his brother, Dario. The brightest star for the man that shone brighter in life than any other.
Dario had been born destined for greatness. Seven years later, Glenn was born, destined to live in the shadows cast by his brother's radiance. Yet Glenn never held anything but the utmost respect for his brother, desiring nothing more than to be just like him. Wishing that just once, someone might say that Glenn reminded him of Dario.
Tall and muscular, with golden hair like the sun and crisp blue eyes of infinite wisdom and mercy, combined with an honorable and dignified soul beyond measure, Dario seemed the cut of perfection. But more than anything else, Dario was unequaled with a sword, having been taught personally by their father, Garai, who had been considered the best swordsman in his day. Both men had been worthy of wielding the Holy Dragon Sword, Einlanzer, a privilege bestowed only to the top Dragoon swordsman, and only then if the sword's spirit found the knight worthy enough.
Glenn never had the luxury of being trained by Garai, his father having died while he was still very young. But that wasn't enough to stop Glenn from trying his hand at the art of swordsman-ship. That was where it had all begun.
"I, Glenn, shall finally avenge thee, Cyrus. Behold, Magus, the legendary sword Masamune! Prepare to taste the cold steel of mine blade!"
Of course, the enemy that stood before him was not really Magus, the powerful wizard that had terrorized the world back in 600 AD. Instead, it was a practice dummy made of straw set up in a courtyard residing beside a small mahogany cottage.
Nor was the Masamune-wielding avenger the famous hero Glenn from that same time period who had defeated the evil Magus. While they may have shared the same name, and perhaps the same diminutive stature, the famous Glenn having been transformed into a frog, little else did they have in common.
This Glenn was all of five years old, and certainly not wielding the legendary Masamune, but definitely a sword just as real, just as heavy. And just as dangerous.
While he had managed to get in a few good hacks despite the sheer weight and size of the sword compared to that of the small boy, inevitably, the laws of physics would always win out. Especially with a reckless, unsupervised boy's desire to prove himself bigger than his britches involved.
After a giant hack that bit deeply into the straw dummy's leg, the force of Glenn's back-swing caused the boy to upset his balance, sending him spinning around dizzily, carried by the sword's momentum, a series of streaks and colors moving by too quickly for his eyes to make out. Eventually the sword struck something solid, most likely the stone steps of the blacksmith's shop next door, causing it to bounce back in Glenn's direction.
The wanna-be swordsman felt a sharp pain on his left cheek, followed just as quickly by another in roughly the same spot just as he crashed unceremoniously onto the ground, his back lining the flower bed, his eyes blinded by the sun towering above him.
His cheek enflamed with pain, Glenn tried to fight every impulse he had to cry his eyes out. After all, brave knights do not cry.
He only half succeeded, producing a muffled series of sobs that were obviously loud enough to catch the attention of a heavenly being.
The voice proved it. Only heavenly beings could sound so saccharine. "Are you okay?"
"U-Uh-huh," he stammered, trying to sound as brave as he could so the mysterious benefactor wouldn't think him weak.
She must have discovered the source of his pain, because she became even more concerned. "Oh my! That's a nasty cut you have there." She pulled out a handkerchief and applied it to his left cheek, staining the white cloth red.
Her lithe form leaned over him, the sun providing her with a halo, her face cast in shadow by the glare from behind. It was the most beautiful thing Glenn had ever seen in his entire life. He knew she could only be one thing.
"Are you a Saint?" he inquired with wonder. He had heard stories about Saints, powerful holy beings that came to the rescue of those in need and protected them from danger if need be. Since he had never seen this young girl before, and he knew most of the people in Termina, he was sure that she must be a Saint here to aid him.
The "Saint" helped him sit up, still pressing the cloth to his cheek. For the first time, the sun no longer in his eyes, Glenn got a good look at the girl. She seemed quite young, maybe a few years older than he was, with a sleek mane of dark hair and the loveliest shade of gleaming violet eyes rounding out a smooth-skinned, breathtakingly beautiful face. Glenn had known that saints would be perfect by nature, but he had never known they could be so young.
She seemed to ignore his question though, continuing to apply first aid to his wound, but paying little attention to his curiosity.
"Well, are you?" He asked politely, though a bit more forcefully this time.
The stranger laughed, a syrupy sweet giggle. "Don't be silly. I am Lady Riddel. Who might you be?"
He completely glossed over her question, so focused on her strange name. "Your name is Lady?"
She laughed again. "You really are a funny kid. No, my name is Riddel. Lady is my title. My father is the Lord of Viper Manor, and as such, I am the Lady of Viper Manor."
"Oh." Glenn still wasn't sure exactly what it meant to be a Lord or Lady, but at least he understood the idea of having a title, like how a knight was called "Sir" or the wielder of the Einlanzer sword was called "Grandmaster".
Riddel removed the handkerchief from his cheek for the first time and got a good look at his cut. "How did you manage to cut yourself like that, in a perfect X shape?"
She squirmed at the sight of the cut, concern evident in her voice. "Does it hurt?"
Glenn kept his brave face on. "I-I'm okay."
She smiled sweetly, playing along with him. "Of course you are. You are a brave, strong Dragoon Knight, are you not?"
Glenn nodded with confidence. "Uh-huh."
Lady Riddel used the blood-soaked cloth to mop up the pools of blood that continued to seep out of his skin, her caring tone returning once again. "Well, Courageous Knight, it looks as though you are going to have a nasty scar. Probably permanent."
The boy cringed. "Permanent? Like... forever?" Glenn wasn't so sure he liked that idea. He was hoping he could hide it from his mother so he wouldn't get in trouble for taking one of Dario's swords without permission. It looked like he wasn't going to get away with that now.
Obviously sensing his fear, Riddel tried to soothe him, though she hadn't quite picked up on the actual reason for his concern about the scar. She gave him a warm playful smile. "Probably. But you will cut quite the dashing figure when you are older, I am sure. The scar will give you a rugged look that girls will swoon over and enemies will fear."
He did like that idea, though, his previous worries suddenly vanishing in an instant, along with all the pain in his cheek. "I want enemies to fear me. Someday, I'm gonna be the bestest Dragoon ever!"
Lady Riddel smiled again. "I'm sure you will. Is that why you were playing with the sword?"
"I-I guess," he stammered, lowering his head, feeling guilty once again as he waited for the lecture to begin.
But it never came. Instead, the girl's rebuke remained light in tone, allowing him to decide whether what he had done was wrong or not. "Don't you think that maybe next time you should wait until you are a bit bigger, when you can handle a sword properly?"
Naturally, what he had done was wrong, or else he wouldn't have felt guilty about it. "Yeah, I guess."
"Good. I would hate for you to get seriously hurt before you can become the greatest Dragoon. If that were to happen, who would be there to rescue me when I am in trouble?" Her smiles were becoming infectious.
Glenn beamed back. "I will. I'll wait until I'm older. I promise. And I will save you... some day."
"I'm sure you will. I'm holding you to that promise." She mopped his cheek one last time. "What's your name? So that I'll know who to address when you rescue your damsel in distress."
"Glenn," the boy responded sheepishly.
"Glenn, huh?" She mused. "A fitting name for a hero."
It was a wonder he ever picked up a sword again. He might not have, had it not been for Riddel's words of encouragement those many years ago.
Ah, lovely Miss Riddel. With a beauty that could take one's breath away, and a soul as pure as gold, Lady Riddel was the object of many a boy's affections.
Serge had told Glenn once that fishermen and sailors would often use the stars in the sky for navigation. That the constellations in the sky would serve as a compass, the means by which they could find their way back home. On a clear night, a sailor could find his way easily, the stars lighting the way and pointing him in the right direction.
If that were true, then that was what Riddel was to him. She was his guiding light, his moral compass. It seemed that everything began and ended with her.
Who would have thought flowers could cost so much? He had only bought one bellflower for Miss Riddel and already half of the small fortune he had received from his mother that morning was gone.
But it had been worth it. She seemed so genuinely surprised and grateful at his thoughtful gesture.
He had wanted to make the day memorable. After all, it wasn't every day that he got to spend time with Lady Riddel on his own, as Dario and Karsh were usually around as well to hog her attention. But today those two had gone out of town on a supply run with Karsh's mother, leaving Glenn and Riddel to find something to do on their own.
They had already taken a boat ride and Miss Riddel had watched as Glenn showed off his skills with the wooden sword that she had given him for his sixth birthday. Now, as he led her down the road by her wrist at a fast clip, there was only one more final surprise that Glenn had in store for his favorite person in the whole world.
Not a few weeks ago, Miss Riddel had surprised the boys with a secret gift while they had been practicing in the courtyard. At first, Glenn had hoped that she had brought him Viper Churros, his favorite food in the whole world. But it turned out that she had only brought them all bellflowers.
That was why he had bought her the bellflower today, to show her that he remembered her gift from a few weeks ago. That event was also the reason for their little surprise trip now. Miss Riddel had said that she had never tasted Viper Churros, and asked him if they were really as good as he claimed them to be. Glenn had known at that moment that it was essential that Lady Riddel be able to judge for herself just how good they were. Deep down, though, Glenn just knew she would love them. Who wouldn't?
But Glenn had to admit that this moment was also exciting for him. This was the first time he had ever bought Viper Churros on his own. Usually his mother or Dario would pay for them when they stopped by the vendor's booth, but this time Glenn got to be the grown-up.
By the time they had arrived at the Churro Vendor's cart, Riddel was worn out, tired from the long trek. Glenn wasn't even breathing heavily. He was obviously in better shape than Miss Riddel, what with his training to be a dragoon and all.
"So this is where you were taking me?" she inquired, trying to regain her normal breathing pattern, a playful 'I-should-have-known' tone to her voice.
"Uh-huh." Glenn turned towards the vendor, and gazed up expectantly, eagerly waiting his turn.
The vendor took a second to notice him because he was partially hidden by the cart. "What can I do for you, young sir?"
"How many Viper Churros can I get for this amount?" The well-meaning seven-year-old stuck out his coin-filled hand in the vendor's direction.
The vendor took a close look at the coins displayed in Glenn's hand. "Well, let's see, that's about 60 Gil you have there. That'll only get you one."
Glenn was heartbroken. "One? That's it?" He couldn't believe how expensive everything was.
The vendor gave him a sympathetic nod. "'Fraid, so, Champ."
He bought the one anyway. Then he and Miss Riddel walked across the street to sit on the bridge's railing to watch the boats sail by beneath them.
Even though he had been craving Viper Churros all day, manners dictated that he give the one he had bought to Miss Riddel. After all, he had really wanted her to taste them in the first place. "Here you go, Miss Riddel. I hope you like it."
He could tell she was very grateful for the generous gift, but was also too kind and considerate to accept his offer. "I appreciate the gesture, Glenn, but I cannot take that. It's the only one you have."
"But I got it for you. I want you to have it," he insisted politely.
"That is very sweet of you, Glenn." She gave him one of her trademark lovely smiles and then tousled his dirty-grey hair with her hand. "I gladly accept. Thank you, noble sir."
"You're welcome," he beamed. She took the Churro that he offered to her.
"But at least let me return your kindness and give you half. After all, you cannot grow to be big and strong without proper nourishment."
She broke the Churro down the middle and handed half of it back. Glenn took it hesitantly at first, but then started wolfing it down voraciously after giving her a quick nod of thanks.
Riddel continued speaking before she took her first bite. "Just promise me one thing, Glenn." She gazed out in reflection at the calm sea, the cool breeze sweeping her dark hair back.
He turned to glance at her, his mouth stuffed with the delicious Churro, his white streaming headband preventing the wind whipping at his side from blowing his mop of hair into his face.
Riddel finished speaking her wish, her expression lined with both regret and gratefulness all at the same time. "Promise me you won't grow up too fast."
Miss Riddel, all grown up the day she was born, as Lady of the Manor, expected to act like an adult even before she became one. So similar to Dario, so different from Glenn, who, standing next to his brother, would forever be seen in the world's eyes as a little kid.
Glenn had adored Riddel all his life, for as long as he could remember. But it was a futile love; a love that could never be. While Riddel genuinely cared for him, and often humored him when he tried to please her and spend time with her, the truth was that their age difference would always be a factor. Four years his senior, she would always see him as that little kid. That no matter how many years he aged, no matter how tall he grew, no matter what rights of passage he survived through, she was always those few years ahead, always passed that next phase of development that he hadn't quite reached yet.
A problem that his brother, Dario did not share. In time it became clear that Dario and Riddel shared the same feelings for each other, and soon were pledged to marry, much to the dismay of both Glenn and Dario's best friend, Karsh. But while Karsh, who was the same age as Dario, had been in the running and was naturally heart-broken by her decision, Glenn was sure that he had felt even more heart-broken, having never even been in the running to begin with.
Yet Glenn was happy for his brother. After all, Dario was Glenn's role model, and as such, was far better than Glenn himself could ever be. And wouldn't it make the most sense that the most beautiful angel in the world would choose the better man? She deserved no less. So how could Glenn possibly be upset by the outcome?
He couldn't. Especially when not long after Dario and Riddel had announced their engagement, Dario and Karsh paid a visit to the Isle of the Damned, and only Karsh returned.
That day marked the time when everything changed. The Acacia Dragoons lost their brightest star, Lord Viper lost his greatest advisor, Karsh lost his best friend - and perhaps a little bit of his soul - and Glenn lost his brother and his idol. The world had suddenly become a bleaker place for everybody.
But poor, sweet Lady Riddel was the most damaged of all. She had lost her fiancée - and a major part of her heart with him. What she got in return was a poor substitute for Dario in Glenn.
It was strange to Glenn how one single occurrence could change so much in so short a span of time. Almost overnight relationships shifted, and lives were never the same. No longer having her true love in her life, Riddel looked to Glenn for support and comfort. Not because of any feelings she had for him, but actually for the opposite reasons. She looked to him because he was safe. She saw him as the harmless, enthusiastic child that had always cared for her and would go to extremes to please her. To her he would always be silly little Glenn, the younger kid trying to make it in the world of big kids and grown-ups.
But Glenn fulfilled his role. He found he no longer was the pursuer of Riddel's heart, but instead found himself becoming her pillar of strength. He was her shoulder to cry on when she was sad and her protector when she was in trouble. Never once at the time did it occur to him that he could ever be anything more. That ship had sailed. His affection for her had shifted to something far more complex and far more meaningful: A sense of duty.
In the span of a night, Glenn had grown up. But at the time neither he nor Miss Riddel had ever realized it.
Karsh withdrew from everyone's life, avoiding both Glenn and Lady Riddel as much as possible, more than likely due to the guilt he felt over Dario's death. Glenn had once overheard Karsh talking to himself not too long after, and became aware that perhaps because of Karsh's heartbreak and jealousy, he had played something of a role in Dario's death.
But Glenn could never be sure, and far be it for him to judge a person without evidence. It was that day that the concept of truth and justice became an important aspect of Glenn's very being. That was the day that a wide-eyed sixteen-year-old boy suddenly saw the world in a whole new light. That right and wrong, good and evil were only extremes that very few things matched up with, but that most things in life fell somewhere in between, in the shades of grey.
If a good man like Karsh could have dark desires hidden within his heart to such an extent as to act on them, then perhaps anyone could, maybe even Glenn. Perhaps even Dario. It was in those shades of grey that the truth resided, and that no man could be judged without all the facts being known. No situation could be assessed without first taking a step back and looking at the entire picture.
It was Riddel who first put it into words, at the graveyard when they had encountered Serge for the first time, urging Glenn to never lose sight of the unclouded truth. But even though she had chuckled lightly when he responded with the simple phrase "As you wish," he still took her words to heart. That had marked the time when Glenn's belief in the truth would be brought to the fore more than ever before, a long stride closer to the destiny of his choosing.
That had been how his adventures with Serge and Kid had all started. Riddel's concerns that something felt wrong about her father's alliance with the "beastly" Lynx, an intuition Glenn concurred with, had prompted the noble knight to seek the truth, even at the cost of disobeying orders and being expelled from his lifelong dream of being an Acacia Dragoon. But it was the choice that he had to make, or everything he stood for would have been a lie.
Though in doing so, he soon found that he had brought both honor and shame upon himself. But ultimately, it had been the first step in the right direction for him.
Of course, he hadn't known that at the time, instead almost hitting rock bottom before he managed to climb his way back out. That downhill slide had started in Fort Dragonia, when Lynx had revealed his true face.
Not counting the fact that Glenn was now laying in a pool of his own blood from the initial sortie with the demi-human Lynx, or that Lord Viper was unconscious, the knife wound in his back still fresh, Glenn had the distinct impression that something was not right. Granted, the younger man that stood before him looked exactly as he always had, the accent and clip to his voice the same as Glenn had always remembered, and yet something screamed out that despite appearances, this man was not Serge.
He had been not two minutes ago, before the Dragon Tear that rested between him and Lynx had flashed. But now something in Glenn's gut told him that things were no longer as they seemed.
There had been two factors that had triggered the warning flags; two things that he, as a soldier, had seen that Kid had not.
For what Glenn had seen was that Serge's attitude had changed. No longer was he the reluctant fighter, but instead had become an aggressive instigator, more in line with Lynx's behavior. His tone now seemed eager, almost bloodthirsty, his body language somehow off, somehow twisted. Glenn saw the stance and posture of an aggressor. A man bent on destroying his enemy. He saw Lynx, only in Serge's body.
But in Lynx, Glenn could see a defender, attempting not to harm his attackers, trying only to protect himself. And yet failing, seemingly inexperienced with the scythe he had always wielded, as if he were unfamiliar with how to put it to proper use.
As unfathomable as it may have seemed, Glenn's gut instinct told him that Lynx and Serge had somehow switched bodies; that Kid was now attempting to kill her companion, blinded by her surging emotions to the fact that the man now egging her on to achieve that vengeance was actually the person she should have been fighting.
Kid saw only vengeance finally within her grasp, pure hatred for the beastly creature that had taken away everything that she had loved. In her rush to finish what she had long dreamed of, she failed to see that the Lynx she was now about to kill was not the Lynx she thought he was.
He knew he should have cried out, should have attempted to stop it himself. Yet Glenn found that he was nothing more than an observer in his own body, as helpless as the real Serge was to what was happening, frozen in place by his own indecisiveness. Frozen because of his mind and body's inability to work in concert with each other, one refusing to believe what the other knew to be fact, the other refusing to act without having proof that it was correct.
Glenn found himself forced to watch as the proof presented itself in the form of Serge - actually Lynx in Serge's body - stabbing Kid with her own dagger, taking her completely by surprise.
Then they all vanished. Gone in the blink of an eye, a dying General Viper with a knife stuck in his back and a Dragoon outcast and failure wallowing in a pool of his own blood all that was left behind.
Seriously wounded, seeking help for the injured Lord Viper and atonement from Lady Riddel for his failures, Glenn had somehow managed to crawl his way out of Fort Dragonia, a trail of his own blood left in his wake. After a long, arduous journey, upon returning to Termina he had found that his failure had come full circle.
In his absence, the Porre military from the mainland had overrun the town and seized Viper Manor. Worse, they were holding Lady Riddel hostage inside the manor, perhaps in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of her father, Lord Viper.
The orders Glenn had disobeyed to join Serge's quest had been to protect Lady Riddel. Had he been there when the Porre military invaded, he might have prevented her from falling into the hands of the Porre soldiers. As it stood, though, he had failed in that regard as well.
Though not fully recovered from his injuries at the hands of the turncoat Lynx, his long trek back had given him ample time to heal sufficiently enough for the actions he was about to undertake next.
It had been bad enough that he had failed the Dragoons, worse that he had failed Lord Viper. He could not afford to fail Lady Riddel. Her rescue was the only option.
He should have anticipated the modern weaponry of the Porre military. Firearms versus a blade had put him at a distinct disadvantage, one he wished he had thought of before rushing in blindly. Especially now that he was trapped in a corner, chunks of the wall sailing by his ear from time to time whenever one of the soldiers felt compelled to fire his weapon, ensuring that Glenn stayed in his designated spot.
For the most part it had worked for the better part of the last ten minutes. Unfortunately for them, they hadn't been able to get any closer. They found out quickly enough that while they had the advantage of long-range weaponry, at short range they were at a distinct disadvantage, fodder for his steel. Rushing him left the gunmen unable to fire their weapons for fear of hitting their own men, and even in groups, the on-rushers proved no match for the fighting techniques he had learned from Dario - invaluable techniques that had left his enemies down for the count, but not for life.
Which had inevitably left them at a standstill, the Porre soldiers occasionally taking potshots at him until they could come up with a better plan of attack. Or at least until their commanding officer, a man named Norris from what Glenn could hear, arrived on the scene.
The instant the commander showed up, Glenn felt that any slight advantage he may have had was now completely thrown out the window. The man appeared to be bold, and smart, wasting no time making his move.
Half a dozen soldiers charged at once. Sure to keep at least one between him and those that had remained behind, Glenn rose to his feet, sword in hand preparing to fend his pursuers off. He disarmed the first soldier with a light slash from his sword then shifted into a low spin with his leg extended, catching the same soldier in the back of the legs, sending him sprawling to the floor.
As he popped up, Glenn adjusted his grip on his sword so that he held it straight up in the air, perpendicular to his palm, smashing a second guard's nose flat with the sword's hilt, simultaneously catching another in the face with the buckler he wore on his left elbow. Unable to fend off the fourth, he took a kick to the chest, his armor absorbing most of the blow, but still receiving enough of the impact to force him back, closer to the end of the hallway.
Another flying kick coming at him, Glenn took a step back to avoid the strike, shifting his weight to the side and catching the man behind the knee just as he landed. The man doubled over backwards, his back bending in the most uncomfortable way. Glenn finished off what he had started with a swift elbow to the man's face, forcing him to the ground in a most spectacular crash.
But Glenn took a kick to the side for his efforts by yet another of the guards, this time forced against the wall, his boot clanging on metal beneath him.
As the two guards still currently standing rushed him, Glenn managed to catch one under the chin with his left palm, sending the man flying back the way he had come. The other managed to land a decent punch that slammed Glenn into the wall. As he pushed off the wall to return the favor, the floor suddenly rose up under his feet, upsetting his balance and throwing off his rhythm, giving the now-risen Porre soldiers the opportunity to close around the intruder.
Glenn cursed himself for his stupidity, for walking right into the trap. What he had failed to take into account was that he had been maneuvered into place right over the metal grate on the floor leading down into the sewer system - the same way in which he had sneaked into the manor in the first place. All Norris' people had to do was push from below as soon as he stepped on it, and the advantage would be theirs.
Overpowering him with sheer numbers, Glenn quickly found himself without a sword and without a chance in the world of breaking free of their grips. He was caught. Cornered, outsmarted, and captured. A failure.
"Commander Norris. We've captured him, sir," one of the guards yelled down the hall. As the blonde diabolical commander came into view, the same officer asked in all seriousness, "You want us to kill him?"
"Don't be absurd," Norris quickly riposted, obviously repulsed by the very notion of killing a captured man. "Put him in the cells downstairs with the others. But treat him well. This man has earned our respect. Now if you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to upstairs." He returned the salutes of his men, then spun on his heels and proceeded down the hallway towards the stairwell and out of sight.
As the guards dragged Glenn away, his mind would only allow him to follow one train of thought: He had failed. He had failed the Dragoons. He had failed himself. But most importantly, he had failed Lady Riddel.
Dario wouldn't have failed. That was all he could think about as he stewed in his cell, alternating his time in solitary confinement between sleeping and chastising himself for his failures. It obviously hadn't been time very well spent.
By the time he had made his escape from the prison with the help of the surprisingly honorable pirate, Fargo, Glenn had learned that the combined forces of Karsh and Serge - or was it Lynx? - Had already rescued Riddel, and she, in turn, had fled to safety to take care of her father, who apparently still lived.
Still stung by his failures, Glenn retreated back to the cabin where he and Dario had grown up, hoping to find answers. He had hoped that in reflecting on memories from his childhood and coming into contact with objects that had once belonged to Dario, perhaps he could communicate with Dario's spirit, find out what Dario would have done in Glenn's situation.
That plan, along with the countless others he had tried in hope of seeking guidance, had proved fruitless. As fruitless as the bellflower Riddel had given him back when he was seven, the one he had planted in the ground, naively thinking that its seeds would grow fruit. Riddel had affectionately called him silly for thinking such a thing.
But as silly a notion as it might have been, it did remind him of one important thing. The sage advice of an eternally optimistic seven-year-old boy: "You never know until you try." That had been how he had responded to Riddel's claim that a bellflower could not grow produce. Likewise, that was ultimately how he would end up responding to his own crisis of faith.
In joining forces with Serge, he had tried to do what he thought in his heart was the right thing to do. He had taken a risk, and he had failed. At the time, he had thought his failure had been in the rashness of his acts, a criticism he had heard by many while growing up. "Hot-headed" was what they had often called him. He preferred the term "expressive". In his mind, they were two entirely different things. Because he didn't think he acted without thinking things through first. He always understood the consequences of his actions before he took them. He just wasn't as restrained about taking them as Dario had been.
But at that time he wasn't sure if that was true anymore. Perhaps he had been as rash as people had always said he was. His failure seemed to attest to that.
But failure didn't mean that he had been wrong. Taking a risk that doesn't pan out does not necessarily make one weak. In fact, it makes one brave. Those who take chances and fail at least had the courage to try, while those who avoid taking risks miss out. True, there is no failure if one never takes a chance, but then, likewise, there is no gain. There is no chance to learn from the experience, to grow from it.
In many ways, Glenn had failed. But at least he saw where he had failed, and that some of his failures were through no fault of his own. He hadn't done the wrong thing. Sitting idly by and ignoring his inner voice would have been doing the wrong thing. He had taken a risk, and it didn't pan out the way he had expected, but at least he had been able to see where he had made mistakes so that he could be sure not repeat them.
The biggest mistake he had made was in not trusting his own instincts, not having faith in himself. Though he had been on the cusp of discovering that important fact at the time, it wasn't until his chance run-in with Lord Viper, Sir Radius, and Lady Riddel that he fully understood that notion.
The Einlanzer stood proudly before him, marking the graveyard shrine where the souls of his father and his brother now lay to rest. He would often come here along with Lady Riddel to pay his respects, and sometimes by himself to seek guidance. He was in need of that now more than ever before. "Father? Brother?" he called out.
A familiar voice answered. "Glenn?"
The conflicted knight turned to face Lord Viper, surprised to see him, as well as Sir Radius and Lady Riddel in the distance, but relieved to find that the rumors of his survival had been true. "General! I am glad to see that you are safe."
Viper nodded graciously in response. "The same could be said of you. When you couldn't be found anywhere within Fort Dragonia, we all feared for the worst."
Glenn lowered his head. "Thank you for you kind words, General. I…" He found himself stumbling over his words, not sure what to apologize for first. He had made so many errors of judgment, and feared the consequences of his misguided actions. As prepared for them as he may have been when he first decided to take action, now that the time had come to pay the price, he found he wasn't quite ready for it. But he knew he would have to face it sooner or later. "I am deeply sorry for my selfish conduct. I am prepared for expulsion from the Dragoons." On the inside he was cringing, awaiting Lord Viper's wrath.
It never came. "What are you saying, Glenn?" The benevolent ruler's tone was sincere, almost apologetic. "I am the one who needs to apologize." Glenn looked up in confusion. "Like your brother Dario, you have the same calm eyes that see the big picture without being led astray. And that is exactly what the Dragoons are in need of now."
He understood the words that Lord Viper had spoken, but somehow he was having difficulty processing them, not quite able to comprehend their collective meaning. "General…"
The general cut him off abruptly. "Serge has spoken highly of you. He mentioned how your skills have been a great asset to him on his journey." He paused for a second. "I was hoping to find you here, to personally invite you to join us once more. To help us - me - travel the right path."
Glenn shook his head in perplexity. "I am not certain that I can. Sometimes I feel as if I cannot tell right from wrong. Right now, I do not know what is going on or what I can do about it." Having all the answers had always been Dario's forte. "What would Dario do if he were here?"
Sir Radius had been approaching at that precise moment, lightly chuckling, as he usually did, at the statement that he had just overheard. "There is no need to worry. It seems Dario's spirit lives strongly within you. Believe in yourself and do what you believe."
Radius had always been like an uncle to Glenn, having helped watch over him and Dario since their father's untimely death. He had always been full of sage advice, and was usually correct in his judgment of character. But he made it sound so simple, as if he thought Glenn to be the man with all the answers. In fact, it almost sounded as if everybody was actually looking to him for guidance; guidance he wasn't sure he could provide.
He glanced down again, unsure of how to respond, then glanced back up in response to a movement behind Sir Radius that he caught in his periphery. Radius glanced back in the direction Glenn had been looking, then chuckled again when he caught sight of Miss Riddel coming towards them. "I am sure you two have much to discuss. Perhaps it is best if we leave the two of you alone."
Lord Viper nodded in agreement then gave Glenn a courteous nod, which Glenn politely returned. Sir Radius chortled again as the two headed off to leave him alone with Miss Riddel.
Neither spoke for a long while, neither daring to look at the other. Instead they both stood shoulder to shoulder, absently gazing at the radiant Einlanzer sword.
Finally Glenn risked a peek at Miss Riddel. It was a relief to see her safe. A joy and yet heartbreaking all at the same time to gaze upon her beauty, an all-too familiar face that had become a study in perpetual sadness over the last several years. Even more so now, as she gazed upon Dario's shrine, reliving cherished memories of days that would never return.
Glenn tried to speak, struggling over various words, desperate to find the right words to express his apologies, and to convey how relieved he was to see her alive and well. But there were no words that could truly capture the sentiment of how he felt. He groped for something, his lips moving as if they were about to speak but deciding against it at the last possible second.
Miss Riddel managed to speak first, though she still did not face him, her tone one of sadness, in spite of the words that she spoke. "I am very proud of you."
At first, Glenn wasn't sure if she was talking to him or to Dario. But when she cast her sad eyes on him, he knew she had been referring to him. He had wanted to say that she was wrong, that he had failed in his endeavors, but somehow he found that he could not admit that he had failed in her presence. So instead, he inquired as to what made her think she had reason to be proud of him. "For what?"
Her tone was one of admiration, but her heavyhearted expression did not change. "For following your heart. I sense that you think you did the wrong thing, but you did not. Everyone else can see that but you. Especially father. While I was nursing him back to health, he kept telling me how you had been right. How you had seen what he had not. Whether you believe it or not, he is very proud of you as well."
Glenn managed a half-smile. "Before today, I had not even thought he knew who I was."
Miss Riddel gave him a look of disbelief, as if she couldn't comprehend why he would say such a thing. "Of course he does. He has great respect for you, even if he is not very good at showing it. You don't think he would let just anyone act as my bodyguard, do you?"
Glenn cringed internally at the thought, that perhaps that was all he was to her: a bodyguard. But nonetheless, there was truth to her words. "I suppose not. He wants me to go with you. To join Serge again."
"I wish you would." She genuinely seemed hopeful, but something in her eyes tipped him off that she was also resigned to the fact that he might not take her up on the offer.
He wasn't sure he could accept the offer either. When he had first joined Serge, it had felt like the right thing to do. But then things got so out of control that now he couldn't say whether it had been the right thing to do or not. Everyone else thought so. But everybody else had also admitted that they had been wrong. So who was to say he was right?
Glenn shook his head. "But I am not sure if that is what is right. I am at a loss for what to believe."
Lady Riddel nodded sympathetically. "I understand. You must do what you feel is right. But please do not put yourself in danger. Everyone in the Dragoons is worried about your safety."
Everyone in the Dragoons is worried. Why had she not said that she was worried? He was sure it was true. She had said so in the past. Why not now, when he felt he needed her support more than ever? Was it because she had started seeing him as just a bodyguard instead of the old-reliable Glenn she grew up with? He had noticed that her behavior around him had been different ever since the last time they had come here. Somehow, she seemed more distant. Had he changed? Had he strayed so far off the path that even Dario would be ashamed of him? He certainly hoped not, and vowed to find the way again if he had. "But how will I know what is right?"
Riddel glanced back at Dario's shrine, a slight hopefulness filling her soul. "Follow your heart, and you will know what is right. Whatever you decide, I have faith that it will be the right decision."
The one thing Glenn had always found amazing about Lady Riddel was her faith. For four long years she had mourned Dario, waking every morning and enduring another long day of heartache and pain, but always holding on to that tiny grain of hope that one day Dario would walk back into her life. She never doubted it for a second, never gave up on that hope, even if it appeared to many that she had. That was how strong her faith was.
Glenn had learned a lot from her about faith. He learned to respect the power of faith and belief on that day when Dario was found, alive and well, on a small island in the other world - Serge's home world. While he may not have been the exact same Dario that Glenn had grown up with, or the Dario that the Riddel of Glenn's world had fallen in love with, he still shared the same past and the same experiences that the other Dario had, and so was still Dario. This Dario had also loved the Riddel of his world, and as such, also loved this Riddel just the same. Different worlds, same people. Dario and Riddel were united once more, just as she had always believed in her heart that they would.
If faith could make the dead live again, perhaps it was possible that belief in oneself could help one exceed his or her own expectations. Lord Viper had told Glenn that his ability to walk the straight and narrow and to see the unclouded truth was exactly what the dragoons needed now. Sir Radius had told him to believe in himself, that in having faith in himself, the answers would present themselves. In short, that Glenn could accomplish anything if only he allowed himself to believe that he could.
Glenn's faith in himself had been restored when he had reunited with Serge's group, Serge having regained his original body. Lady Riddel had shown him that faith could perform miracles. But that day, standing face to face with his older brother once again, he also learned that sometimes faith must be put to the test.
While they had found Dario, what they hadn't been prepared for was the fact that Dario was possessed by the evil of the sword that he wielded, the Masamune, and that its dark desires could only be sated with the blood of Dario's one true love, Riddel.
Dario had quickly made short work of the wall of defenders that stood between him and his fiancée. Karsh had taken a nasty slash to the chest, leaving him out of the fight. He was currently being treated by Riddel, who all had agreed would be kept out of the fight, as far from Dario as possible. Radius, though still a skilled fighter at the age of sixty-two, unfortunately proved that his age was a detriment to this battle. The only thing that had saved his life had been Serge, who had put up quite the fight against the world's best swordsman, but was rendered unconscious by a sword hilt to the chin while defending Radius from Dario's killing blow. He had survived only because he was positioned close enough to avoid the sword's lethal blade, but the force of his collision with Radius was also enough to remove the ex-Dragoon from the fight as well.
Which left only Glenn as the last line of defense; the last remaining barricade that stood in the way of Dario fulfilling the evil sword's wish. One on one, brother squaring off against brother in a fight to the death. It was a position Glenn never imagined he would find himself in, and one he was almost certain he would not be walking away from with his life.
Dario wasted no time, rushing Glenn, the gleam of the Masamune, the once pure sword corrupted by - and in turn corrupting - the souls of those unworthy of wielding it, flashing at him with seemingly inhuman speed. It was all Glenn could do to parry the attack, and the next and the next after that.
The assaults kept coming, the strikes raining down on him from all angles. Again and again Glenn dodged to the best of his ability, always just a fraction of a second ahead of certain death, restraining the urge to strike back for fear of harming his brother.
How does one fight against someone he does not wish to harm? Glenn could only defend for so long before he tired, before Dario's superior skills with a blade inevitably brought the fight to an abrupt but deadly end. Not only an end for Glenn, but also for Radius, Karsh, and Serge. An end for Miss Riddel.
That was an option Glenn was not willing to surrender to. Not so long as he still stood. Yet the flip side, taking the offensive and by some miracle actually standing victorious, would mean killing his own brother. That was a trade-off he was not willing to accept either.
Which left him at a further disadvantage, having to somehow take the possessed Dario down without dealing a killing blow. While he was sure that no one would blame him for it if he were to kill his brother, he knew that he would never forgive himself for it. He could never respect himself, could never look in the mirror without feeling disgust at the image reflected back at him. And like Karsh, he would never be able to look Miss Riddel in the eye again knowing that he had sounded the death knell on her dreams and her hopes for the future. That he had been the one to deal the fatal blow to her heart, shattering it beyond all repairs. That was not an outcome he could live with.
But that was an honorable notion that Dario did not share, clearly out for blood given the aggressive yet coldly calculating nature of his strikes. The only thing that had kept the fight going for as long as it had was the fact that Glenn could read Dario's attacks, having imitated them for years. However, Dario also possessed the same knowledge about him, so in the end it would come down to who could outlast the other, or who could throw the other for a loop first.
Thus far, Dario was winning. Glenn had found that his parries were becoming less resistant to Dario's pressing attacks, his muscles more sluggish than before. It was only a matter of time before his defenses collapsed, and Dario took him down. It was only a matter of time before Lady Riddel's fate was sealed.
Yet it was three words that shifted the balance of the playing field. Three inspiring words uttered by Lady Riddel that gave Glenn the strength to carry on, to shift his strategy from defensive mode to full-on offense.
Three words: "Don't hold back!"
Three simple words that he had always remembered; words that he had taken to heart so many years ago. They had been the words that he lived by, the pearl of wisdom he had based his actions on. They had been the words Miss Riddel had used in instructing him on how he should deal with Karsh in the youth division tournament of swords. Granted that had been a completely different situation from this, but nonetheless, those words were just as relevant now in dealing with Dario.
Deflecting a blow with his sword, Glenn took advantage of the slight opening Dario had given him, obviously not having expected Glenn to fight back this late in the game, planting a kick on his armored side. Dario found himself forced back by the blow, surprised by the attack he had not seen coming.
Glenn parried his return strike, the two swords clanging, Glenn allowing his arms to recoil ever so slightly from the blow before pushing the Masamune off his blade and countering with his own downward thrust, which Dario easily blocked.
Hampering Dario's next strike, Glenn soon found himself thrown back by Dario's push-off, recovering his footing as quickly as possible and deflecting the next strike that came at him from above. He stepped back and to the side to avoid Dario's upward thrust, catching Dario behind the leg, sending him down on one knee. Glenn tried to finish off the move with a knockout blow to the back of his brother's head, but Dario was already expecting the follow-up, somersaulting forward out of the line of fire, his leg connecting with Glenn's jaw a second later.
Glenn crashed solidly to the ground, a sharp rock digging painfully into his spine. Before he had a chance to clear away the temporary darkness that clouded his eyesight, he instinctively rolled to his right to avoid Dario's down strike. His vision clearing just enough to see that Dario had adjusted his aim and was now attempting to cleave Glenn across the waist, the younger Dragoon rolled back to dodge it. But instead of completing the backward somersault like his brother might have expected he shifted his momentum, kicking his legs forward and flipping up and over Dario's sword and back onto his feet. He swung his left elbow, the one with the buckler on it, aiming it for the back of his brother's blonde head. But Dario, recovering quickly and with great skill, caught the shield with his sword and shoved Glenn back again.
Face to face once again, Dario pressed the attack first, a side thrust to Glenn's left that he caught easily, though Dario's greater strength started to push the two swords closer to Glenn before the younger of the two finally managed to shove the other back out. It was quickly followed by another downward cut that Glenn caught above his head, his sword parallel to the ground, resisting Dario's blade as much as he possibly could, his strength quickly waning, the fierceness of the battle having taken its toll on him.
Just when he thought he couldn't hold out any longer, he heard the words again, loudly and clearly, as if Lady Riddel had actually shouted them out from behind him.
"Don't hold back!"
Summoning his last remaining reservoirs of strength, he threw Dario's sword back and to the side, following through with a full spin to his left. The sword in Glenn's right hand threw back Dario's block through sheer momentum; then he continued with a roundhouse kick that Dario managed to dodge with a large stride backward. Glenn cut his spin and continued to press his attack at Dario, swinging his sword calculatingly but with great force, causing Dario to back-pedal as he defended himself.
Finally Glenn halted his advance with a brutal upper cut of his sword, sending the Masamune flying upward but still in Dario's grip. He followed with a quick gut check, doubling his brother over with a kick. He caught Dario's weak counter-swing with his sword and bullied it easily to the side, his stance leaving him in the perfect position for a roundhouse kick, a technique taught to him recently by the brawny bartender, Orhla. The kick caught Dario's exposed left shoulder, twisting him around further and leaving the bigger man's back open to attack.
Glenn finished off his second spin with a perfectly placed shot to Dario's neck, the hilt of the sword connecting solidly, dropping the man coldly to the ground in an unconscious heap, the Masamune falling from Dario's grip, releasing him from its evil intentions once and for all.
And like that it was over, Lady Riddel rushing over to tend to her long-lost love, Glenn falling to his knees from sheer exhaustion. Disbelief at all that had just occurred assaulted and overtook all of his senses, leaving him unable to comprehend the weight of the feat he had just accomplished.
"If I were to equate you to something, it would be the moon. Yes, the moon. The moon only shines when there is a sun to reflect. The moon does not glow with its own light… But remember this! The moon's light is a guidepost to those that search in the darkness of the night. A time will come when you will carry out such a role… Sometime in the near future."
That was the cryptic reading he had received from a fortune-teller in Termina shortly after he had been freed from his cell in Viper Manor, in what had been another of his misguided plans to find some sort of guidance. He had been searching for answers, but at the time, all he found were more questions to ponder over, more evidence that he was even more lost than he thought. How was he supposed to serve as a guidepost to others when he couldn't even find his own way out of the darkness?
It hadn't been until he had spoken with General Viper that he understood what the fortune-teller had meant. If Glenn was the moon, then Dario was the sun, the radiant force that had guided the Dragoons, the ray of light that all looked up to in awe. Dario had a power within him that was bright enough for all to see.
Glenn had no such power, strengthened and brightened only by the spirit of Dario that he hoped to one day live up to. In these times of darkness, when a nation had lost its sun, the only light the people had to see by was the moon - Glenn radiating his brother's spirit. To the Dragoons, Glenn had become their new ray of light; their guiding star, if you will.
But while the moon could never match the radiance or the sheer volume of the sun, sometimes the moon could eclipse the sun. Never had that become more apparent than when Glenn had bested his brother in battle. He had taken on the sun and, miraculously, had emerged victorious.
While that had in no way convinced him into thinking he was better than Dario was, there were others that disagreed, including Dario himself. Soon Glenn found himself, in his opinion, the unworthy successor to the Holy Sword Einlanzer.
But the spirit of the Einlanzer also disagreed with his opinion, finding him more than worthy, and soon the humble knight found himself wielding not one, but two Einlanzers, one from each dimension. With the spirits of the Einlanzer and Dario merged with his own faith and belief in himself, Glenn felt like there was nothing he couldn't achieve - not that he would ever let it go to his head.
But his belief in himself would definitely be needed, for all that remained was to finish that which he had started, and join Serge's motley crew in storming Terra Tower. The fate of all humanity hung in the balance, with only a select few brave souls standing in the way. Never was faith needed more than at that moment.
The risk that Glenn was about to take was a huge one, a gambit that, if he failed, would result in General Viper's death. But he had no intentions of allowing that to happen because he had no intention of failing, though he did accept the fact that intentions and outcomes could be, and often were, two totally different things.
The fight with the merged Dragon God had been long and tiring, and in the end, the only two still standing were Serge and Glenn. The rest of the party were elsewhere within Terra Tower taking care of other enemies, holding them off so that the main group, which had consisted of Serge, Lord Viper, Orhla, Kid and himself, could break through and tackle their primary target, the merged Dragon God.
But things had not gone well from the start. Kid had taken a nasty blow to the head from the Dragon's tail, knocking her out cold in an instant. Orhla had suffered a similar fate not too long after, attempting to get in close for powerful shot to the Beast's gut.
Lord Viper was actually still conscious, though weakened from the battering he had taken from the Dragon, his personal weapon, the Venom, protruding from the creature's neck. Despite that, the reptilian God seemed completely unfazed, the wound only serving to make the creature even more livid that it already was. Livid enough that it had decided to make a meal of the weapon's owner.
Desperate for some way to save his general, Glenn charged the beast from the right side, thrusting the Einlanzer in his left hand into the Dragon God's flesh with as much power as he could muster. The attack certainly got the thing's attention, but only enough for it to ignore Lord Viper momentarily while it dealt with the pesky nuisance at its side. Easily shaking Glenn off, it countered with a hard swing of its thick tail, catching Glenn full in the chest and catapulting him across the courtyard to land near the fallen Kid, both Einlanzers thrown from his grip due to the massive force of the impact.
The wind completely knocked out of him, Glenn grasped for as much air as he could, not wasting any time getting back up. Taking in a huge gulp of air, Glenn hurriedly grabbed Kid's dagger that lay on the ground beside her downed form, standing and throwing all in one swift but painful movement, praying that his skill with projectile weapons was up to form. One errant throw and the dagger would more than likely hit Lord Viper instead.
Thankfully, his throw was accurate, catching the Dragon God squarely in the jaw. The reptile's head lashed backward in pain, giving Serge enough time to pull Lord Viper further out of the way.
As he had hoped, Glenn's throw had shifted the direction of the Dragon God's anger from Lord Viper to him, the new wound far more grievous than Viper's had been. As the creature started to charge him - still a good distance off due to how far Glenn had been flung by its tail - Glenn took a look at his surroundings, a plan beginning to formulate in his mind; a plan to end this whole fight once and for all.
Glenn glanced over in Serge's direction, and could see that Serge had a similar idea as he did. Glenn nodded in his direction, an acknowledging nod from his companion coming a second later. He charged, Serge doing likewise a split second after.
Still unarmed, Glenn aimed his run straight for the first Einlanzer that lay between him and the dragon, bending low to scoop it up in his left hand as he dashed by. The second Holy Sword lay several yards in front of the first. Using the unbalance caused by his crouching for the first sword, Glenn transferred his stumbling momentum into an acrobatic move, cartwheeling over the handle with his right hand and coming up out of the maneuver with the sword held firmly in the same hand.
Building up velocity, charging straight towards the huge gaping maw of the disgusting creature, Glenn summoned every bit of strength and energy he had left, calling on the spirits of the Holy Swords' former masters to help him out with what he was about to do.
The Dragon God suddenly coughed up a wad of bile, spewing it in Glenn's direction. Not shedding any of his speed, Glenn crossed both Einlanzers in front of him, forming a defensive X-shaped barrier, catching the deadly glob in the crux of the bisecting weapons, a few droplets squeaking passed, acid burning microscopic holes in his chest plate. The swords glowed fiercely, disintegrating the substance in a matter of nanoseconds, continuing to resonate as he reached the hovering Dragon God.
As the Dragon swung its mouth of razor sharp teeth towards him, Glenn thrust the right Einlanzer in a vicious uppercut, cutting clean through the creature's lower jaw. Then he was passed, planting both swords into the beast's underbelly, dragging them through with all his might. His momentum propelled him far enough to cleave straight down the middle of the beast all the way down to the tail, the ignored Serge simultaneously performing a similar strike with his powerful swallow from the side, ripping the Dragon clean across the waistline.
Glenn halted his momentum, his boots smoking along the ground as he slid to a halt, turning as soon as he had shed all of his speed, prepared to strike again, if need be. But he soon found that no sooner had he done a complete one-eighty that all the energy in his body gave way, and his left leg buckled, forcing him down on one knee. There was certainly not much fight left in him.
Serge did likewise, having fallen to both knees, supporting himself with his free hand, clearly unable to mount an attack. Luckily for the two of them, they didn't have to. The devastation of their X-Strike had completely torn the Dragon God apart, almost completely dissecting the creature into four even chunks. The thing fell lifelessly to the ground with an earthquake-inducing thud, not even capable of a final groan what with its internal organs piled up on the ground beneath its massive form.
Pushing himself back onto his feet, Glenn slowly stumbled towards the lifeless creature, noting that Serge was crawling towards where Kid lay. With shaky legs for support, Glenn removed Lord Viper's weapon from the creature's neck, an effort made far more difficult than it should have been due to his current condition. He made his way over to where Viper was tending to a now conscious Orhla.
"My Lord," he said as he dropped to one knee, extending the handle of Lord Viper's sword towards him.
General Viper stood and accepted the proffered blade, gazing down at the young Dragoon with eyes of admiration, the faint hint of a smile cresting his otherwise steely expression. "Someone once told me several years ago that a boy named Glenn would one day be a far more capable and talented Dragoon Knight than even Dario himself. As you can imagine, I had a hard time believing that anyone could be better than Dario."
Glenn was taken aback by the General's words, both flattered by the mysterious stranger's misguided appraisal of him and curious as to who would ever have enough faith in him to suggest such a thing. Possibly Karsh, as he had always been more brotherly than even Glenn's own brother when it came to paying compliments as Glenn's skills developed. But the words didn't sound like something Karsh would say. Nor did they sound like something Miss Riddel would say, for as fond of Glenn as she might be, she would never see him as anything but a child, and therefore, never would believe that he could surpass the skills of the man she loved. Having run out of possibilities, he finally inquired, his curiosity getting the better of him. "Who, if I may be so bold as to ask, sir?"
Viper's smile grew a little bigger. "Dario. On the day he inherited the Einlanzer. He told me that he would be proud to wield it until the time when he would have to pass it on to you. That in just a few years, you would be far more worthy of wielding it than he ever would."
While Glenn knew that he should be filled with pride at his brother's gracious words, and though he was, he found it strange that the first feeling he felt was one of hurt and anger. Why couldn't his brother have ever told him such a thing while they were growing up? Glenn never knew his brother had thought that, always feeling like he would forever be inferior to his older brother, that Dario would always be thinking the same thing.
As he briefly glanced down at a bewildered Orhla, Glenn wasn't sure how to react, the pride and pain within him conflicting with one another until he felt only like crying. But Dragoon's do not cry, so he just held it all in, as he always had, feeling that even though he could never live up to Dario's lofty expectations, at least he would strive to be the best Dragoon that he could be.
Lord Viper finished, admiration clearly evident in his voice. "But until this day, I never would have thought that it was possible."
Sometimes the impossible becomes possible. Never before had that notion been more apparent, more true. If Dario could be found alive once again after a four year absence and Glenn could fulfill his dreams of becoming Dario's equal, maybe even his better - though you would never catch Glenn agreeing with that statement - then perhaps anything was possible.
"I just wanted to say goodbye."
That was the reason for his impromptu visit to Miss Riddel's room here in Viper Manor. In perhaps less than an hour, Glenn would be accompanying Serge and Kid to take on the Time Devourer, to save the soul trapped within the evil form of Lavos. Riddel and the others would not be coming along this time. The Time Egg could only sustain sending three people through time at once, and Serge had asked Glenn and Kid to accompany him, to bookend this whole adventure once and for all.
But before he left, unsure of what the future held for him, the Dragoon Knight wanted to be sure to say his final farewells to Lady Riddel, on the off-chance that he might not be coming back.
She kept her back to him, gazing absently out her window that overlooked the sea. Her tone was soft, concerned - distant. "I wish you were not going."
"But I have to," he responded evenly.
"I know. But sometimes I worry… That maybe you won't be coming back. Like Dario four years ago." Her tone was mournful. "I am not sure I could go through that again."
Glenn wasn't quite sure what she had meant by that. True, he knew he was an important part of her life, but in no way could he ever be as important to her as Dario was to warrant such a deep-rooted fear of losing him. Could he?
Regardless, the truth was that he was just as unsure about his future as she was, but he tried to remain confident, if only for her sake. "I'll be fine."
She finally turned to face him, a smile lighting up her face. "I know you will." Either she truly believed it, or simply chose to play along so as not to make too much of it. Glenn thought it was most likely the latter. Either way, he appreciated the gesture.
Her features softened as she glided closer to him, peering intently at his facial features, her hand reaching up and gently stroking his left cheek where his childhood scar remained. He felt all at once a little uncomfortable and unsure, and yet completely soothed at the same time by her warm hand.
Glenn had known Miss Riddel for as long as he could remember, was sure he knew just about everything there was to know about her. But right now, her touch much more intimate than anything he had ever experienced with her, he was at a complete loss for what she was thinking. But before he could stammer out a question, she addressed his bafflement anyway, her voice reflective.
"It's funny. So much has changed. When you first got this scar, you could barely hold up a sword." She paused and gazed deeply into his eyes, her own eyes sparkling with wonder. "And now, look at you. The rightful owner of the Einlanzer."
"I am not a child anymore," he responded matter-of-factly, "I am older now." Glenn gently removed her hand from his cheek and caressed it tenderly, refusing to let her drift too far away, savoring every second she was near him.
She wasn't trying to run away, anyway. She gave him a shy smile, her eyes immediately shifting to the floor for a moment. "I have been noticing that a lot recently. Ever since the graveyard, when you said 'As you wish.' You sounded just like Dario. More and more every day, you remind me of him. All grown up." She returned her attention back up to his eyes, and gave him a coy look. "Boy, was I ever right."
Glenn continued to play the role she had placed him in, that of the confused naïf. "About what?"
The coy expression remained on her face. "About enemies fearing you." She took a step back, her hand sliding out of his loose grip to fall back by her side. "And about women swooning over you." Her smile faded, her features went slack.
Her remark threw up several red flags in his mind, and he was instantly curious as to where she was going with this. "What do you mean by that?"
Lady Riddel spun around, drifting slowly back towards the window. "The way you carry yourself, those deep blue eyes, the cross-shaped scar on your cheek, the rugged, determined look you wear on your face, that noble soul of yours. I've seen it for myself, the way Orhla looks at you. Even Leena sometimes, even though everybody knows she has a crush on Serge." She held on to that thought for what seemed like an eternity before she finally finished her thought, her expression a mixture of guilt and confusion. "I even catch myself doing the same thing sometimes."
Her comment had completely thrown Glenn for a loop. In no way had he ever expected her to say what she just had. It seemed he was even more confused than she sounded. "So what does this all mean?" He found himself expectant, anxious.
She shook her head, still staring out the window. "I don't know. That is the problem. Ever since the graveyard, I have been noticing you more and more, catching myself thinking about you a lot. And I started feeling guilty for it. I love Dario, and I had never given up hope that I would see him again.
"But then suddenly you enter the picture, and I find myself developing feelings for you, only maybe you have always been there." She stopped for a second to collect her thoughts, her frustration and confusion with the situation clouding her ability to think clearly. "I don't know. So I wanted to get away from it all for a while, to sort out my thoughts and my feelings. That is why I planned on taking that trip. But then things with Serge happened and we all got caught up in it. And then Dario returned, and somehow I thought that with him back in my life everything would be sorted out. But it wasn't. Here I stood, together again with my true love, but things with you still left unresolved."
She turned to face him once again, her feet propelling her lightly towards him, tears forming at the corners of her violet eyes. "I had hoped that in time I would discover that it wasn't anything, that my heart still belonged to Dario. But now, with you leaving, a major part of me fears that I will realize too late that I might be missing out on something, left to wonder for the rest of my days, because I fear that maybe you will never come back." She reached him and pressed her body against him, burying her face in his shoulder. "Just like Dario," she finished, the words muffled.
Glenn was caught off guard at first, his brain working in slow motion at her revelations, but slowly he started to realize what was going on, and his arms moved up to embrace her in a comforting hug, like he had many times before, shortly after Dario had first disappeared.
That was when the irony struck him.
If one were to ask, most people would probably consider Dario to be Glenn's guiding light. After all, he had spent his life constantly trying to follow in his older brother's footsteps.
But in truth, it was his feelings for Riddel that caused him to strive to emulate Dario in the first place, perhaps in foolish hope that one day she would love him in return when she saw Dario in him. It was Riddel's faith in him that encouraged him to seek the truth to begin with.
Her strength, her beauty, her faith, her resolve, and his own desire to please her and be loved by her had all combined to deliver him to where he stood at this moment. She had been his moral compass, his reason for walking the straight and narrow. As Dario was his role model, the man he tried to tailor himself after, Riddel had been the core of his very being. She was his everything.
For fifteen years he had dreamt about this moment, even though deep down he knew it was an impossible dream. But now it seemed the impossible had become a reality.
In the dream, he had imagined he would tell her he loved her; had dreamt that he would take her into his embrace, kissing her passionately. But of all the things he dreamt he would do or imagined he would say when his dream came true, he never once dreamt that he would say what he did.
"But I am not Dario." The words seemed foreign even to him, but there was no doubting the assured nature of his voice. "There is nothing left unresolved. Because what you see in me are Dario's qualities. The parts of me that I borrowed from him. You even said it yourself. There can be nothing unresolved because you already have Dario, so you do not need me." And though he thought he would have trouble with what he was about to say next, he found the words coming out forcefully and confidently, surprising himself. "The truth is I love you. I have always loved you." He took a deep breath before continuing. "But you have always loved Dario. Just as it has always been. Just as it always should be."
His dream had come true, but for the first time in his life, he had given it a new ending, an ending where he did not emerge victorious, and yet somehow did. He gave it the only ending it could realistically have. He had given it truth.
Dreams resided in unreality. They could go anywhere the imagination could fathom. But truth resided within reality. And truth was what he had always stood for, what he had always been able to see clearly. Much as he wished he could have been with Riddel forever, the truth was what it was. As heart-rending as it might be to admit, Glenn was proud that he had been able to.
Lady Riddel lifted her head from his shoulder, and still in his embrace, looked up at him. Her tears had smeared her mascara around her eyes, yet to Glenn she looked lovelier than ever. She seemed to study his features for a few seconds, a spectrum of different emotions playing within her deep glistening eyes, finally settling on one that looked much like admiration and respect. Her voice reflected the same sentiments, but with a touch of regret buried within. "How could I have missed the moment when you grew up?"
Glenn gave her an abashed smile. "The same way I did, I think."
Without warning, she leaned into him, her soft lips meeting his, lingering lightly for but a few seconds; a few seconds that to Glenn felt like an eternity. Then just as suddenly as her lips were there, they were gone again. Gone forever. That much Glenn was sure of.
Riddel slipped out of his embrace just as Glenn began to regain his senses, having been temporarily lost in the euphoria of a dream come true, if only for a short time. Puzzled by the fact that the kiss had happened to begin with, in a slight daze, Glenn felt compelled to seek clarification. "What was that for?"
Riddel flashed him a sly smile, full of warmth and genuine affection, then answered sincerely. "For keeping your promise. For rescuing your damsel in distress."
Glenn responded with a lopsided grin. He held it for several long moments, the two of them just gazing at each other, both holding on to their one and only moment for as long as possible before it faded away into infinity.
Finally Glenn broke the standstill with a polite bow. "Farewell, Lady Riddel."
Without waiting for a response, he turned casually, shoulders held high, and strode confidently towards the door. Just as he opened it, she finally spoke, her heartfelt tone sweet as honey, just as he always remembered it. "Be safe, Grandmaster Glenn."
He paused in the doorway for a second, not turning around to face her. He smiled to himself before responding. "As you wish."
Then he crossed the threshold of the doorway, leaving Riddel in his wake.
The familiar voice originating from behind him shook him out of his reverie. "Oi, ya ready, mate? Time to finish this once and fer all!"
Turning to face Serge and Kid, a determined grin on his face, he took a moment to soak it all up, realizing that it had been a long, but ultimately fruitful journey for the three of them, and that pretty soon it would all be over, and the future unknown.
It seemed to Glenn that Serge felt the same way, mirroring Glenn's sentiments with a friendly nod of acknowledgement, Kid following suit with a wink and a heart-melting smile, followed by her trademark foul-mouthed remarks, as always a direct contrast to her sweet-natured soul. "Then let's get goin'! We're gonna kick that Time Devourer's arse so hard, he'll kiss the moons!"
As Serge and Kid turned and made their way towards the steps, Glenn paused for a moment, gazing back at nature's wonders, noting that, in retrospect, where he stood at this precise moment was quite fitting. He was just beginning to realize that he was not Dario. He would never be Dario. While he may have most of the same qualities as Dario, that didn't make him Dario. And that was okay.
Because he was his own man. He was no longer just "Dario's brother". No longer "just a kid" with a dream. He was a man fulfilling his dream and the destiny of his choosing. He wasn't Dario. He was Glenn, worthy of the name he bore.
He was a man who had risen out of the chaos of the sea on his way to ascending to the heavens. To join his father and Lord Viper, to take his place in the same sky that housed the bright star of Dario. While some might say that he had become Dario's better, that his skills with a sword and his ability to be the guiding light for others had far surpassed that which Dario possessed, Glenn would never allow himself to believe that. Dario would always be the model by which Glenn judged himself. That while Glenn was his own person, Dario would always be the one that had helped him become that person. Because of that, Glenn could never think of himself as better than his older brother.
While others might say that Glenn had already earned his place amongst the stars, he knew deep down inside that he had a long way to go before he would allow himself to believe that as well.
As he turned to catch up to his companions, he understood that his journey of self-discovery was just beginning, and that the possibilities were endless.
Author’s Note: I tried to write this story so that everything that happens is possible within the framework of the actual game. Naturally I took certain liberties and flexed my artistic license in several instances, such as merging pieces of the Glenn path and the Save Kid path in order to keep Glenn in character (does anyone actually believe that Glenn would just stand around contemplating his navel while everyone else attempted to rescue Riddel?).
All characters, etc. are property of Square. And yes, one line was intentionally borrowed from Shakespeare. Constructive criticism is always welcome.