The Visions of Fire - Chapter 4 - ox459x (2024)

Chapter Text

This… Trooper.

.
..

“What's your name..?” Skeppy blurted out.

The Commander remained quiet for a while, but then, he spoke in a subdued voice,

“What’s yours?”

“Pft, I asked fir—” Skeppy slammed his hand over his mouth, his eyes widening as he realized his lapse in decorum. He quickly looked away. Why the hell did I say that?! Might as well be cursed! When he dared to glance back at the Commander, he found those voided eyes still fixed on him and waiting patiently for his answer. Clearing his throat, Skeppy finally managed to respond. “...Skeppy.”

The Commander nods. “A pleasure to meet you properly, Skeppy.”

Skeppy’s eyes widened.

It was the first time he’d seen the Commander with a slight wrinkle on his cheek. It wasn't that noticeable, but his lip subtly tugged into what could almost be called a smile.

“I’m…” The man stammered.

“Yeah?”

Then, he sighs and faces Skeppy with his arms behind his back. There was a faint glow underneath his cape and he approached the other. “I am Badboyhalo,” he said. He slowly revealed his hand, and it was a flower.

A Saint’s Lily.

Before Skeppy could react, Badboyhalo gently blew on the flower, releasing a fine mist of shimmering particles into the air. Skeppy inhaled involuntarily, and the world around him began to blur into a velvety color.

“You can also call me… Bad.

“What... what are you...?” Skeppy slurs, his voice barely audible as he sways unsteadily on his feet.

He feels an overwhelming heaviness in his eyelids and the world around him blurring and fading into darkness. For a moment, he was confused, angry, and panicked, but just as his knees buckled, a sense of warmth and calm washed over him. Skeppy tips over and Bad steps forward, catching him gently with an arm around his back. His head lolls against Bad’s shoulder, and a velvety tear slipped down his cheek as he succumbed to the Saints spell.

Bad looked at Skeppy's unconscious face and sighed. “... And you aren't supposed to get involved with me.”

Carefully, he lifts him up and cradles him closely to his chest. He adjusts his grip a little, making sure to not make too much movement or the spell would break, and slowly walks back to his Quarters.

He's a good soldier, no doubt… Or… Maybe he isn't..?

As Badboyhalo carried Skeppy back to his cot, he felt uneasy. Was the man really protecting his honor when he was assaulted back then, or was he just doing it to earn his worthy trust? A lot have done the same things before, and because of that, many have perished from the jaws of the Kindlings flame. Nothing's changed, really, Skeppy was simply following a path that was already told. He had seen too many, too many faces that masked deceit, and his innocence and earnestness were like a mask themselves. This was no different from the others… It was best that he’d end his relations with him quicker than let the events unfold like the other times.

The Quarters loomed ahead, and Badboyhalo opened the door, careful not to awaken any of the warriors inside. He laid Skeppy down, his eyes lingering on the young man's face as he slept soundly. It was there he started to notice details he hadn’t before — like that faint mole on Skeppy’s forehead that was barely visible behind his fluffed hair.

The longer he looked, the more his guilt gnawed at him. But his face hardened as he furrowed his brows, forcing himself to turn away and leave the Quarters unseen.

I won’t be deceived. Not again. Never—

Oh, mother. Forgive me.

In a dimly lit room, the wails of an infant pierced the air, echoing off the stone walls. The baby lay swaddled in coarse cloth, its tiny form writhing in discomfort. Its skin, a mosaic of angry red patches and scabs, seemed to burn eternally. Each cry that escaped its lips was a plaintive, desperate plea for comfort that went unanswered.

What a blasphemous sight its horns were.

Its own mother couldn't even look at it without horror and emptiness in her eyes. She could hardly bear to look at the child she had brought into the world, her hands trembling as she reached out hesitantly, only to withdraw as if the very touch would bring harm.

With each passing moment, the infant's cries grew louder, more desperate. Its small fists clenched and unclenched, as if trying to grasp at something just beyond its reach.

The mother’s breath caught in her throat as she struggled to reconcile the love she felt for her child with the horror of its condition. Tears streamed silently down her cheeks, her heart breaking with each pitiful sound that emanated from her embrace. She held a small, shimmering seal in her trembling hands, and it glowed softly with a faint, golden, ethereal light.

In a moment of desperation, the mother pressed the seal against the baby's chest and it began to wail in agony. The golden seal resisted at first and it caused the baby's skin to blister and redden beneath its touch.

The mother's own cries joined those of her child. She could feel the seal sinking into the baby's flesh, its magic intertwining with the cursed essence that had plagued her child from birth. As the seal settled into place, the baby's cries gradually subsided, replaced by ragged gasps for air. The room fell silent once more, save for the soft whimpering of the exhausted infant.

Suddenly, its skin began to twist and bulge unnaturally. The flesh right over his heart darkened and split open. From the wound, a small serpent emerged, slick with blood and viscous fluid. The snake was as bright as fire, its scales glistening with a sheen. It slithered out from the baby's chest, its body impossibly long, coiling and writhing as it forced its way into the world.

“It was destiny.”

That's what he’d always hear from the butchers of the capital he'd narrowly escape.

Badboyhalo's eyes snapped wide open, the acrid smell of smoke filling his lungs as he choked back a cry of disbelief. Fire raged all around him, engulfing the once mighty fortress he had sworn to protect, and the flames danced and crackled over the lifeless bodies of his fallen comrades. Panic surged through him, but so did a realization — he was utterly alone inside this slaughtered palace.

He trusted them, fought beside them, and shared victories and defeats with them. The thought of treachery had never crossed his mind, and yet here he was, surrounded by the ruins of his home. His own men… His soldiers, Knights… His Brother-in-arm… Why… What was their purpose?

His curse, the dark serpent sealed within him… He had tried to prove his loyalty, to show that he could control it, but why did they still do this..?

The flames roared louder, and Badboyhalo rose to his feet. The serpent within him writhed, feeding off his anger and sorrow, and he could feel it's dark power pulsing through his veins, urging him to give in and to let everyone be taken into its jaws. But he resisted, just as he always had.

He moved through the burning corridors, then as he reached the outer courtyard, he saw a group of knights standing in the shadows, their faces hidden by the light of the flames. They turned to face him, then their eyes widened. One of them, a young knight named Eamon, stepped forward. “You should not have survived, you filthy demon,” he spat. “The curse… It will consume us all if you remain!”

“... You… Betrayed me. Betrayed us all.”

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..

“... Kill him.”

Bad’s eyes narrowed as he assessed the advancing knights. He knew there was no reasoning with them now, not after what had transpired. With a deep breath, he drew his spear.

His breathing was steady despite the flames around him, each exhale a visible puff of steam in the cool night air. His eyes, narrowed in focus, scanned the advancing knights.

As the first knight closed in, sword raised high, Bad shifted his weight, the balls of his feet gripping the uneven stones beneath him. With a swift twist of his body, he parried the knight's strike with the shaft of his spear. Without pausing, Bad countered with a jab towards the knight's midsection. The knight stumbled back, off balance from the unexpected attack, and Bad followed through with a sweeping arc of his spear, aiming for the gap between the knight's shoulder pauldron and breastplate. Metal clashed against metal as the knight managed to deflect the blow at the last moment, but the force of the strike forced him to retreat a step.

Meanwhile, another knight lunged forward from the side. Bad reacted with a controlled spin, his spear extending horizontally, intercepting the incoming attack.

Eamon, observing from the outskirts of the skirmish, watched with growing frustration as Badboyhalo evaded and countered their combined efforts. With a roar of determination, Eamon charged forward, his sword held high in a two-handed grip. His sword clashed with a resounding crash onto the shaft of Bad’s spear, the force of the impact sending a shockwave through his arms.

With a groan, Bad pushed back against Eamon's sword, leveraging the length of his spear to create space between them. Eamon staggered slightly, and Bad took advantage of the opening, pivoting swiftly on his heel and bringing the butt end of his spear around towards Eamon's side.

Eamon managed to deflect the blow with a desperate parry, but the force of Bad's attack sent him stumbling backwards. Bad didn't let him breathe. He pressed forward, relentless in his pursuit, and his movements became a flurry of strikes and feints. Eamon gritted his teeth, his grip tightening on his sword as he fought to regain his footing. Sweat trickled down his brow, mingling with the dust and grime as his breath came out as ragged gasps.

"You treacherous fiend!" Eamon shouted, his voice hoarse with exertion. "You dare to spill more blood? For what? For that strumpet Queen you call your mother? You are a curse upon us all!—”

Without another word, Bad lunged forward, closing the distance between the two of them in an instant. His hand shot out and grasped Eamon by the skull. The man's eyes widened in terror, a strangled gasp escaping his lips, but The Kindling Flame surged through Bad’s grip, igniting Eamon's face ablaze.

He could hear his muffled screams echoing through the inferno as the flames began to eat away at his flesh, searing down to the bone. He watched as Eamon's skin melted like wax, dripping and pooling around his fingers. It was a sickening smell… A smell so familiar, yet so… Ugly.

With a grunt of effort, he released his grip, letting the flames carry Eamon into the air. The knight's body twisted and flailed, and his spear was already in motion, its fiery tip aimed with deadly precision. In a heartbeat, the spear drove into Eamon’s chest and out his back. The man's body hung limply around his spear as blood gushed from the wound and onto his face. The flames still consumed him, and at last, he let out a final, agonized breath.

Bad stepped back and swung his spear, causing Eamon’s body to slip out and be thrown into the ground right in front of the others.

The courtyard fell silent except for the crackling of the flames and the heavy breaths of the remaining knights. Eamon's body lay sprawled on the ground, a pool of blood spreading beneath him, as his comrades stared in shock and disbelief with pale faces.

“Those, who are stripped of the grace, shall all meet death in my embrace.”

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..

Skeppy wakes up.

The cloud in his mind faded away, and so too, did the charm of the Saint shatter. He breathed heavily, his brows drawing tightly and his teeth were clenched together. Why did he have to go to that extent?! He thought. Like seriously, what was the point of… S-sedating me?! I didn't ask anything weird, did I? I mean I only asked about the snake's and stuff, W-what..?!

He shoved his head into his hands and clawed at his face, frustration and confusion boiling over as he tried to make sense of what had happened. He had some fairly high hopes that the Commander wouldn't pull off some… Mystical things… What was the point?!

“Hey—”

“WOAH!”

“BAH!”

Skeppy and whoever that voice was simultaneously jolted upward. He looks up. Oh. It was just Elara.

“... You alright?” She asked with a bit of concern.

He glanced at her. “Yeah, I'm fine,” he muttered, not meeting her eyes.

“You don’t look fine—”

I said I was fine,” Skeppy snapped.

Elara recoiled slightly, her eyes widening in surprise. She bit her lip, clearly debating whether to push further, but after a moment, she sighed and settled back on her heels. “Okay,” she said quietly, her hands resting on her knees. She didn’t push him further, but the concern in her eyes didn’t fade.

She shifted her weight, her fingers nervously fidgeting with a loose thread on her sleeve. She cast a glance at the rest of the group, still fast asleep, then back at Skeppy. “Listen, if you ever want to talk about it...” she trailed off, but it was quite obvious what she was going to say.

Skeppy took a deep breath. “Thanks,” he murmured, his tone softer this time. “I just need some time.”

Elara nodded slowly, her lips pressed into a thin line. She stood up, giving him one last, lingering look before walking back to her spot by the fire. Skeppy watched her go, and it was then that he finally admitted to himself that his tone was sharper than intended. He ran a hand through his hair and steadied his breathing. The world felt off-kilter, and for some reason, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was just out of reach.

As the morning light grew stronger, Skeppy took a deep breath and stood up. His muscles were sore, and his mind was still aching, but he had made a decision. He can't just assume things and avoid the Commander— Badboyhalo, forever. He needed answers, and the only way to get them was to confront him.

It wasn't long before the rest of the group stirred awake. Kira and Rolf were the first, then there was Jonas, and the last to wake up was Bren, who, despite his half-closed eyes, was already packing up their supplies.

The campfire was now a pile of cold ashes. Bren kicked some dirt over the remnants, and Kira and Rolf helped to dismantle any makeshift structures they had set up. Within minutes, the clearing returned to its natural state, as if no one had ever been there.

The sun rose higher, and the air was fresh and cool, carrying the scent of damp earth and dew. Skeppy took a deep breath, feeling the crisp morning air fill his lungs. He hasn't had a blissful morning in a while, that is, if he ignored his utter disappointment for the Comma— Skeppy shook his head. These thoughts were for the fortress.

As Bren secured the last of their gear, giving it a final tug to ensure everything was in place, he straightened up, and looked over at the group. "Alright, let's move out."

Skeppy took one last look at the clearing before following suit behind the group. The forest around them was serene, the only sounds being the rustle of leaves and the occasional chirp of a bird.

They walked in a loose formation. Skeppy’s mind was still racing with thoughts of his encounter with the Commander, but he tried to push them aside for the time being. The journey back to the fortress was mostly uneventful, save for their sightings of the local wildlife. They passed by a pack of wolves sleeping near the path, and further along the path, they encountered a pair of bears rummaging through the underbrush. The bears were awake, and Bren signaled for the group to remain quiet and keep their distance.

As they moved further and further, the forest gradually thinned out as they approached the fortress. Skeppy wasn't gonna lie, he kind of missed seeing those massively staggering walls, though now that he's touched some much-needed grass, the fortress looked more… unpleasant to look at.

Maybe it was just him, but he seriously could not stand the last mile of walk there. His headache had returned, and the dull throb behind his eyes made everything seem hazy. His comrades would occasionally glance at him and make comments about how he looked really angry and upset, but their observations only fueled his disdain even more, though this anger wasn't for them.

Once they got inside, Skeppy instantly separated himself from the group. He wouldn't even say himself that he was walking — he was just flat out sprinting through the paths, walkways, and hallways. Some of the knights even called him out, which caused some significant embarrassment, but he started to care less about them when he reached the Specimen Storehouse Tower.

He remembers that knight who led him to the grand hall briefly walking him here, but he didn't really pay attention to how absolutely tall the room was. Because, holy, SEVEN FLOORS..?! All stacked up on the sides?!

Skeppy looked around for a bit, and only after scanning bookshelf after bookshelf did he finally see some familiar-looking stairs. He walked a few more steps before seeing the wooden elevator the knight had brought him into… which was now… guarded by two knights.

“... Who cares, we ball.” He shrugged and without hesitation, simply walked over.

The two knights, adorned in a pointed helm and armor featuring a red cape and twin golden snakes around the neck, crossed their spears in front of him, blocking his path. “Halt! State your business,” one of them commanded.

Skeppy straightened his posture, trying to look as confident as possible despite the nervous flutter in his stomach. “I need to speak with the Commander.”

The knights exchanged glances before the second one spoke. “The Commander is not to be disturbed unless it's a matter of great importance.”

Skeppy clenched his fists. “If you don't let me through, I'll make sure the Commander knows it was you two who stopped me from delivering a crucial message.”

Then, it became silent.

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..

“...We've heard all kinds of excuses. You'll need more than that to get past us.”

“Wh— I-I’m telling the truth! Just let me through!”

“Go back from where you came from, boy.”

Skeppy’s heart pounded in his chest. He couldn't turn back now, not after running all the way here. He needed to come up with something, and fast. Oh. Right! Didn't the Commander specifically tell him he needed to report to him personally as soon as he got here?

“Fine. Then you can explain to the Commander why you ignored a direct order,” Skeppy said as he crossed his arms.

The knights hesitated. “What order?” one of them asked, his grip on his spear tightening.

“The Commander told me to report to him directly after our mission. Are you going to be the ones who tell him why I was delayed?”

The knights remained unmoved. And then, one of them smirked. “...You expect us to believe that without an escort? We know who was assigned as leaders for the missions. We’re not falling for it.”

Before he could finish, one of the knights stepped forward and shoved him back with the blunt end of his spear. Skeppy stumbled, barely keeping his balance.

“Get lost, boy,” the knight growled. “You’re not getting through.”

The room was dimly lit by some candles placed around. Shelves were being personally lined with scrolls, tomes, and various artifacts by the Commander.

Badboyhalo's eyes lingered on a particularly intricate carving, a piece of horned folk history he had retrieved from the most recent crusade. The village had been decimated, its inhabitants either slain or scattered. He doesn't really know the reason why his mother wanted every last one of them to disappear from the face of the Lands Between, but he does know that these people were “impurities of the ancients” as she described it. Although impurities, there was a part of him that wanted to keep their legacy. Perhaps it was a sense of duty to knowledge, or maybe a lingering guilt for his destruction.

He gently placed the carving on a wooden table beside an assortment of other artifacts: a ceremonial dagger, a collection of jewelry, and several scrolls and cookbooks filled with scripts.

Lost in thought, he barely registered the hurried footsteps echoing down the hallway outside. The sound grew louder, more frantic, until—

The door burst open, slamming against the wall with a loud bang. Badboyhalo's head snapped up, his eyes narrowing as he saw Skeppy standing in the doorway, breathless and wild-eyed. Then, the man was suddenly grabbed by two knights from behind.

Skeppy struggled against the firm grip of the knights, his eyes darting wildly around the room before settling on him. “Commander, I need to talk to you!”

Badboyhalo's expression shifted from surprise to concern as he stepped forward, raising a hand to signal the knights to release Skeppy. “At ease, let him go.”

The knights hesitated for a moment but obeyed, releasing their grip on Skeppy and stepping back. He released a heavy breath and rubbed his arms where the knights had held him.

“What is the meaning of this?” Badboyhalo asked, his eyes boring into Skeppy's.

“Saints Lily.”

What? Badboyhalo's eyes flicked to the knights, then back to Skeppy. "Leave us," he ordered the knights. They nodded and exited the room, closing the door behind them.

As soon as they were alone, Skeppy's brows furrowed even further, and he stomped towards Badboyhalo until he was backed up against one of the bookshelves.

“Why the f*ck did you sedate me?”

Bad's eyes darted around the room, avoiding direct contact with Skeppy's. His lips pressed into a thin line, but no words came out.

Skeppy's anger flared, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.

“Why the hell did you sedate me?” Skeppy repeated, but Bad remained silent, his expression unreadable. Then, his patience snapped. “ANSWER ME!

Badboyhalo's eyes hardened, and without warning, grabbed Skeppy by the collar and slammed him against the bookshelf. The impact rattled the books and artifacts around them, some falling to the floor with a clatter. From beneath his cape, his two snakes emerged, their eyes gleaming and tongues flickering as they hissed at Skeppy.

Skeppy's eyes widened in shock, his breath hitching as he took in the serpentine figures and Bad’s gaze. His mouth opened, but no words came out, his initial anger replaced by a mix of fear and bewilderment.

“...You dare question me?” Bad spoke. “I am your commander. You will not speak to me with such disrespect.”

Skeppy’s chest heaved as he struggled to process the sudden shift. The commander's face was inches from his, the intensity of his stare was piercing through his bravado.

The Commander tightened his grip. “You think you can come here and demand answers? I don’t owe you anything. Remember your place.”

With a final, forceful shove, The Commander released Skeppy, who stumbled back. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, his mind racing to understand what had just happened.

“Leave,” The man commanded. “Before I lose my patience entirely.”

Skeppy stood there for a moment, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps. He could see the unwavering resolve in his eyes, and without another word, he turned and fled the room, the door slamming shut behind him.

His footsteps echoed down the stone corridors of the fortress, each step feeling heavier than the last. His heart still raced from the confrontation, and the adrenaline coursing through his veins made his hands tremble. He couldn’t shake the image of his eyes. He reached a secluded corner of the fortress and leaned against the cold, rough stone wall, trying to calm his racing thoughts. The anger and fear were still there, but now, all he felt was utter confusion.

The Visions of Fire - Chapter 4 - ox459x (2024)

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