Word Count: ~4,709
Characters: Some guy named Arvid and a girl named Lynne
A/N: Few hours late, but better late than never, right? This isn't technically an AU. Alternate Universe would imply familiar characters in an alternate world. This fic is a bit different. The world itself is the same...just, seven hundred years in the future. Apologies in advance if LJ eats all the formatting.
As usual, hope you all enjoy!
“Professor Lazlam? I brought those files you were asking for.”
The professor looked up from his desk. ‘Clean desk, clean mind’, was ostensibly his motto; like his mind, however, his desk lay awash in sundry objects scattered haphazardly, papers and ballpoint pens and manila folders cast about, the remains of the day’s turkey sandwich stuffed in his right hand.
The young man at the door looked from the professor to his workspace, and gave the professor a look of amusement or maybe befuddlement—it was hard to tell.
“Oh, Mark. Thanks.” He took the files graciously—disinterestedly—and almost immediately returned to his work, eyes darting from the hypnotic light of his computer’s flat monitor to the dull yellowed parchment sitting curled beside it. The files were for a different class, a different endeavor altogether, one decidedly less interesting and less personal than the one currently monopolizing his attentions.
“No problem, professor,” the young man said. If he had ever wondered why the professor chose to work with the blinds drawn, door closed, and lights off, he didn’t ask. Not knowing any better, Mark might have taken Professor Lazlam for an old man, so obsessed with antiquity, his auburn hair streaked very prematurely with bolts of grey, dark hazel eyes often sunken and rung with dark circles. But there were people to do and things to drink, so Mark gladly left the professor to his work, knowing full well he was able enough not to keel over from a few term papers.
Historiography, to some extent, had always been Arvid Lazlam’s calling. Teaching, to all extents, hadn’t, although it wasn’t terrible that it turned out that way. If he hadn’t, he would never have found both the desire and the means to unearth and untangle his family tree. His mother had told her a long time ago a woman with the surname Pherae had married a man named Lazlam, and that somewhere within him, from sometime far past, coursed the blood of the great Heroes Roy and his lord father Eliwood, and before them the valorous hero Roland.
Ever since his childhood, those stories of gallantry and heroism had entertained Arvid, capturing his live imagination and sending images of swords and shields through his mind, pictures of princesses and oaths sworn kneeling at the foot of thrones and kings and crowns. His mother had been quite a storyteller, recanting the tales of Eliwood’s triumph at the Dragon’s Gate or Roy’s bravery at reclaiming the Tower of Light with as much joy as Arvid felt listening to her. Eliwood and Roy and all their kin were kin to her, if distant, and telling their stories was her matrilineal birthright. One day she’d told all the stories she had to tell, and one day he’d become too old for bedtime stories, and one day he woke and realized she no longer lived and his father was beyond the age of remembering.
I can’t let those old stories die, he’d thought. Those legends were his birthright, too, even if he did imagine they’d been embellished through the years. There was no way Eliwood could have been as pure-hearted and righteous as the stories said. Especially if he had been as dashing as the surviving frescos and oil portraits made him out to be. He’d have been in the pants of—or rather, beneath the silks and cotton chemises of—hundreds of women! His son Roy, in particular, could rival even the most diligent of nightclub crawlers!
...or, that’s what people said, anyway, in history classes and on message boards. Arvid had the lingering suspicion (hope, really) that the truth was a bit more nuanced than common sentiments dictated. The knights of the time were less than shining arbiters of justice and virtue, the lords and ladies not as immaculate and gallant, nor the villains quite as irredeemable as the stories, over time, made them to be.
There were so many gaps in the legends and contradictory bits of information to dismiss as mere coincidence, and there were so many things that even recent history did not know about Elibe’s time of kings and crowns. The recent Medieval Revival in the popular consciousness (no doubt inspired by the surprise hit show Playing at Crowns about dark, dark life in the Dark Ages) might have influenced Lycia on a superficial level, but it did nothing for historiography save for the sudden influx of people who thought they knew what they were talking about.
“What really happened?” Arvid leaned back in his ragged old office chair—it squeaked as if to protest in its old age—and sighed, drawing his fingers firmly across his forehead and his closed eyes. “Hm. If there were someone to tell us. Seven hundred years...maybe if the Archsage had lived a thousand more years...or if the divine dragons were still here to share their revelations...”
Arvid was snapped from his sentimental reverie by the sound of his cell playing familiar fanfare.
A woman’s familiar voice answered. “Arvid! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Arvid sat up, quickly rigid. “Oh, Professor Winds! Ah—yes, yeah, it has been a while. Last time was the symposium at UThria, if I recall.”
“You recall correctly,” she replied, and he knew enough to know she was smiling on the other end of the line. “Also, how long have we known each other, Professor?” she added with no short supply of amusement. “Really now. ‘Lynne’ is fine!”
“Right. Of course! Sorry, I just didn’t expect to hear from you out of the blue. Need to get my thoughts together, y’know. So what’s going on?”
“Heh, well, I’ll get right to it. My department and the archeology department are sponsoring a dig near the ruins of Castle Ostia. The chair thinks they’ve found evidence of the invasion of the keep during the Secret War. I was planning to drive out there this weekend. Don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”
“Join you?” In truth, she’d had him at ‘sponsoring a dig’, but he had to play it cool. “This weekend is kinda short notice. It’s Thursday night...”
“Alright then,” Lynne replied. “Just figured I’d offer. Well, talk to you la—”
She stifled a laugh on the other side of the line. “Yeees?”
“No, I’ll—uh, I’ll go with you,” Arvid said, fiddling with the papers on his desk. His computer had gone to screensaver: two dragons, one black and one white, intertwined, rising from their long slumbers.
“Are you sure? You don’t have any night classes this weekend?”
“Let’s see, er... I think I might have—” he paused for a very brief moment, blinked, then said (emphatically, as it were), “No. Nope, no classes this weekend.” Professor Arvid shook his mouse and quickly opened up a few email windows as Lynne shot him a few of the details. Quite a shame, Mr. University President, that he had to fall suddenly terribly ill that weekend.
- O -
Professor Lynne Kulah Winds was perhaps the ablest of Sacaen historians Arvid knew personally, no doubt a product of her intense pride in her own culture; not to be outdone, their conversations usually consisted of friendly ribbing about whose obscure cultural heroes might have emerged victorious in single combat. Eliwood (named the True after his death) was a stalwart—had he ever lost a battle?—Arvid would argue, always in vain, against the exploits of the Silver Wolf and his thunderous kin.
But what Lynne might have lacked in the quality of her idols, however, she more than made up for. She might have been headstrong, maybe even vain, but she’d every reason to be. Youngest professor of history one of the most prestigious universities in Lycia, she was smart enough to know she could not know everything and stubborn enough to let her thirst for knowledge drive her sometimes into overwork.
She was a great many positive things, and she was also his good friend. They had met what seemed to Arvid like eons ago, when they both paid their dues at the University of Thria and then by some minor miracle, their grad work at the University of Laus under the watch of the big-nosed chair of the history department. That big-nosed chair became Arvid’s boss when he began his youthful professorship, a gregarious and gentle man very different from his similarly-named Lausan ancestor.
Arvid had known Lynne Winds long enough to take most of her great and sometimes terrible qualities for granted, but there was one he was reminded of whenever he saw her. She was, as her many, many male admirers could attest, strikingly beautiful, and in that she was very much like her legendary namesake. Sacaens were not often known for their blue hair, but hers was darker than the sea and tied in a traditional ponytail. Her eyes were the same green people expected her hair to be, mossy as a still stone and bright whenever she smiled. And her legs, of course, were simply the best.
That Saturday afternoon they drove west with the morning sun and the afternoon wind at their backs, down the highway that moved serpentine through the city states of Lycia. It was a great day for a drive, and Professor Lynne loved nothing more than to put down the top of her sleek red baby, let her brown skin shine in the sun (smiling at everyone) and loose her hair to the wind, gripping the stick a little tighter. Beside her, Arvid reclined, looking up at the near-cloudless blue sky through rose-colored glasses. Sunglasses, of course: their color a remnant of his pupating sense of humor in his highly-cynical college years. Lynne never missed an opportunity to tease him on just how stupid they really were. No matter, they blocked the sun. It was all good.
The skyscrapers of Thria and the sprawling cityscape of Kathelet gave way to forest and farmland as the speed limit rose as high as it went in Lycia. Next to Road 169 in Bern, there was no better place to drive a red car and go really, really fast. You could drive a red car fast basically anywhere. But to drive a red car fast in style took hard work and dedication to the craft. Neither here nor there, but the Bernese were always well known for their crafts.
It was about an hour and a half from Thria to Ostia, and Arvid took the time spent speeding through the only country he’d called home to wonder about the dig site. Most of the Lycian capital was a cityscape now, with Ostia proper the largest city east of Etruria, but most of the land around the ruins of the great Castle Ostia was still underdeveloped, either farmland or small suburban towns nestled not-so-close-together in a ring of reverence all encircling the legendary keep. It might have been the intense national pride for the “Great Fortress” that kept the creeping tide of modernization away, but more likely (in a world where 75% were un-Abel to tell Hector apart from Cain) it was its location, short miles from the Etrurian border, that kept it sparse.
Arvid Lazlam thanked the Saint for that. The idea that anyone would consider tearing the castle down to build cube farms, storefronts, or anything including the word “strip” made him weep for society. Let everyone else worry about cells of fringe nutjobs from Sacae and arms proliferation in Bern! His priorities, at least, were in order. Yep, yep.
“You probably know better than I do,” Lynne said after a long time of peaceful silence. They’d stopped twice, once for iced coffee at the nearest Doughnuts For Dippin’ and once to check the tires, but it had been at least 45 minutes of clear sailing in beautiful weather. Lynne Winds turned to her fellow professor, hand still on the stick as she downshifted, sun beaming off her smile. “But how exactly did Hector of Ostia die?”
Arvid took a moment to straighten his dress shirt. When he spoke he shouted over the roaring of the wind. “No one really knows! From what few written accounts there are, he died about the time of the Great Bernese Insurrection. But no one has ever found where he was buried—in fact, we don’t even really know how he died, although if Nineneyson’s War’s Bloody Delights is any indication, he died in battle. And if the poets knew anything, it was the history.”
“Yeah, the legend is he died at the gates of Castle Ostia defending the keep from Zephiel the Dragonhearted, right? With his trusty ‘Axe of Lightning’ by his side?”
Arvid had to chuckle. “ ‘The Dragonhearted’. What a fascinating sobriquet. Because ‘Zephiel the Warmongering Brain-dead Son of a Bitch’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.” He looked to the side as Lynne turned off the freeway. The car chunked inelegantly as they decelerated at a record pace. One might be tempted to think there was nothing of value off that particular exit if not for the small, small brown sign printed with “Scenic Attraction: Castle Ostia 5m” written in barely-visible forest-green text.
“Well, if there are any thoroughly desiccated corpses of broad-bearded axe-bearers lying around Castle Ostia, I hope we don’t find them,” remarked Lynne.
“I don’t think you have to worry. There’s no way in all the world that Hector died in Castle Ostia? If he had, he would have been buried in the royal cemetery. Knowing him, he probably died somewhere in Bern fighting off a myriad of wyverns. And of course once he was dead the Bernese treated him most discourteously...”
“The brave hero of Ostia...wyvern food.”
“Hey,” Arvid said, his expression stern in mock warning. “Watch yourself, miss.”
Lynne shrugged. “At least it’s better than puking yourself to death.”
The two professors shared a glance. On the horizon, the great Castle Ostia began to slide into view, in its picturesque position atop a hill past a sea of green—trees and grass alike.
Arvid only nodded. “Fair enough.”
- O -
The gathering was less an “archeological dig” than “a bunch of history people exploring a really old place for fun.” Truth be told, Arvid preferred it that way, mostly because digging seemed rather pedestrian and he’d just starched his shirt, dammit! A few of the staff members from the symposium at UThria were there, to whom Arvid re-introduced himself. Professors Arvid and Lynne explored together, walking the hallways, and Arvid saw for the first time in person the halls of the place he had only seen in pictures and “interactive tours.”
The almost-childlike glee must have shown, because they had not gone very far before Lynne said, “Is this is your first time inside Castle Ostia?”
“I’m surprised. I would have thought in your travels far and wide you would have at least come here once before, right?”
“I’ve been to Castle Pherae three times, and I could probably walk some of the old brigand ruins in Thria blindfold. I’ve just...never had an occasion to come to Ostia. Today I just have a really good one.” He turned to Lynne and smiled serenely. Their eyes met for about a second, and she turned away.
“I came here once before. Our department really likes to send people places whenever they have even the slightest reason. Good thing I like to travel, huh?”
“Now how does a ‘Professor of Sacaen History and Cultural Studies’ get off visiting Castle damn Ostia?” Arvid was more amused than anything. For her part, Lynne could only shrug sheeplessly (without sheep).
“Right place, right time, I guess.”
“Sounds like you, alright,” he said sarcastically.
“Welll...you’ve heard the stories about Hector, right? How he might have married a Sacaen girl?”
Arvid shook his head. “Wasn’t that only a rumor spread by Zephiel to try to sway some of the more prejudiced Lycians to rebel?”
“Maybe? Well, you know more about that than I would. All I know is that mysteriously no one knows the name of Hector’s wife, or what might have happened to her. Isn’t that curious?
“Of course it is.”
“He might have married Lyn of the Kutolah!” Lynne flipped her blue hair. “I might just be a descendant of Hector of Ostia as well! ...maybe.”
Arvid laughed. “Who knows? There’s so much we don’t know. We’re going to find it all out someday. Just too bad we can’t ask the Dark Seer Bramimond. His second sight might come in handy, hm?”
“Well, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic...someone said that, anyway.
“So. What about in Sacae? Have you been any place interesting there?”
The two professors turned a corner and found themselves at a spiraling staircase. At the top was what appeared to be a small opening from which boiling oil could be poured onto the poor souls who wished to assault the castle’s second floor.
“I’ve been to Bulgar a lot,” Lynne answered, “and a few of the Jute ruins. See, the problem with coming from a nomadic peoples is that there’s not always a lot of stuff left behind in any one place for us to find. Which isn’t to say there isn’t interesting stuff to find out on the plains. You just have to look a little bit harder. Dig deeper.”
“There’s still so much we don’t know about the Sacaens, isn’t there?”
“Ehh.” Lynne poked a bit at her phone. “I wouldn’t say that. We don’t know everything, sure, but I could probably piece together how people lived, say, 1000 PS. It helps that the eastern plains hasn’t really left prehistoric times. Out where the Jutes used to roam? Might as well be dragons living in the green mountains as far as we’re all concerned.
“Just a really lawless place. I’ll spare you my unsolicited thoughts on the sort of brigandage that goes on out there. I will say this though: archaeologists have found piles of bones out there. Human bones. And the Jutes used to use charred human bones for their Druids’ prophesying rituals, but some of the bones they’ve found are more recent. Like I said, lawless.”
“And Bern’s funneling arms to them,” Arvid said, matter-of-factly.
“I just—” Lynne shook her head. “It pisses me off, if you want to know the truth. Honestly, Sacae has a lot of problems. I know I’ve lived here basically my whole life, but sometimes I don’t know. Cognitive dissonance between the place I knew and the place I see every day on the news. It pisses me off.”
“I don’t blame you,” Arvid said softly.
“Honestly, I’d rather not talk about it.” She pressed her lips shut. Her green eyes had turned dark.
Arvid nodded. An awkward silence passed between them, and as they walked, their footfalls echoing off the deserted stone pathways, Arvid could only think back to when they were both fellow students, and he really didn’t want to be a teacher but it seemed the only place his passion for antiquity could take him, and she was as lost as he was, probably more. She used to come to his dorm with a bottle of Bulgarian wine and some cheap Magyar scotch from some cheap place wherever, and they’d drink together and make stupid jokes, and when she’d happily drunkenly amble back to her room at the end of the night, he’d always sigh and think about her and wonder what the purpose of life was and what he really wanted from it.
Sometimes Arvid had the feeling he didn’t really care about Eliwood or Roy or Hector or Roland the Valorous and Hartmut the Brave. No one else seemed to, so why should he? Of course there were departments in every school everywhere dedicated to the study of things he adored and legitimately found fascinating, but it was always hard to find kinship with someone who was at least as passionate as he was. Deep in his heart though, he did realize: he wanted to keep those stories alive, the stories of heroism and courage and sometimes unfathomable evil, the kind that always seemed to sadly stay relatable. He didn’t find many who felt like he did. Only her. They were friends but never lovers. She was too caught up in herself and he was too caught up in everyone but himself.
Would it have worked? Arvid ran his hand across his brow. The sound of their footsteps seemed to travel across time. I don’t know. I don’t know.
They stopped inside a small room, filled with dusty, moth-eaten pieces of furniture, most of which seemed to be from long after Hector’s time, yet still old enough to have accumulated centuries of cobwebs.
“Huh,” Arvid said, looking around. The only light came from a small window high on the wall. He squinted and looked around. “Is it just me or does it look like no one’s been in here for quite a long time?”
“Yeah,” Lynne said distractedly. She stole a glance at Arvid, a strange expression on her face, then turned towards the window. “Seems it.”
Professor Lazlam walked towards the back of the room, searching for anything interesting that might have gone unnoticed by researchers past. Failing that, he leaned up against the far wall—and was surprised when it gave. Only slightly, but it gave.
“Lynne. Come here for a sec.”
Lynne came over, and Arvid pressed up against the wall with both hands. “This wall. It’s not a wall.”
“Looks like a wall to me.”
“No, I mean, it is a wall, but it’s giving way a little bit. Come on, help me push it!”
Indeed, with her help, the wall gave way more, and slowly, it began to turn. The two professors pushed until there was an opening enough to squeeze through. The secret passage opened into a decent-sized, completely circular room, with a high ceiling ending in a dome at the top. Arvid pulled out his flashlight and illuminated the room, and what they saw amazed them.
In the center of the room there was a single wooden table and two chairs, bare but for a heavily rusted sconce lying on its side, and an empty brass goblet. More of interest were the walls. In sharp contrast to the rough, bare walls of the rest of Castle Ostia, the walls of the circular room were perfectly smooth. And painted. The walls were covered with a colorful, bright fresco that spanned the entire room, up to the dome ceiling, which showed Saint Elimine, golden halo around her head, reaching a hand out towards the Eliminean God. The room probably had been a hidden pantry of some sort in the time of its subjects but over the course of years had been vacated and made into a history in color of Lycia’s glorious past, painted in painstaking detail with recognizable figures from across Lycia.
Speechless, Arvid placed a free hand against the wall and shined light against what he was seeing. There was Roy, red hair burning bright, star-spangled armor and Sword of Seals held high. There was Hector, blue beard bright and bold, Armads held high in his right hand, flask of beer in his left. Arvid inspected further and Lynne followed at his heel as he traced his hand around the room, walking in a great circle and then retracing his steps. All the major figures from the Secret War and the Great Bernese Insurrection were present: Zephiel with his two dragons, red and purple, shadowing him, Eliwood with Ninian the ice dragon at his side, and the great fire dragon in the shadow of the Dragon’s Gate.
“This is...” Arvid laughed, shaking his head in disbelief that something this magnificent was right in front of him. He was almost giddy. No, he was giddy. He was a schoolboy and this was the candy store. “This is fucking incredible.”
“See, this is why the chair wanted to send people here,” said Lynne, herself in awe. “They wanted to slash funding to the whole department. But I told them, I said ‘Don’t do it. If we don’t keep looking, someone else is going to find that big something before we do.’ And what do you know?” Lynne put her hands on her hips and looked up, as satisfied as Arvid had ever seen her. “Yeah, slash funding, okay.”
“How did we not know this was here?”
“Probably the secret passageway,” Lynne deadpanned.
“Yes, but, how did no one know about this? Or write about this?”
“Well, Miss Anna and her ‘VIP’ store were ostensibly secret. But every historian worth his—or her—salt who wrote of the wars at the time somehow mentioned her and her ‘secret shop’.”
Lynne giggled. “ ‘Miss Anna’s’ is the name of a, er, ‘gentleman’s club’ near my old apartment in Laus.”
“She would be proud, I’m sure.”
“This is an incredible find,” Lynne said, using the backlight of her phone as a makeshift flashlight. After a few moments of looking she found her namesake, standing near the horse archers Rath and Rath’s daughter and young ward, Sue and Shin, respectively.
Meanwhile, Arvid shone a light on one particularly interesting section of the fresco.
“Is this...a picture of women throwing their panties at Roy?”
Arvid tilted his head to the side and regarded the portrait peculiarly. Lynne came to join him.
“By God, it is.”
“Yep,” Lynne said, nodding her head matter-of-factly. “He was a real pimp, dontchaknow?”
“An even more incredible find,” Arvid said, chuckling. He barely contained himself from jumping into the air.
“And who’s the redhead by that small tree?”
They answered in unison. “Anna!”
“This is truly something. Maybe Roy truly was the ladies’ man people made him out to be.”
“Or maybe the people of four hundred years ago had the same idea then that we do now. When you have a hot teacher like Lady Cecelia of Etruria giving you private lessons, people’s minds start to wander.”
“Hot teacher indeed...”
Lynne smirked. “Didn’t realize she was your type.”
“Not what I meant, but anyway...”
For a while longer they looked over the fresco and when they were done they met at the center of the room.
“So...should we tell anyone else about this?” Lynne asked.
“What? Of course we should! This is a historic discovery. I was leaning against a wall, for God’s sake! How did we find this by me leaning against a wall?”
“Strange. I never thought I’d ever be in a position like this.” She pulled up a chair and sat, her phone hanging limp at her side, casting its light on the bare floor. “I used to feel like I was always the one on the outside, just studying while everyone else made all the great discoveries to share with the world. But now that I’m here—I don’t know. I don’t know what to feel.”
Arvid pulled up the other chair and sat beside her. He opened his mouth to speak and nothing came out.
“I’m not too proud to say,” Lynne said quietly. “Sometimes I feel...powerless. If this is all there is, and meanwhile all the bad shit is happening somewhere else. Just really powerless.”
He could hear her fight back tears. Arvid bit at his lip, heart pounding in his chest.
“We’re not heroes. And I won’t tell you you’re wrong to worry. But we’re both doing this because we love this. We’re not going to save the world. One hidden room isn’t going to shed light on anything. But we can’t just stop looking, or give up what we’re doing. What’s the point? Just...be who we are, I suppose. That’s all we really can do.”
Another moment of silence passed between them. Finally, Lynne turned to Arvid and smiled in the light of his flashlight, her bright green eyes moist.
“Well, you didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but...