Title: Knight's Mask
Fandom: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Pairing/Characters: Rean, no pairings (very briefly implied Rean/Fie)
Challenge: #190, Compunction
Rating/Category: T, Gen
Word Count: 1039
Spoilers: (if applicable) heavy spoilers for ToCS2
Summary: Life isn't as simple for Rean as his early school days. Sometimes he questions the orders he is given but he has to keep these doubts secret.
Notes/Warnings: Set during the epilogue of TOCS2.
The gigantic humanoid war machine stood in the middle of the canyon, between the Crossbell border and the Calvard tank battalion, the remnants of which were now in swift retreat. Sword pointed towards their leader, large enough to easily split through one of the tank's armour plating, the booming voice coming from the Ashen Knight warned of a swift destruction if the invaders dared to return. The machine had already wrecked five of the tanks with ease, moving with the swift, casual lethality of a human warrior of that size. Three of them had gone down before the commander of the division even saw what was happening, the Knight having leapt almost soundlessly from the top of the canyon wall and cutting one tank almost in half while engulfing the other two in an electrical storm emitted from an orbal engine. Calvard's intelligence didn't even realise that the Erebonian machines were capable of such a thing, but then they had only come into contact with the regular armoured suits, Soldats, not one of the near-legendary Knights that had re-emerged. Even to know that one of the machines had entered the battlefield was enough to dash morale, but the Ashen Knight had already proven what it was capable of.
The voice coming from the Knight had a quality to it other than that of a human or machine. It had an ethereal quality to it, as though Valimar were possessed by a spirit, not piloted by a human. It certainly wasn't the voice of the pilot. Whether it was for effect or if the machine's capacity to channel the orbal casting of those contracted to it had a less mundane origin, the supernatural quality of the voice also inspired fear or reverence in those who fought against it or alongside it, a lot more than the voice of its rather young, if tested beyond his years, pilot.
Rean didn't think he sounded that much like himself these days, in any case. Since his sudden instatement as a 'war hero', he had been forced to learn a lot about public speaking, which mostly seemed to involve sounding like something he wasn't - some kind of larger-than-life legendary savior; a patriotic figure who would stand by Erebonia's every action, no matter how much bloodshed it caused; a spokesperson for Chancellor Osborne, a man he trusted with the future of the Empire about as far as he could throw him in Valimar; an efficient team-mate for Altina on their more covert missions. Not that he minded the latter quite as much, as he at least understood that she had even less say in the matter than he did, being practically raised for her job. They even had the common bond of being somehow integrally linked to the workings of robotic weapons that were a complete mystery to almost everyone, although Rean suspected that Altina knew a lot more than she let on about Claiomh-Solais. She probably wasn't allowed to tell him much, at least until he had pretended to co-operate for long enough to be fully trusted by the Chancellor. Until she did fully put her trust in him, however, he could not quite bring himself to let his guard down around the girl who could potentially report back to Osbourne on something Rean had thought was a secret between them. That meant he had to put on a mask around her as well. He wasn't even sure he could trust his former ally Claire, who he had always thought of as a role model when it came to integrity. She, too, had been in on Chancellor Osborne's deception. That left nobody he currently worked with who he could ever show his true face to.
Sometimes he wondered if he even knew who he was any more.
For the longest time, he had been, first and foremost, a member of Class VII. The experimental mixed class of Thors Military Academy had always been more tightly knit than the other classes, not only because of their relative small size and uniqueness but also because of the dangerous missions they were sent to as field trips. However, school years didn't last forever, the final term was approaching and his other duties were pulling him out of school with such increasing frequency that Rean was worried he wouldn't even have time to take his final exams. When the Chancellor had been assassinated by a shadowy organisation the class had been trailing - or, at least, in his innocence, Rean had believed that was what had happened - Rean had devoted himself to piloting Valimar, gathering up all his classmates again, protecting his friends and family while trying to piece together exactly what was happening. He hadn't realised in time that he still had no idea what was happening until it was too late, that all he had really done was gone along with the requests occasionally made of him, directly played into various factions' hands, while pursuing his personal goals. Whenever he thought he had something that defined him, it turned out to be a lie or something fleeting.
It was only later that day, once he had sped across the sky in Valimar, leaving behind the battlefield and returning to the converted warehouse in the middle of Thors' grounds, that he realised what it was that he had been missing. The buildings looked like a series of abstract patterns, the people like ants, as he first descended, but as he saw the people of Trista, both the locals and the students and staff of Thors, going about their daily lives, he saw that they were genuine, even if he might not see some of them again. As he spotted his classmates rushing up to see him, Fie first as always despite her otherwise lack of interest in life, he realised that their friendship was something that would last forever, no matter how apart they went from each other.
As he chatted about the upcoming final exams and how nervous they all were, he swore to find a way to be himself, no matter what he was asked to do, and that he would not agree to anything that brought Erebonia or his friends to ruin.