Garnet's slippered feet tapped lightly against the tile ground. Behind her and to her left and right Beatrix and Steiner followed silently. In front of her was the palace's massive water fountain, far more impressive then the one in Madain Sari. Its beauty usually gave her peace of mind.
But not today.
"Princess, are you all right? You seem...unhappy," Steiner mentioned hesitantly.
Garnet looked up, her black hair falling in front of her tiara. There was a time, and not so long ago, when Zidaine would scream at her to speak her mind. "I'm fine," she said in a calm, cool voice sounding nothing like her. It was a voice she was getting used to. "Both of you, please leave me to my thoughts."
Steiner and Beatrix shared a brief glance at each other but immediately did as she commanded. They also, however, posted guards fifty paces away.
Garnet allowed herself an inward sigh. The city of Alexandria dwelled before her, the hundreds of city lights providing a brief solace from her feelings. Weeks ago, but what felt like years from this very day, she promised to show Zidane Alexandria's incredible beauty.
Garnet lowered her head. That was when she was little more then an inward innocent child. She stared at the jasmine in her gloved hands, what used to be her mother's favorite flower. She had a responsibility now to protect that city. She could no longer afford to run away from those that depended on her. She knew that now. That was something Zidaine had to understand, if nothing else.
Garnet closed her eyes and sighed, lost in contemplation.
A paper fluttered above her head and landed by the fountain. Garnet looked up with a gasp but could see nothing except darkness. Carefully Garnet bent down to pick it up. Sitting on the fountain's edge, she read,
I need to see you. It is of the upmost importance. Come at two past midnight here. Alone.
At two hours past midnight Garnet entered the courtyard, dressed out of her white dress and into her plain clothes, carrying her healing rod. Her heart lifted at the sight of Zidane waiting in front of the fountain, his back turned to Garnet. She was about to run to him, hesitated, then cleared her throat and walked towards him.
I didn't think you would come," Zidane said. He did not turn to face her. "You know, with all your responsibilities and all I know how you can barely afford to even look at me."
There was no mistaking the bitter tone in his voice. She could see his arm gripping the fountain's edge tightly. Garnet blinked, and felt a flash of guilt. Zidane had tried to see her, many times. Each time he had been turned away, usually kicking and swearing. "Zidane.....I'm grateful for all you've done. You took me this far. And shown me so much! But things are different now. You have to know that."
"Is that what Steiner's telling you? Garnet, think for yourself! I know you care more then that! How can you forget your friends so easily? Vivi, Freya....me!"
"I haven't forgotten! I just have more important things to worry about!" Garnet almost shouted. "Zidane, Kuja could attack any moment now! I have to defend the city! I don't have time for......anything else."
"So that's the way it is now?"
Garnet looked away. "That's the way it has to be. I'll always be here, but I just can't go off and adventure with you! It's not like you can just pick me up and kidnap me again! Zidane, people are counting on me!" She looked away, biting her lip with anger. "Can't you understand that? I guess not, considering that you've never had to worry about anything in your life."
"I worry about you! I know that this isn't what you wanted, Garnet! I guess I..wanted things to be like they were before. That's why I didn't leave here. I wanted to take you away, from all of this. And...I thought I meant something to you."
Garnet looked down miserably.
"But I guess a princess can't afford to love an ordinary guy, huh? Still, I figured it was worth a try." Zidane paused, still looking out towards the city. "But...along the way, I ran into an old friend of ours. Kuja."
Garnet heard the odd shift in his tone and stepped forwards. "Zidane?" she whispered.
"You can imagine my surprise. We fought," Zeldaine continued. "I tried...I really tried to defeat him. But you know how hard it as to defeat an all-powerful wizard." He was fingering the dagger in his hands. "He wanted me to do something for him. A message to pass onto you, the new queen of Alexandria."
Garnet stepped closer. "What?" she whispered.
Zidaine opened his eyes, and if Garnet could have seen them, she would have seen that the whites of his eyes were now red-rimmed. He gripped the dagger tighter. And turned around.
"That tonight Alexandria will fall!"
It was only hard-earned battle experience that allowed Garnet to raise her healing rod above her head just in time, deflecting the dagger. Her mind could only barely comprehend what was happening. "Zidane-what??" she sputtered as she blocked again. Some part of her fevered mind believed that this was one of Zidane's little games again, as she literally defended her life. Zidane's blade slashed left and right, leaving deep marks in the metal of her rod. Zidane was moving so fast that Garnet barely had time to think. Only one frantic thought ran through her mind-this isn't Zidane, this isn't Zidane, this isn't-
Zidane's dagger cut into her hand. With a cry of pain Garnet dropped her rod. Zidane's dagger sliced right into her white shoulder. Garnet screamed, a horrible sound. She fell backwards onto her knees. The healer's rod clattered to the ground and rolled away.
Zidane calmly walked behind her. "I always knew you were weak," he snarled. His hands gripped both sides of her head, and with horror Garnet realized that he was going to snap her neck. Desperately she struggled her black hair falling back and forth in front of her face.
Zidane's head jerked up as he heard rapid noises approaching. Steiner and Beatrix. Zidane waved his dagger. "This isn't over," he snapped. He turned around, and ran for the gate wall. Even in her pain Garnet reached forwards, as though willing him to come back. Beatrix flew to the princess' side as Steiner charged after Zidane, his plate mail clicking. Zidane ran like the wind, his footsteps only lightly grazing the ground, yet Steiner was gaining. Zidane leaped upwards and grabbed the top of the wall in one motion. He turned around slightly, smiling his crooked smile, and leapt off the wall, his tail flapping.
Steiner leaped up for the wall, but only just managed to grab the top of the wall with his gloved fingers. He tried to climb upwards with his feet bracing the wall...and slipped.
He tried again, and slipped.
His face beat-red now, he tried once more.....
...and fell back into the hedge, crushing a few of the Princess' favorite flowers.
"Dammit," Steiner growled.
Steiner ran back to the princess, spitting out anger with every motion. "That back-stabbing traitor! Even I had never thought that Zidaine would be so low as to accept a commission to attack the prin-PRINCESS!" He bent down, starring at the red blossoming her gown. "Princess, are you injured!?"
Beatrix stared at him coldly. "Of course she is, fool."
"Kuja," Garnet whispered. Her eyes were swelling with tears, but not from the pain of the wound. "It was Kuja's doing. Not Zidane. Somehow Kuja is controlling him."
"But....why?" Steiner asked in horror. "He is a powerful wizard! He doesn't need Zidane's help to do that."
Garnet struggled to sit up. "Kuja wanted to prove that he can get to me any way...especially through all my friends." She was making a noise, something which took a moment for Steiner to decipher.
Garnet was crying.
The courtyard was empty.
Kuja calmly walked past the open gate, his white robe fluttering. It was promising to be a breezy night. Kuja liked that kind of weather. It was certainly....chaotic.
He heard footsteps behind him, moving so lightly that they were almost impossible to detect.
Kuja didn't turn his head. "Did you kill her?" He tilted his head, and smiled before Zidane could reply. "No matter. Just as long as the princess realizes how alone she truly is. Get whatever you need. We still have much work to do."
Zidane disappeared into the darkness. Kuja stepped forwards, his eyebrow arched. He lifted his gloved hands, and the concrete in front of him cracked and exploded with pink light. A dragon arose from the ground, flapping its wings and shrieking.
Kuja smiled in satisfaction, his blue eyes glittering.
At the Tantalus guild the outside window parted slightly. Zidane entered, closing the window behind him. He could see his supplies laid out carelessly upon the counter. Zidane grabbed a string bag from the floor and began piling his things into it, his sheathed dagger among them.
"Leaving without saying good-bye?"
Zidane froze. He didn't need to turn around to know that his entire gang was there. He decided to be sure. Yep, they were all here, all right. Buko, Blank leaning against the wall, Marcus carrying a net, Cinna. Oafsmen, the newest member of the group wielding a small dagger.
"The Princess gave us a little call. Sounded a pecked worried about you," Buko said, crossing his arms. "Anything you care to tell us, Zidane?"
"Not really," Zidane snapped. "Get out of my way."
"Come on," Buko said. "Five against one? Those are great odds! We're going to bring you back to the princess, so then maybe you can explain your actions."
Only Blank, with his wizard-vision could see Zidane's red-rimmed eyes that were glowing with evil. "Didn't know you could be so sentimental, boss," he snarled, backing away.
Buko laughed heartily. "Sentimental? Me? Ha! I'm in this for the money, fair and square."
Zidane's hand darted inside the bag.
"Who knows? Maybe the princess will offer a pretty reward when we bring you all trussed up-argh!"
A white blinding light cut him off as Zidane drew his dagger. It lit up the entire small room. Even Blank was startled out of his usual composure. "Methril!" he whispered. "I thought it didn't exist!"
"Blank, Oafsmen-Cinna! All at once! Pile on top of him, mates!" Buko ordered. As the others dived at Zidane with fists blurring and mouths cursing Buko leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "Yep. They should have no problem taking him on."
Somehow, though, Zidane managed to slip away and flipped onto the table. Blank leapt after him, his dagger in his hand. Zidane slid off the table and rolled onto the ground, picking up a regular dagger along with his other one. He tried to make for the door before the thieves had a chance to untangle himself.
Buko grabbed him and tossed him easily across the room. The other thieves, moving as one, tackled him.
Marcus squinted, swearing. His eyesight wasn't as great as the rest. Yet he had snagged something,
something small it had to be Zidane! It had to be-
"Thanks, Marcus!" Blank snarled. Oafsmen leaned forwards and tried released him with a flick of his dagger, but ended up getting tangled himself. Zidane was nowhere to be seen.
"Stop, STOP!" Buko shouted, but it was too late.
Blank saw a clean target of Zidine. He leaned forwards, summoning the magic within himself for a sleep spell. He launched it, but the spell caught Marcus as he stepped in the line of sight. With a loud crash he fell face-first to the ground, snoring.
Cinna jumped onto the table and grabbed Zidane's tail as he was about to escape out the window. With a yelp Zidine fell to the ground and swiped at Cinna who jumped backwards out of the way.
Buko managed to wrap the rope around Zidane's wrist, forcing him to drop his ordinary dagger. "Ha!" he said. "Got'cha!"
It was the last statement the bearded master of thieves made.
Zidane turned around, the Methril dagger in his hand. He plunged it straight into Buko's shoulder.
"ARGH!" Buko cried, stepping backwards. "All right, no more fooling around! Everyone, get him!"
Zidane closed his eyes and concentrated. Sparks of light flashed between his fingertips and exploded. The thieves leapt backwards, yelping.
Blank rubbed his eyes irritably and looked up.
Zidane had disappeared, and so had the bag on the counter. Blank's eyes followed a window that was only closed a moment ago. Now it was wide open. "Gone."
A cry behind him. "Oafsmen!"
Blank turned around. The young thief lay on the ground, a blade petruding from his gut. He didn't move.
Buko limped forwards and gave Oafsman a nudge with his foot. "Dead. Fell on his blade in the confusion, looks like-yer gods!" He touched his shoulder and winced. "Yep, that leaves a pretty little sting."
"Boss, Methril is extremely unstable," Blank hesitated. "We've got to get it out of you carefully!"
"Nonsense," Buko scoffed. "I'll just pull it out and-"
The guild exploded.
"Will he live?" Garnet asked.
It was later into the night, and the thieves were assembled in the palace. Blank leaned precariously against the pillar, impatiently waiting for this to be over and done with. "He might. He might not."
Beside the princess was Steiner and Beatrix, her parlor as cold as ice, as usual. Garnet looked away and sighed. She was supposed to be crowned queen today, but in light of Kuja's recent attack-for it had to be him that did this to Zidane-the ceremony had been indefinitely delayed. Garnet couldn't say that she wasn't grateful. Once again she was dressed, once again, in the white dress she had worn last night, symbolizing royalty.
Seeing the concern in the princess' eyes, Marcus cleared his throat. "Boss is usually tougher then he looks. He should pull through."
"All my healers are open to your disposal-"
Blank actually made a half-smile. "Boss has never trusted a healer in his life. He's not going to now."
Steiner stepped forwards. "But surely in circumstances such as these-"
"Thanks," Blank snapped. "But right now our main focus is going after Kuja."
"And stopping Zidaine!" Cinna added heartily.
Beatrix swept her hair backwards. "And then what?"
"You'll kill him, I suppose."
It took a moment for Garnet to realize she had actually whispered that, and everyone stared at her in open surprise. But no more surprise then Blank. "Kill Zidaine?" he echoed dully. "It is this Kuja's doing, is it now?"
Garnet looked up and nodded.
"Then the way we see it, Zidane is just as much a prisoner in this as anyone else," Marcus said gruffly. "We're going to break him out. And right away!"
Steiner stared at them with open admiration. "Loyalty like that can never be bought, brave sirs!"
Blank lifted himself from the pillar and stared at the princess. "I am in command of the Tantalus thieves now. We plan to patrol the city for Zidane, but we officially request additional help in covering all the streets. Perhaps yourself could lend a hand. He loved you, princess. He might listen to you."
Garnet swallowed and looked away. Her mind went back to the time when she and Zidane were at the fountain, laughing. She closed her eyes, willing the memory away. "I have duties of my own, sir thief," she said, opening her eyes. "But I will lend what men I can...if they can be spared."
Blank stared at her coldly. "My apologies, princess. I had always thought that Zidaine meant more to you then an armed escort. I know that Zidaine thought so. Apparently, we were all wrong." He turned to leave.
Steiner stepped forwards. "Sir...do you need help with the body?"
"We take care of our own, sir knight," Blank replied. The other thieves left. Blank glanced one last time at Garnet. "Oh, and nice dress, princess," he added. "It makes you look pretty." And with that, like a shadow, he was gone.
Garnet leaned forwards, releasing a trembling breath. She wanted time to think, time to plan. Most of all she wanted a moment of calm.
"IMPUTENCE!" Steiner shouted angrily. "I will have those thieves routed out of the city at once!"
"They have volunteered their help," Beatrix mentioned. She stepped forwards, her boot clicking against the diamond-like marble of the throne room. "The question is, what do we do now?"
Both knights glanced at Garnet for the answer.
Garnet sat very still on the throne, looking down at her jasmine flowers. Her heart was racing. In her mind, though, she felt like no better then a lost child. And they expected orders from her!? That was a laugh. Her eyes closed in misery. She was also heartbroken. It had, for the first time, really begun to sink in that Zidane, the only person who had ever treated her without reverence, without judgement...just as a normal person, was gone. And with her sadness there was also an unmistakable fear.
As a member of Zidane's party, Garnet always knew she was a weak link. Zidane had his dagger, Steiner his sword, and Vivi his dark magic. Even Eiko was an impressive nature summoner who saved their lives more then once. She had no skill with a sword, and the magic she had was protective at best. And now a whole city was depending upon her for answers, answers which she couldn't give. "I....I dunno," she whispered.
Beatrix and Steiner glanced at each other. Steiner cleared his throat. "Your highness, Kuja's attack on Zidane is like a burning arrow launched towards this kingdom. It's the start of a massive attack, though I'm unsure of what powers a dark mage can conjur-"
With an irritated sigh Garnet stood. She turned away from them."I don't care about any of this!" she said angrily, clenching her small fists. "Why are you asking me? I'm not my mother! I'm not a leader, I don't know *anything* about military strategy, I'm just barely getting by!"
Steriner stammered into silence.
The Princess' small fists were clenched. "I just want to find Zeldaine! Why can't I do that?"
Beatrix's reply was cold. "You are a princess."
Garnet glanced at her in surprise. It was rare to hear Beatrix speak.
Beatrix swept her hair backwards. "You are a princess, about to become a Queen of the largest and finest cities of Gaia. You cannot just run around the world as before. If you do....well, think of the people. They need you now, more then ever."
"No, they don't!" Garnet said stubbornly.
"Yes, they do," Beatrix persisted. "You don't know how badly your mother treated them in her final days, including many secret foul things that I shall not mention. Without you, they are lost." She stared at Garnet, fully, for the first time. "Highness, the time of your childhood is over. It is time for you to be an adult, and being an adult more often then not means doing things that we don't want to do, things that tear us apart, things that will later make us strong. Will you accept that time? Will you become the leader I always knew you would be someday? Because if you can't be...then you will have one less subject to worry about."
Steiner stared at her in astonishment.
"And I sure I would only be the first to depart," Beatrix finally said.
They suddenly heard a piercing shriek in the air.
At the guild of Tantalus those walking by on the street could hear heated voices.
"Buko, you need to heal. Look, you can trust me. I know all sorts of spells from around the world. See? Draw ....cure!"
"Ouch, get away from me! I have a stick!"
The wooden door opened. All the thieves were lifted by Buko and thrown out of the small, ash-filled shack onto the street. Dejected, Blank walked down the small alleyway. He angrily kicked a stone away.
"What now?" Cinna asked.
Blank shrugged. "Let's patrol for a while." He could hear the others muttering behind him. He sympathized. This was not the old, carefree days they had experience before. Kidnaping the princess was supposed to be the big pay-off. It had taken months of preparation-not to steal her, but learning the lines to 'I want to be your Canary'. And whatever the circumstances Blank did *not* go on any stage for a big fat zero.
Oh, they had received something, all right, Blank thought in irritation. They had all suffered. Blank himself had been petrified-literally! The ship had crashed, wasting hundreds of Buko's gold. Worst of all, Zidane had actually found love. It had driven a splinter through the group. Blank remembered with a small smile the mock battle fight they had preformed during the play. Will they ever have times like that again?
Probably not, Blank thought stiffly. Sure, Garnet was pretty to look at, but that was all. She was no more then a figurehead, and didn't deserve someone like Zidane. He had changed because of her, that was for sure. They all had changed. In a way, they had all grown up. Through some dealings or another they actually cared about Alexandria, cared about the world.
And right now that world was in a great deal of trouble. Blank looked up at the clear sky, worry that was rare to see in his eyes. He didn't need his half-magic blood to now that something was about to happen, something bad, and-
"Um Blank? Does the street usually glow like that??" Cinna asked.
Blank was startled out of his thoughts, and his eyes narrowed. There was indeed a bluish glow on the street in front of them. Blank could smell magic. As they watched the street cracked, and formed a hole. What crawled out of the hole resembled something like a massive centipede. Instantly the thieves moved in a defensive stance.
More portals opened up around them. With a swing of his axe Marcus swiped at the centipede to his left. Cinna drew his dagger. Blank ran forwards, his hand glowing with blue power.
Starring down from the balcony, Garnet could see tiny portals starting to open up in the city alleyways, and vile things that weren't human crawl out of them. But at the moment, her main concern was the dragon.
It was not a natural beast. She could see the aura of summoner's magic around the beast, and she knew it for what it was-one of the most ancient, most powerful, and therefore most deadly Eidlon known to existence.
She didn't know how to combat something like that. Her gloved hands were clasping together nervously.
"The cannons are ready, Princess!" one of the Knights of Pluto called out.
Garnet frowned a little. She hated the cannons with a disgust that surprised even her, but she had no other choice. "Fire all the cannons," she ordered.
With a crack of thunder the cannons exploded towards the dragon. As Garnet watched in horror the Dragon dipped out of their path and arched a fireball towards the city square. It erupted into flame.
"Again!" Garnet ordered.
Their backs arching with the strain, the men moved to reload the cannons. Again they fired.
The Dragon paused in mid-flight as the cannons soared past. It was much closer now. It was headed straight for her! Garnet's heart lurched with sudden fear. Shouting, the Knights of Pluto drew their weapons and ran to her side.
The Dragon plunged straight towards her and suddenly flew upwards, its claws lightly tapping the concrete of the balcony as it soared off into the starlight sky. It shrieked once, mockingly.
Her black hair parting from the sudden wind, Garnet could only watch in horror, uncertain of what to do.
Miles away Kuja levitated himself upwards into the sky, his white arms folded. The destruction was only just beginning. Soon his dragon will desecrate the entire city.
And all Kuja had to do was sit back and enjoy the show.
On the ground Zidane ran past the screaming people headed in the opposite direction, his dagger in his hand. Leaping over a broken piece of concrete, he headed towards the center of the city.
Garnet watched as the Dragon turned, heading this time towards the center of the city. She lifted her head. "Zidane," she whispered to a man who wasn't there, starring upwards at the clear and open sky. "For so long I didn't know what to do......and now I do. You taught me so much, Zidane. You taught me that it was okay to hurt those that wanted to hurt you, that it was okay to stand up for what you believed in, but most of all you taught me to have confidence in what I was. To not live through others protecting me. You taught me to be strong. Now I do have to be strong, for the others that can't be. Which means only one thing."
"I have to let you go."
Garnet closed her eyes, tears sliding down them. Her jasmine flowers dropped from her hands, hundreds of meters below.
Natasha Bennett's Fanfiction