Darkness but a unique type, one which she was well acquainted with, one that
told her that she was still alive without colours or anything
The mind was conscious but unaware, floating, and slowly, by everything that bounded the material body, she woke up to the sound of a weeping voice. How very peculiar.
It was saying something, a jumble of disconnected noise, dragging her back to where she belonged, assuming such a place existed.
"Agrias, please.get up."
Agrias. Right, that was her name. What felt like nothing gently dispersed into a hazy numbness, stupor and her, a young beautiful girl with blurry red eyes. Her slender form was barely visible, a faint faint blue light illuminating the darkness.
The girl cried even harder when their eyes met, but why? Agrias opened her mouth to ask but the deep dryness at her throat stuffed her words right back in.
"Agrias, oh my God... I was so scared that you."
She never understood why words related to death were so deliberately removed. If one wanted to say it, one should just say it. Nothing is going to change with just a few words. Agrias moved to prop herself up, but a crippling pain immediately stopped her. She turned her head and sighed in disgust at the mess that was her left arm. It was obviously broken, but the limited lighting did not allow her to access the extent of the damage.
She could barely remember the fall. After she had released that blast of energy, everything had become a pounce of pain and instincts. It was a miracle that they were still alive. Slowly, shifting to her right side, Agrias tried again, feeling the pulled muscle along her wrist and shoulder. The princess moved to her and gently leaned her against the solid wall of rocks behind them. Blood rushed from her head and jumbled her limited vision. Agrias winced and waited for everything to settle.
"Are you injured, your highness?"
The princess sniffled, then answered.
"I'm perfectly fine.But you.Agrias."
Ovelia's voice shook with guilt and Agrias immediately cut her off.
"No, you're not." whispered Ovelia.
Unable to refute, Agrias allowed the only remedy available to ease her pain: time, a cure that they had little of. Sooner or later, the most important of questions would come up and Ovelia had chosen now to ask it.
"What should we do now?"
She didn't want to think and "I don't know" was the only answer that the wounded knight could come up with. Agrias allowed silence to engulf them as she sorted through the distracting throb within her entire left side. Most disturbing was the heaviness that attacked her. She had given her everything within that shot of holy energy, and now, she faced the consequences. Cold sweat of fatigue dribbled down her hairline, hot and cold waves rippling through her body. Agrias could almost imagine how pathetic she looked. After moistening her mouth with the little saliva that her body managed to produce, she replied.
"Princess, proceed to your left and the valley should dip and end."
Her voice cracked several times, consciously concealing the fact that she was lying. The truth was, she knew nothing. Ignoring the pain in her sprained wrist, Agrias felt along her belt for her dagger.
"Here, take this with you. Proceed north until Fovoham and show the dagger's emblem to the villagers. Ask them to bring you to Zalbag of Igros Castle."
Ovelia stared at the weapon, her face crusted with dried tears.
"Ar-aren't you coming with me?"
Agrias gingerly touched her sword arm and it was soaking wet.
"I'll only slow you down."
She couldn't really see the princess's face but evident panic overtook her words.
"But-- I can't just leave you here!"
"You're not. Just send people down after you reach safety."
'To collect whatever is left of me,' added Agrias to herself.
Agrias jutted the dagger further in front, her elbow complaining about its weight. The princess refused it, her hands clutched against her heart.
"I can't do this myself."
Agrias can feel her brows fall into a tight knit, her face taut with dried blood. She was in no mood to convince anyone of anything.
"Don't say you can't. You're strong. You CAN do this," stressed the injured knight, each syllable pronounced to perfection.
"I can't." was the simple reply that she got.
"Yes, you can and you must. A war is going to break out if they don't find you soon. Do it for the people of Ivalice. They don't deserve another war."
Ovelia fell silent, feeling the validity and heaviness of Agrias's words, then finally, took the dagger. "Promise that you'll wait for me."
The princess was a sympathetic soul, that much she had learned during their short stay together and Agrias almost hated herself for baiting her to leave.
"I promise. Now go."
Uneven steps began to leave her side and the blonde bodyguard waited impatiently for it to completely disappear. And when it did, she relieved her aching back and slid to the ground.
It was eerily quiet. On the battlefield, everything was fast, harsh and loud. One would not even have a moment of stillness much less a clean space to think.
If a soldier was lucky enough, a passing enemy or fellow comrade would put him out of his miseries, quickly and painlessly. And she would have preferred to have gone that way; fast, harsh and loud. But now, she would be known as the idiot who fell off the cliff who either starved to death or bled to death. Her father was probably fuming behind his large oak desk. Mother.quiet, poised and elegant as always. Agrias closed her tired eyes and they stung.
After all the times that she had cheated death, death was finally back to collect his debt. And she wasn't bitter, not after death's generosity with her in the past, a blessing she both loathed and needed. Not that it mattered anymore. Soon, she'll become one of those many crystals that illuminated the bottom of this chasm.Will they be able to distinguish her among the lot?
"You said you were going to wait for me."
'So that's how it feels to hallucinate,' thought Agrias, ironically.
"You promised me, you liar."
Yes, she was a liar and now the poor princess was heading out into nowhere. So what? Let whatever that judged the dead do the judging.
"Stupid coward. Damn you, Agrias. You promised me!"
With great reluctance, she forced open her eyes. The one thing she could not tolerate was being called a coward. She had worked her whole life to avoid that label.
"Why are you back?" managed the fallen knight, the last ounce of her strength draining away.
"You were planning to die from the very beginning," accused Ovelia.
Yes, she had planned to die since the very beginning and now, she planned to ignore the princess until she gave up or her life ended. Whichever comes first.
"So? You're just going to give up, coward?"
The ending word brought up another rise of last minute force.
"What does it matter? I'm expendable."
A strong smell of iron polluted the air. The grip around her broken arm was now soaked, her brain banging against its confinements.
"How could you even think that?!"
"I'm dying, if you can't tell. I'd appreciate you leaving unless you intend on finishing me."
She may not be able to see it but Agrias could almost imagine the look of horror on her dear princess's face. Respect and tact weren't really her priorities at the moment, although she did revel in the knowledge of her approaching death.
"Not if we get help."
"It's too late."
"No it isn't."
She had never felt so tired and now she was even helpless against a mere princess's verbal assault.
"I can't even move."
"Don't say you can't. You're strong. You CAN do this. You're Agrias."
Agrias laughed but it came out more like a groan, her own words thrown right back at her. Did being 'Agrias' automatically make her strong? She could hear the princess's breath beside her, close by, lifting her up.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm doing what needs to be done. The Agrias I know never gives up and she's going to regret being so stupid if I don't do something."
"I'm not going anywhere without you," growled Ovelia, hoisting Agrias's right arm over her shoulder, devoting everything into her legs, "We'll take it slowly, together."
"You're wasting your time!" yelled the blonde knight, coughing up dry hoarse words.
Ovelia just continued to pull, knowing full well that it was impossible to lift Agrias up without her bodyguard's cooperation.
"Would it hurt to even try?"
"It's too late. just put me down and--"
"Shut up," interrupted the princess sharply, the coarse language grabbing Agrias's attention, "Stop making excuses! Do you have any idea what you're asking of me? Why are you so eager to die? We've made it this far.and we couldn't have done it without you."
Everything took a pause, air, breath, time, as if stopping for them both.
"Back up on the cliff, you told me that I had two choices. I chose, therefore, I'm going to see to it until the end and I can't do it without you."
"You made a choice, you can do it again."
"Only because you were with me!" burst Ovelia. Agrias could hear the knob of tears stuck within the princess's throat, fizzing her voice. It hurt to know that this young girl held back her fears all for her sake.
"Please, Agrias." she begged, words no longer coherent within her head, "You said that you'll protect me.or was that a lie as well?"
She wasn't sure what did it but Agrias could feel herself moving despite her fading will. With Ovelia's help, the breastplate came off along with whatever bits and pieces of her armour that was left. The entire right sleeve of her royal blue jacket was ruined and soaked in blood. Swallowing the sharp tint in the air, Ovelia grabbed the dagger and sliced open the Holy Knight's usual uniform. Strips of the princess's dress were torn off and despite her lack of experience, the petit girl wound them around Agrias's wounds. Hopefully, it'll hold until help.
That was the easy part. Leaning into the princess, Agrias propped herself onto her good leg and with the help of her semi-functional right arm, they stood up, a shaking balance tipping them from side to side. Then, their first step. A sharp diving pain lunged into Agrias's ribs and her broken arm hung deeply. She relieved more of her weight until the frail princess supported her almost entirely. It was sad but if Ovelia wasn't there, she wouldn't have been able to stand.
It hurt but all they could think about was the next step. One by one by one, soft turning of debris and rocks echoing loudly within the vast undisturbed darkness. Agrias's left leg dragged uselessly behind her, a rain of cold sweat drenching her body. She had almost protested once but was immediately stopped with her charge's unusually curt but determined order.
'Why am I doing this?' wondered Agrias as 'this' was against everything that the academy had drilled into her discipline. She had no clue where they were, where they were going or if this path even had an end. And most importantly, she was jeopardizing her charge's chance at survival, princess or not.
They fell, more than once, but every time, Ovelia would be by her side, speaking words of encouragement and they would continue, step by step, although it was getting quite difficult to even think. Her charge offered to rest but Agrias knew full well that she would never get up again if they did. So they always got back up and continued.
It was awfully quiet and the princess sang all the songs that she had ever learned in her life, hoping to attract some sort of human response. So far, none.
"You sing very well," complimented Agrias. And she meant it. The princess had a sweet voice, gentle and youthful although it definitely would not be considered a proper singing voice within the court's strict rules of etiquette and fashion. Right now, powerful and thick operas were in style and to be quite honest, the knight found no appeal in those large women with lungs that could hold ten chocobos.
"Thank you, although Ophion thinks otherwise."
"He was just being difficult."
Agrias swallowed, squinting her eyes for a new wave of pain to pass.
"Are you alright?"
Her bodyguard didn't reply and a deep hunch in her guts warned her. Ovelia distinctively remembered all sorts of inquires that she had about Agrias but somehow, they all seemed to have disappeared into some small corner of her memory. She panicked and came up with the first question that she had asked Alma when they first met.
"What's your name?" blurted Ovelia.
The silent knight gave her a most confused look, as if her own name had suddenly slipped from her mind.
"I'm trying to distract you," reasoned the princess. Agrias obliged and answered.
"Do you have any siblings?"
"Brothers or sisters?"
"Older or younger?"
"One of each."
"So you're the middle child."
"How old are you?"
Six years. Not a big difference.
"Umm. where are you from?"
Ovelia paused, dry of questions because her ever efficient bodyguard had depleted her list within moments.
"Agrias, we can't have a conversation if your sentences are three word phrases. And there must be more to Fovoham than just 'Fovoham'. Rather insulting to your homeland, don't you think."
Agrias smiled, a quick rasp chuckle that lightened her head.
"Now try again. This time, complete sentences please, 5 minimum. Use a variety of vocabulary."
"You sound like Lord Ophion."
"Why, thank you."
The tall knight didn't really know where to start and simply began with the facts.
"Fovoham is made up of mostly dense forest. Some wheat mills, glass workshops, fur shops if you go further north. How many sentences was that?"
"One. The rest were fragments."
"Just keep going."
"I don't know what else to tell you."
"What do the people usually do?"
Agrias thought hard, traveling years back to the Fovoham that she knew; the bare terrain, monotonous range of Kaizander trees. There wasn't really much, considering that Fovoham relied on trade mostly. But on the topic of winter, a new string of questions flew out from Ovelia. The princess was especially enchanted by snow, something only her homeland and some other northern areas had the privilege of. The petite girl especially noted the difference in Agrias's voice. Putting aside the thick fatigue, the pitch was definitely higher and more natural than her bodyguard's usual tone. If may be an odd thought, but Ovelia couldn't help but wonder if Agrias had consciously lowered her voice. The same thing happened during an unguarded moment of math tutorial.
"How many sentences was that?" asked Agrias. The princess was as lively as she was when the knight first met her and for once, she appreciated that vigour, a gift which she had almost destroyed.
"Lost count. But Fovoham sounds wonderful. so different than how I imagined it to be. I was thinking more along coal mines and farmers.oh! And the Pitherma Tower, Joseph Cathedral, Ijatuvos church. so many beautiful things. you've must have seen all of them..."
"No," replied Agrias. All those buildings were unfamiliar, although she had heard of Fovoham's splurge of construction during and after the war. It was a pitiful attempt to raise morale, nothing more than an excuse to spend.
"Really? But this one you must have seen! Le Grande Jamanier, the tallest and grandest cathedral in all of Ivalice, at least that's what I heard."
"I've heard of it," replied Agrias, quietly.
"But you must have! It's impossible to miss."
"I haven't been there in five years."
The princess immediately silenced herself. Mutual indifference settled between them as the odd shuffling of rocks resumed its noisy task. Five years. Ovelia had just learned about the knight's siblings, parents, and home. Agrias had almost seemed eager to share this with her but clearly thought that all that was outdated information.
It may not be the right time to note, but an awkward smell slowly invaded the air aside from their own silence. Perhaps one of them was nervous so neither of them said anything, until the smell got stronger with an inhuman tang to it.
"What is that smell?" noted Ovelia, wrinkling her nose.
Agrias gently sniffed the air and frowned at its familiarity.
They were nocturnal creatures and despite what legends said, they do not turn into stone upon the touch of sunlight. Instead, they merely haboured a certain dislike for the sun and burned quite easily. Agrias glanced up for any hint of time. If they were lucky, it would be day when these hostile and foul creatures were fast asleep. But if it were night, the goblins would be wide-awake, eating and dancing and alert for intruders.
Her head throbbed with strings of hopes and worries. The undergrounds were the goblins' natural habitat so it would not be surprising to actually stumble upon an entire colony. They continued further up and just as she suspected, a barely visible crack, hidden between the rocks.
From the size of the hole, Agrias immediately knew that it was the entrance; half her height with another head to spare. A soft, slimy green moss clung to the rocks that held the passage open. They approached and a soft vague gust whistled through, bringing with it a foul smell of fish and rotten meat; typical goblin stench.
"Into a-a-a goblins' nest?!" choked the princess. It had been quite a while since Agrias had heard fear within that voice.
"With an entrance there's bound to be an exit to the surface. It must be morning or they would have spotted us by now."
Ovelia bit her lip then firmly nodded her head. But before them laid another problem; the hole would be a tight fit and in a space that could barely fit an average human, an injured one seemed out of the question. Agrias opened her mouth to make a suggestion but her charge immediately caught her with a solid frown as if reading her mind.
Ovelia first laid Agrias down and slipped into the hole. With an arm under the bodyguard's tough arm, she then pulled Agrias in, head first. The landing was not exactly pleasant but what they saw, silenced any protest. What seemed to be a thin tunnel was wide and tall enough to fit two burly soldiers comfortably. The floor, which should be covered in green Goblin moss, was clean and paved, resembling a castle's prison than an actual nest.
Goblins were not known for diligence so not a single guard was present. In the same fashion, the pair slowly continued their search, consciously muting themselves as much as they could. Goblins may have bad vision, but their sensitive feet more than made up for this weakness. Every movement, every tremor upon the ground could be felt with tremendous radius. The two human intruders, who relied heavily on
their eyes, felt their way clumsily through the dark with bare lights, the princess leading the search.
'Not another fork,' mumbled Ovelia.
The way before them was complicated, paths forking into three, four or even eight other corridors. Amazing that the ceiling above them actually held its place even after all this digging. amazing that Agrias was still breathing because the further they got, the slower they went until it felt like they were barely moving. Ovelia prayed, deep inside herself, begging for this tunnel to end. With her dress cut until her mid thigh, the chilling air of the tunnels robbed her of any warmth. Her fingers had long lost all feeling, and had become hard and clumsy. But she knew that her so-called suffering couldn't even begin to compare to the struggling woman beside her. Pain could clearly be seen on her bodyguard's usually stoic face. Those once clear blue eyes were now glazed with a watery haze. Their proximity allowed her to feel this invincible swordswoman shake, drops of sweat falling in abundance over a beautifully pale face. Occasionally, they would be entirely still, Agrias's eyes slightly rolling in their sockets.
They ventured further and further, the entrance impossible to retrace. Although they had yet to see a single goblin, soldier's instincts pricked her neck and Agrias felt bare without her armour or her sword. But even if she had a weapon, she could barely hold it.
Finally, amongst the darkness, a soft soft light touched their deprived vision. It immediately spurred them forward, a smile touching both their faces. The opening expanded into a colossal dome, as big as Lionel Castle's chapel. A short platform jutted out, a pathway circling around.
And on a deep stretch below was an uncountable amount of snoring goblins.
This was like the heart of the entire system, ready to pump short slimy monsters into its veins. Ovelia tightened her grip, her breathing reckless no matter how hard she tried to tame it. Agrias immediately requested her dagger to be tied onto her hand. Even with her sword arm broken and the other sprained, she could not walk into the middle of the enemies' base weaponless. The princess obliged and after resetting themselves, they inched testily onto the pathway.
Despite their sensitive feet, the goblins' sleep was deep and the loud snoring more then covered the dragging of Agrias's injured leg. The opening on the opposite side was visible but with a distance so cautiously large that every step pounded their chest with immense force.
Agrias's weight calmed her wild and racing fear into a rhythmic chant; One by one. Three, two, one. there. Ovelia swallowed the need to sigh and they stepped into darkness once again.
And a loud grunt, deep and rumbling, sounded into the air, rummaging through the tunnels with reflective speed. The snoring in the background stopped, mumblings of grouchy grumbles replacing it.
What they have failed to notice was the dim light from the side, just a speck within the rocks. Apparently, not all of them were asleep. The rock slid open and a single black goblin raced out, bellowing another loud alert. He must have been the leader, seeing the gold belt around his stubby waist.
The abundance of roused monsters from below broke into shrill panic, disappearing into the long series of holes that surrounded the dome. Their shrieking could be heard clearly through the rocks.
Smelling the thick blood that surrounded the pair, the black goblin before his human intruders stuck out this thick purple tongue and licked his lips. He wasted no time to attack and dove for a tackle.
The weight around Ovelia's shoulders disappeared as she was shoved out of the way, watching her bodyguard take the attack. Agrias's body flew out upon impact and landed on the rocks like a broken rag doll. She screamed her name but amongst the loud grumbling of goblin tongue, she couldn't hear Agrias's reply-- if there was one that is.
The goblin then turned to her. Smelling the princess's frailty, his delight was apparent upon his wrinkled and slimy face, ready to savour this easy victory. Ovelia picked up the dagger that went with her and remembered the bare whisper that touched her ears.
She knew what to do and went for it. The dagger's sharpened and well-kept blade dug into the goblin's sensitive foot. The cutting of flesh numbed her hands but without even sparing a glance, she raced out the opening and on to the jutting platform.
Ignoring everything around her, Ovelia pooled herself by Agrias's side. A deep dread conquered her seeing her bodyguard still with her eyes closed. No matter how she shook or called her name, Agrias remained motionless.
A goblin's howl whined behind her and the princess turned around to the sight of an angry monster. His eyes were blood red as if they were boiling. He limped but with deft determination, a new batch of supporters grunting their anger. There was even a fellow human amongst the crowd, suited in armour, although his safe existence amongst the goblins told her where his loyalty lay.
There were so many of them, that distinct goblin stench intensely trapped within the dome and her lungs. It was the same hopeless story, repeating itself all over again and this time, she didn't have a choice.
Surrounded. Hunted. Unwanted. Anger burned away other excess emotions, simmering hot within her veins. Everything that they've done so far was meaningless. No matter how hard she tried, it was just the same. Agrias had such high expectations of her but never shall she fulfill them.
And never shall Agrias's family all the way up in Fovoham see their daughter and sister ever again.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed. Several of the scarce torches around the dome were knocked over and from above, a clear roar overwhelmed the annoying grunts of goblins.
Like magic, a large form ate the distance that separated prey and predators. Another battle snarl bellowed into the echoing pact from below, several similar forms appearing from seemingly nowhere.
Dragons. Goblins may not be known for their intelligence but self-preservation was instilled deeply in their instincts. The fury bursting from their gaping mouths made the entire colony tremble, knees bucking. The sharp fangs that glinted within the soft lighting made them whimper with shaking shrill noises. Another collective roar had them all running into every hole and tunnel they could find. The remaining lighting went out and Ovelia found herself engulfed in darkness and total panic. She grabbed on to Agrias's body, her upper torso covering as much as she can as the ground underneath her rumbled.
He yawned as that common trash he had so unfortunately hired rambled. It's
always the same thing; he did that. blah-blah-blah. couldn't have done it
without him. blah-blah. And God did that slime stink. The rank smell of sweat
and old leather, accumulated over the years, attacked his delicate nose hence
the handkerchief discreetly covering half his face. Finally, having had enough
of this torture, he interrupted the burly soldier before him.
"Mister Duga, you are certain that she's."
Duga smirked, enjoying the rare chance of being called "mister".
"Course. Did it meh self."
Duga dragged his finger over his thick hairy neck for emphasis.
"Dat blondie of hers was nuthin' WHAM and dead. Ain't no match."
"Very nicely done."
"Meh pleasure, ya holiness. 'cept."
Low boorish, tactless, animal. He'll have to remind his servant to choose one with a little more manners next time.
"Ah yes. our agreement. and I trust that this will stay between the two of us."
"No worries, I take da five and no one will ever see meh again."
The door opened at the sound of his snap. A young man with perfect chocolate hair, slicked back, walked in. The box within his hands lit a staring greed within Duga, who watched with utmost impatience as it was presented before him. Duga rubbed his hands together then flicked the hatch open.
Nothing. No gold, no gil, no jewelry, except a plain short sword, one he could find anywhere for a measly 100 gil. Duga opened his mouth but no sound left it as the box fell, blade unsheathed and cheap iron buried itself in his throat.
"Delita, go send Prince Goltana that lovely letter about our dearest princess's 'misfortune'."
It may have been seconds, hours, days. She couldn't tell from the darkness
and the silence, still hunched over her bodyguard's body. Her back ached
from the awkward position but Ovelia made no attempt to move, the slight
up and down movement beneath, her only comfort.
Suddenly, like the dragons, a flicker of light appeared out of nowhere and Ovelia looked up from her cocoon of nothingness. She could barely make out a tanned hand, stretched toward her, matched with gleaming gold eyes and a perfect smile.
"Hello, sugar. Need a hand?"
To be continued...
Finished chapter 13. ^.^ I feel very relieved. Hope people enjoyed it.