"Ovelia, what's wrong?"
The princess only hugged her friend tighter, whimpering, while tears flowed endlessly. Even though her eyes were exhausted, she simply could not stop with one word licking eerily at her mind.
Alma called her again but her helpless sobs were the only response. The first time she saw nothing, hiding behind the same shoulders underneath the dark. Agrias had claimed that those assassins survived when she asked about them but there was no doubt that this one did not and nothing was there to shield her ignorance. They died because of her.
It was a faint and dead whisper barely audible. Her tears have stopped, leaving empty anger as she gritted her teeth for some sort of relief.
Ovelia's awkward tone was scaring her. One second she was sobbing uncontrollably, the next she was deadly silent, mumbling.
"Why did they want to kill me?"
Ovelia had abruptly pushed Alma away and her questioning scream had Alma staring back in shock.
"I didn't do anything. I don't even know them!" continued the princess. Her body slumped breathlessly onto the soft mattress which horridly reminded her of the body that rested defiantly with regret on hers.
"It's not your fault that this had happened! They tried to kill you for no good reasons!" said Alma. She held Ovelia firmly by the shoulders as she looked hard into the princess's eyes.
"Some people would do anything to achieve their goals...even if it meant hurting others." She added remorsefully. There were plenty of people who would love to lay their hands on a Beoulve and that was why she was here, isolated. Alma understood Ovelia's pain. They were the same.
Ovelia nodded. The answer was satisfactory but her nerves still shook and screamed with intensity. There was something else that was causing this turmoil which she wasn't ready to share and burden Alma.
"Ovelia, what happened?"
"I-it's nothing. I'm sorry, Alma. I don't know what came over me."
"It's alright. "
Though a smile would be highly reassuring, her face just would not cooperate.
"But are you sure?"
Ovelia managed a nod, grateful for a friend at this moment. But right now, she needed company, not talking.
"I really am. Let's sleep now. It's really late."
Alma respected the princess's need for peace and they laid themselves quietly on the bed but that was all Ovelia did. Her mind was conscious as a name finally surfaced after much struggling.
Even after brutally stabbing the man, her blade and hands blooded with death, those unwavering eyes remained silent. Casual and habitual movements, not an ounce of regret, all because of her. They had their reasons for their attempts and Agrias had the princess for her reasons to kill. Those still crystal eyes held determination that pierced like sharp ice burgs. That look told her that Agrias would never hesitate to destroy whatever that stood in her path and it scared her, battling with confusion, her identity and reality all at once.
'It's not fair.'
Circumlocution had always been Ophion's method of speech, dancing around with a string of fancy words in his noble accent. However, he had been precise today with his announcement. Perhaps the dreaded connotation was a contributor but his crisp speech came at a time where smooth delivery would be preferred.
"I'm here to announce your highness's relocation from Illica Monastery."
Only 'your highness'. Ovelia understood the implications but was too scared to ask for clarifications. Her mind was thinking but blistering when it came to important thoughts. Alma, preferring truths over delusions, carefully voiced their concern. There was no sense in delaying the verdict for it would be known sooner or later.
"What about me?"
"Lady Alma, you are to return to your brothers at Igros castle."
Their last hope was revealed and shattered within that short sentence. Alma slumped into silence, in an attempt to pull over a veil of denial over this ridiculous lie. It felt impossible, preposterous, surpassing all optimism and skepticism. The inevitable had finally happened. They've expected this all along, giving false promises of being together along the way, but this was happening much too quickly.
"Why? If this is done for no good reason, I refuse to leave." Demanded Alma. She could honestly say that she'd do anything to stay with Ovelia. Whatever obstacle that was standing in the way, Alma was ready to trample and tackle it. Just the thought of leaving her friend was enough to break her sanity, sending a tremour of indomitable power into her body.
"Please try to understand. The captain and I had given much consideration before informing the Capital. A decision was imperative ever since the first attempt." replied Ophion, as he carefully shifted partial blame onto Agrias.
"You've been plotting this since the first attempt?"
Ophion was thoroughly fed up and cowardly excused himself, leaving the burden to the Captain. Alma was more then prepared to twist what she wanted out of the cross dresser and immediately sent a heated glare towards Agrias, commanding for answers.
Seemingly unaffected, the blonde knight spoke.
"This decision was made for your best interest."
"Why?" asked Alma, ignoring the previous statement.
"No one except royalty is supposed to know about Princess Ovelia's presence within Illica Monastery. However, proven by the previous two assassination attempts, it seems that that information had been exposed to unwanted sources. Relocation is necessary to ensure both your safety." Replied Agrias.
"That's what you're here for, bodyguard!" yelled Alma. It was suppose to be sarcastic but anger had entirely swallowed that effect into a desperate scream. Her insides were being conquered and torn by despair and frustration, no longer aware of what left her lips. A powerful tug hauled the sides of her mouth down as unwilling tears escaped her eyes.
"It was a direct order from the capital."
"Can't you do anything about it? Just anything!" she stammered distraughtly.
The absolute answer, without a moment of hesitation, drove more anger into her.
"You haven't even tried yet! Do something!" demanded Alma once again.
"I cannot disobey orders."
"Easy for you to say! You're not the one being separated from your best friend! This should be our decision not theirs!"
It was a challenge, an ultimatum within a struggle to everything that represented her life and this country. A futile war against solid values meant only to lose.
"The decision was made for your best interest." Repeated Agrias, firmly.
Ovelia held Alma back from lashing out, though she herself could barely hold her emotions in place but if it was an order from Lesalia, there was no doubt that the verdict was irreversible.
"Ho-How much time until the...relocation." Asked Ovelia.
God, that word felt like a curse but she had to know.
"We are departing tomorrow morning."
This fueled another current of rage within Alma but just as she was about to speak, she was abruptly cut off.
"We could not afford another attempt."
No retort was able to form in her usual quick-witted mind except more tears and her legs taking her away from the chapel to escape an endless net that had captured her since the day of her birth, reaching endlessly into her future.
Ovelia immediately ran after her friend but not without looking back. Again, what greeted her was that blank look of detachment that acknowledged none of the events from the previous night.
Agrias had caught that questioning glimpse and for that short instant, the familiar gaze held onto her heart, breathing and body. That look of fear.
"Wasn't that a little too blunt, Captain?" asked Alicia, her voice reprehending, forgetting respect.
Not obligated to respond, Agrias brushed off the question and left the chapel wordlessly with her red head apprentice glaring at her back for being ignored. She couldn't care less about her subordinates' opinion, or Lord Ophion's or anybody's as a matter of fact. Her duty is to the princess and since it was Lavian's watch, assuming that she remembered, her current concern was Pyros. Not princesses or any other pathetic women.
Through the tangles of endless hallways and cold stonewalls, she hurriedly maneuvered her way to the front doors, an insufficient word to describe that steel enforced entrance that consolidated her fate in this blasted monastery. Surely, she was going to leave here tomorrow but just to be put into another.
With one large step, Agrias stepped out into the open and the stiff constrains immediately left as soon as a gust hit into her. It felt much better out here compared to the muffled air within and without consciousness of the act she walked into the open, wandering.
The breeze was clear, but somewhat harsh as it flew across the plain of crisp yellowy grass that surrounded the monastery, signifying the approaching change of seasons. Her boots strode without the usual thumping against hard stones, silenced with the hissing of grass. She had a vague idea of where she wanted to be and without realizing it, she had arrived at the stables, the lone shabby structure within eyesight aside from the faint outline of Igros castle, far off in the distance. It provided sufficient shelter with its simple built of wood and hay, occupied by the three knight's steeds. The strong groggy smell of animal stench was prominent as if she was situated in an actual barn. In contrast to the holy building, the atmosphere was loose, primal and gave peace without expectations, isolating it existence.
A short string of pain at her midsection brought her awareness back as well as the memory of her most recent fight. The monk had taken the opportunity well and now her insides strum with every step of a low annoyance. If only she had caught him, then some answers would have made the pain worth it but even if she did, it would have changed nothing. What's done cannot be undone.
Easily swallowing the truth and the pain coming from her side, Agrias promptly picked up the brush that rested at the side of the stable. She gruffly threw her gloves away then quietly approached the left most chocobo. Laying a naked hand on her companion to let her presence be known, the bow feathered head promptly looked up. Heavy lids half covered the chocobo's eyes despite the slight excitement that glowed in those big vivid crystals. If one had thought that animals could not have bags, they were wrong. The area below the eyes sagged as did its puffy cheeks and down turned wings, which used to look quite muscular instead of its current thin state. Her feathers were still soft and fluffy but the colour was beginning to dim and dull. It resembled the princess's hair. A unique shade of thin auburn with a tinge of cherry pink weaved into the light tone. The maim was magnificent and brimmed with never ending shine and energy unlike Pyros's feather, accompanied by innocent emerald eyes... those frightened eyes that stirred her mind like dead brittle leaves, crunching with eloquent volumes.
A gulp of air brashly went down her throat and seemed to stay there motionless. Not allowing it to expand, Agrias ripped it apart and forced her attention back on Pyros. The sharp pain at her side burst once again and helped distract her thoughts. She did not want to think about anything at this moment.
Agrias carefully brushed the soft dull coat with smooth meticulous strokes, earning a low distorted wark of approval. Just below the left wing, the feather was much less in abundance which hid a long scar that extended to the stomach and leg on the same side. It never quite healed and left the animal with a limp. Agrias stared at the wound and the brushing slowed till none. This was her fault. A guilt she carried unwillingly and burdened her without choice. Pyros was hurt because of her and the princess was scared... because of her.
Something was wrong and Pyros could feel it. She gently nudged Agrias's cheek, a sacred sign of affection meant only for offsprings and mates. She didn't have any kin nor a mate but learned it from her mother during her time as a chicobo. And despite her master's dominating position in the relationship, Pyros felt a special kinship for the knight during their years together. She had shared her happiness when those tight lips were slightly pulled on either side while talking in human talk. Though she never understood what they meant but it was something good for sure. They fought through tough battles together and competed at many events. She had even seen those sky blue eyes fall with water, which she later learned was a sign of sadness. But that only happened once. Overall, Pyros felt proud to have watched, nurtured and aided the once little chicobo into a capable adult. The blonde hair, that shone like the best coat of feathers though lacking over other parts of the body, was also a major contributor so when her master rode on her back, she had a good child to flaunt in front of fellow chocobos. Humans may not understand but they were competitive among their own kind. Appearances were important and among all the humans she had seen, Agrias had the best looks (and was the most generous with gyshal greens).
Sending a lick this time, the blonde knight finally acknowledged her efforts and gave the truff that protruded from her head, a firm habitual pat.
Being old certainly did not decrease its sensitivity, rather enhancing it, and Pyros nudged her child once again. This time, she crooned her neck to have the back of her beak pull Agrias towards her and her kin returned the affectionate gesture with a rare hug.
Agrias instinctively hugged her old chocobo closer. Yes, Pyros was old, approaching nine years old already. They only lived to be about 8-12 and considering that this one went through war, it was a miracle that the old women survived. The division had encouraged her many times to switch chocobos and she had given that thought some consideration. A peaceful farm by the countryside would give her comrade some deserved rest and peace until the final call. Just two years ago, she was about to settle Pyros at a local breeding farm and paid the owner handsomely to ensure top service but on the day of the trade, ol' choco decided to take a fit, refusing to have its harness removed and handed to another. After much struggling, the owner gave up and Pyros was returned to her the very same day. Surprisingly, she gave up on the idea without another attempt and felt foolish to have considered it at all.
Surely Pyros seemed more then willing to stay but she knew it was her own reliance on Pyros that was keeping her ally by her side. Immediately, she detached herself from the embrace, thoroughly disgusted with her weakness and dependence on a mere animal.
'What's wrong with me today?'
Agrias threw the brush, so hard that the handled cracked after smashing into the ground. The violent swing wretched her injury again and a twisting pain ate at her side. She pressed a hand onto the area of the bruise to ease the sting.
'What's wrong with me...'
The pressure increased as her fingers continued to dig but instead of relieving the pain, it increased, doubled, tripled until it had her entire leg and stomach crawling with a gruesome throb.
Pyros began to call with fright as the feathers on her neck and behind her head stood up in alarm. Unanswered, she called again, yearning to be by her master's side but the wooden plank in front of her stall stopped her.
"Here we are!"
The foreign voice broke Agrias out of her trance and natural reflexes called upon her sword. The metal was swiftly unsheathed, finding its path onto an emerging throat, just inches from blood and death.
"Ca-Captain!" screamed Lavian. She was still as her pulse line pumped cautiously underneath the sharp stare of the blade. The three figures behind her were stoic with shock.
But even after recognizing the presumed attacker, hostile signals still rang in her body. It wasn't until she noticed the commoner clothing that reminded her to remove her sword.
"Still here." gulped Lavian in relief as she touched her neck to ensure its existence. Light brown shirts and scarlet dresses do not defend well against weapons.
Alicia released the breath she held and the tight closure around her chest loosened but still tight due to the simple green dress that was much smaller then her size. It felt good to know that the dress no longer fitted at the bust area but the tension around the waist spoiled some of the joy.
Agrias pored her gaze over the sudden change of garments with much displeasure; there was no sign of a weapon or any form of protection on either of her two apprentices, bestowing them with the ideal image of victims; weaponless and defenseless. It further infuriated her to find Alma and Ovelia out of their status marked attire and in plain dresses as well.
"An escape?" she stated conclusively.
"No! No! Course not! We're just here for...chocobo riding lessons!" exclaimed Alicia. She had expected Agrias to be in her room or the garden, practicing her sword, but not here.
Lavian and Alma gave their share of affirmative nods but the quick excuse earned nothing but a stoic look of suspicion.
"Dishonesty and trickery is against a knight's code of honour." Stated the blonde knight.
It was obvious that the Captain had saw through their intensions. Knowing that Lavian was the weakest among the four, Agrias laid her questioning stare upon her.
The trainee looked away but the need for honesty was biting at her with fear. She had weighted the options; continuing a lie or be truthful. It wasn't so much as to what the blonde knight would do but the bare authority that pierced her confidence.
"It's not somewhere far, just the town of Igros. We'll be back before dark. We just want to have a good memory before being separated. Please captain! We're not going to cause you any trouble." pleaded Lavian, entirely exposing their plan.
"Return." Commanded Agrias. "Now." Her voice was cold without leniency, obviously displeased with the idea. Policies simply do not take compassion into consideration, especially when choosing between pathetic sentiments and the well being of a country. She cannot let sympathy ride over logic and what was best.
"I don't like begging but please, Agrias. I-I know I wasn't nice to you before but it was because of a misunderstanding. I've wanted to apologize to you for a long time already but I was too stubborn too do so. If it makes you feel any better, you could hit me back and I only ask you to pretend that you didn't see us." Said Alma. Surely they were going against the ground rules but it was only a small request, a token of freedom before loneliness set into their lives once again. They were all prepared to take the consequences and all Agrias had to do was pretend that she saw nothing.
"You're requesting the impossible."
Alma immediately flared, biting her lips in frustration. She had given up her pride, showed honesty, offered repentance but rejected and ignored without a hint of appreciation. After the night before when Agrias had aided them, she had even admitted secretly to herself that Agrias was, indeed, a nice person.
"You're right." Whispered Ovelia.
Her first words during this confrontation reeled everyone's attention towards her.
"Let's go back."
She lightly tugged at her fuming friend's arm, not wanting to hear anymore of this.
"We're asking too much. Let's just enjoy our last moments together."
Tears fell down the princess's face. Honestly, she didn't want to spend those last moments in the monastery but neither did she want to see Agrias. And it was true. Perhaps she had been asking too much.
Alma was not about to back down. The only person who needs to was Agrias, not her. But seeing her friend crying was loosening her resolve. Alicia shared their anger and she couldn't believe the calmness that remained with the Captain. Just a short memory of happiness, is that too much to ask? Her heart told her no.
"Why are you being so stubborn! Show a bit of compassion. That's all it takes!" burst Alicia.
"Compassion does not exist on the battlefield."
"This isn't even war! This is about doing a favour for a good friend!"
"You're not here to be a friend. You're a soldier, now act like one."
"You're human, now act like one."
Agrias's face tightened at the remark.
"Alicia!" called Lavian. Her partner was known for an impetuous tongue but this had gotten too far. "Sorry, captain, she didn't mean that at all !!" she whimpered.
"Shut up, Lavian. I'm trying to talk some sense into a brick wall." Spat Alicia.
"You do understand that you are directly disobeying orders and offending your commanding officer." Said the blonde knight, evenly.
"You have a problem with that? Well, too bad! Whether you like it or not, we're going."
Turning her back, Alicia took up the saddle that hung at the stall of her chocobo. But before she could secure it, the sound of a sword unsheathing could be heard.
Ovelia visibly flinched. This was supposed to be something innocent. A small indulgence of teenage mischief had actually called upon a sword. Is violence the only way to resolve problems?
"Stop this." Cried Ovelia but was entirely unheard.
"I order you to escort Princess Ovelia and Lady Alma back to the monastery now."
'Desperate situations calls for desperate measures.'
Alicia clutched her fists and ended her doubts.
"No." replied Alicia, before turning around and dashing wildly towards Agrias.
The experienced knight leaned back to avoid the reckless tackle with a foot stuck forward. Alicia promptly tripped. Not about to surrender, she stood back up and launched herself directly at Agrias's sword.
The blade was only pulled to serve as a threat and the older knight immediately took it away from the path but before she could move out of the way, her numb side slowed her down which opened her to a strong shoulder into her guts. Squawking pain exploded on her injured side. Taking the captain's hesitation, she forced Agrias into the side of the stables and the old aged wood cracked at the force.
"Alicia!" called Lavian.
"Don't just stand there! Hurry, Lavian!" she called back. Alicia didn't want her sacrifice to be meaningless as she continued to hold Agrias in place.
Lavian understood and hurriedly plopped the saddles on. Agrias watched in agony and pure anger as each of them got on the chocobos. Rising her right elbow, she brought it down hard into her apprentice's shoulder. Once, twice, and the grip relaxed. Grabbing Alicia by the shoulders, Agrias threw her aside but not expecting such vigor and determination from her subordinate. The red head immediately got up and jumped onto her captain's back, her arms fastened around the neck. The interlocked legs at Agrias's midsection irritated her injury again, and her waist crumbled at the weight and they fell onto the ground.
"Hurry!" yelled Alicia.
Without looking back, Alma urged her chocobo forward while Ovelia held onto Lavian's waist with regret as they left the stables.
To be continued...
Author's Note: Wow! this took longer then I thought! but anyways, here it is! Hope you'll like it! and a special thanks to Animeanie for being the best beta-reader a fanfic writer could ever want! Until next chapter!