*Laisse-moi - Leave me along, or go away
* Ce n'est pas ma faux - it's not my fault
(Ok, I was never good in French so I'm not 100% sure)
HISTORICAL FACT: Before banks were available, people let gold smiths keep their money since it is impractical to carry a bunch of heavy coins. In return, the gold smith will give people a piece of paper, stating how much money they have in store..
The monastery was quickly getting out of sight but the further they got, the more her heart pounded warily with discomfort.
"What?!" asked Lavian. Though the thumping of chocobo claws was loud, Ovelia's demand was still heard.
"I said Stop!"
The distress in her voice led the knight to yank the reigns and slow her steed to a halt. Seeing that the others had stopped, Alma steered her chocobo around until she reached her friends.
"What's wrong?" she inquired.
"We have to go back, Alma." urged Ovelia.
"Alicia's going to get hurt!!"
Lavian looked at her with a perplexed gaze. Agrias may not be happy about all this, but not once did it cross her mind that the captain will intentionally injure the red head.
"The captain won't hurt Alicia." She laughed, with a hand waving in front of her casually.
"We have to go back for her!" repeated the princess, firmly. How ignorant of Lavian to underestimate her own captain.
"Give it up, Captain!" barked Alicia. Her arms tightened around the neck but it was her legs that truly bothered Agrias. Every time she tried to pry away Alicia's arms, the irritation would drive pain into her side and expel her strength. The blonde despised with frustration that her freedom was being deprived, now thrashing wildly and weakly on the ground. Alicia had no right to do this...to put her into this state of imprisonment.
A strong heat began to build in her. The excess weight and her state of immobility drove her into a state of suffocation and silence. However, it was her own lungs that were trapping her breathing as the impassionate beast that resided deep in her mind threatened to take over and pour out. Her eyes and lungs burned for release but the torrent of anger swallowed and brimmed over her senses.
Pushing, and moving with all vigor, the little girl struggled. No matter how much she kicked and twisted, the strength that surrounded her limbs and shaking vision kept its iron might, capturing her into darkness.
"Ce n'est pas ma faux!"
The little girl who did a little wrong was being punished.
Alicia was beginning to worry. Agrias showed no sign of surrendering but neither did she move anymore. This may be some sort of trick but she also suspected that she just might have hurt the captain. Suddenly, the grip around her arm tightened. It increased and heightened and towered until an impossible strength was reached. Alicia gritted her teeth and clamped her legs tighter but no matter how hard she tried, not even for a second did the intensity decrease.
Under such deathly pressure, her wrist gave way and she could feel the straight bone of her forearm being bent at tiny impossible degrees as lean muscles that lay upon that area compressed. Her fingers lost control as all her concentration worked her other limbs into removing the painful grasp. How could anyone possess such strength? So powerful that it had reversed their position, leaving her struggling as the victim.
"Captain, you're hurting me!"
Alicia's plea was ignored until Agrias pushed her arms out, breaking her hold and the iron grip. The red head instinctively backed off, cradling her injury while the blonde knight chokingly pushed herself up with her left side staggering like dead weight. The captain's arms hung like lead upon her shoulders while her legs dragged forward heavily. Even as Agrias moved with what seemed like pain, not a sound left her throat. Alicia continued to watch the limping body waver unsteadily, not daring to approach. However, once she saw Agrias nearing her chocobo, she knew she had to act soon. Ignoring her arm, Alicia scrambled back up and captured the blonde's neck again.
A violent but suppressed scream left those sealed lips. Agrias thrashed aimlessly to remove the trap, desperate to be rid of that burden. Finally, a flailing elbow impacted the red head's stomach. All her insides seemed to stop within that instant as the sheer force drained her limbs and pushed her into the ground. Pain exploded endlessly wave after wave like a tidal of hot dessert sand.
With the weight and entrapment removed, Agrias limped blankly but her injured side only brought her forward a few steps before dropping her into the pile of hay that rested at the opposite end of the small stable. A deep gulp barged air through her windpipes and into her deprived lungs as the pressuring force within her slowly left. Her breathing was still hard, uncertain and ragged as she slowly recovered control, oblivious to her surrounding and the sound of returning footsteps.
Lavian, Alma and Ovelia all went to the red head's side with concern.
"Why did you come back? I was holding her off just fine!" grumbled Alicia through clenched teeth. Her insides felt like a wild circus doing back flips and other dangerous tricks.
As all their attention fell upon Alicia, who repeatedly denied her pain, the princess was the only one who noticed the motionless blonde.
"You didn't have to hurt her." whispered Ovelia. She had predicted this outcome but some part of her, that was proven wrong, had hoped that Agrias would not wound her own apprentice just to chase after the princess of Ivalice. She continued to observe her bodyguard but the older girl's face was covered by loose pieces of blonde hair which made it difficult to judge her reaction... if there was any.
Silence prevailed over the isolated stable. Time subsided the throb into numbness and the swirling heat made its way out of her mind. Agrias looked to Alicia who was still on the ground, her eyes squeezed tight, jaws clutched tightly together and she immediately diverted her gaze upon the hay. All this tension because of a word called duty she followed ever so devotedly.
"I have had enough." Gritted Alma. She stood up from Alicia's side, anger burning in her eyes without clemency.
"Do you really take so much joy in tormenting us?"
Agrias parted her lips but no words left them.
Alma waited impatiently and with each passing second, the tighter her fists enclosed together, suppressing a violent urge.
"I do not torture you." Agrias replied plainly. "It's my--"
"--Duty to protect us." finished Alma, her voice even with exasperation. "Life isn't just about duties or do you enjoy scrutinizing us every second of the day?"
The blonde knight slightly stiffened at the remark.
"I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate this sort of treatment if our positions were reversed. It has to work both ways, Agrias."
"Alma." Called Ovelia, gently tugging on her friend's arm. Her eyes pleaded with exhaustion, not wanting to dealing with such a sensitive topic.
Alma pulled away, glaring at such weakness.
"We're not doing anything wrong. It's our last day together and I don't want to spend it underneath the same roof I've been under for the past six years!! I hate this place! I hate my life!!"
Tears slowly filled her eyes after letting out the frustration that had accumulated for so long. The harder she tried to hold them back, the more they raged within her. Ovelia looked away, lost, like a child trying to capture the moon.
A new silence plummeted onto those who dared to speak, leaving everyone within the stables powerless to break it. No one was in the position to.
A heavy chain coiled itself around her heart, tugging every now and then. Alma's words attacked like a swinging flail, shattering her previous explanations, which were merely nothing but a brittle shield. It was guilt that had found its way and a wave of shame and sympathy loosened her resolve. They were breaking rules but only for the sake of something so preciously harmless; a little hope, a small piece of happiness, even if it's just temporary. If that was what that Beoulve and the princess were striving for, she could slightly understand.
Those raspy words bit into the motionless air and had them all staring at the fallen knight, uncertain about the meaning within.
"You have the power to."
Her decision finally allowed her to lift her gaze away from the meaningless hay and look at her charges. The calm blue depths spoke its value, almost unbelievable to any ear. Fighting against the heaviness that was forcing her down, Alma straightened herself, held her chest high and made the first command of her life.
"I order you to take us to the town of Igros."
Struggling to her feet, the blonde knight pushed herself up then bowed with her right arm across her midsection.
"As you command, your ladyship." Said Agrias in her usual bland tone. "Alicia, Lavian. Take Princess Ovelia and Lady Alma's place."
"What?! Aren't we going?" protested her auburn apprentice.
"We do not have Lord Ophion's consent therefore, we must create an illusion that both Lady Alma and the princess are still within the monastery." Replied the blonde, efficiently.
Lavian merely nodded. She had learned well not to push her luck when dealing with the captain but was quite surprised to hear no words coming out of the red head's sharp-tongue.
Agrias obviously did not notice that difference and opened her arm to indicate the exit but nobody proceeded outside where the chocobos waited. Becoming her full height, the tall blonde looked to them, eyebrows slightly raised.
"You're not planning to go like this, are you?" questioned Alma, voicing their hesitation.
"You'll blow our cover."
Agrias was about to object but noticed the logic within and decided against it. Silently, she removed her engraved breastplate, followed by shin-guards and elbow-guards. As each piece dropped to the ground, including her royal blue jacket, the weight fell as well, lightening her entire being When all unnecessary burden had detached itself, except the essential sign of knighthood which hung proudly at her waist, Agrias picked up a sleeveless brown vest and slipped it over the beige tunic she wore underneath the thick blue leather. She had left it hanging on the latch post in front of Pyros's cubicle the other night when she visited the old chocobo. The waist length piece of leather was simply cut with two unfastened buttons in the front. A few pieces of thread hung out, indicating the absence of two other black round buttons. The material, dull without shine, had crinkles running all over it but looked quite soft from its time of being worn. After taking out the pieces of straw that had snuck its way into her hair, they were finally ready to leave.
Alma gave her approval by walking out the stables with Ovelia tagging just behind her. Agrias followed closely behind them, leaving the stables deserted with the two amateur knights, still clad in their dresses.
"Well then, 'Ovelia', it's just you and me now." Sighed Lavian.
Alicia gave her auburn partner a quiet nod.
The rapid pounding of chocobo claws upon hard dirt was a bad cover for the lack of human conversation. Although a compromise had been reached, the riders made no contact with each other, two sides clearly separated among the three.
Agrias still felt that the princess should have rode with her for safety's sake but Lady Alma, who had insisted on using her riding skills learned from her brothers, allowed her no room for rebuttal. There was no use in arguing for she knew the princess would absolutely refuse to begin with. The quick image of those emeralds eyes flashed across her vision. The way they shook and widened was repulsive.
The town was not very far and endless rows of faded little hills soon came into view. It was a nice day, with a bit of wind to dance with the nearby grass and keep them company. The village opened itself before their eyes, drawing their steps into settled grounds, away from the raw landscape. They slowed their chocobos then dismounted, leading ahead step by step through the impossible traffic as busy villagers went about their daily routine, busily chatting, bargaining and browsing underneath the mid noon sun. Along the long span of homes and shops on both sides, it led straight into Igros castle, the colossus structure at the end of all this plain traffic. It was most definitely the largest and tallest building, far and distant, incomparable to any of those inferiors below. The width of its impenetrable walls stretched its scrutiny across the whole town with the flags of the White lion flying proudly at any tip.
At the sight of the first available post, Agrias took both reigns and secured it tightly. Penny-less at the moment from the rushed departure, the knight decided to stop by the gold smiths before proceeding. Carrying large amounts in a town is bad but not bringing anything at all is worse.
"Please wait here, your--"
Alma cleared her throat and one of those fine blonde eyebrows twitched in response to this request.
"--Miss Alma." She almost seethed those words had not her professionalism caught her. "I'll be back momentarily."
"Where are you going?"
Agrias encompassed her gaze straight into her blonde charge's eyes before walking away. Once the knight had gone forward a few steps, Alma pointed her tongue at the departing back before crossing her arms to do the thing she hated more; waiting.
"I wish we didn't have to come with her."
Which was impossible though hard to admit.
"I wonder how Alicia and Lavian are holding up?" Again, it was as if she was talking to herself. Alma knitted at her friend's unresponsiveness but ever since last night, the princess had become eerily quiet. If only she knew why. Sadly, Ovelia had yet to tell her and she was not about to pressure her friend. Alma skipped forward a few steps to occupy herself with a little activity but a sudden impact sent her skidding forward into the herd of busy bodies, pushed around as if unnoticed. Another bump from the hectic traffic sent her tumbling off balance. If it weren't for the arms and scent of roses that have caught her waist, she would have fallen flat on her face.
"Careful there, little girl." Came the amused comment.
The voice was smooth, rich and definitely female though a little deeper then what would have been considered typical. However, Alma disliked the mature tone that came with it as if the owner had just caught a child sneaking a cookie. She indignantly regained her balance but surprised to find herself back on the side of the road. She was sure they were in the middle of the mob just a second ago.
Nevertheless, whoever just helped her deserved some gratitude.
"Thank you." Said Alma neutrally. She looked to her side. Then the other. But found nobody until a light tap on her back had her jump around. It was a woman, who immediately pulled Alma's attention within first glance. To begin, she was tall, almost as tall as Agrias but the extra height did great justice in lengthening her long slim legs that were boldly exposed underneath the high slit of her dress on the left. Though her wavy hair was white, there was an unmistakable shine which made it silvery beautiful. Her perfect skin was a soft tan showing off the warm gift of the sun lusciously.
Perhaps she was a gypsy, judging from her clothing. Alma had seen pictures of them but never actually saw one herself. The fabric looked silky and light but definitely not warm. The rusty red of the material was a conservative colour although the style of the two-piece garment spoke otherwise. Her top, checkered with a row of alternating white and yellow triangles of beads along the side, was almost sliding off her already exposed shoulders and flat stomach, ending in time with the base of protruding breasts that filled the shirt, if one could possibly call it one, in a way not many can. The dress was common except the slit and the dangerously low waistline that pushed to the absolute minimum. Instead of puffing out for a more elegant effect, the material laid softly on the shape of her legs, losing nobility but beyond commoner. Bracelets, many of them, dangled on her wrists. They were nothing expensive but beautifully woven or finely shaped metals that clanged and chimed as she brought her arms over her exposed waist. There was not a single hard curve over this creature that could hardly be described as human. She considered herself daring but here was something she would never do. Such attire would probably result in harsh discipline and long lectures from the break of dawn till dusk.
But her face. God, it was her face that entirely summarized everything. The silver hair had cat-like gold spheres to put its rarity to shame. Her eyes were sharp but seductively slender in width. They glimmered with depth, wrapping their gaze around the young girl and into baby blue orbs without hesitation. A small knowing smile played across those full lips, spreading its effect over flawless skin and the slim nose.
This was a woman. She was indeed a child.
Her rescuer took a casual skim over Alma before reverting her gaze back to the baby blue eyes.
"You're welcome..." she replied. "But since I've just saved you, why not do us both a favour and have a tarot reading?"
In that pure second, the small smile turned into a wide grin. Leaning into the teenager, the women flicked her wrist and a card appeared to indicate her profession. Behind her, the sign "Mystic Tarot ~ See your future" hung over a wooden desk.
The young Beoulve raised her hands up to refuse.
She didn't believe in such things. Besides, her brother, Ramza, had warned her how these street fortunetellers were all sneaky liars and that she should be careful.
"Please! I have yet to have customer all morning!"
The cat like eyes shone pleadingly, losing the fading gravity it held before.
"I don't have any money."
Another big bro trick. Money is their big incentive and without it, they leave like smelling skunk.
"I know. But I don't charge gil."
Those gold eyes flickered, slightly hidden by half-hooded lids, surprising Alma to have her final weapon defeated.
"I prefer more...worthwhile things as payment." She said, her tone softening again back into a soft rhythm.
"Like what?" asked Alma, carefully.
"Ara, really depends on the person... in your case, how about..."
The women turned her head to a side pensively, that slight smile never leaving for a second as the young girl waited.
"A date?" she whispered, leaning forward towards Alma and a nauseating scent of roses circled around the teenager. It was pleasant, almost too pleasant as it rapidly filled her nose, attacking her consciousness.
"A date?" asked Alma hoarsely.
The fortuneteller nodded slowly, backing away.
The teenager's face scrunched up, distorting her features.
Alma stuttered at the implication and the women laughed. An amused and secret chuckle.
"Not you. I meant that pretty looking one with you a second ago."
The gypsy turned her gaze from Alma towards her item of desire. Alma followed the indicated direction which went beyond Ovelia, her initial assumption, to a familiar figure with braided blonde hair. A corner of her lips tugged up involuntarily.
'Thank god you're a cross dresser, Agrias.'
"But only until sunset. We have to get back before that." Warned Alma.
The tanned skinned women smile's widened, bringing a finger delicately to her lips.
"That's plenty of time."
Her tongue slithered out from its hiding place and licked leisurely at a long painted nail of pearl white.
"Good. Then we have a deal?"
"Alright, let's begin." Said Alma, eager to get this over with.
The gypsy pondered a little before pouting.
"Ara, how about your other friend over there? I'm sure she could use a reading as well..."
"No. Just me is fine. Now hurry!"
Alma huffed impatiently. The faster they get this done, the sooner Agrias can be off their tail.
"Alma, what are you doing?"
The young Beoulve found her friend standing right beside her which was not the best of place. It would be better if Ovelia does not know about the little trade.
"We are not suppose to be wandering ourselves."
"Oh... I-I needed a walk since I was getting bored!" blurted Alma.
Ovelia stared at the sign and looked back at her friend with doubt.
"Don't worry. I'm sure the cards could give you some useful answers." Interrupted the women.
She flashed a quick look at the princess who looked quite surprised as Alma had. Ignoring any other reactions, the gypsy smiled again.
"Wonderful. Now let's begin"
She clapped her hands together but when her palms twisted in a single rotation, a circle of cards fanned itself within. Each one of them held a different illustration, detailing drawn and painted with faded heavenly colours. Folding them the other way, they disappeared until the gypsy ran a hand over the rough surface of the table and the cards reappeared one by one, evenly spaced with the uniform pattern of stars facing up.
"Pick a card."
She specifically chose Ovelia by the direction of her gaze and hypnotically, the younger girl drew one as told.
With a swift swing of a hand, the rest of the cards disappeared again into a single stack on top of a tanned palm.
"Now cut the deck."
Ovelia obeyed and slipped the card about mid way through. The deck was then split, the upper half placed below the other and seven cards were drawn from the new surface. They were each systemically laid down before their eyes.
The first one was a picture of a naked woman running in the woods.
"Ara, the nymph Pytomy You're scared of something... like Pytomy is of the beast that resided in the forest."
The next three cards were revealed. A double-edged blade. A sheep being held over a fire, destined to be the hungry hunter's meal. A serene women, dressed in vines walking upon a pasture.
"However, don't run away like this foolish nymph did as it will do more harm then good. Instead, open your heart. Not only accept what is around you but understand. Embrace it, like the mother of earth, Hereath."
A slender finger landed upon two cards next to the gruesome picture of slaughter.
"However, the root of your problem lies here. The gate of darkness and Atlas, the man who hold the world upon his shoulders. Before you, there are two choices; one which will lead you into unknown, the other is a set path of life-long responsibility, as big and important as the world. Choose carefully as this is a very important decision. "
"Which should I choose?" asked Ovelia.
"Patience. Let us see what is beyond the gate of darkness."
However, a shadow towered over the table before the last card could be revealed.
"Miss Alma. Miss Ovelia."
The voice was simply too familiar to be mistaken as another. Alma slowly turned around, raising her gaze to meet still blue depths. Agrias looked calm but none too happy for sure. A nervous smile touched the guilty's lips, but knowing full well what she had to do now.
"Thank you very much for the reading." Said Alma.
The women smiled, her head resting upon her hands.
"As for your payment..."
Alma took a step backwards until she was side by side the tall blonde.
"Here you go, ma'am!!"
The Beoulve shoved with all her might into Agrias's back. Normally such a feeble push would have done nothing but her weakened and numb side succumbed under the force and the knight fell forward into the table.
"Don't worry, Agrias. We'll pick you up at sunset!!" called Alma before grabbing Ovelia by the arm and ran.
Agrias gathered herself, ready to leave until a sudden flash of silver passed her eyes. Long arms encircled around the back of her neck and the cool touch had Agrias staring into the gold eyes.
"You forgot to pay..."
Her eyebrow twitched. Not wanting to waste anymore time, the knight in disguise was about to offer a generous sum until the woman shook her head slightly.
"I was talking about our date..." she cooed.
"I believe you've mistaken, miss." Said Agrias, hiding her bewilderment.
"I do not recall agreeing on such terms."
"But your friends did. Now let's not waste anymore more precious time."
The gypsy's well-developed chest pressed against her own as those slender arms began to close the little gap between them. Agrias immediately pushed her arms out to avoid the contact but she was certain that the force used was minimal. Unfortunately, that was not true as the woman fell to the ground causing a shock of guilt to enter the knight's heart. Courtesy towards woman, noble or not, was part of a knight's obligations and Agrias immediately went to the gypsy's side.
"I apologize, miss. Are you alright?"
Watery eyes looked into hers, a sad frown clearly set upon the exotic face.
"Miss? Whatever happened to darling, and dearest and all those sweet names?" she wept, openly.
"Or were they all lies?"
"I believe you've mistaken." Replied Agrias as calmly as she could.
"Mistaken? Are you saying that I can't recognize my own lover of five years?"
The woman latched herself onto her waist with Agrias was trying to pry her off in vain. People were beginning to gather at the unusual spectacle and she panicked.
"Miss, I have something very important to do, now may you please--"
"Yes, yes... chasing after young girls. Oh, how could you, my love?"
The crowd grew around this charade and little whispers of shock and disbelief tickled the air.
"Stop making such preposterous lies! I do not even know you!" yelled Agrias.
"Now you're pretending as if we're strangers. Oh, how my heart aches!"
The gypsy buried her face within her hands, as sounds of sobs washed over the scene.
"I may not be the perfect wife but I devote my every waking hour into making you happy. But very well. Go if you must. But know that I care deeply for you still..."
Predatory and hateful glares daggered towards the knight, whose cheeks were as red as apples, defenseless against such accusations.
"How could you! Unfaithful bastard!" came the outburst from the crowd.
The reprehending heat sent Agrias into a frenzy to save her pride.
"I-I-I'm a woman for god's sake!"
There was a moment of silence as they all stared and examined but the stillness was broken when Agrias's "wife" spoke up once again.
"Am I that terrible that you have to call yourself female in order to escape me? I don't want to live anymore!"
"That's in tolerable!" broke the gullible crowd once again.
"Here's a woman who loves you so much and you're abandoning her?"
The crowd of human anger closed in and Agrias was helpless to stop it.
To be continued...
--Thanks for the advise, Animeanie, me beta-reader.
--Special dedication to Shira Ann.