False Wedding on the Ocean
Cecilia stood in front of the long mirror in the small,
stuffy chamber of the ship, staring at her reflection in the shadowed glass.
She was wearing a long, white and rather elaborate gown of white lace, and
a gauzy veil framed her oval face, barely concealing the unruly pale strands
of shortish hair that somehow managed to escape from beneath it, and fall
across her cheeks in a rather disarrayed fashion. She brushed them back
irritably. She felt as she knew that she looked: completely ridiculous.
This was a bad idea, she thought with a grimace; and a horrendous joke besides. And the most frustrating thing was that Jack seemed to relish this absurd situation-- as always, of course, with his air of half-sarcastic humor. He never taunted her outright, but it was precisely this manner that irritated Cecilia, more than any words openly said would have. He enjoys this stupid hoax, she thought resentfully, because it comes largely at my expanse.
She looked at herself again and shook her head. She had tried her best at properly arraying herself, but it still wasn't enough. She looked-- and felt-- like a little beggar trying fancy clothes on in hiding. And a lacy wedding dress, of all things.
It's this meaningless journey, she thought, with the returning tinge of anger and dejection she felt at times. Perhaps I should have never joined it in the first place; I should have stayed, as I was advised. But I wanted to prove myself in doing it, didn't I? And the funny thing is, that I'm still not sure to who it was, that I needed to prove myself. To the people of Adlehyde, to the memory of my father, to that derisive Swordsman, or to myself. Or to no one at all.
And why no one? Cecilia thought. Because it really matters to no one. I am doing it to be the "Princess" they're all looking up to, or the "Princess" who is just as good as a wandering swordsman, who wants to think her a burden on him and his mission.
Cecilia's eyes darkened at the recurring recall of Jack's mission-- that damned mission of his that he would say to her nothing of. Cecilia had evidence that Jack met, or saw, the demons before; but he never told her how, never revealed his full purpose in pursuing them. She shook herself angrily. Just another sign of his mistrust of me, she thought. Because I am just a troublesome girl whom he isn't inclined to trust fully. Like everyone else, he sees me as the "Princess", and like them, he doesn't care who is behind that guise I always have to wear on me. As always, *I* don't matter.
Wallowing in self-pity, she felt the tears rushing to her eyes, but that mood was cut abruptly short when the door pushed open and Rudy entered the room.
Cecilia raised her eyes to the boy, who came to her side and looked her over with a mildly curious stare. Despite her bad mood, she couldn't help but smile at his slightly doubtful expression. "How do I look?" she asked, a little mockingly. "Aren't I beautiful, Rudy?"
He was still looking her over thoughtfully, and he nodded absently. Cecilia couldn't help but laugh all of a sudden; she knew he didn't really catch her meaning, and his agreement amused her. "That's right," she said. "I look perfectly splendid, don't I?"
The door opened again to admit Jack, and Cecilia bristled at once, averting her eyes back towards the mirror. Her features relapsed to their former discontented expression; Jack's presence reminded her again of the stupid humiliation of her present venture, of his mistrust of her-- of-- of-- everything.
Jack came over to her side, seeming to scrutinize her appearance for a moment. "Well," he said, after a short silence, "I can see that you're ready, Cecilia."
Cecilia did not avert her eyes from the mirror. "You think it's very funny, Jack, don't you?" she said, her tone petulant. She didn't mean to sound petulant, but she couldn't help herself.
Jack's mouth curled a little at her tone. "Yes, I do," he replied. Cecilia straightened at once, the anger returning. Instead of turning towards him, she met his eyes in the mirror. "It was all your doing!" she said, her voice biting with the accusation.
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Now THAT is perfect rot," he said after a short pause, his voice very composed; a sure sign of annoyance Cecilia had already learned to recognize. "It had nothing to do with me, and you know it."
He could perceive Cecilia was in one of her childishly bad moods, and as much as their recurrence irritated him, he always tried to ascribe it to her rearing as a spoiled child, and take it with a rather strained humor. Cecilia understood this, and the fact that this forbearance of his was always mingled with sarcasm, directed at her inability to control her temper as she ought, always angered her twicefold.
She kept her eyes on the mirror, not knowing what to say in reply. Of course it wasn't Jack's fault, that the drunken Bartholomew falsely claimed her to he his fiancee; but the fact that Jack seemed to derive amusement from the situation irritated her beyond anything, and somehow, she felt as if he was to blame too-- for seeming to endorse the embarrassment she was undergoing. She felt susceptible, open to that hidden derision she always felt in him. It was only part of the humiliation. No, she thought angrily; it WAS the humiliation. To Jack she replied, "Then stop behaving as if it was the funniest thing you've ever heard of."
Jack looked her over curiously. "I must admit that seeing you in a wedding gown IS funny, to me," he said, coolly. "You certainly aren't ready for one."
A hot blush suffused her cheeks, and she turned to him. "Then just leave, if you've nothing else to say about this!" she said, sharply. Jack was silent for a moment, seeming to try and control his own irritation at her behavior. Then he said, quite calmly, "I only came to tell you that you should arrange yourself soon-- they are waiting for you on the deck, with the priest, the flowers, and the crowd." A smile bent his mouth again, and Cecilia reddened again in spite of herself. She had a sudden, defiant resolution. "Well, they can wait," she said, her voice very composed all at once. "Because I'm not going."
Jack stared at this declaration. "What did you say?"
"You heard me," Cecilia replied, finally turning her face to him with a stubborn, dark look in her eyes. "I'm not going there. I'm not carrying this stupid thing through. They can all rot up there waiting for all I care." She tore the veil off her head and threw it to the floor. Then she turned to Jack. "Get out," she said. "I'm taking this dress off. You too, Rudy," she continued, turning to Rudy now. "Leave the room, both of you."
Jack spoke, a little sharply now. "Cecilia, we promised the captain to help him, and you know that very well. And you know why we did it."
Cecilia ignored him. She pointed Rudy towards the door calmly. Rudy obeyed, walking slowly towards it, but he was looking backwards at Cecilia and Jack, with a half-apprehensive expression. He knew they were about to embark upon one of their arguments again. When they were busy with the travels an open confrontation was usually avoided; despite the mutual feeling of exasperation they often raised in each other, they curbed it in face of their joined purpose and the difficulty of traveling. But the moment they arrived at a town and settled a little more comfortably, the friction between them rose again with jarring rapidity.
Seeing Cecilia ignore him, Jack's voice turned biting. "Listen, Cecilia; this is no time for your childish whims. We need you to do it, to get Bartholomew's ship, and to the statue of the Guardian; and you will do what we promised, whether you like it or not."
Cecilia's face turned crimson at the word "childish". She was very fair-skinned, and a blush on her tended to enhance the general paleness of her aspect; she always looked very odd that way, and Jack found himself smirking at her confusion, despite his anger. She perceived that he was laughing at her again, and her wrath intensified. "I'll do as I please!" she said, her voice starting to tremble under the strain of anger. "I am my own independent person, Jack. I will not do something because you order me to, and this is something I decided not to do. This is something that is completely humiliating to me, and I will not do it. So you better accept it."
Jack's face darkened again at her reply; but he answered with unexpected composure. "Stop talking all this damned rubbish, Cecilia. There is no humiliation in what you are about to do. Deceit, yes, but no humiliation."
She looked at him disdainfully. "Really? I thought you yourself found it very funny, didn't you? And it seems to me that half of the people of this town know the whole thing is a sham. Well, I'm not giving you or anybody else any more of this stupid spectacle. I'm leaving-- and we'll find another way of doing this."
Jack looked at her set face, and his eyes narrowed. He seemed about to reply, when there was a sudden knock on the door.
Rudy opened it at once, and it revealed one of the sailors, who saluted them with an apologetic grin. "A thousand pardons, Miss," he said, looking towards Cecilia. "But the Skipper, he wants to know if you're all ready."
Cecilia turned, looking at the man. There was a long pause; Jack looked at Cecilia keenly, thrusting his hands in his pockets. He was waiting, expecting her to fully reveal her shortcomings-- and she knew it. After a short silence she said, her voice very calm: "Tell him we'll be up soon."
The sailor touched his hat with his fingers again, nodding. "Thank you, Miss," he said, sounding truly grateful. "Your help is greatly appreciated by all of us, the Skipper especially." He looked her over. "I must say that you look very nice," he commented kindly.
"Thank you," Cecilia replied, a little edgily. She knew the man said she looked "nice" because he couldn't say she looked "beautiful", and thus his kindness only served to irk her. The sailor smiled at her, probably not noticing her ire; he nodded again and turned, walking out. Jack looked towards Cecilia, and his lip curled in a smile. "Glad to see you changed your mind," he said, after a short silence.
She turned and glared at him darkly. "I am doing it for the mission, remember?" she said, tartly. "I didn't forget it, Jack. And it is for YOUR mission too-- to revenge some personal injury of yours on those demons."
Jack straightened at once, the look in his eyes oddly fierce; Cecilia cringed a little beneath it, but she could hardly curb her feeling of elation. She had hit a right mark, at last, and they both knew it.
She waited, a little nervously now, wondering what Jack would say. But, after staring at her for a while very steadily, he merely turned around. "All right," he said, behind his shoulder. "Let us at least pretend we enjoy this, shall we?" He nodded to Rudy, and vanished up the stairs of the ship. Cecilia sighed a little to herself, looking at Rudy. "Let's go, then," she said, after a short pause. "Rudy, will you escort me to the exit?"
Rudy nodded, and Cecilia smiled a little again. "Good," she said, her voice sarcastic. "Then let the show begin."
Outside it was very hot, despite the cool ocean breeze,
and Cecilia found herself more bored than agitated as the wedding ceremony
proceeded. As for Bartholomew, he had recovered from his drunken spell, and
he was standing opposite her with a perfectly pale countenance. Cecilia could
tell he was not used to deceiving people; he looked as nervous as he felt,
and he fidgeted incessantly, his fingers constantly adjusting his tie. He
seemed almost afraid that the crowd gathered for the "wedding" will attempt
to break his charade; most of them, he knew, were simply people who were
curious to see if he will "carry it through". And, as he told Jack in a rather
miserable voice, he was already a looked upon with either derision or amusement
by the people of Port Timney, for marrying a girl almost twenty years younger
than himself that no one had seen before. He did not dare to glance in the
direction where his rival Drake was sitting with his friends, their countenances
smug and suffused with a thinly veiled contempt.
Jack had detailed the false name and history to that he had constructed for the situation to Cecilia just before they went outside, and she had recited it dutifully after him, trying to pretend that nothing of significance had been said shortly before. By Jack's calm, set look she saw that he was certainly trying to do the same, and for a moment she wondered if she had said something that will permanently damage their partnership-- because if it was nothing, it was at least a partnership, she thought with a renewed sense of aggravation. Afterwards she simply walked up to the dock with him, blinking in the strong sun. The audience were a blurry set of faces-- she didn't know any of these people, of course.
She heard whispers as she walked down the isle, leaning on Jack's arm. "So young-- think she's pretty?-- All right, but too pale, don't you think?-- I think he found her in one of those northern places-- Adlehyde, they called it. --Oh, it's a rich place, isn't it? --So he's probably marrying her for her money."
Cecilia almost laughed outloud at all these ridiculous guesses. She felt even better when she saw Rudy standing at the Priest's side, serving with Jack as the two witnesses. He looked slightly agitated-- something unusual for him-- probably feeling for her situation. She smiled at him to show him she was feeling all right, and he smiled back at once, seeming a little reassured.
Now, after half-an-hour ceremony, she didn't know if Rudy was standing besides her or not; she was staring rather blankly into Bartholomew's face. He himself avoided her eyes; probably feeling like a proper idiot, she thought sardonically. Well, he deserves it-- every bit of discomfort. And still, we needed to get to him and his ship. She looked at him with an almost calculating gaze. Yes, she was doing him a favor, but he was the loser from it-- he'll have to explain a vanishing bride afterwards to all those who were stupid enough to actually believe he had married her. Her lips twisted in a stifled laugh at the thought. This was all so absurd!
The Priest's words finally roused her from her half-dozed boredom, and she answered the questions almost mechanically. Of course she knew her assumed name, Olivia Clare (Why did Jack choose such a name anyway?), and that they must be blessed under the Old Moon and the Guardian Lucadia-- all that ceremonial nonsense. She had to answer the right question to make everyone think they loved each other properly, and that the marriage was wanted. As for me, I don't have a true love, she thought, feeling the cold needle of self-pity stabbing her again. Well, maybe Rudy cares for me-- for some reason-- but not much beyond it. And besides, she reasoned, Rudy is odd. He seems to be my friend almost because he feels he ought to, or something of that sort. Almost as if he was looking for anyone to care for, and I was the first that chanced on his way for a long time. That might be it.
If this is what you think of yourself, said a voice in her head, nobody will like you for sure, and you'll never be sure of it at any rate.
The Priest's voice roused her again. "You may kiss the bride."
Cecilia was jerked wide awake at this, and she looked at Bartholomew with a half-accusing, half embarrassed expression. She didn't want this man to kiss her!
The crowd seemed to jeer a little as a short pause ensued, and at the head of the voices was the voice of Drake: "Kiss her, man! Why don't you do it?"
Jack now advanced. Drake had been a nuisance throughout the ceremony, and he had enough of him. "Listen," he said, standing on the deck above the sitting people below. "If you aren't quiet right now, you'll find a spot of trouble with me later. Understand?"
Drake opened his mouth, his thin face darkening, but he closed it at the Swordsman's expression. He could tell that Jack was perfectly serious; so instead of answering he haunched his shoulders sullenly, muttering something under his breath. But he did not repeat his taunt.
Meanwhile, the Priest was looking at the couple, mildly puzzled at their perceived reluctance. Cecilia's face was red; she knew the whole guise was being blown off. "All right," she whispered, her voice low so the Priest won't catch her words. "Let's just get it over with."
Just as she finished speaking there was a sudden disturbance, and a voice cried from somewhere above them: "Halt!"
The crowd, all as one, turned their faces up. Cecilia likewise turned her head, puzzled at this seemingly providential voice, and unsure whether or not she ought to be grateful for its interference. Her eyes met a rather odd spectacle: a tall man clad in blue, who was standing on the ship's side just above them, his scarf blowing in the brusque winds that came from the ocean. But the strange thing about him-- the thing that struck Cecilia at once-- was the color of his hair. It was green.
She stared at him; yes, certainly this was no ordinary man. In fact, if it wasn't for his humane appearance, she would have thought he was sent by the--
"Listen you all!" The odd warrior's voice broke Cecilia's thoughts. He was looking at the crowd below, raising his hand with a show of flourish. Cecilia could see that it clutched a large, black, lethal-looking blade. If this man knew how to use this thing, she thought, then he WAS a serious threat-- despite his strange appearance. The man's voice continued-- confirming Cecilia's unnamed apprehension. "I am Zed, emissary of the Demon Knights--" here he paused, his face clouding a little for a moment; but then he continued, his voice rising again: "--and I have come to break the Statue of the Seal!"
Despite her growing agitation, Cecilia found herself oddly amused. This man has such a distinct air of ceremonial vanity about him, that the spectacle he presented was almost more comical than daunting. She turned her head to Jack, but she could see at once that he, at least, did not seem to find it funny. "Damn," he muttered. "I should've known it would have ended that way-- this idiot is definitely looking to give us trouble. Cecilia!" He now approached her with a brisk step, with Rudy hurrying to his side. "Prepare yourself. You all--" he turned to the audience-- "Keep clear! We'll be taking care of this."
The people hastened to obey; no one had a wish to deal with a real demon. The Demon warrior seemed pleased at their obvious fear, and his countenance brightened considerably. "Fall back!" he cried almost cheerily, jumping down to the deck. "I am in a GREAT mood today, and so is my blade, the Doom Bringer!"
Jack advanced, dragging Cecilia after him; she was half-stumbling in her elaborate dress. "Let go of my arm, Jack!" she said angrily, attempting to jerk her arm away. "I can walk by myself!"
Jack released her arm almost negligently; his attention was not on her, but on the demon warrior. He unsheathed his sword, facing Zed with a hardened expression, and Cecilia, looking into his face, was once again struck by the distinct look of hatred she perceived in it. It was the same look she had seen on him when she came to his aid in Adlehyde, as he, foolishly she thought, faced and challenged Belselk. Now, these emotions seemed to surface in him with a redoubled force. "If you wish to get to the Sacred Statue, demon, you will have to pass through ME first," he said, with dangerous coldness. "I will not fail to stop you THIS time."
Zed seemed unperturbed at this declaration, nor impressed with the hatred he faced. Cecilia could guess, looking into the demon's not quite intelligent countenance, that he couldn't really understand the force of this animosity in Jack. He was, Cecilia surmised, both too simple to distinguish a challenge from a real threat, and too occupied with himself besides to care. She was therefore not surprised when the demon straightened with his usual flourish, an arrogant smirk on his face. "So you care to challenge me?" he cried, raising his black blade, the Doom Bringer, in one hand. "Well, you humans will all die before the sacred Statue you seek to protect!"
Before Zed could finish his words, Jack sprang towards him, bringing his sword down. A pure force of light generated from the blade, sweeping upwards in a powerful surge as it sank into the demon's flesh; one of Jack's sword techniques. Zed seemed stunned for a moment as the energy coursed through his body, electrifying him, and he staggered. Jack withdrew, a grim smile of satisfaction bending his mouth. Cecilia thought that he looked almost pleased, and she shuddered a little at that fierce light of hatred she could detect in his eyes again; the same look he had when she mentioned the demons.
A sudden shout rose from the ship's northern side, distracting Cecilia's attention. "Help! The Demons are here!"
Jack looked backwards, and he swore. "Damn, I knew it! That idiot was a mere decoy." He looked at Cecilia and Rudy. "You two get rid of this one," he said, with a sharp, commanding voice. "I'll handle the other." Then, he turned and walked quickly towards the direction of the commotion.
"Wait Jack!" Cecilia cried, running after him, and stumbling in her long dress again. "You can't take one by yourself!" Zed, who had managed to rise to his feet again, found himself facing Rudy.
Rudy had his Prism Ray in hand, and he raised it quite calmly towards the Demon. The warrior fell back a little before the sight of the ARM, but then he collected himself and raised his blade again, leaping towards Rudy.
Rudy barely managed to dodge the fatal blow directed at him. The sword, slashing at his arm, glowed with a shower of sparks that engulfed it. He breathed in pain and fell back; a blue ray of light shot from the ARM at the Demon. Zed was engulfed in the scorching beams, and he stood almost baffled as they singed him thoroughly. He didn't feel any pain, of course, but the hot rays stole his energy, and he nearly collapsed.
Rudy stood, waiting patiently for the results of his assault; with one hand, he silently clutched at his aching arm, wishing Cecilia was there to help him. But he knew had to maintain his duty-- to stay as Jack commanded, and get rid of the menace of the demon before him.
Zed, rising to his feet again, shook the black soot the rays of the ARM generated off himself. "Next time it won't be so easy, I promise you!" he shouted, shaking the blade in his hand. Then, he leapt to the ship's side again and vanished.
Clutching at his injured arm and moving slowly, Rudy walked in the direction that Jack and Cecilia had gone to.
The first sight that met Cecilia's eyes, as they neared
the sacred statue, was of a very tall woman in a warrior's armor who was
standing right before it, a long, wickedly curved scythe held in one hand.
She paused just behind Jack, panting a little from running, and stared at
the woman, puzzled. Was she the demon the people spoke of?
The woman turned around, and Cecilia winced, her thought answered. This was definitely a demoness; she was very human-looking-- indeed, she has the aspect of a very beautiful woman, with a purely white face, and fire-red hair-- but there was something mechanical to her demeanor, something oddly hard, an extreme shade to her paleness, that instantly indicated that she was not quite as human as she seemed. Zed had been a comical menace; but the danger in this one was almost tangible, generated through her metal body, the almost too living shades of her hair, the death Cecilia perceived in her countenance.
Jack paused before the woman, his sword raised. "Who are you?" he asked, his voice ringing in the silent air, and his face assumed a curiously hard and intent expression. "I haven't seen YOU before!"
The demoness gazed at him with a sharp look in her dark eyes. "Perhaps," she replied, "but I think that I have seen YOU." Her voice was very calm and, Cecilia thought, feeling a little disturbed, very rich and full and-- alive; a peculiar contrast to her deathlike aspect. She stared at the demoness, whose face was once again assumed a neutral expression, and who was looking up, beyond Jack's shoulder. "It seems that I would have some work after all," she remarked, evenly. "Of course Zed couldn't take care of you by himself."
Jack advanced towards the demoness, seeming to collect his senses again. "I don't care who you are, but you will not get the Statue," he said, through clenched teeth. "Not you, nor your masters." He leapt towards her, his sword raised in preparation for one of his Fast Draw techniques. But the demoness raised her scythe, answering it with surprising precision, almost as if she knew exactly where his sword would land. "Good try," she remarked coldly, as Jack fell back, staring at her with astonishment. "But your Fast Draw definitely needs improvement, Swordsman."
Then, she sprang towards the statue, slashing at it with her scythe. The statue broke into two pieces, the top piece rolling to the floorboards of the ship. "My job is done here," she said, turning to Jack with an oddly taunting look in her eyes. "Right now I ought to kill you, but I think it beneath me-- someone else will have to do it. I am Lady Harken; remember my name, Swordsman." Then, demon-fashion, she warped and vanished into thin air.
Cecilia looked at Jack. He had risen to his feet, swearing profusely. "Damn, damn, damn!!" he muttered, over and over. "I failed-- I failed to protect it. She broke the seal. She was faster than me. She-- she knows Fast Draw!"
He fell silent, his face dark with concentration. Finally, after a pause, Cecilia ventured, "Jack?"
He looked at her. "What is it?" he asked, harshly.
There was a long pause, in which Cecilia examined his expression without answering, trying to gather her courage-- and to ask the question, once and for all. Finally, she spoke. "Where did you see the demons before?"
Jack stared at her, for a pause that seemed to stretch forever. Though he was looking at her, Cecilia sensed that he was not seeing her at all-- he was seeing something else, perhaps someone else. For many long moments she thought that, once again, her question will remain unanswered; but then Jack turned around. "I will tell you about this later, Cecilia," he said. "But one thing I CAN tell you now: I have never seen Lady Harken before."
He walked away, leaving Cecilia feeling she had finally made the step to break the wall-- the step she had strove so hard towards. But what it meant exactly, she wasn't quite sure.