First Impressions

Make yourself free from self at one stroke!
Like a sword be without trace of soft iron;
Like a steel mirror, scour off all rust with contrition.
- Jalaluddin Rumi

And here was where the old knights came to fade away, she thought, eyes losing focus through the potent mixture of nostalgia and cheap liquor. Lindblum – a perfect deadly orchid of technology and wealth and stability with roots catching amongst thieves and idlers. And her, she supposed. One of the old knights looking for the end.

Pushing the heavy mug from her, Freya rubbed her hand over her face in disgust. Alcohol made her maudlin, apparently. Blearily, she wondered if it had always done so or if this was a new level of pathetic degeneration that she simply happened to notice because she was in danger of becoming sober. She sighed and closed her eyes. Whichever it was, it was a most unpleasant feeling. She, who had once been part of Burmecia's elite, now could boast intimate knowledge of society's underbelly – the rogues and the drunks and the wastrels. On more than one occasion in the past year, she had been unfortunately mistaken for one of them.

Or perhaps not so unfortunate. Freya scowled and shook her head clear. The mist shifted for an instant and then happily resituated itself, masking her vision and thoughts. "Blast," she muttered as she reached up to tug her helmet off and drop it to the bar. Silvery pale hair immediately fell into her face and she cursed under her breath once more. Impatiently, she scraped it back with both hands, claws catching in tangles and making her grimace. When had she last stopped to cut her hair? When had she last taken a proper bath? Fratley or no, certain things ought to be done on a regular basis, she decided. In fact, his absence only made for a better excuse. She no longer believed in the miracle of turning a corner and there-he-was but stranger things had happened.

She had stood on a balcony, watching at Lindblum's newest air monstrosity took flight, lumbering and awkward and too impossibly big. Treno had indeed burned all of the candles all night, every night as she watched. She had stared into Alexandria's crystal until the light danced behind her closed lids. Trees that went on forever, deserts which disappeared into the horizon, and water that rippled outwards endlessly.

Yes, the world revolved in strange ways, there and back again. Who was to say anything anymore?

Unless someone rightly pointed out her own overly fragrant aura. Freya sighed again and tried not to inhale too deeply afterwards. She could not keep her thoughts straight. She kept circling back to the same, tired refrain – Fratley, why, where, how, did I do something wrong? Every inch of her felt dull and numbed. It was hard to remember why she was searching sometimes. It was hard to remember how to move.

Reaching for her knapsack, the dragon knight paused, her hand buried within its depths. She bit back a rough curse and closed her eyes before pushing her hand inwards another few inches. When she still did not feel her wallet and instead heard a faint sound just off to her left, she spun abruptly and reached. Her clawed hand caught on fabric and the wild swing of sudden weight at the end of her arm nearly tumbled her from her perch. Something deep in her brain stirred, pushing aside inebriation and self-pity, and her muscles remembered what to do. With a jerk and a slide, she hit the floor flat-footed and her arm pulled backwards to draw its catch closer. The prize fought the motion but, in the end, old muscles won over new and Freya was peering down in bemused bafflement at the too-thin boy she had snatched. Dusty blonde hair fell back as he lifted his pointed chin and met her eyes. She almost let go, starting back at the frankness and amusement in his gaze. She held fast, though, and scowled.

He grinned. Brilliantly, wickedly, radiantly. Then he announced merrily, "Nice catch, lady."

She narrowed her eyes. "Put it back."

His eyebrows climbed towards his hairline in supreme innocence and he widened his blue eyes in directly inverse proportion to the increasing narrowness of hers. His hands splayed outwards to show there was nothing within them. He grinned again and she set her grip even harder as a precaution to that smile. Wincing, he heaved a sigh and dug a hand into the front of his vest. "Very nice catch," he commented as he tugged out a little drawstring pouch that Freya thoroughly recognized. "Thought for sure you wouldn't pick up on me. I mean, you have to admit that you were getting pretty drunk there, ma'am. You didn't look like you'd notice a firework going off in your back pocket." He handed her money bag over cheerfully. "Guess I was wrong." Squinting, he gave her a measuring look and then slowly shook his head, hampered not in the least by her hand at the nape of his neck. "You still look pretty drunk," he added. "Incredibly drunk. Wickedly drunk. Drunk as a…"

With a barely suppressed snarl, Freya shook the boy until his teeth nearly rattled. "Will you please be quiet?" It required some terrible mental gymnastics but she maintained a polite yet firm tone, almost cordial. Very suitable for a knight, a corner of her mind laughed.

She told that corner to please be quiet.

"How old are you?" She had most certainly not meant to ask that.

"Oh, about thirteen or so," he answered casually. "Probably too young for you, sorry."

Snatching her money back from him with her free hand, Freya released him with an indelicate snort. "You think too much of yourself," she retorted, turning to inspect the drawstring bag, counting the money within automatically. The strings had still been knotted in their perfect bow but, judging by the ease with which he had taken it in the first place, that meant nothing. "After all, I caught you even after having a drink."

"Or ten."

She glared and denied the guilt that bubbled up within at his cheeky words. He was right; she had become a drunkard. The alcohol dulled the edge of her and it had been pure reflex that had allowed her to catch him. No thief should have been able to come so close and take from her bag. No thief had ever done that to her before. How things changed.

"Or maybe it wasn't the booze, huh?" His tail caught her attention, spinning idly, and she missed the thoughtful smile he gave her. "You were looking pretty miserable there, lady. Anything you wanna talk about?"

There was a long pause as she studied him, his strange openess and winning smile and the startling concern in the deep blue eyes. A little punk, a street thief, a boy who was not even sure of his own age. She did not need that in her life. Never. She was Freya Crescent, Dragon Knight of Burmecia, elite soldier, disciplined fighter… And a sword blade recently worn to butter-softness from unrelenting sawing at the past. She did, in fact, need someone like him. She needed to be set free from herself and here stood the mirror, rubbed clean and clear, to show her how far she had strayed. Holding out her hand, Freya smiled tentatively. "My name is Freya Crescent and I would be honored if you would join me for dinner."

Grinning that magnetic, stunning grin, the teenager took her hand and shook. "Zidane Tribal. Pleased to meetcha!"

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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