"Will this really work?" sighed Lavian, her lips gathered to a side, disappointed for missing this rare chance to town. The last time they were there, a quick meal was all that was done. She was really looking forward to browsing the streets, which were famous for cheap decent goods, and maybe she just might had found that much needed pair of boots.
Alicia replied with a short grunt from the back of her throat while an arm rested unconsciously over its sore companion.
"Was that a yes or a no?"
The red head responded with another unconscious groan.
Turning around with her back to the mirror, Lavian curled her eyebrows towards her nose, hands pushing into her waist impatiently. "Were you even listening?"
"Yes," erupted Alicia, who was quite annoyed with her whiny friend for breaking her concentration. "And no, it wouldn't work. Any idiot who looks at your waist could tell that you're no princess."
"Alicia!" wailed Lavian, who reflexively brought her arms over her stomach.
"What? Just giving you my honest opinion," She finished coolly.
The other trainee stuck out her offended tongue although it was quickly returned into its cavern after hearing the dreaded knocks, slamming into the door.
"Oh my God!! He's here! What should we do?" squealed Lavian, the disagreement entirely forgotten. An unstable rush of electric blood zoomed up her spine into that ticklish and sensitive pit at the back of her neck, causing her arms to flail with reflexive panic.
Alicia bounced off the bed, eyes puckered with alert, her shout hushed into a forced whisper.
"Pipe down, will you!"
Her jaws were solidly pushing into each other as her eyes hurriedly scratched every surface of the room for a plan.
"Go hide under the covers and don't let him see you. I'll handle the rest."
Lavian bobbed her head up and down frantically before launching herself beneath white silk sheets covering every inch of skin. Just as Alicia was about to reach the door, the large wad of hair coming from beneath the covers had her scurrying back to the bed, roughly dusting it to its hiding place. The last time she looked, neither Alma nor the princess had auburn hair. Lavian stuck her head back out to complain about the rude treatment but this was dealt efficiently with the neighboring pillow and a harsh hushed threat.
"Princess, Lady Alma?" Came the pressuring call. The wood did a great job in muffling the priest's voice although failing to prevent his haughty presence from entering, its effect doubled as their little act of mischief sat eerily on her back. For almost half the day, they were left sitting idly in Ovelia's room, credit to their captain's most descriptive plan. Although bored to the state of numbness, they were at least safe and despite their complaints, they had hope for it to remain that way until Agrias and their charges returned. Unfortunately, the mistress of fortune had decided to challenge them with the more difficult path.
'In through your mouth out through your mouth.'
Alicia loudly puffed air in and out her nose and mouth, just as the captain had taught her. Or was it in through your mouth, out through your nose? Whatever. Alicia pulled the handle to end this suspicious delay just before the second set of knocks was finished.
"Oh, Lord Ophion! What brings you here?"
Perhaps it was anxiety, but her cheeks had naturally formed an enormous smile, painfully straining but impossible to remove. Ophion responded with a dignified upward tilt of the head, although his lips wrinkled as he gulped down a breath of air.
"What took you so long?" he asked, petulantly, with a little more volume then expected.
"Really? Were you here for a long time? I guess we didn't quite hear you," Replied Alicia, her words eaten by rough whispers and occasional squeaks from her winded lungs.
Rewarding the knight with a supercilious grunt, he continued, licking his lips.
"Is Agrias there?"
Alicia couldn't help but blink a few times, tasting her own tongue for the best answer.
"Yes. I-I mean, no. No."
She shook her head a few times to help confirm the decision as a side of Ophion's nose twitched.
"Then where is she?" he asked, his eyes danced a little to the left, then to the right as he swallowed again.
"The captain? Well, she's a t-the...umm... what do you call that again? ... umm... you know... haha... the uh."
"The, 'what', Alicia?"
Ophion interrupted Alicia's raucous rant and the red head knew she had to make up something fast, wishing she had actually planned the story beforehand.
"I was just there." he challenged.
"Oh, then you must have missed her."
A few erratic sounds from the back of her throat made its way. She prayed they sounded like real laugher.
"Good," breathed Ophion, more to himself then the knight in front of him. He waved a hand, dismissing Alicia but as he tried to get through, his chest clashed directly with a solid breastplate, tumbling backwards.
Ophion straightened his back, seething through flaring nostrils as his hands worked to bring crinkled parts of his robe back to its previous perfection.
"I'm so sorry, milord. But-but you're not thinking of going in now, are you?" she asked hopefully.
"What else did it look like, you imbecile!"
"But they're asleep!"
"Then I'd just wake them up."
"But-but her highness specifically said that she didn't want to be disturbed."
"It'd only take a while. "
"But-but-but still.That wouldn't be such a great idea. I mean. they're heart-broken at the moment. It is their last day together and all... It has been rather hectic around here with so much going on, you know, the assassins and all... Why not leave them be, I'm sure you could use a rest, down in the garden, a sip of wine maybe--"
"I entirely understand but I have some pressed issues that I need to discuss with them," He interrupted, not heeding a word the red head said.
"Can't it wait?"
"You're in no position to question me!" He answered, firmly.
With pressed teeth showing through his lips and a much larger wave, reaching from his waist to well above his head, he once again gestured for the removal of the armour clad blockage from the entrance. Alicia tried again, dragging every second that she possibly could but only to be rewarded with a few more exaggerated waves. Reluctantly, she stepped away, her defense torn down without a single reason left but when Ophion was about to gain his hard earned entrance, a gauntlet-protected arm stopped him.
"How 'bout just a little later?" begged Alicia, her voice pitched high. "Now is really not a great time. just a tiny wee bit later--"
"Get out of the way, now, Alicia!" yelled Ophion, slamming his staff into the ground like a child stomping his feet.
And she obeyed. And Ophion stepped in. And the door closed.
Alicia prayed while grabbing her own hair, jogging in front of the door. Luckily, she was inspired after glancing to her left.
Women. They are everywhere, part of nature but never in her life had she ever seen a woman so shamelessly lacking in morals. After dispatching the crowd with a promise to properly treat her wife as instructed by the gypsy, the people had allowed them to leave with her reluctantly following through with the date. Embarrassment obviously does not exist within this being as the gypsy squished Agrias's arm tightly in between her bosom. Such bold display of public affection by this unusual creature was drawing much attention and Agrias was helpless to stop it, as any attempt at escape will only result in the reenactment of the previous scene. All she could do was keep her eyes and face to the ground, which only served to bring more blood and colour into her cheeks and the tips of her ears.
"Aren't we having fun now, dearest?"
Agrias scowled but the smile over the tanned face didn't even waver for a second.
"Miss," Agrias drew another breath before continuing, feeling utterly embarrassed having to clarify herself in such a manner. "I was serious when I said that I was female."
The gypsy promptly stopped her steps, swinging herself before Agrias, leaving nothing but a hand's space between them. She stared, her smile contracting into a thin line as the tall knight looked back, straightening her every feature to meet the challenge.
"What proof do you have?"
A blonde eyebrow reflexively twitched.
Suddenly, cool fingertips stealthily ran its way under the beige tunic, quickly slithering upwards. The blonde knight stepped back, her arms reflectively shoving downwards to remove the intruding hands.
"Just checking," Grinned the gypsy. Her smile returned, satisfied as the aligned features ran out of their plain frown, especially the wide dilated pupils, surrounded purely by white.
With a gentle intake of breath, Agrias retrieved her full height, the Code of Honour forcing down the violent need. A knight simply cannot attack a defenceless woman, no matter how obnoxious she is.
"That was highly unnecessary," seethed Agrias. She continued to focus on the woman as angry pricks of hot ice ran up and down her back, tempting her temper.
"No need for the frown. I knew of course. You're too pretty for mistakes." She teased, clearly amused.
"This is not funny," Warned Agrias, as she continued to grind her gaze, expecting the woman to at least show a bit of shame for her own actions. "I truly have something of great importance to attend to."
"Ara, what possibly could be more important then me?" pouted the gypsy, as if she was cooing to a baby.
"Stop toying with me! I'm warning you for the last time!"
Agrias swiped an arm across, as the pull over all her limbs became almost unbearable.
"Temper, temper. " said the woman, shaking her head. "Are you that eager to end our lovely relationship."
"There was no 'relationship'." seethed Agrias.
The gypsy sighed, her bosom heaving up then down as she crossed her arms again, patiently standing before the enraged knight.
'You really don't remember.'
Her smile dampened, just a slight shift of the bright red lips.
"Alright then, being the lovely and charitable woman that I am, I'll allow you to end this date early under one simple condition."
A low growl of defeat was all Agrias could manage as an answer.
"Give me a kiss."
A flood of shock slacked her jaw and logic, causing the frustrated knight to lose her regained calm once again. She had heard demands of money, treasure, prisoners or even her life but never had a kiss been demanded, especially not from one of her own gender.
"I thought I made myself clear that I'm--"
"I don't see how's that relevant," Interrupted the gypsy. "Now pucker up."
Flipping her silvery hair back, she closed their distance, close enough that she ran a finger along a pale skinned jaw. The hand was promptly slapped away.
"I refuse to give you a-a."
Agrias swallowed as the word went solidly down her throat.
"It's this or you're staying." She stated simply. "You do want to leave, don't you?"
The hungry lioness in her constructed cage roared in frustration as her captor continued to wave the untouchable meat in front of her. This was nothing but a game and Agrias loathed her forced participation, especially when the game was made only to lose. However, the princess and that Beoulve came first. Personal affairs were not to interfere with duty and if a kiss was what that was required to succeed, so be it. Agrias pulled her shoulders back, resting her lips back into their solid position.
"Very well, then."
Her answer was soft but clear and even. Slivery eyebrows quirked as the wide smile parted into a circular and curious shape. But the unexpected shock only lasted a moment before trembles of laughter escaped those coloured lips. Agrias merely watched, finding no humour to what seemed like history's greatest joke.
"And that's what I like best about you." Said the gypsy as she tamed her chortle. Flipping her hair behind a shoulder, she aligned herself with Agrias, now watching her prey with quiet expectation. But that was all she did as passing pedestrians glanced and whispered to their nearest companions. The tall blonde knew that this populous location was deliberately chosen but she made no fuss about it. That would be feeding worms into a fish filled river but the delay was agonizing-too agonizing and Agrias was first to speak.
"May you hurry up?"
"I can't if you have your eyes open. Don't you have any kissing courtesy?" scolded the woman, flaunting her arms out.
A string of reasons were about to leave her usually silent mouth but Agrias promptly stopped herself, swallowing every word as if they were each as big as a rock. She refused to provide the fuse to another delay. An intentional yawn squeezed its way out of the cherry lips and the gypsy casually batted it away. The itching over her fingers were absolutely tempting. All it would take was one swift swing and this would have been over with her reigning as the winner. But she was a knight, with an important responsibility weaving around her honour. After viciously meeting that triumphant golden gaze again, Agrias closed her eyes. Either then apparent light seeping through her eyelids, there was nothing else. The need to see opened her ears, gathering every detail, desperately seeking her surrounding. The soft whispers under the common commotions, footsteps, clanging from the blacksmith, never seemed clearer. Her heart resisted and battled, pounding so loudly that she could even hear it echoing.
Something cool touched her face, brushing ever so carefully. The light stroking then slithered to the back of her neck, fingernails delicately scorching their path, leaving lingering warmth. Instead of battling the contact, the knight remained still, maintaining the same straight expression. Steady breaths of balmy air flowed over her lips and Agrias continued to wait, each second passing like eternity.
Finally, she felt her. The touch of what she assumed to be lips. It was soft, like warm feathers floating closely by, almost unnoticeable. But it neither left nor deepened. The delicate hint just continued to hover, maddeningly near. Silky hands left her neck to run through strands of hair that have escaped her braiding. Agrias stopped her breathing, trying not to inhale that thick devouring smell of roses, resisting the urge to move. She refused to lose to such sour temptation.
The warmth over her lips soon disappeared and the knight quietly exhaled. But before she could take a breath to replenish lost air a sudden spark of pain, needling the right side of her neck, had her breathing out a yelp. Her arms soared up as fast as they could onto anywhere solid in front of her. Agrias tensed to hinder the pain and with gathered strength, drew her arms back then delivered a solid shove.
The collected body heat expanded away. Agrias reflexively rested a hand over her neck, feeling little dents over the stinging skin, a little wet and slippery. She kept their distance, eyes still, feet apart in an offensive stance, questioning the woman with anger. A finger rested indifferently over the woman's lips as cold blue orbs sharpened hostilely.
"Ara, weren't we just enjoying that?"
"That was not part of the agreement." Seethed the tall blonde.
"But neither did you fulfill your end of the deal. YOU were suppose to give ME a kiss. Not the other way around. I was only evenly the odds."
Agrias wanted to scream. Although the condition was supposing met, the burning need inside of her was torturing. Her focus wandered back her sword but her logical side restrained her and after giving the woman one final undefeated look, the knight turned to leave. She had more important things to do then dicing gypsies.
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
With one large step, Agrias faced the smiling gypsy once again, watching her with careful alertness. Then she finally noticed the sudden lightness around her waist. Agrias touched her belt to confirm its existence, although feeling nothing but the cotton texture of her shirt. She looked to the woman, taking immediate notice of the new item that was now being fingered within a tanned palm. Her father had given that dagger to her the day she was left home.
"This important to you?" she asked. The answer was apparent within her tone.
"You said I could leave." Stated Agrias.
"Then go ahead. I'm not stopping you."
"You know what I mean. Now return that which is not yours."
Agrias stretched her arm out, palm open for the return of her most precious belonging. The woman brought the cool sheath close to her lips, her smile softening.
"If you want it, come get it."
The long dress twirled as the gypsy turned, sprinting agilely through the crowd. Agrias immediately followed but the hordes of people on the street made it almost impossible to get through as she squeezed and pushed her way. She had even lost sight of the gypsy several times if not for the distinct flashes of white that peeked in rare open spaces.
A tail of white slithered around a corner and Agrias hurriedly pursued.
She stared left then right, certain that that shameless crook was near although her alert instincts sensed nothing. Nothing but the murky walls of old shops met her pursuit. The end had a fence of elderly and broken wood, not solid but definitely blocked. A narrow gust floated upwards, meeting her nose with a meek scent of flowers. She tilted her head, following the sweetness and by her feet was a dagger-- her dagger-- surrounded by scattered pieces of red rose petals.
Her neck continued to sting.
'How did she know?'
Dated two hundred and thirty-seven years ago from the time of the 13th King of Ivalice, the Lakito Vase, famous for its delicate craftsmanship, had sat on its designated pilaster dignifiedly for the past century. Although made only to be reveled and admired at, this beautiful sky blue vase was now removed from its post, seized rudely by the neck, ready to be used as more then just a piece of art. It was the most convenient item and, if necessary, the poor vase will have to abandon its original innocent purpose into a sinning weapon. It could have avoided this fate if its kidnapper had remembered the hand-chop technique that could cause immediate but harmless unconsciousness. Unfortunately, the exact location along the neck had not found a secure place in the red haired knight's memory.
Alicia squatted on the floor, adjusting her eyes for a better view. Sadly, neither the keyhole nor the narrow slit between the doors provided a clear path for observation. All she could see was the lump on the bed, which was unmistakably Lavian. Pushing a strand of red hair out of her eyes, Alicia softly cursed her lord's impeccable timing.
Why Ophion decided to show up, she did not know and if he found out about Ovelia and Alma's disappearance, there would no doubt be consequences; consequences that were beyond what her ignorant mind could imagine and that shall hold true for Ophion as well if he should fail.
The priest wiped a sleeve over his damp forehead.
His master was never known for patience and the letter that came this morning clearly conveyed such irritation. It was now or sunset shall mark his downfall.
Slowly, he moved towards the sleeping figure, lifting and landing each step with great caution. Careful not to produce unnecessary sounds, Ophion slipped a hand into the opposite sleeve, again, with immense restraint and slowness.
There was no other way. After he had sold Illica's name to repay his immeasurable gambling debts, his foot had unknowingly sunk deep within a pit of quick sand, forcing his allegiance to change. He had tried to uncover the relocation site but only selected Hokuten officials and Prince Larg himself were privy to such an important decision. Their previous attempts have not only failed but have also captured unwanted attention. Sealing off the only two pathways of leaving Illica, Mandalia plains and Fort Zeaken, would be too labour intensive and noticeable. Igros soldiers were already making their way here to ensure their safety overnight. It was no longer a matter of timing but a matter of need.
The dagger was finally unveiled as the blade itself was unsheathed, inch by inch with minimal sounds of metal friction. This was their last chance and who could possibly be more suitable then himself.
Ophion raised it over his head and although her view was limited, Alicia saw it. She immediately charged forward, shoulders first, barging through the doors. Scrambling to her feet with the Lakito vase in hand, she slammed it full force with her entire body into the exposed neck. A dull thud had the vase shattered into fragments. Alicia threw away the useless piece that was left in her hands and looked to the bed.
And she was too late... The blade stood proudly, part of its sharp edge buried within the covers.
To be continued...