Part Two: Homecoming
“Lady Beatrix? Miss Lani? Are you in there?” A dreadful pause.
“But, we’ve arrived in Alexandria!!” Another pause. The door ripped open, and a sickly-looking Beatrix was on the other end.
“Are you sure?” she asked. Erin smiled and nodded her head fiercely.
“Yes, of course! We’re right outside the castle moat!” Beatrix nearly sang out for joy, and almost hugged the bubbly pilot in rapture as thoughts of home entered her mind. Like a true soldier, though, she let none of these wild emotions show through.
“That is… good news,” she sighed, leaning against the door. Erin smiled and tipped her head to the side, and told them that they could leave whenever they were ready. Lani, who was not recovering well, made a disgusting sound as she wailed into the toilet. Beatrix crinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue in disgust, and decided that freshening up would be best before addressing her liege.
No sooner had she finished brushing her teeth and washing her face was Beatrix interrupted yet again. A maniacal Boyd, ignoring all formalities and titles as always, rushed straight into her bathroom without even touching the door with his knuckles. Beatrix almost scolded him for dashing into a lady’s room unannounced, but Boyd beat her to the punch with a terrifying message.
“Invaders!!” he screamed, and collapsed on the floor. Beatrix’s heart went to her throat, and after making sure the rude pilot was okay, she retrieved Save the Queen and dashed outside the airship. Steiner and Lani were nowhere to be found.
The time--One day after Beatrix, Steiner, Lani, and the crew of the Hilda Guarde liberated Mognet Central.
The place--The immediate area outside of Alexandria kingdom.
The players--Beatrix, a knight under the service of Queen Garnet; Lani, a boisterous and vain bounty hunter; Adelbert Steiner, the bold and proud Captain of the Pluto Knights; Commander Erin and the crew of the Hilda Guarde 3.
Beatrix soon understood what Boyd had meant the minute she stepped out of the Hilda. Hundreds and hundreds of ferocious creatures, some bearing resemblance to the monsters they had fought in Mognet Central, were swarming around the kingdom, each and every one causing a world’s worth of havoc. With a sharp cry, Beatrix stared in horror as her kingdom and home turned into ruin yet again.
To the monster’s grievous misfortune, this moment of terror did not last long. Wielding Save the Queen in front of her, Beatrix charged into the kingdom without any thought or concern of her own safety. Protect the kingdom. Protect your home. Save the Queen. That is your duty. Her sword master’s words echoed in her mind a thousand times, and Beatrix thanked him silently, wherever he was.
Imps, ghouls, and satyrs had crowded around the moat surrounding Alexandria, and to Beatrix’s fortune, several of her subordinate knights were already busy in the fight. Without a word or even an introduction, Beatrix joined them and killed three imps in a single blow.
“General Beatrix!” called a soldier. Beatrix growled and began shouting orders.
“No time for socializing! Beat back the enemies and protect the inner courtyards! Make sure they don’t hit the town, either!”
“Too late!” shouted a soldier, slicing an imp’s hands off. “They’ve made it as far as the throne room already!”
“WHAT!!!! What has happened?!” Beatrix had no time for further inquiry, as a demonic host of half-lizards rose up out of the moat. Each one looked hungry enough to devour Steiner, armor and all. Beatrix, however, was a juicier morsel, albeit a more difficult one to fight. The knight couldn’t help but laugh as she easily skewered the potential handbags.
“What news of the Queen?” she shouted, resuming her position after the skirmish. She had to wait for a moment as the soldiers fought off a hoard of bats, and Beatrix stepped in to help.
“She’s okay!” shouted a soldier. “She’s in good hands! We have orders to protect this area of the kingdom!”
“I’ll ask questions later!” spat the holy knight, sensing that there were too many enemies around and not enough time for an interrogation. Her inflated curiosity would have to wait for a time; these monsters were too numerous, and had to be dealt with accordingly.
Beatrix and her knights kept the moat from becoming flooded with villainy and wickedness. Imps and hags rained down on them like sleet, and each one was severely punished for their intrusion. More half-lizards snaked up from the moat, and although they caused the most trouble, they were readily dealt with. However, even with the other knights, Beatrix knew she could not hold out for long.
Suddenly, an earth-shattering roar shook the General out of her fighting. An immense behemoth, hide as thick as stone and claws as sharp as scythes, lumbered onto the scene with murder in its eyes. Beatrix cursed, and ordered three of her finest knights to accompany her while the others take care of the monsters left behind. The foursome charged forward…
The behemoth suddenly ceased to exist in the span of a second. In its place stood an explosion of intestines, blood, bones, and other miscellaneous body parts. Somehow, the creature had spontaneously combusted… but how?
“Heeeeeeeeey yooooooooou guuuuuuuuys!!!!!!!” Beatrix turned around fiercely, spotting the guns of the Hilda Guarde 3 smoking somewhat. Erin waved at them like a loon, and several of the pilots stormed out of the airship with her. The guns fired again, scorching what would have been an otherwise terrifying foe.
“Erin!!” Beatrix was so happy, she felt like kissing the pilot right then and there, but she settled for a pretty smile. Erin’s smile outdid them all, and a recovered Lani was there beside her.
“Ha! Bet you’re glad that Regent Cid installed cannons on this thing!” beamed Erin. Beatrix nodded her head, eager to have some heavy artillery in the fight at last. Pushing aside her concern for the Queen and her friends, Beatrix thanked Erin and resumed the battle, Lani following her with a gigantic axe in tow.
Most of the pilots helped to wipe out the monsters in the moat, but Erin and Boyd followed Beatrix and Lani into the town. There, around the statue of the heroine Madeline, was a group of ferocious tiger-wolfs, each one looking as hungry as the half-lizards that Beatrix had helped. Suddenly, one of the tiger-wolfs misplaced his head, and another had his skull split in twain. Beatrix smiled with relief as she saw Steiner holding his own.
“Persistent kittens, aren’t we?” he shouted. Focusing his powers into his blade, Steiner performed what many considered to be his most effective attack: with the Blood Sword in hand, he executed a perfect Dark Side, both expending and refreshing his energy at the same time. The unfortunate creature that became the target of his hate was soon permanently relieved of the flea problem it had had earlier that season.
Wordlessly, Beatrix and Lani joined the knight, each one cleaving a creature in two. Steiner smiled as he saw his friend--and Lani--cut into the enemy line, though he made no effort to speak yet. Only after Erin pierced the eyes of one, and Boyd bashed the jaws of another, did he address his fellow fighters.
“What a mess!” he exclaimed, and nobody could disagree. Sensing the urgency of the surroundings, Steiner shouted out the current situation as best he knew how. “There are hundreds of beasts around here, many of unknown origin! I know not where they came nor why they are here, but I do know that we must defend her majesty at all costs!”
“Yes!” agreed Beatrix. Turning to Boyd and Erin, she requested that the pilots stay with Steiner and help him clear the other creatures out. They obeyed, and remained to help fight off a new wave of land piranha. This left Beatrix and Lani to push forward alone.
After easily cutting through a line of Mus and ghosts, Beatrix and Lani came across a very welcome sight: Quina was emptily chewing on the remains of what used to be a hedgehog pie. The creatures scattered around the Qu indicated that many more monsters had met similar fates. Since the area was clear, the two warriors were free to converse with their hungry ally.
“Quina!! What a relief to find you here!” gasped Beatrix. The Qu dropped its meal and bounced up in the air.
“Beatrix! You here at last! I had to fight here with Pluto Knights! But no worry-worry, they stronger than they look! They leave me here to stand guard, so I not know where they are now.”
“I’m sure that you fought bravely as always,” said Beatrix with a smile. “But can you tell me what the devil is going on?!”
“I not know,” sighed Quina. “I was cooking, when monsters came from nowhere! There many-many battles, many-many people hurt! I help though, give them food so they live! But I called in to fight, so I show knights what I made of!”
“Marvelous!” cackled Lani merrily. “Simply marvelous! S/he deserves a medal!”
“No-no, medals not tasty,” insisted Quina. Lani gave him a look but kept her smile.
“Quina,” said Beatrix, who was somewhat more serious than her comrade, “can you tell me where her majesty is?”
“That easy,” s/he said. Quina turned around, and pointed a fork in the direction of the castle. “Garnet over there. There MANY monsters there, so all soldiers fight there too, even Queen! Maybe I help them later.”
“WHAT?!” shrieked the knight. “You mean her highness is in the battle as well?”
“Yes-yes!” nodded Quina. “Everyone fight! Too many monsters to count! I help later, but make sure things okay here first.”
“Good idea,” nodded Lani. She tapped Beatrix’s shoulder, and urged them to proceed forward. The bounty hunter went first, dashing towards the inner moat to clear the way. Beatrix stayed behind just long enough to thank Quina and wish the cook good luck.
True to the Qu’s words, what seemed like a literal army of demons and nasties were crowding around the castle, ripping it apart and being ripped apart themselves. Among the warriors visible, all the Knights of Pluto save Steiner were there, fighting their hearts and souls out. The remainder of the Alexandrian force was there as well, and the girls almost cheered as they caught sight of the majority of the Vivis engaged in battle as well.
But they did not see the Queen, nor was Zidane present. Beatrix reasoned that the boy must be protecting Garnet himself, but she still rushed into the castle. The front door was temporarily barred by a group of ogres; I say temporarily because these ogres were impaled several minutes later.
Fighting as many creatures as they could find, Beatrix and Lani raced into and throughout the castle, sometimes running into an injured ally. Beatrix healed them properly whilst Lani watched their backs, and sometimes it was the other way around. Finally, through a severe trial of ogres, giant scorpions, Cyclopes, and dragons (Why does this regiment look so familiar? Beatrix thought), the duo finally made it to the throne room, where a surprise awaited them.
Inside the throne room, two warriors were busy fending off the most brutal of all the demons. One of them was a short immature boy with golden hair over his head and a tail protruding out of his body; the other was a tall and muscular man with lethal claws and hair as red as the fires of Hell. Only the boy greeted them.
“Oh, hey! It’s General Beatrix!!” He smiled that same goofy smile of his, even as an ogre slammed its fist on his head. Beatrix, knowing he would be all right, merely sighed in defeat.
“Hey, Red!!!” screamed Lani. The other man paid her no heed. “What kind of nerve do you have, leaving me there on Mognet Central Island? And what was that business about you ‘not being paid to kill monsters’? I nearly died myself!!”
“Nice to see you too,” muttered Amarant calmly. He dashed forward and ripped what looked like an Iron Giant in two, and the creature died as its body was cut open. Amarant sniffed and pointed at the two knights. “Hey, the kid here could use a hand.”
“I’m okay,” groaned Zidane, shaking his yellowy head. He smiled weakly, giving the ladies a thumbs-up, and leaped back into battle formation. Lani groaned and more or less busied herself with a Minotaur that had just showed up; Beatrix smiled briefly and joined the Genome.
“Tell me,” she said, keeping a Merman at bay, “where is the Queen?”
“In her bedroom. Some of the Vivis are protecting her,” replied Zidane. He dashed forward, slicing the merman apart until scales fell on the floor. Beatrix frowned and finished the creature off.
“She was with us for awhile,” stated Amarant calmly. He then rushed forward like a locomotive, turning a fierce poisonous wasp into shredded cheese. He came back to his original position, his breathing no higher than normal. It was as if Amarant was two people at once: the calm and sometimes cold mercenary, and the ferocious and flaming assassin. He was in fact both, all rolled into one lethal package, and he killed a Cyclops monster to prove it.
“What happened that made her retreat into her bedroom?” Amarant sniffed, wiping the enemy’s blood off his arm. Zidane, in the meantime, had helped Lani with the Minotaur, who was currently missing more than just his two horns.
“Safety,” replied the Flaming one. Beatrix frowned in thought.
“I see. Well, her bedroom is somewhat safer than the throne room.”
“Not by much,” said Amarant casually. “One of the Vivis stopped.”
“You mean…” Beatrix froze, her speech dead in her throat. She closed her eye, and silently mourned the loss. “I see…”
“Hey, above you,” said Amarant quietly, and Beatrix had to practically fall out of the way as a Garuda swooped down on her. She repaid the kind act by lovingly shoving her blade through its body.
“What’s up with these monsters?!” demanded Lani, slicing a demonic porcupine. “It’s like every time we kill one, two more come to replace it!”
“That was fast,” said Amarant, leaving everyone to wonder over his strange speech. Zidane, who was currently wrestling with a mischievous goblin, had no comment.
“You figured out their strategy pretty fast,” said Amarant mysteriously. Lani began fuming and glared at him.
“Huh? Don’t talk to me as if I’m some dumb idiot!” Amarant shrugged, and without any warning at all, walked out of the throne room and towards the kitchen.
“Hey, wait! RED!!!!” Lani screamed out his name, and chased after him as he escaped. Beatrix, needless to say, was becoming exhausted and confused.
“I wonder what’s gotten into him?” she wheezed, finishing off another beast. Zidane shrugged and began punching the goblin.
“There’s a monster (whack!) in this castle (biff!) who regenerates (sock!) other monsters (bam!)! And (smack!) that’s where he’s (crunch!) going!”
“But why did you not go there first?!” demanded Beatrix. Zidane knocked the goblin into the nether regions and back, and threw the offending creature out the window before speaking.
“Well, we had to take care of the others first!!” He sighed, leaning on his knees as he caught his breath. Beatrix also took time to rest and examine the room. All the monsters that had flooded the throne room were either dead or dying. With a sudden groan of exhaustion, Zidane flopped on the floor and wheezed dramatically.
“Can’t… move… another inch…” he gasped. Beatrix frowned, though she knew that every mortal being, regardless of how or why they were created, had a breaking point sometime. She smiled just faintly as she allowed the young boy to rest.
“Not even to protect your Queen?” she stated, kneeling down to look at him. Zidane flopped on the ground like a fish out of water, but could not even move for Garnet.
“If… I could…” he wheezed, “then… I would…” Beatrix smiled a little broader, and commended the lad for his efforts.
“Rest easy, sir, you’ve had a busy day…” She patted him on the shoulder like a soldier would, and left the boy to catch his breath. For safety measures, she made sure that no monsters would infiltrate the throne room.
Beatrix’s battles came to a brief conclusion suddenly. A piercing howl, one that would have been emitted by some kind of demonic creature, echoed throughout the castle and even outside. With a reasonable amount of concern, the knight noticed that the cry had come from the kitchen.
A minute passed before two figures emerged from the halls. One was a screaming Lani, who kept on berating her taller companion for some unseen offense. The other, noticing Beatrix standing there, merely saluted weakly and said only one enigmatic phrase.
“Monster’s dead.” And without another word, Amarant Coral left the castle of Alexandria, a very confused Beatrix and a very irritated Lani in his wake.
She let out a gusty sigh of relief as she slumped on her bed. Exhausted beyond definition, the woman could only breathe as she laid on her soft bed. With weak hands, she managed to disrobe somewhat and snuggle up in the soft mattress. A welcome pillow supported her head, and she let out a sigh as she began to recall the events of the past few days……
“Your majesty!” Garnet breathed out a sigh of relief as she saw Beatrix scurry into her room. She collapsed on the bed and let out a groan.
“I’m so glad to see you, Beatrix,” sighed the queen. Beatrix smiled with relief, equally jovial that her liege was okay, and tried her best to remain strong. The past two days had been nothing but battles for her, and although she was a holy knight, she was used to such obstacles. Still, even Beatrix had a breaking point, and it had been reached more than once in the past two days.
“Highness… I…” began the knight. She swallowed, and kneeled on the floor (in reality, she was secretly resting from all the strenuous work she had done). “I… have reports to give and questions to ask. You above all people should be able to receive what I have to say.”
“Proceed, and have a seat,” urged the Queen. “You must be completely wiped out from all the fighting that has been going on.” Beatrix nodded her head, thanked the queen, and found a footstool to sit on. Garnet politely asked the Vivi squadron to leave, and they did so without a word (one of them thanked Beatrix, though).
“Now,” said the Queen, looking into her guardian’s eye, “what do you have to say?”
“I’ll be blunt, majesty,” answered the knight. “I want to know where these enemies came from, how they got to Alexandria, and why we were so ill-prepared.” The Queen sighed, folding her hands in her lap. She had expected those very questions, in those very words, to be asked.
“All right, I understand,” she said. “But I’d like to gather everybody around. There is no doubt that the entire kingdom will want to know what has happened. Beatrix, if you would be so kind, please summon everyone in the town square. I have an announcement to make.”
“I obey,” saluted the knight.
Thirty minutes passed, and all of Alexandria was gathered in the town square. Garnet stood atop a crudely-made platform, a primitive amplifier in front of her. Beatrix, Steiner, a recovered Zidane, Quina, a slew of Vivis, Erin, Boyd, Lani, and even Amarant were up with her, acting as fellow witnesses and councilors.
“Now,” began the Queen, “I realize that you all have lots of questions on your mind, and I hope to answer them all. Let me first assure you that all invaders have been accounted for, including the chief monster who was responsible for regenerating the others. The dead are being honored and the living are being praised, but now is a time of reconstruction and answers.
“My first order of business is to explain where these monsters came from, how and why they invaded Alexandria, and so forth. Let me assure you that nobody present knows their origin, nor do they know their intent. The only thing that we know is that these evils had belligerent intent, and so they had to be stopped, regardless of origin. “Unfortunately, their attack came at a bad time, when both General Beatrix and Captain Steiner were away. Had these two warriors been present, I feel that the dead in our cemeteries would not be quite as numerous. I have asked my most trusted advisors about this revelation, and all we can speculate is that this may have been the enemy’s plan: to draw out our armies into a false battle while they carry the real fight to our home.”
That makes sense to me, thought Beatrix to herself. She noticed that Steiner had hissed an “Aha!”, so he too must’ve understood.
“I do not know where these monsters came from,” resumed Garnet, “nor do I know why they attacked. I have, however, been given council to prepare for any more attacks that may arrive. Rest assured, citizens of Alexandria: we will fight those that wish to disrupt our peace.”
“Hey!!! Where do you think you’re going?!?!?”
“Outside.” The woman growled as the man made no other sound.
“So that’s it?!” she yelled. “You’re leaving already!?”
“But you heard the Queen!” insisted Lani. “There might be another attack!”
“It’s not my fight,” said Amarant blankly. He continued walking, only partially aware of the screaming woman behind him.
“What!! And after all they did for you, too!”
“I hold no allegiance with them,” stated Amarant plainly. Lani snorted, and decided to just ignore the Flaming one.
“Humph, well be that way then!” She hefted her axe, and stormed off towards Lindblum. Amarant had no desire to ask her where she was going, or why she was not staying behind. After all, none of it was his business.
From high atop her room, Garnet noticed that both Amarant and Lani were leaving Alexandria. With a hushed “thank you”, she bade the two hunters farewell, and hoped to see them again under better circumstances. Suddenly, two fierce hands grabbed her and snapped her away from her thoughts.
“Ssh!! Jeez, you don’t have to scream!” Garnet practically had a seizure as she turned around to face Zidane, but the look she gave him was far deadlier than any debilitating physical condition. “WHOA!! Hey, I was just kidding!”
“The sheer nerve of sneaking up on me like that!” she spat. Zidane smiled and tried in vain to smooth out her angry face. He had to admit, she looked awfully cute when she was mad.
“Hey, I said I was sorry, right?” Garnet sighed, and walked past the boy in irritation. Before she left the room, she turned around and gave him a malicious look.
“I’ll get you for that, Zidane Tribal!” she threatened. The grin on the boy’s face showed that he was looking forward to whatever surprises the Queen could throw at him. She sighed, shook her head, and walked outside her room.
“Women,” he moaned. He then proceeded to flop onto her bed, and did not get up until ordered to by Steiner.
Several uncertain days passed, and so far, no terrible force had come to complete the work that the monsters had started. What damage they did had been repaired, and life began to return to normal. Disputes and crises in foreign lands were handled by skeleton crews; the finer warriors stayed behind to protect the kingdom. Alexandria had to be prepared.
Of course, this brief intermission of peace did not last long. To Garnet’s horror, messengers arrived in the castle a week or so after the monsters were cleared out. They spoke of a terrifying army of mindless soldiers, and a ferocious leader that had been hidden in mystery up until now.
Usually the Queen would not be concerned. After all, she had faced the horrors of Terra and Pandemonium, so what were mere mortals in comparison? But the messenger insisted that these were no ordinary troops. Though mysteries hung in the air, it was a proven fact that this leader, whoever he was, commanded an army of Golems.
Usage of Golems in battle was forbidden long before the birth of Cid Falbool V. The creatures, which were magical humanoids brought forth from the dirt and clay of the earth, were mindless, soulless soldiers that had no will or conscience of their own. They were stronger and hardier than men, but were terribly difficult to make if one did not know the right wizard.
Finding the fiend who had created this army was a priority, but battling the fiend who led the army came first. If this unknown leader could be pushed out of the picture, then an opportunity to hunt down the wizard responsible would present itself. For now, though, Garnet had to ready her troops and reward the messengers. All in all, it only took one day for the troops to be assembled.
There was no question in who would lead them. Beatrix and Steiner would each command a unit in the front lines, while Zidane would have the Knights of Pluto and a backup unit waiting in reserve. The magicians and archers would be placed in several key locations, and a host of hired mercenaries would lie in wait in places only they knew about. Garnet would act as Supreme Commander, with Quina as her personal bodyguard.
Beatrix and Steiner each had an entire legion under their care, and for good reason. These two fine knights were positioned in the front lines, where the action would be hottest. Arrows and spells would rain down on their heads the hardest, and if they failed, the castle would have been overrun. Of course, they also commanded some of the finest troops in the whole kingdom, so it was unlikely that any foe would get past them.
One day had passed since the message came to Garnet’s ears. In that time, the fledgling monarch had outshined herself in ability and skill. Already there was a swarm of devoted knights, soldiers, and fighters willing to march under her banner. Some likened it to the days when Brahne was on the throne (and in her right state of mind, of course).
Sighing, Beatrix looked at Steiner’s unit, which was some distance away from hers. The plan was basically to trap the enemy in a pincer move, then the mercs hiding away would storm in from behind. Even if that failed, there would be plenty of archers and mages on the turrets of the castle to ambush anyone who came near. Many of the Vivis were among the wizards above.
With a slight smile, Beatrix looked over Steiner’s unit. She was tempted to wave at the other knight, but she knew full well that A) such actions did not suit a General, and B) Steiner might take it as a signal to move forward or retreat. She merely smiled, and wiped the hair out of her eye.
“(General!)” whispered a soldier. She handed Beatrix a telescope, and with her left eye, Beatrix peered through it. In the distance, she spotted a lone man on horseback and a large army of Golems marching behind him. She swallowed and handed the scope back to the soldier.
“They’re here,” she said. Turning around, Beatrix signaled for the archers and mages to prepare their assault. Garnet had not received news of any visitors to the kingdom, and experienced Beatrix would have recognized a friendly face. The man leading the army looked to be anything but friendly.
The ground shivered beneath them, almost as if it were afraid of what was to come. Beatrix pursed her lips and hugged the hilt of Save the Queen. Protect the kingdom. Protect your home. Save the Queen.
“Master Atma,” she whispered, “give me your strength in this battle…” Praying to her old sword master, Beatrix calmed herself just enough to beat back the bubbling adrenaline in her body. With a shout, she gave the signal for the mages and archers to fire, and before the yell ended, a hailstorm of arrows and spells blazed through the air.
Steiner silently cheered to himself as the storm of arrows and spells struck the advancing army. Golems fell down like ninepins as they were struck, some slamming to the floor as fast as lightning. But to his shock, the army continued to march mercilessly, their leader staring ahead with cold, maniacal eyes.
“What!! It is as if they are not even aware that we are attacking them!” blurted Steiner. He growled, and shouted orders to his troops. “Don’t charge them yet! Wait until the forces above us finish their rounds! We don’t want anyone being injured unnecessarily!”
“Aye, Captain!” sang the chorus of soldiers. Steiner pursed his lips, anxiously waiting for the mages to cease. The Golems continued marching, even as they were being picked off one by one. They mercilessly stormed forward, their pace no quicker or slower than when it had begun.
Suddenly, the leader of the force screamed.
“Victory or death!!!!” And with a bone-chilling shout, the entire army ceased its mindless march and ran forward in a lunatic frenzy. Steiner growled, and unsheathed his mighty blade in response. Out of the corner of his eye did he see Beatrix and her unit do the same.
“Charge!!!” he roared, and the knights of Alexandria needed no further introduction. Steiner and Beatrix slammed into the two sides of the army, effectively trapping it into a pincer attack as swords and shields and spears and axes and maces crashed and clanged and smashed and broke and bled and sliced and cut and bashed; bloody chaos.
Yet still the forces fought back. The leader managed to pull away from the vicious fracas, taking a small skeleton force with him as he charged through the castle doors. Steiner and Beatrix each let out a bloody expletive, but were far too immersed in the main battle to think about other matters. This new force would have to be dealt with by other means.
“Hey!! Who are you!?” The leader of the Golems, and ordinary-looking human man, merely smiled triumphantly as he saw the boy.
“Nobody of concern, child,” he answered, his voice as calm and cool as spring. Zidane cursed and lurched forward, his Ultimate Weapon in his hand.
“Yeah, well you’re about to become nobody in a few seconds!!” The leader merely kept his smile in response, and coolly guided his forces forward. Zidane, swearing that the unknown man “had asked for it”, charged forward with his weapon and cleaved the first Golem he saw in two. He cursed violently as they continued marching, and was soon busy fighting more. The Knights of Pluto rallied behind him, and soon they too joined the massacre.
Even with this new threat, the leader managed to escape the battle and push forward. With the entire Alexandrian army now behind him, the enigmatic man could continue his pursuit in leisure. Zidane merely cursed as he slipped away into the castle…
Ever the gentleman, the mysterious yet lethal leader of the Golem army knocked on the Queen’s throne room door. He did not expect to receive any reply, though, so when his manners failed, he simply broke the door down with a powerful kick. To his delight, the Queen of the land was indeed hiding out here, but she was protected by a rather bloated and somewhat disgusting creature.
“Who you?” demanded the fat thing. The man pursed his lips in a frown.
“I could very well ask the same thing,” he stated. The creature bounced on its stubby feet and shook its head. A long, reddened tongue wiggled from its mouth like a worm on a hook.
“I Quina!” boomed the monster. “I Garnet’s personal cook! I her bodyguard too, so you no touch her!”
“Indeed,” muttered the mysterious man. Spying Garnet in the room with a lethal Tiger Racket in her hands, he bowed gracefully and introduced himself.
“My dear lady Garnet,” he sang, “I am a man whom nobody knows, nor would they remember me even if they were told. Let me just introduce myself as a man known only as The Foe.”
“Yes…” The man smiled a haunting smile, and stood to his full height. Quina grunted and pointed a fork in the man’s direction.
“I no care who you are!” s/he stated. “You not welcome in lady’s room! Leave now or I cook you up!”
“Cook? Oh dear, that does not sound very civil.”
“Who are you… really?” demanded Garnet. “Why have you come to Alexandria? Why are you invading us?” The Foe smiled at her, and saluted merrily.
“That’s for me to know and for you to never find out.” He grinned, and without warning, pulled a vicious-looking sword out of his hilt. The monster blade looked more like the jaws of a shark than a sword, and perhaps it was. The jagged teeth on it looked sharp enough to cut through stone.
“Be careful, Quina!!” shouted the ruler of the kingdom. The gluttonous Qu merely laughed.
“Ha, he no challenge! I beat him like egg!” With a shout, Quina bounced forward and engaged The Foe in a vicious duel……
An unknown period of time passed.
Steiner weakly advanced, barely strong enough to even carry his sword, let alone swing it. The armor he wore felt like it was made out of granite, and every footstep was like lifting a couch up. His breath came out in great heaving gasps, and almost all of his armor was either dented or encrusted with dust. He was just barely able to walk over to Beatrix, who believe it or not, looked even worse than he did.
“We… We defeated them…” He wheezed one more time, and fell to the soil on his knees. Beatrix, who was lying flat on the ground in weak rapture, merely smiled.
“You… were great, Steiner…” He sighed, far too weak to become flushed or even proud. Instead, Steiner merely smiled and managed a thumbs-up. Beatrix moaned softly, and tried to get up, but her muscles failed her. She let out a curse as she realized that she was unable to move.
“Steiner?” she whispered. “Get a mage or a medic for me… please? I… can’t seem to move.”
“I… would… if I could…” muttered the knight. He too fell to the ground, and laid on his back as he collapsed. Both knights shared a weak chuckle before passing out from exhaustion.
“Ha! No sweat!” Zidane smiled arrogantly, beating on his chest as the very last Golem crumbled to pieces. To be sure, his own body was tenderized like so much sirloin, and a few spots here and there were covered in red. But the bright Genome was standing at least, and one of the Pluto Knights was up with him.
“Sir Zidane!” called the knight, Dojebon. “We should hurry over to the Queen’s room! I have a feeling that she needs help!”
“Oh, that’s right!” exclaimed the kid. “That strange guy went over in that direction! Hey, come on!” And with that, the two fighters rushed off towards the castle, nothing save the Queen’s safety in their minds…
With a shriek, Garnet covered her eyes as The Foe dove forward, nearly skewering Quina in the process. The fat Qu bounced aside and whacked the man with his fork like he was a baseball. Blood and spittle flew in several directions as the blunt part of the fork struck him, but other than a noticeable bruise on his head, The Foe remained unharmed.
“You wretch,” he spat wickedly. “You will pay for that!” Quina growled, daring the man to make good on his threats. The Foe stood and charged again, swiping at Quina with his jagged sword. One single slice would have carved the Qu up like so much duck during holidays.
Quina avoided getting shredded, though apron s/he wore suffered a blow. Enraged over the loss of the precious uniform, the Qu leaped forward and bashed the man with a gigantic fork. But The Foe was quick to react this time, and before Quina could take another step, he jammed the very tip of the blade in the cook’s belly.
“QUINA!!!!!!!!!” Garnet screamed at the very top of her lungs as the wicked man pierced her friend, and Quina slowly collapsed on the floor.
“Ah, no worry-worry,” s/he mumbled. “Is not bad. Quina feel worse when fight Kuja!” Garnet growled at the man, who merely smiled back as he displayed his fearsome weapon.
“Let me guess,” he whispered. “I’m going to pay for this, am I right?”
“Just shut up and fight!” spewed the Queen, an animalistic look to her pretty face. This took The Foe by surprise for a second--only for a second, though. He snarled, and charged forth with his blade. Garnet raised her Tiger Racket and blocked the blow, and gave the man a kick in the crotch for Quina.
“And that’s just the start!” she roared, glaring at him icily. As The Foe winced in pain, she brought her Racket back and used the added speed to swing it with a force unknown to stronger women. The rod bashed against The Foe’s head, sending him to the floor in pain. Garnet mercilessly jumped after him, beating his body again and again with her racket.
“You pig!” she screamed, tenderizing the man like so much pork. “Animal! Barbarian! Illegitimate son of a worthless mother! Spineless, no-good, shifty, wicked, malevolent, belligerent, evil, nasty, putrid…” A long string of even nastier words followed this, some so vile they would have given Zidane nightmares.
Speaking of which, the injured Genome and Dojebon rushed into the Queen’s room just in time to witness her go berserk on The Foe. After nearly vomiting from the sheer shock of his Queen lashing out in a rage, Dojebon meekly approached the enraged woman, his hands held out in front of him.
“Uh, highness?” he said. Garnet roared like a tiger and turned to face her knight. Suddenly, as she saw Dojebon and the man she loved standing there, tears came to her eyes and the fiery emotion that had possessed her was gone. Quivering, she fell to her knees, the Tiger Racket stained with red goo.
“Oh, man!” grunted Zidane, himself feeling sick over the spectacle. “I never thought you had it in you!” Garnet shuddered, and raised her head just enough to look at him. In the midst of her tears, a choking laugh came out.
“And that’s what I’ll do to you,” she sobbed, “if you ever sneak up on me again!” He laughed merrily, and bent down to hold the crying Queen in his arms.
“Guh…” A gurgling sound came from the floor, and Garnet’s face brightened as a voice rose up from Quina’s unresponsive form.
“Guh… I so hungry…… Could use some piecea…”
One day had passed since.
Queen Garnet let out a gusty sigh of relief as she slumped on her bed. Exhausted beyond definition, the woman could only breathe as she laid on her soft bed. With weak hands, she managed to disrobe somewhat and snuggle up in the soft mattress. A welcome pillow supported her head, and she let out a sigh as she began to recall the events of the past few days……
One day passed.
Frowning with pride, Steiner stood atop the stairs, watching over the doors that led to their quarters. He took a deep breath, and bellowed out a cry.
“Pluto Knights!! ASSEMBLE!!!”
“Not again!” groaned the rusty one. He glared at the unopened door, and marched down the stairs to see what was the matter. Suddenly, the oaken portal opened, and eight fully-armed knights stormed out, nearly flattening their leader in the process.
“Oh! Sir! We didn’t see you there, sir!” barked Blutzen. Steiner moaned and rubbed his head.
“I would not have been injured if you clowns came when I called!” he roared.
“But sir! Kohel lost his socks! It took us awhile to find them…”
“LOST HIS SOCKS?!?!?” screamed Steiner. “Why of all the ignorant, irresponsible, and incompetent things to do! Ha! It’s a miracle you all can even wear armor, much less be Pluto knights!” The eight “warriors” moaned and sighed out an apology.
“I’m SO sorry!” whined Kohel. “I’ll keep them on my feet forever so they’ll never get lost again!”
“Ugh, no thanks,” sneered Weimar, crinkling his nose. Steiner coughed, and with a strange amount of civility, gained the attention of his knights.
“Enough tomfoolery!” he grunted. “At least the eight of you are present today! Perhaps you should be commended, but we have more important matters to worry over!”
“Yes, sir!” barked Mullenkedheim. “Ready to hear the briefing, sir!”
“Right!” Steiner cleared his throat, and pacing around like an old army general, he briefed his troops on the upcoming battle. “Ahem! In these past few days, our beloved kingdom of Alexandria has come under attack twice from enemies foreign to our shores. I, for one, am disgusted that we even suffered one attack, let alone two. Our proud kingdom should be better defended than that!”
“Sir! We’re sorry, sir!” chanted a reply.
“Hm, yes, well, it’s all in the past,” coughed their Captain. “But anyway, we have won a decisive victory over our foes, but the fight does not end there! Do any of you clods know why I have summoned you here?”
“Sir! No we don’t, sir!”
“I thought as much,” grunted Steiner softly. He cleared his throat and continued. “Well, we the Pluto Knights have been asked by our liege, Queen Garnet of Alexandria, to go out into the world and investigate why our fair kingdom has been attacked. We are to go to every village, unravel every clue, overturn any rock, and ask any person about the invading force. Once I believe we have suitable information, we are to report our findings to the Queen! This investigation may take a while, so wrap up any businesses you may have here before traveling! We meet here, tomorrow at dawn!”
“Sir, yes sir!” Steiner nodded his head proudly, and dismissed the knights for the day. He sighed and questioned why he, of all people, had been chosen to baby-sit such a mismatched group of soldiers. It was true that they sometimes pulled through for him, but more often than not, they were lazy or else off on their own world.
“Intolerable…” muttered Steiner to himself. He sighed, and marched away to attend to his own business.
Slowly but surely, life in Alexandria was returning to normal. Construction efforts moved quickly, and the entire kingdom was sparkling within days. Despite the back-to-back invasions, there had been very few casualties, which meant less funerals for the Queen to attend. Of course, many soldiers were awarded for their bravery.
And among all those praised, Zidane was “rewarded” the best…
It would normally be considered sacrilege and scandalous, but anyone who had known them for a long time (like Steiner) would understand the true depth and meaning of the relationship. Here she was, Queen of all of Alexandria, and she was taking care of a common thief. Of course, this thief was anything but common--the tail alone proved it.
Garnet smiled as she tended to the wounds of her love, but Zidane smiled even more. He considered himself the luckiest guy in the world, but who wouldn’t feel fortunate if they saw a pretty young girl taking care of their wounds? Garnet too felt happy, and slightly empowered by the arrangement. On several occasions, she would gently poke or pinch at his wounds, reminding him that she had the upper hand and he did not. Zidane, of course, would not have it any other way.
“Hey, don’t you think it’s time for my sponge bath?” He grinned, but Garnet regarded him with measured impatience. However, she was a crafty girl, and knew just how to manipulate situations like this.
“Actually, I do!” she replied. Zidane coughed and sat out of bed, ignoring the bruises he had received while defending the kingdom. Garnet smiled and began to fill a basin full of water, and poor Zidane perspired like mad as he imagined the Queen giving him a personal bath. It was every man’s dream to have a gorgeous girl like Garnet bathe them, but only he was lucky enough to live it.
He smiled an unusually big and goofy smile as Garnet threw a sponge into the water, but the smile faded as she dumped the contents of the basin onto his injured body. With a gigantic splash, Zidane quickly turned from dry to soaking, and Garnet’s smile transformed into a laugh. He cringed, shivering slightly as the water soaked himself and his clothes. The Queen chuckled, and gave him a look that almost suggested apology.
“No more crass remarks, okay?” she sang. Zidane mumbled, but secretly enjoyed having so much attention poured on him (no pun intended). Garnet chuckled at his sullen disposition, and ruffled his hair as she gently placed a kiss on his nose.
“Pluto Knights! ASSEMBLE!!!” And as she expected, nobody came. “Confound it!!! Where are they now?!” The lady couldn’t help but smile as Steiner cursed, and dutifully walked over to the door that led to their quarters. She opened it up, finding several knights engaged in a rousing poker game. With a moan, she rallied them herself.
“Pluto Knights! Do you not hear your Captain?!” The knights jumped out of their skin as she barked, and quickly hurried to assemble outside in the hall. Beatrix frowned, likening their scrambling efforts to a flock of chickens--though this was somewhat less chaotic.
Finally, after a few minutes of running around, the knights stormed out of the room and into the hall. They saluted Beatrix and their Captain, but poor Steiner couldn’t help but groan.
“Will you guys ever come when I call?” he moaned. The soldiers blanched and tried giving excuses, but neither knight would hear it. Each and every one of them were promised a punishment unless they proved themselves worthy in the investigation report. This certainly made things grimmer, but it also helped to raise their spirits.
“All right!” barked Steiner. “Roll call! Captain Steiner, Pluto Knight I!”
“Blutzen, Pluto Knight II!”
“Kohel, Pluto Knight III!”
“Laudo, Pluto Knight IV!”
“Dojebon, Pluto Knight V!”
“Breireicht, Pluto Knight VI!”
“Weimar, Pluto Knight VII!”
“Haagen, Pluto Knight VIII!”
“Mullenkedheim, Pluto Knight IX!”
“Good, everyone’s here!” Steiner actually let out a proud smile, and marched down the stairs to rally his troops. He saluted Beatrix, who copied the move perfectly.
“May you find success, Captain Steiner!” she exclaimed. “And may you return home quickly and safely!”
“And may the kingdom be at peace during our absence!” echoed Steiner. He gave a shout, and pointed his finger at the door that led outside. “CHARGE!!!” The Knights obeyed zealously, and Beatrix couldn’t help but smile as she saw them scurry away.
“Oh, I will miss him,” she sighed once they left. Shrugging, she stepped outside into the courtyards and began to do her rounds. With the Pluto Knights gone, there would be fewer people patrolling the area, so it was left up to Beatrix to make sure that the kingdom was safe.
Breathe. That’s all I can really do for now. Except crawl, maybe. I can’t stand up, but can anybody really blame me? I probably will never be able to walk again, unless I get some medical attention in the next day or so. My legs are completely destroyed--my whole body feels like it is on fire. At one point, it was.
Breathe. And crawl. I’m defenseless now, but can anybody really blame me? After what I have been through, most people would be shocked to find me still breathing, let alone crawling on the ground as such… I’m surprised I even kept my sanity all this time… No normal living creature would keep hold of their mind after what I have seen and done. Does that make me special? Or just stubborn?
Breathe. Claw. The ground receives scars as my fingers dig into it. My hands become filthy as they rake across the ground, but they are the only thing that keeps me moving. I don’t even know why I’m bothering, except that, if by some laughable chance I make it, perhaps I can warn them… before it is… too late…
Breathe. Claw. And please, don’t pass out.
General Beatrix of Alexandria took in a deep breath. Even though she knew that she would not need her weapon, she kept it tucked inside her sheath anyway. Alexandria was now at peace again, for the moment, and with Steiner and his knights away, it was up to the General to make sure that that peace remained.
She stepped outside of her room and decided to investigate the castle first. The main hall seemed fine, and the kitchen was lively though safe. Quina, who had fully recovered, invited the General to stay for a snack. Despite the groaning that came from her tummy, Beatrix declined, even as Quina offered her a slice of piecea.
Moving away from the kitchen and towards the library, Beatrix poked her head inside and found nothing more than the usual group of scholars. It was foolishness to think that any beasts would be lurking around the library, and if there had been, they would have been too stupid to bother with. Why settle for shelves of books when the Queen rested high above?
Beatrix scanned through the dungeons and sneered in disgust as several cellmates whistled and hollered at her. Most were more hideous than a monster, and almost all of them deserved the punishment they were experiencing. Beatrix found no danger here (really she didn’t), and moved on to more suitable grounds--like the royal sewers.
Sewers aside, Beatrix found nothing of immediate concern within castle walls. There had been one false alarm, though. Hearing her majesty screaming, Beatrix rushed upstairs with her sword drawn, expecting an attacker or worse. She moaned in disappointment when she discovered that the “attacker” had been Zidane, and he had been chasing the squealing Queen all around. Beatrix decided that it was better to not chastise the boy for his actions, and left to resume her rounds.
Secretly, though, she wished there was somebody out there who would chase her…
Losing sight, can’t breathe, soiling myself on the soot and mud beneath me. Breathe, claw, crawl, fight… Huuuuhhhh?? I cannot go on, must proceed, do it for the people who died. The many, many, many, many people who died… Many-many… so many… streets flooded with blood and maybe a slight droplet of rain. Nasty weather.
Crawling across the ground. Grass sure feels sweet in my grasp, but I can’t eat it. Starving to death. Wish I could eat grass. Found a foolish cricket for dinner, ate a locust. They’re not so bad. An ant bit me and I giggled.
Must go on. Don’t know why. Losing sanity. Haven’t eaten in years. Seems that way. Throat’s dry; when was the last time I had something to drink? Last week? Maybe. Dirt feels dirty. Slippery, the weather’s being nasty again. Rain mixes in with me own blood. I’m so hungry I could eat a rock.
Blind. Keep clawing, or else you will die. Maybe that not so bad, death… I’d be free. Me free. I keep going on, don’t know why. Slipping, physically and mentally. Emotionally, I’m already six feet under--no, worse, I’ve been cremated. Scatter my emotional ashes across the sea and let the whales eat it up. I will still claw at the ground like a dog. I will still burn my knees in a crawl. I will still cry and laugh at the same time, and I will still breathe.
Don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore. Losing. I’m… losing. Ha!
Stepping to the outer courtyard, Beatrix greeted the guards and headed for the left tower first. Nothing. Now the right tower. Also nothing. How bland, noted the knight. This land can certainly become boring when there are no wars or strife. But I don’t want to think about that. It is during peace where we prosper and love the best. ……Why did I just think about love? I’m lonely.
Still lost in her thoughts, Beatrix boarded the boat for Alexandria’s town section, and saluted the boatswain. Carefully she sat down, resting Save the Queen against her soldier. She calmly closed her eye and listened to the quiet rippling of the waves. The smell of the moat, she noted, was exceptionally delicious today.
Alexandria Town was as peaceful as things got. With perhaps the exception of a few thieves and bandits that were easily dealt with, Beatrix found no trouble or strife in the town. People were out enjoying the day, walking pets, playing cards, running around, and basically living life as it was meant to be. Despite her boredom, Beatrix couldn’t help but smile.
Taking a brief rest underneath the statue of Madeline, Beatrix let out a gusty sigh. She began recalling the “good old days”, when she would defend Brahne and all who opposed her. Of course, those days had also been filled with darkness, for Beatrix had often killed many innocent people because they supposedly opposed the Queen. That, she noted, had not been her finest hour.
The screaming she heard was just the local children playing tag. If Beatrix had not been brought up in such a strict regiment, she would have retired for the day and joined them, though she knew it would have made her look foolish. Still, she yearned for a vacation, but with the recent attacks, she knew it was not only preposterous but impossible. Duty, she noted, was her middle name (actually, for what it was worth, it was Francine).
Stepping away from the statue of the hero, Beatrix decided to do a cursory check of the outside area. There would often be a stray monster or three that had wandered into the area, and even though some beasts could be handled by the weakest of the Pluto Knights, Beatrix was obligated to check.
I fell, down a sloping ravine, and got dust and dirt and soil on my clothes. My body became riddled with injuries, but all I did was smile as I tumbled. I think I sang, too. I merely welcomed the punishment, happily staring up at the ground (whenever I could) as I tossed into the valley.
With a dusty THUMP, I fell onto the floor and did not move for a very long time. I was wide awake, though--I knew this because I was laughing and crying as I laid there. My sanity was almost gone, and so was my life, and all I could do was laugh and cry and breathe.
I actually stood up despite my shredded legs, and fell back down to the muddy ground in a dead heap. Sighing, I crawled on the ground like a worm, feeling the juicy soil squish beneath my body as I wriggled across it. Mud felt deliciously good in my fingers, and I was so hungry I almost stuffed the dirt into my mouth. Food… what did food taste like again?? I did not know.
Continue. Don’t pass out. Keep focus. Rubbish! Lose yourself! Close your eyes and greet the evening sky, and the eternal rain that tickles your face. Don’t concern yourself with the scavengers surrounding you. They will put you out of your misery--eventually. It will hurt at first, this thing called death, it will hurt because they are going to eat you even as you live. But if you tilt your head back and expose your throat, they will rip it out and you’ll be dead in a snap.
Whatever you do, don’t fight them. You’ve fought your very soul out of your own body. There is no way in Heaven or Hades that you can beat them back. Don’t even try. Tilt your head back and enjoy the blissful gray clouds above you. They’re so beautiful, like heavenly mines of silver and tin. Don’t fight. Don’t reach for your weapon. Don’t live. Don’t listen to me, please--you have to warn them. One plus one is two, two plus two is four…
The return trip to the castle was as uneventful as the departure. Beatrix did, however, encounter most of the Vivis, who were swapping stories at the moment. She engaged them in a tale of her own for a brief time, but left quickly after the group disbanded. Waving good-bye to the adorable clones, she sighed and decided to have a late lunch. After eating, she would return to the castle and report to the Queen, then maybe she could rest.
Lunch was bland and cold and altogether tasteless, though Atma had told her that if anything lacked flavor it couldn’t taste bad. Beatrix sighed upon recalling her old master’s name, and lost herself in a thought as she held her sandwich. Master Atma… where are you right now? You left so suddenly, you vanished without a trace… but then again, you were always like that. Wherever you are, dear man, I miss you.
Smiling just barely, Beatrix finished her sandwich, downed her drink, and left the atrium without a word. As usual, Alexandria was bustling with activity in the middle of the day, and with the exception of the rare mugger, there was nothing amiss in the peaceful town. Beatrix moaned as she realized that her rounds would reveal nothing, and made it back to the castle with only peace to report.
Slipping, sliding, wheezing, dying… I can’t believe I killed so many. I thought I had given my all back there. I thought I had fought my soul out, I thought I had fought until my eyes became encrusted with sweat and blood, and my nose clogged with stink, and my ears deaf from the screaming. My hands went numb, and my feet froze.
I’d like an explanation on how I killed off those scavengers, but I shall never receive one. Nobody knows what I did and I think I may forget the experience. I just hope I never forget how I arrived in this position. Mind’s slipping like sand through a sifter. Can’t think straight; soon won’t be able to think at all. Smiling.
Claw. I can no longer feel the ground beneath me. Blood. Mine or theirs? A mixture. A divine, funny mixture. Perhaps I can eat grass after all. I’m so hungry I would eat my own clothes if I could. I would gorge myself on the cloth protecting me, and crawl towards my goal naked and plump.
I must look like I had just trudged through Hell, and in a masochistic rave gone back for more. I think I did. Hell Number One was fighting back there, in my home. THAT was hard. I might have died then, and maybe my body doesn’t know it yet. Hell Number Two is this insane journey I’m taking. Where am I going again? I’ll know if I get there. Ha, if! Hungry. Dead. Breathe. Claw. I think I see it.
No, it’s night. Keep crawling, though. I may actually make it. Please kill me.
Beatrix had a dreamless sleep and woke up before the sun. Smelling slightly from her romp, the lady stepped into her bathroom and disrobed. She even removed her eye patch, something that she had only done once before in her entire life (outside of bathing). Smiling just faintly, Beatrix examined her naked body in the mirror and nodded in approval. Very few women had this kind of figure, and even fewer used it well.
Rubbing her right eye, Beatrix shut her left so the blurriness would come back in this unused one. Nobody, not even the Queen herself, knew the secret behind that patch of hers. Well, there was Master Atma, but he certainly wasn’t telling anyone. Finally, after significant rubbing, her right eye lost its blurry vision and resumed full activity. Rarely did Beatrix ever see the world through both her eyes.
The shower was nice and long, mostly because the knight thought she deserved something special for her “pains” yesterday. After drying herself and dressing, she took a deep breath and prepared for her rounds again. Beloved Save the Queen soon found its way back into its sheath.
Beatrix stepped out of her room and began by looking through the great hall and the queen’s room. A shriek of delight and a mad cackle of glee told her that all would be peaceful and right that day…
Claw. Claw. Left hand. Right hand. Raise the knee. Push. Scrape it. It’s filthy and bleeding--TERRIBLE!! …Don’t give up, don’t die--SO MUCH BLOOD!! …Keep living, keep breathing--KILLED US ALL!! …Do I even want to go on?--KEPT COMING!! I have…… friends… here--ARMIES OF DOOM! …Friends who… may benefit… from my… dying--KILLED US ALL!! …My dying words… SAVE US, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA… Breathe. Claw. Live. Die.
One… final… effort… H… E… L… P… My hand fell into something wet, and I sang a song I had learned as a toddler before the ink covered my eyes. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…
Sighing, Beatrix emptily wandered outside of the castle. Her vague eyes briefly scanned over the area, far too lazy to even bother looking for trouble. The poor knight was both tireless and utterly exhausted at the same time. She wanted some action, or at least some break from the boredom, but she was so tired she barely moved at all. Contradicting herself, Beatrix prayed for a bed and a battle.
Sighing, she skipped looking over the courtyards and moved onto the moat. The faster she walked through Alexandria, the faster she could make a report and go back to bed. She knew that she should have scorned herself for such thoughts, but nothing was happening! Nothing was going on! There were no crises, no emergencies, nobody screaming for help… To be frank, there was no use for her sword nor her services…
Absently stepping off of the boat, Beatrix ambled into town like a zombie. At first she didn’t notice the body strewn on the pavement, though a brief glance over to her left immediately brought it to her attention. With a scream, Beatrix rushed towards the fallen figure, hoping against hope that A) It was alive, and B) It was not who she thought it was. The figure’s pale hand was drooping in the moat, and dragonflies were perched on it. Shooing them away, Beatrix rolled the body over and shrieked as she recognized the face.
“Oh dear Lord!” she screamed. “Freya!!!”
The patient sat there in the emotionless light, just staring at the wall in front of her. She had been that way ever since she was healthy enough to sit up--in other words, for one whole entire day.
Beatrix had done well by bringing the unresponsive Freya inside the castle. Barking orders left and right, she called in the fastest and most skilled mages and doctors. Though confused, the help nevertheless came once they saw the injured woman, and through some great fanatical miracle they were able to pull her from the brink of death. Freya’s injuries were horrible at least; at the worst, they had been ghastly.
According to the doctor’s report, no living being should have received the wounds she had and then lived long enough to crawl to Alexandria--not even Freya. No medical explanation could have shrugged it off, so the only conclusion drawn was that the Burmecian’s will to live must have gotten her that far.
Freya thankfully kept unconscious all throughout the operations. Her body had been severely burned by fires and scarred by razors. Multiple bumps and bruises indicated that, aside from the Herculean journey she had underwent, she must have been treated like a heavy bag. Her fur (the parts that weren’t burned, that is) was matted from sweat and absolutely drenched in blood--most of it belonging to her.
Yes, Freya had suffered greatly, and the journey from wherever she got the wounds to Alexandria must have been excruciating, to say the least. Yet somehow she had managed to drag her way there and carve the letters “H-E-L-P” into the muddy banks of the moat. Beatrix was hailed as a hero for responding so quickly, and because of her efforts and the constant work of medics and healers, Freya was able to pull through.
But the very moment she could sit up, all she did was sit and stare at the wall in a catatonic state. At first this action was dismissed, but after ignoring lunch and dinner, doctors were becoming concerned. Freya kept her vacant stare all throughout the night; not once did she ever move, not even to bat at the occasional fly. Even her tail, normally a constantly-moving appendage, stayed completely and utterly still. She responded to nothing, not even food, and continued to stay in her frozen state for a whole day.
Not knowing what the problem was, and wanting to help out as much as possible, Freya’s closest friends were gathered together to see if they could snap some sense into her. Quina came in first and joked around, but even when s/he tripped and fell on a hopping frog, there was no response. Not even the adorable Vivi clones were able to wake her out of her trance.
Garnet made no progress at all, even as she pleaded and begged for Freya to tell her what had happened. The only response she got was silence, and perhaps a blink of the woman’s eye. But not even the Queen of Alexandria could catch Freya’s attention, so all other eyes turned towards Zidane. Cocky and confident that his charms “could snag any pretty lady”, Zidane marched into the room with a smile on his face.
“What’s up, pretty lady?” he greeted. Freya continued staring ahead at the wall. She had not moved ever since yesterday, not even to bat her eyes. Zidane continued to smile and leaped up on the bed next to her.
“So,” he said, sneaking his arm around his shoulder (she hated it when he did that), “how have you been?” Silence. “That good, huh? Say, uh, Freya? I couldn’t help but notice your rather… dramatic entrance yesterday. Now I know that the trip between Burmecia and Alexandria, or wherever you came from, is a tough journey. I know I sure had a hard time going between the places! But come on! Why did you look all beaten up, huh? And why did you spell out ‘help’ in the mud? Is there something wrong?”
Dead silence; empty stare. Freya resembled a ghost of her former self, staring at that wall, but she made no movement, not even as Zidane rudely snapped his fingers in front of her face.
“I’m only trying to help,” he sniffed. “Come on! Snap out of it already! Please, Freya? Please?” Again, nothing. Zidane sighed and rested his head on her shoulder. Freya would only allow Sir Fratley to do that, no exceptions. Under any normal circumstances, Zidane would have been turned into chopped liver.
The dragoon didn’t even breathe.
Zidane swallowed and slowly backed away from his friend. She had never been like this: not when her people were slaughtered in Burmecia, not when Cleyra was obliterated, not when Fratley supposedly died (or came back an amnesiac, for that matter), not even when Kuja went on his multiple rampages. Sure, she had her depressed and despondent moments, but this…… This went beyond anything he had ever seen.
Sighing, Zidane took Freya’s furry hand into his own, and patted it gently.
“Hey, if you ever feel like talking again, you know who to talk to, all right?” No response. He sighed and leaped off the table, and left the room where she was paralyzed in.
“No go,” he said as he left. The small assortment of friends moaned in disappointment.
“Now what we do?” asked Quina. “She never like this before!”
“Yeah…” said a Vivi. “It’s like her soul was removed from her body or something…”
“U-um, maybe…” stuttered another. “Uh, m-maybe we should leave her alone…”
“No, there is still one more person she hasn’t spoken with.” Everyone turned around, seeing Freya’s savior step into the room.
“But General Beatrix, I don’t think Lady Freya considers you a friend,” said Garnet. Beatrix shrugged and pushed the hair out of her eye.
“Right about now, that doesn’t matter,” she replied. “If my appearance will snap her out of things, then so be it.” And without another word from either party, Beatrix stepped into the room and shut the door behind her.
“Hello, Freya.” Beatrix spoke gently and softly, and slowly approached the catatonic dragoon. Sighing somewhat, Beatrix examined her one-time enemy. Freya certainly looked the same since the last time she saw her. She still had that light-gray fur covering her mousy body, and she still had that silvery hair covering her emerald eyes. There was the omnipresent rosy-red vest of a dragoon over her body, and the large pointy hat covering her upper face and head.
Beatrix grimly noticed that Freya’s Dragon’s Whisker spear was leaning against the wall. It had arrived strapped onto Freya’s back, and even though it was a sacred weapon, blood had been caked on the tip of it. She swallowed as several faded stains remained on the tip.
Sighing, Beatrix pulled up a chair and sat across from Freya. The knight stared into Freya’s partially-hidden eyes with as much kindness as she could. The two warriors were usually not the best of friends, having fought each other thrice before, so it was understandable that some enmity remained between them.
“Freya,” said Beatrix softly. She swallowed and cleared her throat. “Is… is there anything I can do? Anything I can do… for you? Is there any way I can get you to snap out of this vacant trance? Is there any way you can tell me why you came here all bruised and battered? Is there any way you can tell me why somebody or something needs ‘help’?” A disturbing silence followed. Beatrix sighed, hanging her head just enough so that her hair fell.
“Freya, I want to protect this kingdom from anything and everything. If you came to Alexandria because of something dangerous, then I want to know what it is. Please, let me help you out… What is the problem?” Beatrix gently whispered, staring into Freya’s grassy-green eyes. The other knight merely blinked, but did nothing else. Beatrix sighed, and was just about to give up on the situation.
“Huh?” Beatrix jerked backwards, the sudden creakiness of the voice startling her. The accent was Burmecian, and since there were only two individuals in the room, she only assumed that Freya was finally ready to talk.
“What about me?” asked the General. Freya’s eyes twitched, the green orbs bouncing around madly. Slowly, her left hand began to curl up in a fist.
“It’s all your fault.”
“Huh?” Beatrix expressed genuine puzzlement, and made a face to go along with her emotion. “What do you--”
“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!!!!” Freya suddenly became violently animated, leaping off of her bed and grabbing her spear. Beatrix could not even blink as the woman took the weapon and stormed after the knight. The mighty Whisker sliced through the air, and would have killed Beatrix instantly if the knight didn’t have her head (or sword) with her. A ferocious clanging sound shattered the silence, and Freya screamed out in a rage as her weapon met Save the Queen. A maniacal fire burst forth in her eyes, and she screamed again.
“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!!” The weapon in her hand lunged again, just barely nicking Beatrix’s shoulder. The tiniest of scars came forth as the weapon missed, but Freya’s sudden outburst raved forward into an uncontrollable rage. Again and again the dragoon attacked Beatrix, screaming louder than the most powerful sirens in the world.
Beatrix blocked the spear blow for blow, but she found herself being beaten back as Freya continued her vicious assault. Again and again, the spear came at her, narrowly missing a kill by centimeters. Each blow forced Beatrix back, and the knight began to grow weak from such a powerful and fanatic attack. Never before had she ever felt such fury, or such intensity, even from the most challenging of opponents.
“IT’S ALL… YOUR… FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!!” Freya screamed so loud that the very walls crumbled, but Beatrix could only wince as the scorching accusations pierced her ears. Freya continued to hack away at the knight, a thousand times more demented or powerful than any berserker.
Finally Freya grinned a sadistic smile and plunger her weapon forward, first smacking Beatrix with the pole end, then plunging the tip into her side. It dug in joyfully, cutting cloth and flesh alike. Beatrix choked and gagged as the injury ate at her side, and staggered in pain as fresh blood spouted out of her like water from a hose.
The maniacal Freya stood there, wheezing and panting in a sickening glee. Her teeth were bared and her lips snarled, and a crazed look was permanently etched on her face. She made the most horrible sound when she breathed, something far worse than the screech of a cat during mating season. Beatrix merely groaned, completely helpless against this mad woman…
But just as soon as it started, Freya’s madness broke, and her spirits went with it. Tears came to her eyes and fell down her furry face, and a clanging sound broke the brief silence as she dropped her spear. Freya quivered, a helpless squeal coming from her mouth as she collapsed on the floor.
“No,” she wailed, her voice so weak and frightened that it scared Beatrix. “No,” she repeated, “it is my fault. It is all… my fault…” And with that, the strong Burmecian finally caved, and fell to the floor in a whimpering heap. Curling up into a helpless, hopeless little ball, she continued to whisper: “It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault……”
Gingerly, Beatrix touched the bandages that covered her injury. Were it not for the door being broken down by her friends, she might have lost much more than blood that day. Of course, once her friends came to the rescue, a million and two questions were asked, but neither warrior was in suitable shape to reply. Placing their queries aside, Zidane and Quina lifted Beatrix, and the Vivis took Freya; Garnet concentrated on healing her bodyguard first and foremost.
All of that had taken place four hours ago. By this time, Beatrix’s wound had healed considerably, although the emotional and mental scars could take a little longer. She hummed to herself and touched the wound again, and started to wonder what was going on. A few seconds passed, and one of the Vivis entered her room.
“U-umm, Miss Beatrix?”
“Yes?” The copy of Vivi paused and adjusted his hat.
“U-umm, Dagger--I mean, Garnet says that you can come in now. Freya’s ready to talk.”
“Thank you,” sighed the General. The Vivi clone nodded his head, and waddled out of the room silently. Groaning from her injury, Beatrix managed to stand up and limp out of her room. Freya had been placed next door.
Silently, the General limped into the room, her hand still clutching her side. Inside the room was Zidane, who had taken care of Freya, and Garnet, who had been talking with her. Quina was also there, serving up a steaming pile of soup which Freya had not touched yet. S/he tenaciously remained inside, though, insisting that “soup cures what magic cannot!”.
“Hello,” sighed Beatrix, giving a faint wave. Only Zidane smiled as she arrived.
“Hey, you’re looking well!” Beatrix smiled lightly, and limped her way inside; Freya still seemed to cling onto parts of her vacant state, even though she was somewhat more animated now.
“I leave soup here,” said Quina, wisely deciding to let the four of them remain in the room. Sure enough, s/he put the steaming bowl on the table and marched outside. Few people regarded the absence; all eyes were trained on either Freya or Beatrix.
“Uh……” Beatrix swallowed, completely lost as to what she should say. Freya moved just slightly, though not by much.
“I…… have much to answer for,” she sighed. Beatrix merely shook her head.
“I’m not going to force you to talk if you--”
“No,” interrupted the dragoon. She sighed sadly, and turned her head towards the knight. Beatrix almost cried as she saw the completely empty look on Freya’s face. Perhaps Vivi was right. Perhaps her soul had been taken out of her body. The ghastly look that Freya had on her face would have made even Amarant uncomfortable.
“I…… have much to answer for,” repeated Freya softly, her voice so frail it would have broken from a single touch. The dragoon sighed, and gingerly turned towards Beatrix. “I cannot hope for your forgiveness,” she said sadly, “for even though I had lost my mind briefly, my actions were inexcusable. …If you feel the need to execute me after I explain myself, then I shall not stop you.”
“No, it’s okay,” said Garnet gently. She touched Freya’s shoulder, and Zidane was kneading her hand. The Burmecian mumbled something sadly, but continued her speech.
“I suppose that everyone is wondering why I arrived here on the brink of death,” she began. “Well… I… really do not wish to say it, but…… the future of Alexandria may be at stake. I… will tell you… why I came, and why I was so close to…” With a sigh, she paused, and hung her head in shame. The large hat that adorned her head came off, and her silky-silvery hair fell down freely.
“A short while ago, Burmecia was attacked,” she began, her voice just barely on the edge of tears. “These enemies… could not have chosen a worse time to invade. …As you are aware, the recent battle with Kuja has inflicted great casualties on the people of my home. I…… truly am sorry for blaming General Beatrix for all this…”
“No, I willingly take responsibility,” stated the General. “If I had not been so blind, Burmecia might have been spared so much pain and horror.”
“Even so…” murmured Freya quietly. She swallowed, and somehow managed to continue. “…With Burmecia poorly populated, there was almost no defense to counter against this invasion. Nearly every man, woman, and child were wiped out, and I don’t know what happened to the few who escaped. As for his majesty……”
“You don’t have to say it,” whispered Garnet gently. She stroked Freya’s shoulder, and quietly figured out why the Burmecian King had not been at the last Council of Gaia. Invasions will certainly curtail one’s priorities, she thought grimly.
“Thank you, highness,” shuddered Freya. Her hand went to her face, rubbing it several times in despair. She continued, though her voice grew weaker with every paragraph. “Fratley and I stayed behind to fight the invaders,” she said, a bit prouder. “Oh, you should have seen us! We fought so bravely! We gave it our all to defend our land! I myself have fought my very soul out… and Fratley… he truly… gave everything he had… He… really and truly gave…” Freya finally choked on her words, sniveled once, and covered her face with her hands. In the silence, Beatrix could hear the woman sobbing gently.
“I see,” said Garnet in an almost-inaudible voice. Zidane hissed quietly, and let a curse fall out of his enraged mouth.
“That’s… barbaric…” Freya continued to sniffle, and buried herself in her tears and the bed she had been laying on. Through her creaky voice, she somehow managed to give out the rest of the information.
“I kept on fighting until I could no longer move,” she wailed. “But… I retreated, like a coward. I should have stayed, and fought to the death, like……” She choked again, and resumed her mourning for at least another minute. Both Zidane and Garnet held her wailing body in their arms, and the comfort of two dear friends was just enough to help Freya continue.
“I left Burmecia, and slowly made my way here,” she whispered. “I knew that if I could just reach this kingdom and warm the people of the invasion, then I could die happily and be with…… Well, here I am, alive but not well, and now you all know why I arrived here so destroyed and torn apart. And now… now you must answer a question for me.”
“Anything,” whispered Garnet, her delicate hands massaging Freya’s back. The knight paused, and eventually collected herself. Tears still scarred her face, and her voice was still creaky, but the embers of Freya’s spirit had not turned into ash just yet. She sighed quietly, taking a deep breath to collect herself, and swallowed her despair.
“What will you do now?”
To be continued…