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The Kidnapping of Princess Ovelia
By: Matt Blackie
God, please save us sinful children of Ivalice . . .
So prayed the young, red-robed girl kneeling at the foot of the altar. She had spent her entire life here, at Orbonne, living with the monks and priests that were always to be found at a monastery. They were kindly people, certainly; they would not have been very faithful followers of God otherwise. Soon, she was to be leaving the monastery that had been her home, and was sending up a final prayer before she left for her new one.
The monastery was, to anyone looking at it from the outside, a disappointingly small building. It was two stories, but no wider nor any longer than a common person's house. A narrow path, large enough for only two people to walk abreast, led around the back of the building, circumscribing the entire structure. A much wider stone path led from the large, wooden front door.
Atop the roof of the monastery a tall steeple was erected; it was nearly the height of half the building. It was narrow and spiraling, and at the very top, a moderately large crucifix had been placed. The purpose of the steeple and cross was twofold: one, anyone with any education could easily recognize the building as a church or monastery, since the cross was unique to Glabados' structures; two, any stragglers or men lost around a monastery could see the steeple above the treetops, and could work their way there to find food and shelter.
Inside, the monastery was much larger than it appeared from the outside. A single carpeted walkway--lighted by torches held in sconces on the wall--led from the front door to an altar near the other end of the building, and two doors on either side led to hallways that wrapped around the room and exited the building at two back doors. The walkway, when one was standing at the edge, appeared to be a balcony; next to the altar, two stairwells on either side led down to basement level, in which were held shelves upon shelves of books. In one corner of the first basement, another stairwell led down into darkness.
It was in this room of sorts that appeared more a balcony that Ovelia was kneeling.
She was not alone in the room. Behind her and to the side stood an aging man dressed in a plain brown robe, complete with a large cowl that laid flat against his back at the moment. His head was mostly bald, but there was a fringe of grey hair around his temples. Directly behind the girl, standing near the door of the small room, stood a woman with shoulder-length blond hair and striking blue eyes. She was outfitted in a knight's armor, the breastplate of which displayed the crest of the Glabados Church - perhaps Ivalice's most powerful authority of which Orbonne was a minor tributary.
Flanking the woman were two other female knights, each with darker blonde hair than she had. One of them had greyish hazel eyes, the other had brown; both of them were ornamented in exactly the same armor as the first woman, sans Glabados' crest. As they both stood at a semi-relaxed attention, the point knight stepped forward slowly.
"Princess Ovelia, let's go." It seemed to her that her voice was a bit more touchy than it should have been. Perhaps she felt guilty for having to take the Princess away from her home to an unfamiliar royal palace. Perhaps it was the stormy weather that was occurring outside at the very moment. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. She winced slightly, hoping that the Princess wouldn't sense the irritation in her words.
"Just a moment, Agrias," Ovelia murmured, her eyes remaining closed. Obviously, she hadn't noticed, about which the knight was grateful.
A faint knocking sound echoed near the door. Agrias took another step forward, and gestured toward the wooden portal. "Princess, the guards have already arrived . . ." Her tone was carrying now more than just irritation--it also hinted at concern. Of course, she had every reason to be concerned. She was to be traveling through wooded forests in the middle of a thunderstorm halfway across the country, with only a band of mercenaries hired by the Hokuten. Such conditions didn't calm her state of mind one bit.
The brown-robed man--perhaps a priest or monk--stepped forward, and tentatively held a hand out towards Ovelia's shoulder. "Princess, don't give Agrias trouble. Please hurry . . ." He was no less concerned for her well-being than Agrias was, and it was perhaps more cutting for him. He had no way to protect her, no way to keep her out of danger. He simply had to trust in Agrias' fighting skills and God.
With a suddenness that startled both Agrias and the two knights standing at attention, the door opened. Outside, the raging thunderstorm could be seen; flashes of lightning illuminated the dark backdrop of the sky for moments at a time. The three men who entered were all dripping wet, each making a puddle on the floor beneath him.
One man, standing taller than the rest, was dressed from head to toe in pitch black armor, complete with a sword thrust into a sable scabbard. The visor on his helm was open, however, and allowed full view of his large, grey mustachio and dark, self-assured eyes. Another, standing to his side, was no more than a boy; he wore a leather cuirass, and carried a short sword in a plain brown leather scabbard at his side. His dark blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and his bright blue eyes were expressionless at the moment. The third stood behind the black-armored knight, and was the shortest (and obviously the youngest) of the three. He also wore a leather cuirass, but no sword was to be found on his person; instead, a dagger was sheathed on his belt.
The man in black armor spread his arms. "What's going on?" he demanded, his voice powerful and imposing as the visage with which it was paired. "It's been nearly an hour!"
The knight with the Church's crest folded her arms, facing the one who spoke. "Don't be rude to the Princess, Gafgarion." She spoke the name with a measure of contempt. She had never liked the man for as long as she had known him--the only things the man was enthusiastic about were fighting and money.
The two boys knelt, bowing their heads in a token of respect. Gafgarion folded his gauntleted hands as best he could, and gave a short, cool bow. "Is this going to be all right, Agrias?" he questioned, impatience seeping into his tone of voice. "This is an urgent issue for us."
Agrias narrowed her eyes. "So there are rude knaves even among the Hokuten?"
"I'm being more than kind to the guard captains here," Gafgarion retorted, standing straight and defiant again. "Besides, we're mercenaries hired by the Hokuten. We're not obliged to show respect to you." A hint of a sneer crossed his face.
"What?" Agrias gasped. "How dare you!"
At that, Ovelia rose to her feet, smoothing out her robes rumpled from kneeling. She turned, balling her hands into fists on either side. "Enough. Let's go." She stepped forward, stopping alongside the old man in the brown robe.
He clasped her hands within his, and bowed his head respectfully. He had come to love the young girl during her stay at the monastery, as he would love a daughter. It pained him to see her go. "Go with God," his rich, aged voice said.
"You too, Simon," Ovelia replied. Freeing her hands, she leaned forward and hugged him firmly. Stepping back after the brief embrace, she turned again to the still-open doorway, and prepared herself for departure.
As if on cue, a female knight, dressed much like those two at attention, stumbled in. She was clutching at her side, and her hand was blood-stained, as was her armor. She collapsed to her knees just inside the door, coughing hard. Simon, the priest, rushed to her side and knelt.
"Lady Agrias!" the knight cried, raising her head to find the object of her search. "Th-the enemy!"
At her side, Simon started. "Prince Goltana's men?" he asked incredulously. Before he had a chance to complete his thought, Agrias had already drawn her weapon and was outside in the storm. The two knights had followed wordlessly.
Gafgarion sighed wearily, turning an about-face. "What one must do to make money," he said. Giving each of the two remaining fighters a glance, he made for the doorway. At the blond-headed boy's quiet murmur, he looked over his shoulder. "What, Ramza? You have a problem, too?"
"I'm no longer a knight," the one addressed as Ramza stated. "Just a mercenary like you." He placed a hand upon the sword at his side, eyes distant.
Gafgarion was silent for a moment. "You're right," he said, completely without emotion. "Well then. Let's go!" With that, he exited, followed by the youngest of the three and then by Ramza.
Ovelia, left inside with Simon, took a hesitant step forward as Simon closed the door behind the warriors. "Oh, God," she whispered.
* * *
Soaked through with rain, the man huddled against the wall, straining his ears to hear beyond the heavy wooden door that stood closed beside him. Muffled voices came to his ears; he couldn't quite make them out, but at least two of them sounded familiar. Tightening his left hand on the longsword sheathed at his side, he moved his other closer toward the door's large metal handle.
The harsh calls drifting through the rain-sodden air from around the building prompted him. Goltana's men, the Nanten Knights, would be slaughtered by Princess Ovelia's protectors in only a few minutes. He had only a very short time to act, and hoped that the Princess remained inside while the others fought.
Tugging from his belt a small wedge he bought from a local thieves' guild, he sent up a prayer. He wasn't a devout believer in Glabados, but he was of a mind that God would help him, since he was doing the right thing. He held the tapering end of the wedge close to the keyhole, and bent to one knee so he could correctly break the lock.
The device he had bought wasn't a true lockpick, in the sense that a thief would call one. It was instead, a simple looking wedge that, when forced into a keyhole, split the lock mechanism into two pieces. It was simple and efficient, but it cost him more gil than he would have thought likely.
Inhaling deeply, he thrust the wedge with all his strength into the keyhole. With a faint metallic ping and a dull crack, the door swung outward a quarter of an inch, the lock broken. Praising his luck, he tossed the device into a belt pouch and pulled the door open far enough so that he could slip inside.
Closing the wooden portal behind him, he found himself at one end of a long hallway, at the other end of which stood another door. Creeping silently along, he reached the other end within a number of paces, and pressed an ear to the door. Hearing nothing, he pulled it open and proceeded.
While passing through the next hallway, one almost identical to the previous, he heard muffled voices drifting in from behind a door immediately to his right. Halting quickly, he pressed the side of his head up against the door and strained to hear the voices. With a start, he realized that one was Ovelia's.
". . . they're all right," she was saying worriedly.
"I'm sure they are," came another, unknown, male voice. "Be hopeful, Princess. Agrias, Lavian, and Alicia will not fail you."
"What about the other three?" she questioned. "Gafgarion . . . and the other two. What were their names?"
"One was named Ramza," the male voice answered, and the man listening outside the door nearly jumped. His surprise nearly keeping him from hearing the rest of the sentence, he hastily pressed his ear against the door again. "..was Gafgarion, and the younger one was named Rad, if I remember correctly."
Ovelia sighed wistfully. "I pray that none of them are hurt," she murmured, almost so that he couldn't hear her through the door. "God, let none of them be hurt."
A silence ensued, and he could faintly hear the rustle of robes as someone moved beyond the door. After nearly a full minute passed with no dialogue between the two, he decided that his moment had come. Pulling his waterproof gloves tighter onto his hands, he gripped the door handle and swung it inward.
* * *
Agrias stood on the stone walkway that led from Orbonne Monastery. The small path would eventually meld into the road that led to Dorter, one of the largest trade cities in the country. The walkway was elevated somewhat; on either side, as the stone ceased, the grassy land sloped downward and leveled off after making a moderately steep decline. On either side, in these lower areas, stood the two female knights Alicia and Lavian.
Marching towards them through the woods that surrounded the monastery were a group of five soldiers. The one at the head was wearing plate mail, and carried a sword at his side. Two more, beside and behind him, were armed with long daggers and leather armor. Yet two more men--also wearing leather armor--were carrying bow guns, a civilian-level sort of crossbow.
Agrias started visibly as the crest of the two-headed black lion on the heavily armed soldier's breastplate came into view through the downpour. That was Goltana's symbol, no doubt about it. "The crest of the Black Lion?" she exclaimed. Her worst fears were manifesting themselves. "What's wrong with Goltana? The idiot! Does he want to start a war?" At her side, Gafgarion snorted.
Calmly, the head soldier drew his sword, leveling it at Agrias. "Knave!" he called out in a voice that Agrias would guess to be very obnoxious were she forced to listen to it for long. "There's no point in resisting! Just give us the Princess, or that beautiful face of yours will be scarred forever!"
Agrias flushed even in the chill rain. Drawing her own sword, she prepared to retort with a threat of her own. But she was too late, as the door to the monastery slammed open and Gafgarion, Ramza and the young squire Rad in tow, stomped onto the soon-to-be battlefield. "Fool!" he shouted through the rain, sneering openly at the head soldier. "Only idiots attack head-on!"
Agrias resented him for both his interruption and his arrogant attitude. He was always so sure of himself and his skills, and never hesitated to inform another when they were doing something that he did not deem tactical. "Leave this to us, Gafgarion!" she shouted, louder than she had meant to.
Gafgarion spared her a sidelong glance, and drew his sword. "Can't make money that way!" he said, almost casually. Secretly, she thought he took too much pleasure from fighting, but kept that opinion to herself. "Rad, Ramza, follow me!" Both of the young men drew their weapons - Ramza his sword and Rad his dagger - and moved to stand just behind Gafgarion.
As if prompted, the two of Goltana's soldiers who were armed with daggers drew them, and both of the bowmen nocked a crossbow bolt into their bow guns. Alicia and Lavian drew their weapons in turn. Agrias was the last to brandish her sword, and did so with reluctance.
"Kill them all!" Gafgarion cried. "Don't leave any survivors!"
"What?!" Agrias replied, shocked. "Nonsense! There's no need to kill them! That's just what Goltana wants us to do! Just let them go!"
The two soldiers with the knives advanced, followed by the head soldier, the one with the heavy armor. "Impossible!" Gafgarion shouted, and turned to face the oncoming threat. With a speed quicker than most could process, he lunged, his sword aimed for the closest soldier's throat.
The soldier sidestepped deftly, and brought the tip of his dagger downward into Gafgarion's armor, hoping that the weapon would pierce the metal. But Gafgarion was both too nimble and too smart to allow that to happen.
Gafgarion kneeled suddenly, and as the soldier thrust his dagger into thin air, his target suddenly vanished, Gafgarion swung his blade upwards. The bite of the steel into his neck was the last thing that unfortunate soldier ever felt.
As soon as the dead man crumpled to the ground, Ramza ran past Gafgarion, intent on taking out the next charging soldier. The advancing one was the remaining knife-wielder, and was somewhat startled at Ramza's young face. Thinking that youth was a synonym for inexperience, he did nothing to check his advance, calling a battle cry as he readied to thrust his blade forward.
Rad, standing behind Ramza, had a different plan for the soldier. Sheathing his dagger, he held his hands horizontally before him. Tilting his head back, and closing his eyes against the downpour, he slowly began to speak in a low, almost whispering voice.
It had always been Rad's dream to be something more than just a squire, a soldier-servant of some noble or a hireling along with some mercenary. He had no real interest in fighting, either with swords or in hand-to-hand combat. His real wish was to become a magic-user, but his dream was slightly more detailed than most. He wanted to become an Oracle, the rare and powerful types of mages that controlled the forces of Yin Yang, the balancing mediator between white and black magic. Persons skilled in the use of Yin Yang could alter a creature's internal balance, sometimes with devastating effects.
It was such a spell--the only spell that he had learned so far, in fact--that Rad was using now. There were dozens of spells that utilized the magic of Yin Yang, and in his year's experience of training to become an Oracle, he had only mastered one of them. Moving his hands in an archaic manner, while speaking the proper words and focusing his energy as his former professor Bordam Daravon had taught, he gathered the energy for the spell into two small globes around his palms.
After speaking the final incantation, and finishing the final gesture, he made the focal point of his spell to be the soldier with which Ramza was currently involved in swordfighting. Targeting his opponent precisely, as he had always practiced but never used in sincerity, he let loose the energies for the spell and let them do their work.
The soldier pressing Ramza suddenly saw - or rather, didn't see - the world around him go dark. He stumbled on a rock, swung his dagger around in an unseeing frenzy, and felt himself fall forward onto the stone walkway. A warm, wet liquid was underneath him, and he thought hazily that it couldn't be the rain. There was a slight pain in his chest, and he felt light-headed. As the sound of the rain, the thunder, and the shouts of those around him died out, he gave way to the blackness that was oppressing his mind as well as his sight.
* * *
"Let GO of me!" Princess Ovelia shouted as the sodden man dragged her along the final corridor to the back exit where his mount was waiting.
"Be quiet!" he snapped back, threatening to clout her on the side of her head, and commenced dragging her when she winced away from his feigned strike. She fought him with all her strength, but he was a battle-hardened soldier, and she was nothing but pampered, untrained royalty. Nonetheless, even with all his strength accumulated through years of training and a year of actual battle experience, he was finding her struggles to be rather bothersome.
"I said let GO!" Ovelia shouted again.
He promised to himself that he would never do this sort of thing again. It cut him deeply that he had to do it in the first place. He couldn't allow his opponents to have her. He didn't want to resort to violence, but when he seriously considered the matter, there was no course other than violence. The Glabados knights and Igros hirelings sent to escort Ovelia would not hand her over voluntarily. He didn't want to fight them, and succeeded in that aspect, but having to hurt the priest left with Ovelia pained him just as deeply. His only consolation was that he had only used his fist and not his sword.
Ovelia was still struggling as he pulled her closer to the exit. Every once in a while, between her demands that he let her go, she would hurl an expletive in his direction. He absently wondered where she picked up such words. Certainly not by living in a monastery.
"You cretin!" she cried, trying desperately to yank her wrist from his grip. She had no idea why she was being taken, only that her kidnapper must be an agent of Goltana, the Prince whose crest was the Black Lion. She tried to find some motive for Goltana's kidnapping her, but try as she might, she could not get her mind to work properly and resist her kidnapper at the same time. In the end, she chose to attempt to escape.
Her efforts were all in vain, however, as the man finally succeeded in dragging her to the exit door. The lock, broken and useless, did not protest the door's opening, nor the kidnapper and his victim's escape into the pouring rain.
* * *
The two bowmen had fallen. Alicia, fighting in her humble, efficient, and effective manner, had managed to drive her sword into the chest of one, the finely honed blade ignoring leather and cloth and skin and bone. He had collapsed into a bloody heap. Lavian, using a flashier style not lacking in finesse, had deflected her assailant's crossbow bolts as quickly as he had shot them. She managed to get close enough to disarm her foe, subsequently piercing his armor with her sword.
Agrias and Gafgarion, the latter as eager to fight as the former was reluctant, both fought the leading soldier. He was a much better fighter than the ones under his command, and had managed to connect his sword with his opponents once or twice. However, trained and proficient as he was, the task of keeping two assailants at bay was beginning to tire him.
Agrias backed out of the fight, seeing that Gafgarion alone was more than a match for the only remaining soldier of Goltana's. She spared a quick look around the battlefield, and saw, without much surprise, that only Ramza and Alicia were wounded, and that both wounds were trivial and no worse than kneescrapes. Ramza had been poked in his shield arm when his blinded opponent lashed out, and Alicia had been nicked by a crossbow bolt during her skirmish with the bowman. Ramza was being tended by Rad, and Alicia by Lavian. Both would be completely healed within two days.
Hearing an exultant cry mingled with one that chilled her spine, she spun towards the one-on-one battle that had been raging between Gafgarion and the head soldier. In an instant, she divined the sources of both shouts; Gafgarion's enthusiastic bellow of success, and his unfortunate opponent's death cry. She watched silently as Gafgarion cleaned his sword on the wet grass and thrust it back inside its sheath.
"You'll rot the leather," she said, trying to sound conversational, but at the same time striving to find something, anything with which to snipe at him with.
"A lot of good it would do me to try to dry it in this downpour," he replied, just as genially. The battle-lust had not had sufficient time to wear off yet. In time, Agrias knew, he would be his old gruff, uncaring self.
Agrias sighed, and sheathed her sword as well, not bothering to wipe it on the grass since there was no blood on it. However much she would like to deny it, Gafgarion was right. She couldn't dry her weapon and sheath until she got inside a dry building. The monastery looked inviting, she thought. Perhaps they could delay the escort a day. It was getting into the evening, anyway, and everyone would most likely be tired from the fight. Perhaps she could ask Simon to put her up for the night. Perhaps--
"Let go of me!"
The cry snapped Agrias out of her reverie, and she was running for the path that led to the back of the monastery before anyone else had even registered the sound. She recognized the voice the instant she heard it, and strove to lengthen her strides to reach the rear of the building faster.
"Be quiet!" the man holding Ovelia's wrist commanded her. Her screams made no difference when they were within the monastery and the escort busy with Goltana's men, but now, because they were in the open and he heard no sounds of battle, it was prudent to wish her to be silent.
"Why should I listen to you?" she cried, redoubling her efforts.
He cursed himself, but really had no choice. "What a bothersome princess," he murmured, and, balling his fist, struck her in the stomach.
She gasped, and her eyes rolled up as she slumped forward. He picked her up over his shoulder, turned, and ran for where his mount awaited him in the chest-deep water behind the monastery. Skidding to a halt at the edge of the walkway, he tossed Ovelia onto the back of a large bird that was waiting for him patiently. Leaping onto the chocobo, he gathered his reins and prompted the bird into motion.
The chocobo was the most intelligent species of nonhumans in Ivalice, if one discounted the dragons. They were built like ostriches, but unlike their mundane counterparts, two of the three varieties had the power of flight. The most common species, colored a bright yellow and referred to simply as chocobo, were used the world over as mounts, pack animals, and even pets. They were easy to tame, easy to ride, and comparatively cheap to purchase.
A second, less common species was entirely purple-black in color. They had no special name, but were referred to simply as black chocobos. They could fly short distances, and had a unique sort of innate magic that allowed them to create spheres of energy and hurl them several paces. Due to their rarity and less docile temperaments, they were rarely used as mounts or otherwise.
The rarest, and most dangerous of the three types were red chocobos. Their feathers and beak were a flame-orange in color, which gave them their name; they were the other species to have the power of flight. The most intelligent of chocobos, they shunned away from human contact and fought when unable to run. They, too, had an innate magic, though different from the black chobobos'; they could focus a stream of magical energy into a focal point in the air, and using unknown abilities, rip a hole in space through which usually fell rocks and debris from another location on the planet. This magic is completely incomprehensible to humans, but due to its similarity to another human form of magic, it was dubbed "chocobo meteor."
It was the first species of the three that the man was using as a mount. The bright yellow bird, having some amount of trouble with the deep water and the violent thunderstorm, moved much slower than he would have wished.
"Wait!" called Agrias as she dashed around the corner and sighted him escaping with the Princess. It was more of an automatic reaction than anything--she didn't honestly expect him to stop.
The man turned back, holding onto Ovelia with one hand and the reins of the chocobo with the other. "Tough," he said, letting all of his pain and suppressed violence leak into his words. After all, he didn't care a whit for the people who protected Ovelia. It was Ovelia who was innocent, not a group of hirelings and religious knights. "Don't blame us," he continued. "Blame yourself or God."
Turning his chocobo, he snapped at the reins and pressed the large bird through the water, soon disappearing from sight, the veil of falling rain masking his passage.
* * *
Ramza watched the man ride off past him through the water, his eyes wide. He knew that man . . . man? No, he was no older than Ramza was. A year ago, they had been friends . . . best friends. They were parted by an unfortunate accident, and Ramza had thought he was dead. But now, a year later, he appears and kidnaps the Princess. Why?
Ignoring the protests of Rad, Alicia, and Lavian, he woodenly walked toward the location where he last saw the chocobo and its rider. He stepped into the water numbly, stopping only when it reached his knees.
"Delita?" he managed to murmur, not quite believing it himself. "You're alive, Delita?" He wasn't sure if he had seen a ghost or not. But if his vision was real, then another thought crowded his mind: Delita's sleeve had a large black lion crest sewn into it near the shoulder. "But . . . why are you in Goltana's troops?"
It would explain the force coming from the front. Gafgarion would be fuming once he heard what had happened. Those five soldiers were a decoy, a red herring. Their purpose was to die to keep the escort busy enough for him to kidnap the Princess. But for what reason? To what end?
"Why . . . ?"
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