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Part Four: Of Men and Monsters
Chapter 84: Queen of Ivalice
Ovelia, Queen of Ivalice, sat alone in the ruins of a shattered chapel, and watched motes of dust dancing in the beams of sunlight peeking through the ribcage of the broken roof. Ovelia, Queen of Ivalice, in whose name wars were fought and thousands bled and died across her kingdom. Ovelia, Queen of Ivalice, who held the reins of power so lightly you might almost have thought she had no power at all.
But how could that be? Did she not knight the newly-minted heroes of this bloody war in the spacious grandeur of the throne room? Did she not preside over courtly galas in the polished ballroom, as the powerful and their attendants whirled and danced and laughed? Did she not stand on balconies, waving marching Nanten soldiers farewell as they trooped down the orderly streets of Zeltennia proper? Did commoners, knights, barons, dukes, and generals alike not bow low to her, swearing fealty to her name?
Surely that was all a Queen required: those precise, elegant bows, those eloquent words of fealty and devotion. Surely a Queen should be happy with such things, and not be greedy for the lesser elements of power. Surely a Queen should not give orders in the war fought in her name, or speak for the nation she was supposed to lead. What would be the point of that?
Ovelia, Queen of Ivalice, sat up from her place on the steps that led to the sunken pulpit. Her dark brown eyes glared at red-haired Delita Heiral as he strode through the open doors. He wore his usual red and gold, with the new addition of the black ram emblem upon one shoulder.
"Hail, Ser Heiral, noble defender of the one true Queen," Ovelia growled.
Delita came to a stop, rubbing his dark eyes. "Where are your guards?"
"Unlike the rest of my kingdom, they obey my orders."
"Even when those orders leave you defenseless?"
Ovelia shrugged. Delita sighed and shook his head. "Your Majesty, when we have brought the traitorous Hokuten to heel-"
"I did not say 'Hokuten'," Ovelia interrupted. "I said, 'my kingdom'."
Delita gazed at her dispassionately. There were dark circles under his eyes. "We've discussed this, haven't we?" he said, with the condescending patience of a nun lecturing a disobedient child. "You must play your part, as I must play mine."
"Must I?" Ovelia asked. This feeling was new to her—this dark fire that crackled at the pit of her stomach day in and day out, sometimes roaring into towering rages that intimidated the courtiers around her, sometimes banking into smoldering embers that she could almost forget about, but never dying entirely. To be honest, she rather liked this feeling. It made her feel powerful. It made her feel dangerous.
"If we hope to achieve our aims-" Delita began.
"Our aims," repeated Ovelia. "Oh, of course, Ser Heiral. You have no ambitions besides rendering good service to your liege."
Delita closed his eyes for a moment. "I promised you, didn't I?"
"And how much worth your promises have." All her ire was in her voice now.
Delita's eyes flashed open. "I understand your frustration," he spat. "But I have wars to fight and I will not waste time coddling a spoiled brat just because she's bored."
She saw her own black fire mirrored back at her in his eyes. Good. She was tired of the endless kowtowing from double-faced aides and generals and nobles.
"Bored," Ovelia repeated. "Yes. Quite bored. Why else would I be frustrated?" Her fingers tapped lightly on the crumpled ball of paper on the step beside her. Delita's eyes followed her fingers.
"The Bishop conducted a mass this morning," Ovelia said. "A fine speech he gave. All about the Braves, and the terrible burdens they faced to bring monsters to justice. Every one of them willing to give their life to stop the Ydorans and their demon henchman."
"I am familiar with the story," Delita grunted.
"I'm sure you are. As is most of Ivalice." Ovelia's fingers kept drumming on the paper. "That was the Bishop's point, you see. About the terrible demands of heroism. About the price we all must pay to fight monsters and their enablers. The Ydorans and their Lucavi. The Largs and their Beoulves."
Delita did not speak. His face was still as stone.
"I caught one of the Bishop's assistants after the service," Ovelia continued, one finger slowly spinning the paper on its step. "He was eager to answer his Queen's questions. I was most confused, you see. Dycedarg Beoulve is only an advisor, and Zalbaag Beoulve only a general. Are such men truly demons? What if their mistakes are made out of ignorance?" She smiled. "The assistant was unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, what are are the odds that the brothers of a known heretic are innocent?"
She lifted the paper gingerly, holding it out as though it were covered in shit.
Delita was not looking at her. His face was frozen. "Was there anything else, your Majesty?" he asked.
"Anything else?" Ovelia asked. She felt the black fire rising again, crackling through her veins, filling her with poisonous warmth. "Anything else besides Ramza Beoulve accused of heresy? Anything else besides my Lionesses named as his accomplices? Anything else besides the names of the men and women who fought to save me compared to Lucavi?" She flung the crumpled ball of paper at Delita's feet.
Delita's eyes flickered down, then up again. He turned and left the chapel without a word. Ovelia made no attempt to stop him.
Several evenings later, Ovelia pored over battle reports in her private chambers in the deepest part of Zeltennia Castle. She scowled at the piecemeal, pointless paper laid out on her writing desk—all praise to heroic nobles fighting for their rightful Queen, light of facts and figures, refusing to tell her how the war was actually going. So much empty propaganda. What else did a puppet Queen deserve?
There was a knock upon her door. "Enter," Ovelia grunted.
The door creaked open. "You sound even less pleasant than I'd heard."
Ovelia looked up blearily. Valerie Amfra stood in the doorway, her red-and-blue clothes more formal than the traveling garb she'd worn on their first meeting, with shoulders flaring out like blades and a tight black cord tying the long tunic down along the waist. Her blonde hair was tied back in a curt ponytail, and rune-engraved rings gleamed and glimmered on her fingers.
"I'm sure you've stayed well-informed," Ovelia answered. She waved the papers angrily. "I can't get better reports than this?"
"You are Queen of Ivalice," Valerie said, with a sardonic note in her voice. "Ask and ye shall receive."
Ovelia scowled at the mage. "So I'm free to leave the castle?"
"Who would stop you?" Val asked.
"Who indeed," Ovelia said, rolling her eyes. It was true that no guard would bar her path. In theory, all she had to do was walk out of the room and she could go wherever she pleased. But it was the strangest thing: whenever she set out without cause or invitation, some courtier would appear with some sudden errand, some priest or clerk with papers for her approval, some noble with a trifling but elaborate question of taxation, and no sooner would she respond appropriately to one, courteously dismiss another, sympathize with a third then a fourth problem would appear, then a fifth, and then a sixth.
The bars of the cage were hard to see. That didn't make it any less a cage.
Valerie folded her arms and leaned back against the door frame. Her lips were twisted to one side. Ovelia had always been able to read the faces of those around her, and the last few months of lies had only sharpened her instincts. There was annoyance in Val's face, and amusement, and uncertainty. Most galling of all, there was pity.
"Do you want to die, Ovelia?" Val asked.
Ovelia scowled at her. "I've had plenty of chances. I don't think it's for me."
"Then what the fuck are you doing?"
Ovelia blinked. "What?"
"You're only alive because Delita was able to sell you as a useful tool," Val said. "Are you trying to convince them he was wrong?"
"Is there some other Princess they could have used to start a war?" Ovelia demanded.
"They didn't need a Princess!" Val snapped. "They needed a pretext. Any pretext. Duke Goltanna's in line to the throne, too, and Louveria was aiming for his head. How much effort do you think it would have taken to convince him to fight a defensive war to claim the crown from the tyrant who wanted to kill him?
Ovelia didn't answer.
"Do you know why you're here, Ovelia?" Val jabbed a finger angrily in Ovelia's direction. "Because Vormav thought you had potential, and Delita convinced them it was real. You bought yourself some goodwill when we started this war, but you're squandering it on tantrums. And the more time you waste, the less patience people will have for a spoiled brat refusing to play her part. The Church has eyes everywhere, Ovelia."
"Eyes like yours?" Ovelia growled.
Val stared at Ovelia for a long time. Her gaze was...strange. Hot, angry, and sad. There was a deep longing there that Ovelia didn't fully understand. "My eyes are not the Church's eyes," she said at last. "And less friendly eyes are beginning to wonder what the hell you're doing...and why they should keep you alive."
Val turned to go. Ovelia, enraged and yet uncertain, managed to find her voice. "Val?" The other woman paused, though she did not look back. "What...what do you want?"
Val looked over her shoulder. Her eyes were hot again, as though fighting tears. "The same as all of us," she said. "A better world."
A better world. The same thing Delita had promised her, when they stood above the raging Falls. But how could it be a better world, when her so-called allies hunted her Lionesses? How could it be a better world, when Ovelia was trapped behind stone walls again, with only a better title to keep her comfort in her cage?
Ovelia fumed another day, but she took Val's warning to heart. If she hoped to be of help to Agrias, Alicia, and Lavian, she had to stay alive. She might only be a puppet queen, but there were things even a puppet could do. And however much she raged, and however betrayed she felt by Val and Delita, she couldn't believe they were lying to her about their goals. About the better world they sought.
So she performed her empty ceremonies with all the grace she could muster. She awarded medals and honors, made pious displays in the grand chapel of Zeltennia Castle, spoke soothing words to frightened noble ladies, made fervent pleas to wavering lords. The perfect puppet queen, on her perfect puppet throne. Perhaps she really did convince her watchers she was on their side: the next time she left for her chapel, no one made an effort to stop her.
She liked this abandoned chapel, near the city's outskirts. It reminded her a little of the chapel at Orbonne: the dust, the disrepair, the vaulted ceiling. Orbonne's chapel had been the only place where the monastery's heavy stone walls hadn't felt quite so stifling. The cage had its peaceful spaces.
And as frustrating as Zeltennia was, she was doing something. It was not the heady drama of the play they'd put on for Goltanna—none of the orders, betrayals, executions, or oaths. After what had happened to Katherine and Ysabel, Ovelia hadn't imagined she could feel the thrill that had had rippled through her when Delita's sword had cut through Chancellor Glevanne. A puppet of Louveria and of Dycedarg Beoulve, struck down at her command. The Duke of Zeltennia, swearing her his fealty.
Ovelia the penitent prisoner of Orbonne had never dreamed of such things. Ovelia the regal commander of renegades and mercenaries had only wanted freedom. But Ovelia, Queen of Ivalice...Ovelia found such things intoxicating.
Footsteps outside. Ovelia looked up. A messenger come to fetch her back? A guard come to fret over her? But a moment later, the warped door creaked open, and Delita Heiral stepped through.
"Ser Heiral," she said, with just a hint of her old ire.
He stopped at once, and a cold wind rattled Ovelia's bones. Delita's eyes were framed by dark circles: his usually meticulous appearance was disheveled, and he was slumped at an awkward angle. He regarded her like a scared dog regarded an abusive master.
"Delita?" she said, with only fear in her voice.
"Father Simon is dead."
Ovelia did not go blind. On some level, she was aware of the world outside her mind. She registered the dust motes in the sun beams playing through the broken roof. She even heard the fear and exhaustion in Delita's voice. But all those thing had gone dim and distant, like a place you'd left far behind you. The memories were overwhelming her: of the kindly priest treating her with respect and deference, turning a blind eye to her studies and her whispered conversations with Alma Beoulve, teaching her the Church's ancient defensive arts (and a little more besides). The priest who'd shielded her with his own body when assassins had come to claim her.
"I'm sorry?" she repeated, her voice empty of emotion.
"So am I," Delita answered.
Slowly, Ovelia shook her head. "I meant...how."
The world came into focus. She stared at Delita, who stared back at her with wide, helpless eyes. She saw an echo of Val's strange look in those eyes, and heard an echo of Val's pained voice; "A better world."
"No." Her denial was so soft it was barely audible in the air. It couldn't be. The Monastery was an ancient reliquary, valuable only in the way such monuments to the Ydorans could be, but with no larger strategic significance to the Church and her cronies. And Simon had once been an Inquisitor of such fearsome renown. Why...surely...
Delita swallowed, tried to speak, swallowed again. "The Church-" he started, and the word was a hammerblow shattering the glassy pretense of shock and calm holding Ovelia in its vise.
"The Church!" Ovelia snarled, and her voice was as hot and sharp as the broken glass tearing at her heart. "The Church, of course!" She jabbed a finger: Delita flinched. "The Church, that would kill me if I did not dance to its tune! The Church that hunts Ramza and my Lionesses! The Church that would even...even kill...!"
She was choking on the heat of her rage. She had never wanted to hurt something more in her life. She strode towards Delita with purpose, thinking of magic she had only ever used to protect herself. She felt the gleaming light radiate out of her ring and slip along her skin like sunshine beaming at her command. She raised her shining hand to strike him.
He caught her by the wrist.
"Do you think-" he started, and before he could finish Ovelia shouted, and the shout was magic, and the pearly light on her hand burst up and out in a frenzy of threshing light, and the roof above shuddered and rained debris down upon the, pieces of it stinging against her shoulders and scalp, and all Ovelia felt was relish.
He shoved her, sent her tumbling back to the ground. She relished that too, as she had relished their fights in their first days together. Weak as she was, powerless as she was, she could hurt him. She could still hurt him. She could-
The debris rained down. Delita spread over her, catching the worst of it with his back. He shuddered, grunted, but did not move: blood welled in a cut near his temple. Ovelia stared up at him as the debris clattered to silence around them. He was staring down at her with those wide, tired eyes, his red hair grey with fallen dust, dulling the shine of the old burn on his cheek.
"Your Church," she repeated, and her eyes burned with grief, and she closed them rather than let fresh tears fall.
His hands were on her shoulders, and she did not resist him pulling her to her feet, and leading her back to the stairs near the pulpit. He set her down on one of the steps and then sat beside her, not quite close enough to touch but close enough she could feel him. Her eyes stayed scrunched together, refusing to look around her, lost against wave after wave of crashing memories. All the claustrophobia of Orbonne, and all the sadness and uncertainty, and Agrias sparring with Alicia and Lavian and teaching Alma in secret, and Katherine and Ysabel bold and confident and optimistic and buried, and Alma with a grass flute, Alma unweaving the spells sealing the lower archives, Alma and Simon and the peace of the chapel, Simon so kind, Simon so decent, Simon more like a father than her own father had ever-
"Not my father."
Ovelia shook her head slowly. "Not my father." Not Simon.
Neither of them said anything for awhile.
When the grief and loss had receded, and Ovelia felt hollow of emotion, she opened her leaden eyes. A small pile of debris lay near the door to the chapel: a solid column of sunlight had sunk warm roots down in the floor through the new hole in the ceiling.
"Shouldn't my guards..." Ovelia began, her thoughts sluggish. Delita said nothing, and Ovelia made a short grunt that might have been a laugh. "No, of course not. The Church owns them all?"
"One way or another." Delitas voice was taut. "They own them, or they ask a noble a favor, or a noble makes an offer, or..." There was familiar heat in Delita's voice, the same fire she'd felt mere minutes ago. Embers drifted across her empty heart.
"Are they going to kill me?" Ovelia asked.
"No." Delita's voice was firm.
"But they want to keep the option open."
Delita was quiet a moment. "You're useful as a figurehead to keep the war going," he said at last. "But your death could be useful in sparking further conflict."
"And who sits the throne then?" Ovelia asked.
"What does it matter, so long as they serve the Church?"
"And if they don't, they'll share Simon's face." Ovelia's voice almost broke on his name: she shuddered with her grief.
Delita did not answer. Ovelia could not look at him.
"A better world," Ovelia whispered, and managed a short, sharp sound that might have been a laugh. "How's that going, Delita?"
"How do you think?" Delita spat, with that familiar, poisonous heat. "They're after him, Ovelia. Him, and all of them. For being...better. For being...decent." He stared daggers at the ground. "They can't have that. Anyone who might put a stop to their plans...anyone who might value the lives of the people over the dominion of the Church...!" His hands curled clawlike upon his knees.
"Your masters," Ovelia said, and relished the chance to loose the venom in her voice.
"And yours," Delita retorted, with matching venom. "Two puppets dancing to their tune."
"And you seemed so sure you could beat them," Ovelia said scornfully. Still better to be angry than sad.
"I can," Delita said, and if the fire in his voice had been bright before, it was searing now. It seemed to illuminate him from within, so he glowed with incandescent fury. "I will."
"How?" Ovelia demanded, and was surprised at the need in her own voice. Rage was not enough: not with Simon dead. She needed purpose again.
Delita did not answer right away. He remained poised like a wounded animal, his back arched, his clawed hands on his knees, his teeth bared in savage loathing. When he spoke, he relaxed not at all. "There is a philosopher in the Empire. Wiegraf found one of his books in Ordallia. A translation of a translation." He gave a short, rasping noise that might have been a laugh. "But it caught Wiegraf's imagination. All about...ends and means."
"Meaning what?" Ovelia asked, her voice still acidic.
Delita nodded. "That's the question." He paused for a moment, his hands relaxing on his knees, his face settling into something a little more neutral, though he was still hunched as though he carried a great burden. "Suppose you could feed every poor, starving soul in all Ivalice. All you would have to is kill one good-natured, innocent child. Would the children saved by that child's death make it okay? Would the ends justify the means?"
If my death brought peace to Ivalice, would that make it worth it? Ovelia did not quite dare to ask.
"Wiegraf was more interested in the other side of the question," Delita said. "If you fight with the noblest means, live by the highest code, strive as heroes strive, and still fail...does that negate your intentions? Do ignoble ends invalidate noble means?"
Ovelia knew he was thinking of Ramza. She spared a little thought for him, too. But more of her memory was on Agrias Oaks, proud and steadfast and strong and utterly dwarfed by the forces that had plucked Ovelia from her grasp. And most of her aching, grieving memory was still built around Simon, kind and decent and impotent and dead.
"We talked about it some," Delita said. "When he was teaching me. When he was with the Corps, he always thought the means mattered more than the ends. The example mattered more than victory. He didn't just want to frustrate the nobles, he wanted to expose them. He wanted all Ivalice so see they could be better, if only they tried."
"But he had this...friend. Gustav. One of the leaders of the Corps. While Wiegraf fought in the west, Gustav fought in the east. And Gustav...stopped believing in noble means. He made himself part of a Hokuten plot, and betrayed Corps and Crown alike to try and save himself." Delita stared at his hands. "That was how we met, you know. Ramza and I were hunting Gustav. So was Wiegraf."
"Wiegraf was hunting his friend?" Ovelia asked in confusion.
Delita shot her a wracked grin. "Of course he was. He'd gone against their code. He'd hurt the innocent. Taken hostages. Had to be put down." The grin flickered. "That's what he believed, when we were on opposite sides. After he saved me..."
He was quiet for a moment. Ovelia let him think.
"Ends and means," Delita repeated. "That's what it always comes back to. I allied myself with noble men, not knowing their ignoble hearts. Wiegraf fought with noble means, in spite of the risk of an ignoble end. And we both..."
He trailed off. "The Church?" Ovelia prompted.
He nodded, not quite looking at her. "I admire them."
Ovelia glared at him. "What?" she hissed.
He glanced at her, shrugging. "Why not?" He gestured vaguely. "This war was coming, with or without them. Larg and Louveria would never rest with living challengers to their thrones. You. Goltanna. Every other noble with power enough to resist them, or blood rich enough to match theirs. The Church saw opportunity. Manipulate the inevitable conflict. Clear the board of the abusive powers that had so long corrupted Ivalice. Anoint a new kingdom, forged in the glory of God."
The words were poison, but the voice wasn't. In Delita's voice, Ovelia heard every ounce of disgust she herself had often felt at the depredations of the powerful.
"So we have a different dilemma," Delita said. "The means are decided. The course of the river is set. The powerful with have their war, to determine whose hands hold the reins of power. But just because we know the means doesn't we know the end. Whose hands will take those reins. And what they'll do with the reins, once they have them."
"So you're going to take the reins?" Ovelia asked, in her most bitter voice.
"No," Delita said, turning to look at her. "You are."
There was nothing glib in his voice. Nothing poisonous, nothing angry. Though his face was still haunted, there was softness in his eyes, gentling his regret. She felt it soothing her anger, too.
"You're as good as any of them, Ovelia," he said. "Your claim is stronger than theirs. Your mind is sharp. And you..." His eyes softened further, just a hint of tears. "Your heart's like...like Teta's. Like Miluda's. You're just...decent. And you never give up."
"That...can't have been the plan." It was all Ovelia could think to say.
"There wasn't a plan," Delita said. "Just hope. I suddenly found that I was swimming in a river, and could either swim in it or drown. I learned all those river's currents, in hopes that I might find a safe place to land. Instead, I found you." He smiled. "You remind me of Ramza, you know."
The fondness in his voice made her think of Alma, and Agrias, and all that she had lost. "How?" she asked.
"Confidence, competence, and ignorance." He grinned at her.
She smacked his arm. "Asshole."
"It's true!" he protested. "Both of you are so absolutely certain you can take on the troubles of the world! And both of you pretend at humility!" He gestured at her. "Look at you, Ovelia. Mere months ago, you learned you were a puppet in every sense of the word. Do you know the headaches you've caused your would-be puppeteers since then? And they can't cut your strings. You're too important. Too essential. Too...you."
Delita wasn't quite looking at her. Ovelia didn't have to ask where his mind was. Her mind was in the same place.
"They're trying to," Ovelia said softly. "Cut his strings, I mean."
Delita's eyes focused on her, glaring with hate. Ovelia stared steadily back, and after a moment, those eyes softened. "Not his strings," Delita said. "They never had their strings in him." He looked down. "Just his throat."
They were silent for a moment.
"I'm doing everything I can to stop them," Delita said. "To keep Ramza safe. To keep them all..." His voice shook a little.
Delita stared at her. Ovelia stared back. "You can't," she repeated. "Keep any of them safe." She looked down at her hands. "You're just as weak as me."
Delita stared at her a moment longer. Something flickered in his face. A slow, disbelieving smile unfurled from his lips. "As weak as you?" he repeated, chuckling. "You think they'd be so worried about you if you were weak?" He shook his head. "There's a reason they keep their heels on the throats of the poor, Ovelia. There's a reason they're trying to kill Ramza and Agrias. There's a reason they keep their strings so tight on you. It's not because you're weak." He looked down at his hands. "You ever seen a behemoth?"
Ovelia nodded. "At the Royal Menagerie." Fierce creatures, huge and powerful, the muscles rippling beneath their purple skin, sharp horns gleaming over their leonine heads. She had shied back from the window into their pen, terrified. Surely they could break out? She had heard of behemoths leveling fortresses.
"There are touring companies that keep them," Delita said. "In little pens, or chained to posts."
Ovelia blinked. "How?"
"That's what I asked, too," Delita said. "What I heard is, you have to start young. Lock them in the same cart, chain them to the same post, from the time they're babies 'til the time they're fully-grown. When they're babies, they can't break out. When they're adults, they never think to try. The boundaries of their world are set. Or so they think."
Silence for a moment.
"You're calling me a behemoth?" Ovelia asked, her voice huffy and quavering.
"What?" His eyes jerked up; Ovelia pouted her lips and tried to make her eyes water.
"I've only gained a little weight, Delita, and I can't really exercise in this castle, but there's really no call for you to say such hurtful things."
"No, I..." He stared at her for a moment. "You're screwing with me?"
Ovelia smiled. "Don't be absurd. Queen Ovelia Atkascha would never screw with someone outside the bounds of holy matrimony."
Delita snorted. "Of course. I am sorry for impugning your honor, Your Majesty."
"Worry not, Ser Heiral," Ovelia said. "I'll have you drawn and quartered tomorrow. Give you time to put your affairs in order."
Delita bowed deeply. "My Queen is merciful."
He looked up at her, smiling still. Ovelia smiled back at him. She felt Simon's memory pulling down at her mind, a black rock sucking at her joy. The venomous heat still pulsed like an irregular heartbeat. But for a moment, everything felt comically normal.
"You're trying, right?" Ovelia asked. "To keep them safe?"
"Is your majesty's memory so short?" Delita asked, with mock concern. In spite of his light-hearted tone, his face was quite serious. Serious, and terribly close to her own. "Everything I can do, I will."
So close now, the burn on his cheek glistening dully before the feverish need in his eyes. She could reach out and touch that skin.
What I can do, I will.