The night was dark, cool and crisp, filled with the slight bite of pre-winter. The rain that had been falling gratuitously for the last eight weeks had become a bitterly cold sleet, leaving a fine mist to creep in and out of the trees when it connected with the slightly warmer ground. With such limited visibility, few would dare to venture outside, especially around the hostile area of Magus' island. Despite the risks or the weather, there was one who stealthily made his way toward the stone structure, very much conscious of his surroundings and ever so careful not to make a sound. To do so would be to foil his mission, and that was just unacceptable. He knew Magus was hiding something, and was determined to find out what. If Magus didn't want it to be known, it could only be trouble.
Weighed down by his heavy wet cloak and his determination not to be caught, his progress was painfully slow, and so when he finally came to the edge of the gnarled forest that surrounded the castle, it was with a sense of relief. Now all he had to do was make it from the trees to the wall, and he would be in.
With a small smile and a rather pleased look upon his face, he was just about to dash forward when he felt the grace of cold steel wrap around his neck.
"Out for a little stroll, Frog?" a cool voice asked from behind him. Realizing just who it was that had found him, the knight's surprise at being caught turned into a silent rage.
"Magus…how didst thou know I wast here?"
"I have my ways," he answered coolly, and Frog could hear the smirk in his voice. "After all, you've been barging into my castle unbidden for quite some time now. Only an idiot would believe that I wouldn't have some way of knowing when there is an intruder."
Dawning a smirk of his own, Frog didn't hesitate in retorting. "And only a fool wouldst fail to do so until suspicion is aroused." Magus, having not found his comment amusing, brought his scythe closer to Frog's neck, allowing it to bite into his flesh. "I told you I wouldst be back to discover whatever it is that thou art hiding, Magus," he continued, all humor gone from his voice now.
"And I told you it was none of your concern," Magus replied, his voice low and dangerous, not at all concealing his underlying anger. "I warned you not to come here again, and I meant it. If you were so eager to die, I would have gladly done you the favor the last time we met. Well, there's always this time, I suppose."
Though a bit shocked that Magus was serious about hurting him, Frog was quickly able to summon a water spell and throw it into Magus' face. Surprised, Magus loosened his hold on Frog, allowing for him to escape with only a nick. Taking advantage of the wizard's current sputtering position, Frog leapt deftly into the air, fully intending to cut his opponent down. Of course, having only had water thrown in his face, Magus was therefore was not distracted enough to be defeated, and steel met steel when Frog landed.
"Still as annoying as ever, you worthless amphibian," Magus ground out, slowly sliding the blade of his Doomsickle up that of the Masamune.
"And I see that thou art just as cowardly as before, attacking thine enemies whilst their backs art turned," Frog spat, struggling to get the upper hand before Magus could.
"Hmph. If it works…" he began, baring his teeth in a wicked smile, eyes glowing with assured victory, "do it." With that, Magus quickly swung around and hit the back of Frog's knees with the staff of his scythe, knocking the knight flat on his back. Before he could recover, Frog found himself at the sharpened end of Magus' weapon, which was just as deadly as the blade itself. Defeated, Frog looked up into the gloating face of the victor.
"I'm a bit disappointed in you, Frog. I would have thought you'd put up more of a fight," Magus sneered, pouring malice into every word. "I must have given you too much credit." At that, he placed his foot firmly on Frog's chest, ready to give the final blow. However, just as he raised his scythe, a loud crash was heard from within the castle. Jerking his head back to see what had caused the commotion, Magus forgot to keep an eye on his captive, who used the opportunity to knock the scythe away from him and scramble to his feet.
"What seems to be matter, Magus?" Frog asked, picking up the now muddy Masamune. "Thee seem distracted."
Magus, having realized his mistake, let out a low sound that could only be described as a growl, and Frog could see a Dark Bomb had been formed in his opponent's hand. Jumping out of the way just as Magus threw it, Frog was able to avoid the explosion of dark energy, though the ends of his cloak were singed.
"Thee will have to do better than that," Frog quipped, goading the irate man in front of him on. Just as he finished his sentence, Magus threw another, and the knight barely managed to get away, his cloak ripping to tatters this time. However, he continued to provoke his rival. "Thine aim is off tonight," he said mockingly. "Mayhap thee aren't as powerful as thou thinks, if you can't dispose of one 'worthless amphibian.'"
To put it lightly, Magus was not pleased, and his eyes practically glowed with anger, the beginnings of Dark Matter crackling at his fingertips. Frog feared that he may have gone too far, for if Magus used that attack against him, he would likely not be able to dodge it.
Magus seemed about to say something when yet another crashing sound came from inside the castle, this time accompanied by a small explosion. In a rare display of indecisiveness, Magus seemed unable to move as he looked back and forth between the building and his opponent, and Frog noticed with a bit of relief that the spell his foe had started summoning had dissipated.
"…Dammit," was all he said before finally turning and heading back toward the castle. Frog began to follow, raising the Masamune again, amazed that Magus would dare turn his back on an enemy. "Consider this your last warning," the mage threw over his shoulder as he walked away, giving Frog a piercing look from the corner of his eye that made him stop dead in his tracks. He hadn't seen Magus look at him that way since they had defeated him in his castle. "If I see you here again," he continued coldly, "I will kill you." With that, he levitated off the ground and sped away.
Knowing his chance was ruined for the night, Frog sheathed his blade, and left.
Thoroughly furious at having lost his chance to rid himself of his nemesis, Magus stormed his way back into the castle. On his way, he heard more crashing sounds, many of which were accompanied by curses not fit for a lady's mouth. Of course, Lucca Ashtear wasn't exactly what one would consider a lady. Angrier by the minute, Magus picked up the pace and nearly kicked the door in when he finally got to the room where all the noise was coming from.
"Lucca! What in the hell are you doing in-" stopping short, Magus took a moment to take in what he saw before him. Put simply, Lucca had been busy.
The once neat and orderly room was now the equivalent of a small junk yard. Scraps of twisted metal lay everywhere, some of it half formed and molded into an unidentifiable new shape. Two of the walls were badly charred, one even had half a stone missing from it, and the acrid stench of sulfur hung thickly in the air. And there, sitting in the middle of it all, was Lucca- face black with soot, hair disheveled, and screwdriver thoroughly wedged between her teeth- crouched over a smoking hunk of welded iron that looked ready to explode again at any moment. Knowing what she was up to, Magus was very curt in his next statement.
Looking up innocently, Lucca could only blink in confusion before asking, in a rather muffled voice due to the screwdriver, "What?"
"This," he replied with a sweep of his arm to indicate the current state of the room. Then, pointing at the partially finished object in Lucca's hands, he added, "And that."
"What about it?"
"You will not be doing that here," he answered in a firm tone, crossing his arms over his chest and giving her a stern look. "I won't have you blowing up this castle."
"I won't blow it up!" she retorted, screwdriver falling from her mouth and clattering to a rest amidst the piles of junk. Glaring, Magus shifted his eyes to the wall behind her, indicating the charred and broken wall. After turning to see what he was looking at, Lucca grimaced when she saw the damage she had caused.
"…I'll fix it."
"No. You won't. There will be no more of you doing anything of this sort."
"No, Lucca. Now, what you are going to do is clean this scrap heap up and abandon whatever it is that's in your hand."
Returning his glare, Lucca retrieved her screwdriver from the floor and proceeded to fiddle with her project before saying matter-of-factly, "You can't tell me what to do, Magus."
"Clean. It. Up," he replied, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists in a rather valiant effort not to lose his temper. Lucca paid no heed to his demands, choosing instead to ignore him and continue working. At this point, Magus had had enough, and was about to go into a spitting rage when Lucca cut in.
"I need to go into town soon. …Very soon," she said, reaching behind her to pull out a small wrench. "So, I'll be needing a weapon. I forgot mine at home, and using magic might attract too much attention to myself." With a few quick jerks of her wrist, a loud popping noise was heard just as something shot out from inside the mangled metal in her hand, landing somewhere amidst the piles of junk. "…I don't think I needed that piece, anyway," she stated with a frown, putting the wrench away.
Narrowing his eyes and deepening his scowl, Magus asked, "And why would you need to go into town? "
"Well," Lucca began, her face showing the utmost concentration as she carefully soldered two slabs of metal together with her magic. "As I'm sure you haven't noticed, being you and all, I'm starting to get…bigger, in certain areas. As such, I'm not fitting so well into my clothes. So, I figured I'd go to town and buy some that actually allow me to breathe when I put them on in the morning, before I'm stuck running around naked."
At that, Magus became strangely silent, and though she didn't know why, she knew he was glowering at her.
"…you're not to leave this castle," he said finally, voice flat and serious.
Lucca, not liking such a decree, stopped her work, returning her screwdriver to its place in her belt and setting her project down. After quickly adjusting her glasses, she fixed Magus with a cutting glare.
"And why, O Great King of Nothing, is that?"
"Because someone may follow you back to this castle, and one of the last things I want to deal with is an angry mob of townspeople attempting to do what that frog couldn't and kill me."
"You expect me to stay in this castle forever?" she exclaimed, standing up in order to better see him. "That's not fair! You can't-"
"Then go home," he cut in, turning his back to her and heading toward the door.
"You know I can't do that, Magus! I have no where else to go!"
"Then you've made your choice, haven't you?" And with that, he walked out, leaving Lucca to stare in anger and disbelief after him.
"ARG! That stupid, egotistical, jerk!" Lucca cried as she stumbled over a rock. "I wouldn't have to go this way if it weren't for him being so- AH!" she shouted, slipping a ways down the grimy rocks.
A week had passed since Magus had forbidden her from leaving the castle, and during that week, Lucca had spent most of her time avoiding him, choosing to instead- as far as Magus knew, anyway- sulk in her room. What he didn't know, however- or perhaps choose not to acknowledge the possibility- was that Lucca had continued work on her new gun, finishing it the night before and fully intending to sneak out the next morning. Unfortunately, that meant no Epoch, since the noise it would make would undoubtedly alert him as to her absence, or worse, make him think he had finally gotten rid of her. Without it, she only had one option: the bat infested, rarely used Magic Cave. It also meant navigating around the places where Magus had set warp points after Frog's last visit, which would send trespassers straight to his dungeon. Much to her chagrin, avoiding the warps meant a great deal of climbing to places certain amphibians couldn't get to.
"I can't believe he actually expected me to stay in that castle! Who does he think he is? My father? The nerve of that inconsiderate bas- ACK!" Attempting to jump to the next rock, Lucca slipped and fell in a pile of bat droppings. This, of course, did not bode well, and the string of curses that followed were enough to put sailors to shame.
Finally, after another hour or so of trudging, tantrums, and shooting bats, she reached the mouth of the cave. Brushing what she could of the dirt and grime off of her clothes, she continued on to Porre, hoping that the rest of the day would be smooth sailing. At least until she had to go back through the cave.
The town was alive with people, with dust thick in the air from recently passed carts, and shopkeepers peddling their goods to whoever passed by. Children scampered about, sometimes cutting other people off, pretending to be members of the Knights of the Square table valiantly defeating the evil wizard, a fact Lucca noticed with a bit of satisfaction. Smiling, she took a few moments to relish the hustle and bustle of civilization before heading to the clothing shop.
Inside it was dark and musty, and Lucca had to stifle the urge to cover her nose at the pungent scent of sweat that hung in the air. A scent that no doubt came from the fat, balding man at the counter, who seemed to be dozing off.
"Hi!" she exclaimed, approaching him with a smile. "I'd like to be fitted for new clothes, please."
The man lazily opened one eye, gazing at Lucca for a second before proceeding to staring at her belly. Then, with a quick glance at her hand, he closed his eye again. Not wanting to make a commotion, but certainly not willing to be ignored, Lucca tried again.
"Umm…I'm sorry, sir, if this is a bad time, but I really need some new clothes. I can pay you well for the trouble." Not receiving any response other than a slight twitch of his lip, she continued. "Look…I don't have very much time; I have to be somewhere. So, if you could just- "
"We don't serve your type here," he interrupted with a gruff voice, not even bothering to open his eyes.
"My…type…?" she stammered, confused. "What do you mean by that?"
"You know exactly what I mean," he answered. "An unmarried woman with child. It's bad for business."
"What do you mean, 'bad for business'?" she shouted, a little red in the face. "I am business!"
"Sorry, but it's policy," he stated, rising from his seat and heading toward the back room. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some respectable customers waiting."
Not being one to take such treatment, Lucca blurted the first thing that came to mind.
"You idiot! I am married!"
Stopping just short of the door, the shopkeeper turned to look at her. "Oh?" he asked, eyeing her doubtfully. "Then where's your ring?"
Realizing her mistake a bit too late, she came up with a quick lie. "I…I was robbed. Just outside of town. By…by mystics."
"What were you doing outside of town all by yourself, miss?" he asked, giving her a scrutinizing look.
"Well…I was with my…husband, but he left for a moment to get his bearings. While he was gone, they attacked me and took my ring: the only thing I had on me that was of any value. When my husband returned and found out what happened, he went after them and told me to head the rest of the way into town and wait for him," she explained, inwardly groaning at how absurd she must have sounded.
Mulling her story over, the man waited a few moments before saying, "Well. I'll tell you what, miss. You bring this husband of yours in when he comes back, and I'll have my sister make you some clothes. I'll even give them to you at no charge for the inconvenience. But, if he doesn't come back, well, you'll be needing a new husband anyway, now won't you?" At this, he started laughing, and Lucca was just about to hit him when a voice called from the backroom.
"Derek! That's a horrible thing to say!" The shopkeeper- Derek, apparently- quickly stopped laughing, instead adopting a rather sheepish look as a slightly older woman stepped into view. "How can you go around joking to people like that? You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"But, Senda. She might not be married at all," he mumbled.
"Well, I believe her," the woman, Senda, said, giving Lucca a quick look over. "Just look at the state she's in! Why, I've seen work boots cleaner than her." Embarrassed, Lucca couldn't help but blush. "Come on, dear," Senda continued, turning and giving her a warm smile. "Just ignore my brother and I'll get you fitted in some new clothes right away." Before Lucca had a chance to say anything, Senda grabbed her hand and dragged her into the backroom, leaving a thoroughly scolded Derek in her wake.
The next hour was spent idly chitchatting while Senda measured, cut and sewed, while Lucca stood straight up without moving in case any more measurements had to be taken. Of course, it was only so long before their talk would turn to what had started the trouble to begin with.
"So, how far along are you, dear?"
"What?" Lucca asked, caught off guard.
Smiling, Senda gave her a flat look. "Your baby, dear. How far along is it?"
"Oh…umm…about three months," she said, with a slightly saddened look. Senda, having seen this, gave another warm smile.
"Now don't worry about your husband, dear. I'm sure he's fine. Those mystics haven't been nearly so strong since that Magus character disappeared. Hmph. You have to wonder what kind of a leader runs out on his troops, don't you, dear?" This time, Lucca smiled.
"He was probably just a coward who ran away when he heard Sir Glenn was coming," she quipped, wishing she could see Magus' face if he had heard what she'd said. This caused the older woman to laugh.
"Careful, dear, or you'll make me miss a stitch," she chuckled. With a sigh, she continued, "Three months, though. You're already a third of the way there. You're going to enjoy motherhood, dear; it's such a wonderful experience." Lucca frowned at this, seriously doubting the statement's validity. "All my children have grown and moved on, but at least I have the memories," she sighed, losing herself in thought. Seeing the woman's blissful expression, Lucca tried to imagine the kind of days with her baby that would produce such a countenance. But, try as she might, she just couldn't get past the thought of kicking, screaming, and diaper changing. "…- wife yet?"
Snapping out of her thoughts, she could only reply with a dull, "Huh?"
"Not quite all there today, dear?" Senda asked with a playful tone. "It's alright. I was the same way when I was having my first. I was just asking if you and your husband had chosen a midwife yet."
"A…midwife?" Lucca asked, wrinkling her brow. "Why would I need one of those?"
"Well, you can't be expected to do all the work, now can you, dear?" she said, fixing her with a look. "Once you get a midwife, she can help you with the housework when you get too big to do it yourself. She can make sure you and your baby stay healthy, and once the little one is born, she can help you take care of it." At this, Lucca perked up. "Alright, dear. I've finished," she announced, rising from her seat. "Try it on and see if it fits."
"Alright," Lucca agreed, grabbing the dress and looking around. "Err…is there somewhere I can change?"
"So shy, dear?" she said with a light laugh. "I'll leave the room for you, then. You just call me when you're ready."
Lucca waited for the door to close before quickly getting changed. After pulling the cotton over her head, she couldn't help but marvel over how much more comfortable it was than her shorts had been recently. Ignoring the muffled voices of Senda and her brother arguing with a customer outside the door, Lucca took a moment to look at herself in the mirror. The dress wasn't much as far as looks went, mainly a light green with only a few light blue flowers printed across it, and being of a simple cut, but after being confined to such tight clothes as she had been, looks mattered even less than they usually did to her. She could even ignore the fact that it was a dress as long as she kept its comfort in mind. Smiling, Lucca called for Senda, who smiled upon entering.
"Ah, you look much better, dear. Not quite so uncomfortable as you were, are you?"
Giving the front of the store a curious look as she heard the door slam, Lucca asked, "What was all that commotion about? I heard you and your brother arguing with someone."
Senda's smile vanished. "A young man came in looking for his cousin, and wouldn't leave even when we told him there was only one young lady here who was with her husband. He wanted to see for himself, but, since you were changing, we couldn't let him. Then he just got upset and started yelling. There was something strange about him, though. I couldn't put my finger on it, but…" Shaking her head, Senda continued. "Well, no use trying to figure it out now, is there? You look marvelous, dear. Now why don't you go down to the inn and rest until your husband returns? I'm sure it won't be long now."
"Thank you, Senda," Lucca said with a smile. "How much do I owe you?"
"After the way my brute of a brother treated you? Why, nothing at all, dear. You just use that money to get yourself some lunch. You have to get used to eating for more than yourself now, dear."
Pleased, Lucca left the store with another word of thanks- though not before discreetly placing a handful of gold pieces in the potted plant on the counter. Walking down the street, she kept thinking about the midwife Senda was talking about, and in turn thinking about how much easier things would be for her if she hired one. With a bitter smile, she shook her head.
"Magus would never go for it," she mumbled. "I'd better get back, though. I'm sure he's already realized I'm not there and will be throwing a fit."
However, just as she was about to start walking back toward the Magic Cave, someone leapt out from between two of the buildings, grabbing her and covering her mouth before she could even think of screaming.
A/N: And there it is! My Easter present to you, the real chapter seven, not the imposter. On that note, I'd like to assure you all thatFan-Fic-Robin-Hood did not have my permission or my blessing in any way to do what he did, and I take this as not only theft, but a personal insult, all the more degrading since he made the characters rampantly OOC in only one chapter...quite an accomplishment.
To those of you who are patient and trustworthy, I'd like to thank you so much for your concern (I got over 100 e-mails from you guys. I didn't even know that I had that many readers), and for sticking with me. I assure you this story is far too important to me to ever abandon...or to just turn over to someone who has no idea what he's doing. If you've stuck with me this far, I can only hope you're willing to continue, and to wait to see how this story is truly meant to turn out.
I'd also like to give a BIG thanks to my beta, Sketch. Thanks, hon! (smooch)
Well! Happy Easter, everyone! Or, if you don't celebrate it, Happy Sunday, then!