The Skies of Alexandria:
Running down the narrow hallway toward the Princess's bedroom, I nearly lost my way. My mind was frazzled, fragmented and torn: I was in no shape for battle. But there was no way I could give up. This was all happening because of me and my carelessness: how could things have gone so wrong so quickly? Everywhere there was screaming and confusion: the sky was on fire with an unrelenting orange blaze. I grabbed as many of my soldiers as I could, catching up with them in the hall. Their eyes were wide and showed the beginnings of hopelessness. This was incredibly rare: I had trained them well. But now … something was happening, something that seemed beyond us.
" Gather the Army and await the Princess's commands!" I barked, and they nodded somberly, trotting away. I burst through the Princess's bedroom doors without warning, my mind still spinning, but eased a bit by her apparent safety.
" Your Highness!" I shouted, my hand subconsciously rising to my forehead in a makeshift salute. Garnet stood frozen at the window, her face stony and unresponsive.
" That's Bahamut, isn't it?" she asked evenly, her hands beginning to shake. She was in a state of shock, something that I refused to let my mind tumble into. " Beatrix," she said, turning to face me with eyes that resembled blank pools of dark brown fear.
" Please gather our soldiers."
" Yes, your Highness!" I proclaimed, bowing slightly, and trying harder not to let thoughts of Steiner's whereabouts slip into my mind. " Our soldiers are assembling now—they await your orders." Garnet nodded to herself. She was lost—a sixteen year old girl faced with defending her home from something unstoppable. I wanted to lift her burden, to take it on myself, but she wouldn't have allowed me to, and I wasn't sure if I could handle it at that moment. An earthquake of emotions had already swallowed me this evening: I was trying to climb out of its wake as the avalanche of the currant events knocked me down again.
We walked out to the balcony overlooking the castle's lobby, and Steiner stood below, bellowing at his Knights. The motley crew stood adjusting their armor and trying to get their bearings while Steiner circled them madly, his cheeks still red from the exertion of our earlier experience together.
" Hurray up, you fools!" he screamed in the tradition of his predecessor, Captain Lawson, who had ruled the forming Pluto Knights with the kind of iron fist that Steiner attempted to maintain. " This is an emergency! Get your act together before the Princess arrives! Line up!"
I dwindled briefly on the irony: Steiner had spent much of our time together as teens complaining about his former Captain. And now, he was the spitting image of Lawson, rigid and frantic in a crisis.
" Your Highness," I said loudly, putting Adelbert's flailing to a momentary end. He turned and looked up at me, his eyes softening a bit before he hung his head in shame. I swallowed a lump in my throat and continued: " As you can see, we are ready to act at any time. Please give your orders."
Garnet proceeded to shakily instruct the Pluto Knights, as Adelbert and I struggled to regain our composure in each other's presence. It just wasn't meant to be, I told myself. If there ever was a sign, this is one. Alexandria's army will lose all of its greatness, all of its security, if it loses its competitive edge. The contention between the male and female army keeps both sides strong … an alliance between the two must be sacrificed … for the sake of strength.
After Steiner's Knights had been deployed, I placed a hand on Garnet's shoulder and told her she was doing a good job. The girl stared back at me, blank and terrified.
" Beatrix!" Steiner shouted, a shake in his voice, " Let's go!" I watched him from above, and nodded slowly.
" All is not lost," I whispered in Garnet's ear, leaving her one of my Ethers before rushing off to join Adelbert in a battle that might easily be the last for us both.
The scene outside is chaotic and the skies are ablaze. Giant Mistodons chase people through the once-peaceful streets, crushing them beneath their monstrous weight, smashing buildings with their cumbersome bodies.
" This is it, Trixie," I hear Steiner say, somewhere in the horrific soundtrack of the night. I look to him and he seems to want to take my hand, but of course he holds back. I shut my eyes and try to focus on the task at hand. I'll let my guilt escape for now, for the sake of Alexandria.
" I will give my all for Alexandria," I whisper aloud without meaning to.
" Well said!" Steiner shouts, raising his sword, " Let's march on to victory!"
I roll my eyes at his bravado—something my Army has been trained never to bother with. Men and their proud war cries. Although they are useless by rule, I did feel something surge in me when Steiner spoke of victory. God, did we really have a chance?
The Mistodons attacked us without mercy, but we pressed on relentlessly.
" Watch out, Beatrix," Steiner would often warn, as if I couldn't take care of myself. " The enemy is close!" He kept a watch over me out of the corner of his eye; aggravating but endearing. I shrugged it off, and plunged the Save the Queen through the heart of a Mistodon. It screamed for mercy before dying, spilling blood that washed over the stone streets, swirled around my boots. So much for Beatrix La Flinte's true love. I told myself that I'd rather be wading in blood than risking Alexandria's safety for a moment of selfish pleasure.
I heard Steiner grunt beside me, and turned to see a sizable gash grace his shoulder. I jammed my weapon into the back of the beast that had inflicted it, and the monster fell with another horrible cry. Steiner's gait stuttered for a moment, and he raised his eyes to mine as I leaned down to inspect his wound.
" Beatrix," he said through gritted teeth, trying to feign apathy toward his wound. " Are you alright?" he asked me.
" I'm fine," I answered flatly, attempting the same apathy. " But what about you?" I cried, my pretense cracking, " You're wounded!"
I hadn't even considered the fact that Steiner might … die. It seemed impossible. But my ridiculous, misplaced love for him could cost him his life, along with our beloved Alexandria.
" Its just a scratch," he insisted, standing.
" You fool!" I shouted, a tear escaping the corner of my eye as more Mistodons approached. Blood coated his arm now, running down and coloring his armor dark red.
" Persistent bastards!" Steiner cried, staking another Mistodon and staggering backward.
" This is futile!" I insisted, hearing the scattering of more Mistodon feet in the distance, " Let us return to the castle! You need medical attention!" I glared at him. I would not see him lose an arm to this or any battle. I would fight Kuja's minions single-handedly for days without rest before I would see Adelbert come to harm.
" No!" Steiner shouted, as persistent a bastard as any mindless Mistodon. " I cannot face the Princess until we destroy all of these beasts! On my honor, I vow to protect the Princess—"
" Oh, Adelbert, not your damn honor!" I sobbed, ripping off part of my long skirt and attempting to tie it around his wound.
" The citizens of Alexandria—" he continued stubbornly.
" But what about yourself?" I cried, slapping him.
" And …" he stared at me with ardor, with fear, his eyes pleading for my understanding. " Beatrix! I … shall protect you! If you'll have me." He bowed his head slightly, and I kissed his forehead as I finished tying his wound. His skin was salty with sweat and blood, and there was more to come.
" Steiner," I whispered.
Suddenly a Mistodon burst from a nearby building, and we both jumped to our feet with a shortness of breath. We were beginning to see that there would be no end to Kuja's forces … only an end for us, and for Alexandria.
" Watch out!" Steiner warned as the Mistodon shot a blast of something straight for me. I ducked, then jumped forward to slay the beast. But Steiner beat me to it, impaling the giant thing with his powerful sword, and lifting it up to throw if off of his weapon and across the street. He grinned slightly, victorious for a tiny moment. But we could hear more monsters headed our way: and we could sense more behind those, more than we could handle.
" This might be it for us," Steiner admitted, and I was taken aback. He was never one to admit defeat. But even Adelbert was being a realist now. I touched his arm, and mustered all my courage.
" I have no regrets!" I declared. It was true. As guilty as it made me feel, I was glad to have spent one last night with Steiner. Maybe our world was ending because of it. But I couldn't have continued living the cruel lie that kept us apart.
We managed to slay two more Mistodons, but our strength was dwindling now. The past weeks had been taxing on both of us, and tonight had brought no relief. We needed to rest, but there would be no rest for either of us, not for some time, if ever.
" Beatrix, there is something I must tell you!" Steiner shouted over the melee, and I looked to him and wondered what we possibly had left to say to each other. Hadn't we admitted to everything?
" What is it?" I asked, a bit terrified of another unmasking of emotion.
" I …" he began, but I shook my head.
" Save your valedictions, solider," I instructed, keeping my eyes ahead, on a pack of enclosing Mistodons. " We will live to see another day!" With that, the two of us rushed into battle, fiercely chopping our way through Mistodon after Mistodon, lunging ahead though our exhausted bodies pleaded with us to give up, to succumb to death. But we wouldn't have it. We were both living to protect the other, to see to it that our love survived the battle.
A Mistodon's blast of Fiagra hit me as I realized this: that I was living for Adelbert, that he had never stopped being my reason to go on. I was blown back by the blast, and my tired bones struggled to pull me up. Steiner was shouting something … I could barely hear … there were lights everywhere …
" So this is Alexandria?"
It was beautiful.
He was beautiful.
White wings … encircling the castle …
The Princess …
I regained consciousness for a moment, only long enough to realize that Adelbert was carrying me. He was running. Monsters … following us. I dipped out of reality again, pain casting bright red flashes all around me.
I felt a blast hit me, only it did not bring me any pain. I flew through the air, weightless, able to get my eyes open only long enough to glimpse an eye looking down at me. A huge, red, angry eye blasting apart the night sky with its presence. My own eyes snapped shut again as I hit the ground. Hit the ground … Adelbert must have dropped me … he must have been hit.
I dreamt of Adelbert as I slept fitfully under the heavy curtain of pain and injury. But it was more of a memory than a dream. A memory of Adelbert, safe in a warm bed with me. It was the one and only night we'd shared an actual bed, drifted off to sleep in the comfort of each other's arms. It was the night we'd met in Treno. I'd spent my last night there with him, in a small inn on the poor side of town. A room at the bottom of some rickety stairs. A place my mother would have turned her nose up at in a instant. But it was the finest place I'd ever stayed.
" Adelbert," I heard myself muttering as my mind escaped the pull of easy, comfortable defeat. I struggled to regain consciousness, and found myself lying on something soft. A bed? The inn in Treno? No … something more decadent. A room … with no windows. Decorated mostly in purple, there was a fireplace in the corner …
" Well, hello dear," I heard a woman's voice, and I sat up slowly. But not slow enough—I felt as if my brain had hit my skull awkwardly as I rose, and was knocked back down immediately by the pain. Something cold and wet touched my forehead, and I ignored the jutting anguish and yanked my eyes open to see an older woman patting my head with a damp cloth.
" Who are you?" I managed to choke out past recently unused vocal chords.
" Where I am?" I tried to use my military training to decipher location, but the windowless room was not helping. I smelled sand. The air was dry. I heard organ music, creepy in the distance.
" I'm Hilda," the woman introduced herself cheerfully, " I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have some company down here."
" Where are we?" I asked again, beginning to come to terms with reality, and feeling incredibly worried. What had happened to the city … to Adelbert, the Princess, everyone? How did I get from Adelbert's arms to this … place?
" I'm not really sure," Hilda answered, " I've been here for months now … he brought me here under the cover of night. I'm relatively sure that we're underground, but I can't guarantee anything."
I shook my head, tried to sit up again and failed.
" You … don't understand," I said, speaking almost to the pain, more than to Hilda. " I .. have to go. I'm … needed … elsewhere."
" And you think I'm not?" Hilda asked with a scoff. " I have a cheating husband who'd just LOVE to see me right now." She turned her head and spit on the plush purple carpet.
" Wait …" I said slowly, taking in the woman's soft features and royal attire.
" You're … Regent Cid's wife? Queen of Lindblum?"
" Guilty as charged," Hilda said, plopping down beside me on the bed and examining her nails. " Now, be still, honey. You're in a bad way, I'm afraid."
" So you didn't bring me here?" I asked, reaching behind me to find that I'd been stripped of my weapon.
" I'm afraid not," Hilda said sadly. " But you should be thankful … I think he saved you."
" Who?" I demanded, tired of guessing games.
" Ah, that would be me, darling," a familiar voice cooed from the doorway. I tilted my head until I had a good view of him, so I could be sure. But no one else could have possessed that snotty, effeminate voice with such poison.
" Kuja," I said in a growl. The man who had brainwashed my Queen. The man whom I'd betrayed …
Kuja smiled evilly and adjusted his long, white hair.
" Long time no see, Trix," he said playfully, making me twitch in disgust as he used Adelbert's nickname for me.
" Damn you!" I shouted at him, " What do you want with me?"
" What, I can't bring old friends over for a visit?" he asked, winking at Hilda. She looked at her boots, sadly. Kuja walked to a piano on the other side of the room, and began playing something.
" I'm not so bad," he sang with an entertained smile, " I just hate to see a good time had … by everyone … but me." He turned and grinned at me like a cat might grin at a mouse it had trapped in its claws.
" Hilda," he said, not taking his eyes off me, " Would you kindly excuse us, love? Trixie and I have SO much to talk about."
To be continued