Disclaimer: I do not own Star Ocean or its Characters.
Note: Alright, it's sad to see this story end but it just came out that way – so here's the last chapter. I know, I'm supposed to be updating The Untold Story, but this one took over. And I know he'll never read this but I'm going to send out a Thank You to my (non) friend Cancer for helping with ideas…(lol)
Dialog – "Blah"
Thoughts – 'Blah'
Chapter 14: Words and Meanings
Nel exited the castle with little trouble. Only a few short months ago the task would have been all but impossible. A few months ago the countries were still at war and the security was tight. Today the security was minimum and access was easy.
Even getting into the Kings conference chamber and out undetected was easy.
She hadn't walked the streets long before she spotted Mirage. Dusk was settling in on the castle and it had been a full day. She had a lot to tell Mirage. She had learned something very interesting while spying on the King, but she doubted it was information to tell Cliff or Roger. Those two had a way of taking information and blowing it out of proportion.
Mirage composed herself in her normal fashion. Her voice didn't once betray her eagerness to know what Nel had learned. "Perhaps we should reserve rooms for the night."
Nel shifted her glance between Cliff and Roger. "That would be a wise thing to do."
Mirage handled the whole transaction of getting the rooms. She escorted Cliff and Roger to the room they were sharing before guiding Nel to the room they would be sharing. She gave one last glance down the hall before closing the doors.
Nel watched her and waited for the signal to talk.
Mirage leaned on the door. "I believe the walls have ears." She pointed her thumb over her shoulder.
Nel grinned. She could have guessed that the guys would try to listen in. After all their travels together some things became common knowledge. Nel moved to the window and pointed out with a questioning look.
Mirage smiled and nodded. Following the red head, they both deftly climbed the outer wall. Nel was only slightly impressed with the Klausian. She had seen enough to know the woman had what it took to be a top notch spy.
Once they were on the roof they scanned the streets below. There was an hour until sunset and the whole area was doused in an orange hue.
"They're in the castle aren't they?"
"Yes," Nel responded in a low tone. Even the roof might not provide the privacy they wanted so both kept their voices down.
"And what did you find out?"
The small mischievous smile on Mirage's face caused Nel to chuckle lightly. She was truly a woman who could get things done; but was just a curious as Cliff. Nel couldn't help but to wonder if all of her race were the same way.
"It would seem that Albel put in a rather odd formal request with the King," Nel responded vaguely to keep an air of mystery going for just a bit longer.
"It would seem he requested noblecy."
"Albel requested that the King take into consideration to deem someone a noble."
Mirage looked at the castle again before turning back to Nel. "Interesting. During the time I was watching over Ameena I did a lot of reading about Aquarian and Glyphian culture. That is quite a request to make."
"Yes it is."
Mirage smiled at Nel's tact. She would not divulge anymore information without a push. Mirage admired that about Nel. "And who is it he requested this for?" She asked though she had a good idea of who it would be.
Nel matched Mirage's mischievous smile. "Sophia."
"Well then," Mirage replied. "That leaves us with only one option. We'll have to go see the King first thing in the morning."
Sophia couldn't help but to feel abandoned. She had followed Albel to Airyglyph and even into the castle just to have him part ways with her. He had left her in the care of a maid but it didn't help her to feel any better.
He hadn't talked to her much during the trip. She would try to start a conversation but his responses were always short. He wasn't rude or mean; but he didn't seem to want to talk much either. She tried not to let it bother her. It was evident that something was on his mind.
One thing she had learned was that everyone needed their own space. Each had to deal with their own problems in their own ways. He always dealt with his silently. She tried not to worry about him. It was clear that something weighed on his mind.
Nothing he said gave her any indication why he had brought her along. She had eaten her dinner and had decided that she would visit the tower. It was a place she had found a short while back and so far her favorite place on the planet. The gardens of Aquaria came in a close second.
She circled the tower, taking in the scene from all angles. Aquaria was the holy country and therefore held a certain majestic feel. The whole country was beautiful. With Airyglyph it was like the beauty rested hidden for those who tried to find. But she had found it and had fallen instantly in love with it.
She had made it halfway around the circle when something caught her attention. Two distant figured were walking on the roof of the inn. If not for the trademark scarf of one and braid of the other, the distance would have concealed their identities.
Now she was curious. She didn't understand why she was there but to see them added to the mystery of it all. Well, if she wanted answers the best thing to do was to go and ask. She still had half an hour until sun down and even then the time wasn't late.
Besides, she had enough sleep for the time being. She was wide awake and decided a trip was what she needed. The maid had told her she would be back in the morning to help. The maid's behavior was odd but Sophia didn't say anything for fear of sounding rude. All she had to do was be sure she was back in the room provided before morning.
That wouldn't be a problem. She wasn't tired now but she did intend to get some decent sleep tonight. After all the chaos over the last few days, she needed a good nights rest.
She set down the stairs with the inn as a destination. Something was going on and she would get to the bottom of it. Albel's behavior and now more show up in the town. Yes, something was going on and she wanted to know what it was.
"Are you sure they are in there?" Roger whispered.
"Yeah, I saw them go in myself. They sure are quiet."
Giving up on pressing his ear to the wood, Roger sat on the floor. "Maybe they just made it look like they went in. They are pretty sneaky." He was tired. They had been listening at the door for what felt like hours.
Cliff perked up a little. "You're telling me. Mirage can be so sneaky sometimes it's scary. She's worse then me at times…Hey, I bet they aren't in the room."
"So, what do we do now?"
Cliff scratched his head and sat on the floor with his back to the door. "Beats me. Doesn't look like we'll be getting any answers for a while."
The two sat in silence for a while.
"We went through all of that and we still don't know," Roger said with his ears drooping.
Both Roger and Cliff immediately jumped to their feet and stood at attention. Sophia couldn't help but to laugh. She had come to the inn to see why Mirage and Nel were there but she hadn't expected to see Roger and Cliff sitting on the floor.
"S-Sophia! Don't scare me like that!"
"Sorry, Cliff." Sophia tried to stifle her laugh the best she could.
"Hey, Lady Phia! Watcha doin' here?"
"Oh, I came to see why you were here. Well, not you two. I didn't even know you were here. I came to see what Mirage and Nel were doing on the ro…"
"What we're doing?" Nel asked promptly interrupting Sophia as she opened the door.
Nel stepped out of the room and gave Mirage space to exit behind her. "Hello, Sophia. How are you?" Mirage asked as if she had no idea she would run into Sophia in Airyglyph.
"I'm okay, but…"
"Good," Nel said wrapping her arm around Sophia's shoulders and guiding her down the hall. "How about some hot cider?"
"Yes, the restaurant downstairs makes good hot cider," Mirage echoed.
Cliff and Roger stood glued in place and watched the three disappear.
"What just happened?" Roger looked up, clearly confused.
"That is lesson one for 'female comprehension'. No matter what, it's best not to try to understand them."
Roger nodded in agreement and put on his best serious face. The lines he had formed in his composer quickly melted to a look of confusion. "I still don't get it."
"Ah, don't try. I don't know about you but hot cider sounds good about now."
Roger followed Cliff. If his tail was any longer it would have dragged the ground. "I don't see what cider has to do with it either."
Sophia wasn't given any time to argue before she was sat down at a table with a glass of steaming apple cider in front of her. She simply smiled and watched as Mirage and Nel passed meaningless conversation between each other. They were shortly joined by Cliff and Roger.
"Um, excuse me." She had spoken just loud enough to get their attention but not shout. "Can someone tell me what's going on?"
Nel and Mirage gave her questioning looks. Roger and Cliff passed their looks between Nel and Mirage.
"You don't know?" Nel asked softly.
Mirage rested her hand on Sophia's shoulder. "I'm sorry but it's not our place to tell. You might have to wait until morning."
Sophia sipped her drink. She could tell that between the five of them only Mirage and Nel knew what was going on. But that did not explain why she had to wait.
"Alright, then what are you doing here?"
Nel shifted her eyes across the table to Mirage. "I…had business here in Airyglyph."
Sophia looked at Nel with a small smirk. "Business? Um, what kind of business?"
Nel shook her head. "I need to see the King tomorrow on orders."
Sophia nodded slowly. "And why is everyone else here?"
"We came to aid Nel should she need us," Mirage replied.
"No way, we came to see what was going on!" Roger exclaimed.
Cliff quickly nudged him under the table. "Roger," he whispered into the Menodix's ear. "If we play along they might tell us what's going on."
Roger's ears perked. "Yeah! Business with the King," he said with too much enthusiasm.
Mirage and Nel both gave the boy a cold stare. Cliff smiled trying to cover for Roger. "You got to ignore him. He's had too much caffeine."
Mirage shook her head slightly before turning to Sophia. "It's getting dark. Do you have somewhere to stay for the night?"
"Yeah. I should be getting back."
Nel stood at the same time Sophia did. "I can walk with you."
"Oh, there's no need. It's not too far. Well, I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow. Good night."
Once Sophia had left, Cliff gave the two remaining women a cocky smile. "Well?"
Mirage smiled softly and tilted her head toward him. Her eyes remained fixed on Nel. "Cliff's right."
His smile widened in anticipation. He was sure playing along had gotten him exactly what he wanted.
"I suppose you're right," Nel responded before draining her cup. She sat her empty cup beside Mirage's. "It is late and way passed Roger's bed time."
Cliff's jaw dropped. "Whoa! Hold up."
"Yes, Cliff." Mirage stood beside Nel.
"What about filling us in?"
"Well…" Mirage started.
Nel took over. "There's no real information to give. Things have been set in motion and it all depends on Sophia now."
Cliff stood, leaving Roger to sit and watch the whole scenario in confusion.
"At least tell me what you know," Cliff called as the two walked away. When his response came in the form of silence he turned to Roger. "Come on squirt. I guess we'll have to wait."
Roger jumped down from his seat and followed Cliff. "That's the last time I listen to you."
As confused as she was, Sophia was surprised at how easily sleep had claimed her. In a blink the morning sun had surfaced. She had just sat up in bed when the door to her room crept open.
Instinctively she pulled the blanket up to her chin to cover the night gown she wore. Her tension eased slightly when she saw the maid from yesterday enter.
"Good morning, miss."
"Good morning," Sophia replied watching the maid cross the room.
"I do hope your night was a pleasant one."
Sophia nodded as the maid neared the bed. The girl wasn't much older then she was.
"That is good to hear. Now, the Lady has a big day ahead. My services are at your disposal." She bent over and placed a box on the foot of the bed.
Sophia paled. "W-what's that?" She didn't need to ask. She knew immediately what it was.
The maid smiled oblivious to Sophia's nervousness. "It was sent for your use."
"By who?" Sophia demanded in a quiet harsh voice.
The maid blinked in surprise. "Why by Lord Albel. Who else?"
"He…he can't be serious." Sophia threw the covers off; knocking the box off the bed.
The maid reacted quickly to retrieve the contents and replace them in the box. "Miss?" She looked up in time to see Sophia reach the door. "Miss?"
Sophia flung the door open and padded down the hall with bare feet. At the moment she was chilled as the cold seeped through the thin gown. She ignored it as she focused on her destination. She wasn't going to stop until she had set things straight.
When she reached his door she didn't stop to knock. With the same force she had used on her own door, she swung his door open. As the wood hit the stone wall with a dull thud, his gaze met hers.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed. Obviously he had wakened not long ago.
"What?" he asked harshly as he rubbed his face with his good hand.
"What? Don't 'what' me." She was surprised at her own calmness.
He lowered his hand and gave her a droggy smirk. "Do you always rush into a man's room in your gown?"
She blushed partly from embarrassment and partly from anger. "Don't change the subject."
"Oh? And what subject is that?"
She reached behind without looking and pushed the door closed. It was bad enough she had walked through the castle in her night gown. If anyone were to pass by then the whole scenario would surly be misinterpreted.
"What do you think?" She pointed behind her and towards her room. "What was that about?"
He yawned and shook his head. "What is what about?" His voice was surprisingly calm.
She balled both fist at her side. She wasn't sure if he was playing games with her or if he was truly trying to think through the sleep that remained in him.
"That box. Really, what's going on Albel?"
"That," he responded standing up, "should be evident."
For the first time she noticed how he was dressed. His night time attire consisted of slacks with a pull string tie at the waist and nothing else. She felt her checks flush again.
"I…" She swallowed hard. "I don't understand."
He cocked his head to the side. "What is there not to understand?"
She took a small step toward him. "Do you know exactly what's in that box?"
"I'm not a moron."
"Okay then. Tell me what it is in that box."
He locked his eyes on hers. "It's your reason to stay."
She released her fist and shifted her eyes; trying to read his face. "My reason? How is that dress my reason?"
Looking at him she knew the answer. She pieced it all together in one swift thought. He must have seen the realization in her eyes. He kept himself from responding as he crossed his arms and waited.
Her head started to spin. She swallowed hopelessly trying to moisten her dry mouth. She didn't understand how he could just assume she would so easily go along with it. Inside the box was the dress that had been meant for Ameena's wedding. She could still recall the beautifully scripted words on the card attached.
Please accept my deepest apologies. This dress was designed to symbolize a happy day. A wondrous day in Ameena's life. When time comes for you to wed, I pray to Apris that this gown will bring you the same joy every bride should bare.
Sincere apologies and best wishes.
Albel didn't know her at all. How could he assume she wouldn't argue? He hadn't even asked. He practically told her. Did he always have to be in control? Was it his way or no way?
But she knew she could reject him. He had to know this too. She begun to wonder if it was his need to be in control or could it possibly be he feared rejection. Everyone feared rejection. Surely he felt the same way…didn't he?
She wasn't sure how to feel. Part of her wanted to walk away in anger but she hesitated.
"You could have asked."
He arched one eyebrow. "And what would you have said?"
"I…I don't know." She looked down, unable to meet his stare.
Our young lass was raging a mental war. She was torn between the fairy tale she had dreamt of and the reality she faced. She had dreamt of romance and roses but real life provided harshness and thorns. She doubted herself more then anything else. She wondered if growing up meant losing dreams long imagined.
He turned his back to her. "Bah."
She looked up to see his thin golden hair hang loosely down his bare back.
"You have been nothing but trouble from the day we met," he said over his shoulder.
That's when the understanding of his words finally seeped into her. All the times he had been calling her trouble was a way for him to admit his feelings. In his own way it was a confession. Something dark lurked in him and it prevented him from words. The same words she had been longing to hear were sealed from his lips. He was trying – she could see how hard he tried. Her heart jumped as she stretched her fingers to touch him.
He flinched slightly under her touch. She allowed her palm to press on his back as his hair hung between her fingers. She brought her other hand up and gently wrapped it around his arm. She pulled slightly, begging him to turn without words. He answered by slowly turning. In his eyes was a hint of worry. It was faint but detectable.
She didn't stare long at his eyes. She couldn't. Her vision was beginning to blur from fresh tears. Instead of wiping them, she allowed them to flow as she reached both hands out. She embraced him as she rested her head on his chest. Her breath remained even as a steady stream of tears ran down her cheeks.
He kept his arms slack for a while before returning her embrace. She sighed, clearing her throat. She tightened her hold around him.
"Albel…" She paused and took a deep breath. "I love you too."
In the years to follow our lass was able to open our swordsman up to her more. In public he always referred to her as his wife; in private he called her trouble. On rare occasions the words she could easily say would escape his lips in the dark of night.
Now the hour grows late and my story is drawing to an end. My story may be over but the tale is true. For this is how my parents met. This is the tale of how your grandparents fell in love.
This is a story of a young lass, a reluctant swordsman and the bitter-sweet motivations that brought them together.
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(A/N) If you are wondering – I watch way too many Disney movies. That last section is something I've had since near the beginning of this story. Well, I hope you liked.