Yup you read right! This is an Alnel story written by several authors around This first chapter is mine (Sorceress Myst) and the next chapter will continue with the next person in line. If you would also like to be apart of this project, then please stop by at Raven's site to sign up (go to the Swordsman and the Spy forum on ff net to get the link). I hope you enjoy the story!
Disclaimer: I do not own SO3 or any of it's characters...
"I want to marry her!"
The adults paused in their conversation to look down upon the little voice that made the declaration. The small boy only glared back at them with determination in his blood red orbs. It wasn't long before the boy's father let out a smirk, followed by a small chuckle, and then the other man started laughing as well. It only deepened the glare on the boy's face and made him fist his tiny hands.
"Albel, who are you talking about?" the father inquired to his seven year old son after he was able to contain his laughter.
"Nel. I want to marry her," he repeated without falter.
"My daughter?" the other man said with a raised eyebrow, "Hmm. Why on Elicoor do you want to marry her all of a sudden? Last time I checked, you two weren't getting along very well."
Young Albel blushed and finally glanced away, "…I like her now. She's different from all the boring girls around here…"
"Does she…like you back?" his father asked curiously.
"No…" the boy pouted before turning to face his father, "But she can learn to!"
That earned him another bout of laughter.
Nevelle Zelpher and Glou Nox were both well known within their kingdoms. Glou was the captain of the Dragon Brigade for the Kingdom of Airyglyph and Nevelle was the captain of the Secret Legion and leader of the Crimson Blades for the Kingdom of Aquaria. They were both opposite and the same, making them the perfect friends. They both had similar glories and tragedies. Both married the women of their dreams and they bore them healthy children, and at the same time, both women died from child birth. They were both left to raise their only children and forced to leave them behind when they had missions. It was as if the two men lived parallel lives, except the events seemed to happen a year apart.
Unfortunately, Glou and Nevelle's friendship was forbidden because of the tension between their kingdoms. Every year the citizens of Airyglyph were starving because their lands couldn't produce enough produce. The only fertile lands they had for agriculture were the Granah Hills (where the flat parts of the land were no larger than a soldier's shield) and the Kirlsa/Aire Hills, but that was a land jointly owned by Airyglyph and Aquaria. Aquaria wanted the Kirlsa/Aire Hills because of the rich mineral deposits and didn't seem to care about the famine plaguing the neighboring kingdom. It was partly because of the dispute over the lands and the new moral of the reformed Brigades that a war between the two kingdoms seemed inevitable.
But for the time being, there was no war. Glou and Nevelle didn't have to worry about slaying each other for the good of their kingdoms. For now, all they worried about was the well being of their children. They were growing up without a mother and as much as Glou and Nevelle loved them, they couldn't give up their duties to stay with them. They figured that if their children could become as close friends as their fathers were, then they would be able to get through life without any emotional scars. Also, it would be beneficial to have them learn not to hate the other kingdom should they go to war.
Albel and Nel's first meeting had not gone as well as hoped because the hateful words of the commoners had reached their ears and taught them not to trust anyone from the neighboring kingdom. …Or it could have been the fact that Albel, while adorable, had an attitude about him and wasn't particularly nice to girls while Nel had a stubborn streak and enough pride to kill a lum. Whatever the reason, most of the visits included at least three different arguments, one fight, a temporary truce for a juice break (though they'd find a way to argue about which flavor of juice was better), and then either have another fight or an argument before their fathers broke them apart and went home. Glou and Nevelle were about to give up hope that they were ever going to get along until Albel approached them with his request…well it was more of a demand really.
Marriage never crossed their minds before, but once it was mentioned, it seemed like a good idea. If an Aquarian and a Glyphian could get along enough to get married, then that could be used to bring peace to the two kingdoms. It was a shock and a joy that Albel was taking a liking to Nel, but there was no guarantee that she would have the same change of heart. Perhaps she could 'learn to like him' as Albel had said, but for the time being, why not let Albel convince her that he was not such a bad kid?
"Well then…" Nevelle started as he kneeled down to the boy's level, "If Nel agrees to marry you and when the kingdoms are at peace, you have my consent to marry her when you are both old enough."
"Old enough? How long will that be?" he complained, remembering all the talks the grown-ups gave him about being old enough.
"I'd say after your Ascension of the Flame, you should be old enough then," Glou replied with a fond look for his son.
"He would be …fifteen by then, right? Isn't that a bit young?" Nevelle queried with curiosity as he arose from his kneeling position.
"Yes, but Nel would be fourteen by then and it's wise to have her married off shortly after she has reached womanhood. At least that's what I've been hearing from the midwife after Dirna's…" Glou trailed off at the mention of his late wife. Nevelle nodded sympathetically, understanding the pain his friend was still going through.
"If that's true, then I agree with the age. After all, a midwife knows more about a female than any of us would…"
Albel glanced back and forth between the elder men, wondering why they seemed so sad all of a sudden. Grown-ups could be so weird sometimes!
"Albel… you should go spend time with her now and convince her to like you, otherwise she won't agree to marry you when it's time," Glou said softly as he let out a sad smile. Albel listened to the part where they said yes and only half of the conditions, the rest he could care less about so when he heard his father's advice, he pretty much thought that he had to go ask her to marry him now.
"Okay father!" he grinned, showing off his two missing baby teeth. During their many fights, Nel knocked out two of his loose teeth while in return he knocked out one of hers. He then ran off to annoy-er-find the girl he wanted to marry.
The young red haired girl groaned inwardly as she tried to ignore the voice. It had already been a nice quiet day without him around and she didn't want it to be ruined. She was too busy to fight with the annoying boy because she was in the middle of pretending to be a spy like her father. Usually she'd play the game with her friend Clair, but she couldn't come with them to Airyglyph.
Nel's slippers had been discarded at the edge of the small field and she had the skirts of her dress hiked up to her knees so she could mimic the fighting positions easier. With two small sticks representing the Blades of Ryusen, she gracefully defeated the monster of her imagination. She then tucked the sticks into her belt, ignoring the fact that they loosened her skirts and made the hem fall down to her ankles. She crossed her arms and patiently waited for Albel get to her as she half wished that she could dive into the tall grass to hide from him.
When he made it, she noticed he had a grin on his face that could only mean trouble and he had something fisted in his hand. Nel slightly backed away when he got a little too close because she was certain that he had a worm or some other insect in his grubby little hand… Not that she was afraid of insects, she just knew he had a reputation of putting bugs in girls' hair or down their dresses. She wasn't taking the chance that she was his next victim.
"What do you want?" she snapped irritably, already annoyed by his large grin.
"You're going to marry me."
"What? No way! I can't marry you!"
Suddenly a confused look swept over his features, "Why not?"
Why couldn't she marry him? He may have been annoying, but it wasn't like he was mean to her… Oh wait- "B-because you're a boy!"
"Oh? Does that mean you want to marry a girl?" he inquired with a smirk.
"No!" she shouted and faced away from him, "I'm going to marry a man when I'm older."
"I'll be a man soon," Albel replied as his free hand buried itself into the shaggy recesses of his short two toned hair and scratched his scalp, "Besides, your dad said that I could marry you."
"What? Liar!" Nel shouted as she uncrossed her arms and stalked closer to him. She had a slight history of losing her temper too easily, but she still managed to hold back from pushing him to the ground. There was no way her father would do something so mean to her. She refused to believe the words of a Glyphian boy because they always lie to little girls…at least that's what the villagers in Arias told her.
"He did! You can go ask him!" Albel yelled back while pointing to where he had previously came from.
"But…I'm going to marry my daddy when I'm older…" she added, unsure of how else to get out of the predicament.
"You can't marry your dad! It's against the law!"
"No it's not!" she argued back.
"Yes it is!"
"Because…" he trailed off as he thought of a reason why, "Because he's like a million years old! That's way too old for you!"
"Nuh-uh! He's 35!"
"Still…you can't marry him…b-because you're going to marry me!" he cried stubbornly and stomped his foot on the ground to emphasize his point.
"I don't want to marry you! If I did, then I would just boss you around," she threatened, knowing that he didn't like to be told what to do by anyone other than his father.
"I'd like to see you try," he grinned as he leaned closer to her. She pushed him back to retain her personal space.
"I would! When I'm your wife, you'd have to do as I say-!" She gasped when she realized what she accidentally blurted out. The smirk/grin on Albel's face couldn't be any wider.
"Then that means you accept!"
"N-no that's not what I-"
"Too late now!" he said quickly as he grabbed her hand and slipped the ring he was hiding in his fist on her finger. It was a small children's ring with gold like metal that could be adjusted to fit on the child's finger as they grew up and had a real ruby adorning it. Nel's cheeks were tinted pink as she yanked her hand away and glanced at the ring. Albel chuckled from his victory and then ran off to tell their fathers that she consented.
Nel glared at the place where he was standing before she considered taking off the ring and throwing it to the ground. Her fingers paused over the small piece of jewelry and then touched the tiny ruby before falling away. She'll throw the ring away later…maybe.
(Eight years later)
It was a terribly cold day. A very different feeling to what Albel felt only days ago. Three days ago, he was supposed to become a Dragon knight like is father, but he failed the Ascension of the Flame ceremony. He was supposed the one to bear the flames of the dragon. He was the one who was not supposed to be kneeling next to a casket, shivering in the cold snow. He was the one who was supposed to be in that casket, not his father. His father had shielded him from the dragon's furious fire and it cost him his life. But still, Albel felt the burning hot sensation as it consumed his left arm and experienced the heat that was intended for failures like him.
The heat of the dragon caves was a stark contrast to the icy wind and snow outside Castle Airyglyph and yet the cold matched the feeling in his heart.
Albel didn't know why the other members of the Dragon Brigade looked at him with solemn eyes. Wasn't he the one who killed their benevolent captain? Shouldn't they be angry at him? He was certainly angry at himself. Only Duke Vox seemed to be thinking sensibly. He was the one to reveal to Albel that he was a lowly failure that he was responsible for his father's death. Albel never could have agreed with the duke more.
He didn't need the pity and the sympathy everyone was giving him. He didn't deserve it. He lost his left arm and was unable to fight anymore. He was once one of the best fighters next to Glou's swordsmanship. It didn't matter to him that his father's sword was going to be locked up in the treasury because even if he could wield it, he couldn't fight with just one arm. He didn't care about the troubling rumor that Vox tried to wield the Crimson Scourge, if he went mad, then that's his business.
"Albel?" He didn't turn to look at who was calling him. But somewhere in his stunned mind told him that it was a voice he hadn't heard in two years.
"How are you fairing?" the voice continued, not fazed by the fact that the fifteen year old wasn't answering him. Were he himself, he would have snorted and rolled his eyes. He was sitting in the snow as cold and still as the body that was lying in the casket with one hand lightly touching the stub that was once his left arm. How did it look like he was faring?
"If you would like, you can come stay with me until you…"
This time Albel couldn't suppress his emotions anymore. He sharply faced the man behind him with a glare that held a near desperation in them, "Why bother treating me like a normal person? I'm a failure! I just killed my father, why should I receive any kindness from anyone?"
Nevelle flinched slightly and took a step back. Some part of him wasn't surprised to see the red haired spy was indeed present to his father's funeral and at the same time he was surprised. Even though there were still tensions between the kingdoms, the king allowed Nevelle and his daughter to come, knowing that Glou would have wanted it that way. There wasn't a citizen in Airyglyph who didn't know who they were and they all avoided them like a plague while giving them angry glances.
"You're right. You have failed the Ascension of the Flame and some part of it is your fault, but you didn't kill your father. That was not your fault at all. Knowing Glou, he most likely sacrificed himself willingly for you so that you could still have a future."
"Why would he do something so foolish? If I couldn't become a Dragon Knight, then what else could I do?"
"You may call it foolish, but you should know that your father loved you very much and knew you were destined for great things. Perhaps it was not your destiny to become a Dragon Knight and your father gave you the second chance to go find your real purpose. Don't waste the precious gift he's given you."
"But what can I do now with only one arm?" Albel inquired with an unfocused gaze to the snowdrifts.
"You're still young," the spy said with a grin, "I'm sure you can adapt to the drastic changes and find a new path."
Crimson eyes finally landed upon Nel, who was standing a few feet away and praying to her gods while facing the wooden box that contained his father. He had a view of her left hand and was able to see that the gleaming ring he gave her was still on her finger. He was too weak to do anything right now and probably wouldn't be a good husband for her… but he could get stronger if he started working hard. Maybe someday he would be strong enough to prevent another tragedy from happening and be able to protect Nel…
Suddenly it felt like the breath caught in his throat when she turned to look at him. There was no sadness or sympathy held within her eyes. Her eyes said it all: 'Your father was a great man now you must live to continue his greatness'. It wasn't long before a heated, angry glare replaced her serene eyes when she noticed his gaze traveling away from her face and down to her body. He was in fact looking at the runes that were now tattooed on her limbs, but she didn't think he was just 'innocently' looking.
"…Such a pig…" she muttered under her breath before walking off. Even though it was only a misunderstanding, the faint smirk that appeared on Albel's face didn't convince her otherwise. No, Nel definitely didn't have any sympathy for him which was good because he still didn't need it. He was going to honor his father's sacrifice and become stronger so he could prevent another sacrifice like that from happening.
Nevelle noticed the change in mood and was relieved that Glou's son had overcome his grief so quickly, "I'm offering again, would you like to come live with us in Aquaria? I'm sure you wouldn't want to live alone all of a sudden."
"No," he quickly denied and then added as an afterthought, "…thank you."
"Are you sure?"
"I have nothing against your country, but I can not abandon my country at this time. I want to train here where my father trained and get stronger."
"I understand. Oh and Albel," the spy started before he could leave, "I'm sorry, but considering the circumstance, I'm afraid that the marriage will have to be postponed for a few years."
"Bah, that's fine. I don't think I'm fit to be a husband right now anyway."
"I'm glad you agree. Well Nel and I should leave. I'd hate to have those scowling faces that everyone's giving us to freeze on their faces permanently." Nevelle then bowed to Albel and called Nel to tell her that they were departing.
It was only a week later that an engineer from Greeton came to Airyglyph to design a prosthetic arm for Albel. He said that an old friend from Aquaria requested that he'd come to help. Albel knew that it was Nevelle's doing and that was the last time he accepted a gift from anyone.
(One year later)
Anyone could change in a year and Albel was no exception. He quickly became a talented fighter with the claw and katana and arose in the ranks as one of the strongest swordsman in Airyglyph. His view on life grew twisted as he sneered at the people weaker than him, yet he was willing to protect those who were unable to fight. There was nothing he despised more than a fool who couldn't fight on his own, they were the ones who deserved to die. But those who were disabled or sick couldn't help their weakness and he thought it was wrong to challenge them. As for the few men who were still stronger than him, he perceived them as a threat and trained harder to defeat them in battle, Vox being one of them.
There were only a few people he respected, two of them being Woltar and Nevelle. One day he hoped to face them in battle and defeat, but not kill them unless it was inevitable. And the only woman he respected was Nel because she was able to hold her own in battle even at her age. He still intended to take her as a wife, but had to wait longer until things settled down between the kingdoms. Woltar once worried about Albel becoming corrupted in his thinking and had the boy meditate to keep him from going mad and slaughtering everyone in sight, but it didn't really work. Luckily, the thought of Nel kept him sane because he wanted to become stronger for her, or it could really be that he wanted to remain stronger than her.
Still Albel did do as he was told and meditated on occasions only because he found that it was the only way to calm down his raging hormones. It was often that he thought about Nel and as a young male, his thoughts were bound to turn a little heated. Meditating was what he was currently doing. Woltar was still off on some mission and there was no one worthy to spar with, leaving Albel with nothing to do but think or finish his studies. He tried to focus on the scroll about the history of Aquor, but his mind wandered first to fighting in battle, then to a certain female red head, and then to thoughts of what he'd do to that red head. He then promptly pushed away from the scroll and sat down in the corner of Woltar's office.
Suddenly the door swung open and the aged swordsman entered. Albel only cracked open one eye before muttering, "About time you returned. I thought you have keeled over somewhere, old man."
For once Woltar didn't have a witty retort to give him as he tiredly made his way to his desk. Once the elder warrior was seated behind his desk, he pulled out a pair of twin daggers and placed them within a drawer. Both eyes opened in recognition of the weapon as the sixteen year old shot up from his position and stormed over to the desk.
"Those are the Blades of Ryusen. Why do you have them?" he demanded as Woltar closed his eyes solemnly.
"Nevelle…has been slain," he started after a long pause on how to tell him.
"Slain?" the younger man echoed in dismay.
"He was found on our side of the border and he stayed behind to fight my men to allow his tired troops to escape. I had no other choice."
So Nevelle Zelpher was dead. Albel slowly sank down to the seat in front of the desk. He would never have the opportunity to face him in battle now. Another great man sacrificed himself for other people and this time it was Nel who was going to suffer. Woltar watched Albel carefully from the corner of his aged eyes as he immersed himself in signing paperwork. Silence was not a good sign for someone like Albel.
"Try to understand, boy, if I held him prisoner, then he would have been tortured. I chose a more honorable path for him."
"It's not that. I was thinking how Vox would have a grand time knowing that the Aquarians are in mourning."
Ever since Vox came into power as the new captain of the Dragon Brigade, he had been using his new status and his influence on the king, who also happened to be his nephew, to pressure the Aquarians into war. He claimed his intentions were for the good of the people, but many of the knights speculated that he only wanted to prove their strength against other kingdom. Thankfully the king was not as easily persuaded into war as many had thought so Vox had to come up with a plan to make Aquaria strike first. He made up a rumor that the followers of Apris in Kirlsa were planning to assassinate the king and obtained permission to imprison and eventually destroy the church goers.
Vox didn't like the Aquarian religion and saw it as an opportunity to eradicate it from Airyglyph. Unfortunately, or more precisely fortunately for the citizens, Aquaria didn't retaliate because there was no proof that the accused Aquarians that were apprehended were not planning such an act. Plus, there were also some Glyphians who were imprisoned along with the Aquarians, leaving them to believe that it was an issue that only Airyglyph could act on. Still it didn't stop them from holding funeral services for the fallen prisoners.
The Aquarians willingness to turn the other cheek infuriated Vox. He couldn't decide if they were mocking Airyglyph because they didn't believe that Airyglyph's reformed brigades held any strength or if Aquaria were nothing more than a bunch of weak women and children. His plans only increased the tension of the kingdoms, but it seemed neither side wanted to fight. It was still only a matter of time before the flames of war burst. The king cannot ignore the fact that the people were still starving and if Aquaria couldn't be bothered to help them survive, then something must be done.
"I'm thrilled to know that you actually take the time to think, boy," Woltar said as he reached for another piece of paper, "But the Aquarians refused to believe that Nevelle was dead and believed instead that he was merely 'missing'. It's probably better this way since many families lost loved ones to Vox's confounded rumor."
Only Albel and Woltar knew the truth about Vox, but never spoke out because of the Dragon Brigade Captain's influence to the throne. Woltar was present when the duke tried to wield the sword that belonged to Glou Nox and saw that it rejected him. But since Vox seemed normal, no one else present thought that he was cursed to madness and shook it off as a myth. If only Woltar was quicker to inform the king of Vox's failure, then he might have been able to get the duke removed from command, but he wasn't and the corrupted man buried his roots deep into power. King Arzei never knew what Vox tired to do and he was one of the few who knew the consequences of the Crimson Scourge.
"Feh…" the young man muttered before getting up and heading to the door. Woltar held in a sigh. It was hard holding Albel back when his mind was set.
"Even though the Aquarians did not retaliate before, it is not certain that they wouldn't kill a Glyphian who sneaks into their country. I'd go in disguise and without that claw if I were you. Remember, the king wants you to become the captain of the new brigade and you would do us no good if you are dead."
King Arzei was so impressed with Albel's quick recovery and his new sword fighting style that he wanted to promote him to the role of captain for the brand new Black Brigade. The new army was to be the new ground troops for first strikes and to help Woltar's Storm Brigade Calvary on the ground since Vox's Dragon Brigade specialized in air fights. The Black Brigade was also designed for defensive purposes because each knight wore thick, heavy black armor that could repel most weapons.
"Who said that I was going to that worthless country?" he asked as he paused at the door.
"I know not if it's an act of mercy or torture coming from you, but even I know that you wouldn't want Lady Nel to live on thinking in a false hope that her father is still alive."
"And you're not going to stop me old man?"
Woltar glanced up from his paper work, "You're a big boy now, I don't need to baby you anymore. Just do what you feel is right and don't get killed for reckless acts."
"Good," a smirk appeared on Albel's face even though he wasn't facing the elder man, "…don't wait up for me, I'll be back whenever."
And with that he left the office as Woltar let out a grin of his own.
Nel stared at the darkened cloudy sky through her window. It was late in the day and she just finished her daily training. She was still in her uniform instead of her robes as she watched the sky threaten the people outside with the possibility of rain and thunder. Even if it was going to rain, Nel wouldn't be moping in her room like this. She was usually seen with Clair gossiping about certain things over some tea, but there was something holding her back today.
It has been over a week since her father left on his mission to spy on Duke Vox and three days since the men under him returned to Aquios. They said that her father had stayed behind to fight so that they could escape and that he has been missing ever since. She had been waiting for his return since the news and had been suffering everyone's attention. Despite the belief that Nevelle was missing instead of dead, everyone insisted to visit Nel often to reassure her that he will return to her shortly. No one seemed to understand that she wasn't worried at all and didn't need reassurance. It wasn't like she couldn't survive without him…but she didn't want to think of life without him just yet. It was too soon for him to return to Apris.
"Lady Nel?" a concerned female voice sounded from behind her door, "Are you okay in there?"
The fifteen year old girl didn't bother to reply. Maybe if she stayed quiet, the maid would think she was not in there and go away. Unfortunately, whoever was at her door seemed to be able to see through walls and knew that she was in her room.
"There aren't any reports of Lord Nevelle's whereabouts yet," the maid offered in a kind voice, "but we all know he's too strong to be taken down by Glyphians."
"…He will be coming back home to you before you know it," Nel mouthed along with her, as if they were going by a script. Then again, maybe the servants were going by a prewritten script. Ever since news came out about her father's disappearance, it seemed everyone was repeating their words like they were practicing for a play. Everyone except for her, Clair, Adray, and the queen, that is.
Once it seemed that the maid had left, Nel sighed and cast her eyes down to the courtyard of the castle. Because of her father being a Crimson Blade, they had to live in castle Aquaria so that he could receive his missions and so that she could be cared for while he was away. It wasn't long before she noticed a group of noblemen who appeared to be fighting amongst themselves. She let out another sigh, but this one was out of annoyance. It seemed that the hopeful suitors had returned in hopes to console her again. She thought she had told them off properly the last time they were here…
Nel got up and quickly left her room. She wasn't in the mood for their nonsense today, perhaps a walk away from the castle would clear her troubled mind. At least then she would be alone, and hopefully feel alone. She couldn't help but feel that she was being watched all day, but figured it was some young nobleman or servant.
It was easy to sneak out undetected and she was soon rewarded with the sound of gentle wind and the smell of rain as she slipped through a crack that connected the side of the palace with a deserted alley. It was her haven for when she wanted to be away from everybody because there was no place in the palace or in town where people didn't know her and wanted to talk to her. But as she paced the forgotten paths, she still felt like someone was watching her. Apparently someone was actually following her. She flinched as she realized that she had forgotten her daggers in her room. This wasn't good, whoever was following her may be a thug or a Glyphian assassin and she chose today to forget her weapons!
She continued walking a little more, trying to get closer to the main part of town where she would be safe amongst people, but her pursuer was quickly catching up to her. She then stopped with a huff, but didn't turn around, "I know you're following me, now show yourself!"
Nel didn't really hear anything but the wind, though she did sense a presence behind her. She slowly turned to find a cloaked figure who had his hand outstretched, showing her that he had her weapons. The stranger didn't seem like a threat since he was handing over her daggers, but his voice made the alarms in her mind go off.
"It's reckless of you to wander around without these, fool," a very familiar voice said from the shadows of the cloak.
She wanted to ask who he was, but some part of her already knew. She didn't remember what, but she had a reason why she wanted to forget him, or was it to forget something about him? Her stubbornness allowed her to forget his name, but she couldn't get his voice or the annoying smirk out of her head. Even if she couldn't see said smirk, she could definitely sense it. Nel hesitantly reached for the blades, trying to be careful to not touch him in the process and then finally asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Feh, such a kind greeting, though I expected no less from you, Nel." The figure shifted his weight as his arm pushed aside some of the cloak to rest on the hilt of his sword. ...A metal arm… The red haired girl straightened up and stiffened slightly.
"You should not be here. You better leave now!"
"Not until I tell you something important," he insisted, not moving from his stance.
Her violet eyes glared at him, "About what?"
"About your father…"
"I don't want to hear it!" she snapped as she shook her head slightly, "Not from you…"
"Oh? And I suppose you rather rely on the false words of your countrymen?"
"What makes you think that they are false?"
"Because I know the man who slain your father!"
Her eyes widened as she let out a small gasp. He never did master the art of subtlety, but it had to be said. It wasn't long before her features softened into a slightly sad look. It was hard to tell if there were tears in her eyes, but she kept a calm demeanor in front of him.
"Were you the one…?" she began, but the cloaked boy quickly shook his head.
"No, it was someone else. Your father was killed honorably, being spared from the torture he was destined to endure in our dungeons."
So he was dead. Deep down inside, she kind of knew that was what happened. How was she going to live without him? Sure she could survive on her own, but that didn't mean she didn't love her father. He was the man who raised her. He was the one who taught her how to fight and healed her wounds when she hurt herself. But in some way she was glad to know what happened. At least he didn't suffer…provided that the Glyphian in front of her wasn't lying. …But she as long as she had known him, he never lied to her, so the information must be true.
"Thank you for telling me, I can rest my fears and worries now," she replied in a voice devoid of emotion as she brushed past him to get back to the palace, "Go back to Airyglyph, before the soldiers find you."
Suddenly his good arm shot out and grabbed her left wrist before she could get far. She tried pulling away, but his grip was too strong. It was then that the sky chose to release the rain, soaking both teenagers instantly. They both endured it as her struggling ended and she refused to look at him.
"Let me go, it's raining…" she pleaded in a tired voice.
"Not until I know you're going to be okay," he said, bringing unexpected shock to the girl.
"Since when did you care?" Nel bit out in a mix of annoyance and grief.
"I've always cared, fool," he responded as his hand slid down to her fingers to touch the small ring that only fit up to the second joint on her finger. She was getting too big to wear it, but she stubbornly continued to jam it on every morning. Somewhere along the way she had forgotten where she had gotten it, just like how she forgot his name, but she quickly recalled that it came from him when he went to touch it.
Not wanting to deal with him anymore, she yanked her hand from his grasp and faced him. The rainwater poured down her cheeks, masking all the tears she may have been shedding. He wasn't blocking her escape anymore now that she had walked around him, but something kept her rooted to the spot, "Don't bother worrying about me. I'm not going to tell anyone about this. That would only play into your country's hands."
"So then what will you do?"
"…Live," she replied in a calmer voice, "I'm going to continue my training so that I may take over my father's work…and someday avenge his death."
"That's good," he started with a small chuckle as he turned away and began walking away, "As long as you don't mope around all day and become weaker…"
He stopped instantly and glanced back to glare at her. He wasn't far away enough for her to back away as his metal hand grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. Nel then found herself with her hands against his chest and his arms around her as she glared at the smirk that was visible from the shadow of his cloak hood.
"Good to know you still have that sharp tongue on you," he muttered. She tried pulling away from his strong grip on her but was helpless to stop him as he lowered his head and pressed his lips against hers.
Albel couldn't really help himself at that point. She was just too tempting. Her wit and lack of fear of him was one of the many traits he was attracted to, though he couldn't help but be a little frustrated at the latter because he would like to see fear in her eyes every now and then. When he pulled away, her features stayed dazed for a few minutes before quickly turning furious.
"How dare you kis-!" she couldn't finish as he decided to claim her mouth again, this time pushing his tongue in. She stiffened at first before melting into his embrace and shyly moving her tongue against his. …She was enjoying this more than she would want to admit.
He pulled her tighter against him and held the back of her head with his good hand to deepen the kiss. She tasted so good that he didn't think he could let go of her…
"Nel? Are you out here?" a voice called near the palace. Clair! Nel's eyes shot open and she somehow found the strength to push him away before sharply turning to face where she heard the voice. Clair was the only one who knew about her secret hiding place and only came out to find her if there was an emergency that she was needed for.
"Uh, y-yeah," she replied back when Clair's silver hair became visible from the crack in the wall. Nel almost let out a sigh of relief that Clair didn't see anything. But how was she going to explain the man standing behind her. She took one glance back and found that he was already gone.
"I'm glad I found you, the castle is in an uproar looking for you. I think they're afraid that you went missing too… Have you been crying?" Clair finally asked when she got a good look at her friend.
"Maybe," the red head replied, not really knowing if she did cry. She remembered feeling something warm on her face mixed in with the rain but it was all a blur after the cloaked man… She couldn't finish that thought.
"Be strong, Nel," Clair reassured as she placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Let's go back before you get sick."
Albel watched from a nearby rooftop as the silver haired woman led Nel back into the place through the crack in the wall. That was too close… He began to wonder what caused him to lose control like that. It couldn't have been the hormones this time. Maybe she cast some sort of spell on him. Either way, he couldn't get the taste of her out of his mind, he wanted more.
"Nice move there, boy. Not many could get away with getting that close to Nel, let alone kissing her."
Albel jerked as he faced a shirtless middle aged man with grey hair who suddenly appeared beside him, "What you do want maggot?"
"Heh, you're Glou's boy right? You sound a lot like him. Good to know you haven't given up on the girl you love despite the problems we've been having between our kingdoms."
"Bah, mind your business old man…" Albel muttered as he brushed past him and jumped down to the ground. He remembered Nevelle mentioning another Aquarian friend that his father had, but he never had the chance to meet him in person. The man who caught him must have been him, Adray Lasbard. The muscled man jumped down too, his landing causing a slight rumble in the ground that could be felt from a distance, and began following Albel.
"I suppose you don't know of the secret path between Arias and Kirlsa that can get you back into your country undetected? Your father, Nevelle, and I used to meet up a lot over there in the past. I can show you where it is," he prodded eagerly.
"I don't need your help."
"Is that so? Then how will I meet up with you to tell you how Nel is faring? You can't do that yourself if a war breaks out."
Albel almost paused to glance at him, but remained walking anyway. What was the old man getting at? Why wouldn't he just leave him alone? "She's a strong girl, she can take care of herself."
"That's not what I mean. You see, there are a lot of men who are after her affections …and after my daughter's too," Adray added with a tint of fatherly pride, "You might need to know when she is considering someone else so that you can risk the chance to change her mind."
"She wouldn't dare!" Albel growled, causing the man beside him to grin widely.
"Then you're going to need me to tell you these things."
For once he was at a loss. He couldn't get rid of the annoying old man and now he was going to have the thoughts of other men trying to take his woman from him plague him too. Adray just grinned, showing off his large teeth before walking off, most likely in the direction of the secret path he mentioned. Albel didn't say or agree to anything, but he ended up following him silently. When they departed, Adray promised to be at the border near the secret path once a week to inform Albel of everything he wanted to know as the younger man stormed off without even thanking him or saying goodbye. He did show up at the meeting place every now and then to get the information he sought but didn't stay long enough to talk to Adray about other matters like the fast approaching war. Two months barely passed before he stopped coming altogether.
(Three years later, two years into the war)
It almost seemed like the war wasn't going to happen after a year of no activity, but Airyglyph proved Aquaria wrong. Time had run out for the king and Vox made up some testimonies from the Aquarian prisoners who were captured from the church raid in Kirlsa that it was Aquaria's idea to assassinate the king. This left the kingdom no choice but to attack Aquaria in order to subdue and force the neighboring kingdom into helping them. The Black Brigade was the army that conducted the first strike with a surprise attack on Arias. It was the first order Albel was given since taking on the job as the new Black Brigade Captain beside his duties in training the newly formed army. His fighting in that skirmish earned him the name Albel the Wicked because he was truly merciless to the soldiers and runologists that were there to defend the small town.
That time Aquaria could not turn a blind eye to the near massacre of the soldiers (but not the townspeople, Albel made sure that they remained unharmed) and fought back with the most talented runologist they had in their court. While the kingdom of Aquaria lacked strength in soldiers, they made up for it with the magic of the runologist. Both kingdoms were evenly matched with the Glyphian army specializing in hand to hand combat and air raids and the Aquarian runologists specializing in long range rune spells, but there were still just as many casualties between the two.
Of course along with the power of the runes, Aquarians also had intelligence on all the surrounding kingdoms, giving them another advantage against Glyphians. It was because of the need of good spies and fighters for the war was why Nel and Clair were pulled out of their training early and quickly drafted into the army. Fortunately, both girls were excellent fighters and quickly rose in the ranks. They became the youngest members ever to join the Crimson Blades and became known as the double-edged Crimson Blade together. They were also given high leadership positions in the army shortly after a year into the war. Clair was more specialized in strategy and remained with the army as the captain of the runological corps known as the Shield Legion while Nel became a spy like her father. She was appointed leader of the Secret Legion, the unit that was assigned to watch the activities of Airyglyph.
Despite the new responsibilities and dangerous missions, Nel remained the same person. She was still stubborn and she was very loyal to her queen. When she heard of her father's death, she secretly mourned for a short while and then moved on with life. She only told Clair, Adray, and, of course, the queen the truth about Nevelle, keeping his death a secret to the masses. As time went by, the people returned to normal with a few die hard loyal soldiers waiting at the castle gates for his return.
During the rare times she had a day off, she spent her day trying to remember who gave her the ring. She was now regretting her childish, stubborn actions after the day he came to Aquios and kissed her. It was a moment of her life she just couldn't forget. She felt strange, but not uncomfortable, in his arms (despite the short time that expired). It was like she felt safe and warm, and she somehow felt deliriously happy even though her mind was still getting over the news of her father's death.
Nel wanted to remember who the mysterious man was in hopes of finding him again, but neither a name, nor a face, came back to her. And now with the hectic war and the spying business, she had even forgotten the sound of his voice. But she still remembered his lips… Clair often teased her about the cloaked man, saying that she was just trying to find an excuse to refuse the marriage proposals of the noblemen, but she still tried helping out her friend. Either way, she was no closer in finding out who he was because she had to frequently go out to Glyphian territory to spy on the enemy.
Clair often worried herself sick when Nel had to go to Airyglyph and welcomed her back with relief upon her return. Sometimes Nel would take on very dangerous, almost suicidal, missions and come back nearly unscathed. Rumors spread about the Aquarian army that Lady Nel had been blessed by Apris himself because some missions were miracles to live through. Little did Nel or the others knew was that the young spy had help when she was in Glyphian territory. Albel knew exactly when Nel crossed the border and discreetly made sure that she was never caught. He would also destroy traps or help her to detect them. That way she wouldn't end up sacrificing herself meaninglessly. He wanted to make sure she stayed alive so that he could take her as a wife eventually.
So the war continues without the end in sight. Albel fights to become the strongest and to protect the one he loves and Nel fights to honor her father and to find the man she knew in her past. Only time will tell when they can be together and so their story continues…