by 100-series (who does not own the rights or make any profit off of this work, by the way).
Hello, this is my first Valkyrie Profile fanfiction. The title is not very creative, but I figured Lenneth, Silmeria... Hrist should get a turn. I don't use beta readers, but if you would like to volunteer, please email me. Otherwise, I'm grateful if you would point out any errors you see in a review (just be gentle, I have low self-esteem, haha).
Special thanks to Kait, who proofread the first two chapters even though she has never even played Valkyrie Profile. Hugs for you!
Hundreds of years after the events of Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria, in the time of Lenneth, time has been altered. This new world ruled by a fair king of the gods and plagued only by the nature of mankind exists alongside an alternate timeline in which Lenneth Valkyrie searches for her Einherjar. This world's valkyrie is Hrist, whose mission is to gather Einherjar for the battle to decide the fate of the world, while uncovering the mystery of her sister's absence in this altered world.
Spoilers for Valkyrie Profile Lenneth and Silmeria may be included in later chapters.
Playing both games is probably a good thing if you are going to read this fic, but it isn't a prerequisite.
No sex or heavy violence should be in this, but it is rated "T" just in case. Sexual humor occurs with anything where Lezard or Mystina is present, after all.
Pairings... well, you will have to wait and see, but mainly those that are canon or insinuated by canon.
Chapter One: Artolian Prologue
How utterly boring...
Jelanda stared at her reflection as three of her hand-maidens busily performed their tasks to ready her for the day. Each morning the only difference was the color of the ribbons in her hair, or the style of the dress she wore, and yet these practiced hands still took a full hour to dress her properly.
"Too tight! I can hardly breathe!" she barked at the maids at her feet and stomped one heel for good measure. The price of the stool that she stood upon could likely feed each of their families for a year, but she brought her foot down upon it without bothering to consider that fact. "Just lace it up without pulling so hard, no one will no the difference!"
"If milady orders," one of the three maids replied sheepishly as her hands began to shake. Jelanda wondered why she was so frightened. Did they really think that someone would have them all executed if her corset wasn't tied properly? Why did they all treat her like some kind of monster? Despite wondering that, Jelanda continued to screech at them to hurry. It was not as if there were anything pressing for her to attend to; she just hated standing on this stool.
After what felt like years, she was finally presentable. Nearly toppling two of the maids on her way, she darted out of the room and ran all the way to the audience hall in a manner that was not what anyone would consider fit for a princess, but Jelanda didn't care. No one dared scold her except for her father, the king.
The audience chamber was never particularly interesting, and today looked to be more of the same. The tables kept filled with delicate foods for worthy visitors were never of any special interest to Jelanda. So tired of luxurious foods was she that it might have well have been mud. There were warriors present and men of state, but none of their lavish costumes struck her fancy. Only her father's familiar figure upon the throne won her attention, that is, until she came into the room.
She was a warrior, the only female light warrior that Jelanda had ever seen in the castle. She wasn't sure of her the woman's age, but she would assume that such a young woman couldn't be a master of the sword like she claimed to be. She had to have gotten this far by her beauty, charming her commanders--had to be that. She was an obnoxious trollop dressed in decorative violet fighting attire. Even her armor was curvaceous. Jelanda envied her thick black hair, full red lips, and hourglass figure; but would sooner pry off her own fingernails than admit that the woman before her was beautiful.
The lady warrior was always respectful and humble, taking her place among her male peers. Her way of standing and speaking was not overtly feminine, nor was it abrasive or crass like many of the men's. She seemed to have their respect, as there were no cat-calls or lingering glances in her direction. While normally the young princess would have admired such a woman, in this situation, any admirable points only fueled Jelanda's undeserved hatred towards her.
The reason for the princess's rising fury was written on the King's face. Though his knights had the respect not to, the king himself did shamelessly leer because no one was higher than him. In Jelanda's eyes, that could never be his fault. It was the sword-whore's armor, the way her shoulder weapon belts had to be specially fitted around her bust and hips; it was how she painted her face and trimmed her hair so neatly about her shoulders though she resented anyone who looked at her as more or less than a man.
Her father called to the court just as Jelanda appeared. He called for the sword-whore whom Jelanda hated. "Leone, where are you, my knight?" he asked in a high and mighty voice, though it seemed quite badly forced from such a feeble-bodied man. Jelanda cringed at the sound and went straight as close to his side as she was allowed.
The young female warrior came forward from the king's most trusted soldiers and knelt at the foot of his throne in reverence. "My lord, I am here."
"Stand and come closer," he beckoned. "My eyes are not as keen as they once were."
Everyone knew that the king was not blind, he'd commissioned for gold-plated glasses to correct the minor trouble with his vision. Even Jelanda could not deny that. Yet the woman stood regally, went forward, and no one in the room dared to snicker though several did not have to; it was already on their faces. Jelanda broiled with anger and intended to burn a hole straight through Leone's head with her glare.
But, Leone kept her head turned down respectfully as she approached. The king looked up and down, then smiled. "Ah, Leone. I have a mission of great importance for you to carry out."
Jelanda forced her fury to smolder. It occurred to her that if this went off without a hitch, Leone could be gone for quite a while. She doubted that her father would send her to perform any task that the poor untalented but beautiful woman could get herself killed doing, but at least she would be gone.
The king continued. "This is not to leave this room, all of you, my trusted knights; but I have news from our intelligence that Villnore is preparing a massive invasion." That was not so much news as common knowledge, but no one cared to state the fact. " At this point in time, I do not believe that we can withstand their attack. I am sending you, Leone, and any men that you see fit to take with you to the Guardian Shrine to retrieve the Dragon Orb. We will use it to ensure peace for Artolia."
"Yes, your majesty," she replied and kneeled again. "I will do this for the kingdom."
"May the gods grant your safe return," he said. "You are dismissed."
Later, the soldiers that had been in the audience room that day returned to their own corner of the castle. Here there were only warriors, a large majority of which were mercenaries who cared not who heard them speak, and a few servants who would sooner forget what was said than cause trouble.
"Does that old fart honestly think that no one sees him drooling over Leone?" said one of the men.
"I think he just doesn't care if we know or not," answered another. "He takes our respect for granted."
Leone herself sat quietly at one of the plain wooden tables in the soldiers' dining area, a place where no one who cared for fineries came. She listened to the others, unmindful of the fact that she herself was the subject, as she sipped a bowl of stew with more manners than most of the others present.
"Yeah, and I can't believe he sat right in front of the kingdom's best soldiers and said that he doesn't think we can win this," the first one said, while grabbing for a loaf of bread from the basket near Leone. "Talk about a morale-killer. Did he forget that this is the land of mercenaries? No one is going to stay and lay down their lives in a futile battle for his sake, and I'm included in that number!" This could very well be considered a statement of treason, but no one among them felt differently. The large man sat down in the stool across from Leone, dwarfing the woman with his hulking mass, and took a bite before speaking. "What do you think?" he asked her. "You're the one who got pinned with the job."
"I think it's pure folly to resort to the gods' trinkets in order to win a war that hasn't even started," she said. "And... if he's done it to impress me, then it will not work, I assure you."
Now the other soldier, one who was not quite as large, sat down next to his comrade and took some bread for himself, leaving a piece for Leone. "But you still have to do it, right?"
"If I don't, some other fool will be sent in my place," she said. "Better that I go and take advantage of the chance to see new places, at least."
The larger soldier laughed. "I highly doubt that the guardian shrine is full of beautiful scenery!"
"Who will you take with you?" asked the other.
"I haven't quite decided yet," she answered. Her bowl was empty. She stood, took the last piece of bread from the basket just as a servant came to carry both away, and took a bite as she left the room out into the courtyard where it was still early in the afternoon. Plenty of time remained to find a partner for this game of fetch.
Jelanda looked at herself in the mirror for the second time that day. This time she dressed herself and there were no maids in sight. She stood on her own two feet instead of the stool. "Now that wasn't hard," she said to herself. "How does it take three people an hour to do this every morning?"
But these clothes weren't the royal trappings that took dedicated hands so long to adorn her with; this was a dress she had taken from one of the court's ladies without permission. It was still fabulously expensive, but not quite regal enough to give her away. It was the best option available to her to disguise her identity, and for that she was glad. She would rather not wear clothes of a simple commoner if she could possibly help it.
After looking around for some time, she found her old sun bonnet and a pair of glasses that she used to use to play dress-up with as a girl. This should be enough to fool a stupid mercenary or two, she thought. After some stealthy maneuvers, she escaped from the castle miraculously without drawing attention to herself.
Jelanda had the name of one young man who was rumored to be an excellent soldier for hire. She had seen him once in person; he had won an award one year ago, back when Jelanda was thirteen years old and admired most of the soldiers who served her father. That was before Leone had risen up the ranks and Jelanda began to spite everything about mercenaries.
His name was Lawfer and simple questioning of a few commoners led her to the residence where he and two or three others were said to live. Jelanda was not the only one who knew their reputations. It was said to be rare that all of them be present at the same time, as they went on missions so often. Hopefully the one that she wanted, or at least someone else who would be sufficient, would be there.
After reaching the address, she looked up at the unseemly cabin in distaste. It was a simple shack with two, maybe three, rooms inside. The windows were not glassed in, but rather left open holes in the wall behind shutters. This place was what she considered to be a hovel, and she was ashamed to know that one of Artolia's heroes lived here. All the same, someone had taken the time and expended the effort to plant an arrangement of flowers around the bare window sills, likely as a show of appreciation. Wondering how anyone could think that would make a difference, she knocked on the door, fearing that the untreated wood would give her delicate fingers splinters.
A young man came to the door and she was delighted to see that it was in fact the one called Lawfer, the man she sought. He was a good deal cleaner in appearance than even the knights regularly allowed into the castle, but still had the distinct smell of a commoner who could not afford to wash often. Jelanda wondered how these people could stand it, though none of them seemed to notice at all.
"Yes?" he asked her, obviously surprised to see a rich young lady at the door, and for a moment she was angry that there was no formal greeting. She opened her mouth to unkindly point this out, and then suddenly remembered that she was not Princess Jelanda here. "Pardon me, are you lost?"
"No, I am not lost!" Jelanda retorted. "I've come to hire you!"
Lawfer's eyes widened slightly in confusion and then he spun around to look behind him. "Celia, do you know this girl?"
Jelanda looked past him and saw that there was a young female warrior, the same class as Leone, sitting at a half-broken table in the small house. She suppressed the urge to hiss as the woman looked her up and then back down before going back to her task of cleaning their equipment. "I've never seen her before."
"Don't talk about me as if I'm not even here!" she snapped. "I want to hire you, Lawfer, and not anyone else here." She looked past Lawfer to the girl with her nose turned high into the air and looked as if she might spit.
"I'm thinking of taking a vacation anyway," Celia shrugged. "Someone needs to wait for the others to come home. Why don't you take her out somewhere, Lawfer? I'm sure that Kashell will be jealous when he returns."
"Sticking me with the odd ones," Lawfer sighed. Jelanda nearly let go of her reservations at that, but held her tongue. "I suppose I can't let a young lady wait out on the street. If you won't come in, then I'll go with you."
Jelanda smiled. Now that was the kind of polite treatment she was supposed to be getting. "Thank you, good knight," she said, while still glaring at Celia. "Come along."
Jelanda led Lawfer through the streets, not that she knew any of them. This was one of her first outings from the castle, and she had to admit on some level underneath her dissatisfaction with certain conditions that she was having fun so far. All of these low-class people were not so bad when they simply viewed you as rich rather than outright royalty. She could strike up a conversation without scaring the wits out of everyone. The lack of respect took a great deal of getting used to, however.
She had no idea where she was going, and the man who followed behind her made no suggestions on the matter. Rather than ask for advice, she kept walking until she caught the smell of something good. There was a fabulous smell coming out of an eatery. In her hurry to leave the castle on her adventure, it had not occurred to her that she would need to provide a meal for herself somehow. Such a thing had always been taken care of.
"Huh," Lawfer droned, inspecting her choice of restaurant. It was in another building which Jelanda mentally labeled as "hovel" but she would not let that deter her. "I was expecting you to choose something vastly fancier..."
"It smells good, whatever it is," Jelanda responded sharply. "I'm assuming you would protect me if it proved to be unsafe."
"Certainly," he agreed. "Besides, if it's a cheap meal for me, then all the better."
Inside the establishment they were seated at a table in a corner where a few candle lanterns dimly lit the interior. A dull murmur from several conversations in the condensed space would mask their words at least, but she felt that everyone was looking at her. She coughed at the smoke from their pipes as if she was surrounded by poison gas, but Lawfer appeared completely unaffected. Suddenly embarrassed at herself for one of the first times quite possibly in her life, she cut the dramatics and sat down.
"They are serving roast and potatoes today, I see," Lawfer said idly.
"They only serve one thing a day?" Jelanda returned in astonishment.
"Never-ending platters of it," he replied.
Jelanda watched as a husky barmaid slapped down a plate full of both items as well as a mug of water in front of both of them. "Enjoy it," was all she said before tromping off. This was not the kind of service that Jelanda was used to, but she appreciated the fact that there was now a pile of food in front of her, no fuss made.
She took the first bite of the roast suspiciously, as if it were the flesh of some monstrous creature. Then abruptly she began tearing into it as fast as she could, gobbling it up. "I've never eaten something like this!" she exclaimed, spitting bits of meat and potato at Lawfer.
She hadn't expected a stupid mercenary to give a damn about manners, but Lawfer watched her with a shocked and almost terrified expression for a moment, then graciously laughed it off. "It is decent enough, yes..."
Jelanda ate so fast that she filled her stomach too quickly and felt sick. "Oh dear, I've been a pig... but that was so good. They didn't put caviar or truffles on it or anything."
Though feeling awkward for reasons that Jelanda was trying to figure out, Lawfer managed to crack a smile at that and went on to their purpose for meeting. "What is it you wanted to discuss?" he asked her. She got the feeling that he was eager to be out of there and suddenly her previous anger began to fester again.
"I need to hire you to go to a place with me," she said. "That's all."
"What kind of place? For what reason?"
Jelanda wrinkled her nose in distaste. "I'll tell you that when we get there."
Lawfer grimaced. "I am sorry, but I can't accept the mission if I don't know what it is."
"We're umm..." Jelanda thought fast. "You're going to assist me while I do some treasure-hunting. You can handle that, right?"
"Why don't you hire me to find the item, then?" he asked. Then as nicely as he could, he began to explain, but Jelanda still felt that she was being patronized. "If you're not willing to pay more than the item's worth, then any treasure hunter is going to just keep the treasure, do you see how it works?"
"That's typical of mercenaries I suppose, but I'm not really interested in the treasure anyway," Jelanda said. "And I will pay you any price you name for the completion of this mission, but it has to be a secret."
"I am sorry milady, but this is very suspicious, and a mercenary does have other priorities than money, believe it or not. I simply cannot accept this mission without knowing the details of where we are going and why we are going there."
Jelanda sighed, exhausted. "How on earth did I come upon the only morally grounded mercenary in all of Artolia? How is my luck so bad?" Then she straightened her posture and looked straight into his eyes. "I don't plan to kill anyone, so why don't you just go along with it?"
He smiled kindly, taking the edge off of the scolding just as Jelanda was about to explode. "Listen, you seem like an honest young woman who I would gladly lend my services. Just give me a bit more information, and I'll go with you."
Jelanda took a deep breath in, and then exhaled. Once she was calm, she explained the situation. "I just need you to protect me when I go to the Guardian Shrine," she said. "I've never left this city before."
"It's dangerous inside as well as out," Lawfer said, but conceded the point. "I'd be acting as your escort then? You wouldn't have me fight anyone?"
"Not unless robbers and kidnappers threaten me, I suppose not. I am mainly concerned about the monsters."
"There now," Lawfer answered, relieved. "That doesn't sound so bad. It sounds like an easy-going job compared to what I normally do. What do you intend to do at the Guardian Shrine?"
"I must prevent someone else from getting a certain treasure," she said. "What happens to it after that, I couldn't care less."
That evening, the girl's request was still heavy on Lawfer's mind. It was also strange that he'd forgotten to ask the name of his employer. Celia laughed at him for that, and he wouldn't likely live it down. He would just have to wait and see if the girl would come back tomorrow. If she never came back at all, then maybe that would be better.
She was a naive rich girl ready and willing to get herself into trouble. It probably wasn't a bad thing, might even have been an admirable trait for an aristocrat; but he wondered if she was really brave or if it was simple ignorance, and worried about her safety. She had been smart enough to seek out a mercenary for her little adventure in the first place, but then she had insisted that she go home on her own. It was getting to be late in the afternoon. He hoped that she made it home safely. The light of day didn't always ward off danger. There were likely men in the city more fearsome than monsters in the forest.
His thoughts were interrupted when there was another knock at the door. He went to open it, hoping to gods that it wasn't his mysterious client still running about after nightfall. To the contrary, it was a person who Lawfer knew and admired a great deal, a higher-ranking mercenary knight, Leone.
"Sorry to call upon you at this hour," she greeted him. "May I come in?"
"It isn't too late," Lawfer answered with a smile. "You are welcome here. Kashell and Aelia are gone, but Celia and I are here."
Celia came from the house's small kitchen and greeted her with a warm expression. "Hello, Leone," she said. "I'm making dinner right now, so I'll let Lawfer speak with you. It's not much, but you're welcome to it once it's done."
"You are kind," Leone answered. "So, Lawfer," she said, in a down-to-business tone. "Is your schedule clear? I've got a job tomorrow, and I'm looking for a partner, one that I can trust to act in a just manner."
"Well," Lawfer shrugged. "I'm not too sure about that."
"What do you mean, not sure?"
"A strange girl came by here," he explained, "A rich one, she asked me to take a job for her, but I didn't get her name."
"That's odd," Leone agreed. "What kind of job is it?"
"She wants me to take her to the Guardian Shrine to beat someone else to a treasure, but I'm fairly certain that there's no getting inside without some kind of royal seal, anyway."
Leone sighed as if pieces of the story were falling together, though Lawfer was not following. "I have the seal in my possession as of now," she explained. "The king gave it to me so that I may bring the Dragon Orb from the shrine. That's the job I was telling you about. It's a top-secret mission that only the king's inner circle and favorite knights should know about."
Lawfer was shocked. "That girl somehow knew about it?"
"Yes... but don't worry," she said and smiled in a way that was not so reassuring. She looked as devious and plotting as the strange rich girl. "I have an idea who she was... blonde-haired, and about fourteen years old, would you say?"
"I suppose," Lawfer responded. Honestly, he had thought her to be a bit older than that. "Do you know her?"
"She is Princess Jelanda," Leone said.
Even Celia from the kitchen heard this and stopped what she was doing as Lawfer's eyes bulged. "You're not serious!" he said.
"Yes, I am," Leone answered. "She gave me a harsh stare in court today, though I'm not sure why. Now she intends to follow after me, and commit some mischief, but wouldn't tell you exactly what it was she planned?"
"That's correct," Lawfer replied. "She only wanted me to protect her along the way, so that she could prevent you from getting your treasure. She acted as if it was some kind of game."
The three of them sat in a thoughtful silence for moments that lingered. Lawfer was beginning to remember seeing the princess once, and yes, that could have easily been her. It was hard to imagine the princess of Artolia stuffing her face full of beef and potatoes that way, but it had to be true.
"Well," Leone said at last, "I wouldn't decline her if I were you. It's a good bet that she'll try to go on her own if she can't find a mercenary by tomorrow. The girl is proud and stubborn. I would much rather that you take care of her than some stupid lout."
"Are you suggesting that I play along?" Lawfer asked, confused. "Isn't it dangerous? What if someone found out? We'd all be hung. Why not just inform her caretakers?"
"I doubt that anything will go wrong with the two of us there," she said. "It's a Guardian Shrine, not a demon's den. You are free to decline if you want to, but I'm interested to see what it is she wants from me. That girl is the future of Artolia."
Lawfer grimaced. "If that's so, I may start looking for a job in some other town..."
"It doesn't sound very good to me," Celia said, "but more trouble could come of it if we anger her. I hear that her highness has quite a stranglehold on the court. And who knows... if it goes off well, then when she becomes queen, we could all be in a great situation."
Lawfer slumped his shoulders. "Somehow I don't share your optimism."
"Celia," Leone said, "Would you come with me tomorrow, and let Lawfer go with the princess?"
"I have nothing more planned," Celia agreed. "But why do you need a partner, anyway? There is nothing to threaten you at the Guardian Shrine."
"No," Leone said, "but the king keeps poor secrets, and the Dragon Orb is quite a valuable object. The gods themselves have sought it in the past."
The next day, Lawfer woke early and prepared himself for the mission. He hoped that the princess wouldn't show with all of his heart. He did not like the idea of taking such a young lady--princess or not--into what could be dangerous territory. If something happened, he would pay for it. Then again, he thought that he would die before allowing something to happen to her, so he would never make it back to be punished in any case. The way that such a morbid thought reassured him was a bit unsettling in itself.
The princess showed up before the sun had risen over the roofs of the buildings on the horizon, but Leone and Celia had left long before that. She was dressed differently today. She had what Lawfer guessed was her idea of traveling gear on, though it was still far too regal to be practical--a velvet tunic underneath a bright red cape. She also carried a wand with her, and he wondered if she practiced magic.
"Are you ready to go?" she asked. "I have a down payment for you." With that, she held out a bag of gold coins that could easily cover what Lawfer would charge for two expeditions of this nature by itself.
"You shouldn't walk around town with this much cash on you," he said. "You'll be mugged."
"In broad daylight? Who would dare?"
Lawfer laughed uneasily. "Plenty of people. But anyway, I am ready. Let us go."
They left the city and entered the forest. They were not even a forth of the way to their destination, only an hour on the trail, before Jelanda was huffing and puffing and demanding a break. Lawfer granted her this rest gladly. To her credit, it had been an uphill walk. The way back would be much easier. Still, he hoped that she would decide travel was too much work and turn back.
"You know, I could retrieve the treasure for you and bring it back to town," he said. "You don't have to come with me."
"I won't be left behind!" Jelanda replied, and stuck her nose defiantly into the air. "I just need a short rest, that is all."
Lawfer gave up and decided to check his equipment again to pass some time, though he had done it before leaving. Jelanda was surprisingly quiet for a few minutes. Then, he heard her gasp and looked up. It wasn't a sound of horror, but he was concerned nonetheless.
"What a proud looking bird!" she gaped, pointing at the sky to an eagle swooping overhead. "I wish I had some seed to call it here!"
"Ha, I doubt it would come to you for seeds," Lawfer said, glancing up at the bird of prey. "They eat rodents, and their claws can tear a man's face off. People use them as weapons, even."
"How magnificent," Jelanda continued, in even more awe. "I should like to have one! It would probably devour all of those other weak birds of mine."
"That's... a bit frightening," Lawfer said under his breath.
"What did you just mumble?" Jelanda squawked in a manner so bird-like that it was creepy. "Speak up if you have something to say!"
"It would make a beautiful pet," Lawfer covered quickly. "I agree with you one-hundred percent."
Jelanda adapted to the pace of travel much more quickly than Lawfer ever expected. He was amazed at how fascinated by each and every little thing she was, then remembered that this was her first time out of the city at all, perhaps even outside of the castle walls except for yesterday. That reminded him of how much trouble they were all going to be in if anyone discovered this. It would look like a kidnapping, wouldn't it? Still, he respected Leone and expected some greater reasoning behind her decision.
"So what's the story about this old shrine anyway?" Jelanda asked, breaking Lawfer's concentration.
"You've never been there?" he replied. From the face that she made, he could tell that she did not enjoy being lectured. "Well," he hurried on, clearing his throat. "It is a shrine to the gods protected by a holy seal. They say that there's a great saint dragon named Arngrim, the guardian. He brought the Dragon Orb to Artolia, and the legend is that he is still guarding it somewhere deep within that shrine."
"A dragon?" Jelanda asked. "That's more dangerous than anything I was told about!"
"Relax," Lawfer said reassuringly, though he wasn't feeling very relaxed himself. "It's only a rumor. If there were a dragon there really, then certainly other monsters would have taken up residence in the area, and as far as I know, there are none in that shrine." In fact, there hadn't been any on the journey through the forest, either.
"But the Dragon Orb is powerful, right?" Jelanda went on. She sounded strangely curious more than afraid. "It wouldn't be odd to assume that a dragon would be guarding the Dragon Orb, right?"
"No one knows for certain," Lawfer said. "Legends say that Odin himself sought after the orb, but the royal family are the only ones with access to it now."
"All anyone has ever told me is to obey the gods," Jelanda said. "It's so annoying! Obey the gods, or Artolia will end up like that ancient place, Dipan. I hate going to worship all of the time... I bet they don't even care, honestly."
Lawfer noted how she slipped very close to revealing her identity. Although most children were told the same thing, only the royal family would have been held responsible for incurring the wrath of the gods upon the entire nation. "It certainly seems at times that they do not hear our pleas," Lawfer agreed. "But perhaps they do, and they simply ignore them just as men would."
"Exactly," Jelanda agreed, though she seemed to miss the point entirely. "I wouldn't listen to a bunch of humans whining and complaining about every little ailment either!"
"I think that--"
"So why do we pray in the first place? That's effort better spent solving problems myself!"
Lawfer decided that it was better not to say anything. Prodding the princess too much could be bad for his health in the long run, he thought. However, he couldn't help but chuckle at the princess's perspective. He wondered that if like the gods, if her subjects stopped praising her, would she bring her wrath down upon them? At least the gods didn't charge taxes.
They approached the shrine by that afternoon. Lawfer thought that they had made good time, but they wouldn't be done with their quest and home again by dark. He hoped that the princess had come up with a good cover story so that she wouldn't be missed.
The shrine was a large stone building that no doubt led several levels down into the ground. Worshipers generally came and stayed over night before heading back to town. This was allowed so long as they paid homage to the gods, but other development around the shrine was forbidden. Today there seemed to be a group of perhaps fifteen people at the shrine, not a terribly large amount.
"I was expecting something more mysterious," Jelanda said in disappointment as she watched the current shrine-dwellers going about their business from a hill where they stood with a good view of the place.
"It is a popular location," Lawfer explained. "Only the front of the top floor is open to the public. The lower levels are sealed and only the royal family has access to them."
"Really?" Jelanda replied. "I was hoping to get inside first... but I suppose a turn in plans is to be expected."
Lawfer spied Leone and Celia and was relieved. He hoped that finally running into them would resolve things, though he realized that he was probably being overly optimistic in that thought. "Is that who you are looking for?" he asked.
"Yes!" she answered. "Let them get a distance ahead of us, then we will go inside. I'd like them to open the seal first of all."
"As you wish," Lawfer agreed. The two of them held their position on the hill and watched as Leone and Celia spoke to the people at the entrance. They spent some time talking to everyone, and soon people were coming out of the shrine. "Looks like they are clearing people out just in case there is any trouble," he said.
"That is wonderful," Jelanda replied. "I have formulated a new plan."
"Would it be too much of me to ask what this plan is?" Lawfer asked her.
"Yes," she huffed. "Just come on. We can't get too far behind them." With an air of confidence she began walking towards the entrance. Lawfer was still reluctant, but there was not much that he could do at this point.
Leone had been inside of this particular shrine on a few occasions, but never had much interest in the place. Neither did Celia apparently, as she was just as willing to move through the first level with all of its worship services and fancy furnishings without stopping for a tour as Leone was.
The inside of the first level reminded Leone of a cathedral. It seemed to have more space vertically, about four stories, than it did horizontally, which made no sense to her. She supposed it was all just an attempt to impress the gods. It wasn't working too well, if that was the case.
She had never before taken notice of the doorway at the back of the shrine, but after advising everyone to leave or at least wait outside until their work was done, she and Celia approached it curiously.
"Do you have a key?" she asked.
"Yes," Leone answered, and removed one from her traveling pouch. It was silver and the head was adorned with a crest of Artolia's royalty. The lock on the large oak door yielded and then the door was pushed open with a small amount of force. Dust had piled up all around on the inside and the hinges were long out of use.
The next room was just as elegant and finely crafted as the rest of the shrine they had seen so far. There were statues of different interpretations of gods and goddesses. Leone idly wondered if any of them were accurate.
At the back of this room there was a wide circular platform. It was engraved with the complex image of a dragon, presumably the one named Arngrim. "Seems like a good sign," Leone said to Celia as she took out another item, this time a disc with the same graven image upon it. "This should operate it."
"Here," Celia said, pointing at the engraving which represented the Dragon Orb. It was the same size and depth of the disc in Leone's hand.
"Simple enough for us, if a bit obvious for a secret door," Leone said, as she placed the disc into the slot.
There was a soft rumble under the floor and Leone took a step back as the entire platform began to lower a bit and then slide into the floor. They watched, impressed with the ancient machinery, until the original platform had disappeared under the floor and an open hole remained in the ground. Around its edge all the way down was a spiral staircase. Leone looked in and could not see the bottom.
"Light us a torch," she said. "I doubt there's anything dangerous down here, but let's be careful."
A short time later, Lawfer and Jelanda arrived at the room with the stairwell descending into the dark. Promptly, Jelanda took the magic wand from her belongings and tapped it gently. It began to emit light enough to see by.
"I'm surprised that you are able to use magic," Lawfer said to her.
"Yes, I'm quite capable," Jelanda responded in a haughty tone.
They descended down into the lower levels of the shrine. They continued moving along the old stone steps for several stories in the dark before coming to an opening. This was the entrance to a large room. Here, in the light from Jelanda's wand, they could see that the decorations of this lower shrine were even more exotic than the floor above. Pillars encrusted with silver sculpture stood along the path of a figure eight engraved upon the floor. A door straight ahead had already been opened, and a feint glow lit the chamber beyond.
"They aren't in the next room," Lawfer said quietly. "They must have found some torches to light."
"Let's take a look then," Jelanda replied. She began to lead the way, but Lawfer stepped back in front of her.
"Just in case," he said.
In the next room they found a beautiful crystalline lighting structure that had been lit with fire. With mirrors plating the interior and hung all over the room, a beam of light was illuminating the entire chamber. Despite its beauty, there was nothing of interest here. Lawfer found another stairwell which led to an even deeper level. They descended and found themselves in another lit hall lined with beautiful suits of armor. Each was unique as if to fit a different warrior.
"Do they represent Einherjar?" Lawfer wondered aloud.
"Does it matter?" Jelanda asked in response. "Anyway, this is deep enough. Now watch out, I'm about to use a magic spell."
"What spell?" Lawfer asked, but she did not answer. He watched her remove a vial of some powdery substance from her things. "What is that?"
"It's a substance that summons some weak creatures," Jelanda said. "It is useful for various situations, and I plan to use it to scare Leone away from this place before she gets the treasure."
"It summons them, but can it control them?" Lawfer asked next.
"Well no, but that isn't exactly the point is it?"
Lawfer realized what the princess intended to do and it struck him as going too far. "Wait--" he started to say, but Jelanda had already popped the cork out of the vial and was raising her wand over it.
"Come forth, lowly creatures!" she chanted over the vial, and then spread its contents upon the ground.
Though he had sincerely hoped that the princess had been tricked and bought a fake potion, that was not to be. Soon the sound of feet scurrying in the halls of the shrine were heard, too many feet to each set of footsteps to be humans, Lawfer realized. He grabbed his spear and held it ready between the source of the noise and the princess. Unfortunately, it was coming from their exit route rather than from Leone's side.
"Wait, that isn't supposed to happen!" Jelanda said as the first of the small creatures came skittering down the staircase. It was a weak opponent just as Jelanda had said, a little orange imp, but there were more of them coming.
"You didn't consider the fact that they might appear above us?" he asked her as he readied his attack.
Jelanda retorted to that quip in frustrated anger. "You just fight, that's what I'm paying your for!"
Leone heard a strange noise coming from above them. She had realized already that Lawfer and Jelanda were behind them, but this was something different. "Many small creatures," she said.
Celia already knew what she meant. "What should we do?"
"I don't doubt that Lawfer can take care of himself, but the princess could be in danger if he is her only guard."
With a sigh, Celia turned and began to walk back into the hall full of armor from the chamber they had just entered. "I suppose we owe poor Lawfer some help for putting him through this.
Jelanda watched with no small amount of awe as Lawfer's lance circled overhead, striking an imp out of the air and then impaled another. He used it as gracefully as one of the court dancers with their batons, but this motion was both powerful and deadly. At least eight of the small things had trickled in from above, and he had killed each of them before any reached Jelanda. She stood waiting with her wand, half hoping that something would come her way so that she could display her true power.
She got her wish when another kind of monster appeared. This one resembled a lizard, though it was the size of a large dog and walked upright on its back legs. Lawfer was unable to destroy this one in one hit, and stuck it again. This allowed one of the orange-colored imps to sneak past him. Jelanda had readied herself, but still had no time to cast the spell as a reaction.
She braced herself for the attack as Lawfer shouted something unintelligible, but the blow never came. When she looked up, she saw Lawfer's female acquaintance, Celia, from the previous day poised on the ground in front of her, having leapt and slashed the imp in two with her blade.
"Princess Jelanda!" she heard a dark and husky yet unmistakably feminine voice shout. Leone had seen her and knew exactly who she was. Suddenly Leone grabbed her and pushed her back.
"How dare you!" was all that Jelanda could say.
"As long as we have ourselves in this situation," Leone said, "we might as well make the most of it by fighting together."
"I don't want to fight with you!" Jelanda spat.
"Why not?" Leone asked her directly, without faltering in tone or expression. "You have a wand, don't you? You are responsible for your actions, are you not?"
"How dare you make such demands of me!" the princess whelped.
"The rear position is the most effective spot for a mage," Leone continued, while at the same time cutting down one more of the countless creatures beginning to pour in.
"I don't have to work for you!" Jelanda spat, but soon found that no one was listening to her, nor did they care what she had to say. They were all fighting the creatures that she herself had summoned, how could she blame them? Red-faced in embarrassment, Jelanda took her frustration out on the enemy. "Fire Storm!" she shouted. A breath of flame swept up from the ground and then erupted into a pillar which caught five individual monsters in its wake and destroyed them. She stood catching her breath after the attack.
"That is rather impressive," Lawfer admitted in good humor. Jelanda wasn't sure, but she thought that perhaps now that their numbers were stronger, Lawfer was actually having fun.
They continued to fight for nearly half an hour. Jelanda was amazed at how quick and agile both female warriors were, and doubly so by the strength that Lawfer possessed. A strange, carnal appreciation of these common mercenaries grew in her heart as she watched on and on. It was a little bit fun.
Finally the horde subsided. None of them appeared to be hurt; they were hardly even exhausted. After a few moments to catch their breath, each one was fresh as new and ready to fight once again. Once the hall was silent, Jelanda's uncharacteristic bout of awe and admiration faded away, and she realized what exactly was going on.
"You told her!" she shouted at Lawfer. She pointed an accusing finger straight at Celia. "That woman is also your friend! You traitorous imbecile, you told Leone that we would come!"
"No, I guessed," Leone answered for Lawfer before he made an attempt to defend himself. "Princess Jelanda, if your grief lies with me, then speak to me directly. Lawfer has served you effectively on your own terms as best as he could, given the situation."
"Maybe if you'd given me more information," Lawfer said, but kept his tone low. He glanced at Celia and Jelanda saw that they both were grateful to Leone for stepping in. Jelanda clenched her fists and began to shout. "You wretched skank! How dare you mock me so! I'll have you all punished severely!" She continued on in that manner for quite a while before falling silent.
Leone waited patiently until all of these insults subsided. "If you are quite finished," she said calmly, "we have a treasure to find."
Jelanda's face contorted in an unnatural way to the most furious pout that any of them had ever seen. "If you expect me to help you, then you are sorely mistaken!"
"Your father needs his weapon," Leone explained.
"He may, but he doesn't need a tramp like you!"
Leone's stone-like exterior cracked a bit at that statement and she smiled. "Do not worry. Your father does not interest me in the slightest except as my ruler and someone whom I'm bound to obey."
Jelanda opened her moth to shout something again, and then halted as another thought occurred. "What's wrong with my father, are you too good for him?"
"This is going nowhere," Celia interjected.
"The bottom line seems to be that we are stuck with the princess," Lawfer added. "Leaving may be dangerous separately if more of those things remain outside the shrine. Whether any of us like it or not, we are forced to stay together."
"I only hope that those shrine visitors heeded my warning and were well away," Leone groaned, then looked accusingly at Jelanda. "Do you realize that innocent people may have died in the midst of your silly jealous game?"
That had not occurred to Jelanda, but she refused to let Leone make the point. "That is why I waited until we were far enough inside! How was I supposed to know that they would appear on the next level?"
"You could have killed us," Celia said.
"I doubt it," Jelanda answered. "From the looks of it, none of you were in any danger at all."
"Enough talk," Leone said, "We can debate until we are blue in the face later on. Right now we must retrieve the Dragon Orb."
"Very well," Jelanda agreed. "For my father."
They passed through a few more chambers, one more stairwell, and a few rooms after that, all decorated and lit in the same style as the previous areas, until the path opened up into a wide open corridor that was at least two floors tall and stretched through an incredible stone arc half way through. This area was lit by an unearthly blue glow emanating from several crystals embedded in the walls. These were not lit by fire, however, but by magic.
"Such a long hallway," Celia said, and her voice echoed down the corridor.
As a student of magic, Jelanda was fascinated by the lights and remained quiet enough as they continued through. It took a few minutes to pass through the arc and reach the other side of the long hallway. At this point there was an enormous door made of some sort of beautiful wood and rimmed with silver. The image of Arngrim the Saint Dragon was embossed upon it.
"It appears to be the end," Lawfer said. "If the Dragon Orb is here, then it is through this door."
Leone took a step towards the front of the group and then turned to face the others and address them. "Listen to me," she said. "Beyond this door there may be great danger."
"Well then," Jelanda answered and waved her hand in a dismissing manner. "Lawfer, go and see if the room is safe for me to enter, and maybe I'll still pay you full price despite your treachery." She had calmed down considerably.
"No," Leone interrupted, just as Lawfer was moving in accordance with the princess's wishes. "I am the leader, therefore I will take up the front and survey any dangers. Lawfer, Celia, you cover the princess, and flee if I give the command, do you understand me?"
"Yes, ma'am," Celia answered.
"If you insist," Lawfer also agreed. "But it will have to be some fearsome thing indeed if I'm to run."
Jelanda was enraged by the way that Leone stole the command from under her. "How dare you!" she baked again. "This is moronic. The point of being a leader is to have people do that for you!"
"No, it is most definitely not," Leone retorted forcefully. She turned and stared directly into Jelanda's eyes. For once, the young princess was stunned into silence and listened to her words. "Your duty as a leader is to determine what is best for those you lead, not what is the most convenient course of action for yourself. If you fail to provide for those that follow you, then your leadership will come to an end very quickly. The current king of Artolia refuses to dip into the coffers to pay for an appropriate armed force. He cares too much for his own pleasure, and for that of his family. A good father he may be, but a poor king he is. That is why Artolia faces an inevitable war that they cannot win, and why I have been charged to disturb an artifact which no doubt rests at the very foundation of all of Midgard in order to save it from utter annihilation. Do you understand what I am saying to you?"
It took several seconds for this message to entirely register within Jelanda's mind. Perhaps later she would rethink it, but her first reaction was unbridled fury. Spittle flew from her mouth as she screamed. "How dare you belittle me so and then insult my father to my face! Whore! Ten thousand deaths are not enough for you!"
"I'll expect you to support us with your magic," was Leone's only response. Let's go."
Overall, Leone had been amused with the princess's presence more than anything. She knew that the monsters she summoned would most likely be incapable of harming people had they the space to run away, but the princess did need to be told the consequences of her actions. That was the problem with royalty as Leone saw it. Though they held the responsibility for the entire nation, they were bred through generations to believe that they had no liability for their actions.
Though the girl was still giving her the immature and childish quips, she was starting to go along with the reasonable plan much sooner, Leone noticed. She sincerely hoped that nothing laid in wait for them; but if it did, having a mage in their party meant that they could strike at any sort of defense. She was confident that if the Dragon Orb was here, that they would obtain it.
Was the Dragon Orb here, though? She was not entirely hopeful as to that possibility. Artolia needed it to survive, but between the kingdom of Artolia and Midgard as a whole, she wondered if Artolia was not a small price to pay. Sacrifice Artolia or see all of Midgard anhillated--it wasn't a hard decision. Regardless, however, if Artolia was conquered, then this shrine would be uncovered eventually. Lose-lose was the situation. As to the location of the Dragon Orb, she would know as soon as she opened this door.
The door came open with surprising ease, and Leone stepped inside. It was a large room with a brilliant pedestal at the center decorated with a large sculpted dragon encrusted with gems. In nothing else, they could claim part of it as a reward. Leone strongly doubted that the gods would object. An obvious resting place for the orb was there; the orb itself was not.
"Was it all a hoax?" Celia asked, as each of them examined the room. "There aren't more rooms, are there?"
"I doubt it," Leone answered. "It just isn't here. I wonder if it was ever here at all."
Jelanda was obviously disappointed, but as Leone predicted, she was less furiously angry than before. At this rate, Leone wouldn't be able to impress her father, not that that she was trying to--but Jelanda's goal had been accomplished nonetheless. "What a bust!" she cried. "I'm so tired of this stupid place. Can we go back?"
"I think that we should," Lawfer agreed.
Before adding her input to the matter, Leone turned sharply to the back of the room again at full alert. Either it was a trick of the light, or there was a slight flickering in the corner. What bothered here even more was the sense of another presence there.
"What is it?" Celia asked, putting on her guard as well, along with Lawfer.
Leone stared into the spot, hoping to see any flicker of light or shadow moving as it shouldn't--something that would signify someone cloaked by magic. "I thought I saw someone..."
The person in the shadows, whether they were actually there or not, suddenly became a trivial matter as an even larger shimmering distortion appeared in the air in front of them. All four watched aghast as a creature standing nearly a full story tall on all fours began to materialize. It was a vaguely reptilian thing with huge taloned hands and a long tail that smashed into the pedestal behind it. The sturdy stone sculpture was crushed entirely under its weight.
"A dragon," Leone muttered. This was very bad. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the monster's skin was falling apart. Its eyes were hollow and its bones jutted through its sickly flesh. A rank smell permeated the air the very second that it was fully formed. "An undead dragon..."
Jelanda began to panic. "I-I..." she stammered, "My spell shouldn't have conjured up anything like this!"
Both Celia and Lawfer's weapons crossed protectively in position in front of the princess, and Leone was to the front. Lawfer stood ready to strike, but was unsure if the claiming the first move would be wise. These creatures were rumored to be all but invulnerable. "What is a creature of the undead doing inside a shrine of the gods?" he asked urgently. "Such a thing should not be possible, no matter what the circumstances!"
Leone motioned to the others forcefully with a wave of her sword while never taking her eyes off of the undead dragon. "Full retreat! Celia, Lawfer, take the princess and run back immediately! I will bring up the rear!"
"There isn't any way that you can hope to injure such a thing," Lawfer argued, as Celia grabbed the shaken princess by the arm and began to run.
"Don't peg me as the heroic type," Leone responded flatly. "I am going to try my hardest to stay alive."
They began to sprint through the grand arch and across the corridor once again, Celia leading Jelanda, and Lawfer poised to protect them both as Leone followed behind. The beast became even larger as it rose to its hind legs and released a maddening roar that shook the foundation of the entire shrine.
Jelanda could hardly process what was happening. As soon as she saw that disgusting creature, she froze and remained unable to move until Celia grabbed her and began to pull. She wondered if they were all going to die here, and part of her even wondered if it would be her fault, and how would she feel about that? The lives of three servants who failed to protect her properly should not mean much, but what if she had placed them directly into a situation which they had no hope of winning? Had her father thought the same of Leone, that she was an expendable unit and no harm should come of her death?
The deafening scream of the enormous creature caused her to lose her step on the bridge. Thankfully Celia had kept her hold on Jelanda strong so that she would not fall. She wondered what she had done to merit that sort of treatment. Wouldn't she have simply run away in the same situation?
The sound left her ears ringing, and she could no longer hear the others shouting their commands and warnings. The corridor was crumbling all around them as they ran for their lives, large chunks of stone falling from overhead and raining in their path with each furious bounding step that the great undead dragon took.
This escape attempt was short lived. For the intensity of the moment and the number of heartbeats pounding in her chest, Jelanda was surprised to find that they had only run a less than half of the magnificent hall before the dragon caught up with them. It swept out a taloned arm the size of a tree trunk long enough to strike them all. Jelanda felt herself suddenly tangled up with another body as Lawfer leapt between her and the impending attack. He failed to avoid the blow, but after being thrown a distance that Jelanda would never again want to fall by the dragon's swipe, she found herself miraculously unharmed save for several bruises.
She staggered to her feet while Lawfer rose to his with some considerable effort. He had taken some damage that would have to be measured later. Jelanda could see that he was in great pain, yet continued valiantly to hold his spear. Celia had dodged the blow altogether, a nimble feat, and squatted in a stance poised to spring again. Leone, however, was no longer on the ground. Jelanda looked up to her horror to see the young light warrior helplessly entrapped in the dragon's vice-like grip.
"Keep running!" Leone screamed at them furiously as the dragon threatened to squeeze out her innards. Lawfer swallowed hard and hesitated for a mere second before grabbing Jelanda by the arm as Celia had done previously.
This time, Jelanda wrenched her wrist out of her protector's grip. "No!" she shouted, and raised her wand to the dragon. She gripped it with such strength that it was a wonder that the weapon did not snap into pieces. A light flashed from the tip as she concentrated with all of her might. "Damned creature! Ten thousand deaths are not enough for you!"
An incredible explosion ripped though the passage, striking the dragon in its mid-section and enveloping it. It cried out in pain and released its grip on Leone. She fell to the ground gasping for air, but still gripping her sword.
Valkyrie, the dragon's voice boomed as the fires receded, leaving a veil of smoke. Jelanda heard his voice in her mind, her ears were still deaf from his roaring and smashing.
As the smoke began to clear, she saw that he was hardly harmed. The blast had done some damage, but what a proverbial drop in the bucket it was. A sparkling glint of metal fell to the demolished stone at his feet. Just after the blast, Celia had thrown a dagger so fast that Jalanda had failed to catch it, but it mattered little now, deflecting harmlessly off of its rotting and yet invulnerable body.
The voice rose in their minds again. Battle Maiden, I have no taste for these pathetic mortal insects. Remain here and fight against me, so that I may return to my slumber, and I shall let your comrades escape, lest they be foolish enough to face me.
"Who is he speaking to?" Jelanda asked, though even her own voice sounded muddled to her ears. She knew that the name Valkyrie referred to the gods' chooser of the slain, but the rest confused her. Was the Valkyrie Maiden lurking somewhere nearby, waiting to send her escorts to Valhalla once they were annihilated? Strangely, rather than lamenting her inevitable death, she began to wonder would the Valkyrie choose her as well, or send her to rest in Niflheim?
"What are you doing, you fools?" Leone barked at them, banishing Jelanda's thoughts. "Run, keep running!"
"Come!" Ceilia demanded, and grabbed Jelanda again. This time Jelanda could not even think to attack again, and allowed herself to be pulled. They ran until they cleared the next arch at the opposite end of the corridor. Jelanda found herself airborne once more, this time in the arms of Celia, who bounded gymnastically out of the path of a crushing pile of rubble as it fell, closing the passage.
Lawfer stood. He was bleeding from a gash on his head, and Jelanda could not determine how bad it was. Celia was fine, as was Jelanda herself. When the dust settled, they saw that the passage had been completely closed. The dragon could no longer reach them. However, Leone was nowhere to be found.
"Was she... crushed?" Celia asked in voice trembling in oncoming grief rather than fear.
Lawfer was stoic and his expression was furious. His hands were clenched into fists so tightly that Jelanda was truly afraid. She opened her mouth to say something, but just as she found that she had nothing to say, they heard the feint noise of a blade striking beyond the rocks.
"She's fighting!" Jelanda cried, and threw herself onto the stone pieces. With raw emotion that surprised even herself, she threw all of her strength into lifting one piece of rubble and vainly attempting to move it. "Leone, please!"
"Stop!" Celia said, and pulled her back. "You'll hurt yourself, and bring more crashing down on us all!"
Leone laughed bitterly as she realized the gravity of her situation. All of her speeches earlier would have to be proved now. She hoped that Lawfer and Celia were cold enough to go on without her, even as she still lived. She doubted that, however. They would be standing outside of the crumbled passage until they heard no more movement save for the dragon's heavy steps as he returned to his den. Perhaps even Jelanda would spend time crying, though she hoped that wouldn't be.
Leone heard the dragon speak once more. Come, let my debt to the gods be repaid!
"I have no idea what your relation to the gods is, undead creature," she answered while raising her sword and staring at her demise bravely eye to eye. "I do not know who you call for. However, if your battle is with me, then let it be done!"
The single clash was all that they heard of their comrade's weapon. The dragon's roar ripped through the shrine once again. This time, Jelanda's ears managed to withstand the overbearing sound. Then there was silence.
This deathly silent frozen moment went on for seconds or full minutes, she could not tell. It could have been hours, years perhaps.
"Take the princess to safety," Lawfer said at last. "I will stay."
"Stay and do what?" Celia retorted. Though far less hurt than Lawfer, she was an emotional wreck. "Dig her out? Incur the Dragon's wrath again, and bring it upon all of Artolia this time?"
"We should at least find her body and bury it!" Lawfer replied. He was most likely suffering mentally from his injuries as well as from the stress of the situation itself. "We owe her that, for her honor!"
Celia's voice softened and she reached out for his arm. "Honor will not help the dead," she said delicately. "You are hurt. We must find aid for you."
"The soldiers will come," Jelanda said in a low tone. "They will find her and bury her eventually, I am sure." She too was gripping her hands and seething at the utter hopelessness of it all. If the Valkyrie had come, she had come for Leone alone. "But... the two of you... I assume that your situation is not good."
After a moment of consideration, Celia looked down at her feet shamefully. "We may have to leave Artolia."
"This is all because I've gotten involved!" Jelanda answered loudly. "It is all my fault!"
"No," Lawfer said, and staggered toward her. "You may have complicated things, yes, but that dragon was not part of your mischief. It is one of the undead, a creature that by all means should not... should not possibly be here. The sanctity of the gods would forbid it from entering this place, even if somehow summoned by your magic. Without your spell back there, we might all have died."
"Please don't speak so much," Celia said, and raised a piece of cloth from her pouch to the wound on Lawfer's head.
Jelanda knew all of those things, yet this seemed wrong because of her involvement. For failure, there would be repercussions, yes; but for having the princess brought into such a situation under any circumstances, even if she admitted fault on her own part, her father would ultimately have both of them killed. That was something that she could not accept.
"Let's sneak back into town," Jelanda said. "I will go back to the castle, and hopefully in the commotion of the shrine being partially demolished, I will not be missed. The two of you can claim to never have been here. I'll pay whatever doctor you see to shut his mouth."
Lawfer and Celia considered that. Jelanda knew what they were thinking, that it seemed a shameful thing to do. In the end, they decided to go with Celia's statement of honor being useless to the dead, only this time they would be the dead ones in question. Celia answered first. "It could work."
"Yes," Lawfer replied, and began to grasp at his side. The pain was starting to affect him and he limped as he walked.. "Let us go before anyone sees us, and while I can still move."
It was late in the evening the next day before the king called to see Jelanda. By that time, she had washed and dressed herself once again in her royal attire. No one noticed that she was gone; either that, or no one cared. Would anyone here honestly care if she died? Did some of them actually want her dead? Celia and Lawfer had risked their lives for her sake; Leone had given hers. Thankfully Lawfer could easily be treated for a head wound that turned out to be bloody but light enough for safety, and a few broken ribs. Celia had sprained an ankle, but that was all. Jelanda herself had only bruises and a severe lack of sleep to worry about. The only one visible on her while wearing her dress was a small purple area forming on her left cheek, but she explained this away by saying that she had tripped on the stairs that afternoon.
She met her father in the dining hall, where they sometimes shared private dinners on rare occasions when he had the luxury of time. Jelanda had always reveled in these gatherings in the past, and knew that she should not have heard yet about anything horrible happening today; so she attempted to put on a cheery face for her father. This was hard to accomplish with the way that she felt inside, but she managed to fool him, at least. She looked down at the meal. It was something with caviar and truffles again, and she did not feel like eating anything at all. No one cared as long as they weren't being scolded for it.
"My dear girl," the king said affectionately, while grasping Jelanda's hand. "I have some terrible news to pass on to you today."
"Oh?" Jelanda answered innocently enough to pass as oblivious.
"Yes, yes," he cooed. Jelanda usually fawned in all of his attention, but now it seemed like he was talking to a small child rather than a young lady. "I know how much you wanted a new mother, and I want you to know that I tried. However, the woman who I considered worthy of you passed on yesterday, and so I don't believe that I will be remarrying any time soon. I am so sorry, dear."
Every part of that was so preposterous that Jelanda almost laughed. The very idea of Leone marrying someone like her father now seemed ridiculous. She was able to answer honestly, though. "Oh, that's okay, Daddy," she said sweetly. "I never really wanted a new mother," in fact, she had reviled the very thought, "just having you is all that I need."
"I am so pleased to hear that," he answered. She wondered how he had gotten the wild idea that she wanted a mother. She was old enough not to have one. It crossed her mind that perhaps he had invented the idea to justify his own urge to remarry.
There was a silence then. Jelanda expected to hear about the shrine, but her father said nothing. "Was there anything else that happened?" she asked.
"Yes, I was planning to tell you later after you'd had a chance to calm down," he answered. "But seeing as how you are not upset, I suppose now is as good a time as any." Jelanda had to fight not to groan. She was as far from not upset right now as anyone could be. It was relieving to know that her act was working well enough, though. Her father went on. "Yesterday, forces from Villnore interrupted an attempt on my part to obtain the Dragon Orb. Not only did they ruin the shrine, but it seems that they have taken the Dragon Orb as well, for it wasn't found at the site."
Jelanda sighed. They believed it was Villnore. That was the best situation she could hope for. Leone would be remembered as a hero, and Lawfer and Celia would never be questioned.
"Because this presents such a horrible situation, I have decided to send you to some of our allies in Crell Monferaigne where you will be safe no matter what happens. You are what is most important to me, after all."
Jelanda put her fork down and had to venture a bit into this. Perhaps it was simply to see if Leone was right. "Don't you think that sending your daughter to safety will send a poor message to the kingdom?" she asked as politely as she could. "If it is all right for me to abandon Artolia, then what is to keep our own people from leaving when we need them the most?"
"I just want you to be safe, my dear," he answered. "It would destroy me if anything were to happen to you."
"I know," Jelanda replied. "You are a good father, and I love you. But, if I may, I would like to stay by your side. You are important to me as well."
Jelanda watched as her father frowned sadly, but gave no sign of protest. "If you wish," he said. "You are a brave girl, my Jelanda."
Jalanda smiled at this, though part of her was sad to hear it. She thought of Lawfer and Celia and hoped that they were doing well. Most of all, she hoped that Leone was content, wherever she was now.
Perhaps Leone was now in Asgard, serving the gods as loyally as she had served her comrades.