Dum Spiro Spero

See disclaimer in part 1

"Back up and explain that again," Milanor demanded flatly, staring most unflatteringly at Nessiah. "But use words we understand this time."

Nessiah took a deep breath, held it for several seconds, and released it. He was not going to lose his temper at Milanor and make this any more annoying than it had to be.

"As I have been trying to make clear for the past hour," he replied, unable to keep the drawl out of his voice, "Kylier's condition over the past week or so was caused by a buildup of magical energy.

"It's something that even I should have realized long ago but didn't. I've always thought it somewhat odd that she was able to throw off my control during the battle on Ancardia, when her life energy was weak and she had no magical training to help her. And I definitely thought it was strange that she would receive a magical tool as her Artifact instead of a weapon. But more pressing issues have driven it from my mind all this time.

"Essentially, Kylier has latent magical talent. It was likely small at first, and buried so deeply that it was missed when she was growing up. So it grew unchecked instead of being ordered and trained. And the stress of the war, the stress of our bond, the pactio, the use of her Artifact—it's developed her power so that it is now quite strong… and requires training and regulation."

He turned to look at Gulcasa, then Yggdra, then Milanor, then Kylier herself; they all seemed to understand him by now, though Milanor still wore an incredulous expression and Kylier looked pensive.

"I guess this means the problem's as good as solved, then," Gulcasa said with a shrug. "She just has to learn the basics of magic, and we won't have to deal with any more huge meltdowns. Right?" Before Nessiah could answer, he seemed to consider something, and shook his head. "No matter what, it's not going to be as bad as what I had to go through three years ago, right?" There was a slight wariness in his eyes that suggested it wouldn't surprise him if it was.

"No, not at all. For one thing, Kylier's power is significantly less massive than yours, and using it won't contradict the way her body has developed up until now. Even as far as late-revealed magical and demonic gifts go, you're an unusual case; nothing in particular has been blocking the growth of Kylier's magic—it was just allowed to grow wild and unnoticed. Think of it like a garden; the state of Kylier's magic is currently snarled and overgrown. It just requires some pruning and shaping and it will cease to be a problem."

Yggdra covered something that looked suspiciously like a giggle. "That's an interesting simile."

Nessiah just shook his head, sighing.

"I don' get it again," Milanor groaned. "What the heck is this three years ago thing?"

Nessiah turned to Gulcasa, but he was already shrugging and making to speak. "My powers as a descendant of Brongaa were sealed until I was seventeen, and even I didn't know about them until that seal started to break. You'd have to ask Nessiah or Emilia how it works, because I'm still not a hundred percent sure I understand it, but I thought I was an ordinary human up until then, and my body also believed that it was human. Because of that, when the seal broke, I had a lot of trouble learning to use my power and even controlling it at all." He smiled lopsidedly at Yggdra, who Nessiah suddenly realized was looking very worried. "I had help, so I figured it out, but for a long time it was really damn annoying until then. You remember what happened down in Lombardia, right?"

"I remember you suddenly fallin' on your face," Milanor volunteered helpfully; Gulcasa took a swipe at him. Milanor didn't duck quickly enough, and so the strike collided; Gulcasa rested his hand back on his hip with an unusually prim expression and Milanor rubbed the side of his head, scowling.

"I got sick like that or worse all the time—from overusing my abilities and whenever I didn't use them enough. Having to deal with Brongaa driving my own instincts crazy is nothing compared to that." Gulcasa glanced at Kylier, then shrugged. "But if Nessiah says it won't get that bad, then that's a good thing. I'll lay off the horror stories—it's not like they have much to do with our situation now."

That definitely put things in perspective, if nothing else. Nessiah felt the tension in his back and shoulders loosen just slightly. "Anyhow, this just means that we'll have to take a few hours out of the day to teach you before or after you go work on reconstruction. If I'm busy, I'm sure you can get help from Roswell or Rosary—"

"Not interested."

He stopped, staring at Kylier blankly. Her expression had become quite sullen, and she was staring off into a corner, avoiding everyone's eyes.

Feeling everyone staring at her, she sighed. "Look, I don't care all that much about magic. Given my druthers, I'd rather stay on the front line, thanks. That's where I'll do the best. I didn't go to all the trouble of starting to work with griffons again just to switch over to being a witch at this late date."

"I don't really understand what you're getting at."

She turned slightly to glower sulkily at him through half-lidded eyes. "It's different for Yggdra, since she decided she was gonna stop fighting with swords altogether a while ago, but you can't make me stop defending myself. Funny, I never thought before now that you didn't like girls fighting on the front lines."

Nessiah tilted his head slightly to the side as everyone else looked on. "I'm still not quite sure what you're talking about, but it seems that one of us is laboring under some sort of misconception. Kylier, I'm not asking you to stop working with griffons or to become a mage. Honestly, at your age it's a little bit late to expect you to alter your mindset and approach to life like that."

"Then I don't see why you want me to learn magic."

He sighed. "Kylier, please recount the past few hours' events for us."

She said nothing, but her expression darkened. Deciding that he might as well interpret that as her starting to understand his point, Nessiah moved on.

"The idea of having you learn the basics of magic is to keep people from getting hurt whenever there's an unusual buildup of power in your system, or whenever you lose your temper. You don't really get much say in the matter, unfortunately, as this is a matter of our safety. As long as you don't know how to control yourself, you could easily wind up accidentally harming or even killing the people around you, and I doubt you'd enjoy dealing with the aftermath of an incident like that.

"But on the other hand, all you really need to learn is control. That will include teaching you how to implement your power in battle—imbuing your weapons with delayed spells, for instance, or giving you superhuman strength. This won't be removing you from the front lines, as you seem to be concerned about. All this represents is a brief inconvenience to you. And we have the time to spare with the reconstruction schedule."

Kylier still didn't seem to want to agree so easily, and she folded her arms, her sulky expression unchanging. "And who's gonna take care of the griffons while I'm getting magic lessons?"

Before Nessiah could reply, Gulcasa rolled his eyes and interjected. "I hope you're not making any statements about my little sister's ability to handle her own responsibilities. She wouldn't be too happy with you."

Kylier didn't say anything else. Nessiah waited a while to make sure, then turned to look at everyone else.

"Well, if that's settled, then everything else is pretty simple. It's just making sure that someone has a little time to spare for Kylier to learn from them each day. We don't have to keep standing around here, then—I'll clean up the books, since I can do that the fastest."

Yggdra smiled a little. "Then, I'll leave it to you." She turned and vanished between the bookshelves; Nessiah heard her footsteps echoing off towards the staircase.

Kylier was still making a face like she wanted to protest, but Milanor tapped her on the shoulder and nodded toward the exit. They followed after Yggdra silently, close but not holding hands. Nessiah wondered briefly what that was about, then remembered that Kylier's magical meltdown had been triggered by some kind of argument between them. It must still be a little bit awkward to shrug that off.

Gulcasa was still standing there. "Are you sure you don't want some help? She really made a mess, after all."

Nessiah smiled and raised both hands before him; the books lightly floated up into the air, gently bobbing up and down. "I think I'll be quite all right, though I'm grateful for the offer. As things are, though, if you don't head back upstairs you may wind up getting hit again. I plan to finish this off quickly."

"I forgot for a minute you could do that. Show-off," Gulcasa said with a grin, shoving at Nessiah's shoulder. "Anyhow, since we still have to unpack, gimme your bags. I'll find some space on your desk for Mom's notes."

"As long as you don't make too much of a mess of everything else," Nessiah retorted, but he undid the ties that kept his leather pack slung over his shoulder, then held it out for Gulcasa to take. "Make sure that you go to see Flone about your arm, too. I shouldn't be more than half an hour or so."

Gulcasa accepted the leather pack and tucked it under his arm with more care than his easy words might have suggested he would use. "At least this is a problem that's easy to deal with for once."

"Knock on wood," Nessiah appended dryly.

Unfortunately, despite how easy it would be to deal with the issue, what it really came down to was Kylier's own attitude about learning magic. Which continued to be less than exemplary, to put it charitably.

She sulked her way through lessons, giving halfhearted efforts at best at learning to meditate and ground herself. Those halfhearted efforts let her magic easily slip out of her control, which made her frustrated—and the more convinced she became that she wasn't going to succeed, the worse her sulks got and the lazier her efforts became.

Nessiah had gotten together with Roswell and Rosary to construct something of a curriculum for her, dividing different tasks up based on which of the three of them was best-suited to teach what. It had been a little bit awkward, with Roswell reluctant to look him in the face and Rosary on edge, but it only took a week for Nessiah to develop an intense gratitude for the time it had taken. If any one of them had decided to take Kylier on as a student alone, they surely would have been driven mad by it by now.

They learned quickly that their lessons had to be held outside (one early lesson with Rosary had seen Kylier accidentally make several charm bottles explode), preferably somewhere with barren ground (she'd started a brushfire once when practicing with Nessiah), and their circle needed to be well-shielded and contained (Roswell had had to deal with the effects of errant bolts of magic one time too many to permit otherwise). Yggdra had offered to join in to help Kylier master the basics, but they'd had to reject her because she didn't have the training or power to actually deflect the ill effects of Kylier's magic.

It was so draining that even relieved from construction duty, Nessiah had barely any energy left over to work out some form of cure or seal that might help Gulcasa cope with Brongaa. And that was just pathetic.

"I'm beginning to doubt that I was ever cut out for teaching," he remarked dryly one day. They were in the middle of lunch, and Kylier had just departed with Rosary for another ill-prospected lesson.

"Oh, only by this late date?" Gulcasa quipped from the seat next to him. When Nessiah didn't reply, he shrugged and reached across the table for the bread and butter. "For what it's worth, it's admirable that you haven't given up yet."

"I'm starting to consider it," Nessiah replied wanly, and leaned against Gulcasa's back, resting his weight along the line of his spine.

"It must be pretty bad for you to say that," Gulcasa remarked with a grin. Nessiah said nothing in return, no matter how he waited.

Across the table, Yggdra and Milanor stared at them in silence, and Gulcasa gave a cursory peek over his shoulder.

"…I think he fell asleep."

Yggdra covered a smile with her fingertips, deep blue eyes sparkling in the way that just warmed his soul. Beside her, Milanor shrugged one shoulder and noisily bit into an apple.

Nessiah didn't stir. I guess I'll just have to be careful not to let him fall down.

"All bad jokes aside, in this case it really just proves the old saying about leading horses to water. It's hard to teach anything when the student's unwilling. Really, though, I don't get what Kylier's problem is here. If you've got power, it's stupid not to want to use it—at least in my opinion."

Milanor shrugged again. "I can see where she's comin' from, though. Deep down, it prolly feels to her like she's gettin' told to throw away what's been her whole way of livin'. Kylier wouldn't be herself if she weren't fightin' on the front lines, so she don't wanna lose that."

As Gulcasa and Yggdra stared at him, he went on. "Like… y'know, even nowadays you got stuffy people sayin' this and that ain't proper for a lady, and so on."

Gulcasa frowned. "Maybe in places like Fantasinia or Lombardia, but you two are from Lost Aries. In a place like that, it's a matter of survival not to discriminate—you need everybody to survive. How would Kylier pick up a complex like that there?"

"You're right about Lost Aries, but Kylier—she grew up in an orphanage that got set up by a priest from Fantasinia. That guy was always goin' on like that an' she really hated it. Even more 'cause otherwise he was nice."

All Gulcasa could do was shake his head. "That's not anything I could really help with. It just seems weird to me; I haven't got any experience with things like that." Before he'd ascended the throne, life in Bronquia had been too out-of-control for people to squawk about it being improper for women to be warriors, at least around where he'd grown up. And it was probably a product of his upbringing, but gender didn't really factor into his concept of identity. He saw others as people first, with gender as a lesser detail. If people wanted to call him a late bloomer or an overgrown child because of that, it wasn't as if he cared.

Besides, he didn't have much right to comment on how other people treated women, as he was after all a man.

"So what we really need to do here to help Kylier be more willing to learn is help her understand that she's not being judged or made to reform," Yggdra said thoughtfully, winding a few strands of hair around her finger. "Nessiah already told her as much, but I suppose sometimes words alone can't help with a misunderstanding like this one."

Gulcasa shrugged. "Somehow I get the feeling that this is out of my league. If anyone can actually make a difference in Kylier's attitude, that'd probably be you two."

"Yeah, that might be right." Milanor sighed sharply, looking thoughtful.

Yggdra tilted her head to one side, and then leaned forward, resting her elbow on the edge of the table and her chin on the shelf her hand made. As neither she nor Milanor said anything else, Gulcasa went back to spreading butter along the bread slice that was still on his plate; if he left the thing alone it was probably going to start melting soon.

And then Yggdra made a faint hmm-ing noise. When Gulcasa looked up, shaking his head to keep his hair from obscuring his view, she had turned towards Roswell, who had been too busy minding his utensils to contribute anything to the conversation thus far.


He glanced up at her with an expression that invited her to go on and suggest. Careful not to move too quickly and allow Nessiah to fall, Gulcasa leaned forward and rested the knuckles of his right hand along the length of his jawbone.

"Would making a pactio be good or bad for Kylier while she's learning?"

Roswell frowned. "You mean with Kylier as the magistra, correct?" When Yggdra nodded, he set his knife down and folded his arms, his frown deepening. "I don't think it would hurt. Actually, that would be a way to give her an already-organized point of focus for her studies. The lack of a foothold is one of the things that's causing the most trouble for her, and for us, right now. So yes, that's a very good idea."

"Thank you." Yggdra smiled at him, and then the two of them turned to look at Milanor. Gulcasa followed their gaze; the thief boy was finished with his lunch and chewing on a long strand of grass, staring blankly off at the horizon over Gulcasa's shoulder. Once he realized that they were all fixated on him, he frowned back and forth at them blankly—and then spat the grass blade out, starting to shake his head.

"Wha—no way. Nuh-uh. I know what you're thinkin' and just—no. No way."

"It's not as though she'd be particularly put off by you," Roswell pointed out in a reasonable tone, holding up a finger like a teacher pointing out the obvious.

"And it's not as though kissing her would be all that embarrassing now that you two are a couple," Yggdra added with great innocence.

"Besides, you two have already made up, haven't you?" As long as everyone else was hassling Milanor, Gulcasa figured he might as well add his own two cents. "It's not like she's already got an excuse to start taking shots at you as long as you don't eat your feet proposing it."

"Shut up," Milanor grumbled, turning away. And then: "Would it really do that much good?"

"There's no way of telling now, but it won't hurt. And you're likely the only one who can still try to talk any sense into her at all."

Milanor's shoulders went up defensively, and he scratched at his cheek, then folded his arms.

"I'll think about it," he said gruffly, then stood up and stalked away.

Yggdra smiled at his empty seat and then went back to her own food.

"As long as this doesn't turn out quite like your last matchmaking attempt, I'll be quite satisfied," Roswell murmured with a bitter smile, then gathered up his plates and walked away.

As Gulcasa watched her, Yggdra's expression darkened briefly, and then she shrugged with a murmured "I probably deserved that" and continued eating.

He breathed in, held it, then exhaled as he reached out to tap the edge of her plate.

Yggdra turned up toward him with a startled look on her face, and he smiled at her, though he could feel the expression go lopsided on his face.

"You know—and I mean this in the best way possible," he told her, then jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate Nessiah still sleeping against his back "this guy is really starting to rub off on you."

He wasn't quite sure what response he'd expected, but the suddenness of it made it feel like something inside his chest had dropped out of his body hard when she did:

Wordlessly, Yggdra beamed at him.

There were of course a number of things that still had to be taken care of aside from attempting to improve Kylier's attitude. Gulcasa left the table shortly after that incident in order to put Nessiah safely away in his room, and when it came time for the afternoon crew to head to Flarewerk for reconstruction, several members were missing; Yggdra was tasked with tracking them down.

She found Pamela fooling around in the field, then Nietzsche down at the riverbank hiding from Pamela, then pried Cruz away from a rapt audience of small children in order to shoo him and the others off towards the caravans, exchanged hurried greetings with Emilia and awkwardly endured glowers from Luciana, then saw the lot of them off.

There was a courier scheduled to arrive from Fantasinia in the evening, probably bearing paperwork for Yggdra to look over, but until then she was free to do as she pleased to a point.

From a nearby hill, she watched as Kylier's "lesson" with Rosary ended, the both of them going in separate directions—Kylier off towards the griffon stable, and Rosary towards the mansion, most likely to go get some rest.

Yggdra stood on her toes and frowned as she surveyed the village, then turned slowly, searching until she caught a flash of red amongst the tall grass that bordered the western edge of town. She pointed, marking its position, and then headed down the side of the hill, her pace naturally speeding up as she made her way down the slope.

When she made her way there, Gulcasa was lying flat on his back in the grass, partially shielded from the wind by a large boulder whose lee he rested in. His eyes were closed, but he opened them halfway and turned toward her when she sat down next to him.

"I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, I was just spacing out anyway."

He smiled a little and then settled back, closing his eyes again. Yggdra realized that she didn't really know how to bring up what she wanted to talk to him about.

"Lot on your mind?"

She flinched a little, then sighed, her smile twisting slightly on her lips as she felt her brow furrow. "I suppose so."

"You don't have to watch what you say with me. Go ahead and say whatever you have to."

His voice was quiet and easy, the words natural. There was something very soothing about them, about the tranquil expression he wore as the breeze pulled at his hair and clothes. Yggdra thought that there was a lot that she should be able to learn from this man if she tried. The people she knew said that she had a very calming manner about her, but she was sure she couldn't compare to this man.

"Everything that's been happening recently has been making me think. About a lot of different things. For one, it's nice to know that no matter what comes to pass, we'll find a way to overcome it as long as we're still working together, thinking together. From Asgard's misunderstandings to what's passing between Kylier and the rest of us now. I don't think that any of us could be considered powerless as long as we each make up a part of this team."

Gulcasa nodded, but didn't move to interrupt her. Yggdra shifted where she sat, steepling her fingers and then winding them together.

"It's also made me think—not just what's been happening, but being here in Bronquia—it's made me realize that there's still so much I don't know about you. And I'm still not sure what I feel about that. All I understand is that… I want to learn more about you, and about this place. I want to know the real weight of what Fantasinia has stolen from this land, and… I want to understand you better than I do."

Yggdra closed her eyes and breathed in the wind, then lifted her eyelids and turned. Gulcasa's eyes were open, pale in the sunlight, and he was looking at her expressionlessly.

As she watched, he pushed himself up. Softly, the wind picked up, and his hair streamed out before him like a ragged red banner, subtle gold tones gleaming as it fluttered and fell.

"That's an interesting thing to say. What's brought this on?"

Yggdra looked down at her hands and steepled her fingertips again, pressing the nails together as she measured out the words. "I don't know much about the land north of Flarewerk, and I don't know why your and Nessiah's first instinct would be to go to the researchers in Lost Aries when it came to the problems of your blood. Emilia mentioned that you were born in a town north of Flarewerk, and it made me realize how foolish it is to pretend that these things don't matter. All I know about you before your revolution is that you led a very hard life, and that people like you were oppressed by the former Emperor and his court.

"You know about me, but there are still so many things about you that I don't understand. I want to try to see things the way that you do."

This wasn't a race—in the end it came down to Gulcasa's own choice, once he realized everything—but Yggdra knew deep down that Nessiah probably already knew these things, and she wanted to stay on even footing with him if it was at all possible.

Gulcasa tilted his head and stared at her for another long moment, then stood up, completely without preamble. He bent slightly and held out a hand to her, and nonplussed, Yggdra accepted it and allowed him to pull her to her feet. The breeze was pleasantly cool and carried the last of the season's chill along with it, but his skin was very warm. That was probably due to the way his blood all but literally burned beneath it.

"C'mon," he said, and pulled her along behind him.

With Gulcasa leading the way, they made their way back to the top of the hill Yggdra had been standing on top of not so very long ago. Upon reaching its crest, he stretched out an arm and pointed out.

"This is close enough to the coast that you might be able to see from here. Follow the line of the land—do you see the port that's close to the horizon?"

Yggdra strained her vision and shaded her eyes, leaning forward until she caught the silver shadow there. "I think so."

"That's the east half of Tiera, one of our biggest trade cities. I was born in the western half. And since someone who's not Bronquian would have no reason to know—the west half of Tiera was all slums up until about two years ago, after we went in and worked on rebuilding it." Gulcasa wore an easy smile that Yggdra wasn't sure how best to interpret. "That place is full of memories for me. Mostly bad, but some really good."

He let his arm rest at his side and turned back toward her, nodding in the direction of the sea.

"Your eighteenth birthday's a few weeks away, isn't it?"

Yggdra nodded, taken a little aback by the sudden non sequitur.

"When that time comes, let's go there. Not as heads of state, but as Gulcasa and Yggdra. I'll show you around, and tell you a little about what it was like. I think I've mentioned before that sometimes you remind me of someone I used to know. On that day, I'll tell you about her, too. If you want to know about me—about us—about the meaning of the lives the Royal Army has taken… then it all starts there."

Something like a chill ran over Yggdra's skin as she stared at Gulcasa wonderingly. His silhouette was almost completely unrecognizable, even as he smiled at her.

"And I'm glad that you asked. That you cared to ask. In some ways it's a hard story for me to tell, but I consider you a close friend, and that gives you kind of a right to know.

"I've come this far carrying a lot of people's hopes and expectations and ideals. I don't want those ideals to die out, and more than anything else I want to see them spread and take hold. All of this… the way we've come to work together, I think it's time to entrust the things we fought for to you, too. Because we've already decided that my people and yours will be walking towards the future together."

Gulcasa reached out to take her other hand, and interlaced his fingers with hers. Yggdra squeezed his hands lightly, thinking to herself. They'd killed so many people that the other held dear, but no matter how mismatched they seemed, they'd arrived at the day that they could stand hand in hand and talk of understanding one another. In the world up until today… Nessiah alone couldn't be blamed for it, but the endless wheels of war turned by rivers of blood had determined that this kind of thing should not be possible.

Maybe the world is changing. Yggdra looked up until her eyes met Gulcasa's and held. As long as this was possible for them, there would be hope.

"People like you and me—we're idiots," Gulcasa said suddenly. "So we have to trip over ourselves over and over before we really find our way. I don't know what she would think of the path I've taken, but I believe—I want to believe that the road to the future we're standing on is one that Siskier… and that your parents wouldn't be ashamed of."

"I want to believe that too," Yggdra told him, her voice barely a whisper. If she spoke any louder, she was sure she wouldn't be able to keep from crying.

With an awkward look on his face, Gulcasa released her right hand and stepped back, twisting his arm so that Yggdra's body followed its arc in a slow pirouette before their fingers slipped apart.

"…Anyway, that's what I think. And I guess that's only if we can get things to calm down a little in our daily lives. As if that's gonna happen anytime soon."

Yggdra giggled. "Oh, I don't know about that. If it doesn't—then maybe we'll just be used enough to it to be able to manage it anyway."

Milanor had always known where he'd be able to find her. Up until now he'd really just been loitering around, not knowing what he was supposed to do or say.

Ignoring Gulcasa and Roswell's smart remarks—which he had because they were stuck-up idiots and didn't know anything—Yggdra still had a point. A lot of this was Milanor's own fault, even if he didn't really want to admit it to anyone other than himself. He knew, now, how important Kylier really was to him; he'd figured it out without actually having to lose her, and so he ought to make sure she knew it instead of bickering with her over pointless stuff.

And since he'd set her off and gotten this whole mess started, he might as well go try to fix things if it was still possible.

So he made his way over to the field out behind the griffon stables. She was there, sitting against the back wall and staring off into the sky.

Milanor rested his hands on his hips, stretched, and walked toward her. Although she glanced at him curiously, he decided that it'd be better to keep quiet for now and just sat next to her.

He waited for her to go back to cloud watching, then carefully counted out five minutes before finally speaking. Creating a mood for this kind of thing was important.

"Remember that time back when we were kids an' I said I was gonna make you my princess?"

Kylier turned to him with a what-relevance-could-that-possibly-have kind of scowl, so he decided that she probably did remember.

"What if I told you I kinda wanna make good on that?"

"I'd ask what's gotten into you, for one thing. And then ask you what you mean. I think it's a little early into this relationship for marriage proposals."

Milanor felt the tips of his ears burn and shook his head. "That's not really what I mean. I just been thinkin'. I've kinda been bein' an insufferable prick lately, and so I oughta apologize for treadin' on Nessiah's turf."

Kylier rolled her eyes and elbowed him. "Apologize to him then. Also that joke is getting old and rotten and dead. Can we just have a funeral for the damn thing already?"

"If you want. And I was bein' a prick to you, not to him. You're the only person I gotta apologize to about anythin' here."

"Apology accepted. We were both acting like five-year-olds, I know you didn't mean most of that anyway."

"I really was jealous. You know me too damn well. Sometimes it creeps me out how well. Sometimes I don't mind it though."

Kylier nodded and stared at him, legs crossed at the ankles, side of her face cradled in her palm. "So what's got you being all sincere today?"

He took a deep breath and got ready in case he needed to dodge her elbow again. "Well, I went an' asked Roswell to make sure this wasn't a bad idea, and he said it was fine, so. I think maybe it'd be a good idea to give this whole magic knight thing a try."

She looked at him blankly for a while, and then made a face. "Are you asking me to do a pactio with you or something?"

He looked away from her, then turned back, to hell with the way his red face was already giving him away. "…Yeah."

"What the hell?" Her voice was flat and puzzled, but at least she wasn't yelling at him.

"A lotta things, I guess. First off—" And he held up his left hand so that he could tick the reasons off where she could see him do it. "I don' like gettin' left out of this, and this's a way for me to do somethin' for you in this whole magic thing. Second, an apology that's doin' somethin' means more than just sayin' shit. Third off, Roswell said maybe this'll help you get this magic lesson shit over way sooner and start doin' what you'd rather do. And aside from that, I…" He stared up at the sky, wishing the clouds would make a handy series of to-do pictures to help him find the right words. "I said I was gonna make you my princess. I still dunno about this whole stupid lineage thing, but—you're always gonna be my princess. Even if you're the one defendin' me in the end, I wanna be here for you like you been for me."

Kylier leaned forward so that her cheek was pressed against her knee, staring at Milanor long and consideringly. He wished she wouldn't do that. It felt like he was getting put on the spot.

But just as he was about to turn away, she shrugged a little and nodded.

"If that's it, then I'm okay with it. If I have to do all this dumb magic stuff, it'd be much better to have you with me. And if it's gonna help me with the magic stuff, then I'm not making out with anybody other than you."

He wanted to sigh in relief, and almost suppressed it, but decided to let it show honestly and exhaled, smiling a little.

"We okay?"

"Yeah, we're okay."

She scooted over until the side of her hip bumped into his, and then she reached out to pull his head down to her shoulder.

"Kylier, what're you doin'?"

"Shut up for a while." Her voice sounded lighter, so Milanor decided to humor her and stay still for a while. "…Anyhow, whenever you start thinking about it for real? I want a nice ring. Like—go and talk to Yggdra and some of the other girls about it to make sure you're not buying something crappy. No offense, but you really suck at buying presents for girls."

"What the hell, Kylier!"

"Well, it's true. And I know you're my damsel in distress and all, but I still expect the guy to be the one to propose. Princes marry princesses. It's the way the world works, and you know I know it."

His face felt like it was on fire, and she could probably tell. Kylier was annoying like that.

But he liked that about her, so he just sighed.

"Duly noted."