Save the Queen rested before her on the large, round oak table at the center of the War Council room. A detailed map of the Burmecian Kingdom, which took up most of the table, was spread out beneath the sword. Small figurines of Alexandrian soldiers and Black Mages were placed at carefully selected locations; each battle ground chosen in order to swiftly cripple the ancient realm of rats. Beatrix had picked out each target, and though she should be deeply proud of such a well laid invasion plan, she could not help but brood guiltily over it. Despite the Queen's insistence that the Burmecians were planning a similar invasion, the general was not convinced in the slightest. It was for that very reason that she could not bring herself to finalize her plans on the siege of the capital city.

So there she sat, in the dead of night, with only the fire in the hearth and one candelabrum to light the vast chamber. The scant light flickered and cast long shadows across the room. The fire light gleamed wickedly on the surface of Save the Queen, making it appear as if it was bathed in blood. The image did little to comfort Beatrix as she slouched in the high-backed chair meant only for Alexandria's General.

Her right elbow was propped on the arm of the chair, her hand cradling her head as she gazed intently at the large city tucked neatly up against the northernmost wall of mountains that encircled the Kingdom of Burmecia. The capital city of the rats had not been taken by any army in over two centuries; it was possibly the most impregnable city in all of the known world. It had high, thick stone walls and large granaries that could hold enough supplies to outlast even the most well supplied siege army. Add to that the fact that it perpetually rained everywhere in Burmecia which allowed for a constant supply of fresh water to the besieged citizens. With those defenses alone, the city would be formidable in and of itself, but it also boasted some of the best trained knights who were masters at attacking enemies from the skies. The Burmecians were also a people who worshiped a war god; so even the lowliest of citizens could fight competently enough to assist in the fight.

Reaching out, Beatrix touched the hilt of Save the Queen and moved it so that, instead of the the tip of the sword pointing to North Gate, it pointed to the capital city. She then settled back into the uncomfortable wooden chair to further consider the target. Despite all its defenses, Beatrix knew she could take the city of Burmecia. Her army had the advantage of greater numbers and better training, as well as better funding. Alexandria also had airships and a powerful Navy, which Burmecia did not. But even with all that, Beatrix knew that the siege of Burmecia would be long and arduous. Many of her soldiers would die; if not from the war itself, from the deadly diseases that often plagued armies that invaded the wetlands. The rats were seemingly immune, but Humes were not so lucky.

Another problem a long siege presented for Alexandria was that word would reach Lindblum of the war. Regent Cid, being a peace-loving ruler, had long ago made an alliance with the King of Burmecia. Of course, he also had an older alliance with Alexandria, but if it was known that Alexandria was the unprovoked aggressor that alliance would be tossed to the wayside.

So the only option was to sweep into the rat's kingdom in the dead of night from all sides, simultaneously. North Gate and Gizmaluke's Grotto would be taken just as the Navy landed on the only shore Burmecia had to offer. Thus, all ways for any messenger to quickly get word to Lindblum would be cut off. Then, Beatrix could bring the main force of her army right to the walls of the capital city using airships.

With the magic of the Black Mages and war machines that Kuja had provided, they would crumble the city's defenses in a few short days and sack the city. It would be simple enough with the added strength the weapon's dealer had given them. As little as Beatrix liked the idea of using the Black Mages, or any other weapons provided by that snake of a man, she did have to admit that there was no other way to accomplish this invasion as quickly and quietly as the Queen demanded.

Sighing, Beatrix leaned forward and pulled out more of the heavy, silver plated Alexandrian Soldier figurines from a redwood box placed to her left on the table. After a moment of careful consideration, she placed them strategically around the drawing of the capital city. She then pulled out a few obsidian Black Mage figurines and placed them where her spies had reported weak spots in the outer walls. Finally, she settled a small scattering of bronze war machine figurines amongst the toy army. Satisfied, she sat back into the cushion- less chair she had been sitting in for nearly fourteen hours.

With the invasion now fully planned out, all she need do was present it to the Queen for her approval. Though that was really just a formality; the Queen understood little of war. If she did, perhaps this folly would not be taking place.

Suddenly, Beatrix felt a presence in the room that had not been there a moment before. There was not need to really consider who the presence might be, because only one person could make such a silent entry into a room. Kuja was the only person capable of sneaking up on Beatrix so effectively. She did not even bother to acknowledge his presence. She was too tired and sore to interact with the weapons dealer with any of her usual venom.

"That chair looks to be the most dreadfully uncomfortable thing on this planet." The sorcerer said with distaste, his armored boots ringing on the marble floor as he approached the general. "How could you possibly endure such torture for so long?"

Beatrix's gaze lazily drifted to the nobleman, her expression blank. Of course he knew how long she had been there. The War Council had met at nine in the morning, and Kuja had been among the members. After the usual discussion of troops and supplies as well as debates on what strategies might be best employed, the council had been dismissed so the Beatrix could consider all the purposed strategies and problems she had been presented with. That had been just before five this evening, and it was now just passed eleven.

"No man or woman should sit in comfort as they plot war and the destruction of realms. To shed blood, even the blood of enemies, is no light matter. If you are determined to do it, you best be prepared to endure the pain of such a sin." Beatrix said smoothly, rolling her shoulders and causing her back to crack in several places. "Alexander said that as he sat in this very room plotting at war himself." Standing, she reached for the hilt of Save the Queen and slid the blade into its sheath.

"Ah, yes, Alexander; the warrior King turned God." Kuja said, with no small amount of amusement. "I believe his children became gods after him, as well, no?"

Beatrix turned to the sorcerer, her annoyance dulled by the cramps in her back and shoulders and her empty stomach. The mockery of her gods was not something the paladin would normally take lightly, especially if such mockery was aimed at Alexander; the principle god she worshiped. But Kuja mocked most everything, and Beatrix had long ago learned it was easier to just ignore his insults that snap at him for them.

"Shiva and Odin, yes." She answered him, not really knowing why she was bothering with this conversation at all. The general knew she should be getting to her rooms to get some rest before her audience with the Queen in the morning, not standing here talking to the bane of her existence about theology. But even so, she remained, probably because Kuja just so happened to be standing perfectly so that the light from the hearth cast shadows over his lean body in just the right way to distract the general. There was no denying how attractive the man was, even if his personality and morals were lacking any traits that one would consider positive.

The weapons dealer nodded thoughtfully, his left hand rising so he could curl his index finger beneath his chin. "The Goddess of Love, and the God of War?" Kuja questioned, his head tilting ever so slightly. Something about the gesture made him seem less dangerous, and more innocent.

Perhaps Beatrix really was too tired to be continuing this conversation if she was entertaining the notion that Kuja could ever look innocent. Nodding, she stepped forward and slid passed the sorcerer, her arm grazing his. The contact made the general shiver, despite how hot Kuja's skin was. "Now, if you would excuse me, Lord Kuja, I must retire for the night." Without waiting for the appropriate permission, Beatrix headed for the door.

"I shall escort you, then." Kuja said his tone casual as he followed on Beatrix's heels out of the room.

"That will not be necessary." Beatrix snapped, not even bothering to look back at the nobleman stalking her.

"Oh, but I must insist." He said airily, speeding his pace so that he was walking next to the general. "In Treno it is considered an unforgivable offense to allow a lady to walk around alone at night."

"Then it is a good thing we are not in Treno, so you need not worry about your reputation be tarnished." The paladin was now getting irritated and it showed in her tone.

"True, but I would not expect you to drop your Alexandrian curtsies when outside Alexandria, so I shall not drop my Trenoian ones whilst I am here." A pleasant smile spread across the sorcerer's face and he finally fell silent.

The rest of the walk to through the castle and courtyard was blissfully void of conversation. Once they made it to the General's Tower to the right of the castle, Beatrix felt a wave of relief. She was so close to her bed and to being rid of the sorcerer who insisted on dogging her every step. 'Of course, I could always have said sorcerer in my bed to find a totally different sort of relief'. At that thought she had to shake her head. How in the world could she be considering something like that? Exhaustion really was wearing on her sanity, because only insanity could explain such thoughts.

"Something wrong, General?"

Kuja's voice cut through the silence, making Beatrix's irritation resurface and causing a pang of guilt at her previous thoughts. Sometimes she couldn't help but wonder if the man could read her thoughts. He did seem too good at finding ways to annoy her or set her on edge. "It's nothing." She ground out as she mounted the steps that lead to the top of the tower, where her rooms were located.

The sorcerer did not bother to make a further comment, and simply followed the general the rest of the way to her chambers. Once the unlikely pair stood before the oak double doors that bared the way to Beatrix's rooms, she hoped that Kuja would disappear just as quickly as he had appeared back in the war room. Unfortunately, such hopes were in vain. Instead of leaving her, Kuja waited patiently for her to produce the key to the doors and open them. Apparently he thought he was going to just follow her inside. If that was his intention he was going to find himself sorely mistaken.

Beatrix cracked one of the doors open and then turned to look at Kuja, her eyes narrowing. "Well, you have successfully escorted me to my chambers." She was not about to thank him, but if he required some acknowledgment of his efforts before her left then she had given it to him. "Good night to you." With that, she turned to enter her room.

Quick as lightening, Kuja's and shot out and grabbed Beatrix's left hand and placed the briefest of kisses on it. Such a gesture might not have meant much, had Beatrix bothered to put her gloves and gauntlets on that morning. But without any protection, Kuja's soft lips brushed against her bare skin. Even his lips we overly warm, as if all the power contained with his small form were about to burst out.

For a long moment, Beatrix couldn't move from the shock of his audacity. Or possibly it was the shock of how much it pleased her to have his lip on her, even if it was just her hand? No matter the source of her shock, she was still tempted to slap him for the violation of her space. Of course, it wouldn't be as fulfilling without the gauntlet in place to cause some proper damage. Seeing the sorcerer properly bloodied would certainly be pleasing.

"Good night, My Lady General." Kuja said, pulling back and smiling at her in the most sincere manner she had seen from him. "Until the 'Morrow." With that he gave a sweeping bow and turned to make his decent back down the tower.

The paladin stared after the infuriating man for a long moment until he was well out of sight. She then turned and stepped into her chambers, shutting the door firmly behind her and setting the bolts and locks. Once done, a belated laugh bubbled out of her chest. What in the world could that snake of a man be playing at?