*Warning: Contains lemon in later chapters.

Chapter One

"A prophet?"

"Yes. I have good faith in him, Schala, and I expect you to, too."

The maiden eyed the tall man, warily. He was dressed in a deep violet robe, hiding his face with a shroud of shadow; Schala shivered, for his aura was intense and dark. A prophet, at this time? What was her mother thinking? Schala exhaled, uneasily, already exhausted from praying a few days prior, and she swallowed to clear the dizzy cloud that swarmed behind her eyes.

"…A pleasure to meet you, my lord," Schala found herself saying, courteously, snowy lashes cast down so she didn't have to imagine the unnerving twang of being looked upon by this man. She even tipped a small, weak curtsy, remembering her etiquette in time even though her temples throbbed.

She was surprised when he began to speak. His voice sounded like shards of ice, smooth and cold and dark, but underneath she could also hear smouldering fire: "As it is mine, Princess Zeal."

His voice made her tremble. She could feel it; frightening and miserable things lurked under that hood. She needn't see his eyes to know what emotion they would betray from his soul, nor did she need to be acquainted with him to know that he was a man of some sort of fearsome power, beyond her benevolent ones. I'm exhausted… Schala thought, dazedly, feeling nauseous and having several parts of her body ache. It must be the machine… I'm over-exaggerating… She barely even caught the strands of her mother's instructive words, but the princess snapped herself awake.

"…found him five days or so ago. Now, Schala, I want you to listen closely to Prophet's words. So far, all of his predictions have come true, and we have fixed the problems in the Mammon Machine. He will be boarding with us, and we will take him with us to the Ocean Palace. He has also predicted of strangers, coming and attempting to ruin our plans of immortality." Here, the Queen's voice dropped to a severe tone, "If you see any unfamiliar people, destroy them at once."

"…Yes, Mother…" Schala replied, still in a soft and quiet voice. She feared she'd break if she tried to use any louder a tone. "I… will watch for them... and I will treat him with the utmost hospitality I can give."

"Good." Queen Zeal replied curtly, cattish eyes narrowed. "That also means no more nonsense about stopping the machine. Do you understand me? He has predicted that we will harness Lavos without fail."

Schala didn't respond immediately.

All the while, the maiden felt his eyes on her. They bored into her right side, because he was to her right and he was looking at her from across the throne room, but she could feel the gaze shoot through her like an arrow set to flight. Something about his aura seemed to radiate power, and it was violent power that clashed with her gentle ones. Small entrails of hatred and sorrow seemed to flick at the ends of his—

"Schala." The queen's tone became acidic.

"Yes, Mother. I'm sorry."

"Where is Janus, that little scoundrel?" The queen continued, eyeing her daughter.

She must've imagined it; at that moment, Schala thought she felt the Prophet flare with a sort of fury. It died the minute she recognized it, and Schala thought nothing of it afterwards.

"I do not know, Mother," came the princess' automatic response, head bowed down in respect.

The Prophet moved, then, followed by the subtle noise of swishing silk. Schala observed him through the corner of her eye, watching his elegant change from standing to kneeling on one knee. "My lady," he said politely, addressing Queen Zeal, "Are you in need of my services?"

She waved her fan, slightly dismissively, attention still focused on her daughter. The queen stood from her throne, stepping down a few steps to cast her gaze around the empty hall. "Yes, Prophet, but not now. We wait until Dalton comes."

Through Schala's years of training, she knew what times she could properly escape and what times she couldn't. Dalton arriving signified that her mother would be busy planning, and Schala could afford to escape back to the sanctum of her room. Relief surged through her; she couldn't wait to get some rest, or maybe read a little. Anything besides praying to the alien machine was better.

"Ah… Mother…"

"What?" The queen snapped.

"May I… return to my room? I feel a little faint." Schala's breathing was light. Her chest was hurting, as was most of her back and extremities and head. Her fingers were cold and numb, she was swaying slightly, and she was as pale as the marble pillars. She was more than just a little faint.

Again, the queen waved dismissively with the same obnoxious fanning motion, "Go, go, girl."

Schala hurried to turn around. She avoided looking at Prophet, who still stared intently at her; she avoided making eye contact with her mother in case the queen forgot some use she had for her, and called Schala back.

"Oh, the Ocean Palace should have all renovations done in a day!" Queen Zeal chorused, joyfully. "How the glory of Zeal will..."

The girl pushed through the doors, quickly, and was relieved when the queen didn't call her back. She ran through the narrow hall, as fast as her tired body would allow, and nearly crashed into Dalton.

He saw a frenzy of blue and mauve; she saw a wall of yellow. Luckily, she stopped herself in time from mercilessly bulldozing him down, but he caught her by the shoulders before she could run any further. The general solidified his fingers around her, his surprised expression melting into a sly smirk.

Like a chemical reaction, Schala felt her skin crawl where his hands laid on her. General Dalton, her mother's right-hand man…

"What's the matter, Princess?" He asked, coyly, eyeing her with his one black, beady eye. "Where're you scurrying off to in such a hurry?"

"My room, Sir Dalton. Please unhand me." She shook.

"A pretty little lady like you should walk slower, and with dignity." He forced her head up so that she would look at him, by her chin. Her aquamarine eyes showed apprehension for the split second that they met his, but she closed them at once.

She didn't want to look at him.

"Sir Dalton, please." Her voice was hoarse, and she wanted to pull away from him. It dropped to a small plea when she swallowed and said, "Please, let me go."

Then, he dropped his blonde head in front of hers, and took a long sniff of her hair.

Schala really wanted to scream. Fear gripped her throat and rendered her noiseless.

It had happened before. A long while before.

"Don't forget your place, Princess." He chuckled quietly. He unhanded her, airily, and she stumbled in her effort to restrain herself from sprinting away. With a swish of his cloak, he dodged behind her, cleanly using his hand to slap her lower back.

Schala jumped, and without even looking or acknowledging him, she ran for her life.

anything to get away from him…

Her earrings weighed down her aching head as she dashed through the corridors of the palace. Books, people, Nus, Masa, and Mune all passed by her in a flash; she paid them no heed, concentrating only on one foot after the other as she made her way to her bedroom. Several maids called after her in concern, asking her what was wrong, but she left them behind while she ran.

When she arrived in her room, she almost collapsed on the staircase. Surely, she fell, but she managed to brace herself with her hands, and she landed roughly on them. The breath was knocked out of her lungs; her eyes went wide as she landed, and she could only give a small yelp when she crashed.

Schala panted, at the foot of her stairs. Sweat coated her forehead, slicking her silvery blue hair to her brow, and though her body was hot, her feet and hands were undoubtedly freezing. Slowly, one by one, she managed to pull herself up the stairs, telling herself to move, keep moving, be strong, you can do this. She registered that Janus and Alfador weren't there, in relief; she never wanted to worry him with her exhaustion. Finding his big sister fallen on the stairs, barely strong enough to yank herself upwards to her room, would be no comforting sight.

The princess of Zeal retreated into the far corner on her bed, too tired and shaken to even change clothing. She swaddled herself in her covers, huddling into a ball, shivering. Somehow, she managed to pull her earrings and hair tie off of herself, casting them on her table before she crawled inside the safety of her sheets.

There she sat, huddled, eyes wide and breath weak, trying to shake off the fear from Dalton and the unease from Prophet.

Somewhere in the back of her head, she thought, "I wish mother could protect me. I wish someone could protect me. I wish this crusade would stop… wish Janus will never, ever have to go through this… and…"

It was too much. She couldn't handle it; all the pressure from the past few days, the magic stretching and tearing her apart; she couldn't handle it.

Schala could only lay down in her corner, and close her eyes.