Author's Notes: I must thank karkashan, Hopeless romantic, marta, Marta, lionotiger174, chiharu-tanaka, wonderlandbomb, FFXIIIAS, jesswilliams, and awesomeness for their reviews! I always appreciate constructive criticism and encouraging reviews! Now, before you read this new chapter, PLEASE READ THIS: LARSA IS NOT A VAMPIRE! Lol I know the symptoms may be similar, but he is not :) Trust me, you will all discover the truth later on in the story :)
Thank you so much for being patient and enjoying this story so much! I hope you enjoy this chapter! Please review at the end! :)
The sun's gleaming rays leaked through the windows and poured onto their bed. Penelo stirred from her sleep, and opened her eyes to a new, bright day. It was a beautiful morning.
She found herself securely locked in Larsa's powerful arms. She smiled as she observed him. His breathing was slow and steady, and his skin no longer appeared sallow. The heavy bags under his eyes had vanished. He looked remarkable, especially compared to last night.
She found herself trailing her fingers through his short hair. He had cut it significantly shorter, she had noticed, all the way down to his scalp. Curly locks of dark hair were growing back in place of his once straight, silky hair. It was a new look that suited him admirably.
She realized she'd be in that bed until Larsa woke, considering how firm his grip was on her. She smiled to herself. She didn't mind being so close to him for a while longer, considering how welcoming his warm, strong body was right now…and also because he was so stunning to look at while asleep.
Even the most beautiful sceneries can lose their enchantment after so much scrutiny, however, and Penelo soon discovered upon observing his handsome features that it actually became quite cumbersome. For this reason, Penelo languidly rolled to her side away from Larsa and contemplated on the possible activities the two could participate throughout the day. A few minutes more, and Penelo found Larsa's emanating warmth casting an intangible spell over her eyes, and sleep soon followed once more.
The birds gliding through the cloudless skies…the sun bursting with energy and showering rays of light across the brilliantly open, green fields. The wind whistled and danced and stroked their hair as they dashed across the seemingly endless fields of spring. The fields were so gentle and peaceful, despite the hostile beasts that dominated them. He weaved chaplets of lilacs and dandelions and white, pink, and red roses to place atop her pretty head. She intertwined his handcrafted gifts with her molten golden braids that glistened like jewels under the burning sun. She looked like an Earth goddess adorned with nature's beauty as she smiled under the sun. All he could ever dream of was to see her smile forever as bright and alive as the Ozmone Plains…
Scurrying feet were always heard, along with a few snarls and the following clanging noises of battle ensuing on those plains. There was much toil and sweat shed on Ozmone grounds, but the relief they all felt after a battle, their throbbing bodies under the sweltering sun, their pulsating hearts joined together that strived for the same goals—made even the battles became beautiful memories…
He found her once in those fields standing before a steaming pond, glimmering and consummated with dazzling fish. Flowers fluttered from side to side with the wind's frolics. Beside her a good friend was speaking to her.
Yes…Vaan divested his short vest, pants, and boots from his sweat-drenched body. He gleefully dove into the refreshing water in only his undergarments, and motioned for Penelo to join him. Timidly, she began to peel off her thick, heavy boots, her armbands, and then reached slowly for the zipper of her jumper.
Unconsciously, he found himself drawing closer to her, until he was right beside her. She bent her head down a little bit and looked directly at him. She smiled one of her beautiful smiles.
"Would you like to join us, Larsa?" The soft wind blew from between her full, rose-bud lips.
A smile returned. His gloved fingers were fumbling nervously, and he only managed to stammer a "C-certainly, please!"
He heard her laugh softly, and then felt a gentle hand trail through his long, thick, smooth hair. A sudden rush of heat traveled through his spine at the sensation, and the blood flooded his cheeks.
Upon noticing this, Vaan, one brow raised suspiciously, emerged from the pond and stood beside him.
"Come on, Larsa! Why don't you strip and join us, too!"
She rolled her eyes from Vaan's terrible choice in words, but gleamed all the same.
"You must be extremely hot, considering how much clothing you have on!" She playfully teased.
Suddenly, he felt her unpeeling the gloves from his clammy hands, and a burst of heat spread to his cheeks once more. His fingers trembled from her light touch, but he wasn't able to return her smile because suddenly, he felt a strong thrust to his back from behind, and then the feeling of warm water immersing him.
Vaan's bursting laughter was heard, and then Penelo's scolding for his immature, rude behavior.
"Now why did you do that, Vaan!" She screamed shrilly, eyes shooting daggers at him.
"Well..!" Vaan breathed between laughter. "I just couldn't wait any longer for him to take off all those frilly layers of royal clothing!"
Utterly disgusted and embarrassed for him, Penelo apologized to Larsa, and then quickly cast a minor Lightning spell on Vaan that shocked him and sent him tumbling into the pond. It was Larsa's turn to break into fits of laughter.
Both young men in the pool, a series of dunking, wrestling, and light punches commenced. Larsa being less experienced in battles and thus weaker in this situation, found himself being the one more often dunked and beaten. Their scuffle concluded, however, at the sight of her unzipping her jumper…
Both young men were wide-eyed as they saw thinner, lacy material protrude from underneath her jumper. Vaan began to whistle humorously and waved her to join him.
All he could do was stand there and admire.
She gracefully dove into the pond, hair loose and enveloping her shoulders. She emerged from under the crystal water and cheerfully splashed both young men. She strolled over to Larsa and gently whispered in his ears.
"Let's get Vaan back for pushing you in!" She continued to whisper her scheme and finished quickly before Vaan grew suspicious. Larsa couldn't suppress his smile after hearing her plan…and more importantly after realizing she was siding with him.
"Hey Vaan…" She said teasingly. "How about we play hide-and-go-seek?"
"Sure thing!" Vaan replied, completely oblivious. "I'll be seeker!"
"I know you will…" She said through giggles. "Ok, you have to count to fifty and Larsa and I will get out and find somewhere to hide!"
Cheerfully, Vaan went to the opposite end of the pond, closed his eyes, and began the count. Immediately, Larsa and Penelo abandoned him and snatched the clothes on the ground, including Vaan's. When they were a safe distance away, they let out their fits of giggles and hid his clothes behind a tree.
"Payback is so sweet, isn't it Larsa?" She giggled delightedly, fixing her eyes on his.
"Thank you…" He responded, a huge grin on his wet, gleaming face.
A ruffle through his hair was her response.
As they sat under a towering tree, a small Ozmone hare approached them, its massive cotton ball tail swaying back and forth. Penelo gently lifted it up from the ground, drew out her dagger, and sloughed off a fair chunk of its fuzzy mass. She placed the friendly creature back down, pet its soft, tiny head, and proceeded to use the piece of cotton tail to wipe away the water on his soaked clothes and face. The cotton was highly absorbent, and soon his clothes were nearly completely dried.
"Ready or not, here I come!" A bellowing roar was heard from afar. A few moments later, and then, "Heyyy..! Where are my clothes!"
He exchanged glances with her upon hearing Vaan's flabbergasted cries, and they both burst out in laughter again under the massive, shady tree on that glorious day.
He yearned to replay that dream at least once more, but his body betrayed him, and he awoke when the dazzling morning sun rays irritated his eyes. He found Penelo tightly bound within his arms, and understood the reasoning behind his pleasant dream.
He couldn't remember the last time he had slept so soundly…
He felt Penelo stirring in his arms, and watched her as she rolled to her other side so that she was now face-to-face with him.
"Good morning, Penelo." He greeted upon seeing her eyes flutter open.
She gently broke away from his arms to sit on her haunches atop the cushiony bed. She stretched and yawned and then looked at him with a great smile on her face. She was fully refreshed, as was he.
"Good morning, Larsa! Wow, you look so much better now than you did last night! I was worried about you."
"Yes, I feel much better as well." He beamed. It was the truth; he no longer yearned for or craved anything, and the dreadful panging in his stomach had vanished. His thoughts were still focused on that delightful dream he had just experienced. He realized the dream had been much more than just a lovely reverie, however; it was a long-lost memory that he had once held true to his heart but had unfortunately forgotten a while ago. He would make sure never to let the memory slip past his mind again.
"That's good to hear!" She exclaimed. "Now we have to decide what we want to do together throughout the day!"
A pause here.
Larsa furrowed his brow in an attempt to remember Penelo's purpose in Archades. Had he invited her for a specific purpose? Or did he simply miss her and wished to rekindle their friendship by spending some quality time together?
This moment of silence must've been too long for Penelo, for she placed both of her tiny hands on each of his broad shoulders and briefly shook him in an effort to draw his attention back to her.
That was all he needed.
The memory flooded back to him then:
A wife! But he was merely seventeen! No, he wouldn't allow them to proffer a wife for him—a random woman he could never truly love! He had to act immediately, for time was of the essence!
He rummaged through the polished, mahogany drawers of his emperor's desk in search of some loose parchment. He snatched a few leaflets, and hastily wet his quill with fresh ink. Without any voluntary thought, he began to write a letter addressed to her.
He knew he should've done this a while ago, but he had always been too nervous, too frightened of what the outcome could potentially be. But now he only had two options: either he invite her to Archades to speak to her personally, spend time with her, and see what would happen from there, or forever be afraid of the unknown and lose any chance he had to begin with. Without further vacillation, he sealed his completed letter with wax and his noble stamp, and rushed to the moogle mail delivery where he would patiently wait for a response…
He shook his head a few brief times to mentally jolt himself awake.
"Larsa?" He heard her say. He returned his gaze to her puzzled face.
"Would you like to eat breakfast now?" He asked before she could say any more. "Perhaps afterwards…we could stroll through Archades' streets and visit the numerous shops you always loved so much?"
With this, Penelo's eyes glimmered brightly and a smile stretched across her beaming face.
"YES!" She squealed delightedly, and raced to the bathroom to dress.
He smiled to himself as he changed in the bedroom.
Off to a great start.
When both were ready, they headed downstairs and out of the inn altogether.
"I first need to withdraw some money from the nearest bank, if you don't mind." Larsa said with a grin on his face.
"That's perfectly fine with me!" Penelo exclaimed, pirouetting through the cobblestone streets. She donned a light, cream-colored dress today with leather sandals and jangling silver bracelets. White petals were scattered in her hair, which was tied up in a loose bun. She looked like a majestic dancer, and didn't fail to stupefy Larsa.
Morning in Archades bustled with excitement, and crowds of nobles—who were too dignified to cook their own meals at home—gathered in cafés. Penelo gazed at the marvelous, ornate architecture of each building in awe as they passed through the polished streets in search of a nearby bank. Every shop and café was constructed by marble stone or brick, and decorated with rock crystals of gold, silver, red, green, blue, and purple hues along each edge. The front of each building consisted of thick glass that enabled onlookers to admire whatever was on display. Each oak door from every shop was adorned with a fancy quilted advertisement that wheedled costumers into its beautifully-crafted store. Penelo was so caught up in marveling all the stores that she didn't realize they had stopped at a bank already.
The bank was small and polished black with marble. Every edge of the rectangular building was gilded, and tiny crusted jewels were imprinted into each golden bar. Larsa did his business outside of the bank, for there was a machine labeled Lord Larsa in gold ink that only accepted his personal noble seal and signature.
"The manager of the bank and I go back a bit." Larsa explained to Penelo as he noticed her inquiring look. "If it weren't for my donations, he wouldn't have afforded operating his very own bank, and so he offered me a special reserve box to secretly stow away and withdraw my own money as I please."
Larsa pressed his emperor's ring firmly on the oval opening of the machine, and with his right hand, dipped a quill in the ink already positioned on the box, and signed his name. The box glimmered for a few seconds, and then opened up to reveal a large, wooden chest. So as not to be rude, Penelo turned away as Larsa hoarded a handful of money into his leather pouch and shut the box once more.
"Well, now that that is all settled, shall we go for some breakfast?" Larsa requested.
"Yes, sir!" Penelo playfully shouted, relieved to hear they were finally going to get something to eat. She could hear her stomach growling loudly and giggled when Larsa noticed, too.
Larsa tenderly put an arm around her as he led her to one of his favorite bakery and café, "The Bakery Haven." As they entered, Penelo's eyes bulged out upon seeing all the baker's goods through the wide, long glass counterpanes. Flaky crumpets and biscuits, croissants loaded with chocolate and strawberries, flavored muffins as large as her fists, and pastries and crumb cakes galore surrounded her. She didn't know where to begin looking, much less what she wanted to eat!
"I know how much you love sweets, Penelo." Larsa chuckled as he noticed the dreamy haze over her eyes. "And I also want you to know that you may eat whatever your heart desires and however much you can!"
"Larsa, this is amazing! Thank you so much!" She smiled.
His stomach growled, and his smile slowly faded from his face. He placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort himself, and forced another smile in return.
"I, on the other hand," he started through gritted teeth, "prefer a more savory flavor, so you must excuse me for a brief moment as I order something from their meat selections." With that, he motioned to Penelo where he would be, and departed to that area.
Penelo, salivating from all the baking goods, decided to order an apple crumb cake, a cheese Danish, and warm, buttery crumpets with tea. She sat herself at a small, round café table for two and began to work on her sugary breakfast. She caught Larsa's eye at the breakfast meat stand, smiled, and continued devouring her meal as she waited for him to sit with her.
At the corner of her eye, however, she noticed a tall, lanky figure approach her. She looked up at him, and he smirked at her.
"Well, hello there, miss…" He wheezed and revealed a yellowing set of teeth to her. His beaky nose and beady eyes came level to her own, and she could discern large moles scattered across his long, horsy face.
"May I help you?" She asked meekly, studying his flashy white suit with black, leather nobleman's boots.
"You're not an Archadian native, are you, pretty one?" He snickered, completely disregarding her question. "Your clothes, hair, and skin tone tell me you're Dalmascan, am I right?"
His precise discernment of her ethnicity threw her off a bit, but nevertheless she boldly asked, "And what does it matter if I am, sir?"
His breath reeked of alcohol as he snickered in her face.
"Well, you know, Archadian men are taking quite a liking to exotic dancers as of late, and you have quite the figure to be one." His small, dark eyes traced her up and down, sending an eerie chill down her spine.
"Yes, you are perfect…"
Penelo readied herself to cast a spell on this disturbing man, but he beat her to it. Her body stiffened, and she wasn't able to move a single muscle. She prayed Larsa would notice this and come rushing to her safety, but she was crestfallen when she found herself being hoisted up and rushed outside of the café. His dirty fingers trailed up and down her backside as he rushed down a dark, narrow alleyway that led to Old Archades.
Penelo's heart was thumping wildly in her rigid chest and she tried futilely to shout for help. Her heart sank the further this mysterious man ran away from The Bakery Haven.
"Larsa…I need you…" Her heart begged within her.
Very suddenly, she found herself crashing down onto the hard, cracked, rocky surface in a shady corner of Old Archades. The ground was slimy from grease and reeked of spoiled wastes and human excretions. Not one single beggar or commoner could be seen.
"An exotic beauty like you should never be alone, even in the New Archades…" the wretched man hissed, panting heavily from the long run along the narrow pathway. "Now you will be under my control, as an exotic dancer!" He eyed her hungrily, observing her toned body from head to toe.
Heart trembling in her chest, Penelo concentrated fully on mentally breaking this spell cast over her. Sweat seeped out from her pores, and her head was beginning to throb furiously.
"Focus..focus…" She thought to herself.
Her heart leaped for joy when she felt movement return to her limbs. Without any second thought, she attempted to dash away a bit so as to cast a spell on him from afar, but this dark man was quick enough to catch her in his gangling arms once more.
"LARSA! HELP!" She bellowed at the top of her lungs. But that was all she could let out before the man cast Stun on her for the second time.
"My pretty…" He droned in her ear. "There is no escape now… You are under my possession, and must do what I command of you if you value your life at all." He traced a moldy fingernail across her soft, fresh lips and cackled to himself.
"Another beautiful woman for myself…and perfect for making money!"
A tear managed to trickle down her cheek despite her body's rigidity. She couldn't believe such a glorious morning was ruined so abruptly. And what would Larsa think? Would he think she ran off on him? Would he search for her all over Archades? Perhaps it would dawn on him to investigate Old Archades as well? Such false hope brought her delirious joy.
"I can't wait to see you perform in skimpy clothing, my dear…" He continued to hum in her ear. "Oh, you will be quite the sight for sore ey—!"
The sinister man never finished his sentence, for a rushing figure seized him roughly in one arm. With the other arm, a cracking sound was produced, and the dark man howled in agony. The towering figure that grasped the chilling man had broken his nose in a single twist of the hand. Blood pooled out of the man's nostrils, and his shrieks were muffled by the tall figure's colossal hand. The man was thrown across a greasy, stone wall and fell crumpling to the cold ground.
"Take that spell off of her!" The figure roared, creating a booming vibration.
At once, the trembling, ensanguined man muttered a healing spell, and Penelo was able to move freely and speak again.
"P-p-please sir…" The injured man begged. "I meant no harm to her! Please…! You can have h—"
The formidable figure gripped him tightly around the neck, causing him to gag and sputter the dripping blood from his thin lips.
Pity overcame Penelo as she watched the blood-soaked man gagging and tearing up from pain and fear, and, despite the man's poetic justice being possibly served now, she couldn't help but sympathesize with him for sinking so low as to sell women in order to survive. She pleaded the figure to release him. The shadowed figure did not respond to her, however, and so Penelo scurried over and tried to release the dying man from the figure's deathly grasp. Her touch triggered the form to tense up for a moment, but this temporary halt in action proved useless when she saw the bloodied man's limp neck droop forward.
Horror and compassion overtook her then, and Penelo stumbled to the ground, traumatized by the horrendous event that just took place. The figure turned around and faced her, horrifying her. Almost immediately after the initial shock, Penelo was able to identify the man.
"L-Larsa…?" She muttered through quivering lips. She thought she noticed dark features pass across his face for an instant, but in the blink of an eye, his face appeared normal, and she decided that it was just another hallucination triggered from trauma.
"Penelo…" A large, cold hand caressed her cheek, and then she fainted.
During her recovery from shock, she dreamt of an immense, dark, shadowed figure with black eyeballs and blood specks for pupils.