Chapter 17

Lucy was nervous. She sat in front of an embellished silver mirror, braiding her hair. Braids were practical, right? Her usual loose, flowing hair might get in the way during battle.

'Battle' rolled very awkwardly off Lucy's tongue. So did 'war' and 'chain mail' but here she was; prepping to go to war with a set of borrowed armor stacked on the bed behind her. She took a steadying breath as she tied off the ends of her braid. She had plenty of experience with 'fight,' 'mission', and 'skirmish,' right? It would have to do.

Hearing a soft knock at the door, she turned to see Loki stride in. He had traded in his shirt and jeans for a study pair of pants, molded metal greaves, and a close-fitting black tank.

"Not what I was expecting," said Lucy, pinning her bangs out of the way.

"...You were expecting..."

Lucy shrugged. "When you said armor, I was a knight. Wearing something clunky yet shining. And riding a white horse."

"Clunky? Are you kidding?" He came over to playfully pinch her sides. "First of all, I'm all about speed. My chestpiece is light too. Second, chrome is tacky. And third, who says I don't have a horse?" He leaned over to flirtatiously nip at her ear.

"Knowing you, your 'horse' would be...a pearl white Ferrari."

"Damn straight." Loki grinned as he sat at the foot of the bed. "So? Does it fit? I told our forces to expect us in 15 minutes."

"...I haven't tried it on yet," said Lucy, doubtfully examining her reflection. "And I'm not really sure how to put it on."

"Your 'big sister' never showed you how?"he teased, pulling his Master out of her chair, "I'm surprised; Erza is the queen of all things armor."

Lucy made a face as she sat down, visually cataloging the many pieces of Erza's standard set of armor. "I would die under the weight of all of her gear. It looks so...heavy."

Loki nodded. "Agreed. Which is why I grabbed Epsi's extra set of light armor. I'm absolutely positive that you can manage it. Now, let's start from the bottom."

He eased her feet into a set of supple, dark brown leather boots. They laced up to her knee and on her shins, he buckled on a pair of greaves similar to his own except this pair were trimmed with moonstone. "This armor was forged with Celestial Quicksilver alloy. The recipe is a House secret," said Loki, adjusting the fit. "It's lighter then Celestial iron and stronger too."

"Oh thank goodness," said Lucy, experimentally lifting her feet. With her lower limbs armored, it felt no heavier then wearing a pair of 5 inch platform heels. She could definitely manage.

"Alright! Now for the rest." He pulled her to stand so that he could adjust the cotton shirt she was already wearing. As he fixed the ties at her neck and sides, his fingers lingered near her waist. They stood inches apart as his hands caressed the outline of her figure, trailing upwards to her chest.

Almost instantaneously, their lips met and they crashed onto the mattress behind them. This was a different sort of passion; there was no thinking, it was all reflex and urgency. Tops were hastily pulled off and metal greaves clanked together noisily as Lucy nibbled on his lower lip before pulling him in, kissing him deeply. He responded by kissing a line from her collarbone downwards. Just as his deft fingers unhitched her pants button, a loud, amplified voice suddenly echoed through the House. "Prince, 5 minute warning."

It was so unexpected, both of them were startled. Lucy jumped, painfully bumping her forehead on his chin while Loki jammed his hand on the hard edge of a piece of Epsi's armor. Before they knew it, they were awkwardly tangled in a heap of silver metal and golden blond hair.

"That was...not nearly how I imagined it," said Loki, wincing as he shrugged off a chest plate.

"It's alright," said Lucy. She smiled, affectionately brushing the hair out of face.

He paused for a moment, gazing down on her face. She was his light, his heart and soul, his everything. And yet, he was about to plunge her into a battle that could be the end of her - the end of them both. He hated that he had to put her in danger but it' was something that they had to do. There was no other way.

"I wish...I could have given you more," he confessed, his words almost a whisper. "This could be the last five minutes we ever have together. Alone...or otherwise. I wanted to give you everything."

Lucy smiled. "You have, Loki. I have you. How could I ask for more? If we die in the next hour, I can honestly say that I've lived a damn good life. No regrets."

Loki sighed, deeply. "This is depressing."

Sighing as well, Lucy pulled him up and placed a gleaming shoulder plate into his hands. "I know, but we've got a war to win, don't we?"

"You're right. Just promise me that at the end, you'll give me a whole day. An entire day. For you," his hands caressed his waist.

Lucy smiled bigger this time. "Deal."

One would think that Spirits were chaotic beings, free to do whatever they wanted with no rules and limitations. However, this was not so. Spirits were rather organized beings. This was very clear in the way that they had arranged their armies. Each of the 12 Houses had assembled a formation so that a perfect semi-circle of warriors was formed, facing the dark wave of approaching evil, which would collide with the Spirits within the next 10 minutes. In the dead center was a small hill and to this, Priscilla strode.

Actually, 'strode' wasn't the right term, thought the Aries Captain who had accompanied his Princess to the front lines. He observed her from the Aries block. It was more like...wobbling or stumbling. In his entire life, he had never seen Priscilla be anything other then severe, proud, and haughty. Yet here she was, dragging her feet. It was so uncharacteristic of her...yet she was still wearing that mesmerizing chain-link dress. As she made her way to the hill, eyes were instantly drawn to her until she had the attention of the entire delegation.

"Brothers, Sisters," said Priscilla. Her voice was soft and unsure yet held the attention of every Spirit, "We are about to go to war with an enemy of the likes that we've never seen. Their number is so great, the war room of the House of Aries has predicted that even with our forces combined, we might not survive the initial onslaught."

Desperate murmurs echoed through the ranks while the Captain's eyes narrowed. This was a lie. The strategists had predicted a stale-mate...which wasn't necessarily the best news but it was still a better scenario then the falsities the Princess was spewing.

"However," she continued, her posture bent, "If the Prince of the House of Leo, and I are bonded, we will have the power to turn the tide! Our strength and might will push back these invaders and crush them!" Her spine lengthened as the cheers from the crowd grew louder. "We will all live. Our families will be protected. But..."

She stooped over suddenly, then looked up. Her face was heartbroken as her hands flew to the part of her chest where her heart should have been. "A witch has stolen him from me. A human mage, a girl," she moaned, her voice anguished and wavering, "He no longer recognizes that I'm his true love." The murmurs grew angry as her tone turned hard and cruel. "A long time ago, we were there for you. Loki and I stood together and brought peace. Now, it is your turn to repay the favor. He will show up today, in the battle...and she will be with him. If you want to live, you will kill this girl and bring her head to me on a stake. Loki will finally be free and this battle will. Be. Ours."

As she raised her fist in the air, an ivory sword appeared in her palm. There was a second flash of light and she was suddenly outfitted with brilliant white armor. It sparkled like diamonds as the crowd roared with her. "12 Houses!" she bellowed, facing the oncoming tide, "To me!"

Taking a deep breath, Lucy willed herself to stand as straight as she could. She and Loki were in a huge room with the last Leo battalion to head out. She was surrounded by proud warriors wielding all sorts of nasty weaponry and even though she was fully armored, she was sure that she stood out like a sore thumb. Everyone was facing a giant double door that took up an entire wall so Lucy stared at it also.

"Almost ready? We're going in a minute or two," said Loki, threading his way through the crowd to her.

"As ready as ever," she said as fiercely as she could. The phrase, 'What would Erza do' played on repeat endlessly through her mind.

"That's my girl." He grinned, taking his place besides her. "Oh! Before I forget, this is for you. I was going to give it to you for your birthday but it looks like it'll be way more handy now rather then later."

He handed Lucy a whip; she gasped as soon as she saw it. If it was in awe or apprehensive, she wasn't sure. The entire thing was golden - - from the ruby encrusted handle to diamond shaped blade at the end. Deep emerald stitching wove itself over all 12 feet of the weapon. The gold combined with red and green made Lucy think of a very...gaudy and opulent Christmas.

"It's a bit over the top, but it sure is...unique?," she said as appreciatively as she could. As she gripped the coil, she decided that perhaps it wasn't so bad. The balance on the weapon was perfect.

"One of my aunts, who had questionable taste but was a master smith, forged it herself. From tentacles and energy crystals of all things. (Lucy nearly dropped the whip. Tentacles? Eww!) It's ridiculously strong, but it's got a strange name. Its called, 'Save the Queen.'"

"That's...nice" Lucy grimaced. Tentacles?!

All of a sudden, the double doors began to glow at the edges and the room echoed with the bellow of a deep horn. The soldiers in the room readied themselves.

"Stick with me," said Loki. His voice was firm yet Lucy found it very reassuring. He murmured something softly and a crackling blade of light formed in his ring hand. "I've got your back."

Lucy nodded. "And I've got yours. Always."

The light grew brighter and brighter until the doors slammed open with a heavy crash. As Lucy shut her eyes, she felt herself being sucked through the doors like they were a vacuum. Her heart dropped as it felt like she was falling aimlessly in space...until she opened her eyes and gasped. She was suddenly in the middle of a battlefield. Weapons clanged together as Spirits and Shadow creatures battled. A four-legged dog creature with three eyes set its eyes on Lucy; she cracked her new whip right on the middle eye and it vanished into a cloud of dark smoke.

"Take that!" she cried triumphantly. She turned...and cringed as she discovered that she was being stalked by four more of those foul creatures. They grinned at her, showing three rows of drooling teeth. Reading her whip, she prepared to face them all at once, until a golden flash bounced between her assailants. Four heads instantly toppled to the ground before dissolving.

"See? It's all about speed." said Loki, shaking purple blood of his blade as he came to stand next to her, "And fact of the day: the more teeth they have, the more vicious they are."

"What, you don't think I could have taken them? I'm pretty good with whips, you know."

"I know. But three rows of teeth! That'd shred you faster then a-" Loki was cut off as he pulled Lucy out of the path of a large red scythe. It swung back in a long arc, to the young Scorpio knight who wielded it.

"What the hell," exclaimed Loki, protectively shielding his Master, "Are you blind? There are plenty of shadows to kill, we aren't your enemy."

"You aren't, Prince," said the knight, "But she is."

Lucy's eyes narrowed. "...Me? I'm just a - -"

"Human! A witch!" the knight shouted, "Once I take care of you, they'll bond and we'll all live. Priscilla put a price on your head and I will be the one to deliver it to her!" With a battle cry, he raised his weapon. As he took his first step, Loki quickly appeared behind the knight, bashing a discarded shield on the young man's head. The knight collapsed on the ground in a heap.

"So. Not only did she rally the forces against the enemy, she's also rallied them against us. How thoughtful of her," said Lucy, her fists balled up.

"Yep, that's Priscilla for you," Loki sighed. He searched around until he found a forgotten helmet that would fit Lucy and slipped it onto her head. "If the rest of the Houses are after us, you'll need a disguise. We need to get to the front lines, prove ourselves, and then they'll rally behind us. Good plan?"

Lucy tapped her helmet. "I love it."

Suddenly, Loki grabbed her shoulders, pulling her in for perhaps their last kiss. For a moment, it felt as if they had been pulled into their own private universe. Lucy forgot she was holding a weapon and revelled in the firm press of his lips against hers, the smell of leather and slight cologne. The beat of their hearts was the only sound they could hear.

All too quickly, the sounds of the battlefield clanged loudly as they pulled apart. Lucy looked into his eyes and promised herself that she'd never forget the golden flecks in them. "I'm...ready," she said breathlessly.

"Good," he said, smiling as he rubbed her cheek with his thumb. There was a bit of sadness in his eyes but he was determined. They both were. "Let's do this."

A/N: Anyone out there play FF8? The Save the Queen! :D And sorry this one is particularly late, I moved and just got my internet back. Hurray!