No excuses. I've been a very bad fanfiction writer for leaving all of you on the edge for so long. I'm sorry! :D I have half of the next chapter written and part of the one after that. When I can fill the holes I'll post them.

Thank you all for hanging in there:

Egohan: Thank you for being truly devoted. I love it when people continue to show support.
anoesism: Thanks for writing such a cute review! It made my day
ArchadianRose: Nah, it isn't a crossover. I just added extra character we all know cause it would be boring with just Ashe, Vaan and Penelo. I knew Ellone would make the perfect adoptive sister to Vaan :D
warriorgirl99: You reviewed twice in a row! Double kudos! Thank you
Imashitowareto: Thanks for being there to move my butt along. You're a great motivator. I just had to include Eyes on Me for the epic value. Good times, good times ^^
chaosleader13: Thank you. I love receiving compliment, yours really brightened my day! Have a good one!

I realise that most of you won't understand what's happening in this chapter. It's best explained in the next one. The dream sequences are important for this chapter and the next. They pinpoint all the issues Ashe will face and the reality of her relationship with Vaan. As for why Rasler is reaccuring: I think Ashe loved him very dearly. A love like that won't fade easily when your sitting on your lonely throne, with no friends and not dating anyone in 6 years. Ashe still thinks of Rasler as her true love. (It's gonna be fun making her wrong!)

Chapter 8: Insanity

The moment the arrow sank into the Queen's flesh, was the moment Fang realised that all her problems were fixable. Her memory loss hadn't taken away the essentials of her life. Integrity, hope.

When had she sunk so low as to murdering diplomats for a ticket on the sky ferry? Fang didn't know anymore.

The tender way that the Queen's lover held her was heartbreaking. Becoming a hired dragoon had taught her not to care... Fang couldn't help but feel the young man's pain. She had just taken away the woman he lived for. And for what reason? Bloody gil to bring herself hope during an identity crisis? Not having an object to live for, to die for, did not justify senseless violence. She was a monster.

Fang now knew what she lived for. Thanks to her, and her resemblance to a woman she respected, the netting that had seized her memory was tearing. She wanted to see the Adolian Sea next to where she and Vanille had grown up. She wanted a rematch with Lightning. She wanted to see Vanille; and be reassured by her that she wasn't as rotten as Zombie Warlock.

Fang owed the Queen of Dalmasca her memories. What chance did she have of redemption?

The assassin staggered. She pulled the icicle from her arm. Fang would gleam to the Queen's lover whatever she knew about the poison. And hope she could save her life.

Horror struck through Vaan's eyes. He wondered what game lady luck was playing. He lets slip his love to Ashe and instead of him being shot down; she was struck by an arrow.

The pirate cradled his Queen in his arms. She withered. Her irises were clouded purple over gray, her veins were violent violet, her lips were blue. Vaan could almost feel her pain. He did feel pain. His fingers tingled, his mouth was dry, his heart resonated with the burning of his chest. He needed relief!

The sky pirate snatched the gun from his shoulder. He pointed it at the woman assassin. He snarled; "Move one inch and I'll blow your brains out from here to Nalbina."

He allowed the woman to pull the icicle from her bicep. She winced, the corrosion in Vaan's chest lessened.

"Stay with me, Ashe. I'll heal you, I promise."

He worked quickly on her palm. The wound wasn't deep. From past experience he judged that it probably wouldn't scar. Disturbingly, it bubbled purple where blood met the open air. It didn't take a magickly intolerant idiot to see that this was poison.

From his stash of curatives, Vaan withdrew a potion and an antidote. he spread the mixtures over the Queen's palm. He slipped the rest of the antidote past her lips, massaging her throat to induce her swallowing reflex. All the while, Vaan maintained a careful gaze on the culprit.

With horror he noticed that the potion only closed the wound the arrow had made. It left the violet splotch against her palm, her blood still bubbled a fiery purple. There was no sign of the poison withdrawing.

"Why isn't this working! I brought these potions only a month ago, they can't be expired yet!"

A second antidote was removed. Its lime contents slid down the young Queen's throat. No result.

"Work! Work! WORK!"

The beginning of panic crawled into Vaan's heart. He was climbing over a mountain of cliché feelings; that this was his fault, that he didn't do his duty in protecting her, that he would be heartbroken if he lost her.

It was then Vaan regretted that he could not perform the most basic of healing spells. Had Penelo not offered to teach him poisona many times? He should have known that something like this would come back to bite him in his egotistical arse.

It's worth a try anyway.

Vaan muttered what he could remember of the incarnation. The mist didn't spark. Nothing.

How did the heroes cure princesses in fairytales? A kiss of true love always worked. Vaan didn't dare to kiss Ashe. (Even while unconscious, he feared her repercussion). He held her close. He wished that every drop of health would melt from his body into hers; that he would wither so that she would once again bloom.

Would the tears that stained his manliness resurrect her?

"Don't leave me. I want you here," he begged.

"It won't work," The hired dragoon jumped from the neighbouring roof. She landed in the bed of flowers crouched on one knee.

"This is your fault! Tell me what's wrong with her!" Vaan exploded.

"She's been poisoned. If you would listen I could tell ya what I know about the antidote."

"What antidote." Vaan shuddered through his teeth.

"There was only one. I heard it was stolen by sky pirates. If you don't find the cure within a week she'll kick the bucket."

No... I won't accept that I will have no control over her death. I won't let her be a victim of fate!

"You lie!"

Vaan drew Anastasia. And then in a flash, he charged. The sky pirate jumped high above the lilies, swinging down the intricate blade to the assassin's head. His adversary was quick. Avoiding her face being sliced in half, she swung the pole of her lance to meet his blade. Sparked flew with the clang of metal. Lillies were destroyed at their feet.

The assassin jumped back. She cocked her hip, smiling to her ears. "You don't have time to be fighting me, Sunshine. Times running out for your little girlfriend."

Vaan let Anastasia do the talking for him. He leapt forward, he swung his blade in a perfect arc. The assassin rose to meet his weapon. With so much speed behind his weapon, the assassin could not completely block his power. Anastasia ripped through blue silk, a gash was painted across the assassin's hip.

"Why you little runt!"

What Vaan had in speed and skills, the assassin equalled in aerobatics and power. He blocked a flying attack with his shield.

Metal clashed. The shredded petals of Vaan's favourite flowers scattered between them with every attack. The dragoon made a cleaving swipe to Vaan's chest. He blocked. He stepped back two paces with the effort. Each time that the sky pirate tried to move forward to attack, the young woman would drive him into a shield splintering block. He stepped back another few paces.

Vaan suddenly became aware that the warrior was forcing him into a defensive position, had he not been red with anger he would have noticed earlier that the ground was quickly running out.

Vaan's spine hit the wall of the alley. With one last swipe of her lance, Anastasia scattered onto the soil. The young sky pirate sunk to his knees. It had been a long time since Vaan had lost in a duel to another warrior, even longer to a woman.

"I should have thought about her safety instead of my happiness... I'm so sorry."

He counted the moments until the final blow. It didn't come. She was watching him with eyes over run with amusement and curiosity.

"Looks like I win. I have to hand it to ya boy. You know how to tango. I'd be seeing to ya girl if I were you."

The assassin sprinted the length the length of the alley. She grasped a gutter, levering herself into a full somersault onto a roof.

To Vaan's surprise, she paused to look back. Had the distance not been so great, he might have been able to see more clearly the remorse across her features. "I'm sorry. I never meant to take things as far as I did."

She slipped into the darkness between evening and midnight. Vaan gathered his precious world in his arms.

Ashe found herself in an endless sea of red. At first, she was disorientated; she wondered how she ended up in Vaan's niche of flowers.

They were like Vaan's lilies, but sinister and twisted. The petals of each flower were shredded, curling tongues. Their stigma and stamen hung like yellow husks. The smell was putrid. The garden floor was painted red with flesh. The roots of the flowers slithered over blood and bone, they wrapped around Ashe's shins.

Delicate hands tried to swot away the crawling tendrils. Ashe ripped the roots from the ground. She slashed. She screamed. Like a needle sewing through leather, the roots furrowed into her flesh. They melded to the pattern of her veins.

Ashe ripped through her tights with purple fingernails. (Since when were her fingers purple?). The red roots that had submerged into her skin were no longer; violet instead writhed at the edges of her body. Her feet, her shins, her fingers, her hands; were sprayed purple. The muddiness of her mind could not grasp its familiarity.

What does this mean? Where have I seen this before?

The sky flashed. For that moment of illumination Ashe glimpsed three people standing in a circle around her. They couldn't be five meters away from her.

I must hold on and make some sense of this. None of this is possibly real!

The smallest figure approached. A gasp escaped from Ashe's mouth. It was Penelo, yet it wasn't. Gone were the reassuring features she liked to find in a friend. The dancer's rags hung from her dilapidated frame. What surprised Ashe the most was that there wasn't a spark of colour on her countenance. Her skin, hair and lips were a palette of greys and white. Her irises were black...


Penelo's mouth was augmented into a long frown. She grasped the Queen's wrist.

When her colourless skin touched Ashe's violet wrist she felt as if their souls were fusing into on another. Suddenly, it was like they were attached to each other by invisible nerves. She could feel Penelo's heart beat, her blood pump, her inhale and her exhale; she could see herself, her face was unregistered. She felt the mist that palpitated with each of her breaths. She could feel the Penelo's blood rushed her veins. It was filled with so much mist that it fizzed her every fiber, she felt like she could cast ivalice into oblivion with magick.

When did Penelo become so powerful?

The illusion flickered. From Penelo's grim frame melted another larger statue of angles, sweeping sculpturing, mist, and hallow pinpoint eyes. An...Occuria?

Faster that an eye could blink, Penelo was back in place.

The nerves to Penelo's body were quickly severed. Penelo gripped harder to her wrist. She let the feelings of despair, regret and disappointment tumble from her heart. (Was it from her heart? The line to illusion and reality had been erased.)

Ashe tried to focus her twirling mind. All of this meant something, but logic had abandoned her with the addition of Penelo's swollen feelings. There were pieces missing to the puzzle that she could not comprehend.

The scenes shifted. They were standing amongst crumbling building of wood and clay. The horizon was an all encompassing roof of concrete. It was Lowtown; but not in the pristine condition that she had last seen it.

"Why weren't you there?" Penelo pleaded. The orphans flocked around their mother.

"You were like the sister I never had. You were never there when I needed you! I sent you letters."

He words resonated with her surroundings. The people hobbling past hacked louder. The air was thicker with dust. Ashe gripped her chest vainly trying to force air into her lungs.

"I'm sorry. I haven't received any letters from anyone in over a year."

Ashe shook her head. How far into this illusion was she going to let herself be dragged?

"You weren't there when Vaan broke my heart. You always stood in the way of our relationship," Penelo accused.

Vaan broke her heart?

No matter how hard logic denied her viability, there was truth in Penelo's words. Had she not seen the admiration beyond friendship Penelo developed for Vaan? By not making her feelings of neutralism known to Vaan, had Ashe unintentionally let Vaan's feelings for her hibernate?

Deep down, Ashe always knew her greatest weakness was her indifference. She didn't care about her friends when they were on their jouney; least of all Penelo. There was no reason for them to call her a friend; she dragged them along like servants to fulfill her selfish wish for power.

It was instant, unexpected. Colour burst in the young Queen's eyes. Searing, blinding colour that did nothing to shield the pain.

Hundreds of needles inched through her flesh, right down to the bone. With a glance to her body Ashe saw that the violet was marching forward. It now coloured her hands with wide splotches, it ran beyond her wrist and began to sink into the veins of her arm.

"Aghh!" Ashe screamed.

Penelo's lips turned upwards. Her black eyes smiled too.

"I had expected more pride from you Ashelia, even in death you are magnificent. Pity you have not the intelligence to fathom what I am," she sneered.

Suddenly Penelo exploded with colour. With strawberry lips and blue-gray eyes she expressed a worried frown. This was the real Penelo. This was the friend Ashe trusted to always put others happiness above her own; who never faulted others for the wrong they were deserving of. "Stay strong Ashe! You can fight the poison."

Poison? I Remember!

"The poison that affected me was purple! If this is a dream, then the purple on my body is the personification of the poison's progress!"

The colour faded. (The real Penelo.) Across her white face, the manikin was struck with horror. The emaciated dancer dissolved into grey ash to be swallowed by the lilies.

Ashe was back in the sea of red death. The violet on her legs had withered slightly. Two people were left to face her.

Vaan stormed down the spiral staircase. He carried the young Queen bridal style, holding her like a tender baby. Penelo stood outside one of the children's room. She froze when she saw them. Vaan hated the warm pain that etched her eyes.

"What happened to her?"

"Pen, please help me. I don't know what to do," the sky pirate pleaded. There was never a moment when he needed her more.

"Lay her in your bed."

Ashe was taken to Vaan's room. She was Sleeping Beauty being laid onto her final bed.

Penelo set to work straight away. The petite young woman shooed Vaan over to a chair. She cleared the area of his junk. The sky pirate watched in fascination as Penelo leant over Ashe's body. He had seen her use white magick many time (the majority on himself), but it never ceased to be exquisite. The healer's arm glowed white; whiter than her porcelain skin. With this hand she passed over the length of Ashe's body.

"I don't know what's wrong with her. The poison I sense is Deadly Nightshade, but it's far more powerful. It's not possible."

"That's not all. There's something else behind all of this. It's powerful. From what I can tell it is utilising Ashe's mist to attack her life energy. This is really serious!"

Penelo brushed the tips of her fingers across Ashe's forearm. It was a tender moment of sisterly friendship. "How could this happen to you?"

"I tried using antidotes on her but they didn't work."

"I can see why. Antidotes weren't made to attack something this serious. We may have to brew something of our own, something that will isolate and neutralised the Deadly Nightshade."

Diagnostics were over. Penelo rounded on Vaan; "You have some explaining to do, Vaan. Why is the entire royal guard patrolling the city looking for Ashe? How did she get poisoned like this?"

"It was an assassin. I took her to see the lilies and she was struck down by an arrow."

"We can't stay here. The Royal Guards are doing a door to door search. Of course they'll choose lowtown first, not to mention we have doors in two parts of the city! When they find Ashe here in this condition they'll hang you without even a trial!"

Vaan didn't care if he risked being hanged. He had to find a way to help Ashe!

"You're right. We need to get back to the ship."

"Most of the crew won't be on the Galbana. You'll be flying the ship by yourself all the while avoiding the Royal Dalmascan Airforce. Can you do that?" Penelo said.

"We have no choice!

"We need to leave now. As soon as word gets to the airdrome, they'll be shutting down all flights."

"Can we move Ashe while she's in this condition?" Vaan asked.

"I think so; but we're gonna have to. From what I can tell, her life-force is draining at a slow and steady rate. It'll be days before her life is in real danger. All my serious medical supplies are on the ship."

"Okay here's the plan. The fastest way to get around the city is through Moogling. What I'll do is hijack one of the Moogling stations to send us to the airdrome. Pen, I'll need you to run ahead and tell Migelo of our emergency take off so he can watch the kids. Have the ship ready for take off as fast as you can."

"We need disguises for both you and Ashe." Penelo snapped her fingers. "Hang on, I have an idea."

Penelo threw open a chest of Vaan's clothes. She spewed the contents everywhere until she found the darkest, most undistinguishable rags possible. Black slacks, a white shirt and a thick cloak was thrown into Vaan's arms.

"Change into those! What we're gonna do is disguise you as a peddler. Do you still have the flower wagon we brought?"

"Yeah." Vaan didn't know where this was going, but Penelo always had the best ideas for sneaking around

"Good. We'll load Ashe into the wagon and cover her with Galbana lilies." She ran down the hallway. A moment later she was back with a coat. "Be careful. If they see you escaping with Ashe you will never be able to eneter the city again."

Vaan placed a reassuring hand on Penelo's shoulder. It was beyond him how he managed catagorise moments like these as romantic. He owed everything to her. "I will Pen."

Penelo smiled, though Vaan could see the awkwardness and worry in her expression. She ran up the stairs.

The pirate carried Ashe to the garden. He laid her in a grubby wagon unsuitable for her shining beauty. With each precious flower placed over her body he cursed himself. The last lily covered her face. The gate was unlatched.

The two men, with their barely illuminated backs to Ashe, seemed to be of relatively the same height and build.

The one on the left was slightly taller, yet this was unnoticeable with the slouch in the way that his weight was shifted to one foot. He stood lightly. Without care.

The second man stood regally. His stature promised pride, patriotism, unrelenting devotion. The man on the right turned. He walked from the edge of her vision. It was Rasler. (This wasn't Rasler. Her Rasler wasn't a watercolour painting of deepening shadows. Her Rasler stood of the edge of a knife of light; only for her...)

His youthful face was dark. "Tell me my dear; which shall it be? A thief, or your husband?"

Would the real Rasler be dissappointed with her wondering thoughts of Vaan? She missed him so much...

"NO! I won't listen to their lies. You're dead. This is an illusion!"

Their lies? She knew someone was behind this (someones). The puzzle pieces were all in awkward shapes, she couldn't slide them together!

Like a soldier Ashe marched forward. "Do you know no reason? No compassion? How dare you bring me here and torture me with things I know not of. How dare you impersonate the man I love!"

The young Queen clutched her mouth. She had a feeling she wasn't supposed to say that, but it was impossible to stop the truth when it ran so wild. Did she still love Rasler like her one true love?

It slipped from her lips. A wish that waited years for fulfilment; "I want to believe you're real!"

"Let me show you how real I am."

Cold, cold lips encompassed her own. She gagged beneath skin that felt, tasted, like dead flesh. What she felt in her heart was entirely different. Rasler's feeling of devotion riverted across a red string of fate. Ashe drew a hushed breath. It's been so long since I've been able to feel...

Rasler's forehead brushed her own. The scenes changed. He lowered her naked body onto silken sheets. Her feet touched the clothes abandoned at the edge of her (their) bed. The fireworks spaked; illuminating rasler's beautiful grey skin. She knew this scene... It was her wedding night.

Echoed words spilt from her lips. "Fate may have separated us, my sweet prince, but know this; you will always be held at the centre of my heart. I promise to uphold our vows of marriage for as long as my station permits me too. Never again will there be a man I can call my companion, my lover, my equal."

(There it was; the promise uttered on his deathbed, not marriage bed. She could see the scene. Ashe leant over her sleeping prince, her only moment alone granted with his body. She swallowed tears into the crater of her heart. She furrowed her fingers through his icy blond hair.)

Ashe gasped with pain. She gripped her biceps. Violet slithered beneath ivory skin. Her vision swam red, purple and grey.

"I will always be the one closest to your heart." He licked his lips. "Let me take the pain away."

He kissed her ravenously. The young Queen could feel great bites of her power falling from her body with the chew of Rasler's teeth; the lash of his tongue.

Ashe drew back a wrapped fist. She leapt forward towards Rasler and punched. The sound of her knuckles striking his cheek echoed. The bedroom and her nakedness fell away. Rasler was scrambled indignantly across the field of blood lilies.

"You are not my dead husband. Part of me died with Rasler. I refuse to admit that I will never love again!"

"Pathetic. You have the weakness identical to every woman of your race. You will always be a feeble little girl depending on the strength of men to guide you..." His rotten ashes blew through her form.

She gagged the disgust from her throat. She felt better.

There was one figure left for her to face.