Faroush: Hopefully, his sanity stays intact. But it seems that whenever it comes to love (or Lenneth), it never does.
a/n: I know it took me a long time to write this one. Honestly, I had a massive case of writer's block. This was a really tough chapter for me because the two dividing plots are starting to cross over. I'll try to update more actively now because I'm trying to update my fanficcys more (I'll probably start updating more every 2-3 weeks), but I can't make any promises! Sorry for the wait and enjoy!
Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria © Square Enix
Almia inhaled a breath of cold air and shuddered.
It was almost midnight, and she was on her way to the Weeping Lily Meadow to meet with Lezard. She wore a long, ruffled blue dress over a white cotton turtleneck, black leggings, and sturdy knee-high brown boots. Over these clothes was a plain, beige cloak with the hood nestled over her head. She carried a brown bag around her shoulder full of several belongings—a book to log her travels, a few pairs of extra clothes, a folded map that had once belonged to her older brother, and the allowance money she had secretly saved for the past month. She kept a sheathed knife she had stolen from the kitchen drawer for self-protection tightly secured by her belt side. Almia knew that should circumstances arise, Lezard would be quite capable in defending her with his magic, but Almia also knew that she had to have precautions, even though she secretly hoped she wouldn't have to come to defend herself and use a weapon for the first time in her life. Almia had always considered herself a pacifist and that violence could not be in her nature.
Almia clutched the blue pendent she wore around her neck, seeking comfort. She had never been farther from Coriander than the Weeping Lily Meadow. The girl feared what lied beyond the unknown and what depths of uncharted waters she would face. Almia couldn't help but feel like something was weighing her down. Was it the secret—the lies—she had to keep for days from her unsuspecting parents and townspeople? Or was it the apprehension of a journey with no visible destination in sight?
She shrugged the thoughts away. She was nearing the Weeping Lily Meadow. Almia convinced herself that the moment she would see Lezard all her anxiety and mixed feelings would disappear. When the opening to the field was in sight, Almia began running. She stopped once she saw how majestic the lavender flowers were, glistening softly under the moonlight. The sight captivated her and was as beautiful as when she'd first seen it as a child. She tried to catch her breath as she was drawn into the meadow, surrounding herself in the sea of weeping lilies petals that fluttered into the air around her. It didn't occur to her that Lezard wasn't there, and in that single moment, it didn't matter. Almia felt as though she could stay in the meadow forever.
A sudden gust of wind seemed to lift Almia up and before she knew it, she was on the other side of the meadow. Almia staggered a few steps in surprise, only to feel a tug on her arm that pulled her back towards him. Huh…? What? She turned to find a tall man dressed in a brown cloak from head-to-toe. In the darkness of night, she could scarcely see his face. A man? Before Almia could say or do anything, he pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Do you know how dangerous that was?" he told her softly. "If you stayed there any longer, the poison of the weeping lilies would have surely taken hold of you. A mortal like you… would never be able to withstand such a thing."
Overwhelming feelings flooded through and overtook her. These were feelings she could not describe and had never felt before. Almia felt herself feel heavy as she couldn't but lean her head against the man's chest and feel content in his arms. Then her eyes widened as she realized the position she was in—she was in the arms of a stranger. She hastily shoved the man away from her and stumbled a few steps away in fear. Her heart pounded. Almia wished Lezard was here, but her childhood friend was nowhere in sight. "W-Who are you?" she demanded shakily. "What do you want?" The man took a step forward, and Almia took a step back, her trembling fingers fumbling with the sheathed knife at her belt. "You, stay away from me! I-I'm warning you!"
The man immediately raised his hands up in surrender when Almia finally had her knife out and facing him. Silence fell between them as they stared each other off before the man finally chuckled and tilted his head. "You sure have a funny way of showing your gratitude," he broke the silence.
"Who are you?" Almia repeated, glaring at him. "Answer me!"
"Please, I'll answer all your questions. Believe me," he attempted to reassure me. "But first, could you put that knife away? I don't want to sound presumptuous, but it looks like you've never held a weapon before in your life, and I'm more worried that you'll accidentally stab yourself than voluntarily stab me."
Almia twitched, somewhat offended by his comment.
"Do we have an agreement then? Why don't you put that away so we can talk like civilized adults, shall we?" the man continued, ignoring Almia's reaction.
The girl's face only reddened even more, deeply offended by the implication that she was acting like a child. Almia pondered his words warily before she finally sheathed her knife.
"Good girl. Now, ask away," the hooded figure said, gesturing her to speak.
"Who are you, and what do you want? You're not from around here. I can tell."
"Clever girl. I am but a passing traveler, a wanderer of this far and wide realm of ours."
Almia brightened at the man with sudden intrigue. "So… you know your way around these lands, then?" she asked him with wide eyes. The man stared at her and she sheepishly avoided his gaze. "Look, I-I'm sorry about before… You… just startled me is all."
His eyes continued to linger on her and Almia became a little flustered by the attention and wished he would stop staring. "Why the abrupt change of heart?" the man questioned her curiously, approaching her. "Just a moment ago, you held a knife at me."
"I am not one to hold grudges, and I will admit when I have done wrong," Almia said firmly.
"Very well. I have answered your questions," the man replied. "Now, will you do me the honor of answering mine?"
Almia was still cautious of the man. "Yours? What question could you possibly have for me?" she asked.
"What are you doing out here at a time like this?" he asked, raising an eyebrow as he observed her carefully. "Isn't it a little past your curfew?"
"S-Stop treating me like a child!" Almia snapped, only for her to gasp when she realized just how loud her voice was. She rubbed her arm uncomfortably as the man smirked in slight amusement. "I-I don't have a curfew… and I'm just out for a stroll…"
"At night? And don't you look a little too prepared for a stroll?"
The man crossed his arms. "Hey, I answered your questions," he reminded her promptly. "Shouldn't you at least do me the same favor?"
"B-But you didn't finish answering all of my questions!" Almia shot back, annoyed. "I asked for your name, and you didn't tell me!"
"You asked who I was, not for my name. Details are important, you know."
Almia blushed in frustration at her cocky acquaintance. "All right. Fine," she hissed impatiently. "What is your name?"
The man paused for a moment before he removed his hood to reveal his face. Almia flinched in surprise. She was insulted by his comments more so because she had assumed he was around her age than because he thought her childish, but he appeared several years older instead. He had pale skin and long locks of green hair rolled down his face, matching the color of his eyes. His features were quite appealing, and Almia hastily batted her eyes, realizing she had been staring. "The name's Rufus," he introduced himself.
Almia's eyes widened. "Rufus…?" she asked dryly, lifting her head up to face him. Something about that name lingered in her mind. Rufus. It was a strange sensation. Never had she heard such a name before, but it took hold inside her and wouldn't let go. This feeling gave her some unease.
"Aren't you going to tell me yours?" Rufus questioned Almia, unaware of her inner disturbance, and placed his hands on his hips.
She coughed, regaining her composure. "M-My name is Almia," she stammered. "Almia Averle."
"Almia, huh? So, Almia, what are you really doing out here? You can't just be on a stroll, right?"
"I… I'm…" Almia gasped. Surely it must have been past midnight already. So, where was Lezard? She hastily looked around with frantic eyes. T-That's right… I'm on the other side of the field, she remembered. Lezard must still be waiting for me at the opening! Almia was about to rush back into the meadow when Rufus took hold of her arm, jerking her back.
"Whoa, hang on!" Rufus called out to her, perplexed. "I thought you were trying to get across that thing. Now you want to go back?"
"Like you said, it's past my curfew!" Almia insisted, struggling in his grip. "I should be going!"
"I can't have you wandering off on your own. It's dangerous out here. If you're going home, at least let me take you there—"
"—You don't understand! I'm not going home!"
Silence fell between them once more as their eyes and once more she felt uncomfortable in his presence. "What do you mean, you're not going home?" Rufus asked her quietly. "You really aren't out here for a stroll… Just what in the world are you up to… Almia Averle?"
Almia opened her mouth to speak when they heard rustling from the forest. Rufus immediately turned around and pulled out his bow. "W-What was that…?" she asked him, taking a step back.
"A monster, probably…," Rufus replied carefully, reaching for an arrow behind him.
"W-What? A monster!"
"Just stay behind me."
Hearing the sound again, they turned and saw a creature coming out into the clearing of the woods. Almia was startled and couldn't even begin to describe what the creature was, let alone what it looked like. She froze in shock. Rufus pulled back an arrow and released it. Almia shuddered as it hit the monster and defeated it in a single blow. The creature cried out. Watching the final remains of the monster dissipate, Almia clutched Rufus's arm tightly. "W-What was that… thing? And where did it go?"
Rufus looked at her. "You've… never seen a monster before?" he asked. She furiously shook her head. "Well, they're all over the place. If you plan on running away, you better get used to it."
Almia flinched. Her heart pounded. "How did you…?" she began, meeting his gaze.
The man shrugged and sighed. "You weren't exactly being subtle about it," he explained.
Almia inhaled a breath. She knew little of Rufus, but she also knew that she had to give some kind of answer and that he deserved the truth. "You see, it's my eighteenth birthday today," she told him. "My parents were going to make me marry someone of their choice, but they're really marrying me off to the highest bidder and he is a stranger to me. I've never met him before and I don't even know his name. I was supposed to meet here with a friend. We were going to run away together."
"That's why you got nervous all of a sudden. Your friend hasn't shown up yet… or is waiting for you on the other side, thinking you're late."
"Yes. I really should see if he's there. I don't want him to think I bailed on him."
"Oh, so it's a he?" Rufus abruptly asked her. Almia blinked, confused. "Is it a boyfriend?"
Almia blushed. "B-B-Boyfriend! N-No way!" she stuttered. "He's my childhood friend!"
"Hm? A childhood friend, huh? Is that all?"
"O-Of course that's all! Come on! We have to look for him!"
Almia automatically turned at the sound of the familiar voice. She turned to find Lezard running towards her from the field. "Lezard!" she exclaimed and ran over to hug him.
"I couldn't find you by the opening of the field and feared you either had second thoughts or had gone on ahead. It seems it was the latter," he explained, returning the embrace. "I could have sworn I heard a monster on my way here. Are you injured, Mia?"
She shook her head. "No, Rufus defeated the monster in time," Almia reassured him. "We were just about to look for you when—"
"— Rufus…?" Lezard asked, a little startled as he released her. They turned towards the cloaked man standing nearby. For the first time, Lezard noticed the figure. "Ah. I didn't… realize we had company…," Lezard muttered uneasily. "So, you are Almia's rescuer? I must bid you thanks and an introduction. I am Lezard Valeth."
"Lezard Valeth, huh? The name's Rufus," Rufus returned the greeting a little too sharply. Almia didn't notice this and hurried over to him. Lezard, on the other hand, did and crossed his arms.
"This is my childhood friend, Rufus. This is who I was looking for," Almia explained, smiling. "Isn't it great we found him so quickly?"
Lezard pondered as he observed their interaction quietly. He was a little bothered by Almia's close proximity with someone she had only just met. "So, how did you come to know this man, Mia?" he asked aloud.
"Well, I wandered off into the Weeping Lily Meadow and got a little distracted. That's when Rufus came in and brought me here to the other side of the field before the poison got to me."
Lezard looked at Rufus. Slight resentment flowed through him. He should have been the one to rescue Almia, not this so-called Rufus, but he was aware that he owed this man the life of his dearest childhood friend. That at the very least deserved his gratitude. "How admirable of you, Rufus," he mentioned. "We must commend you for your generous deed. Surely, a monetary reward is in order."
But Rufus shook his head. "I'm flattered, but no thanks. I'm not looking for money," he declined. "I mean, I saved her life, right? Isn't that a reward enough in itself?"
"I suppose so. Very well, then. You have my thanks," Lezard replied and turned to Almia. "Now then, Mia. We should get going."
Almia blinked. "Now?" she asked in surprise. "But…" She stole a glance at Rufus. What about… him? She had only just met the man, but it disheartened her that they would part from him so quickly. And there was something about him—something she was drawn to.
"We have a long walk ahead of us, and we've already spent too much time here as it is."
"Yes… You're right, but… What about Rufus—"
It was only when they turned again to face their third companion that they realized no one was among them. Rufus was nowhere to be seen.
Almia took a step forward and clutched her pendant. "Rufus…?"