For Want of a War
Chapter 27: Celia
My sister and I were still in good humour after the fight in the Lily had been resolved as we stood behind Ramza, flanking him as he sat at the table across from our host, Princess Ovelia Atkascha. On the princess' right, standing at attention and glaring at everyone from our side of the table stood the leader of her bodyguards, the stern blond woman in her twenties who'd introduced herself as Agrias Oaks. Meanwhile to Oaks' left, the other two knights, Lavian and Alicia, kept a vigil as they protected the princess from the other side.
Seated beside Ramza was Teta on Ramza's left, and Alma on his right, both young women glaring at our master, having very slightly shifted their chairs to present a united front with Ovelia. Despite this, the bodyguards were viewing them as being almost the same level of threat as Ramza himself.
In front of them all was some tea which smelled quite delicious. I wasn't sure if it was the soundproofing of the room or the discretion of the staff of the establishment we now found ourselves in, but there was absolutely no questions or guardsman swarming the place, despite the brief battle which had just been fought in the room.
Mustadio, ever dense and distant from the ongoing drama, was seated at one of the other tables: A long leather toolkit unrolled atop it while he fiddled with his weapon, pointedly ignoring everyone else in the room as he hummed to himself, digging out black dust from the corners of his chosen weapon, utterly ruining any gravitas to the tension of the room.
At the very least, he had the courtesy to scrape the soot from his weapon onto a rag, rather than ruining the white linen tablecloth which he was using as his work surface.
"We are seated and now acting in a civil manner," the princess began, her voice attempting to be stern and failing as she glared at the trio of seated guests. She folded her hands deliberately on her lap before turning her head towards Alma specifically. "Alma, please... Explain what had just happened. Why did Agrias feel compelled to attack your brother and his friends."
The woman tensed at her name, as if she were about to speak, but she reigned herself in with self-control I was almost tempted to label admirable.
"That is a good question, Ovelia," Alma agreed, and she pretended not to notice the tensing of the three bodyguards as she spoke to the princess of her nation so casually, instead turning to her brother. Across from her, Teta was both trying to meet Ramza's eyes, while seemingly afraid to do so at the same time.
Our master simply sighed, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms and slumping back in his chair.
"I suppose that Agrias reacted as strongly as she did because she sensed the fact Celia and Lede are Ultima Demons," Ramza explained, freeing one hand to gesture to the both of us before resting it back on one bicep. At the stunned silence which followed, he shifted uncomfortably before adding in, "Yes, as in the ones which are just below the Lucavi themselves in the pantheon of hell. Yet I have two of them following me around dressed like... dancers."
It was nice that even in his annoyance, Ramza was not willing to expressly label us prostitutes. While the word he'd chosen wasn't much better, it did indicate that he thought of myself and my sister in a higher fashion than the Marquis had.
I smiled and shifted my stance as Agrias' hand twitched towards her blade, though she didn't actually reach for it.
"Ramza, you're terrible at this. You should probably explain about killing Cardinal Draclau first," Mustadio opined from where he was cleaning his weapon. As one, the room turned to look towards him, prompting him to look up when the silence became deafening. His face went red immediately, before the Goug engineer hastily continued, "You know, more focus on the part where he turned into Queklain the Impure and tried to eradicate us from existence the moment we confronted him, less focus on the part where we did the clergicide thing. No matter how completely and totally justified it was when we clergicided Draclau."
There was another pause, before we heard Ramza chuckle lightly, and all of us turned our attention back to him. My master was currently sipping his tea, setting it down before scratching the back of his neck and smiling wistfully.
"I suppose that'd have been the better place to begin, Mustadio. I owe you," Ramza admitted, glancing to his friend. He scratched his chin. "I probably should have waited for Delita before I came here, I guess."
"I'm still working off the debt I owe you," the engineer replied, flashing the monk-trained Beoulve a thumbs up while he examined one part of his weapon. "And yes, you should have waited for Delita before you agreed to this meeting. I'm sure we can do a full accounting when we're old and grey, but I think we're beyond that by now, Ramza," Mustadio concluded, nodding once before he turned his full attention back to his weapon.
"We are," my master agreed, before coughing into one hand and turning to face the princess. "So yes. As Mustadio stated, we're not the bad guys here. We're actually fighting the Lucavi. I've just sort of accidentally been magically bound to two of their strongest allies."
Ovelia were openly shocked at the revelation, as were Ramza and Delita's sisters. The contingent of bodyguards behind the woman were putting on a better face, and it was Agrias who seemed to overcome her shock first.
"How does one accidentally get magically bound to two of the strongest demons of hell?" Agrias asked, her voice somewhat strangled with incredulity, as her hands twitched between reaching for her blade and grasping her head in confusion.
"It's not a long story, but it's an annoying one," our master admitted, gesturing to me as he took another sip of his tea. "Celia, Lede... If you would explain? Without the innuendo, please. Just the facts."
"Master is spoiling my fun," I grumbled, earning a small smile. A small part of me wanted to return it, but I ignored that as I thought for a moment, trying to compress our meeting with Ramza down to a few sentences. "My sister and I were summoned by a third party. That person was already one who was possessed by a Lucavi, yet he didn't know that Ultima-class demons such as ourselves need to be bested in combat before we allow ourselves to become thralls. Even with one of the Lucavi enhancing him, the man who called us was unable to best us."
"After we beat him unconscious, my sister and I had no choice but to seek out another of the Lucavi in order to pledge ourselves," Lede continued, gesturing lightly to our master. "We sensed Ramza, so we decided he'd be our best bet. So we sought him out, and ambushed him and Mustadio."
"My breath still rattles sometimes, thanks," said engineer chimed in, though when I looked at him he hadn't turned to face us. Instead he was sanding the wooden part of his gun thoughtfully, holding it up to the light to take a look.
"As Mustadio states, we took him out of the fight quickly," I noted, grinning slightly at the red on the boy's face, before continuing: "We didn't kill him because we assumed that he was part of our new master's party. Just choking him out prevented us from ganging up on him, which was a tactical mistake on our part."
"Ramza beat us both, utterly," Lede continued, shrugging lightly as she placed a light hand on our master's shoulder, before elaborating. "Celia and I have been hand-to-hand assassins for centuries. Even in our purely human forms, the two of us have some of our demonic strength, speed, and stamina. On top of our skill, it's utterly unthinkable that some mere mortal could fight either of us to a draw."
"When Ramza fought us both to a standstill without killing us, the only assumption we had once we awoke was that he was one of the Lucavi in human form," I concluded, shrugging my shoulders negligently. "My sister and I can choose to suppress our demonic auras to the point that all but the most devout Holy Swordsman would never notice us if they were to brush beyond us in a crowd, but it takes a conscious effort."
"How in the hell did my father feel fit to damn near strike me down and how did Agrias even sense you if you've been taking conscious effort to suppress your auras, then!?" Ramza demanded, sounding thoroughly aggravated by the circumstances. Our master must have missed our intent.
"Should either of them have struck us down, we would have been free to be summoned back to Ivalice without being bound to you, master," I admitted with a shrug, before frowning a bit to myself. "That said, we've gotten careless around others who should have noticed. I'm surprised we haven't been attacked more often, to be honest."
Our master took a deep breath, his face fighting an intense battle between resignation and frustration as one hand slowly rose to nearly grasp his forehead, though it never quite got there.
"So... Ivalice is under siege from the Lucavi..." The Princess' voice was a whisper, and I noticed the way most of the room turned to her when she said it. Agrias laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, and even Mustadio had paused in the maintenance of his weapon to glance over his shoulder towards her. She clasped her hands in front of herself. "If only we had the Zodiac Braves... If only the Holy Stones were..."00
I and my sister earned quite a lot of ire from Alma, Teta, and the Princess' entourage as we erupted into belly laughs at the exclamation, only cut off when Ramza yanked the two stones on his person and slammed them into the table.
"Shut up," Ramza commanded in a growl, and both my sister and I did. He seemed to slump in his seat, slowly sliding the stones an inch or two towards Ovelia before releasing them and leaning back in his chair. "Princess, the Holy Stones are in play. They're how the Lucavi are able to manifest themselves in this world. One of the two on the table in front of you is something I ripped out of Cardinal Draclau's body when he'd transformed."
"Oh," the Princess' voice seemed to crumple as she looked at the stones, her face awash with sudden anguish.
"We don't need the Zodiac Braves, anyway," Mustadio opined, now cleaning his weapon and making a small show of ignoring the crowd now watching him. "Just how tough can they be if Ramza was able to take one down with just a little help from me? Clearly they have more bark than bite."
"Still, I must beg you to keep this to yourself, Princess Ovelia," Ramza continued, gathering the stones once more and slipping them back into a pouch. He shrugged helplessly. "I have it on good authority that this conspiracy by the Lucavi extends to most of the highest levels of the nobility. Marquis Elmdor is compromised, and my brother Dycedarg may be as well. For all we know, this could extend to Larg and Goltana, as well as any number of others. We will have to be extremely careful about who we confront and why."
"Then... Who can we trust?" Alma asked, and I noticed the way her face, and that of Teta's, had gone white when Ramza mentioned his brother's name.
"Aside from those in this room? Feel free to trust father and Delita. I'm not even sure if we can trust Zalbag right now," our master shrugged, scrubbing his face with his hands as he sighed. He made a point of looking the princess directly in the eyes. "The truth of the matter is that anyone could be compromised at this point, up to and including the royal family itself. I don't intend to stop until I can dump every one of these damned stones in the deepest part of the sea, but I'll wait until I have all of them before I do so."
"What proof do we have that you're not a part of this plot? What proof do we have that you're telling the truth at all?" Agrias finally asked, frowning at my master. "What proof do you have that you're working on the side you say you're working on and not working for the Lucavi!?"
"You'd be dead if we were," Mustadio chimed in, earning the woman's glare. He shrunk under the gaze, before shrugging once. "Look, if we were really the bad guys, you and the other knights would be dead and we'd be turning Ovelia into a Lucavi puppet right now. You already know we have a stone to spare, even if you assume one of them is Ramza's stone."
"Perhaps it's yours," the St. Konoe knight countered.
"Perhaps the Lucavi would see the benefit in controlling a princess versus controlling a no-name engineer from Goug and would change their plans to suit," the blond man countered, turning back to his gun. "The fact I broke up the fight between you and Ramza instead of sniping your friends and letting the two Ultima demons run through you also points to the fact we're not enemies."
Agrias looked like she was about to argue further, when Ovelia put one gentle hand on her arm.
"Ovelia... It's fine. I think we can trust my best friend and her brother," Ovelia finally concluded, releasing her bodyguard's arm to turn to my master once more. "However, I think I deserve to know more about what's going on. If we're to join this conspiracy, I won't enter it without knowing the full truth of the matter: I'll need to know everything."
Our master sighed, before nodding.
Then he proceeded to tell her everything from the moment he'd met Mustadio.
Another one down. Woo!
Thanks to Tovath as always for giving the chapter a look-see. I'll try and get another one out before the end of the month, but we'll see how that goes. Just the fact I've stated it may mean another 2-year hiatus for all I know.