"So," Ramza enquired as he joined Agrias by the campfire, "did you and Mustadio have a good birthday dinner together yesterday?"
"Mm-hmm," the blonde knight hummed happily. She was nearly done cleaning her equipment, and she was focusing her attention more on admiring the spectacular sunset over Grogh Heights than on completing her task. "It was a surprise, but a nice one."
"What did he get you, anyway?" the young nobleman asked, full of curiosity. "I saw the box, but he didn't say what was in it."
Agrias rummaged through her bags for a minute, then pulled out a small, elaborately decorated metal cylinder. "Some very lovely lip rouge," she answered, holding it up for Ramza to see. "I'll admit that I don't generally wear makeup and such, but I think it rather suits me. It was very thoughtful of him."
Taking it from her, Ramza examined it carefully. "Doesn't look like anything special," he said after finishing his inspection.
"I'll have you know," the Holy Knight responded with a slight smirk, amused by her friend's relative ignorance in such matters, "that this is limited-edition Tynar rouge. Princess Ovelia herself would have trouble finding some, so I have no idea how Mustadio got his hands on it."
The boyish leader raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I take it it's expensive, then."
"Really? How much?"
If you must ask," Agrias replied in a mock haughty tone, "it usually goes for around fifty thousand gil."
Ramza's eyes widened, completely shocked. "Fifty thousand?"
The blond swordsman held up a hand, his fingers outstretched. "Fifty big ones?"
"Yes!" Agrias barked with growing irritation.
Ramza whistled, eyeing the cylinder a second time. "That's a lot of money for some useless cosmetics," he stated bluntly.
The former bodyguard sniffed and gave him a shows-what-you-know look. "It's hardly useless!" she explained, somewhat more acerbically than she had intended. "It bears an enchantment that constantly provides haste and protection from both physical and magical damage as long as I wear it. It also improves my strength and magic, and boosts any Holy spells and effects I use." She smiled at the memory of receiving it. "Like I said, it was a very thoughtful gift."
The squire stared at the lipstick with open amazement. "Damn! I'd tart myself up for permanent haste!"
"I'm not ta—" exclaimed Agrias angrily, snatching her present back and stuffing it in her knapsack. "By the Gods, you're insufferable sometimes! Is there any woman you're not a complete misogynist to?!"
Ramza looked at her blankly. "My sister."
"And doesn't that say a lot," the knight muttered under her breath.
"Nothing," Agrias said, rolling her eyes. "Look, if you want permanent haste so much, why don't you just use the Excalibur?"
Ramza glanced over at Orlandeau, who was also servicing his gear. Catching the youthful warrior's longing gaze at his sword, the Sword Saint curled up his lip into a snarl. "Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen," Ramza replied, tearing his eyes away from the legendary blade. "Seriously, though, would that stuff work for me, too?"
"Ramza," the Holy Knight pointed out slowly, as if explaining to a child, "makeup is practically the soul of femininity."
"So you'd look ridiculous!"
"Hey, I'll take any advantage I can get in a fight," the nobleman declared. "It's not enchanted to work for women only, is it?"
"How should I know?" Agrias shot back. "I didn't enchant it!"
"So you don't think it is?"
The blonde soldier massaged her temples wearily, feeling a headache coming on. "No, I don't think that ever entered the manufacturer's mind."
"So it should work for me, right?" pressed Ramza eagerly.
Agrias's patience finally gave, her temper flaring. "Ramza, if you want to go into battle drenched in perfume and wearing a pretty pink bow, you can go right ahead!" she snapped peevishly.
The boyish swordsman leapt to his feet, grinning gleefully. "Great! Thanks, Agrias!" With that, he dashed off, leaving her alone once more.
Surely, the ex-Lionsguard member thought as she replayed the conversation in her head, he would forget all about this in the morning. Surely he wasn't enough of an idiot to try what she thought he was going to try.
Agrias buried her face in her hands. "Why oh why," she groaned, "didn't I just say 'yes'?"
Agrias awoke at first light and went through her normal morning routine, bathing and equipping herself for the day to come. Once she was presentable, she joined the others for breakfast and chatted idly for a while. The team was in good spirits, basking in the warm rays of the early sunshine under a cloudless sky. It was some time before she noticed that their leader had yet to make an appearance, which was odd. Finally, she could wait no longer and went to check on him. "Ramza, are you almost ready?" she called from outside his tent. "We need to cross Dugeura Pass today, and we're sure to encounter resistance from the Order of the Southern Sky."
"Just a second!" Ramza called back, his voice slightly muffled by the canvass.
When he did emerge, Agrias was dismayed to discover what had kept him so occupied this morning: he was wearing a green and yellow ribbon, tied in a cute, bouncy bow in his hair, and had apparently doused himself with about a half a bottle of expensive perfume. The smell was so strong that she unconsciously took a step back, her eyes watering uncontrollably.
"Tada!" he exclaimed, inordinately pleased with himself. "How do I look?"
Rendered speechless by the sight, the Holy Knight could do little more than gape open-mouthed as the young man twirled in place for her, inadvertently wafting more of the overpowering odor her way. She shut her mouth in a hurry when she realized that it was leaving a burning sensation on her tongue, though her brain was still struggling to come up with the proper words to express herself. She wasn't even sure where it all had come from, though she supposed that he had borrowed – or otherwise obtained – everything from one of the women traveling with them.
Ramza, unaware of Agrias's reaction, sniffed himself tentatively. "I didn't use too little perfume, did I?"
"I'm confident that's not your problem," she responded sarcastically, her nose crinkling up as she desperately tried to fan the stench away with her hands.
"I know my appearance is highly unusual," the squire declared pompously, "but I've simply applied my unparalleled genius to the challenge of maximizing survival. Even a moment's hesitation can mean the difference between life and death, and if the enchantments do work for me, then so much the better!" He fluffed his ribbon and grinned, then cast his eye around the camp. "Come on everybody, let's pack it up here!" he shouted, clapping his hands together to get the group's attention. "We've got a long way to travel today!" He strode off to supervise the breaking of the camp, blind to the expressions of shock and confusion on everyone's faces.
Mustadio sidled up next to the knight. "Um, Agrias?" he asked, glancing at Ramza nervously as their superior continued to hustle people to action. "Is there something we should know about Ramza?"
Agrias sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "No, he's just applying his unparalleled genius to another problem."
"Oh," the engineer replied, clearly still trying to wrap his head around the situation. He paused for a moment before speaking again. "This is going to be embarrassing, isn't it?"
"I think 'humiliating' is the better word," the blonde soldier corrected grumpily.
Eventually the squad got moving, and by midday they were trudging towards the pass and making good time. The mood was strangely subdued, however, and no one was able to refrain from shooting odd looks at Ramza, which he either ignored or failed to notice. After several miles of rough, mountainous terrain, they found their path blocked by a group of Southern Sky troops.
The knight in the lead held up a hand and glared at them imperiously. "So long as we draw breath—" he began, but as soon as he got a good look at Ramza, he was so overcome with laughter that he sank to his knees, drawing breath suddenly becoming quite difficult. The other members of his unit fared no better, and soon their howls of merriment filled the air. Every time they started to get themselves under control, catching a glimpse of the noble's perky bow or a whiff of his perfume would send them into a fresh round of giggles as they rolled around on the ground, clutching their sides helplessly. Ramza's crew was utterly mortified, and merely stared red-faced at the cackling band opposing them.
At first, Ramza seemed annoyed by his opponents' reaction, though he quickly shrugged it off. He gestured for his companions to attack, and within minutes they had clobbered the soldiers into unconsciousness without suffering any injuries. They left as swiftly as they could, partially to avoid running into a patrol or changing of the guard and partially out of embarrassment. Ramza, for his part, was sporting a self-satisfied smirk while they made their escape. "See?" he gloated, poking Agrias in the ribs with his elbow. "I told you it would work!"
"Fine," the swordswomen grumbled, "you've made your point. You can go back to your regular attire tomorrow."
"What are you talking about?" the youth said, his eyes gleaming with barely suppressed excitement. "We got through a critical Southern Sky checkpoint without a scratch! I'm going to keep this up at least until they stop laughing at me!" He strutted ahead to chatter with the others, who did their best to not be repelled by the cloud of perfume still surrounding him.
Agrias stared at Ramza's back for a long moment, then approached Mustadio with a defeated look on her face. "I will never, ever live this down," she stated flatly.
Mustadio, not knowing what to say, merely patted her shoulder awkwardly.