Author's Note: This chapter has recieved a slight re-write to the first half in order to up the writing quality. While this update has changed a minor plot point, don't be foolish in your assumptions. Read, Review, and most of all enjoy some FFT.
Marching up towards the falls, she could make out a few things. One, a decent force had only recently been through. Two, someone had killed a decent number of Hokuten knights.
She realized these things as the party made their way up the river, towards Zirekile Falls. They first passed a single body. Alone, crystal dust marking his skin.
"What do you think that means?" Miluda asked, pointing towards the powder lingering on the man's body.
"Holy Knights can leave that kind of trace on their opponents. But then, all Holy Knights have at the least some connection to the church. Did Delita ever mention associating with the Church of Glabados, Ramza?" Agrias asked, noting the strange turn of events and voicing her concerns, while she rubbed the fine powder to nothingness on her gloved fingers.
"I…I don't know. He could have met them somehow, but I don't think he could have met them before we split up. I think he'd have told me." Ramza responded, looking more concerned as the thought lingered on his mind.
"Holy Knights…." Miluda pondered to herself.
"Do you know something, Miss Miluda?" Agrias asked, taking notice of the woman's outspoken thought.
"Oh… No. It's nothing." Miluda answered, shrugging her shoulders.
At that, the small party continued on up the river, though they began to spot more and more corpses of Hokuten knights as they neared the crossing.
"Holy Knights only… You don't think…?" Miluda whispered to Ramza while they marched.
He took a moment to look at her, thinking. Her eyes were downcast, almost mournfully.
"I don't think Wiegraf would do it. It would be foolish for him to attack a group of Knights, even as strong as he is. He'd be smart to avoid exposing himself…" He stopped mid-sentence when he noticed her mood darken more than it already was.
"He's probably still alive." He said, placing a hand on her shoulder, a reassuring gesture.
"Thanks, Ramza, but I have no family. Not anymore. Both our pasts are behind us; let's just ensure we live to see our future?" She answered, steeling her emotions, though she did give Ramza a brief glance of a smile before she continued on, spotting the bridge just up ahead.
"It's over! Surrender!" The man commanded.
He stood at the opposite end of the bridge crossing Zirekile Falls, his armor gleaming with a combination of the water spray of the falls, and the sunlight drifting down on the horizon.
His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, and two of his comrades stood at his back, both armed and ready to take action should they need to do so.
The white lion crest over a blue standard emblazoned on their capes gave no room to err. These men were of the Hokuten. These men were Duke Larg's Knights.
On the opposite side of the bridge from the man commanding the group stood two other knights, dressed similarly to their commander. However, a third knight lay in between the two, his body unmoving, though the small pool of blood that was starting to reveal itself from underneath the edges of the man's white cloak was an obvious sign that the man had been slain.
Delita stood in the middle of the bridge, shielding the Princess with his body. He was using his right arm to keep the princess behind him, and steady upon the bridge. He couldn't afford to let her slip from the bridge and drown in the rough waters below. His arm hang behind him, the Princess gripping onto him in a frightened grasp. She was unhurt, save for some extra dirt from the road.
His hair was pulled back in the same style he had worn just a year ago, but now instead of a leather coat to protect him, as he had worn as a cadet, now he wore a real set of armor. His greaves and gauntlets had a faint golden shine to them, and his surcoat was of a vibrant vermillion color. His eyes showed resolve, he had no fear, even in the face of being surrounded by these men.
"Turn the Princess over to us and we'll spare your life!" The commander ordered, though his grip on his sword did not lessen.
"That's a bald faced lie! You want to kill her! Then after that you'll kill me for knowing the truth." Delita spat back.
"Ridiculous! We came to help the Princess! Why would we want to kill her? We can't let Goltana keep her!""
The Princess was slowly starting to edge her way back from the Hokuten knights on the bridge, her grip still on Delita's arm, even as the Ramza's party arrived.
"Princess Ovelia!" Agrias screamed over the sound of the falls. She had could see the Princess on the bridge, the Hokuten knights blocking both sides.
Hearing the voice of her bodyguard, the Princess turned her head to look over her shoulder and spotted Agrias. Shouting the woman's name as she caught site of the party, the young Princess almost lost her footing on the old rickety bridge. Delita didn't move, but he could feel the Princess grip his arm even tighter as she fought to stead herself.
"Great, here comes a crowd! Gafgarion! Kill them! And do it now!" The commanding knight shouted, waving his hand in annoyance.
All eyes turned to Gafgarion, save for Delita's, which were still trained on the commander.
"Don't know what's going on, but it's in the contract!" The dark knight said, shrugging his arms.
"Gafgarion, are you betraying us?" Agrias said from the other end of the party. She was standing nearest the water, and by extension nearest the Princess. If things got ugly, she'd be at the Princess' side immediately.
However, Gafgarion stood just a little ahead of the group, and thus closest to the two living Hokuten knights on this side of the Falls. He strode forward a little ways before turning his back on the Hokuten knights and facing Agrias.
"Oh c'mon. This is business. Our job is to kidnap the Princess "unharmed." The rest of the job is to kill you all and keep things quiet!" The Fell Knight stated flatly.
"What are you getting at? This kidnapping's a sham?" Agrias asked back, hand gripping the hilt of her sword, already waiting for the battle to start.
"The Princess is in the way! The Prince should be next in line. If she's still alive there'll be nothing but trouble!" The man said, lowering the visor of his helmet into place, obscuring his eyes from view.
"Since you're going to die, I'll let you help me…If the Princess's kidnapped and killed by Goltana, they'll be rid of her and his rivals. I'm sure that's how Duke Larg wrote the scenario." He paused for a second, stepping back to place himself just in front of the Princess again, eyes edging to look at Ramza just through his peripheral vision. "No. Dycedarg probably wrote it. Don't you agree, Ramza?"
Gafgarion stepped forward, and then turned around to look at Ramza directly. "Right, Ramza. Let's get them all." The man said, waiting for Ramza's move.
Ramza didn't move, and after a brief moment of silence Ramza opened his mouth for the first time in that battle. "Another helpless sacrifice. No more! There must not be any more victims like Teta!" Ramza shouted at the dark knight as he drew his sword.
Agrias took command of her party instantly.
"Lavian, Alicia! Protect the Princess! If Delita or the Hokuten try to take her away, kill them! Gafgarion is mine!" She shouted, unsheathing her light Mythril blade and advancing on the Dark Knight, prayers already on her lips.
"Yes Ma'am!" They chorused, unsheathing their blades and running off to flank the Princess on the bridge.
She didn't watch to see what Ramza and Miluda were going to do. They'd do what they did best, she was sure.
From beneath his helm they could hear a grim chuckle emanating, before Gafgarion struck out at Agrias, unholy abomination already at work.
She heard the sizzle, and instantly jumped to the side, rolling with a loud clang in her heavy armor. Where she stood moments before, deep crimson ooze corroded the stone.
She retaliated once more, whispering the prayers under her voice, unlocking her own secret skills.
Gafgarion didn't even try to dodge the incoming blow, he simply raised his shield and bashed through as the stunning crystals flew towards him.
"You'll have to do better than that, girl!" He spat, now close enough to swing his blade.
The blade flew downwards with a sharp whistle; Agrias raised her own shield to block the blade.
The heavy blade met the solid metal, a violent shrill resounding as the items collided. Agrias had to struggle to hold her footing as the harsh blow threatened to force her down.
"Come on! Where's your god!? Why won't you fight back and challenge me?" The Fell knight screamed as he hammered away at her, smashing into the shield over and over again, threatening to break the woman's arm or at the least force her shoulder out of location.
Gafgarion pressed his advantage, this time using the only other skill they'd seen him perform. With a deep growl he thrust his sword upwards, barely scratching the edge of the woman's shield, but a moment later when a spire of fury exploded from the ground she nearly screamed in pain.
The strike was like a lance shooting forth from the earth, it burned intensely as it burst upwards, piercing the center of her shield arm, impaling itself between the bones.
"Dammit!" She shouted in pain as the wound settled. The spire dissipated, letting a small stream of blood drop through the wound onto her legs, which we barely holding her up at this point.
As she moved to retaliate she was stopped when the older man swept low and threw a pile of dirt into the woman's eyes, blinding her.
Gafgarion pressed the advantage further, slapping her shield away with the flat of his blade; he flipped it in his hand quickly before trying to cleave downwards at her. Though stinging eyes she could only barely see the man try and cleave her in two.
Time slowed down for her, she saw the blade inching even closer.
It drifted downwards.
Only for it to be stopped by a quick hand, reaching out and grabbing Gafgarion's wrist before he could bring the blade lower.
"Now!" She heard a voice shout, though in her current state, everything seemed to be happening at half speed.
She looked up to see a familiar armored vest, an unruly head of blond hair.
Ramza's command echoed in her mind, though everything seemed to be happening slowly, all the words she heard seemed to be echoing across a great void.
She watched in awe as from the edge of her vision she saw another Mythril blade sweep out and crack straight through the flat edge of Gafgarion's blade, severing the weapon in two.
As soon as everything had slowed though, everything sped back up. In a flash she saw that Miluda had been the one break Gafgarion's sword, and now Ramza was throwing all his weight onto the Fell Knight's arm, before he threw his whole body forward and kicked out with both legs, squarely kicking into the much older man's breastplate with a loud OOF.
"Cure your wounds, Holy Knight." She heard the other woman say, as she watched her turn back around and proceed to press the offensive on Gafgarion.
She didn't follow her order though, Agrias took the moment to look and survey the battle. She watched in awe as she saw Delita grab a Knight of the Hokuten by his head when he tried to grab the Princess from behind. He forced him to the ground before finishing the man's life in a brutal but not ineffective display of force. She had to blink to herself when she saw him perform the Stasis Sword technique. The crystal dust forming midair and colliding with the other knight on his side of the river, paralyzing the man long enough for him to eviscerate him.
So, He's a holy knight too… She thought to herself, before turning her focus to her underlings.
Alicia and Lavian were still beside the Princess; their shields aligned together, a wall of metal separating anyone from their charge.
She didn't have long to inspect the battlefield before she heard the sound of Gafgarion give a loud grunt of pain. She turned back around just in time to see the man forced to his knee.
"Dammit!" He said to himself before he uttered a quick chant to himself and raised his hands, teleporting away from the battle.
As she inspected the field she finally saw Rad. He'd been disarmed just a few feet from the princess, and was stuck. Kneeling, Lavian's sword not a foot from his head.
"Please! I don't know anything! He just told me to follow his lead and I'd be rich! I didn't know it had anything to do with the Princess! You have to believe me!" She could hear him groveling, a small number of tears falling into the dirt.
Agrias had to force herself to walk, wincing heavily as felt her wounded arm shift.
Damn. I should have beaten that heathen…. She thought as she dragged herself forward to stand over the whimpering boy.
"Ramza? What do you know about him?" The woman asked, pointing with her unhindered limb to the captive.
"Nothing really, Gafgarion just brought him along. If he's anything like me though, he probably didn't know anything about the contract. "He stated, sheathing his blade and coming to stand next to the commanding woman, Miluda by his side.
"If that's the case, he's not very useful to us, is he?" Miluda answered, stating what they all were thinking.
"Yeah…" Ramza asked, before he picked up the man's discarded sword, and proceeded to throw the weapon into the waterfall.
"Get out of here. Go live an honest life, rather than dying in nameless obscurity." Ramza sated, picking the man up and pointing back towards the town, letting the young boy walk away from the battle, the whole party stood unmoving until they could see that he was far beyond hearing them.
"You know that's a risky move, Ramza?" Agrias asked.
"I won't execute someone just because it may be a risk." He answered before he turned to the bridge and Delita who stood on the other end, arms crossed impatiently.
"Leave the Princess with me. It's better for her." Delita stated, emotionless.
As he said the words Agrias placed a hand in front of the Princess, placing herself between the two, regardless of the fact that Ramza already blocked her. Her two underlings did the same, both getting into position to protect Princess Ovelia.
"Delita, what're you scheming?" Ramza asked, walking forward and holding his arms out in a gesture of "What?" He was curious as to why the man had kidnapped the Princess from him earlier, only to ask him to allow her to remain with him now.
"Scheming? Don't be foolish. I'm telling the truth. "He said, opening his arms wide in a gesture as he explained. "Think about it. Where would you take her after making an enemy of the Hokuten? Elite Hokuten troops will come here looking for you any time now. Just where the hell do you plan on escaping to?"
"W. Well. I…" Ramza started, clearly unprepared for the question.
"Think carefully. The Princess knows this was Duke Larg's plan. The royal family is not on your side. So what about Goltana? No, he'd execute you just to clear himself."
"What would you do?" Agrias asked, curious at the story the young kidnapper was telling.
"I'd do what you can't do." The man stated flatly.
"What do you mean?" Ramza asked back.
"I can't tell you…" Delita responded.
Delita turned his back on the group and started walking away, saying to those behind him. "I'll leave the Princess with you a little longer."
Just as Delita was nearing the edge of the bridge, Ramza said. "Delita. I'm glad I could see you again."
Delita stopped walking, before looking up towards the sky and saying, "Teta saved me…"
"Teta saved me back then…"
This earned no response from Ramza. However as the man began to walk further away, The Princess shouted to him, "Thank you, Delita."
Delita made no move to respond to this for a moment, until after a minute of thinking he simply said, "See you again, Ramza," and walked away.
"Ramza, thanks for your support, but are you sure you want to make an enemy of the Hokuten?" Agrias asked him as he turned back towards them. She'd managed to mend the wound in her arm, though her skill with White Magic was minimal.
"Don't worry. I've already decided. The question is, now what should we do? Like Delita said, nobody will help us…"
"We can ask Cardinal Draclau for help…The Church of Glabados has jurisdiction over Lionel. They might be able to help." Agrias answered.
"The Hokuten will have to be careful what they do in Lionel. Let's go. It's the only safe place for us right now." Ramza said, marching across the bridge with the rest of their party.
"Don't worry m'lady. It won't be the first time I've endured a day's march." Miluda said as she gave the Princess a boost onto Boco's back. The large golden feathered bird chirping slightly as the woman placed her small weight onto its back.
"It's still unfair, you all have protected my life and now you insist I ride while you walk for a long day of marching. I don't want to just be a burden for you!" The princess retorted, somewhat annoyed.
"Princess, I feel we have much bigger issues at hand than this." Miluda finished, taking a step away and giving the large bird a good pat.
"Thank you, Ms. Miluda." The princess said back, unsure of what to make of this new woman who'd appeared after her kidnapping.
"Miluda is fine. Don't worry, I'm with Ramza. We'll take care of you." She responded, marching alongside the woman now that the Princess was seated and riding at a slow pace.
"So…may I ask, who are you? I only really know your name, well that and that you managed to fend off that scary looking knight."
"I was a soldier M'lady-"Miluda began, only to be cut off immediately.
"Please, just call me Ovelia. There's no need for formalities here."
"Right….well, Ramza and I are mercenaries."
"We you certainly must be different than that man. He was willing to kill you all just because his contract said to!"
"Well, we're not that kind of mercenary Prin… Ovelia." Miluda caught herself. "We're mercenaries because all we know how to do is fight, but…Ramza isn't the kind of person to just slaughter people for money."
"And you are?"
"Well no…it's just…Don't get me wrong Ovelia. I won't say I've always done the right thing, I'm no saint. But… I don't think you deserve to be used by some scheming nobles."
"That is kind of you to say, Miluda."
A few minutes of silence passed by as they headed along the southern road to Lionel Castle, and the land that was held by the Church, until the Princess asked another question that had popped into her head.
"Someone Ramza knew… I don't really know much about her. I never asked him." Miluda responded, her eyes drifting towards Ramza's back, just a few steps ahead of them. Even though they were separated by a matter of feet, it felt as though worlds separated the two of them. He had marched silently since they had left the Falls and not once had he stopped for anything save a drink from a waterskin.
"It sounded like something bad happened to her." The princess asked, somewhat somberly.
"I don't really know the whole story. All I know is that the Hokuten killed her, and it was the final straw for him," Miluda answered, nodding her head in indication of Ramza.
"She was Delita's sister and a friend." Ramza said, startling the two women. He didn't turn to look at them, just kept marching forward, and leading the small party.
A moment of silence passed by as the group waited for him to explain more.
"The Hokuten killed her… Just over a year ago. At Fort Zeakden."
As Ramza explained the story he could see it all again. The blazing fires, the smell of burning powder. He could still feel the heat of the flames.
His eyes were clouded, he wanted to run forward and find Delita and Teta. To look through the rubble and save them.
He tried to walk towards the flames, but another explosion shook the ground, collapsing a part of the building. Soon the entire fortress would be crumbling to pieces.
"Ramza!" Miluda shouted, rousing the man from his nightmare of a daydream.
"What, what? I'm sorry, I drifted off there." Ramza responded, apologetically.
"You don't have to explain any more if you don't want to, Ramza." Miluda answered, letting the area grow quiet once more.
The rest of the march was quiet; nothing bothered the small force as they walked up the road.
Finally as the sun was reaching its lowest point on the horizon, the group set up camp just off the side of the road. They were near Zaland Fort City and would be able to stay there the next night. However for this night, the small group built a small fire and set up their simple tents to keep out the early spring chill.
Agrias sat next to the Princess, eating some more of the traveling provisions with her. The two other knights scavenging nearby for firewood.
However as that duo sat near the fire, the mercenary duo were finishing putting up their tent.
As Miluda came out of the simple canvas and resin structure; she could see Ramza staring off into the fire next to the other two women, seemingly lost in thought.
"You want to talk about it, Ramza?" Miluda asked, coming to stand next to her comrade.
"They killed her, Miluda. They killed her, and today I almost lost you too…" He said his voice barely above a whisper.
"You blame yourself for what happened to your friend?"
"I should have followed orders; I should have just stayed at the castle like I was supposed to. Instead I marched out to find the Marquis, even if Dycedarg allowed me to go, if I had just followed orders the first time, I would have been there. I would have stopped it…"
"You can't blame yourself for that Ramza. It wasn't your fault."
"How… How can you say it wasn't my fault?"
"Because Ramza, if it hadn't been you. I wouldn't be standing here now and you'd just be a puppet for your scheming brother."
Ramza didn't respond. He turned back around to look at Miluda in the flickering light of the fire.
"I won't say it's a good thing that she had to die. That wasn't it at all. But if you hadn't been the one to leave, been the one to fight me. I would have died back at the Thieves Fort. Nobody would have offered me a surrender, and nobody else would have saved my life the second time."
Ramza didn't say anything, just looked into the woman's eyes as they stood in the slight chill of the February air.
"You're a good man, Ramza. But you can't blame yourself for what couldn't be changed. You don't like being paid for violence. You regret not being able to save people. And…" Miluda led on with a slight smile to herself.
She took a step forward, closing the distance between the two of them. Quickly she leaned forward and placed a kiss on Ramza's cheek, eliciting a blush from him when she pulled back to look back at his face.
"… And you've made quite a habit of saving my life. You are a good man, Ramza, and thank you."
She took her leave at that, leaving Ramza to his thoughts as she left to sit next to the other two women, and warm herself by the fire.
The small party woke early that morning and made their way to Zaland Fort City. It wasn't long before they reached the outer gate of the city. However, as they neared it they could hear the sound of a man shouting. "You can't escape! Give it to us if you value your life!"
"Princess, Agrias. Wait here; we'll go take a look around." Ramza whispered to the two before Ramza and he ran off through the gate to investigate the situation. The two knights of the Princess Guard stood unmoving next to Ovelia, hands gripping hilts tightly.
They didn't have to run long. They could hear another voice responding as they reached the gate. "What do you want? I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't play dumb! Mustadio! Don't care about your father? Just give us the "holy stone" and we'll return him…. Ok guys, get him!"
They could see a boy jump up onto the edge of the fort's walls. And as they rounded the corner they could see a pair of mages and an armored man surrounding him. The boy on the walls had a shot head of blonde hair, tied back into a wolf's braid. He had on a simple pair of dense cloth overalls, and a strange crossbow like weapon was slung to his belt.
"And you can tell Rudvich, if he lays a hand on father, he'll never see the stone!"
Agrias shouted out to Ramza and Miluda from the edge of the road. "An argument? Someone's after that young man…"
"He'll be killed if we don't do something. Let's help!" Ramza yelled as he charged up the stairs, sword drawn and Miluda right behind him.
As they closed in on the assailants they could see that a pair of women were drawing bows and aiming for the young man down the nearest alleyway.
The duo split up, rushing the women and cleaving into them while they took aim. Two bodies down. However, luck wouldn't wait for them long, as two other armored men slipped from the alleyway and engaged the pair.
Everyone engaging in battle jumped as they heard the loud sound, as one all eyes turned to look at the young man, Mustadio.
In his hand he was holding a long metal tube, with one hand midway along the way, and the other situated on the bottom of it, near his chest, his finger holding onto a small lever of metal near the end. A small trail of smoke coming from the end opposite his hand.
Directly in front of the object, they could all see the corpse of a black mage, a pool of blood showing itself underneath the body.
The armored men's eyes widened in horror as they saw the unfamiliar and powerful weapon. Each of them having the exact same thought.
Rudvich better pay us a fortune for this.
Immediately as it began, the lull in fighting ended and blades clashed once more as Miluda and Ramza struck back against the stronger forces.
Ramza finished the first man quickly, overpowering him with his strong muscles and stabbing into his cuirass and kicking him off with his blade.
Miluda's foe ended quickly as well.
They all jumped slightly again when they heard the shot again, this time the weapon ending the other mage's life before he could cast a spell.
Miluda finished off the last armored man with a riposte, clearing through the man's shoulder blade.
"Are you all right?" Ramza asked, coming down from the adrenaline.
"Yeah…I think so. Thanks for helping me." The young man said, wiping sweat off of his brow as he slid a hand through his hair.
"They were troublemakers hired by Bart Company" Mustadio said, leaning against a wall of the city's depths.
Agrias and Ramza had snuck into the deeper part of the city for the conversation. Miluda was out arranging board at the inn for them, and Princess Ovelia was waiting in the next room from the three conversing. Her bodyguards with her.
"Bart Company? The Importer?" Agrias asked.
"You know them? They're not just traders. They're a criminal syndicate into everything from smuggling to slavery" Mustadio answered.
"Why were they after you?" Ramza asked back.
"You know why they call us mechanics?"
Ramza just nodded his head in a negative.
"I hear a lost civilization is hidden under Goug. When Saint Ajora was alive, airships were in the sky and humans and robots were in town. But time passed, technology was lost, and no one knows if it ever really existed." Agrias answered, though here expression was one of skepticism at best.
"But the civilization must have existed. Parts from many airships and machines are buried under Goug. Mechanics are just the ones who restore these past legacies."
"That weird thing you used in the battle, was that one of the machines?"
"Oh, this?" Mustadio asked; pulling the weapon out from the spot it was hanging from on his belt. "This is called a "gun." A metal "bullet" is propelled by gunpowder. This is the simplest one. They say you used to be able to fill it with magic and shoot it." Mustadio continued, pulling back on the weapon to expose the bullet chamber.
"Hmm…" Ramza pondered. "Why's Bart Company after you?"
"You said you were going to see the Cardinal. He was a hero of the Fifty Year War. People in Lionel still think of him as a hero. My father, included. The Cardinal is the only one who can unite this country. I know he'd grant your wish. Then the Princess would be safe."
"Your point…?" Agrias asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Can you take me with you? I want to meet the Cardinal."
"To save my father!" The man shouted vehemently, before reigning himself in. "The Cardinal's the only one who can rescue him from Bart! But he wouldn't want to meet some mechanic like myself. So, please. Take me with you!"
"You still haven't told us why they're after you!"
Mustadio looked down, unsure what he could say.
"… I can't tell you now."
"Then, we can't take you." Agrias surmised.
"I beg you! Trust me! I must see the Cardinal!"
At this moment, the Princess who had been waiting in the next room walked in, coming to stand before the small group. Agrias and Ramza immediately dropped into a kneeling stance as she walked into the room.
"All right. You can come with us."
"Really? Thank, your Highness!" The young man said, ecstatic.
"Remember! You're in the presence of a princess!" Agrias chastised, still kneeling.
Mustadio jumped back, realizing his mistake. Immediately he dropped into a nervous kneel.
"It's all right. Please, stand up."
The trio stood back up, Ramza and Agrias turning around to speak to the boy.
"All right, then. I trust you." Agrias said, though the words seemed more to placate the Princess than those of actual trust.
As they took their place in their rooms for the night, Ramza couldn't help but feel nostalgic.
Though the room itself was different from the kind of his more common lodging in Dorter. The wood was of a lighter color and the room smelled faintly of the salty air from the two seas nearby the city. It's position being on a strait.
"It's always nice to get to spend a night in a soft bed." He heard the woman say from her place sitting on the bed as she untied the straps that were holding her armor together.
"It is rather comfortable to spend some time at an inn." He said, coming to sit next to her on the bed.
He started doing the same as her, removing the armored vest he was wearing so to enjoy a calm night after the last couple days on the road.
"We still have a decent amount of gil left. We should look into getting some newer armor. My mail is starting to wear out, and that vest has certainly seen better days."
"Maybe." Ramza said, not paying much attention as he shifted his position to untie his boots.
"We should take a look when we get to Lionel. Caste-smiths tend to make good heavy armor. Though it may be easier to find some armor vests. "She continued, finally finishing with the belts on her cuirass and she pulled the heavy chainmail over her head, before setting it on the bed behind her.
"Hmm." Ramza hummed in response.
After a few moments of getting into a more comfortable state of undress, Miluda grabbed Ramza by the arm, and led him from the room.
"Come on, Ramza. We have no idea when we'll get a chance to enjoy a hot bath, you shouldn't miss it. Not to mention you smell like blood and sweat." She said, giving him a slight wink as she dragged him with her down the halls.
As he eased himself into the steaming water, he couldn't help but feel somewhat refreshed as his muscles eased and the grime of the road left his body.
He could see the silhouette of Miluda through the thin partition separating the two. Even for comrades of the time they'd spent together, modesty was modesty and Ramza wasn't the kind of man to peek at a woman in undress. She was clearly leaning back against the metallic basin, her hair hanging down behind her, drifting in slight waves towards the floor and the stone tiles that lined it.
The room was empty save for the duo, with most other patrons taking this time of day to enjoy cold drinks at the tavern. Their own companions had already taken their chance to bathe, though they had yet to see Mustadio leave his room after they'd seen him enter it. They couldn't say he'd needed one at the moment though; they'd only met him that very day.
The candlelight flickered lightly as the fire burned at the wick from its place on the stand. They had each carried one with them as they had come in, and sat them near the basins, giving some small illumination, though they'd need it more to find their way out of the room than to find their way in the baths.
"Do you think we did the right thing, Miluda?" He asked lightly; as he slowly leaned back himself, reveling in the feel of warm water on his flesh.
"Well…I can sleep quite easily tonight. As can Mustadio, the Princess, and Agrias. If that is any indication, then yes. We've done the right thing." She answered back, her voice as warm as the water they both used.
"So. You're okay that we broke the contract? Isn't that a bad thing for mercenaries?"
"Does it really matter? Money is good, and sadly we do need it from time to time but no soldier fights a crusade because they're getting paid. No, soldiers like us always need reasons to fight. This, Ramza. This is a good reason."
He heard a quick splash follow her response, immediately followed by a relieved gasp of breath.
"Ohhhhh that feels good." She gasped out as her breath returned.
Ramza did the same as she did, sliding his head under the water, and taking a moment to strain out his hair of the sweat and grime before he resurfaced.
"You're right." He said, finally after taking a long, pleased breath.
Together the two sat in hot water tubs, enjoying a chance to rinse themselves free of stress and the remnants of the road.
However after a few minutes of cleaning, the duo lay back once more in their respective basins. After a moment of silence, Miluda spoke up, a certain tone to his voice that he hadn't heard for a long time. A certain mischievous and happy sound to color her words. He would probably find this incredibly funny in the future… not so much now.
"Ramza. How brave are you?" She asked, though it was evident there was more to this than a simple question.
"…why?" He answered, already suspicious of her vocal quality.
"Answer the question, Ramza." She answered him, a coy smile spreading on her face, though he couldn't see it.
"No more courageous than you, I would guess." He answered, trying not to boast.
"Well…how about a little game, eh' Ramza?" She asked back, still not saying just what she was playing at.
"Miluda, am I going to like this?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Won't know unless you play though, will you?"
"Promise me you'll play, before I tell you just what it's going to be."
This got him wary immediately. However, he calmed as fast, it's Miluda. I can trust her, right?
"Fine. I'll play. Now what is it?"
"Oh just a little idea I had. You'll see in a second. Now, close your eyes."
"Fine." He said, "They're closed."
"Now cover them with your hand."
He did so. "Miluda, what are you getting at with this?"
He heard the sound of water dripping, and could easily tell that she had gotten up from her bath. However he couldn't hear anything that sounded like her drying off. Instead he could hear the slight smacks of bare feet on stone tile.
"Count to thirty, Ramza. Then open your eyes." He could hear her whispering from just over his shoulder.
One. Two. Three. Four.
He heard the sound of a slight rustle, followed by the soft smacking sound again.
Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
He could hear the door to the room opening with a slight creak, followed by the soft click as the door latched back closed a second later.
Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty.
He opened his eyes and was surprised that nothing seemed amiss.
The room looked exactly as he left it.
That is, until he looked for his clothes.
He'd left them on the floor just next to the basin, near the candle.
He could see the small footprints of water left on the ground leading in a path from the edge of the partition, to the side of his basin, to the door to the room.
As he tried to comprehend it in his head, a single thought rang out.
Oh Miluda, You cheeky bastard.
He found his way to his feet in the basin and took a step out, giving a shiver as his foot met the much colder floor. He gripped the candle by the base of its holder and used the other hand to try and cover himself.
As he reached the door he realized that Miluda had wasted no time at all in setting her plan in motion. Not even taking the time to dress herself, if she had, there wouldn't be as much water showing him where she'd walked.
He opened the door to the room, extinguishing the candle as he did so. I'm naked, in the middle of a no doubt busy inn, and everyone in the tavern below can see me if they just look up over the railings. I shouldn't draw any more attention to myself. He thought.
He quietly tip-toed his way back across the balcony that held the rooms. Below him, he could hear the sounds of various people enjoying drinks.
As he slowly managed to make his way to the door of their room, he was shocked to find that the door had been locked.
"Miluda." He whispered through the door.
"Oh, hello Ramza." He could hear her say back through the other side. "What can I do for you today?"
"You can let me into our room!" He whispered back, trying not to make too much noise, but growing somewhat frustrated.
"Oh, but why would I do that? I haven't reached the count of thirty yet."
"What you don't remember? I had you count to thirty, and most of that I spent out here, much as you are now. Just wait a few moments longer, you've still got twenty seconds."
Ramza had to fight the urge to break through the door. Calmly, he turned and waited his back to the door. However, he immediately grew fearful when he heard the door next to his creak open somewhat and he heard the voice of Agrias Oaks, answer the Princess.
"No, don't worry. We'll be fine for the night. Ramza and Miluda are right next door should anything happen."
He could see the back of her head; he immediately thanked God when he realized she had yet to see him in his current state.
"Miluda, please. Open the door." He whispered back, frantically.
"Ten seconds." She said back, chuckling to herself.
He pressed his back further into the door, trying to hide himself as much as possible from Agrias as she turned around.
Slowly her right shoulder came into view. Then her back. Then her head.
She was walking towards the baths.
Oh God, she's looking for us. He thought to himself. Much more frantic now.
As she reached the end of the hall and the baths, he could hear the creak as she opened the door and peered inside the dark chamber.
Just as Agrias was about to turn herself around and proceed to check their room, He fell backwards with the door opening inwards.
He hit the floor with a thud. His eyes shooting open.
"Miluda!" He shouted as he regained his bearings.
Quickly she shut the door behind her, locking the bolt once more, before leaning against the door, laughing hysterically.
"Not. Funny." Ramza stated firmly, as he stood back up and tried to cover himself.
He heard a knock come from the door, Agrias, no doubt.
"We're indecent. One moment." Miluda called out in a voice that was barely containing her bouts of laughter.
From behind the door they could both hear the sound of the woman grumbling "Bloody Mercenaries…."
"We're? I'm the only one indecent here!" Ramza said back to her, digging through his clothes and trying rapidly to get dressed.
"I know. But she doesn't." Miluda answered, pointing a thumb towards the door.
"You hate me, don't you?" Ramza asked her, pulling his trousers on.
"Oh and I thought you loved me too, Ramza?" The woman responded, her sarcasm not hidden at all.
His face flushed a bright red as he pulled his shirt on over his still wet hair.
"Dressed now? Good." Miluda asked, turning back around to open the door. "Agrias? What can we do for you?"
"Nothing, just warning you that we leave early tomorrow. We need to get to Lionel soon and it'll take at least two days to get there. So get some rest, and be ready. The Princess and I are going to bed. Alicia and Lavian are already asleep."
"Aye, Aye Captain." Miluda answered, shutting the door again before falling to the floor still chuckling wildly.
"As I said. Not funny." Ramza stated, his face flushed.
Miluda quickly gathered herself back together, and took Ramza by surprise once more as she nearly skipped up to him and kissed him on the cheek once more.
"You're right. Looks like you are just as brave as me..." She said, just centimeters away from him. His face now a burning red in the candlelight of the room.
She turned back around and blew out the candle; though in the dark he could hear that she had climbed into the bed.
He was still standing there, stunned into inaction by the second kiss from the woman so soon. He only moved to take his place in the chair that he would be sleeping in when she finished.
"But you're a lot funnier when you're being brave." She whispered back, leaning her head onto a soft feather pillow and curling up into the blankets.
As he sat himself down on the chair, and leaned his head back onto the wall, he heard her tell him. "You know, you can sleep in the bed, Ramza."
He didn't make any moves. He just stayed where he was, and leaned back into sleep. However in his mind there was an answer.
By God, I hope she didn't see anything.