Natalia watched the sun dip lower into the horizon, filling the sky with various hues of purple and pink. The color reminded her of the bruises that she sported on her arms and fingers which were a result of learning how to master the technique, grand barrage. Her arms ached and she silently wished that she had an apple gel to alleviate the pain. However, onboard the Tartarus she knew that they had already depleted their stock of restorative items. With no healing items, only a good night sleep could alleviate the bodily aches that she was currently experiencing.
The sky was already transforming into a dark shade of indigo and the cold caress of the sea's breeze playing against her coppery blond hair confirmed that night was quickly approaching. In silence, Natalia watched the luminous form of a crescent moon emerge from a pair of grey clouds. Its silver rays gently illuminating the deck of the Tartarus and the sea. She sighed, the serenity of the scenery before her did not reflect her inner turmoil.
Hugging herself, Natalia stood in silence contemplating about the issue between Asch and Luke and where her loyalties should lie. Questions raced in her thoughts. Luke was a replica, a fake. But did she do the right thing leaving him behind in Yulia City? Natalia tentatively touched her lips as she pondered about her actions, then her arm fell to her sides and her shoulders stooped in defeat: a posture unbecoming of a princess and the future Queen of Kimlaska-Lanvaldear. No it wasn't. Replica or not, she could not discard seven years worth of memories based on his…being. She still cared for him but what about Asch? Did he not deserve similar care and attention from her in the same way Luke deserved his? Biting her lip, she closed her eyes and massaged her temples. The situation was both confusing and difficult.
"Is everything alright?" A masculine voice beside her asked.
Natalia glanced sideways and felt a faint flush rise to her cheeks when she saw that it was Asch.
"Y-yes, everything is fine. Thank you, for caring" She replied with a smile.
Natalia observed that beneath the moonlight, Asch's hair shone scarlet. Unlike Luke's ruby mane which would remind Natalia of a warm glowing fire, his seemed like a flowing river of blood. It made him appear even more intimidating, foreboding…ruthless. It suited him. Natalia shuddered at the thought.
"We will be arriving in Ortion Cavern by tomorrow afternoon. The monsters there are stronger than the ones that you are used to encountering. It is best that you are in top condition or you will only serve as a hindrance" He informed her in a clipped tone.
"Thank you for caring Asch but such concern is baseless. I do believe that my skill as a warrior is in equal footing with most of the members of the group" Natalia retorted, hurt that he viewed her as a possible hindrance. Minor muscle pains were not enough to affect her prowess with the bow in battle. Did he really have no faith in her abilities? Natalia thought with a frown.
"Your death could be a cataclysmic trigger that would lead this world down the path of the score." Asch countered.
There was a pregnant pause and only the waves caused by the Tartarus plowing across the sea served as a distraction from the uncomfortable silence. A stray gust of wind blew Natalia's ginger blond curls into disarray and, before Asch could restrain himself, he reached out and tucked the stray strands behind her ear. Natalia gasped in shocked at the sudden display of kindness from the normally stoic man and the simple action served as a trigger to unlock the dam of suppressed emotions that Natalia had held back ever since she knew of his identity.
"Asch, come back with me to Baticul" Natalia pleaded, anger flashed across Asch's face. Wordlessly he turned around and walked away from the young princess. Desperately, Natalia ran after her former fiancé. "Asch, please don't go!" She cried. In an effort to make him stay, she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheeks against his back. "Don't go…" She whispered "I don't want to lose you again. Y-you're precious to me and I cannot bear it if I let you go now that I have found you" She weakly admitted. "So Asch, please stay…"
A single tear rolled down her smooth cheek. Ashamed of her behavior she buried her face into his back, feeling the coarse cloth of his cloak against her skin. Gritting his teeth, he stifled the mounting urge to turn around to hold her in his arms and to kiss away her tears. It would do no good for either of them. No matter how much he wanted to, returning her feelings would only make things worse. Silently, Asch stood still and waited. He knew that the best way to smother whatever bonds of attachment that Natalia still had for him was to to hurt her in order for her to forget him. Even if it would earn her hatred.
"I do not wish to return to Baticul" He coldly replied. He wrenched her arms from his waist. "What do you expect me to do once I get there? I do not wish carry the name that the replica has so thoroughly tarnished. He took everything from me! Everything!" He bitterly spat.
"You're wrong!" Natalia cried. "Luke did not take everything from you…even after all these years I still love you" Natalia confessed. However, instead of weakening his resolve, her confession merely strengthened it.
"Love? Is your love so easily gained that you can just give it to a man that you have just met?" He mockingly asked.
"How can you mock my love? What do you know?" Natalia tearfully asked "I stayed by Luke's side because I thought he was you!" She cried. "Even though he did not return my feelings for him, I still continued loving him because I thought that he was the boy that I once shared a promise with!-" However, before Natalia could finish her sentence she was angrily interrupted by Asch.
"And that is exactly why you should stop lying to yourself princess. You do not love me. You love the boy that I once was" He bitterly spat out. "I have grown and I am no longer the child you knew. You are in love with an illusion of your own making. Stop clinging to it like a penniless beggar Princess. It is what's best for you"
"If so, then tell me Asch, what is best for you?" Natalia bit back. "Filled with so much anger and hate, are you happy with the life you currently lead?" Angrily, she clenched her gloved fists and fixed her hazel eyes on his.
"Yes, I am" He admitted. Natalia's eyes widened with shock and Asch briefly wondered if it was because she could clearly see through his blatant lie. Summoning false bravado, he let out a laugh before continuing his sentence. "Why are you so surprised? Is it difficult to believe that I could have found happiness outside the palace? Have you grown so daft?"
"Y-you're lying" Natalia whispered, shaking her head in denial.
"No. I'm not. Erase that misconception that happiness can only be found within the palace walls" Asche paused, steeling himself to deliver the final blow "I have found mine in the form of a woman who sees me for who I am, yet she is still willing to share my bed. I no longer care for you."
Lies. It's all a lie….but Asche knew that his words had done the intended job as he saw Natalia's shoulders drop in defeat.
Gathering her shattered pride, Natalia squared her shoulders and wiped her tears with her gloved hand. Fighting the temptation to keep her gaze fixed on the ground, she slowly looked up to meet Asch's hostile gaze. She softly placed her hand on his cheek and gave him a weak smile.
"It seems that nothing can be done is there?" She whispered.
Her question remained unanswered as Asch impassively returned her gaze. There was a pregnant pause as she gazed into his eyes. Natalia took a deep breath. Sadly, she gently placed her hand on his cheek.
"Despite everything that you have just told me, no matter how offensive they may have been, I cannot bring myself to hate you" She softly told him "Even if you refuse to believe me, You are my first love and my feelings for you will remain. Yet, circumstances have prevented us from following what I thought was our predestined course: To rule Baticul together and to share a life of love until we grow old" With difficulty, she uttered her next few words with a melancholic expression on her face "I shall move on and I hope that I too will be able to find my own happiness, in the same way that you have found yours"
Looking up at the red-haired man, Natalia stood on her tip-toes and gently placed a kiss on his cheeks.
"Good bye" She whispered.
Natalia walked towards the door leading to the cabins. With every step she took, the young princess held the silent hope that he would stop her. Two steps left before reaching the door and Natalia strained her ears as she waited for him to call out her name. One step left, and she couldn't hear footsteps running after her. Slowly, she opened the door and her heart fell. She could hear him walking away from her.
He wasn't lying. He truly no longer cares…
With all the self-control she could muster, she closed the door.
Once shut, the young princess ran towards her cabin unaware that her cheeks were already streaming with tears.
Out on the deck Asch raised his eyes to the heavens. After everything he'd been through he thought that his heart had hardened and his eyes had grown unfamiliar with tears. However, the moonlight betrays him as it softly shines on the single tear gliding down his cheek.