“It’s huge…” Fayt muttered as he glimpsed at the grand air dragon before them.
“Now that’s just too big,” Maria commented after him as the others reached them.
It seemed the off-worlders were more impressed since they haven’t been exposed to air dragons like the Elicoorians had. That wasn’t to say that the Marquis’ size wasn’t impressive, but all three warriors had been aware dragons of his class existed and could get to that massive stature. They also knew the Marquis was old enough to have the ability to speak to humans. Nel glanced over to the beast and discovered that he was still asleep- or perhaps he was feigning it to examine them.
“I really hope he’ll go along with our proposal…” Nel said more to herself than to Fayt and the others.
“It won’t be that easy, death seeker,” Albel reminded her with a bit of scorn laced in his tone at seeing the creature once again.
The spy wasn’t sure if it was because she was on her period or because she really hated that nickname, but she found herself whirling around to glare at the Wicked One for his sass. She growled lightly and gave him a look that told him to keep his opinions to himself. All she received was a dismissive shrug as he looked away to glare at some random rock. Suddenly she sensed movement behind her and quickly turned back toward the dragon.
“Huh? It moved!” Fayt whispered in shock, acting as if he was surprised that the air dragon was alive. He probably said it as part of a reaction rather than actually thinking the dragon couldn’t move. There was thick tension in the air and everyone was on pins and needles now that they were finally facing the creature they sought. Just the slightest noise was bound to make any seasoned warrior jump.
The Marquis’ eyes opened and he finally stared down at the others below. “Who dares disturb my sleep?”
“Whoa! The dragon talks?” Cliff shouted before he could stop himself. Again- the Elicoorians weren’t that surprised like the off-worlders were and remained silent as the dragon took offense.
“…Another ill-mannered human, I see,” the Marquis growled in an arrogant tone before he scornfully admonished Cliff and all of humanity. “You act as though you know everything. Ages pass, yet you humans never learn.”
If there was anything Nel had learned when dealing with arrogant nobles, it was that they responded well to respect and sometimes to flattery. But she never had to negotiate with a dragon before- unless Albel counted. Now that she had met the Marquis up close, she could clearly see that both dragon and knight were practically the same. She walked forward some to kneel before him and hoped that addressing him properly would convince him to listen.
“I’m Nel Zelpher, agent of Aquaria. We’ve come to request the Marquis’ aid, Your Excellency.” Nel was also hoping the fact that she wasn’t Glyphian might help smooth things over. As far as Albel was certain, the dragon had an issue with Glyphians more so than humanity in general.
“A maiden of Aquaria?” The dragon sounded a bit curious to hear that an Aquarian was before him. He then let out a breath that sounded more like a growl. “Speak your purpose.”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Nel replied swiftly, a little relieved that she managed to calm the Marquis down. “A great threat is menacing these lands. We need Your Excellency’s help to stop it.”
“Hmph. I sensed the restlessness outside. What would you have me do?” the dragon wondered with a rumble.
She was inwardly amazed that she got him to pay attention so far, but she knew he wasn’t going to like what she had to say next. The Marquis seemed interested in helping, but he didn’t want to do so with human aid. He reacted badly to the idea of bearing the Thunder Arrow on his back and scolded them for the ‘foolish’ request. Nel knew at this point the dragon was far too angry to listen to reason and stood up from her kneeling position. Everything about the Marquis was similar to Albel’s outward attitude to others and if there was anything Albel respected, it was persistence.
“Even so, we cannot leave until you agree!” The spy insisted as she placed her hands near her daggers. She couldn’t forget her place. The Marquis was disgustingly high and mighty over others, but he was that way for a reason- he was, after all, the marquis of air dragons. He was powerful enough to destroy them all if they weren’t careful and she wasn’t going to let the dragon catch her off guard.
“I could not care less!” he sneered as his eyes narrowed at her.
“Forget it, Nelly. Turkeys like this need to be smacked around a bit before they’ll listen,” Cliff commented angrily. She could hear him slam his fist into his palm behind her as he said it. For a moment, she forgot that she wasn’t alone and that she was with people who could easily take offense to the dragon’s insult towards humanity. It was most likely that everyone wanted a piece of the dragon now.
“Now that’s a first. We’re both of the same opinion,” Albel quipped after the Klausian as he rested his claw above the scabbard of his katana. Nel inwardly smirked at that. It only proved that one couldn’t put two people of the same disposition in the same room together- they would want to kill each other as a result. She bet more than anything that the Wicked One was unaware exactly how alike he was to the dragon.
Though Nel failed to realize that she, too, had an identical disposition to Albel and that she wanted to kill him several times before she got to know the real him…
“I agree that humans are nothing special. But I wonder if you are as great as you say you are,” Maria challenged as she reached for her blaster, “Perhaps you need a lesson in humility.”
Adray simply chucked and muttered in excitement over how he was going to destroy the dragon. With the group unanimous in their desire to fight, Fayt had no choice but to concede that diplomacy wasn’t going to work…at least not yet. He glanced over to Nel, who could only shrug and give an apologetic look that she couldn’t convince the dragon, before he turned his gaze to the Marquis.
“Your Excellency… Is there no way you’ll agree to cooperate?” the boy inquired, giving the beast one last chance to reconsider.
“None!” he snapped in irritation.
“Oh well,” he muttered as he and everyone else pulled out their weapons, “We’ll have to force you to listen!”
“You are free to try. Convince me of your worth and I shall listen to all you have to say!”
“We’ll hold you to your word, Your Excellency!” Maria shouted with a grin.
“It is a promise I shall not have to keep!” The dragon yelled confidently before he let out a growl and tried to pounce on the party.
It was a long and hard battle. At the very beginning, it wasn’t so bad. Given the size of the dragon against the small space of the cavern they were in, the Marquis was at a slight disadvantage. He couldn’t fly far- not unless he wanted to escape, which his pride wouldn’t allow him to do. All he could do was stomp around and blow fire at them. It wasn’t hard to figure out that he would be weak against ice attacks, seeing as that was a weakness that all air dragons had.
Unfortunately, Nel’s strongest ice attack, the Ice Daggers, was a close range attack that she couldn’t perform often. The Marquis moved around a lot and if she didn’t have to avoid getting stepped on, then she had to worry about being swept aside from his massive tail. Her ice needles were incredibly weak compared to Adray’s (who had another ice spell even more devastating to use) and she often didn’t have time to cast before the dragon targeted her.
In the few times she was out of range, she used her Flying Guillotine attack, but she was partially defenseless as she waited for her dagger to return to her. It seemed only Albel and Adray were fast enough to land an attack and get away from him. After a while, Nel began coordinating her attacks to where she used her Ice Daggers when Adray was in the middle of using a spell. During the times Albel had the Marquis’ attention, she would use her far ranged attacks or runology.
The off-worlders were also doing their part by taking over after a coordinated attack, giving her and Adray time to cast healing spells if needed. Albel mostly took care of himself by using his Vampiric Flash to heal some of his wounds (and harm the Marquis in the process).
Slowly, but surely, the Marquis was getting tired. So were they. But thankfully they managed to hold out long enough to outlast the dragon and had the satisfaction of seeing him fall before them. Nel was out of breath when it was over and a quick inspection of the others revealed that they were just as winded, too. As always, Adray was the first to recover and he gave everyone a boost with his healing spells.
“Arrr… To live seven hundred years only to suffer at the hands of mere humans,” the Marquis groaned as he recovered.
“You’ll keep your word, right?” Maria confirmed as the dragon pushed himself back up. He then inclined his head toward the girl.
“Though it is humiliating to serve your kind, breaking one’s word is a despicable act. I have no choice,” he replied before he bowed his head in respect. “You may ride on my back, small but powerful humans. I shall bear you wherever you desire.”
Albel stared up at the Marquis with an unreadable expression. His earlier fighting was fueled by anger, but now that the dragon was subdued, his emotions sobered. He had no clue how he should be feeling. While the Marquis wasn’t directly responsible over his father’s death, he was part of the guilt and shame the Wicked One bore for so many years. Defeating the air dragon didn’t seem to lessen his sins any and he was starting to question if he even deserved the victory. He didn’t defeat the Marquis alone (as how Glyphians should impress air dragons)- and he felt that he didn’t quite earn the respect the creature was finally showing.
Nel touched his shoulder as she passed him. He glanced at her and shoved his thoughts to the back of his mind to think about later. His feelings didn’t matter at the moment. What was important was that they had the dragon’s cooperation and that they needed him to help protect their world. He was the last to climb on and sat behind Nel as Fayt started talking to the Marquis.
“Ummm… What should we call you?” the boy wondered, thinking ‘Marquis’ was too impersonal to call their newest ally. Not many humans knew the name of the great air dragon.
“Call me Crosell, little one,” he replied before Fayt directed him to fly to Castle Aquaria.
“As you wish!” Crosell roared as he flapped his wings. Albel wrapped his arms around Nel at the last second before the beast took off to the air.
Once again, she felt that eerie feeling of being in the air and far away from the ground. At least she wasn’t stuck in the very back and feeling his arms around her comforted her some. It wasn’t long before Aquios came into view and the castle grew bigger in the distance. Pretty soon the spy was more focused on the landing, praying that the dragon didn’t damage anything in the castle garden.
The moment her feet were on the ground, she rushed forward to issue orders. “Get ready at once!”
“Yes, Lady Nel!” the runologists replied as they rushed toward Crosell to begin measuring him. The dragon appeared uncomfortable being surrounded by humans, but managed to keep calm. Fayt apologized and pleaded for him to be patient, but the dragon reassured that he would be fine. Nel left them to speak with her queen, of whom she found with Airyglyph’s king.
The spy was somewhat annoyed to see the presence of the Glyphian king on Aquarian soil, but she held her emotions. It couldn’t be helped since they were under an alliance.
“I have returned, Your Majesty,” Nel announced as she bowed to her queen.
“You have done well,” she praised her Crimson Blade before she and the king stared up at the Marquis.
“To think you were actually able to capture him…” Arzei muttered in wonderment. Unfortunately for him, Crosell’s hearing was very sensitive and he quickly took offense. Nel could barely contain her smirk when the irritable dragon put the arrogant king in his place.
“No one captured me. I just agreed to help you a bit. Do not misread the situation, foolish king.”
Arzei’s face scrunched up in distaste over being scolded and tried to change the subject. “Hmph, it matters not. So, Romeria, who shall ride the Marquis?”
“A good question, indeed… I was hoping you would lend us the services of someone from the Dragon Brigade,” she suggested as she glanced back at her former friend. Nel’s new knowledge of dragons (from Albel the Wicked himself) taught her that it was near impossible for someone else to ride a powerful air dragon unless they impressed them. She was about to inform her sovereign this fact, but Crosell beat her to it. At least he curbed his tone to the queen…
“Then we must let them decide who will ride,” Romeria continued, in answer to Arzei’s question. “Nel, I must ask you and the others to handle this.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Nel replied with another bow.
With that matter settled, the monarchs headed inside the castle while Fayt and the others dispersed and either explored the city or tried to help out the runologists. The researchers estimated that it would take at least another two days before they were ready to take on the Vendeeni. Measuring Crosell for the Thunder Arrow harness was going to take an entire day.
Since it was decided that only those who impressed the Marquis could ride, it meant that Nel had to control the Thunder Arrow and learn the controls to use it. The weapon wasn’t ready yet, so all she had were the notes on how to operate it. Due to the fact that she had nothing better to do, she decided to study them so she could be prepared when field testing the weapon.
She was out in the White Dew Garden pacing around while researchers, guards, and off-duty spies under her command milled around to either work or catch a glimpse of the legendary dragon. That much didn’t bother her- what did bother her happened a few hours later, closer to the end of the day. She could feel someone’s eyes on her as she tried to study.
Nel didn’t even have to look up to know who was staring at her. Albel. She remembered hearing someone asking Fayt to tell Albel to stop roaming the streets. The Wicked One was making everyone in the city nervous so he probably decided to hang around Crosell and make the researchers nervous instead. Unfortunately, his goal was also to distract her…
“Is that him? Albel the Wicked?” Nel heard a voice whisper nearby. She covertly glanced to the side and found two of her subordinates huddled together to gossip. The spy recalled their faces, but not their names since she didn’t often deal with them directly. They actually belonged to the Legion of the Void and must’ve been sent back to Aquios on a short leave. The Legion of the Void was also under her command, but since the war with Airyglyph took precedence over Greeton, she assigned a second in command to command the agents there.
“I think so,” the other girl whispered. She was an average beauty with short blonde hair and blue runes on her legs and arms. The girl then let out a grin and a playful growl. “I know he was the enemy and all, but ooh! What a body! I wouldn’t mind trapping him somewhere and having my way with him.”
“I don’t know,” the first one muttered worriedly. Nel could see her face better and was able to note the green eyes that were framed by reddish brown hair. Since red hair was common in her family line, the spy figured that the girl could’ve had common ancestors with her. But it was certain that she didn’t have any close blood relations with her. Astor was the only known relative she had left. “He kinda looks scary with that claw of his…”
“Yeah, but it kind of makes it exciting, don’t you think?” the blonde added in a wistful tone.
The other girl shook her head, “It’s nice to dream, but I don’t like pain. He’d probably kill you than let you seduce him.”
“Oh come on! He is a man and men usually don’t refuse sex… well unless he happens to like other men. Oh I hope not. That would be such a waste.”
Nel finally had enough of listening and abruptly faced the girls. She had to clear her throat loudly to get their attention. They instantly recognized their commander and saluted. The spy turned her attention to the blonde as a plan came to mind. Would Albel really cave into the attentions of another woman? She didn’t think so, but she was curious what he would do with a woman who wanted a piece of him. She knew the girl was a trap specialist and fairly good at close ranged combat, so if Albel should get annoyed and attack her, then she would be able to fight her way out of it.
The only reason she wasn’t upset with the thought of Albel being seduced by another woman was because she was sure he wouldn’t respond. She was also not upset with the two for talking about him since Aquarians talked about the Glyphians almost as much as they did about them. Of course, Aquarians didn’t have asinine sayings like ‘once you try Glyphian, there is no going back’.
“Have you nothing better to do?” Nel inquired as she focused on the blonde. She crossed her arms as the girl stammered out an excuse and an apology for loafing around. The red haired woman shook her head and quickly reassured her that she wasn’t in trouble. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad- I was just wondering if you had enough free time to do a task for me. See that man over there?”
The spy then gestured towards Albel with a quick nod. Both girls followed her gaze and widened their eyes as they realized that she was referring to the same man they were admiring a moment ago.
“Ye-yes…” the blonde stammered before she glanced back at her leader fearfully.
“He has nothing to do and he’s making the others nervous. Could you show him around the castle and then show him where the guest rooms are? Take as long as you need and report back once he’s settled in his room,” Nel ordered as the girl glanced at her quizzically. Her subordinates were no fools. Being told to show around an attractive guy alone was almost too good to be true.
“Really?” she confirmed as she tilted her head. For some reason, she felt like she was being set up for some sick prank.
“Yes, really,” Nel confirmed with a professional air about her. But before she could send the girl off, she did decide to warn her, “Be aware of his short temper. He knows better than to start trouble within the city, but don’t test him.”
“Yes Lady Nel!” the blonde saluted before she ran off to speak with Albel.
She glanced back at the remaining girl and dismissed her. The spy then acted like she was reading her notes again, but glanced at the two from the corner of her eye. Albel already appeared annoyed as the blonde tried to convince him to go with her. But soon she said something that made him pause and consider her offer. Nel wasn’t sure what she told him, but he soon followed after her without a lingering glance at the spy.
Her eyes narrowed when she realized that he was up to something and was most likely taking advantage of her subordinate’s offer. But she dismissed it in the back of her mind and went back to work. What was important was the fact that he wasn’t lurking back there anymore and she could finally focus.
About an hour later, the blonde finally returned to report and she appeared panicked and worried.
“What’s the matter?” Nel wondered when she noticed the girl’s features.
“I’m so sorry, Lady Nel! I lost sight of Lord Albel. I was showing him around as you requested and he suddenly disappeared on me the moment my back was turned. I tried looking everywhere for him!”
Nel resisted the urge to close her eyes and shake her head in disappointment. How did she see that coming? “Where was the last place you had seen him?”
“Close to the dormitories. I was about to lead him to the guest room,” she replied with a small flush. Apparently she couldn’t wait to corner him and try her luck so she had to lead him straight to the rooms.
The spy had a fairly good idea where he went from there. “I see. I’m sure he’s fine. At the very least he is not here distracting the others. You have done well. Thank you.”
“Um…okay,” the blonde said slowly before she went off to search for her friend. The spy decided that she had studied enough for one day and headed off to her room to retire.
Nel could only imagine how her subordinate convinced Albel to go with her. It probably went something like ‘I could show you to your room- I believe it’s located in the same area where Lady Nel sleeps.’ But the blonde was also a spy and wasn’t dimwitted enough to divulge information like that for any reason. Who knew what gave Albel the idea to follow her?
But she was sure he asked questions when they reached the dorms. She could imagine her subordinate answering idle questions like ‘where does that door lead?’ Nel could bet that Albel disappeared shortly after figuring out which room was hers…
She was quick to discover that her thoughts were correct and found the Wicked One reclining on her bed as if he owned it. She noted that his claw was on her table and that he had already cleaned and bandaged his arm. A brief inspection of her room told her that he had been everywhere. She used to have a neat stack of papers on her desk that were now spread out. Her eyes wandered over to her bookshelf to find that all of her books had been rearranged- obviously from someone pulling them out to glance at the cover.
Nel let out a sigh before she locked her door and placed her notes on her desk. Albel crossed the line by invading her sanctuary. Not once did she ever poke and prod in his room when they were in Airyglyph. She glanced at her dresser and other areas of her room before she wondered what else he had gone through. No matter, she planned to have her revenge soon enough- but perhaps not tonight. At least he seemed to have left the Palmira Wishing Charm alone. She was a little worried he would scoff at the flower chain and toss it away in disgust. He had little love for religion and folklore.
“No one had seen you come in here, right?” she confirmed as she approached the bed with her arms crossed. While he was stealthy, he was no spy. With the castle guards on high alert because of his presence, it could be hard for him to sneak around. His eyes were closed, but the smirk on his face clearly told her he was still awake.
“Don’t worry, the maggots didn’t notice a thing,” he reassured her before he opened his eyes and stared up at her. So long as no one tried to look for him, he could get away with staying every night. It was certain that he was going to insist sneaking in regardless of what she wanted. She leaned over the bed long enough to unlatch her window and informed him to use that to enter and leave her room. Coming in through the front door was just begging for trouble.
“I’m going to wash up. Don’t wander around,” she warned him before she walked over to her small bathroom.
She could tell he had been in there, too. It wasn’t as obvious at it was in her room. She just knew it. Albel wanted to leave his mark everywhere just to prove that he had been there and that he had a right to be there because he claimed the original owner as his own. But oh, how it irked her that he most likely rearranged her soaps and other toiletries.
She glanced back at the now closed door to make sure he was going to respect her wishes before she went about replacing the linens in her underwear. She grimaced at the amount of blood that managed to gather on Albel’s spare bandages and threw the long ribbon into her bathtub. She intended to let it soak in cold water so the blood wouldn’t set, but she realized that there was too much there to prevent staining. This was her heaviest bleeding cycle yet. Thank Apris it would be over tomorrow…
Nel washed her face and removed her armor before she went about washing the borrowed linens. It had stained as she had feared, but Albel seemed to have wanted it anyway. She hung the bandages on the rail of the bathing curtain to dry before she finished getting dressed for bed. She emerged from her bathroom in a long sleeping robe and found the Wicked One still on her bed, behaving himself.
For a while, she just stood against the doorframe to watch him. He had taken off his shirt, armor, and boots. All he had left on was his sarong- he even had taken off his metal choker. He seemed almost peaceful, even though she was certain he wasn’t really asleep. His damaged arm rested on his belly while the other was behind his head for support.
She could tell with the way that his brows furrowed together slightly that he was thinking about something. If she were to guess, it was probably about the fight they had with the Marquis. She noticed that lost look on his face shortly after they defeated the dragon and knew he was most likely going to have to come to terms with what he had done. He had faced part of his past and conquered it. It was going to take him time to get used to the idea that he could overcome the shadows that haunted his mind. Unfortunately, Nel had no idea what he was going through and couldn’t begin to understand his confliction.
She found herself by her bedside once again to look down at him. She didn’t want to disturb him, but she had to eventually. He was going to have to move so she could get in bed. “I have a spare sleeping robe if you need one.”
Most Aquarian robes were designed to be loose so he would have no trouble fitting into one of hers. The only issue was that he was much taller than she was and the robe would most likely be too short on him, but he probably wouldn’t care less.
“And why would I need one?” he inquired casually as he opened one eye. He didn’t seem like he was brooding, but he was good at pushing back his worries if he had a good distraction.
“Because we’re not doing anything other than sleeping tonight,” she reminded him flatly. She barely caught the smirk as his good hand suddenly fisted in the front of her robe.
“Think again,” he muttered before he pulled her down.
By the time she regained her senses, she was somehow underneath him in bed and one of the shoulders of her robe had been pushed down far enough to expose her bridal rune and left breast. His mouth was already at her shoulder, licking and biting gently on the rune. His good hand rested between her breasts to keep her down, his burnt arm was supporting most of his weight above her.
“A-Albel!” she shouted in surprise as she tried to push him off her. The Wicked One let out a laugh as he let her push him up, then he deliberately fell onto her to effectively trap her.
“Hearing you say my name makes me want to ravage you,” he growled into her ear mischievously.
“I’m still bleeding!” Nel protested as she tried with all her strength to squirm out from under him.
“I don’t care.” He chuckled. The spy had it. The moment he started to push himself back up, she punched him in the stomach and tossed him over to his side of the bed. The bastard was still laughing.
“Obviously you have no sense of humor, woman,” he said once he was able to recover from the minor blow. Since the angle was awkward and he was in peak physical condition, her blow to his midsection only hurt him mildly and winded him. She huffed before she rolled over to her side and presented her back to him.
“That wasn’t funny,” she sneered before she allowed a smirk to appear on her face. Tomorrow, she was going to punish him and she knew just how to do it. “Good night, Albel.”
He just grunted in reply, disappointed that it was going to end like that. She let her mind relax and drifted off to sleep. Before she was completely out, she remembered feeling him shift behind her to pull up the covers before he settled himself behind her.
When she awakened that morning, she found that he managed to wrap himself around her overnight. His good arm was draped over the valley of her waist and his hand was cupped lightly over her left breast. Their legs were a tangled mess with one thigh wedged between hers and the other leg thrown over her hip so that his groin was flush against her bottom.
She didn’t recall having to wake up last night so she assumed that he didn’t have any nightmares. For a while, she was worried he might since his encounter with Crosell, but maybe he did come to some conclusion to help him move on. Or- perhaps all he needed was a warm body to distract him from the thoughts that led to the nightmares.
Nel cursed when she realized that the sun was shining through her windows. She had overslept.
“What’s the rush, woman? I doubt they need you this soon,” his voice muttered behind her, proving that he had been awake for quite some time. She continued to move his arms out of the way so she could sit up.
“Others get worried if I’m not up by now. I don’t want them to come check up on me while you’re in here,” she replied before she pushed herself up and headed for the bathroom.
“Bah. They should learn to mind their own business,” he muttered, not knowing who ‘they’ were. Despite the fact that she was the leader of the Secret Legion, many of her subordinates looked up to her and were willing to protect her at any cost- even to the point of invading her privacy to make sure she was safe. It should’ve been the other way around.
She quickly dressed and gathered Albel’s now dry, but permanently stained bandages. She then tossed them at his head as she rushed over to her door. She barely noticed that he was already dressed and had his claw back on before she unlocked her door. But at least she caught the indignant look on his face as he struggled to get the linens off his head.
“See you tonight,” she called back to him before carefully leaving. She hoped that none of the maids would try to enter and clean her room while he was still in there.
Nel had another reason why she needed to leave. This was the time Lasselle had paperwork to sign and she needed to speak with the queen without his presence. Romeria was enjoying a late brunch in her chambers while the King of Airyglyph was off elsewhere. The spy couldn’t ask for a more perfect opportunity. As a Crimson Blade, she was allowed to enter the queen’s chambers at her leisure without having to explain herself to any of the guards.
Romeria seemed surprised to see her, but held her regal pose as the red haired woman knelt down near her feet. “What is it, Lady Nel? It is unlike you to visit us at this hour.”
“I have something of a personal nature to discuss with you, Your Majesty- one that I would rather not have the magistrate know about until you know the entire story,” the spy announced, her head bowed toward the floor respectfully.
The queen paused for a moment and considered her words. It wasn’t often that her spy would approach her about anything personal. Most of her audiences involved reports about missions or the war. “Very well, you may speak.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Nel replied gratefully before she let in a deep breath. “I would like to bring up a matter concerning Albel Nox of Airyglyph. During our journey through the Barr Mountains, I have discovered that he is in favor of peace, unlike Duke Vox. He may have some future influence in King Airyglyph’s court and I believe it would be in our best interest to work with him in keeping the peace.”
Nel never thought she would be putting in a good word for Albel the Wicked to the queen, but it was the truth. Even though Albel wouldn’t exactly be an ally of Aquaria, Nel felt that his presence in his kingdom was important to prevent war. Whatever support she could enlist the queen to give would benefit him and the people he was trying to protect greatly. And- this was the only way she could see her queen agreeing to allow Aquarian engineers to craft a working prosthetic limb for him.
Announcing to the queen that she trusted Albel wouldn’t be enough of a reason to give him a new arm. He needed to be of some use to the court- even if it was an indirect usefulness. If any naysayers were worried that the man would turn against Aquaria, Nel could always vow to take back the arm and put their minds at ease. After all, if she were going to amputate him, then it would be no trouble to chop off the prosthetic if she needed to.
“I see…” Romeria responded as she bowed her head to think. “The king would also like to make amends and prevent the continuation of the war at any cost. He did mention Sir Albel’s name in the discussion of peace treaties.”
The spy was a little surprised to hear that the king included Albel in his plans for peace. She was under the impression that the Wicked One was viewed unsuitable for negotiations. Then again- maybe his real role was to bully nobles against the movement into submission and guard the lives of the diplomats. That was more a role she could see him taking on- seeing as how he was too rude and bluntly honest for diplomacy.
“Furthermore- if we are not mistaken, Sir Albel is next in line for the throne of Airyglyph, should the king fail to have heirs. In fact we believe he is the last legitimate heir left after Arzei.”
She wasn’t all that surprised to hear that. Thanks to the fact that Arzei had disposed of most the corrupt nobles from his court the moment he was crowned, many of the other potential heirs were gone or no longer considered legitimate. But what did make her stop and ponder was the fact that Albel wasn’t already the king. He was obviously the direct descendant of the first king and that should entitle him to first right to the throne. What happened in history that pushed the Nox clan to last in line?
Then again- she knew Albel wanted nothing to do with the crown. He was a little violent and unorthodox, but he would’ve made a fine king for his insight on what his people needed. But the fact that he would have to rely on others would only kill him on the inside. Nel was suddenly glad that her scarf was covering her mouth. She couldn’t stop the smirk as her mind imagined the Wicked One in kingly robes with a bored expression on his face. But she had to quickly push the image from her mind so she could focus on the matter at hand.
“All the more reason for me to ask of this one request,” she began before she went into vague detail about Albel’s arm and the complications that could arise should he not have the arm replaced with a prosthetic. “Of course, our kingdom has the technology, but there is little trust between us due in part to the tensions that still exist. I merely request that Her Majesty consider offering a prosthetic as a sign of goodwill and to help foster the peace.”
“A just request,” the queen commented, appearing a little curious as to why Nel of all people was trying to push the idea. “I shall speak with King Airyglyph and if Sir Albel agrees, we shall arrange for it to happen.”
“I thank you, Your Majesty.” Nel bowed her head again before she stood. She was stopped before she could leave.
“I am curious…” Romeria started, speaking as a person and not the sovereign. “What reason do you have to involve yourself in this matter? I do welcome your advice as much as I welcome Lasselle’s, but I find it odd that you would help one that you had to fight on the battlefield.”
“I have learned the difference between an enemy and a man who is only fighting to protect his country. I bring this matter before you because I have come to view Albel Nox as a friend and someone I can hope to count on in mending the relationship between our kingdoms,” Nel replied without turning to face her queen. She wasn’t exactly sure how Albel could help with the peace, but she knew he did have the intent. The image of him giving food to the starving homeless was forever ingrained in her mind.
If Nel had bothered to glance over her shoulder, she would’ve seen the small smile on Romeria’s face. “We are relieved to hear that, Lady Nel. This court needs more people who wish to bring prosperity to Aquaria beyond her borders. This is a trait that Lasselle sorely lacks. May we count on you to speak with Airyglyph in future talks?”
Basically, she was asking for her to act as a diplomat. Doing so would mean she would have to face the king and Woltar far more often than she would like… but other than Clair, she was probably the only one who could bury her emotions and make sure the treaty was fair to both sides.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Nel responded as she turned and bowed to her. It was the last job she would ever choose to do, but she was willing to do whatever it took to bring about the peace her father wanted.
Albel wandered the halls of the castle, bored out of his mind. Since he knew nothing of runology or runological weapons, there was nothing he could do to help. His role in the mission was essentially over and all that was left for him to do was wait and see if the plan would work. But it was estimated that it would take another day before they could say everything was ready.
The Wicked One had hoped that if he wandered the halls, then he would attract the attention of the guards and goad them to a fight. Since he was on foreign soil, he couldn’t directly challenge anyone without making his kingdom look bad. All he needed was one hotheaded fool to start a fight. But unfortunately, the guards were relatively well behaved. They did shoot nasty glares at him as he passed, but they remained silent and stayed at their posts. Lasbard (the female one) had trained them well.
He had briefly thought about tracking down the male Lasbard or Nel and convince them to a sparring session, but he knew they were too busy preparing for the upcoming battle in the skies. Nel had to learn how to fire the Thunder Arrow and Adray was busy training the Dragon Brigade how to wield the Aquarian weapons. After a while, the dark warrior decided that it wouldn’t be so bad to watch the Dragon Brigade maggots struggle under the aged runologist’s harsh training.
Catching a glimpse of the runological weapons and learning how they were used could prove to be an advantage should the situation ever arise for him to wield one. Albel would prefer to rely solely on his swordsmanship and the ancient battle techniques passed down in his family, but he knew better than to limit himself in battle. There could come a time when he might not have a sword or his claw available and he refused to be left defenseless in those circumstances.
Either way, he had to find something to occupy his time so he wouldn’t have to think about Crosell or the morality of finally defeating him. The fact that his failed ceremony resulted in the Marquis turning against Glyphians was enough to make him feel guilty. After all, it weakened the Dragon Brigade by reducing their ability to recruit lesser air dragons and it limited worthy warriors from bonding with strong mounts.
By the time Albel realized that his mind was wandering to the issue he was avoiding, he finally figured out why he wasn’t satisfied. The image of the Marquis on a rampage was the last thing he had seen during the most traumatic moment in his life. It was also the same time he had to watch his father be burned alive in front of him. It was easy to confuse the two very different issues and blend the guilt together.
Defeating Crosell and enlisting him to help both kingdoms was enough to repay Airyglyph for the massive loss of new air dragons- but it had nothing to do with the shame of failing his ceremony and the pain he felt from losing his father. He still had to repent for that… But hadn’t he done enough? Once the ordeal with the invaders was over, he was going to ensure the war wouldn’t start up again- and he had taken a wife with the intent of continuing the family line. They were things his father would’ve wanted, so why did he feel so confused?
He was just about to dismiss everything and decide that he wasn’t satisfied because he wasn’t meant to be happy. Failures didn’t deserve happiness. But before he could leave it at that, he came across voices- one of them he recognized. Someone had foolishly left the door open to one of the rooms so that anyone passing by in the hall could hear. Under normal situations, Albel would just ignore it and continue on, but he easily picked up the voice of his king and couldn’t leave until he was certain he was protected.
He may have not favored his liege or his rule, but he did vow to protect the man when he was first knighted. After all, Arzei was all that stood between him and the throne of Airyglyph. He would prefer it stay that way.
It disturbed Albel to discover that Arzei was in the personal room of some Aquarian maggot and that he was alone with said Aquarian. But it wasn’t until he started listening in on the conversation when he realized what was going on.
“You’ll never change, Elena,” the king said in a fond tone. Elena… that was the name of the worm Arzei so foolishly hesitated for. Had he not have feelings for that Aquarian worm, Airyglyph would’ve easily conquered Aquaria within a week.
Albel listened to the idle banter for a moment and was about to leave when he was satisfied that the king was relatively safe, but there was something that the Elena-worm said that made him pause.
“Arzei… I think we are not meant to be happy. I think our right to happiness, bestowed by the gods, was burned to ashes in the flames of war.”
He had to admit that he was impressed that she would refuse a king, but her words made him pause. He was just thinking about how he wasn’t meant to be happy. But that worm wasn’t in the same position as he was. He was fairly certain the wench had no say in the war. Her only crime was developing a weapon that could’ve killed hundreds of his comrades- and yet she was taking half of the blame for a decision she didn’t make. Her refusal was meant to punish them both for causing the war and making innocents suffer- that made the Wicked One respect her.
“I see. So you’ve made up your mind, then?” the king inquired, controlling his emotions very well.
“Don’t look so disappointed. Anyway, I’ll be unhappy right along with you. Understand?”
And that just floored Albel. It was similar to his reason for marking Nel. He wanted someone to be miserable with him. But- as of late the pain had been fading and he was feeling more happy thanks to her. That was when he realized what his problem was- he was happy when he shouldn’t be.
His king’s selfish decision to wage war made Elena sacrifice her feelings for him to help him repent the wrongs he made. In a way, it was no different from how Albel made Nel sacrifice her piece of mind and her chances in being happy with another. The Wicked One realized that it wasn’t just about him anymore- Nel made him happy and he had to move on in order to make her happy. He couldn’t continue to repent after everything he had done to make things right again. Doing so would only drag her down with him and he didn’t want that anymore.
It was also at that moment when Albel lost what little respect he had for Arzei. The king accepted Elena’s decision and let her go without a fight. It was true that he was ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds, but that didn’t mean he had to suffer for it for the rest of his life. He didn’t have to allow someone else to suffer on his behalf either- even if it were her choice to do so.
Albel finally had his answer- both he and the king had something important to do for Airyglyph and they couldn’t waste their lives moping about it, nor could they drag any more people into their sorrow. He had to go on living despite the wrongs he committed in the past. He had to do so for his father and for Nel…
“Albel?” Arzei called out when he noticed the former captain out in the hall. The Wicked One had manage to walk a few steps away from the door when his king came out, but he didn’t try to run or hide. “Why are you standing there?”
“You need heirs,” Albel muttered lowly, his voice loud enough for the man behind him to hear. Arzei glared at his subject as he realized he was referring to his conversation with Elena. He didn’t have the chance to be upset with the Wicked One for eavesdropping since he had to bring up a painful point.
“That is none of your concern. Our matters are private-”
“This is my concern. You know my position very well and I would rather keep my father’s wishes alive. The Nox clan should only protect Airyglyph- not rule it,” Albel sneered without glancing at his king. Even though he could’ve been more subtle or more supportive about it, Albel was only trying to help his king move on. The least he could do was prevent someone else from going down the same path he had. Arzei closed his mouth and pondered his words.
“Very well…” He eventually relented before he passed the Wicked One and headed for the stairs. “Rest assured that there will be heirs, but I will not find happiness.”
Albel glared at his king’s back. He wasn’t sure what to make of that. So long as he created a new generation and didn’t bring Airyglyph to ruin, Albel had no say over his life. He would prefer it if the king continued to pursue Elena, but that was out of the dark warrior’s hands.
“Bah… Fool,” he growled to himself before he turned on his heel and stormed back the way he came. While he had no say over his liege’s life, he had control over his own. He was going to strive to bring peace to his kingdom and make the woman he loved happy.
He had repented enough- it was time for him to move on and enjoy what he had in front of him. He was no longer that prideful whelp of fifteen years. He was finally the man his father had died for and he wasn’t about to let his sacrifice be in vain.