حين تغسل يديك خوفاً من ال #كورونا أكمل #الوضوء خوفاً من #الله
الاعلامي محمد العشي في زمن #الكورونا
حين تغسل يديك خوفاً من ال #كورونا أكمل #الوضوء خوفاً من #الله
الاعلامي محمد العشي في زمن #الكورونا
What can melt a frozen heart? I wonder…
It was 7 a.m. and he was already up and running. As soon as he stepped out of his room, a medic was standing there with his medicine in hand. Knowing that medic was simply following Luna’s order, there was no point in arguing with him. He took his pills and made his way to the manor gates.
The silver-blond woman showed up a few minutes later. He looked at Aranea and she wore a long fur-lined black coat and a muted red scarf with matching fingerless gloves. The zipper of her jacket has a large round accessory with a red gem. Her long-heeled boots matched her leather trousers.
“Aren’t you overdressed?” he asked, as she approached closer.
“No, dummy, you are underdressed. Go back and put on more layers of clothes. It is below freezing where we are going.”
“I think I should be fine,” he brushed it off.
“I can’t take any chances. Your girlfriend would kill me if you get hypothermia,” she exclaimed.
“For the last time, Luna is not my girlfriend,” he shook his head.
“Who said anything about Luna? You brought her up. The proper response should have been, ‘I am an emo loaner and I don’t have a girlfriend.’” She smirked.
“Ugh. I hate you,” he moaned.
“Aww sweetie, I hate you too,” she replied, playfully punching on his arm.
“Whatever,” both Squall and Aranea said at the same time.
“So predictable,” she caroled in a singsong voice. He just ignored her.
“Now go put on some more clothes while I raid the pantry,” she instructed, walking in the manor.
Once ready, they made their way towards the railway station.
“Are we going by train?” Squall asked.
“No, we are going in that,” she pointed at an imperial airship.
“Is that safe?” he asked with concern.
“There is no place safer than that. It is my airship,” she proclaimed.
“Wow!” He marveled at the state-of-the-art airship.
“Hello Lady A,” welcomed Biggs, as they entered the airship.
“Hello Biggs and Wedge,” she greeted her loyal companions. Wedge just nodded in response.
‘Hmm. Biggs and Wedge, these names sound familiar.’ He wondered.
“Thank you so much for taking care of things at Lucis.”
“It’s our pleasure lady A,” Biggs replied courteously.
Everyone saluted her as she walked into the ship.
“You never told me your rank,” Squall noted.
“Because it’s not important,” she brushed it off. “But if you must know, I am the commodore of the Niflheim Empire’s Third Army Corps 86th Airborne Unit.”
“Impressive,” he admitted.
This airship was the first time Squall got a close look at Imperial technology. It was a scientific marvel. The airship’s thrusters roared, and within seconds they were soaring in the sky.
They were barely a few klicks away from Tenebrae when the entire landscape changed. The lush green terrain was replaced with layers and layers of unending snow. The temperature dropped sharply.
“What’s our mission?” he asked, looking outside from the window at a frozen snowscape.
“To retrieve a legendary item called Frozen Tear,” she stated.
“What’s so special about it?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. The legend has it that whenever Shiva suffers immense pain, a tear escapes her eyes and due to the extreme cold, it is crystallized instantly. It is said that the luster of this Frozen Tear would put a thousand diamonds to shame. Niflheim retrieved one such tear when they killed Shiva,” Aranea informed.
“One of our scouts reported observing Frozen Tear on Shiva’s corporeal body. We will go check it out and if it’s true, we will grab it for ourselves before Niflheim can get their hands on it,” she briefed.
“But, aren’t you working for Niflheim?”
“It’s complicated,” she stated, clearing a strand of hair on her face.
The snowstorm outside was intensifying with every passing second.
“Lady A, we won’t be able to go much further because of this snowstorm. You would have to get there on a snowmobile from here,” informed Biggs.
“That is fine. You can drop us here,” Aranea agreed to the plan.
“Alright, lowering the altitude,” he announced to the crew.
“Your snowmobile is in the hanger,” Wedges informed.
Aranea nodded and got up from her seat. Squall followed her as well. She opened the door connecting the cabin and the hanger and made her way in.
Squall stepped in and looked at the snowmobile. It was a military grade snowmobile with a high-caliber machine gun mounted on it. He noticed a strange carving near the bottom of the vehicle. He crouched down to inspect. It had Trepe etched into it.
“That’s the name of my snowmobile,” Aranea revealed, looking at his quizzical expression.
‘Trepe, where have I heard that name before?’ He wondered.
“I did not know you liked to give names to objects,” he pointed.
“Shut it, scar-face.”
“What is this ship called?” he inquired.
“It’s called Save the Queen. I am not very sentimental about names, but having names makes things easier to locate,” she reasoned.
“Strange choice for a ship name,” he remarked.
She just shrugged. “The crew came up with it.”
Once Squall got up from examining the snowmobile, Aranea handed him something. “Take this pill.”
“What is it?” he asked, inspecting the red gel pill.
“This pill would prevent body temperature from dropping down even in extreme conditions. A mad scientist named Dr. Verstael created it when we fought against Shiva.”
‘There was a mad scientist in my world, but for some reason, I can picture him wearing clown’s clothes. Weird.’ His mind recollected a distant memory.
Squall took the pill and swallowed it quickly.
“Lady A, this is as far as we can go. Let me know when you are ready and I’ll open the hanger,” said the overhead voice of Biggs.
“Can I drive?” Squall asked with the eagerness of a child.
“I know this terrain better, so I’ll drive. How about you ride it on the way back?” she offered.
“Deal,” he accepted, reluctantly.
After sitting properly on their snowmobile, Aranea gave the signal to open the hanger.
A cold wind rushed in as soon as the hangar door opened.
“Ready to go?” she asked, glancing back at him from the corner of her eyes.
“Always,” he replied, giving a thumbs up.
She glided her snowmobile, Trepe, from the hangar onto the snow. The snowmobile landed, sending puffs of snow in all directions.
“We go north from here,” she declared, looking at the inbuilt compass next to the speedometer. “Also, brace yourself for the cold.”
“Where are we?” he asked, looking at their surroundings. Everywhere he looked was just a sea of white snow.
“We are in Ghorovas Rift within the region of Vogliupe. This is a treacherous icy terrain enveloped in a perpetual blizzard,” she informed.
They went at slow speed for a while, which made Squall wonder if that was the max capacity of the snowmobile.
“Ready for some thrill?” She asked, breaking the silence.
Before Squall could even respond, Aranea floored the accelerator and zoomed away. Squall didn’t know if he should be thrilled or scared.
The frostbite and the chilly wind felt like it was cutting through the skin, yet the speed at which they were going gave a satisfying thrill. As the speed picked up, the adrenaline took over, giving them a thrill of their life. The snowmobile seemed to glide on the snow almost frictionless.
In spite of low visibility because of the blizzard, they were now close enough to see the giant corporal body of Shiva.
Aranea suddenly braked hard, causing her snowmobile to spin a couple of times. Squall barely held on as it spun out of control, eventually coming to a stop.
“What happened?” he asked, breathless.
“Daemons,” she growled, narrowing her eyes.
Squall immediately looked around, but could not see any threat. “I don’t see any daemons,” he stated.
“Not around you, look beneath you,” she instructed, jumping off the snowmobile.
He looked down, and the snow started to shift on its own. Suddenly, hordes of Snaga came out all around them. The 4 ft monster was relatively weak, but what it lacks in strength they made up with overwhelming numbers.
“Be careful, they like to steal potions from people,” Aranea warned.
Both being seasoned fighters made the fight easier. After clearing the horde of Snaga with relative ease, they continued their journey deeper into the blizzard.
The path got narrower through the snow-covered woods as they progressed, eventually to the point where the trail was just wide enough for their snowmobile.
They soon came to a stop, as the only path forward was blocked off by fallen trees. They got off their vehicles to clear out the path, only to be ambushed by Wraith. It was a 9 ft tall macabre daemon that levitates. It kept its victims at arm’s length to grapple and squeeze the very life from its prey.
They were surrounded by 10 Wraith, shutting down any chance of escaping. They closed in on them slowly as both warriors stood there with weapons ready to strike.
“Any bright ideas?” Squall asked.
“Wraiths are slow-moving. If we hit them from the back, we can link up our attacks.”
“You go, I’ll distract them.”
Aranea nodded and with one high jump disappeared from the sight and landed a few feet behind the Wraiths.
Squall released a salvo of bullets from his gunblade at multiple Wraiths enraging them. Some rushed towards him for a physical attack while others targeted him with a magical attack. Squall deflected all physical attacks and used other Wraiths as the cover to dodge the magical attacks.
“Incoming at 6 o’clock,” declared Aranea, preparing a high jump attack.
Squall knew what she meant and replied, “Ready.”
Aranea’s attack the Wraith directly behind Squall and he capitalized on that vulnerability to execute his link attack, Relentless Revolver. Together they decimated the Wraith in one conjoined attack.
Aranea jumped back to create some separation between her and wraiths while Squall drew their attention.
“3,” he heard Aranea say.
“Okay,” he stated, giving the signal to attack.
The Wraith to the right of Squall was decimated next.
Leon and Luna made a balanced team with one focusing on offense and the other providing the defense. Squall and Aranea, on the other hand, were an all-out offensive team, that could devastate the mightiest of foes. They were like a well-oiled machine working in perfect synchronization.
Knowing the fighting excellence of Aranea, Squall never had to worry about protecting her as he knew she was more than capable of taking care of herself, which made it different from fighting with Luna. Aranea had the same trust in Squall’s abilities, which made them a fierce team.
One after another, they picked off all the Wraiths and continued their journey further.
“This used to be a holy site. Pilgrims from all over Eos would come here to pay tribute to the Goddess of Ice. In M.E. 745, Niflheim slew the awakened Astral Shiva, leaving her gigantic corpse lying in the gorge. A strange phenomenon turned part of the desert wasteland into a dark icy landscape ever since. We lost many lives that day. It is said that those fallen soldiers became daemons and haunt these very grounds,” she explained.
“You mean to say that the Wraith we slay back there were people once?”
“Yes. It changes the whole perspective of the fight, doesn’t it?”
“Niflheim has started converting civilians into demons to gain an advantage in the battlefield. I don’t agree with that practice. I signed up for the military so I could protect those who can’t protect themselves, not for this. I’ve been thinking about quitting and going back to being a mercenary. But I do love my country too. I am not really sure what to do anymore,” Aranea narrated.
“I see,” he replied, sounding uninterested.
“Is that all you are going to say?”
“What am I supposed to say about other people’s problems?” he replied callously.
“You know are such an ass sometimes. When someone shares their problems, they are expecting you to either console or advise them. And not be indifferent about it,” she chided him.
“I am sorry. I wasn’t trying to be indifferent towards your problem. I just didn’t think that my opinion on this matter would have swayed your decision,” he revealed.
“Why would I ask your opinion if it didn’t matter to me, dumbass? You are my friend, of course, your opinion matters,” she urged.
“Ask yourself, would you be able to do more good by staying with the Empire or against them? If you stay with the Empire, you get information on their movements, research, and can protect civilians. As long as you have something worth protecting, I think you should stay,” he counseled.
“See, was it so difficult to just share your thoughts? You think too much and never say enough, that’s why that scowl never leaves your face. Sharing your thoughts is a necessity in a healthy relationship,” she advised.
“Ya, you are probably right,” he acknowledged.
Once again silence accompanied them as they moved on.
“You haven’t said anything, is my charm making you nervous?” she joked, breaking the silence.
“Oh please,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Squall. Is there something on your mind?” Aranea asked.
“Not really,” he replied.
“Not really,” she said, almost in sync with Squall. She broke into giggles.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, getting annoyed.
“Funny? No, no, it’s not that! I’m just happy. I feel like I’m finally beginning to understand you a little. That’s all,” she stated, clasping her hands.
“I’m more complex than you think.” He folded his hands and looked away like a child.
“Then tell me. Tell me more about yourself,” she appealed.
“It’s none of your…”
“…Business!” she finished his line and started laughing once again.
“You are annoying,” he fumed, before walking ahead.
They cleared out another horde of Wraiths as they got closer to the fallen Shiva.
“We should walk from here,” she instructed as snow intensified. “Welcome to the resting place of Shiva.”
The cold wind amplified with every step they took towards Shiva. The visibility dropped greatly as the snowstorm picked up. They had to put a hand in front of their face so snow doesn’t go into their eyes directly. The corporeal form of Shiva was hundreds of feet tall. She lay on the ground froze in time. Her entire body was submerged in the snow with her upper torso visible. The expression on her face was of pain and anguish.
Once they got close enough, Aranea shined a laser on Shiva’s face.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“This is a special laser which would refract from a prism. Using this, I am trying to locate the Frozen Tear.”
She had been scanning her face for a few minutes, but she did not locate the legendary treasure. She was starting to believe it was a myth.
“Let me try,” Squall appealed, finally getting tired of waiting in this extreme cold.
“If we don’t find it in the next two minutes, we leave,” she declared, handing him the laser.
The two minutes had gone by and even Squall wasn’t able to find anything.
“We should go now. This was a waste of time,” she complained.
Just as he was retreating the light away from Shiva’s face, Aranea noticed something shinning.
“Wait, I got it. I saw something shining just as you were retreating the light. It was somewhere around her left eye.”
Squall scanned the area carefully. Finally, a rainbow-colored pattern was formed at the edge of her eyes because of refraction from prism-like Frozen Tear. Shiva’s hair covered the edge of her left eye, masking the tear.
“This is awesome,” Aranea exclaimed. “I’ll go get it.”
She tossed her spear towards Shiva and warped there. Her warping was different than the ones Lucian soldiers used, it left a red trail behind indicating magitek use in it.
She proclaimed the mythical treasure while Squall stood there wondering what it would feel like to warp.
“We got it, Squall,” she proclaimed, hugging or rather tackling Squall in excitement.
Squall pushed her off and got up first, “Good. Now, let’s get out of this frozen hell.”
As they were making their way towards the snowmobile, a hailstorm of snow flew in their direction as something huge landed with a thud. They turned around and a 46 ft tall demon awaited them.
“I was wondering where did the Deathclaw go?” Aranea said with an eerie excitement.
Deathclaw had a bulky bone structure. Its name stems from the giant talons on both of its arms. Fighting one is said to equivalent to tempting death itself.
“Let’s get the party started,” she said, readying her spear.
“Aren’t you excited to see him? Your boyfriend?” he suggested.
“No, based on the looks, it must be your relative.” She retorted.
“Whatever,” he said, as he launched into the daemon.
“Squall, be careful of its laser attack,” she warned as she took the aerial route.
Squall unloaded a round of bullets as he ran towards the monster, but it barely flinched. Aranea landed on top of him, impaling her spear, but it shrugged her off.
Both the warriors took turns attacking it from either end, not giving it enough time to use its deadly laser.
A few Wraiths and Snaga emerged from the snow, joining the fray. This distraction gave Deathclaw enough time to conjure its magical laser attacks. The rays spun around it and flew out in straight lines, damaging anything in its path.
Because of snow, Squall’s mobility was severely limited and was unable to dodge the attack in time taking the brunt of the damage.
Aranea landed behind him and healed him with a potion. “Told you to be careful.”
“Sometimes pain brings the best out of you. Here goes, Renzokuken,” he unleashed his limitbreak and followed it up by the Blasting zone causing enormous damage to the beast.
“Not bad. Now watch this,” she jumped and disappeared from the sight and landing square on the Deathclaw with great impact. Her technique, Highwind, was equally effective as Squall’s limitbreak.
The game of one-upmanship carried on as both tried to outdo the other. Which was great for them, but not for the beast.
The Deathclaw created some separation from them and drew its claws together to form a single large laser beam. By now they were familiar with the attack pattern, so they dodged it expertly. However, the powerful laser beam had landed on their snowmobile and bore a hole through the fuel chamber.
Aranea was closer to the snowmobile noticed fuel leaking from the vehicle, “Shit.”
“Squall we need to run,” she yelled.
Squall, who was engaged in close range combat with the beast was oblivious to what had just transpired. “We can defeat this. I got this, don’t worry.”
“Squall, Trepe was hit by the laser attack and our fuel tank is damaged. We have to retreat before all the fuel leaks out.”
“Damn, without snowmobile we would freeze to death walking all the way back,” he realized.
“Come on, hurry,” she urged.
Squall landed one fierce blow on Deathclaw causing it to stumble back. He used this opening to dash toward the snowmobile. Aranea of her part was ready to drive away as soon as Squall gets there.
The snow made it very difficult to run as his feet would sink in the snow with each step he took. Deathclaw had recovered enough by now and started chasing Squall.
Squall was trying his best to run as fast as he can, but the Deathclaw was catching up quickly. “I am not going to make it, you leave and come back for me when you can. I’ll defeat this and find shelter somewhere,” he yelled, running towards Aranea.
“Did anyone tell you that you give out stupid ideas sometimes? I am not leaving you here to die in this cold. Your pill would wear out in a few hours and without it, you would be a statue like Shiva.”
“Come on, be pragmatic,” he urged before turning around and shooting Deathclaw a few times.
“I am not telling your girlfriend that you died under my watch, she would kill me,” Aranea replied.
“Stop being annoying and listen for once. I’ll find a way to survive, trust me.” He commanded.
“Stop being stubborn and listen for once. You don’t have to be a hero every time.” She countered.
The Deathclaw pounced on Squall and he parried its attack in time. He fought with Deathcalw again to damage it enough to create some separation. They were losing fuel with every passing second.
After sufficiently damaging the daemon Squall ran again. He was getting close to the vehicle when Deathclaw got up and lunged itself towards Squall. The demon was right behind him now, he could sense its breath. It raised a claw to take a swipe at Squall when it was impaled with bullets.
Aranea was manning the machine gun on the snowmobile, unloading on Deathclaw. He ran. The monster chased him. And a friend impaled it with bullets to save him. It all felt like a déjà vu.
“You drive, I’ll take care of this,” she instructed.
Squall hopped in the driver’s seat and they sped away while Aranea shoots at the Deathclaw, keep it at bay.
Soon they were out of a narrow trail and into the open and seemingly endless field of snow. They speed away as the fuel gauge was almost empty. Soon the snowmobile came to a standstill.
“Not good. We still have a long way to go. It would take us hours to get to the airship on foot.”
“The sun will set in a few minutes,” he added, further complicating their situation.
“Biggs, can you hear me?” she asked, tapping her communication earpiece. She waited but got no response.
“I think we are still out of range,” she admitted, disappointingly.
“Then let’s keep walking towards it till we get in range,” he suggested and starting to walk.
Neither of them said much as they pondered for a solution for their precarious situation. Considering their distance from Shiva, the chill wind was relatively bearable now, although visibility remained low because of the blizzard.
Aranea kept testing her earpiece frequently, but she got no response. After 20 minutes of walking, Aranea finally connected with Biggs.
“Biggs, can you hear me?”
“Lady A, there is a lot of background noise, I can barely hear you,” replied Biggs. The gushing wind in the background drowned out her voice.
“Squall, can you stay quiet please?” she turned around and said to him.
“What? I haven’t said anything!” he defended, taken by surprise.
“I know, I am just messing with you,” Aranea said with a grin.
“You are insane to be joking at times like this,” he complained, with a facepalm.
“Biggs, Trepe broke down and we are stranded, can you send a rescue team please?”
“All I heard was Biggs, breakdance and rescue,” Biggs relayed to Wedge.
“What? That makes no sense. Let me talk,” said Wedge, taking Biggs’ earpiece.
“Lady A, this is Wedge. Can you please repeat yourself?”
“I said Trepe broke down and we are stranded, can you send a rescue team please?”
“Lady A, we can barely hear you. Can you try from a different location please?”
“Okay,” she resigned.
“What did they say?” inquired Squall.
“They can barely hear me,” she cited, as she marched in the direction of the airship. After walking for 10 more minutes, the wind had slowed down considerably.
“Can you hear me now?” she inquired.
“Yes, Lady A, we can hear you loud and clear,” came the reply from Biggs, who had taken his earpiece back from Wedge.
“Trepe broke down so we are walking towards the ship.”
Biggs tracked her location using the inbuilt GPS in her earpiece.
“Lady A, you are a considerable distance away from the ship. I can dispatch a rescue team but it will be nightfall by the time they get there.”
“What are my options?” she questioned.
“We can dispatch teams to escort you back here. We’ll have to fight daemons on the way back,” he offered.
“No, that would be reckless. We might lose some men if we do that,” she disputed.
“Your safety is our priority, Lady A,” Biggs argued.
“And to keep my crew safe is mine,” she replied instantly.
“But Lady A we–”
“My decision is final. You are not to dispatch any rescue team at this hour.” Her commanding tone left no room for argument.
“Then what can we do?” Biggs asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, unsure.
Squall chimed in, “Aranea you mentioned that this used to be a trail for pilgrims, right?”
“Yes, what about it?”
“Then shouldn’t there be heaven somewhere?” Squall wondered aloud.
“That’s a great idea! Who says you are dumb,” she said, playfully punching his arm.
“No one says that!” he replied, taking an offense.
“You get flustered so easily, it’s almost cute,” she replied with a laugh.
“You are unbelievable,” he hissed.
“Tell me about it,” she replied, with a playful wink.
“Guys, is there a haven nearby? This used to be a trail for pilgrims, there has to be a haven somewhere.” She inquired.
“Let us find out and get back to you on that,” Biggs responded.
Biggs frantically scanned the terrain to find any spot where they could get shelter. Wedges dug through the archive data for any clue.
It was over five minutes and she still heard nothing from them.
“Lady A, we found something,” announced Wedge, in an excited tone.
“There is an old haven by a thawed lake just two klicks east from your current location.”
“Great! We can spend the night there. You can send the rescue team at sunrise.”
“You got it, Lady A,” Biggs affirmed.
“What did they say?” Squall asked curiously.
“There is a haven two klicks east from here. If we hurry, we should be able to make it by the nightfall.”
“Let’s go then,” he said, walking in the east direction as the darkness was starting to take over.
So, what do you think about this chapter? Let me know in your comments below. If you don’t have much to say then at least say ‘Hi’ so I know someone is reading this. It would really brighten my day. Thanks :)
PS: I hope everyone is safe and healthy in this COVID-19 outbreak. Isolate and prevail. Introverts (like me) have mastered this skill lol
Playing with it’s Food
ube & matcha soft serve 🍦 + 🍵 = 💜
📍somi somi, Irvine, Ca
Down the Hatch
What is a cure for longing? I wonder…
The Sun was beating down brightly, peeking through the curtains. All the birds, who wakes people up with their melodies, had retreated to their nest. Aranea impatiently knocked at the door to Squall’s room.
A relentless banging on the door finally woke up Squall from his slumber.
He groggily got up and made his way towards the door to stop the annoying banging. He opened the door, still half asleep.
“Come on, wake up sleepyhead. It’s way past noon,” she announced, irritated.
“Already?” he whined, rubbing his eyes.
“You know, it’s not nice to keep a lady waiting. We had a date this morning,” Aranea teased, leaning against the door.
“Sorry, I overslept,” he confessed, sheepishly.
“It’s alright. I have an errand to run, but I’ll be back in a couple of hours. We can go sightseeing then,” she suggested.
“No. He does not step outside of this manor until our medics have checked him,” Luna contested, approaching from behind. “Squall, are you sure you are okay? It is unlike you to sleep so much.”
“I am fine,” he reassured.
“I am worried about you. I know what kind of toll it takes to heal someone,” she raised her concern.
“How did you know?”
“I can sense when Oracle’s powers are used,” she lied, and he bought it. “I’ll have our best medics check on you immediately,” she spoke with urgency, still not making eye contact with Squall.
“I am okay,” he tried to reassure. “I was just tired, that’s all.”
“And you were unconscious for a long time before that. You are getting checked by our medics and that’s final. No more argument.” Her authoritative voice which left no room for disagreement.
“You are not even married and she scolds you like a wife,” Aranea added in a mischievous voice.
“Whatever,” Squall remarked, getting annoyed.
“Squall, you should go freshen up. I’ll have Maria set up the lunch and our medics will come to check on you after that,” Luna proposed.
“Fine,” he resigned.
“I guess we’ll take our tour in the evening,” Aranea said with a shrug.
Squall nodded and retreated to his room.
After getting ready, he went straight to the dining room and found Luna waiting on the table. He looked at the huge standing clock in the room it showed 2 p.m.
“You should have eaten already. It’s 2 p.m., you didn’t have to wait,” he noted, sitting down on the chair.
“I was busy, I just got free,” she spoke, staring at her empty dish.
The retainer quickly brought out food and served them. Maria brought out a special soup for Squall and served him.
After taking just one spoon of it, Squall immediately recognized that taste. He asked, “Did you make it?”
Even though Luna was not looking at Squall, she knew this question was intended for her. Luna glared at Maria, and she responded, “I-I m-made it, Master Squall. Is it not to your liking?”
“It is perfect,” he admitted.
The the corners of her eyes crinkled, and a tiny smile of satisfaction formed on Luna’s lips, which she tried to conceal quickly. Noticing that, Squall said, looking at Luna, “Thank you, Maria.”
“Y-You are most welcome master Squall,” Maria replied nervously.
The rest of the lunch was quiet and uneventful. As soon as the lunch was over, Luna quickly left, giving no chance to Squall to strike any conversation.
Squall retreated to his room where medics were waiting for him.
His medical checkup lasted a lot longer than he would have liked. By the time they were finished, Aranea was already waiting for him.
“Ready to go scar-face?”
“Yeah, can’t get out of this manor soon enough,” he complained.
“Lucky for you, Aranea is here for your rescue,” she declared, giving a thumbs up. “We really need to get you some new clothes. You’ve been wearing that ever since Fociaugh Hollow and it’s starting to stink.” She said jokingly, pinching her nose.
“Whatever,” he shook his head, brushing off her criticism.
Together they made their way out of the manor and into the streets. Upon closer inspection, he found that what appeared to be a floating island were mostly supporting by a column of naturally formed rocks. This whole structure seemed to defy gravity as the top of the column was wide enough to support an entire town, and it got narrower as it reached the ground. This oddity alone made for a spectacular view. The entire town was connected via bridges.
The town looked even more beautiful than what he saw from the balcony of his room. The streets were full of street vendors selling a variety of products such as household items, food, clothes, and herbal medicines. Like rivers merge into the sea, all the bridges converged at the center square.
It was a huge open area with a gigantic fountain in the center and lush green grass surrounding it. The kids played around the fountain, splashing each other with water. The teenager played various games in whatever open space they found. Youth can be seen strolled around with hand in hand. Families huddled together in a picnic. The spectrum of whole life was visible in this area.
There was one bridge to the north which leads to a temple. Hymns from there could be heard in the center square, in spite of all the ambient noise. All these elements combined to create a serene environment.
“To think that war could destroy all this peace,” he commented with a heavy heart.
“A few people’s lust for power can destroy so many lives. War promises the everlasting peace for the victor, but in reality, the only thing war leaves behind is chaos.”
“How ironic that we destroy peace with the promise to create more peace in the future,” he summed up his thoughts, as they moved through the crowd.
He noticed an elevated platform at the far end of the fountain, which he figured must be used to address the congruent mass.
As they moved through the town, Squall couldn’t help but notice the intimidating presence of the Empire soldiers on every juncture.
“Do you normally have so many Neiflhem troops here?”
“Tenebrae is a sacred ground where pilgrims from all over the world get together. The Empire had agreed to have minimum surveillance and occupation here. However, under the pretense of protecting the Oracle due to recent events, the Empire has deployed a whole regiment here. As long as they can keep the Oracle confined to Tenebrae, she is not a threat to them.”
“But Luna’s next covenant is in Altissia. If they block off all the points of exit, that might be a problem.”
“Yes, we are aware of it and we are trying to find a solution for it,” she revealed, getting in a line at one of the food stalls.
Squall gave her a quizzical look.
“This right here is the best street food in Tenebrae.”
They grabbed a bite and then proceeded to an apparel store to get a new wardrobe for Squall.
After sightseeing the town, they finally returned to the manor.
“So….should we?” she asked with a playful wink.
“You know. I picked you up from your home. I took you on this wonderful date. And now that we are back, do I get a kiss? Or do we go straight to your room? I am sure Luna won’t mind,” she teased.
Squall was shell-shocked to hear that. His face turned beet red in an instant. Looking at his reaction, Aranea broke into a burst of uncontrollable laughter.
“Oh God! You should have seen your face,” she managed to say that between her laughs. “If I knew that’s all it takes to embarrass you, I would have done it sooner.”
Squall was enraged, but he masked his emotions. He stepped forward and took both of her hands in his hand gently. He looked straight into her eyes and said, “Aranea, I have a confession to make.”
Aranea’s laughter disappeared in an instance.
“Ever since I saw the first time, I knew you were special.”
“Oh no,” she mumbled, as dread filled her eyes, but Squall was reluctant to let go of her hands.
“The way you look, the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you smile, and your sense of humor, it all,” he paused for dramatic effect as he saw the color drain from Aranea’s face. “It all makes my blood boil and I hate you so much.”
“Oh, thank God!” she exhaled loudly. “Hate is good. For a while, I thought you were going to say something stupid. It scared the crap out of me.”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” he replied with a smirk.
“You son of a–,” instead of finishing her sentence, she kicked him hard in his shins.
“Ouch! What was that for?”
“I don’t know, but it felt like you deserved it.”
“What kind of logic is that?” he complained, hobbling on one leg.
“Hey, that’s my line,” he protested.
“Whatever,” she repeated slowly.
Once Squall and Aranea parted ways, he went inside the castle. He took a peek at the chamber room and Luna was busy dealing with various delegates. She looked tired. Their eyes briefly meet and she smiled before quickly attending the guests.
He got changed into new cloth, which for the most part was very similar to what he already had. There was still some time till dinner, so Squall decided to explore the manor.
He could oversee a huge garden in the back of the manor, but the door leading to it was locked. That garden looked very familiar to him.
He ventured further into the manor and eventually discovered the royal library. He decided to take a look inside. From the looks of it, half of the library seems to be renovated, perhaps from the fire 12 years ago, he thought. The royal library seemed to contain every book imaginable. Perhaps the only book Squall could use right now was ‘how to understand women.’ Even since waking up on the train, Luna had been avoiding him, and he did not have the slightest idea why. He spends the rest of his evening browsing through various books.
One of the retainers came looking for him when it was time for dinner. Upon entering the dining room, he saw that there were many people already sitting at the table.
‘Great, another awkward dinner.’ He thought.
As expected, the dinner was rather dull with the royals talking among themselves about topics he was least interested in. Without Luna to talk to, he was starting to feel like an outsider. ‘No wonder Aranea never stays here.’
As soon as he finished the meal, the medic from earlier came over and gave him two pills. Not wanting to make a scene, he took the medicine and quickly exited the room.
He stood on the balcony of his room, looking around absentmindedly. In matter of a few days he went from being an integral part of Luna’s life to an observer. He felt that Luna needed him before, but now he was not sure if she even want him around. They were drifting apart and he wanted to know why. He needed to know why she was distancing herself from him. His mind was confused and his heart was in pain.
The surrounding temperature dropped suddenly as Gentiana walked from behind him and joined him in the stargazing.
“What are you doing here?” Squall asked, surprised to see her.
“I felt your loneliness, so I came to be with you.”
“How did you know?”
“Squall, I am always with you,” she chuckled. “Since I am still junctioned to you, a form of me lives in your mind. I feel all your pain, joy, sadness, and love. I experience it all with you.”
“When you say it like that it sounds very creepy,” he remarked.
“Such is the nature of junctioning. We get to experience what it is like to be human and in return, you get to use our powers,” she spoke with her eyes closed.
There was silence once again.
“Squall, I was worried about you.”
“After a very long time, I experienced what fear felt like. When you were suffering at the hands of Ramuh, I was afraid that you might die. I felt your pain and anguish. I wanted to help, I did. But I couldn’t. My duty is to observe and guide humanity and not to interfere with it directly,” she confessed, her internal turmoil was evident in her voice.
“Unable to act on your feelings because you are bound by your duty, I think I can relate to that.”
“How do you find courage when facing your own mortality? You knew that you could have died, so why go through it? Are you not afraid of death?”
“I am afraid of death, just like everyone else. But sometimes you have to ask yourself, is my cause worth dying for?” He stated.
“I do not understand.”
“The thing with mortality is that there is no escaping it. You know someday you are going to die, but you try to make the best out of the limited time you have. You try to give some meaning to your life. Some people find meaning in wealth, accomplishments, friends and family, spirituality, or helping others. At that moment I just had to find my own calling.”
“And what was yours?”
“We all live for ourselves but to live for the betterment of others is a noble cause. One small sacrifice to the betterment of the world. That was my calling.”
“For you, it was more than just that, was it not?” she probed.
“When you care for someone deeply, you find the courage to overcome your fears.”
“You have changed, Squall. You have changed so much. Last time you said, ‘the hell with the world. If she is not with me then what does the world mean to me?’ And now you are willing to sacrifice yourself for the same world. That is admirable.”
“Speaking of that, what exactly happened 'last time’? Why do Astrals want me dead? Who is Arydran, and why does he think we fought together? Why did Ramuh say that I escaped from Bahamut’s exile? What is going on here?” He had asked all these questions before, but Gentiana had avoided answering them every time. He was hoping it would be different this time.
“What is with humans and their fascination with the past?” she wondered.
“I don’t know much about humanity, but if someone is out there to kill me, I’d like to know why.”
“The ‘last time’ as you call it, we refer to it as the Omen,” Gentiana revealed. “Omen was a failed timeline where the prophecy failed and the world was plunged into the darkness.”
“And the Astrals thinks that the prophecy failed because of me?” he questioned.
“You played a key role, one could say.”
“The hell with the world. If she is not with me then what does the world mean to me?” he repeated her line from earlier. “Who is she?”
“She is someone with whom your destiny has been intertwined for eons.”
“That still does not answer who is it?”
“That is for you to figure out,” she replied with slight hostility in her voice. Her tone took Squall by surprised, and he decided not to push this topic any further.
“From what I can gather, Astrals assigned me a mission, and I failed, which plunged the world into the darkness. So now they want revenge. That much makes sense. But you are an Astral too, how come you don’t want to hurt me?”
“Because I,” she seemed to at a loss of words. “Because I am different,” she said, looking at him.
“Why the sudden interest in me? I thought we were talking about you?” she tactfully dodged the question.
They must have chatted for at least half an hour before Squall said, “Hey, thanks for coming. It felt great to just let it all out.”
“Anything to put your heart at ease,” she replied with a smile.
“We should do this often,” he proposed.
“I’ve waited millennia to hear that,” she replied joyfully.
“You are very cryptic and strange sometimes,” he noted, shaking his head.
She smiled and disappeared, leaving behind spectral ice particles suspended in the air.
Squall went back inside the room and lay flat on his bed. “Why can’t anything ever be simple in my life,” he thought as he stared at the ceiling. He fell asleep shortly after.
The next day, he met up with Aranea at their designated training ground. He was still recovering from Ramuh’s attack, but he figured the best way to get back in shape would be by training.
“Don’t expect me to go easy on you,” Aranea warned as she readied her spear.
“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” he replied, drawing out his gunblade.
She embodies the classic Dragoon class, able to fight airborne, uses jump attacks, wears black armor and wields a lance.
As their duel began, he quickly realized that she was very agile and powerful. Her signature attack is Highwind.
“Did you know that your girlfriend is setting up a healing camp?” she informed him during sparring.
“No way, she is not fit enough for that,” he remarked, as their weapons clashed.
“Tell that to her. We all tried, but she wouldn’t listen. She gave us the same long speech about looking to ease the suffering of others rather than protecting ourselves,” she spoke, deflecting Squall’s attack.
“She can be so unreasonable sometimes,” he stated, blocking her attack.
“You should talk to her,” she suggested.
“I would if she let me. She would do anything to avoid me, it seems,” he revealed.
“What did you do?” she asked, as their weapons clashed again.
“I wish I knew,” he admitted. “I saved her life, and now she is mad at me. I don’t understand women.”
“Ha ha ha,” she laughed mockingly before launching another volley of attacks.
Once his training was done, he returned to the castle around noon. Their meals were quickly becoming a public affair as dignitaries from many provinces joined them frequently. Luna seemed preoccupied with arranging everything for the healing camp.
Squall was once again alone in his room. With nothing to do and no one to hang out with, he was bored out of his mind. Luckily, the atmosphere suddenly got cold around him.
“Gentiana,” he uttered. “I was starting to think that you would not come.”
“I did not know you were waiting for me,” she remarked as a small smile played on her lips.
“Do you want to go for a walk? I feel like a prisoner in this castle,” he proposed.
“Sure, anything to ease your heart.”
Their walk was a perfect calibration of silently accompanying someone and infrequent chat. Even though they did not speak much, they both seemed to enjoy each other’s company.
The next day was the start of a week-long healing camp. He’d hoped that he could talk some sense into her as blessings can take a severe toll on her health, but she had avoided him successfully.
Pilgrims from all over the world flocked to get her blessings. Her day started early with a healing session followed by rest to recover her strength. She would have her lunch at the campsite, and it was followed by another healing session and rest. Their dinner was followed by the same pattern. She only came back to the castle to sleep at night.
At least he used to see Luna at their meals, but even that had stopped now. Even since he woke up, not once did he have a proper conversation with Luna. He needed to know why she was avoiding him, but he would have to wait for the right moment as they were constantly surrounded by people.
Since Luna was always busy, Leon’s day was divided into two halves. Training with Aranea in morning and evening strolls with Gentiana.
His conversation with Gentiana was often very philosophical in nature. Gentiana would often talk about topics such as immortality, karma, spirituality, morality, the meaning of life, etc. While Squall would often talk about duty, dedication, seeking happiness, processing emotions, etc.
One day while returning from their evening stroll, Gentiana suddenly said, “Thank you, for being such a great teacher.”
“What did I teach you?” he asked confused.
“I find it very difficult to understand human emotions. When I try to follow other humans, I get overwhelmed by their emotions. With you, it’s easier to follow since you suppress your emotions so much. It’s like you only process one emotion at a time, which makes it easier for me to learn.”
“Hey! I am more complicated than that,” he protested.
“I believe an appropriate response to that is,” she paused. “Whatever,” she said, imitating Squall.
Squall gave out a sigh, “Looks like I did teach you something after all.”
Gentiana couldn’t help but laugh at his reaction. This was the first time he had heard her laugh. Her divine laugh was nothing short of a melody.
He just shook his head, and they continued their evening stroll.
It was morning. The Sun peeked through the sky provided gentle warmth. The sky was different shades of orange. The birds were singing their melodies. A distant hymn echoed through Tenebrae. It was a serene morning, but it was ruined by the frequent clanging of metal.
Squall and Aranea were sparring as per their morning routine.
Aranea had knocked down Squall, which infuriated him. He launched a volley of relentless attacks, forcing Aranea to go on defense.
“Good. Looks like you are recovering your strength,” she praised, blocking his attack.
“Still a long way to go,” he admitted, thrusting his gunblade forward.
“There are still two more days left for the healing camp. How about we take a field trip tomorrow,” she asked, deflecting his attack.
His eyes lit up upon hearing that.
“I am rather bored here, let’s do it,” he affirmed, as their weapons clashed again. “Where are we going?”
“We’ll go treasure hunting for Frozen Tear of Shiva. Tomorrow at 7 a.m.,” she stated, pushing him back.
During his evening stroll with Genitana he asked her about something Aranea had mentioned in the morning. “Gentiana, what is Frozen tear?”
“Where did you hear that?” she asked, with her eyes closed.
“Aranea told me about it.”
She chuckled in response. “When Shiva’s heart was filled with pain, she cried. Human calls her tears Frozen tear.”
“I did not know that Astrals cried,” he stated bluntly.
“Although we don’t experience the range of emotions that humans do, we do feel some basic emotions like love, hate, anger and kindness to name a few.”
“Why would you cry? You are an Astral,” he asked, still not grasping the concept of mighty Astrals crying like humans.
“Just as humans, when the pain becomes unbearable, tears escape from my eyes,” she said looking at him.
“When were you in such pain?”
“First was when I saw Hyne die in front of my eyes. Next, was when Niflheim attacked me.”
“I wonder how does it—” he was about to say something when Gentiana raised her hand, indicating him to stop.
“We are being watched,” she proclaimed. Her eyes were scanning their surroundings.
“We are in the center square, surrounded by hundreds of pilgrims. Of course, we are being watched,” Squall dismissed her caution.
“No, its him. He is here, I can sense him.”
“The Usurper is watching us.”
So, what do you think about this chapter? Let me know in your comments below. If you don’t have much to say then at least say 'Hi’ so I know someone is reading this. It would really brighten my day. Thanks :)
PS: I was wondering if someone can make me an image of Squall x Luna for this story. I would be very grateful for that. Thanks in advance.
Outside of my workplace tonight in Irvine CA.
What is more important? The comfort of the body or the heart? I wonder…
Leon lay there stiff as a tingling sensation ran through his body. The blur in his eye slowly started to take shape. He saw someone peering down at him.
“How are you feeling?” asked a feminine voice.
“My head hurts,” he said, placing a hand on his forehead.
“No kidding,” she replied. “Looks like your eyes are focusing. You should be fine.”
For the first time, Leon was able to make out features of the girl he was talking to. She had fair skin, green eyes, and shoulder-length silver-blond hair. She wore red and black leather armor that had a scaly appearance to it. She had a long white cape with a red symbol. If he had to guess, she must be a dragoon type warrior. A distant memory resurfaced. If only she had blond hair and wore glasses, she would look very similar to someone he used to know from his world.
“Say your name for me,” she asked.
“Oh boy, it looks like you must have hit your head pretty hard to not even remember your name. I was told that your name was Leon.”
“Only Luna calls me that.” Suddenly all the alarms started going off in his head. “Where is Luna?” he asked, trying to sit up.
“Relax,” she said, pushing his shoulder and making him lie down again. “She is safe with us.”
“And who are you?”
“The name is Aranea Highwind. I am a friend,” she revealed, putting Leon at ease.
For the first time, he had a look around his surroundings and it looked like he was in some sort of a cabin. He noticed the rhythmic movement of the train and pieced this together. “How did I get here? What happened to me?”
“We found you knocked out in Fociaugh Hollow. We rescued you and Luna just in the nick of time. We are on the way to Tenebrae now.”
“How is Luna doing? Last I remember, she lost her consciousness soon after forging a covenant with Ramuh.”
“I don’t know what happened there, but by the time I got there, she had woken up and you were knocked out.”
“Hmm, so it worked, I guess. Can I see her?” he asked.
“No, she is resting right now. You should do the same,” she suggested.
“Yeah, my head feels like it is about to explode,” he admitted.
“I’ll be over there,” she informed, pointing at the opposite berth. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled, as his eyes got heavy and he drifted back to sleep.
The rest of their journey was rather uneventful. The train stopped at Fodina Caestino. They used this stop to get out of the train to get some fresh air. However, Luna and Leon’s path never crossed even once. After a day of travel, the announcement ringed through the train. “Next stop is Tenebrae.”
From what he had heard, Tenebrae was supposed to be a very beautiful place and he was secretly excited to see. He peered out of his window as Tenebrae approached quickly. Tenebrae’s beauty was breathtaking and beyond his wildest imagination. The whole city was established on what seemed like floating islands. There were multiple waterfalls cascading from the floating islands, giving it an otherworldly look. The many shades of green covered the entire visible spectrum. The lush green trees, shrubs, vines flourished uninhibited. The beauty of Tenebrae seemed straight from some artist’s canvas.
A knock on his door forced him to look away from the window.
“It’s time to pack up. We should be at the station shortly,” Aranea instructed from the door. They had become good friends in a very short time. She took great care of him ever since he woke up. The fact she was the only person who talked to him also became the catalyst in their budding friendship. For some strange reason, Aranea never felt like a stranger to him. Their conversation often revolved around a military and political strategy and combat. Every time he spoke with her, it felt like he was reconnecting with an old friend.
She waved him goodbye from the door and quickly retreating to her cabin.
“All I have is a backpack. Not much to pack really,” he muttered to himself, putting his toiletries in the front zipper of his bag. He inspected around the cabin to make sure he did not forget anything there. He swung his backpack over his back and exited the cabin. He moved close to the door to get a better view of Tenebrae.
As he was admiring the view, the cabin door close to him slid open, but he paid no mind to it.
“How are you feeling now?” asked a familiar voice.
His heart skipped a beat as he knew who it was. He turned around in the direction of the voice and for the first time since Fociaugh Hollow he saw Luna. He noticed that her eyes seemed puffy and bags under her eyes indicated she hadn’t slept much.
“I am doing better now,” he said. “You don’t look so good.”
“It will take some time for your wounds to heal so please take it easy,” she said ignoring his last comment. “I will inform our medics to take care of you. Please let them know of all your symptoms.”
He noticed that she had still not made eye contact with him.
“Luna, I wanted to speak with you about–” before he could finish his sentence the overhead speaker announced, “Welcome to Tenebrae. Please make sure to take all your belongings. Please watch your step as you get out. Thank you for choosing to ride Magna Fortia. We sincerely hope to serve you again on your next journey.”
Aranea, Gentiana and a few other passengers had joined them as well in the corridor.
“Squall, we should exit from different compartments. All the attention would be on Luna, so we should be able to get out undetected with all the pilgrims,” Aranea advised, opening the door to the connecting compartment.
He looked at Luna one last time before following Aranea. He was disappointed that he was not able to speak much with Luna.
“Why are we existing from a different compartment? It’s not like anyone knows me here,” he asked, catching up with Aranea.
“Oh, you will be surprised at how good Imperial surveillance is. Any time you engage with any Imperial troops, your image is uploaded to our database. And based on the number of units you have destroyed by now, I can assure you, you are very famous,” she explained, cutting through the crowd and moving on to the next connecting compartment.
“Combat and surveillance in the same unit is ingenious. I am impressed,” he confessed.
As they entered another compartment, he grabbed Aranea’s hand, “Aranea, wait.”
“What is it?”
“We are being followed at 6 o’clock,” he warned her. He had noticed that a small girl, about 8 or 9 years old, and two middle-aged soldiers had followed them through every compartment so far.
“Oh, they are with us. They are my people,” she revealed, putting him at ease. He nodded and they continued their journey.
The train slowed down and came to a complete halt and the doors slid open. All the travelers poured out of the door.
Aranea had told Leon earlier that in the wake of Luna’s “passing,” thousands flocked to the Fenestala Manor to pay their respects, pilgrims traveling from afar by boat and train. Based on that conversation, Leon was expecting a crowd, but the scene in front of his eyes quite surreal. As far as the eyes could see, the whole station was filled with people.
Leon, Aranea and her crew got out of the train. They blend in with the crowd and made their way towards the only exit from the platform. Even among this crowd, Leon’s eyes were searching for Luna.
Luna got out of the train and was followed by Gentiana. Many other passengers got off behind them.
It didn’t take long for people to recognize Lunafreya. A quiet murmur spread in the crowd as people were still skeptical of what they saw. Luna was announced to be dead, but here she was in the flesh, standing at the train station. One person started cheering and the whole crowd erupted in cheers. People were clapping, whistling, and screaming Luna’s name.
‘Wow, she a celebrity wherever she goes,’ he thought.
He noticed there was a lady dressed in professional attire accompanied by a few soldiers.
“Welcome home, Lady Lunafreya,” greeted the lady dressed in professional attire.
“It is good to see you again, Polisci,” Luna greeted her with a hug.
Leon was at some distance from them so he could not hear them. A royal entourage escorted Luna through the crowd, as the crowd cheered Luna’s every step.
“Now that these many people have seen Luna wouldn’t Empire be alerted of her presence and location?”
“Very perceptive. We want Empire to know that.”
“Circa M.E. 359, when Niflheim invaded Tenebrae for the first time, they did not invade Fenestala Manor, where the royal family resides, due to the masses’ faith in the Oracle. We are using the same strategy here. As long as Luna is here in Tenebrae, in front of the public’s eyes, the Empire would not dare attack her. Did you not see the reception she got just now? Any harm to the Oracle now would cause a huge uproar in Lucis and Niflheim alike. Every faithful in the Eos is now her defender.”
“Using public as her protector is a very cunning strategy indeed.”
“It was all Ravus’s idea,” she confessed.
“Couldn’t we have done it sooner? Maybe like when we were in Lestallum?”
“No, timing is everything. The Empire used the chaos during the treaty signing to declare the death of Lunafreya. Once the world thought that the Oracle was dead, they could kill her without any consequences. It was a brilliant strategy on their part. Revealing herself in Lucis would have either gotten her killed or captured with little public awareness. We had to wait for public support to build up. You were exceptional in shielding her from public eyes in Lucis. Had her location been revealed, Ravus would have been forced to capture her and bring her to Niflheim. God knows what they would have done with her there.”
“Makes sense,” he acknowledged the plan.
“Well, here we are at the much revered Fenestala Manor,” she announced at the entrance of the famous manor.
Squall looked at the building and it looked like a castle right out of a fairytale. He looked at the barbican flanked by the tower on either side. Multiple towers were built on various tactical spots for an ideal defense and were connected by strengthened, solid walls made of gray stone. Crude windows were scattered generously around the walls in fairly symmetrical patterns, along with overhanging crenelations. It was a multi-layered castle with ramparts on each level. He could see a huge purple dome structure at the center of the castle which he assumed was the great hall. The entire castle was built with ashlar masonry.
The guards saluted them as they entered the building. They came to the main hall, which had a spiral staircase leading to the upper floors.
“We’ve been expecting you,” someone said, descending from the staircase. It was the same lady who had escorted Luna from the train station.
“Hello, Lady Aranea. You must be Squall. Lady Lunafreya spoke very highly of you,” she spoke, walking towards them. “My name is Polisci Xuan, but people just call me Xu. I take care of all the administrative duties for Prince Ravus and Princess Lunafreya.”
‘Xu, somehow that name sounds familiar.’ He wondered.
“Follow me, I’ll show you your room,” Xu stated, leading the way. Aranea and Squall ascended the staircase as they followed Xu to the second floor.
Xu opened a huge mahogany door leading to a large room. “This will be your room.”
“Thank you,” he said politely.
“Lady A, would you be staying with us?”
“No, royalty is not my style. I’ll stay in the town as usual,” she respectfully declined.
Xu acknowledged and looked at Squall. “If you need anything, just alert any of the staff. Lady Lunafreya has instructed the staff to attend to all your needs immediately.” Xu waved at them and went to attend her other duties.
“Aren’t you treated like a prince here?” Aranea playfully jabbed at Squall.
“Whatever.” He shook his head and entered the room.
It was a nicely decorated room with teal-colored walls. Sofas and chairs were placed close to the window. There was a lone bookcase on the opposite side of the sofa. A king-size bed was in a secluded corner of the room. Every piece of furniture in the room had intricate carving embossed in it. There were two doors on either side of the bed, which he guessed were for a closet and a bathroom. A crystal chandelier hung in the center of the room tying the appeal of the room nicely. The crystals in the chandelier bounced of soft white light.
“Fancy,” Aranea noted, looking at the room. Squall just shrugged in response.
“I am just happy to get a bed here. Ever since I got to this world I have never slept on a bed.”
“Beds are overrated. They are only worth it if you have someone to share it with,” she remarked with a mischievous wink.
“Where is Luna?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Missing your girlfriend already?” she teased.
“She is not my girlfriend,” he said with a facepalm.
“Whatever,” she said mocking Squall.
“You are so annoying,” he complained.
“Shut it, scar-face,” she chastised him playfully. “Alright, I have to go attend to my monster. Why don’t you rest up now? I’ll come pick you up tomorrow morning. I’ll show you around the town. We can even train if you are feeling up to it.”
“Later.” She waved, walking towards the door.
“Thanks,” he whispered.
“For?” she stopped and asked without turning.
“For,” he started but couldn’t come with the right words. “For being there for me.”
“Luna asked me to,” she replied and exited the room, shutting the door behind her.
“Luna…” he said to himself.
Ever since she got back, she was bombarded with information. “The number of pilgrims is increasing by the day. At this rate, we would run out of our medical supplies in two weeks’ time.”
“Can we send out more gatherers to get herbs from the forest of Piztala?” Luna inquired.
“All units are already deployed. Speaking of the forest of Piztala, there was a sighting of a strange white colored alien-like creatures. The report says it kept saying, ‘Hiso.’ Our medic and research units have set out an expedition to learn more about them,” Xu reported.
“Please call them back. Research can wait, we must prioritize healing the faithful first with our medicines,” Luna urged.
“I think we should call back just the medic unit and let the research unit continue,” Xu suggested.
“I disagree. The forest of Piztala is dangerous at this time of the year. Should something happen to the research team, without medics, they would not survive for long. We cannot risk our brightest minds like this.”
“As you wish. Also, there was some unrest because of the Empire in Zoldara Henge province. We tried to defuse the situation as best as we could. But their leader wants to speak with either you or Lord Ravus to share their grievances,” Xu informed.
“Call them tomorrow morning.”
“Also, some merchants have arrived from Altissia. They want to negotiate the trade agreements with you.”
“Let’s meet with them tomorrow evening,” Luna instructed.
“In the evening you are already scheduled to meet with–” as Xu was reporting further, but Luna cut her off. “Xu, can we please talk about everything in the morning? I am exhausted from our travels.”
“My apologies, that was very inconsiderate of me,” she apologetically lowered her head.
“No, you have nothing to apologize for. You are just doing your duties. I can’t thank you enough for taking care of our kingdom in mine and brother’s absence.”
“No need for thanks. This is my home too,” she replied humbly. Luna nodded appreciatively.
Just as they were wrapping up their conversation someone knocked on the door.
‘Who is it now?’ Luna thought wearily.
She looked at the door, and her face lit up. She ran and gave a big hug. “Maria! How have you been?”
“I am doing well my lady. But I could hardly say the same for you. Look how much weight you have lost,” Maria noted, inspecting her closely.
“Now that I am back, I am sure you will make me eat till my stomach is about to explode,” she said cheerfully.
“What would you like to eat my lady?”
“Surprise me. I have missed your cooking so much. I’ll eat anything you cook,” she asserted with a smile.
“In that case, I’ll make your favorite–” Maria was about to say something when Luna interrupted her. “Oh, one more thing. Please make sure in whatever you make there are no olives in it and make it a little spicy.”
“I don’t understand my lady. You love olives and you don’t like spicy food,” she asked, confused.
“Let’s just say that my taste has evolved since,” she replied, scratching her head.
Maria had known her since she was in her crib, it was hard to fool her. Before Maria could ask anything, else Luna changed the subject, “We have a guest staying with us for some time. Why don’t you ask him what he wants to eat?”
“But my lady, you have returned home after such a long time. Shouldn’t you get to pick what you want to eat?”
“Anything he picks is fine with me.”
Maria again eyed her curiously.
Once again Luna pivoted to avoid interrogation, “Matron, can you please deliver this to our guest?” She handed an envelope to Maria.
“Get going. I am very hungry; I can hardly wait. I’ll take a shower and freshen up,” she urged Maria and Xu to get out of her room.
Once they were gone, she shut the door and exhaled loudly. “Can’t catch a break.”
Squall stopped by the window and looked outside to admire the beauty of this town radiating in the sunset. It was a bustling town with traders on the street, kids playing in the open square, families taking a stroll, and worshipers singing hymns. It was hard to imagine such a peaceful town in these chaotic times, yet here it stood against all odds. The street lights had started illuminating the town. Even though his body wanted to rest, his eyes refused to move.
He heard a soft knock on the door, forcing him to get out of his trance.
It was an elderly woman with long gray hair in a ponytail and blue eyes. She wore old-fashioned gray and blue dress with a striped pattern.
“My lord, I am one of the retainers of house Fleuret. My name is Maria, but people often call me Matron.”
‘Matron, that sounds very familiar.’ His mind tried to recall the details, but it failed. His memory of the past was like looking at a blurred image. You could make out the shape, but cannot see any details.
“I will be at your service. Please let me know if you need anything,” she said with a bow.
“Could you do me a favor, please?”
“Anything my lord,” she offered politely.
“Please don’t bow to me or call me my lord. My name is Squall and you can call me that.”
“That won’t be right my lord,” she politely refused.
“I thought you were supposed to do what I say?” he tried to trap her.
“Well, but it would be odd to refer to you with your first name,” she spoke hesitantly.
“It is odd to see such an elderly lady bow down to me. Please, I insist,” he urged.
“As you wish, my lor—umm, Master Squall,” she said with her tough in check.
“I give up,” he said, shaking his head.
“What would you like to eat tonight?”
“Anything is fine,” he replied with a shrug. “If possible, have more olives and make it less spicy,” he added as an afterthought.
“Strange, she just said the opposite,” she whispered under her breath.
“What?” Squall asked, not being able to hear her.
“Oh, please don’t mind me.” She reached out in her back pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Here, Lady Luna asked me to deliver it.”
“What is it?” he asked curiously taking the envelope.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Is there anything you need my lor—umm, Squall?”
“Yes, can I get a towel please?” he asked, after thinking.
“Of course. I shall have one of our retainers bring it to your room. Is there anything else you need?”
“No, that’s all for now,” he concluded as he couldn’t think of anything else.
“I shall call you when the dinner is ready,” she informed before taking her leave.
Squall opened the mysterious envelope and founds lots of gils in it. There was a note along with it which said:
Your backpack can carry only so much. Please use this money freely to buy anything you need. We are not on the run anymore, so please make yourself comfortable here. I shall do my best to make you feel at home. - Luna
“How thoughtful,” he said with a smile, upon reading the note.
“Sir, your towel,” one of the retainers said from the door. Squall took the towel from his hand.
“Is there anything else you need, Sir?” he asked politely.
“I am good for now, thank you,” Squall thanked him and closed the door once the retainer left.
He grabbed his essentials and stepped into the bathroom. He turned the faucet to check for hot water, and he was not disappointed.
“A hot shower, first time after leaving Lestallum,” he said gleefully. “I am going to shower until the water runs out.”
After a hot and relaxing shower, Squall felt like he was born anew.
They had gathered for dinner in their family dining room. Luna sat at the head of the table while Leon sat on the chair next to her. It was only two of them.
Squall waited patiently for her to say something or at least look at him, but she did not.
Even though they were the only two people eating, they were barely alone as her staff constantly kept going in and out of the room bringing warm food.
He waited for the opportune time to talk with her, but every time he started someone entered the room.
Their entire meal was spent in utter silence. This was the first time they had such an awkward meal.
Even though the food was amazing, his mind just wasn’t into it.
Ignoring everyone around them, Squall finally asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Mhm,” was all she said.
There were no other words in the English dictionary he hated more than ‘Mhm.’
Before he could say anything, Maria burst through the door with a container in her hand. “My lady, here is your favorite dessert, Pineapple orange ice cream.”
She served one scoop to Luna and two scoops to Squall.
Xu entered the room and announced, “My lady, some nobles have come to visit you. I have them waiting in the audience chamber.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said immediately. She was looking for an escape, and this was it.
“No, you don’t have to come at this very minute. I was just informing you that after your dinner you have to meet them.”
“It’s not polite to keep them waiting,” she urged and proceeded to quickly finish her ice cream. She got up and left in a hurry.
Squall’s hunger had all but died. He too got up, without even tasting the ice cream. He retreated to his room slightly upset.
He did not have any proper clothes to change into so he had to improvise. He tossed his T-shirt in the corner and lay on the bed.
After all these hardships, he finally got a chance to sleep in a bed. It had just the right amount of softness to it. His body felt like a feather suspended in the wind.
He did not know what heaven was like, but he was sure that sleeping in this bed was the closest thing to it right now.
His mind tried to figure out what was wrong with Luna. Ever since he woke up, she has been acting differently. She was ignoring him and he did not know why. He barely thought for a couple of minutes before he, unknowingly, succumbed to sleep.
Three new FFVIII characters were revealed in this chapter; Hope you caught them all.
Please leave a comment and brighten my day. Thanks :)
PS: I forgot to mention that I recently wrote a short Harry Porter story about Harry and Hermione called Love is the ultimate risk. Please Check it out if you like Harry Potter lore.