The first time she saw Dekar, Tia was feeling less than charitable towards deserts. Bound Kingdom was beautiful in its own right - the architecture, for one, was stunning, and the Fire Energy Core shining above Bound Castle was a marvel on any day - and the people they met were kind and spirited enough, but the sand got everywhere and her throat was parched and…
Idura standing in the middle of the abandoned town square made things worse, of course. She hadn’t forgotten his maniacal laughter or his control over magic - something she could only envy - and she sure hadn’t forgotten how easily the monsters he’d conjured had bested her back when they’d first cornered him. Only thanks to Maxim’s quick application of the Miracle Salve to her forehead had she escaped without a scratch. She was more than up for another go against him, but he ignored Maxim and claimed to want to speak to the ruler of Bound.
And then, out stepped a tall, athletic guy in a long white duster and with a head full of luscious, shining pink hair and she completely forgot the sand in her britches and the drought in her throat. For one, he lacked an energy core weapon, like Maxim’s sword or Guy’s axe: instead he wore a finely wrought bracer on his right wrist that had an energy core worked into it. And the other thing that made her instantly forget her discomforts was the overwhelming self-assuredness that flowed from the man, even more so than from Idura. He spoke with grace and innate confidence, saying that he, Dekar, was the strongest man in the world and that any threat to Bound would have to go through him first; and when Idura summoned four large skeletons, the reason for his self-confidence became clear in an instant: with a fist imbued with glowing energy, he wiped the floor with the monsters, leaving even Guy standing in awe and causing Idura to hastily teleport away. Only one tiny jelly escaped his furious outlash - but just as the man meant to take care of it, a young boy ran from the castle, and Tia found herself watching the events unfold. The boy was carrying an energy core sword, and he handled it without any finesse, causing him to sustain a few wounds. Tia could see that the young boy lacked any kind of training but certainly had the courage of a lion to not even wince from the jelly’s stinging ooze. After a short conversation with Dekar, who futilely tried to stop the boy, who was apparently Bound’s Prince Alex, from running off, they met with the true ruler of Bound, a handsome young man about Maxim’s age by the name of Prince Leon. He spoke to Dekar in earnest, pleading tones about his brother and his recklessness, and the fighter nodded, saluted his ruler and ran off after the young boy.
“...Good money says wherever the kid ran off to, that’s where we’re heading…”, Guy mused as they walked to the store, and Selan shrugged.
“Perhaps… but Prince Leon will surely tell us then. After all, the more men and women able to fight go after Gades to end his horrible reign of destruction and death, the better.”
“Hey, Selan…”, Tia asked, remembering the completely different surprise that the Parcelyte army woman had displayed when seeing the pink-haired man. Where Guy and Maxim had looked utterly baffled by the man’s strength, Selan had merely looked… impressed, maybe even proud. “...You knew that guy with the pink hair, Dekar, don’t you?”
“Oh. Yes.”, the woman said with a gentle half-smile - a rare sight, because normally she looked a little haughty, even in the presence of Maxim, who usually relaxed everyone around him. “Parcelyte and Bound are on good terms - we’ve come to agreements about the Gruberik Bridge together, for example, and we’ve often organized exchanges of soldiers so they could benefit from the knowledge both of our nations have. When I was only a soldier in the Parcelyte army, I came to Bound and trained alongside Dekar.”
“He’s that old?!”, Tia said, blinking. The man hadn’t looked a day over twenty! However, just as she was about to say that she refused to believe Selan, the woman shook her head.
“Dekar joined the army at age thirteen, working to sustain his younger sister after both his parents died. He was always strong and able, and he’s been with the army for nearly half his life now. First, he worked in the canteen for a year; then, he joined up as a soldier. By the time I came here, he was a sergeant in their ranks. Now, I imagine he’s as close to a lieutenant-major as he can humanly be.”
“He doesn’t use an energy core weapon.”, Maxim said, clearly having realized the topic of Tia and Selan’s discussion, prompting Selan to nod.
“Bound’s weapon of choice in the army is the axe-”
“Heh, like to see him handle this beauty!”, Guy said, patting the blade of his huge axe, which made Selan laugh lightly.
“He can. When I was trained here, Dekar showed us all of the weapons he’d mastered by that time: the sword, the axe, and the hand-axe. He said that he hadn’t wanted to be limited by just one weapon, so he’d asked someone to craft him something that’d allow him to use all weapons that were at hand without having to switch the energy cores from one to the other, or risk getting a weapon with an energy core that didn’t accord with him.”
“...Sounds like a smart guy.”, Maxim said, and Guy nodded.
“Yeah, though he’s either a real smartass or a real dumbass. ‘I could use a new coat’ - seriously…”, the tall fighter said, rolling his eyes emphatically and causing Maxim to grin.
“Yes, well, smart doesn’t always mean intelligent… But okay, enough dawdling, let’s buy ourselves some potions.”
“And maybe get the professor to bring the Excelion a little closer to the city? I’ve got sand in the weirdest places…”, Tia said, which was backed up by Selan and Guy, fortunately.
“Yeah, now that Tia mentions it, I’ve got a little sand between my toes too…”
“We’re about to speak to royalty, so we might as well look decent.”
“President Miles of Parcelyte received me and Tia when we came fresh off the Gordovan Drawbridge…”, Maxim defended but, seeing that he was fighting a losing battle, conceded defeat and called up the professor, telling him to park as close to the town as possible while they shopped for new items and weapons.
Idura’s teleporting away made me turn my attention to my mission again. Turning towards Prince Alex, I saluted him and asked him if he was okay, to which he answered with his usual spirit. Prince Alex is such an inspiration to all of us, I have to admit: though only twelve, he’s on the frontlines in every battle, and his courage is something the army rallies around. If only they didn’t have to save him as often, of course, but… But it isn’t my place to hold back the man that’ll soon rule me. Then, I turned to the men and women that had clustered around the prince and thanked them for their help, introducing myself for good measure. The red-haired fighter with the sword introduced himself first - Maxim, a familiar name - and then his friends. Guy, a brawny fighter with a big axe; Tia, a lovely young lady with a large mechanical device for a weapon; Iris, a very thin and willowy woman dressed in all-white, who bore no weapon at all; and finally Selan - another familiar name. I asked her if she was, by any chance, Captain Selan of Parcelyte, and when she replied in the positive, I gladly complimented her, even if it isn’t her good looks that brought word of her to me. Like every self-respecting strongest man of the world, I naturally look for strength in a woman - strength in many, many things. But the way she deflected my compliment by saying I was a transparent flirt made it clear that trying anything with her would be futile. I tried to save my grace a little, as I usually do when I feel out of my depth, and the glares I got from both ladies… well, I’d rather fight giant dragons any day of the week. Add another to the ‘things Dekar of Bound really could’ve done better’ list, I guess!
I turned my attention back to Prince Alex, who seemed to realize his mistake in running off when I asked him again if he was okay, and I proudly addressed him that it’s no sin to be courageous. He just needs training - at age twelve, he’s already showing great promise, and the soldiers feel bolstered by his continuous high spirits and mental resilience. I told my prince that I’d train him when he asked - really, how could I refuse? - but then thought of the fact that Idura had teleported off, probably wreaking his havoc elsewhere, be it in Bound or another country, and I resolved to ask Maxim more about this, asking him to meet me at my place once he’d be back in Bound. If he knows more about Idura, he could be a great help - it’d save me the trouble of having to pinpoint Idura all by my lonesome, that’s for sure!
...Sadly, when Prince Alex and I headed off again, I couldn’t remember how to exit the room. A quick dash back to Maxim and his companions, who told me to try the teleport pad I’d entered through - and reminded me that I’d used that pad to enter the room - had me and the prince teleport back to the dungeon’s entrance, where our horses were fortunately tethered at the gateway still. Prince Alex merrily laughed when I told him what had transpired, but his laughter felt more amused than ridiculing. I know I’m not that knowledgeable about energy cores and machines and stuff like that - but a warrior only needs to know himself and his weapon and the enemy, not all the technical doodads. There’s geniuses like doctor Shaia that built their lives around that: as for me, my life is the fight to keep Bound safe!
When Maxim returned, Prince Leon thanked him personally. I hadn’t exaggerated my own part in the affairs, just that I struck the final blow to the machine Idura had summoned up to besiege his brother, and that their help had been invaluable: Prince Leon then suggested holding a banquet to honor him for having fought so valiantly to the benefit of Bound. Now, I may not have fought some super-being called Gades - not yet, I might add - but great food and the chance to get to know this band of fighters better? I’m not saying no to that! ...Sadly, a messenger of Parcelyte came to ruin the cheer - not that I blame him for it, of course, but the timing couldn’t have been more damned. While Guy quickly told Prince Leon to keep that banquet ready - a sentiment which I agreed to, it’d be a shame to let it go to waste - I told Maxim that I felt it my duty to accompany him to the battle at hand, and I made sure to mention to him that he could just give me any weapon he could spare for battle, since I mastered all of the weapons known to man. Give me an axe, a sword, even a woman’s weapon like a disc… or even hand-to-hand… A quick packing session (really just taking a few spare clothes with me, you never know) and I ran after them to the gates of the castle. There, I was quickly introduced to their friend, the mechanical genius doctor Lexis Shaia, who piloted their ‘ship’ which was named Excelion, and then, we were off. Maxim told me the group all had their home-away-from-home on board the Excelion and in the same breath mentioned that my room would be at the end of the second deck’s corridor. I took a look inside and found it much to my liking - a little sparse on decoration, but luckily the second thing I’m best at is feeling at home anywhere - and when I came out again…
“Oh, hi.” Tia nearly bumped into their new crew member Dekar when she walked from her room to the helm. Lexis never minded her presence while he piloted the Excelion, and she tried to learn as much as she could from him about machines and mechanics. Not only did she need to learn how to maintain her punching glove, a weapon of her own making, but she also was genuinely interested in all things mechanical. The backbone of their world was the technology fuelled by energy cores, which no one knew more about than Lexis, and knowing as much as she could about the power that drove their daily lives gave her an edge, even in a small village like Elcid. “...Hey, thanks for joining us. An extra set of hands is really useful.”
“Ah, well, I like to think that I can show this Gades fiend a thing or two!”, Dekar said jovially, causing Tia to snicker.
“Maxim got his ass kicked the first time he met Gades-”
“Maxim is a good adventurer and an excellent monster hunter, but I have trained half of my life for occasions just like this!”, Dekar boasted, though he then grinned softly and scratched the back of his head while admitting: “...Though I have to admit that I wouldn’t much like facing off against a god all by myself. Maxim’s got the heart of a lion.”
“Yeah, that he has.”, Tia said - Dekar wasn’t oblivious to the sparkle in her eyes, but he smiled warmly at her.
“You have the heart of a lioness yourself, lady Tia-”
“Oh, no, don’t call me ‘lady’, I’m not… I feel horribly inadequate when someone makes me out to be more than I am!”, Tia said, and Dekar shook his head.
“You sorely underestimate yourself, l- Tia. It takes true valor to stand next to the man you care about so much and follow him into the claws of adventure. It takes true mettle to stand next to a man like Maxim and strive to follow at his heels. And no woman can stand where you stand, rest assured of that.” His grin turned a little more broad again as he added: “...And, of course, your courage only underlines your beauty, my lady.”
“Hee hee, you’re such a flatterer, Dekar, but I think all of the ladies in the world have realized by now that your heart is as much a fortress as Bound Castle is.”
“As rock-solid as my home, too, don’t you think?”, Dekar said, and Tia couldn’t help but laugh in earnest.
“Hahaha… well, yeah, maybe. But do you want it to be like that?” Now Dekar looked in earnest at the young woman, smiling softly as he clearly pondered her words: then, finally, he shrugged.
“Can I tell you a secret, perhaps, Tia?”
“Sure, but if you want it to stay a secret, here’s not really the place to talk. Do you wanna head up to the deck?”, she asked, and Dekar nodded, following Tia through the maze of corridors until they stood out in the open air, passing swiftly over the Gruberik Bridge. The Bound fighter clearly marvelled at the speed of the Excelion, something that Tia had to admit she had done herself that first trip.
“This machine is amazing!”, he exclaimed over the sound of the engine, looking around and laughing lightly. “I feel like I’m standing on solid ground, and yet I’m moving faster than a galloping horse! What an amazing thing! Professor Shaia is a master at his craft!”
“He sure is!”, Tia agreed, nodding before moving closer to Dekar again. “...So you wanted to tell me a secret?”, she said, and Dekar nodded, turning serious and sitting down on a small staircase off to the side, motioning for her to sit down as well.
“...When I joined the Bound army, my father had died in a monster attack and my mother was too ill to take care of my sister and I. When she died, I was left alone with a young sister. Girls started noticing me at that age, and I certainly noticed them as well, heh… but I couldn’t afford to have a girlfriend. All my attention went to my sister, to providing for her. After a while, I discovered that outright flirting with the girls - flirting, but nothing more - got their attention to dwindle fast, so I… did that. And I guess it’s become second nature to me. It’s not that I don’t think you’re lovely and smart and courageous, or that Selan is a very attractive woman-”
“Oh, always Selan…”, Tia said, and Dekar looked at her.
“Tia, at the risk of you not believing me when I say it… there’s no comparing you and Selan. It’s no use comparing a lilac and a rose. Both are beautiful flowers, with a lovely fragrance… They are just different from one another, and some people adore the rose, while others adore the lilac.”
“I think roses are gorgeous.”, Tia said sulkily, crossing her arms and resting them on her knees, resting her head on them a second later with a sigh. “I can’t blame Maxim and Guy for fawning over Selan, either, she’s… different. Cold as ice, though-”
“Yes, well, I like my women a little warmer than Selan, truth be told.”, Dekar said, grinning when Tia gave him a look.
“...How’s your little sister doing nowadays?”
“She’s great! She’s just turned eighteen and she married the son of the local weaponsmith, their first baby is on the way-”
“She’s… eighteen and expecting?!”, Tia said, blinking, but Dekar waved her worries away airily.
“Sixteen is the age of maturity in Bound, Tia, so no worries, there was no taking advantage of anyone! I know it’s different in Parcelyte, where you turn adult at eighteen, and in Gratze you must be twenty-one to be considered an adult… you’re from further south, right?”
“In Elcid, we go with the Parcelyte law - you’re an adult at eighteen - but in some cases, like mine or Maxim’s…” She grew quiet, and Dekar didn’t speak up either, both of them sitting next to each other for minutes, watching the landscape pass before their eyes - when the view of the ocean disappeared, Tia sighed again. “I think we’ll get to Parcelyte in another three hours, we’d best eat.”
“Who cooks for your band?”, Dekar asked, prompting Tia to smile proudly and point at herself.
“I don’t just have a lion’s courage, I’ve got an angel’s patience with those five! ...I could always use a little help in the kitchen, though…”
“I… think it best you should ask someone else, then…”, Dekar admitted, wincing emphatically at the mention. “Last time I entered a kitchen, it had to be remodeled.”
“I’m not asking you to demolish the kitchen, Dekar, just… I don’t know, cut some leeks, or peel some potatoes. You have cooked for your little sister, haven’t you?”, she asked, and Dekar nodded proudly. “Then show me what you can do!”
“Ah, I cannot refuse such a dashing young lady like you, Tia!”, Dekar said loftily, going into the kitchen. However, the entire experience peeled off his layer of refinement, Tia saw. Dekar cut his finger on the kitchen knife, managed to get it stuck in the chopboard, then disfigured the potatoes so badly that Tia had to resort to mashing them… but he also added a dash of butter and nutmeg to her mash, and he created a cream sauce for the leek that went with their meat perfectly as well. All in all, Tia mused when the others sat down to dinner, Dekar could certainly hold his own in a kitchen, with a little help. No doubt his little sister had wisely called in that help as well, if only to learn for herself how to produce a decent meal.
“Mmm, Tia, this tastes delicious for once!”, Guy said unsubtly - Selan did elbow him in the ribs for it, but she didn’t speak to contradict him - and Maxim chimed in.
“Yeah, this is great! Normally your potatoes don’t have this much flavor, and you never once made sauce to go with the food, what changed?”
“Uh, actually…”, Tia started, but before she could speak on, Dekar spoke in his usual slightly pompous way.
“Actually, it was my fault. Tia asked me if I’d like something special so I’d feel more at home in your team, and I asked her to prepare it this way. I was a little worried that I asked too much, but she really did pull it off perfectly - thank you for your angel’s patience, Tia!” He rose from his chair and, in front of the others, grabbed her hand and brushed his lips against it ever so lightly, making her blush and laugh lightly and making Guy and Maxim laugh a little more loudly. Selan joined in as well after a few seconds of looking at Dekar, probably to make out whether he was being sincere or not, and Lexis and Iris also chuckled. All in all, the group’s spirits as they left their dining room were light considering where they were going to and why. However, before getting started on the dishes while Lexis piloted them the remaining hour to Parcelyte, she overheard Dekar speaking to Maxim.
“You know, you can be honest when it comes to Tia’s cooking, you don’t need to hide behind those pick-up lines, especially since they worked so well at the top of Logismos Temple, heh…”, the red-haired fighter said, and Dekar chuckled.
“I’m the best at a lot of things, Maxim, but lying isn’t one of them, especially not to a lady as lovely as Tia.” Tia looked again at her hand, remembering the feeling of Dekar’s lips brushing it lightly and his exhaled breath warming her skin for just a second, and she found herself smiling all of a sudden. He wasn’t too bright, and he certainly lacked Maxim’s down-to-earth, easy-going nature, but he was refreshing and witty and he had a knack for saying the exact right thing at the exact right time, like the thing he’d said about lilacs before…
“Tia? Are you okay?”, Iris asked - the other woman’s quizzical look made Tia’s smile solidify.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Let’s get those dishes washed.” Pulling up her sleeves - metaphorically speaking, since Tia didn’t wear a sleeved shirt at that moment - she set out into the kitchen, braving the dirty dishes. However, she couldn’t help but think a little more about what Dekar had said before, and she turned to Iris halfway through their duty. “...Iris?”
“Yes, Tia?”, the woman in white asked.
“...Do you think lilacs are lovely? Compared to roses, I mean.”
“I haven’t ever taken much notice of flowers, but yes, I suppose lilacs have a charm that roses do not. They’re smaller, for instance, and have a more overpowering aroma… and they’re much easier to grow… Why do you ask?”, she inquired, but Tia had already put her hands back into the soapy grease-riddled water, continuing her work with a little added vigor.
All of the things that happened afterwards, happened in a blur, really. Parcelyte in ruins again, Selan running off to fight Gades by herself, all of us hurrying after her… Poor Guy only managed to give Jessy a peck on the cheek before we had to run off again, and Dekar didn’t have time to flirt with her at all. I’ll bet he’ll be all over her next time they meet, if only to rustle Guy’s jimmies.
Then, of course, watching Maxim all torn up when Selan was injured by Gades… I won’t deny that didn’t hurt. God, why does he have to be such a nice guy? I can’t even hate him for being inconsiderate, because he’s so… so… considerate! After that, we fought - it was the first time I got to see Dekar in action, wielding one of Maxim’s spare swords and cutting Gades to ribbons with it whenever Maxim needed a breather… I’m starting to buy into the entire ‘strongest man in the world’ spiel he’s got going. And he’s got nice eyes. Not too sure about the pink hair, though, so not manly. Then again, my ideal man’s got red hair and is now cradling an unconscious woman in his arms as we walk up the stairs of her house. The way he looks at her makes me wonder whether I still even have a chance…
Okay, yes, I feel for Selan too. She’s really badly hurt: Iris said something about her having been ‘on the brink’ and that doesn’t feel good at all - not to mention I saw Iris’ magic take on Doom Eye’s laserbeam without even the slightest hitch in its power, yet it lacked the energy to fully heal Selan. I mean, I feel worried about whether she’s going to pull through alright just as much as Guy and Dekar and Iris do… but… a part of me…
No! No, I won’t be that petty! I love Maxim, sure, but not so much that I can’t… understand when he finds his happiness with someone else… No matter how much it hurts me to see Maxim gallivant off into the arms of another girl, I wouldn’t want that other girl to get beaten up like Selan did! ...Her bruises were horrible, and I think Iris’ magic mended a few broken bones that would’ve healed slowly and painfully, if they even healed at all. I can’t be mad at Selan for liking Maxim, and I can’t be mad at Maxim for liking Selan. Guess all that’s left is feeling sorry for myself…
Then again, maybe Maxim and I just… grew to have different mindsets. I never thirsted for adventure the way he does, and he never understood how important my shop is to me in terms of providing a nice fixed income. I came along with him because I didn’t want to be left out, but maybe… maybe it’s time I realized that I am going to be left out, no matter how hard I try...
The funniest thing happened back there in Soma Temple, though. During the fight against Gades, I felt a warm hand on my arm holding me back just in time: Gades’ huge monster-hand landed right where I would’ve been if I hadn’t stopped walking. I half expected my impromptu savior to be Maxim, who’s always watching my back in battle and whose hands are that kind of warm that lingers on your skin for a moment longer than his touch actually does - but it turned out to be Dekar, of all people, charging into the fray the next second. Maxim was standing five feet away, pummeling away at the energy core on Gades’ hand. After the fight, I told Dekar ‘thanks’, and he just smiled and shook his head, and do you know what he said? He said… well, I forgot his exact words, but he said something like ‘you should never have to say ‘thank you’ when someone only does what is right’. Maxim never once said he didn’t need my thanks, and neither did Guy. Dekar is maybe a little pompous at times, and he brags so loudly and proudly that he probably makes half of it up, but he doesn’t instantly treat me like a nuisance like Guy did when he joined us, or laughed away my hard work like Maxim sometimes did...
The outcome of the entire thing was inevitable, Tia thought in hindsight as she sat down in the Excelion’s machine room. Of course Maxim and Selan would end up together - the way they had looked at Guy when their big, muscular friend commented on the way they’d been teleported back holding each other tightly said everything, and if that hadn’t, then the way Selan had grabbed Maxim’s hand, and the way the monster hunter had twined their fingers instantly…
“Oh, Tia, little miss, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a fight you know you lost! I have to do it all the time!”, Lexis commented, looking her over for a second. “In fact, my duties as a genius make sure that I get plenty of practice at being wrong and coming out of it worse!”
“You’re not really cheering me up, Lexis, but… thanks, I guess, for sharing the misery.”
“Oh, it’s not really misery, Tia… Think of it as, uh, experience!” Tia didn’t comment back, unable to want to tell the professor that he was maybe an expert on technology and energy cores, but that he knew so very little about love being an old man whose only love interest was science and exploration of all kinds. Then again, she mused, maybe he’d been like Maxim when he was younger - adventurous and handsome, turning heads wherever he went. Maybe Lexis had had his Selan when he was younger, too. She knew precious little about the man that had settled in the remote corner of the world that Elcid really was, other than what little facts she’d found out about him from his assistants and from the people they’d met. He’d lived in Parcelyte before moving away from there, and he’d been supervising the excavations in Tanbel Mine until it’d been depleted… so maybe he had had a wife, or even a family, back there? Then again, he didn’t seem to originally be from Parcelyte…
“...Lexis, did you ever get shoved aside for another guy?”, she asked, and Lexis shrugged.
“Why, plenty of times! Women always fall for brawn over brains-”
“Hey, I resent that, I like Maxim’s smarts and his funny nature more than I like the way he looks!”, Tia readily defended herself, adding with a wry smile: “...And I’ll bet Selan sees more in him than a pretty face, too…”
“Yes, well, I’m not saying that the spark that instigates love can’t be something else, I’m just saying… give a woman a choice between someone smart but physically weak, and someone strong but mentally weak, men that both have okay characters, and she’ll go with brawn over brains. Nothing wrong with that, it’s even kind of natural. I guess I’ve just been unlucky a lot of times!”, the scientist said with a grin, which prompted Tia to ask the inevitable question his words teased her to do.
“A lot of times… but not all the time then?”
“H-heh, well… uh… maybe, when I was a little younger, say Maxim’s age… there might have been a few times where I wasn’t all brawnless and the girl made the better choice, hehe… But never like Maxim and Selan, no. I felt attraction a lot, affection even more, but total enchantment? Oh, that is a rare thing indeed…” The two fell silent then, and Tia resorted to looking outside. They reached the outskirts of Elcid in the meantime, with the small Earth Core glowing in its setting at the town square within running distance. A feeling of emptiness besieged her suddenly, and she sighed.
“How come Elcid suddenly feels a lot less like home without Maxim, huh?”, she commented, prompting Lexis to pat her on the shoulder consolingly.
“...Heartbreak heals, Tia, m’dear. Elcid isn’t any less of a home to you than before… but there’s a saying that goes ‘a house is bricks and mortar but a home is the warmth kept inside’. Maybe you just lost a little warmth. It’ll come back in due time.” The Excelion approached the professor’s lab from the riverside, slowing to a standstill at a hair’s breadth from the back entrance, and Lexis exhaled a sigh of fatigue more than anything else. “Ahh, and now for the well-deserved rest! I hope my assistants haven’t made too much of a mess of my lab… Guess the people are going to be very happy that you’re back, too, Tia, imagine all the knives that need sharpening and the clocks that need finetuning!”, he said, but Tia shook her head.
“I think I’m going to sleep in tomorrow. That last battle with Gades was… I barely got any sleep on the way back, and Iris’ teleporting us to Parcelyte, all the worrying I did over Maxim…” She sighed and turned back to Lexis, wondering something else. She’d basically grown up around his lab, and her earliest memories all included him. He knew her like she was his own daughter - which she could be, if she didn’t have such clear memories of her actual father as well - and so she felt at ease speaking to him. “...Say, Lexis, you remember the teasing the other boys and girls of the village did back when I was younger?”
“Yes, I do, very clearly so as a matter of fact! I knew, of course, that teasing was just teasing - your name is a lovely name, Tia, and you were just a young girl! Girls are always a little more emotional! Maxim… well, maybe he didn’t handle talking to you as well as he should’ve - ‘you shouldn’t cry so much’ wasn’t exactly my idea of making you feel better, but you would only listen to him, he was your knight in shining armor, even then. Heh, come to think of it, Maxim standing up for you probably got you to fall in love with him so quickly…”
“I… today, when Maxim and Selan looked so happy, I felt awful. But no matter how badly I wanted to cry, I just couldn’t. I mean… Do you think I lost the ability to cry, Lexis?”
“Pfeh, ‘losing the ability to cry’... that’s just nonsense, Tia. Everyone has the ability to cry. Even madmen like Idura can cry; even women made of steel and crystal like Selan can cry, you saw it proven today. Everyone can cry… but there are moments where sadness and happiness lay close together. I mean, think about it! You love Maxim a lot, clearly. And yet, you’re friends before anything else. You told me so a dozen times, Tia, that you’d be his friend forever and that you couldn’t ever be upset at him. And you told me a few times that you really think Selan is a strong, capable woman. So tell me, are you sad to see that Maxim gave his love to someone else… or are you happy that your best friend found a woman to match his character and strength, a woman that you can approve of no less?”
“I… b-both, I guess…”, Tia said, and Lexis nodded solemnly.
“Well, there you have it! Common logic dictates that, if you feel even a little happiness, it can outbalance even the most oppressive sadness! Hence, no tears.” Tia bit her lip and rose from her seat.
“...Well, I guess he had a point, then.”
“Who had?”, Lexis asked, nonplussed, but Tia merely smiled and waved at him before exiting the cabin and heading off the ship. Thinking back to the events in Parcelyte, Lexis remembered seeing her talk to Dekar before she’d gone to the Excelion. The fighter from Bound had appeared to him to be rather self-absorbed but in a completely harmless way, and he’d had a clear interest in the workings of the Excelion but not even the slightest hint of any scientific training, which was a shame. Not to mention Dekar had a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth, clearly: his attempts to sweet-talk Selan had been brave, but futile, and his exchanges with Iris invariably made the woman more confused than flattered. Tia also hadn’t responded to his flirtatious comments with genuine interest, but she’d always smiled or laughed and told Dekar he was nice, or okay, or something else generally meant in a friendly, kind-hearted spirit.
“Hmm… I wonder…”, Lexis said to himself as he, too, dismounted the Excelion and headed into his lab, oblivious to the state of his workbenches.
Ahh, it’s been two months since Maxim’s marriage, and all is going so very well in Bound! Prince Alex’ swordplay lessons have begun in earnest, with leave from his brother Prince Leon - and my lord and future ruler is making progress with leaps and bounds. Heh, uh, pardon the expression… silly me… Anyway, Prince Alex’ fighting style has become much more refined. Jellies no longer pose a problem to him at all, and he shakes off poison and paralysis as if they’re mere raindrops clinging to his skin: so far, two monster raids have occurred in the three months since we defeated Gades, and Prince Alex has been on the frontlines each time, battling valiantly and relying much less on the other soldiers. He’ll soon be an excellent warrior - and how could he not be, with the strongest man in the world training him?!
Prince Leon’s marriage arrangements have also taken up some of my time - there were exchanges of gifts sent to Gratze from Bound and vice versa, not to mention foreign dignitaries met up a few times to discuss the exact terms and dates and details and whatnot… It makes me think back on Maxim and Selan’s wedding. Maxim looked so refined and polished in the tuxedo Lexis made him, and Selan’s dress… her aunt made it, she said - if so, maybe I should ask the lovely lady if she can make me a new coat, I sorely need one… This one is a gift from Prince Alex, which he made himself - but the seams keep getting loose and the padding has fallen out three times so far, no matter how strong the thread I use to sew it back in place.
Anyway, uh, where was I… oh right, Maxim and Selan’s wedding! It was a lovely ceremony, and they both looked very nice - Selan looked befittingly beautiful with her hair done up elaborately, and Maxim positively beamed with joy. I would, too, if a lady such as Selan looked at me with such love and tenderness… ah…
I think I remember Tia jokingly saying once that my heart is a fortress much like Bound Kingdom is, and somehow that makes me feel… lonely. I mean, seeing Maxim’s happiness with Selan makes a man think, don’t you know. Seeing Guy’s carelessness towards his fiancée, Jessy, though… I’d treat my fiancée better than that. Oh, if any girl would honestly love me and wish to marry me… not like the maids and cooks’ aids of the castle, they all have silly girly crushes on me but they’re just… girls, don’t you know? They’re pretty, and sweet, but there isn’t that… that electrical tension when I speak to them. My words feel like hot air when I tell them they are beautiful, when I compliment their choice of dress, when I tell them they’ll surely make a man very happy some day… It’s like there’s this invisible, impenetrable and completely opaque wall around me that hides my personality and only leaves the legend. Sir Dekar, the strongest man, the royal bodyguard, the savior of Bound - it’s not that I don’t like those titles, but they make me out to be someone larger than life, while I’m still just me. Only no one sees ‘just me’. Girls see the glamour, the strength - and okay, maybe they see the incredibly unwise things I sometimes do or say, too - but they don’t see the heart underneath it all. It’s like every girl is… afraid of what lays underneath the veneer all of a sudden, or something.
...Well, but let’s not get down due to the fact that no girl manages to spark my interest, or the fact that I can’t seem to manage to make any girl see what a swell man I really am! There’s little time for that when I’m on my way over to Professor Shaia’s lab for Prince Leon’s birthday gift to his brother! Prince Alex’ sword needs an overhaul, to better attune the energy core to his person - it was their father’s old sword, but the young princes have so much of their mother within them that the sword’s energy core only works with part of them. So I’m about to ask Professor Shaia - who has probably asked me to call him ‘just Lexis’ a dozen times, but genius needs to be properly appreciated - to fuse the old shard of Bound’s Fire Core with a more Earth-oriented energy core that Prince Alex personally selected. Prince Leon said that he could only trust me with this, and he told me not to worry about taking a while to get back since the last monster raid was only a week ago, and the monsters always take time to regroup, about which he’s right. We’ll sorely miss Prince Leon after his wedding with Princess Thea of Gratze - if those dignitaries ever manage to stop arguing over who sits where so the two can actually get married, that is… A true general’s mind like Prince Leon’s is rare, even more rare than a true leader’s courage and fiery spirit like Prince Alex’. But there could be no man more perfect that Prince Alex to lead our fine nation to glorious prosperity - like his father, his courage and fighting spirit are unmatched, and like his mother, his warm heart and fun-loving personality make him everyone’s friend almost instantly - just like Prince Leon’s more analytical mind and warm compassion will unthaw the hearts of the Ice Empire’s every citizen, I am sure!
Well, that’s a bummer… Professor Shaia gratefully accepted the commission to overhaul Prince Alex’ sword, but he said that complex fusions such as this take time and precision, and he said he’d have to work a full day on it. I mean, Prince Leon did say that I could take my time, seeing as Prince Alex’ birthday is only in a month’s time, but I don’t like having to keep my prince waiting. The journey here already took a week! Lexis’ offer of bringing me back to Bound is nice, I admit, since it’d cut my time travelling in half, but still… But oh well, I guess even genius can’t be rushed… I decided to check out Elcid in the meantime. It’s a quaint little town with a lot of plentiful fields - we’ve eaten Elcidian cabbages and carrots as far away as Bound, so they’re renowned the world around - and their Earth Core is a beautiful sight, if not as splendorous as the Fire Core set atop Bound Castle. And then, to my surprise, when I headed over to the store to see whether they had all the commodities we do in Bound, I discovered that Elcid has another feature of rare and pleasant beauty that Bound lacks, for who other than Tia greeted me? She was as surprised as I was, of course - asking me what brought me all the way over to Elcid, and asking how things had been in Bound… The news of lessened monster raids made her smile, and my tales of how Prince Alex’ swordsmanship had become so much better made her say that she hoped the young prince would become a master swordsman under my expert supervision. Seeing as my stomach decided to interrupt our reacquaintance, she invited me over to lunch, saying she had a recipe she’d been dying to invite a friend over for; really, how could I refuse an invitation like that? The food smelled magnificent, and I have to admit its taste was superb, which I readily admitted. It wouldn’t be something I’d cook up myself, but it was a daring culinary experiment that was clearly successful - when I said as much, Tia again blushed and laughed lightly, saying she was glad I appreciated it more than Maxim had. Clearly, three months had given her a little time to get used to the idea of Maxim having given his heart away to Selan, though she admitted over lunch that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to attend his wedding, instead getting the story of how wonderful Selan had looked and how happy Maxim had been all the day long from Lexis and Iris, who was helping the scientist out since she didn’t really have a home. Tia then kindly offered to put me up for the night, claiming that the inn of Elcid wasn’t too comfy and that she’d like the chance to make me a proper breakfast. Well, declining an invitation like that from a lovely girl like Tia would be too horrible for words, so I spent the night in her guest bed, which was actually… better than my own bed back at Bound, to be honest! The ‘proper breakfast’ she’d promised was lavish as well: fried eggs, bacon, toasted bread, cinnamon cake, fresh milk and orange juice, and bitter tea that she sweetened with extra sugar. Usually, in Bound, I eat a few boiled eggs with toast and then drink a glass of water, so you can imagine what kind of a feast this was to me.
After the necessary thanks for the breakfast, I asked Tia whether there was something I could help her with, and she told me she had a few knives that needed sharpening before she opened her shop. Since I take good care of my gear, sharpening blades has no secrets for me, so I happily took up the task at hand - by the time Tia returned, freshly showered and looking as pretty as ever, all of the knives were duly sharpened, and I’d also taken the liberty of washing the dirty dishwares for her already. Her sweet smile proved to be rewarding enough, and while she helped out her few customers of the morning, I sat in her back room and looked through the collection of gear she had. She had a few disassembled clocks hanging over a workbench, and her large mechanical device was standing by the doorway. It was clear to see how mechanically inclined Tia was, no doubt having learnt much from Lexis. Repairing clocks requires precision and very finely attuned motor skills; keeping a shop like this and being on good terms with everyone in the village requires a heart unlike any other, not to mention a keen business sense and empathy; and her fighting abilities as I witnessed them not only require a lot of strength for a woman, but also cool logic even in the hardest of circumstances and ardor to keep going. I learnt more about her just by looking at the back room of her store, and I had to admit that what I learnt only made Tia rise in my esteem, though she’d already been high up in there… heh...
Finally, after a light lunch consisting of bread and a light cheese sprinkled with some herbs she’d gotten as payment from an older gentleman, it was time for me to pick up the finished sword and head back to Bound. Tia said she’d found it ‘super nice’ meeting me again, and I had to admit that meeting her again had made my stay in Elcid all but fly past. I was even loath that the work Lexis did only took one day! So I did the only right thing to do and told her about Prince Alex’ birthday the next month in Bound, how grand the celebration would be, and how I’d be delighted to have her as my guest for the festivities. I half expected her to object, and I was just about to offer to come pick her up myself, but she instantly accepted my offer!
When I asked Lexis, once he’d dropped me off at the castle gates the next morning, if he’d maybe see fit to bring Tia to Bound later that month, the professor just smiled and nodded. Odd, you’d think he already knew that I’d invited her before I told him so… Well, as it is, he said he’d bring Tia over bright and early for the celebrations, and then he got back into the Excelion and turned back towards Gruberik Bridge, leaving me to bring the sword to Prince Leon and tell him I’d invited lady Tia of Elcid as my special guest to Prince Alex’ birthday. Prince Leon, clearly remembering Tia, said that she’d have a place at the evening banquet and that she could sleep in the castle, something that I am sure will make Tia thrilled!
...But it’s only right, come to think of it. I wouldn’t like Tia to spend her evening here among strangers. The way she had instantly invited me into her home… it’s only right for my own home to be open to her the very same way. Why, I’d let her sleep in my own bed and gladly sleep on the floor if need be!
...Why dammit, speaking of beds, now I miss that magnificent guest bed of hers again… and, yes, I miss her company and spirit...
“...Ooh, desert nights really can get chilly…”, Tia said, which led to Dekar instantly putting an arm around her shoulders and pull her a little closer to himself, bringing a grin to her features. She felt giddy, with a heavy stomach, most likely due to the combination of the excitement she’d felt on board the Excelion and the fine food they’d enjoyed before, at the banquet - where she’d sat in between Prince Alex and Dekar, who had constantly kept her engaged in light conversation, and opposite Prince Leon, who had asked her kindly about her home town and the simple delights of life in Elcid. Then, after the desserts, Prince Leon had told the entire gathered company to head on outside for the conclusion of the day’s celebrations. Prince Alex charged out first, followed at his heels by his advisor Josef, who had trouble keeping up with the youth’s pace, and Leon laughed lightly as he motioned for Dekar and Tia to head out before him. Dekar had carefully offered her his arm until she’d commented on the chill.
“...Do you want me to go get you a coat or a sweater, Tia?”, the fighter asked, and she smiled as she shook her head.
“No, no, I’ll manage… though maybe you’ll have to share a little of your warmth with me…”, she said jokingly, at which point Dekar pulled her a little closer still, close enough for her to feel the contractions of his chest as he chuckled.
“Just so, just so! You’ll find that the second thing I’m best at is keeping a lovely lady like you warm and comfortable, Tia!” A few women that they passed on their way to the town square cast her envenomed looks, Tia noticed, but she felt bolstered by the fact that Dekar’s hand still felt as warm as she remembered, and the warmth of it spread throughout her like a gentle hearthfire being stoked in her chest. “...If you’re uncomfortable with my arm around you like this, Tia…”, Dekar said, and Tia looked up at him to see him looking gently down at her, prompting her to smile.
“No, Dekar, you’re not making me uncomfortable at all - but if you don’t feel right like this-”
“I’m most definitely feeling alright!”, he said loud enough to turn heads their way, and he waited a few moments for other people’s eyes to move back to the sky before adding in a softer tone: “The stars over Bound have never looked as lovely as they do now, being reflected in your eyes, Tia.” Tia found herself giggling despite herself.
“Still flirting as boldly as before, I see.”
“Only with you, though.”, Dekar remarked offhand, his fingers idly stretching and shifting a little on her arm, and a warmth flushed through Tia that made even the desert night’s chill fall away. She hadn’t considered the truth in his statement, but it was there, undeniably: the Dekar she remembered would have mercilessly flirted with the ladies waiting on the banquet table, or the townsfolk they passed - but her friend hadn’t even looked at any of the other ladies they’d encountered throughout the day, let alone direct aimless compliments at them. Her, on the other hand, he’d given his full attention and charm from the moment she opened the door of the Excelion… However, before Tia could speak up again, Dekar pointed at the sky and Tia’s mouth fell open in a perfect ‘O’ of surprise as fireworks lit up the night’s sky in big blossoms of red, green, gold and blue, in shapes unlike she’d ever seen before. Big starbursts of gold rained down droplets of myriad hues over them, which dissipated upon touch, leaving only the lightest trace of warmth on the skin; snakes of red and green coiled in the air and then burst into magnificent flower-like multifold forms that scented of appleblossom or cinnamon or delicate peony… And all through the spectacle, she was acutely aware of Dekar’s presence by her side, of his proud smile, of the way his hand had slowly dropped until it rested on her waist lightly, and his previous words itched in her mind. “...Oh, Tia, isn’t it beautiful?”, Dekar said, his voice soft and awed, and Tia nodded, wondering briefly whether the slight pink tinge Dekar’s cheeks had was due to the night’s chill, the fireworks, or the fact that she’d leaned against him now, her head resting lightly against his shoulder.
“...Only with you, though.”, she remarked in earnest. There was no denying that Dekar’s invitation had had her eager from the moment he’d first spoken it, and the excitement she’d felt all throughout the day’s journey to Bound was only due in part to seeing the kingdom’s magnificent architecture or the two princes again. All in all, it had been a wonderful, wonderful day from beginning to end, and yet… And yet, something had been lacking from the day, something that had to do with Dekar. He’d been so very kind and caring towards her: his kiss on her hand as he helped her descend from the Excelion, the way he’d offered her his arm as he walked her into the castle, making heads turn their way… the way he’d carefully brushed her arm at dinner to draw her attention back in time for the next dish to arrive… and now the way his hand rested on her waist, holding her close as the last of the fireworks dwindled away in the sky and people started heading back to their homes… She had found Dekar okay-looking before, but now… in the pale light from the moon that was slowly rising, Dekar’s hair looked almost like it was polished metal, and his grey eyes seemed as silvery as the moon. She could feel his every breath when she’d leaned against him before, as well as the strength of his arms and hands, and she’d heard the strong and steady beats of that big heart of his… and she’d wondered...
“...Oh, I guess it’s over already…”, Dekar mused, moving his hand swiftly back up to her shoulder as if he felt he’d taken a liberty that he wasn’t allowed. And Tia supposed that it kind of was a liberty he’d taken, since the gesture was a lot more intimate than friendship warranted. But she’d allowed it nevertheless. “Let’s head back to the castle before you catch a cold.”
“Yes, that would be a shame. Lady Tia, Dekar, goodnight!”, Prince Alex said: Tia curtseyed before him and Dekar saluted with his free hand before turning back to her as they followed the prince to the castle at a distance.
“Tia, I hope you’ve had a magnificent day.”, Dekar said proudly, and Tia smiled up at him.
“Oh, yes, I have! It’s been wonderful! Being here again, meeting the princes again…”
“And me?”, he tried, prompting Tia to laugh.
“Aren’t you desperate for attention today? ...Yes, talking to you again made this day all the more wonderful. I’ve missed you, Dekar.”
“I missed you too, Tia - it seems a shame that we need to head to bed already!” They’d arrived in the castle in the meantime: Tia was glad for the warmth that washed over her once inside, but she couldn’t fault Dekar for stopping in the entrance hall. “...Tia… might I make another confession to you?”
“...Wait, why don’t we go to the sleeping quarters, Dekar, I’m sure it’ll be more comfortable talking there…”,Tia said, and Dekar gratefully nodded. He didn’t take his arm away from around her shoulders, Tia noticed - not that she wanted him to, anyway - until they found themselves standing in front of the door to Tia’s room.
“...Tia…”, Dekar started, putting his hands gently on her shoulders - she could feel the stitches of his gloves, but more importantly and far more clearly she could feel the touch of his fingertips on the fabric of her sleeveless shirt. “...Look, when you left Parcelyte four months ago… I was a little worried whether you’d be okay. Your heart is so wonderful, don’t you know, and I’d like to call Maxim a fool for throwing your affection away like he did, if he wasn’t so happy with Selan. You were right when you said you and he wanted different things out of life-”
“And you were right when you said Maxim and I are more compatible as friends, Dekar, really.”, Tia admitted, putting a hand on Dekar’s arm, right underneath his bracer, prompting a warm smile from him.
“...Well, I have to be honest, that was not just an empty thought. Maxim cares about you, just not like that; and you love Maxim a lot, even just as a friend. Only a blind fool wouldn’t see that, and I’m no blind fool. Or, well, that’s the thought.”, he added a little sheepishly, and Tia smiled up at him, prompting him to speak further: “...Well, I was a little worried about you. Maxim hurt you, no matter how much he didn’t want to hurt you by following his heart, and you were looking so down… but then, I met you again a month ago, and I saw that all my worry over you was in vain. The strength I saw in you, the resilience… You recovered from your emotional wounds a lot faster than I thought. ...You really are a wonderful girl, Tia. And you… treated me with such kindness, like I’d been your friend all your life instead of some guy you met for maybe a week before your life turned upside-down…”
“But you are a friend, Dekar!”, Tia said, looking at him fiercely. “You are my friend! And you’re great yourself! I mean it! You didn’t even pause to help me out when I asked, you even did more than I’d thought you’d have time for! You treated me like a princess even though I’m not just some girl that turned up in Bound and then waltzed back away a week later…”
“...Tia, I guess the thing I want to say is… that no night under Bound’s open skies ever felt warmer to me than tonight. No royal feast I ever attended was more splendid than this one. No door opening was ever enough for me to feel both thrilled and anxious, and yet the Excelion managed to do that this morning, when you came back to Bound.” While he spoke, his hands slowly made their way down over her back, and the lower they went, the more Tia blushed, until his hands once again rested on her waist and Tia felt like flames had to burst from her skin. “...The thought of you leaving again tomorrow, it’s… depressing, Tia.”
“Dekar, tell me, and be honest like you’ve always been…”, Tia said, looking up at Dekar, who gave her a quizzical glance as if to say ‘I’d never be dishonest with you’. “...Was I here as your friend, or your date?”
“...At first, you were coming here as my friend, but… can I hope tonight was our first date?”, he said, and Tia smiled up at him broadly.
“...I think I like the sound of that. Our first date.” She brought her hands to rest on Dekar’s shoulders, looking into his eyes and seeing the joy in them light them up.
“Oh, Tia… just you wait, I’ll be the greatest boyfriend you ever had!”, he said, and Tia laughed lightly.
“That, I have no trouble believing - you’re the only boyfriend I ever had.”
“Hah, did all the men in the world suddenly turn fool, then?”, Dekar said, shaking his head. “Well, no matter, they’ll all curse their luck now that I’ve plucked you away from them all!”
“Oh, Dekar, you’re such a dramatic guy... But I think you’re forgetting something here…”, Tia remarked lightly, prompting Dekar to send her a questioning look again. “...I think a date isn’t a real date without a kiss goodnight, right?”, she said, and Dekar grinned softly.
“Now what kind of boyfriend would I be if I forgot to kiss you goodnight, Tia, my dear?”, he said, though he didn’t lean down to kiss her just yet: instead, he pulled her gently closer to him, nuzzling the top of her head while she pressed her ear to his chest to hear the excited, speedy beating of his heart - the heart he’d just given to her, she realized. Then, after what felt like only a second of his warmth, he leaned down. His breath ghosted over her cheek first, and then his lips pressed warmly against her still-flushed skin. She could feel the lightest bit of stubble against her jaw, but it only added to the sensation of being held and kissed ever so lovingly. All too soon, however, he detached from her again with a heavy sigh. “...Tia, I wish you the most refreshing sleep and the most warm dreams, but I… can’t stay out here with you. If I hold you any longer, I might never let you go again.”, he admitted, and Tia nodded.
“...Tempting as that is, Dekar, we do need our beauty sleep. I’ll need to brave every Bound girl between the ages of nine and ninety in the morning, so…”
“Hmph, they couldn’t hope to have a chance against a woman of your strength and ardor, Tia, love!”, Dekar said - he looked like letting her go was the most painful thing he had to do, a sentiment Tia could understand - but before he walked off, he brushed her arm again lovingly. “...Goodnight, my beautiful lilac.”
“Goodnight, love, and see you tomorrow morning.”
I still can’t believe it. I just can’t. Oh, I’m so dizzy! I feel like I’m glowing! I… ahh!! It feels like getting the keys to Bound Castle, only… well, without actual keys… Oh, but Dekar is Bound to me. ...Pff, hehehe, he sure is now… Oh my god, I have a boyfriend! And not just any boyfriend, I’ve got the strongest man in the world to call mine! ...Oh, come on now, Tia, focus… focus...
Dekar came to get me from my room the morning after the feast, gallant as ever, but now he greeted me with a loving kiss before offering me his arm. He sat next to me at breakfast and told the princes I’d had a glorious time, and when he called me his girlfriend, Prince Leon smiled good-naturedly and Prince Alex laughed and cheered and I could care less that all of the maids turned up their noses at me afterwards. He’s my boyfriend. Oh, it’s unbelievable, but it’s true. He gave me his heart. Dekar gave me his heart, and I gave him mine without a second thought. The way he held me, the way he kissed me… the way his hand was now resting in mine as we walked down the town square… Thinking back on it, I still feel like all of the fire of Bound’s energy core is burning inside of me now, making me glow like the sun. If a monster stood right there in front of me, it would’ve been so dead, I would’ve fried it in a heartbeat. Dekar saluted every soldier and greeted every villager, smiling and raising his free hand to shopkeepers. He proudly brought me to the smithy, where we found a woman nursing a newlyborn and resting in an easy-chair. He introduced her as Elsinora, his sister, and then introduced me as Tia, ‘his love’, and she greeted me with warmth and excitement, clearly amazed that her brother had found happiness. It was easy to see that Dekar was overjoyed: his smile, his eyes, the way his cheeks had a little extra color… Oh, but best of all was when we parted - he kissed my cheek again and wouldn’t let go of my hand until I promised him that he could come over to Elcid for the appleblossom festival, which is right now - a month later. I’m preparing his room as I speak… god, I hope I’m not overdoing it, but it’s Dekar and he’s my boyfriend! Ohh, how can anyone live with their heart fluttering like this?!
“Ahh, Tia, thank you for sharpening my pruning scissors!”, Albert said hoarsely as Tia brought the item to him, prompting her to smile brightly.
“Oh, it’s really okay, Albert - thank you for the herbs! Dekar said my last dish tasted even better than the pie I baked for the appleblossom festival!” The old adventurer snorted kindly and shook his head.
“Never seen a more lovestruck fool than that Dekar of yours, Tia, wherever did you find him?”
“Oh, Albert, Dekar may be in love with me, but that doesn’t make him a fool-”
“Oh, I guess it’s just innate then - ouch, watch out with those scissors, damn woman!!”, he yelped the next second as Tia had hit him with the hand still holding pruning scissors. “Remind me to never bring up that boyfriend of yours again-”
“Yes, well, you can talk about him all you want, Albert, but don’t insult him.”, Tia said sulkily, though she grinned again the next moment. “...Oh, I was just thinking it’ll be summer again soon!”
“Yeah, I’m already irrigating my little plot of land like crazy. Temperature’s picking up, and the air is dry… maybe this year we’ll have a long, hot summer instead of a short and wet one.”, the old man said shrewdly, sniffing loudly before turning back to Tia. “So, do you and that boyfriend of yours have any plans for the summer? Another visit to his home, maybe?”
“...Well, no. I mean, Bound is desert, it’s sure to get boiling hot there in the summer. I think Dekar mentioned that the people there hardly ever leave home-”
“Yeah, well, I can imagine you and him can find a way to pass the time in close quarters in the middle of the sweltering heat, heh heh…”, Albert said with a wink Tia’s way, ducking away from another swing she took at him, though this time he’d already taken the pruning shears from her. “Okay, okay, forget I spoke…”, he said, prompting Tia to huff and cross her arms.
“Albert, it’s not like that… Dekar is a perfect gentleman, he’s never done more than kiss me-”
“Aw, you poor girl…”, Albert said, shaking his head. “Why, you’re both healthy youngsters, why not venture beyond a kiss, huh?”
“...Well…”, Tia said, pondering for a moment before shaking her head decisively: “Well, we’re just boyfriend and girlfriend, not… not engaged to be married. I mean, Guy and Jessy can do what they please, they’re going to get married anyways. But me and Dekar haven’t… well, we’re just testing the waters a little, seeing how things’ll develop between us. We’re not diving in headfirst like Maxim and Selan did.” Sighing, Tia took stock of her relationship with Dekar, which was mostly brief visits to each other, consisting of warm and intimate though held-back moments together. The party for Prince Alex’ birthday, the appleblossom festival, and the previous month it’d been Dekar’s birthday, his twenty-sixth. Then, when they parted for the night, had been the first time his hands had wandered to her hips and his eyes had had that shine in them that promised a fire the likes of which she hadn’t kindled in him yet - though the only thing ardent about that night had been his shaky sigh as he bade her a good night and the echo of that fire in his eyes as he wished her sweet dreams. Tia wasn’t oblivious to what he longed for - and to be honest, she longed for that as well, since ever since their parting that night, the merest touch of his fingers on her bare arms seemed to make her heartbeat speed up to a rhythm faster than any clock she’d yet made or seen. Even the lightest touch of his lips on her cheek seemed to make her head spin as of that one moment. At night, she dreamt of him, sometimes feverishly so, and… and she couldn’t speak for Dekar, but to her, it was a blessing Dekar and her didn’t venture beyond a kiss. There was no telling whether she could still use her brain at all if his hands wandered any more than they had. “Oh, Albert, it’s just not like that. It’s… slow and careful with us.”, Tia said, smiling softly when she heard her own words echo in her heart. “Slow, and careful, and profound. We’re fuelled by love, but it doesn’t consume us. Not like that, anyway.”
“Well, self-restraint is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can be ruinous…”, Albert mused, and Tia shook her head.
“Well, it isn’t ruining things for us. ...Anyway, I suppose I’ll ask Lexis if he can ferry me to Bound - a surprise visit to Dekar might be just what we both need right now! And then we maybe can agree to something to do over the summer… I mean, Dekar might like a longer stay here, Bound is probably boring in the summer…”
“Well, you could go to Parcelyte - the journey is a bit long-ish, but the roads have never been safer, and their beaches are renowned the world around!”, Albert suggested, prompting Tia to ponder for a moment. She definitely liked the thought of going to Parcelyte, but if she went there… she’d have to drop by Maxim and Selan first, for good measure. Five months of separation from her friend, and three months of Dekar’s sweet loving attention made her feel ready for that to happen, after all, and she wanted to see Maxim’s newfound happiness for herself, so her congratulations would be all the more sincere. Then, she envisioned Dekar, who would probably love the idea of spending leisurely time with her at Parcelyte and who would cheer on her idea of finally renewing her friendship with Maxim and Selan, and she smiled broadly.
“You know, that’s a great idea, Albert! ...I’m going over to Lexis’ now.”
“And remember, Tia, girl, there’s no shame in sharing more than just light little kisses with the man you love!”, he shouted after her, but she didn’t pay him any mind anymore.
...I think I might be in trouble. Tia’s surprise visit over here is developing so very nicely, but… oh, oh, I have the feeling summer is starting a month sooner than usual…
It started with a remark from one of the soldiers as my birthday approached, a month ago. Sarge Rufus had seen me buy flowers to present to Tia, and he and I got to talking about girls and girlfriends and such - he’s got a girlfriend on the castle staff, a dainty little housemaid called Clarissa who fortunately doesn’t fawn over me overmuch - and then he… well, the exact wording he used was crude and not really fit to repeat, not even to myself, but he asked where my relationship with Tia stood on a physical level. I answered that we, like any couple, kissed on occasions - mostly on the cheek and sometimes on the lips - to which he answered that I was too old-fashioned and that the only women he kissed on the cheek were his relatives, that he and Clarissa had ‘gone all the way’ and that he didn’t understand how I could not even want to feel Tia’s bare skin against mine… well, really, the images he used were… suggestive… I had never thought about my relationship to Tia as lacking, but suddenly I found myself wondering whether it was. I found myself wondering whether I wanted Tia in that way. Well, when she arrived and we gave each other the customary words of parting for the night, I looked into her eyes and suddenly realized that I did indeed want Tia in that way. In any way, really. Suddenly, I felt my hands droop a little, from her waist to her hips, feeling the curves of her slight, sprightly body under my palms, and… Where there had been a candle for Tia in my heart before, a fire sprang into being, needful and consuming and hungry. There’s no fighting it, not anymore, not after I looked into her eyes and saw it dawn there as well. Something as simple as my hands resting on her hips had made everything change. Before, our love was gentle and patient and soft as feathers; now, dear god in heaven, it’s like a fire, like a storm, like thunder and earthquakes and…
Tia’s talked me into going to the beach next month, so I can escape the heat of Bound and she can enjoy my company. We’re heading to Parcelyte, where we’ll drop by Maxim and Selan for a quick visit - they’ll surely be glad to see Tia again, I have to agree, and if Tia feels she can now finally see Maxim again, that’s all the impetus I need - and where we’ll stay for a week in Lexis’ Excelion… where temptation will be so, so close at hand, because Tia’s room on the Excelion is right next to mine, and if either of us should… should…
...I think I might have just, by accident, bought myself a bikini… but Tia distracted me w-with… with that… with her… her…
Okay, I definitely bought myself a bikini - and the storekeeper said she couldn’t return my money anymore, and she didn’t have any swimming trunks in my size... Fortunately, the bikini is my size, so I guess I’ll be wearing it to the beach then! ...Tia laughed when I told her about it, but when I said she distracted me, she looked at me and asked me ‘how so’ in that tone that made promises I kind of… no, promises I definitely… Uh…
I’m in so much trouble…
Tia smiled as she stretched out on the towel. She maybe had exaggerated a little when she’d said her bikini was tiny - it was more daring than the bathing suit she’d worn before, when she was younger, though, and that made it ‘tiny’ in her eyes. She especially liked the way Dekar had gone extra shy as she’d spread out her towel on the warm, white sand. But now, with Dekar having gone to change, she felt a little apprehensive. Not because of the bikini - she was perfectly sure that her boyfriend could rock a bikini the same way he did his extraordinary hair - but because of the way he’d gone quiet, and the fierce blush he’d sported, when she’d walked out of the small beach cabin. And if she was completely honest, the only way she’d seen Dekar was with his almost uniform-like white duster, so she wondered what he’d look like in swimgear. Before she could find out, though, Selan, who sat next to her wearing her one-piece bathing suit, smiled broadly and waved at an approaching figure. It wasn’t a big mystery who it was - Lexis would burn to a crisp in the sun, most probably, and Iris’ skin was probably as white as her dress, not to mention she knew only one person that could eclipse the sun just by standing ten feet away.
“Oh, look who visited, Jessy! Tia, you are rockin’ that bikini - looks like you’re on the hunt for a man!”
“Guy!”, she said, grinning as she sat back up. Guy wore a bright yellow pair of long swimming trunks - fortunately, because his legs were atrociously hairy - and he had his arm wrapped loosely around Jessy’s bare waist, since she wore a bikini that was just as daring as hers. “Well, Jessy is wearing a bikini too and she’s not hunting for any man she doesn’t already have, so why should I be any different?”, she said with a grin, and Jessy giggled while Guy snorted.
“What man do you have, huh?”, Guy remarked - Selan snickered and nudged Tia.
“Oh, go ahead, tell Guy before he shows up-”
“Who shows up?!”, Guy said, but then, of course, Maxim walked up to the group, followed by Dekar in his bikini. The Bound fighter really did make the bikini look like it was meant for a man - or, rather, meant for him in particular.
“Ah, Guy! I believe you’re shouting at my girlfriend there, please stop. Jessy, it is nice to see you, you look very nice in that bikini - not as nice as Tia, though, but-”
“But your perception is a bit biased, right?”, Jessy said with a broad smile while Guy stood, slack-jawed, looking from Tia to Dekar and then back in disbelief. Tia smiled shyly and looked Dekar over again. His legs were nowhere near as horribly hairy as Guy’s, but he did have light chest hair, so light that it was almost invisible. His skin was fair, with a few scars standing out from time to time, and he had tan lines where his bracer usually sat on his arm… Tia felt breathless all of a sudden, breathless and alight with a nervous energy, even more so when Dekar walked over to her and sat down next to her, wrapping his arm lightly around her waist. The touch of his fingertips against her bare skin both soothed and unnerved her, but she turned in his embrace to wrap her arm around his shoulders gently, which had him grin at her for a second. “Well, you two look like a fine pair. So, Dekar, you’ll need to tell me all about how you and Tia found each other…”, Jessy continued, prompting Dekar to laugh.
“Hah, gladly, Jessy! ...or, well, maybe after a refreshing swim, that is. I should give you girls time to catch up, heh. ...Tia, I’ll be back before you know it!”, he said, kissing her on the cheek and walking off to the surf, followed by Maxim and Guy, after a second in which the latter clearly managed to shake off his initial stupor, leaving Jessy to settle her own towel down next to Tia’s and then turn to her immediately.
“Sooooo, what’s the deal here, Tia?! First we don’t see you for half a year, and then you suddenly visit with Dekar. As your boyfriend!” She giggled when Tia blushed. “He does look very handsome, even in a bikini-”
“Oh, I think it brings out the color of his eyes, that’s all.”, Tia said, and Jessy chuckled.
“I think it highlights Dekar too, but to me, well, Guy is the better-looking man. Then again, Guy’s my better-looking man.”
“And Maxim looks ever so handsome in his swimwear.”, Selan said, prompting Tia to smile.
“Yeah, Dekar is… handsome…” She blushed when she considered it: he wasn’t muscular and hairy as Guy, but toned, athletic… strong in a subdued way. He was still a head taller than Maxim, too, and his chest hair... She felt a heat flash that had little to nothing to do with the summer sun shining down on her, and Selan picked up on it.
“...Looks like Tia’s thoughts are wandering…”
“N-no!”, Tia quickly defended, though Jessy now shook her head with a slightly mournful look.
“Oh, Tia, there’s nothing wrong with that. A woman has needs too - but I’m sure Dekar-”
“Well, uh, we’re going about it slowly… a-as in ‘nothing more than kisses and hand-holding and hugs’ slowly…”, Tia admitted, shaking her head when Selan and Jessy grinned, clearly holding back laughter. “It’s alright for you two, maybe - Selan, you’re a married woman, you and Maxim can do as you please; and Jessy, you and Guy are so close to being married you might as well get it over with!”
“Yeah, well, tell that to Guy, he refuses to set a date…”, Jessy said with a sulky frown, which got Selan to giggle lightly.
“If you want, I can talk to Guy - or if you want less subtlety, Maxim can talk to Guy… And I think Tia’s right, it’s all well and easy for us to say ‘why haven’t you and your boyfriend made love yet’, but we’re settled with our men. Tia and Dekar live hundreds of miles apart! ...Come to think of it…”, Selan started, and Tia sensed the question before it arose, answering quickly.
“Ah yes, our world’s most famous inventor! ...You’re so lucky he’s your friend, Tia - it’d cost you a week to ride on horseback to Bound from Elcid, I think, it’s four days from Parcelyte!”, Jessy admitted, and Tia nodded. Then, the girl waved at Guy and got up again. “...Think I’ll join my fiancé in the water - talk to you later, Tia!”
“Later, Jessy!”, Tia said, sighing as she lay back on the towel, this time on her stomach, closing her eyes for a second. “...Oh, bummer, I put suntan lotion on my arms and legs and stomach but I forgot my back… Selan, could you-”
“No wait, allow me, Tia.” Tia opened her eyes to see Dekar kneeling beside her, his body sprinkled with tiny droplets of water and his hair in wet tresses around his face. “After all, I’d be a pretty bad boyfriend if I didn’t help you out, right?”
“Y-yeah, uh, I mean no, you’re great, uh… g-go ahead…”, she said, and Dekar smiled as he picked up the bottle from beside her, spread a decent measure of lotion on her back, and then rubbed it into her skin in slow, small circular motions. The press of his fingers against her skin was making Tia feel detached from herself again, and before she realised it herself, she sighed out: “Oh, Dekar, that feels wonderful…”
“W-why, thank you, Tia… maybe after, you can help me out a little? I’m used to the sun, but my back…”
“Yeah, well, you can’t put the lotion on your own back.”, Selan remarked sagely, though with a hint of amusement in her voice - Tia, however, was much too focused on the feel of Dekar’s fingers softly tracing circles on her back to heed much of it. She was fairly sure the lotion had seeped into her skin by now, but couldn’t bring herself to speak up and tell Dekar so, risking to lose the touch of his warm hands on her back like she wanted so badly- “...Tia, lovely, have you fallen asleep?”, Dekar asked, and Tia sighed.
“No, no… I’m sorry, it’s just… that felt so nice, it’s-”
“Just so.”, Dekar said a little mournfully, though he had a knowing look in his eyes as he lay down on his own towel while Tia sat up. “Might I ask you this favor, Tia?”
“Sure!”, she said, squeezing out some suntan lotion and then slowly placing her hands on Dekar’s back. His skin felt warm under her fingertips, and slowly she started to spread the lotion with slow, tentative circling motions. She could feel Dekar relax under her tentative care, and she was sure he sighed happily a moment later, making her falter for a heartbeat. Yet she didn’t stop - she couldn’t stop, not with the feeling of the slightest ridge and bump of his skin under her fingers for the first time, not with the warmth of his body radiating straight into her…
“Tia, I think you can stop - the lotion’s mostly gone and Dekar fell asleep.”, Selan remarked, giggling when Tia blushed and looked her boyfriend over. However, contrary to what Selan said, Dekar wasn’t asleep at all, she could tell: his breathing was far from calm and even, and he had a slight frown of discomfort on his features, making her wonder whether she’d pushed her fingers into his skin too harshly. “...Maybe we should let him sleep for a little… I’m going into the sea, are you coming?”
“N-no, I think I’ll follow Dekar’s idea of a nap…”, she said, laying down onto her towel again, face turned to Dekar, who waited until Selan’s footsteps had died away to turn his face to her.
“Tia, my sweetheart… I think we need to seriously consider where we’re going… because clearly there’s something we’re both missing here...”, he said softly, barely audible over the sound of the surf and the laughter of people around them. Tia nodded.
“Y-yeah, Dekar. I… I love you.”
“And I love you.”, he answered a heartbeat later, his hand creeping up to hers to grasp it, their fingers entangling instantly. “I love you, Tia. You are the most lovely, most beautiful, most unique woman in this entire world - I am honored to call you my own, delighted to have your love, humbled to give you mine in return. But lately…”
“I know, Dekar… I…”
“Yes…”, he again said a fraction of a second after her own voice had ceased, and the sigh coming from him echoed hers. “Oh, Tia, I want nothing more than to kiss you, hold you, without… w-well, I restrain myself - for both our sakes - but I…”
“...yeah, I know. I want all of that too, Dekar - and everyone saying that there’s nothing wrong with wanting that is so not helping… I’m happy with things the way they are! T-though all this… wanting… Maybe we should think of it as… maybe we should think of our relationship as a feast, you know, a banquet! We’ve had the appetizers… and we like the appetizers… but n-now might be the time to move to the entree. I love you, I love being with you; every moment I’m with you is a moment I never wanna forget, and every moment I’m not with you is a moment that seems wasted. But… but I think we’re ready to take m-maybe a small step further?”
“...So you agree that we should maybe… b-be just a little bolder? More intimate?”, Dekar said, sounding half eager and half cautious, and Tia nodded.
“Well, yeah. ...Albert told me there’s something like ‘too much of a good thing’, but there’s never too much of you, Dekar. Never. Let’s just… enjoy the sun, and the moment of calm.” She winked at him, aiming to relax the both of them again, and added: “...Lord knows those three are going to want to know the full story of how we ended up together in every detail…”
“Ah, then let’s tell them! After all, sharing how you enchanted me and how you brought me joy will only add to the entire experience, and sharing how much it pleases me to lavish you with my attention and tender affections might teach Guy a thing or two!”, Dekar said, and Tia giggled, though she halted when she felt Dekar’s lips clumsily press against the tip of her nose, starting up again more softly the next second.
“...Were you aiming for my nose?”
“It was all I could reach…”, Dekar admitted with an expression of defeat, and Tia giggled, moving a little closer, at which point Dekar huffed lightly and kissed her on the lips, at length. It was enough to make both their minds reel, and the longing they’d felt before to spark back to life, but neither dared chance more than that and after a while, they parted again. “...I might have to feign sleep just a little longer… stay with me?”, Dekar said, and Tia nodded.
“Hey, I’m not going anywhere without you. Unless Selan and Jessy cart me off for more details with your okay… Heh, feigning sleep, Dekar, love, have I made things that hard for you then?”, she asked innocently, and Dekar blushed.
“...W-well-worded, my lovely lilac. A-at such a splendid feast, it’s hard to keep your dignity when you just want to stuff your face.”
Blushing a fiery shade of red that Selan, even ten minutes later, mistook for a bad sunburn, Tia had no fitting answer to that sentiment, not if she understood Dekar’s thought to the bottom of her needy, covetous heart.
...So yeah, Dekar and I… I-it’s been a year now, and it’s been a splendid year too! We see each other as often as we can - birthdays, festivals, special occasions, holidays, and even for no other reason than missing each other… Dekar even admitted that his horse can blindly find his way here, to Elcid, now, and I joked to Lexis the other day that he has to be tired of seeing Bound every other week, to which he joked back that I might have to move there. ...Which I wouldn’t mind at all, of course…
Things with me and Dekar are pretty swell. We still go out for walks, for nice quaint afternoons in the field or expeditions into the desert… hehe, one time, there was even a monster raid on Bound while I was there and I helped them out. Mostly I kept an eye on Prince Alex while Dekar smashed the hell out of the rear guard of the monsters. My boyfriend happens to be a one-man army, hihihi… Prince Alex made me a honorary member of his guard after that, so that the people now refer to me as ‘Lady Tia’ all through the kingdom. When they see me out with Dekar - which is always, Dekar doesn’t leave my side at all when we’re together - they greet me just as warmly as they greet him, and some of the men have commented that we make a nice couple, which always makes Dekar pull me just a little closer to him when he thanks them in his usual booming, over-the-top way.
...But back to the important stuff, huh? Dekar and me… when we’re out in public, we hold hands, we kiss - and now his kisses linger a bit longer, and so do his blushes and mine, I think - we hold each other close… but we always keep things nice and respectable. Never a kiss too long, never a touch anywhere but my waist or my arm or my face. In private, though, his hands wander to my hips to hold me so, so close as he kisses me lengthily and with that kind of held-back passion that makes me… oh, I can’t even describe what it does to me without blushing. Girls have needs too! And Dekar is handsome, and his skin feels so warm to the touch… is it a wonder I can’t keep my hands off him? Didn’t think so!
But yeah, we’re taking baby steps. Every new thing is like a discovery, a thrill that lasts us another week’s visit. Like when he came around to celebrate my birthday - it was the first time he wormed his hands under my shirt as we kissed… e-even thinking about that now makes me wish for a handful of snow from outside to cool myself off… Or our last visit, when he insisted on dropping me off at home and we spent the evenings on the Excelion in his room, with me sitting on his lap, kissing him again and again hungrily and tracing my hands over his shoulders underneath his shirt… oh wow, I need to stop thinking like this!
...Though I’m wondering sometimes whether he knows that I can feel his hands shake when he leaves me for the night. They shake nearly as badly as mine do. Nearly. Sometimes things get just that much out-of-hand - his hands wander just a little too far, or my kisses become just a little too eager - which we solve by taking a little space again for an hour, or a few minutes, reminding ourselves why we can’t get carried away, even though we both want to.
...Dekar was right when he said it’s hard to keep your dignity at a splendid table when all you really want is to just pile your plate overfull and eat to your heart’s content. And my table... I don’t think there’s any other delight that can rival it.
...Oh, Dekar… Dekar… All I dream of is him, all I long for is him… and with every new inch we move forward, I want to just take his hand and run ahead, carelessly, recklessly… But we can’t, we can’t… we can’t have what we want...
“...I still don’t see why I had to be woken up in the middle of the night…”, Tia grumbled as she put the last of her equipment on board the Excelion, prompting Lexis to sigh and turn to Guy.
“I told you she has a morning temper-”
“Lexis Shaia, if you value your face the way it looks now…!”, Tia said threateningly, at which point Guy threw up his hands and stretched.
“Look, Tia, I didn’t like having to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn either, but Lexis came racing to my house saying we had to head to Bound - if you’re going to blame anyone for waking you up at this ungodly freakin’ hour, blame your loverboy…”, he said, prompting Tia to cross her arms and glare at the muscular fighter.
“Dekar didn’t say you had to wake me up before the sun even rose! ...Really, you and Lexis are lucky I’d already packed-”
“You knew?”, Lexis asked, surprised, and Tia giggled.
“Messenger birds. They were a gift to me for my birthday, from Dekar - well, actually they were from Prince Alex, but Dekar trained them. They fly a lot faster than the Excelion can roll.”, Tia said, prompting Guy to groan.
“He coulda said he’d already told Tia!”
“Now, now, Guy…”, Lexis admonished, winking quickly at Tia before continuing: “You didn’t think Tia and Dekar wouldn’t have a way to communicate when they’re apart? Put yourself in Dekar’s place and Jessy in Tia’s-”
“Yeah, no, messenger birds wouldn’t be what we’d use: Jessy’d just shout at me across the world. She’s loud like that. And if I didn’t shout across the world that I love her for an answer, there’d be hell to pay, that’s for damn sure.”, the fair-haired fighter admitted with a grin, which had Tia sigh.
“I feel really sorry for Jessy, you know that, Guy? How she even stays with a guy like you… honestly, you’re so thoughtless! At least Dekar-”
“No, no, no!”, Guy said, clamping his hands emphatically over his ears and speaking extra loudly. “I don’t want to hear what you’ve gotta say next! Some things, I don’t ever wanna know about Dekar-”
“GUY!”, Tia gasped in outraged tones, glaring at him venomously, and Lexis, too, cast a disapproving glance at him.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, Guy… it’s insulting to say something like that to a woman like Tia! Apologise!”
“Hey, how come I’m the one that has to apologise when she’s tellin’ me I don’t treat my Jessy right?!”, Guy defended himself, and Tia rolled her eyes.
“I didn’t say that you don’t treat Jessy right, I’m just saying that she’s the woman you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, you shouldn’t call her ‘loud’ or think of her as a nuisance.”, she elaborated, and Guy grinned.
“Ah, she knows I don’t really mean that - a little kiss does a miracle every time. Though it took a month of workin’ my ass off showerin’ her with gifts an’ dates and what-the-hell-not after Dekar an’ me joked around about things at Maxim’s wedding…”, the tall fighter admitted, prompting Tia to giggle and Lexis to pat the taller man on his broad shoulder.
“Ah, a woman doesn’t like being sleighted, Guy - take it from a romantic adventurer like myself-”
“...Yeah, no. Professor, the last romantic adventure you had was last century.”, Guy said, though his tone betrayed that he did so jokingly, something that was further evidenced by his next words: “...But, well, maybe you can teach me how to understand women.”
“Guy, I may be a genius, but there’s no understanding women.”, Lexis said, prompting Tia to huff and put her hands on her hips.
“Men just don’t listen enough to understand women.”
“...You see? Neither of us understood what you meant by that, Tia!”, Guy said with the same broad, amused grin as he’d had when he first spoke up, but Lexis wasn’t quite so foolhardy.
“I’m afraid I understood that loud and clear - let’s let her go to her room, Guy, before she uses us for target practice.”, Lexis said, laughing loudly when Guy instantly barreled out the door and onto the deck. Then, in a softer tone, the inventor added: “...I think you should head to your room now, otherwise you’ll miss out on some valuable quiet moments. I think, with what little Dekar told me until now, those are going to be rare…” Tia blinked but didn’t question the man further, knowing he probably had his reasons for giving her the mysterious advice to head to her room for some peace and quiet. However, once she opened the door, she found familiar hands reaching for her bags and then pulling her inside gently.
“Dekar!”, she said happily, and he grinned down at her before kissing her lengthily, humming happily into the kiss when she traced the tip of his tongue with hers teasingly. They drew apart quickly, however, mindful of the open door and the fact that Guy was still at large somewhere, though they didn’t relinquish their hold on one another. Dekar kissed her on the cheek next, softly but with the faintest trace of heat still radiating off his lips into her skin, adding to her blush, and then smiled broadly and happily at her as he spoke.
“...I could not wait for you back in Bound, I had to come with Lexis and pick you up. Oh, Tia, it’s been too long-”
“It’s been two weeks since your last visit!”, Tia interrupted, though she did so laughing softly. “...But I agree, even two weeks is too long. Even a day is too long. ...So the prospect of spending some time investigating this ‘top secret something’ has definitely got my spirits up, if it means spending time with you every day.”, she admitted, and Dekar nodded.
“...Well, it definitely does. Prince Leon will explain further, but… well, I cannot investigate. I am too well-known in Gratze, I’ve been there too often accompanying Josef and other of our advisors. Guy, on the other hand…”
“And me, too, then?”, Tia said, and Dekar shook his head.
“Well, you could investigate, too, but if things get hairy, Guy will need us as backup. And to put it in Guy’s rather rude words, ‘Lexis’ cooking is kinda shit’, so we need someone with your culinary skills. ...Not to mention I like having you close by for when Guy takes his time reporting back to me - you can make the waiting feel like mere seconds.” Tia smiled and nodded, threading her hands through Dekar’s hair slowly. “Ahh, my love, my sweetest…”, he nearly purred out, his hands tracing the hem of her sleeveless shirt lightly, prompting her to grin as well.
“Oh, you’re such a big cat sometimes, do you know that, Dekar?”
“Heh, my life would be complete if I could curl up on your lap and get your caresses all day long…”, Dekar said, kissing her on the cheek again and whispering into her ear: “...mind if I close the door now? If Iris passes by and catches us so intimately close, we might offend her...”
“...Close the door, Dekar, love…”, Tia whispered back - and okay, maybe Dekar closed the door a little too hastily so it kind of made more noise than they had bargained for, but she was past minding that when Dekar returned to her embrace and nearly lifted her off her feet kissing her eagerly, this time holding her close enough for her chest to slightly ache from the lack of fresh air she could inhale through her nostrils.
We should have known that, where trouble is found, Idura lay at the heart of it. That cowardly madman had kidnapped Jeros, Maxim and Selan’s son, and had taken the poor little boy into the Ancient Cave, to lure Maxim and Selan into a position where they’d be weaker than they are - the Ancient Cave is one of the greatest mysteries in the world, turning even the strongest fighters back to novice skill level and holding back all of their equipment. Even I, to my shame, have to admit the first floor’s monsters posed a few issues for me. Luckily, my energy bracer isn’t considered ‘equipment’ and I found myself able to use any weapon the dungeon was kind enough to give us. Tia found a mechanical device quite like her own fairly early on our trek, and I found a sword that looked decent enough. The next few floors were hardly a threat - Guy found a large polehammer that he had no trouble handling, overly muscular as he is, and the few potions and Miracles we found were of no need as we kept ourselves fresh and light on our toes. We arrived at the Hall of Impatience just in time to hear Idura threaten Maxim and Selan with killing Jeros if they moved - that pompous fool spoke so loudly and so obliviously to our friends that he hadn’t heard us teleporting inside. Slowly, we crept across the floor to stand between him and Jeros, and then, when that fool finally noticed something was up, Guy smashed him out of the way with his oversized hammer, allowing for Iris to quickly snatch up Jeros and get him as far away from Idura as possible. Of course, that got Idura mad - it could’ve been my taunting him, too, by calling him an idiot, but Guy’s joke about that confused me, and Tia seemed to find it a bad joke as well - and he called in monsters to attack us. Well, after an introduction to my Exploding Fist attack, they were left bleeding on the floor - and that’s when Idura seemingly lost the last of his sanity and teleported away cackling like a lunatic, saying all went ‘according to plan’. Maxim and Selan seemed thrilled to see us, especially after the heroic save we performed that kept their baby boy safe and sound! And what a glowing little baby Jeros is - he has Maxim’s hair and charm, but Selan’s eyes and temperament, he didn’t even cry during or after the attack. Of course, Tia looked enamored at the sight of the baby, and she asked Selan if it’d be okay for her to hold Jeros…
My heart… The sight of Tia standing there, with a baby settled gently in her arms, humming a quick and happy tune that made him giggle… oh, it made me yearn for what the future still holds for us. Tia and I, we’re taking things slowly - we’re moving forward, but at a leisurely pace, that allows us to keep ourselves contained but still gives us the liberty to explore this ever-growing physical side of our relationship - but there are moments where I just… where my heart feels like it might not handle the sheer magnitude of seeing all of Tia’s splendor of character, all of her warmth and devotion, and knowing that she’s chosen me - me, Dekar! - as the one to receive all those bounties. I’m the strongest man in the world, but it seems the second thing I’m best at is feeling humbled by even her lightest smile. ...And then, she admitted that she wanted a baby too, and I just couldn’t keep from grinning. Ahh, to think of Tia as a glowing mother, to think of her holding a child of her own… of our own, of course, because the look she gave me… ahh, my mind still reels at the consideration...
Guy, of course, ruined the moment with his inescapable sense of tact and propriety, and I told him ‘I live by love but won’t be chained by it’, meaning that Tia and I see our love as the strings our hearts weave to bind us, not as heavy chains meant to tie us down. Tia’s reaction showed that she understood: hinting to Guy never being clear about his feelings, feeling himself chained by love and yet not living by it, she not only turned the tables on his earlier teasing but she also made it quite clear to the others that she and I know exactly where we stand.
We are in love, madly and happily so, and destined for a wonderful future together that we’ll choose with our hearts! And with a baby! ...S-someday.
...The Gratze Empire proves to be a trial in more than one way, it seems. I had forgotten that Gratze is a naturally cold place, where the snow never thaws the year round and where most things are made of cold metal, not wood like Elcid, or stone like Bound and Parcelyte. For myself, that doesn’t matter - I’m the strongest man in the world, if I can handle fearsome monsters then I can handle a bit of cold! - but my dear, lovely Tia, due her rather slight choice of dress, was left shivering and shaking. As our stay progressed, she grew gradually more and more cold, of course, the cruel Gratzean wind chipping away at her warmth and getting her to shiver more and more…
A sick girl named Leefa entreated our help and we, seeing how important it would be to gain the trust and aid of the Gratzeans, who are naturally distrustful, decided to help. ...Or, well, the girl was really ill and couldn’t be persuaded to stay in bed, so Iris had to resort to putting her in a deep, magical sleep and we offered to help her out as recompensation… So we headed to Ice Mist Mountain, where the cold was even more harsh and the wind was even more cutting and chilling. And Tia, my dear Tia, was freezing where she walked. I tried offering her my coat but, in a special bout of brilliance earlier that year, I’d sewn my coat and my shirt together so it would be easier to change. Tia didn’t much like that - then again, if I were in her shoes, I’d be upset about not being able to get an extra layer of warm clothing, too, and I made sure to keep next to her at the back of the group, using every unguarded moment we had to whisper into her ear that I’d find ways to kiss her body back from its current numbness, that I’d inspire warmth in her once again with kisses and caresses to her heart’s content - why, those promises made her cheeks burn brightly again, and she did get more vigorous after each one. And I have to admit, me too. Tia isn’t the only one that’s cold… or, uh, the only one that’s moved by those promises… heh heh...
We found what we were looking for in the evening and then made a quick descent back to the Excelion, where Tia took the flower with her to one of Lexis’ on-board labs to place it in some Elcidian soil, which is the most fertile in the world thanks to the Earth energy core they possess. The group all said their greetings for the night, and I headed to my room to try and get warmed up again…
“...D-d-dekar?” The knock on his door had been soft, and the urgent whisper at his doorway caused him to instantly halt in pulling back the covers. Walking briskly over to open the door, he found Tia standing there, wearing a long, thick-woven nightgown she’d obviously borrowed from Iris, judging by the cut and the color of the material, and thick, woollen socks. “C-can… can I c-come in…?”, she asked, her teeth chattering audibly and her arms shivering even though she wore what was evidently a greatly insulating night dress. Dekar hesitated, looking over the state of his room quickly - fortunately, it was clean and relatively clutter-free, not counting his weapon, which he’d placed on the table for maintenance the next morning.
“Come on in, Tia, my sweetest…”, he said softly, allowing her to pass him by and settle herself down on the side of his bed, still shivering.
“C-couldn’t sleep… too cold… and Lexis… the kitchen’s power is off… L-lexis is asleep…”, she stammered - any other man would’ve barely understood what she said, but Dekar knew what she meant from what little she managed to utter in between shivers. Quickly, he swooped down to sit next to her, wrapping his arms around her.
“Tia, my dear, we’ll see what we can do… now, unfortunately technology isn’t my forte, so if the heater in your room doesn’t work-”
“T-tried to fix it… but I can’t… hold the tools… I’m shaking t-too much…”, Tia said, her breath coming as an eerie vapor in front of her face, and Dekar considered his options. He could go and wake Lexis up, but he was fairly sure that the scientist would not wake up even if the Sinistral Gades danced on his bed and caused a world-wide earthquake around him; he could try and fix Tia’s heater, but the risk of breaking it was not just real, but highly probable; he had no idea where the fuses for the kitchen were, or where any of the fuses were for that matter, and looking for them would take days, so that was out of the question as well. Then, however, he had an idea, albeit an unusual one, and he wrapped his arms around Tia as he communicated it.
“...Well, then it seems to me my only option is to keep you in my arms tonight! I’ve shared my heart with you - sharing my warmth is nothing!”
“Y-you… you mean it?”, she stammered, looking at him with large, slightly frightful eyes - Dekar had to admit that he, too, felt a little apprehensive about having her so close by at such a vulnerable time as when he slept. His dreams of her, for one… they got heated, downright shameful at times: would having her so close that he could feel her warmth, smell her scent, nearly taste her… would that make them even better and more life-like? How would he excuse himself if he woke her up in the night? Then, however, Tia smiled and nodded, ending his inner worries. “...S-sure, Dekar… g-gla-gladly!” They got up and Dekar, in a grand gesture, threw back the covers for her, allowing her to scoot towards the wall before he climbed in next to her, gently finding a comfortable position holding her, her back against his chest and her cold feet only barely touching his shins.
“...Okay?”, he asked, and she giggled softly.
“Nice and warm?”, he asked, and she nodded. “Good, my love…”, he said, sighing and holding her as close as he could. Her body was so close and yet so distant from his - the nightgown and his own nightgarb was both a blessing and a curse. Her scent rose from her hair, from the borrowed nightgown… but he knew that this was a trial to her, too. She shook slightly, even after he could feel her hands warm to the touch again, and her breathing was slightly uneven though in sync with his own. “...I… I’m sorry I couldn’t give you my coat earlier today…”, Dekar whispered, his hand gently caressing the back of hers, prompting her to smile - even in the dark and with her lying with her back against his chest, he was able to discern it.
“T-that’s okay, you… you would’ve b-been c-co-cold without it anyway… Wait, I want…” She moved a little, clearly intent on turning in his arms so she’d face him, but she struggled with the covers first, and her nightgown after, since it was buttoned up on the side until her collarbone. However, after loosening it, she was able to turn into Dekar’s hold, kissing him softly. “T-thanks, Dekar… y-you’re s-so sweet… I feel warmer already…”
“Heh, then that makes two of us.”, Dekar said, prompting Tia to giggle. Dekar took a second then, looking her over in the half-light of the room: Tia was indeed blushing softly again. As close as he was to her now, he could feel rather than see the rise and fall of her chest, and her nightgown had fallen open a little now, exposing the left side of her neck and part of her shoulder. “...Dekar, a-are you still comfortable?”, Tia asked, and Dekar nodded.
“Very comfortable, Tia - your arms bring me nothing but contentment. ...Why do you ask? You’re not feeling uncomfortable, right?”, he reacted quickly, and she giggled again, a little softer this time.
“N-no, but… this is the closest we’ve ever been… a-and i-if the others-”
“The others don’t need to know.”, Dekar said firmly, pulling Tia a little closer to himself, kissing her on the cheek and earning him a strong whiff of her natural scent. “...Mmm, you smell so perfectly good…”, he admitted, and Tia smiled.
“Y-you too, Dekar. ...C-can you… I mean, will you be able to sleep like this?”
“I could sleep in the middle of battle, my love, and still pummel monsters. Laying in your arms, as tempting and distracting as it is…”, he said, and Tia kissed him on the cheek, probably to keep herself from laughing out loud. Dekar grinned and kissed her on the shoulder in turn. However, that made Tia suddenly take her lips from his cheek and…
“D-did I hurt you, Tia, in doing that?”, Dekar asked, looking her over as well as he could. Tia’s blush had deepened just a little, and she’d tensed in his hold when he’d kissed her. But then, she shook her head.
“No, not hurt. Dekar, you… that felt…” She bit her lip and spoke on in a whisper: “D-do that again…” It took a moment for Dekar to register that the soft groan she’d let out wasn’t due to discomfort but due to enjoyment, but when it did, he pulled her slowly back into a tight embrace and reapplied his lips to her shoulder, gaining him another soft groan and a shiver that ran up her body almost like it would when she’d been paralysed. Only now he was having that effect on her, Dekar knew, and it wasn’t in the least bit like paralysis: Tia’s hands moved to tangle in his hair, keeping him in place, and she enthusiastically applied her lips wherever she could while he kissed the expanse of creamy skin that appeared so sensitive. “Oh, Dekar…”, she sighed out, and he couldn’t help but kiss her heatedly, exhaling shakily when he did so. Tia’s left hand wandered down from his hair, over his own shoulder and then over his right arm, grabbing his hand and placing it on her hip before moving her own hand back to his shoulder and then down to his chest; all in all, Dekar found himself incapable of doing anything that wasn’t kissing her and caressing her through the thick, suddenly-oppressive fabric of the nightgown, and unable to say anything but the slightest groan of her name to alleviate the sudden feverish feeling that overtook him.
“Tia, ahh, my love…”
“You feel so good, Dekar…”, Tia breathed out, and Dekar kissed her neck and shoulders again and again, causing more of the gasps and shivers he could get so, so used to - and Tia pulled him closer in turn, and suddenly she’d managed to get her hands under his own pyjamas and the feeling of her fingertips over his bare chest made the world blink out of existence.
“Oh, my love… T-tia…”, he moaned softly, and she looked at him with a blush and a look in her eyes that pleaded for him, and they kissed again, suddenly struggling with her nightgown. He managed to get it bunched up around her hips, taking a moment to feel the soft, warm skin of her waist and midriff before moving his hand up, to her breasts, and she moaned so exquisitely at the merest touch, and her leg wrapped around his to pull him so close - maybe too close… but was there such a thing as ‘too close’ between them?
“Dekar, please…”, she crooned softly before kissing him, and he kissed her with abandon, feeling his entire body heat up. Feeling his head grow light and his underwear suddenly feel too restrictive. Feeling her take up all his senses with the sound of her sighs, the sight of her beauty, the scent of her delicate perfume mixed with sweat and something metallic into something maddening, the feeling of her warm skin under his fingertips and lips, the taste of her on his tongue whenever they still managed to kiss properly...
However, when her hand ventured to his stomach, he caught himself and realized how fast they were going, and he halted.
“Tia… T-tia, wait, wait…”, he said softly, removing his hand from her nightgown and using it to gently grasp hers, prompting a look of confusion from her. “W-we shouldn’t.”, he said mournfully, and she looked at him with understanding and defiance at once.
“But… but Dekar, this-”, she stammered, and he kissed her, still with more heat than the situation warranted, still with all of the impetuous, rampaging desire that they both felt, but at the same time more slowly and searchingly. When they detached, she sighed, and he spoke in a soft but solemn whisper.
“Tia, I love you - and I want you, more than you could even understand… you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you are the most gorgeous woman I’ve yet met… you set me aflame for you with the slightest look, and you made me feel like I could lose myself right here and now with you-”
“M-me too… oh, Dekar, I want you too, and I love you too…”, she whispered, kissing his cheek but allowing him to continue, which he did with a sorrowful tone.
“But… now, with all of this trouble… now isn’t the time to seal our love. ...Once we get to the bottom of this situation with King Jude of Gratze, then…” Sighing, he brought Tia’s hand up to his lips and kissed it, and then kissed her again, still lengthily but this time with clear restraint, and Tia, when they relinquished their kiss, finally nodded.
“Y-yeah… we’ve still got things to do… a-and as long as it isn’t Gades returned from the dead yet again…”, she said, prompting Dekar to shudder softly.
“Let us not think of that possibility. Besides, Maxim saw his energies fade ...Now, Tia, my sweetest love, let’s sleep.”
“Can you… I mean, things got… pretty intense for a little… I can sleep in my own bed i-if-”, Tia started, and Dekar gently kissed her on the cheek, gathering her close.
“My dreams will be twice as sweet when I not just dream you in my arms, my lovely lilac. ...Stay. I can’t promise you that, well… as I said, you’re the most gorgeous woman I met in my lifetime, and I’m as weak as the next man when it comes to female beauty and warmth… But you can rest assured, Tia, that it’ll be no problem.” Tia nodded, nestling herself more comfortably in his arms, her head against his shoulder, and he found himself nuzzling her hair and inhaling her scent. “...Goodnight, my Tia…”, he murmured, half expecting her to be unable to reply, but she surprised him yet again.
“...Mm, goodnight, Dekar, love…” His grin seemed to last until dawn and the loud shouts of Guy complaining of the cold woke them up again.
I can honestly say that I hate King Jude of Gratze. Honestly.
First things first, though: the others were none the wiser about my little, ahem, ‘adventure’ with Dekar. Guy did wake everyone up, so I had an excuse to appear from my boyfriend’s bedroom ten minutes later to find Guy and Selan having a stare-off. Iris smiled a little knowingly, though, and Lexis apologised for the heating turning off a little too loudly… not too sure whether… oh, no, I’m sure Lexis didn’t do anything on purpose!
The others’ attention was focused on Leefa, not me and Dekar - fortunately for everyone, the Elcidian soil did what it’s renowned for, and the flower had perked up a little overnight again, which showed that my careful digging to get the roots out of the frozen rocky soil intact worked; and when Iris offered the flower to Leefa, the girl just about went crazy and offered her house, her home, even the clothes on her back and the meager heirlooms her parents had left her in return for that one flower. Crazy, even if the Priphea is a beautiful flower - yeah, Iris named it ‘Priphea’, which I have to agree is a beautiful name that suits the flower somehow, you know? When we left Leefa’s house, all feeling uplifted by her grateful words and tears, Dekar caught my arm and whispered to me that one day, he’d shower me in Priphea flowers to show that my beauty couldn’t compare with them - well, of course I had to answer to that compliment with a kiss worthy of him, worthy of the way I love him... Guy had some nerve calling us show-offs with that big shit-eating grin of his - he deserved that punch, and the painful jaw. I pushed a handful of snow against Dekar’s painful knuckles right after, though, he did look like he needed that. And I kissed his hand for good measure afterwards.
Things picked up after that little flower-picking excursion, though. For one, Prince Leon of Bound had arrived in Gratze, with a handful of soldiers - and he was in deep trouble, from the sound of things. Gratze’s national treasure, the Ruby Angel, had been given to him as a token of the trust and the commitment between the two nations… and of course, it had been stolen from Prince Leon’s suite when he’d come to Gratze again to present it to King Jude and his fiancée Princess Thea. So after a quick temporary fix - Maxim made a plea to Jaffy, the jewelry artist, and got a fake Ruby Angel made of glass, so well-made that even Lexis and his scientifically trained eyes couldn’t tell the difference! ...Anyway, that was our next task: figure out who took the Ruby Angel, find the person or persons responsible, and get back what they stole. ...Yeah, turns out that we demolished some kind of super-weapon in the process, how about that! The thieves turned out to be familiar - Berty and Betty again, who, I’ve got to agree, get kudos for their tenacity and managing to pull off the heists they did - but their choice of getaway vehicle was… well, a huge tank they ‘borrowed’ off the secret underground weapons factory the Gratze King had started up lately… A few hours later, the tank was destroyed, the thieves were gone - thank the Lord for that - and the Ruby Angel was safely deposited back into Prince Leon’s hands just in time for his official presentation to King Jude.
...And, ooh, Prince Leon’s eyes when he winked at Dekar and me and said that maybe he would be the one congratulating us under similar circumstances soon… I couldn’t help it, I took Dekar’s hand and squeezed it. And he squeezed back. My future is with Dekar, I’m dead sure of it!
“Bound ho!”, Lexis said, grinning broadly as he motioned for the horizon, where the castle itself was just a speck in the distance but the glimmer of its giant energy core was clearly visible against the horizon. Then, turning to Tia and Dekar, he spoke more softly: “...Ahh, it’s been two years since I heard good news!”
“That can’t be true, Jeros isn’t even one year old.”, Tia said, and Dekar smiled, wrapping an arm around her and looking at the horizon together with her.
“He’s grown like crazy since we last saw him! Maxim and Selan truly did a magnificent job with him! ...Ah, little Jeros is such a wonderful baby…”
“Do you want kids then, Dekar?”, Lexis said shrewdly, and Dekar laughed softly, winking at Tia to show his next words were meant to make fun of the scientist before speaking up.
“Why, yes, of course - at least a dozen!”
“A dozen? ...Well, if Tia’s up for that-” Tia couldn’t keep her laughter silent anymore and she snorted loudly, alerting Lexis to the fact that he was being made fun of: fortunately, he laughed along lightly and shook his head. “...I figured as much, you two.”
“Heh, it’ll never stop being funny, Lexis, to kid around with you… and as for kids, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Though having at least one would be nice.”
“Oh, quite so.”, Dekar said with a grin, prompting Lexis to sigh happily.
“...Ahh, the virtues of young love, to be so hopeful and warm! And patient, in your case. So, Dekar, I take it that means you’ve got something to ask Tia in the near future then? After all, you’ll need to sign and seal your love before it’s delivered, so-”
“Huh?”, Tia said, blinking and looking at Dekar, who had gotten a positively dreamy look, and then moving on to Lexis to get more explanation. However, her boyfriend spoke first: grabbing her hands and kissing them both, he gave her a glowing look.
“...I should not say that I look forward to it, but I can’t lie… ah, Tia, when all this trouble with Gratze is over, and Prince Leon and Princess Thea are married…” He didn’t finish his sentence, but Tia knew what he meant, and she looked at him with surprise, nodding softly. “...Oh, I can’t wait for the day when we can promise each other the fullest, most absolute devotion…” They met in a lengthy, indulgent kiss that only ended when Lexis coughed, very subtly but clearly reminding them that they weren’t alone, getting Tia to blush and Dekar to clear his throat though he didn’t remove his hands from the small of Tia’s back. “...Heh, b-but the second thing I’m best at is waiting patiently, of course…”
“Sadly, you get a lot of practice at that.”, Tia said, kissing Dekar on the cheek and trailing a hand over his arm, and then his hand, and finally his fingers as he slowly drew away, stepping out of her reach mournfully.
“Do you come to get me when we’re nearing the gates?”, he asked, and Tia nodded, biting her lip to keep from saying she’d be there as soon as possible so they could properly talk in private; the moment he was gone, however, the matter of Lexis’ earlier expression came back, and she turned to the scientist.
“Lexis… what did you mean ‘you’ll need to sign and seal your love before it’s delivered’?”
“Ah, yes, well…”, the scientist said, flipping a few switches and then pulling a lever before speaking on: “...I’ve been a guest of Prince Alex and Prince Leon’s parents a couple of years, and I got to know the Kingdom of Bound very well. They have an expression there: ‘the strongest love is love that is signed, sealed and delivered’ - by ‘signed’ they mean the signatures in the wedding registry, by sealed they mean consummated-”
“Oh, Lexis, you’re so old-fashioned…”, Tia said with a smile, but Lexis’ reply to her playful jab made her blush deeply.
“I think I’m not the only one - Dekar has got the patience of a host of angels, and the finesse of… well, of Guy on the battlefield, to be honest. ...Anyway, ‘delivered’ means… well, by the birth of a baby. A lot of the Bound people nowadays skip the ‘signed’ part in favor of, well, the pleasantries, of course, but you’re lucky - or unlucky, depending on how you view it - to get the last well-educated man in Bound. Dekar’s clearly a keeper.”
“Oh, I know that, Lexis… well, you’re almost like a father to me, so knowing you approve is kinda a big deal…”, Tia responded, to which the scientist replied with a wink.
“Oh, stop it, you’re making me all dewy-eyed… go to that desert gentleman you managed to net yourself, I’ll bet he’ll love to have a few minutes longer with you in the privacy of his room, where there aren’t any boring old men looking in on you and him.” Tia blushed but quickly walked off to follow Dekar, making Lexis shake his head gently. “...Ahh, the bounties of youth…” He set the Excelion to a slightly lower speed that’d add at least a full hour to their journey, chuckling to himself and whistling a tune.
“Dekar, milady Tia!!” Prince Alex came up to them as soon as they entered the throne room, smiling like only a fourteen-year-old would be able to do. “How did the investigation go?”
“It went okay - King Jude is still acting oddly, but your brother Prince Leon is bringing his bride-to-be to Bound as we speak! We’ve offered to escort them, but Prince Leon said that it’d be okay - he told us to come here and await his arrival together with the rest of his subjects, but we figured we could make a detour via Parcelyte-”
“Oh, yes, sir Maxim and milady Selan had to see their son, right?”, the prince said, nodding with the vestiges of that broad smile still on his features though his eyes had turned a little more serious, Tia was happy to see. Clearly the youngest of the two Bound princes had done a lot of emotional maturing over the time she’d known him. “...So when will my brother and my future sister arrive?”, Alex asked, and Dekar grinned his broadest, most happy grin.
“Ah, that should be today - as a matter of fact, I am surprised, my prince, that they aren’t here already! ...I’ll go and talk to the soldiers manning the tower, see if they see anything.”, the fighter said, bowing courteously before walking off - Prince Alex snickered as he ducked around a corner.
“...It’s the other way to the battlements, he’ll-” Just as he meant to continue, Dekar passed the corridor again, heading the opposite direction while shaking his head, prompting Tia and the prince to laugh and the rest of the company to chuckle along. “...I’m ever so glad that nothing’s changed, and that you didn’t discover foul play right away, Tia!”
“...How come he’s speakin’ to Tia now and not Maxim?”, Guy asked - Selan looked like she’d hit him over the head for being so rude and the prince’s advisor Josef looked like he would have a fit, but the young prince answered as if it hadn’t been a humongous breach of protocol.
“Well, lady Tia is my honorary bodyguard. She and Dekar make a fine team - an excellent team as a matter of fact! And that’s great, because the strongest man in the world deserves the best girlfriend in all of the world!” Tia blushed deeply, and now the rest of the group laughed a little more loudly. In the end, however, she smiled and nodded. Maxim and the prince spoke for a little while about how things stood in Bound, but just as the group meant to go back to the castle square, Alex spoke up. “...Milady Tia, can I speak to you in private for a second?”, the prince then asked, no longer smiling but looking slightly upset, and Tia nodded.
“You don’t have to ask, Prince Alex. ...Uh, guys, would you mind waiting outside a second? I don’t know what it is the prince wants to speak to me in private about, but…”
“Well, I think he wants to talk to you about Dekar, what else?”, Guy said with his usual absence of tact, and Maxim hurriedly pulled him along as Selan glared at the tall, muscular fighter before walking after them and closing the door. As soon as they stood alone, Alex looked at Tia, biting his lip a little nervously.
“...I… don’t really know how to say something embarrassing like this…”, the prince said, causing Tia to smile encouragingly.
“Forget for a moment that you’re a prince and I’m one of Maxim’s group… and talk to me as a friend…”
“Okay, but it’s still embarrassing.”, the prince said, blushing and casting a sideways glance at his advisor, who didn’t move a muscle. “...I… in the last battle, some of the soldiers were gossiping about you and Dekar, saying you and he should… oh-”, the prince sighed in frustration, and Tia patted him on the arm.
“...Just blurt it out, I won’t be mad or upset-”
“They said you and he should just d-do it and get it over with.”, the prince said, blushing madly and looking at the ground all the while, and Tia felt her own cheeks light up. Internally, she was bristling mad - asking herself loudly what business it was of the Bound army what she and Dekar had going - but after a few moments, she found her calmth again and sighed to dispel the last tension from her body.
“...They’re soldiers, Prince Alex. They’re soldiers, and they’re men. It’s kind of a given that they think about fighting and women and… well, stuff like that. Next time they gossip about me and Dekar, though, tell them gossiping is for parlormaids and fishmongers - and it might help to tell them Dekar and I don’t really tolerate our private lives being discussed like that.”
“Oh! Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t said with any disrespect, lady Tia!”, the prince said quickly, smiling from ear to ear the next second. “Everyone here adores Dekar - and since you and he are a couple, he’s become even more of a favorite! And you’re charming and beautiful, so everyone here adores you just as much as they adore Dekar! After all this is over, it’d be Bound’s greatest pleasure to have you here; not just as a guest, but as… uh, not a guest!”, he finished a little sheepishly, and Tia chuckled, curtseying in front of the young prince.
“I’m sure I’ll love living here, Prince Alex - but before I can, a lot of things have to be settled. First and foremost, the wedding of your brother, and then your own coronation-”
“Don’t remind me…”, the prince said emphatically, looking over his shoulder to Josef again before whispering at Tia in the kind of loud whisper only children knew how to produce: “...I’m never gonna be a stuffy king, though, but a fun king.”
“I’ll bet you are.”, Tia answered back with a grin before taking a step back. “...Prince Alex, as much as it upsets me, my friends are probably bored waiting for me outside…”
“Oh, sure, go! And when you see Dekar, tell him to report to me!” Tia nodded and walked outside, finding the rest of the group outside and finding Dekar with them: the instant he saw her again, he walked over to her briskly and gave her an embrace and a light kiss on the lips that had Guy wolf-whistle.
“I saw a rider approach from the south, probably a messenger sent to warn Prince Alex and set the preparations in motion - let’s go meet him at the gates and ask how the journey went.” He clearly wanted to walk ahead of the group, taking on Maxim’s role for a second, but then reconsidered and kept his arm wrapped around Tia’s waist, walking at the back of the group - when Guy mumbled ‘show-offs’, Dekar snorted, and Tia shook her head.
“Oh, Guy, with the way you’re jealous of me and Dekar showing off how much we love each other, I feel so sorry for Jessy, you know… What does it take for you to tell the world you love her, huh? Her getting kidnapped again?”
“Aw, jeez, don’t remind me…”, the blonde fighter said, an expression of disgust on his features. “Idura havin’ his grubby li’l paws on her… the stuff of nightmares, I swear!” The group reached the gates just when the messenger arrived, at which point Dekar finally relinquished his hold on Tia. She could understand why perfectly as she looked at the messenger: he’d ridden his horse extra hard, and sweat was pearling on his face just as much as the horse’s flanks. Coupled to his pallor even under the harsh desert sun, it didn’t paint a pretty picture.
“...S-sir Dekar! Trouble, oh, trouble!”
“What happened?”, Dekar asked calmly, and the soldier first took a deep draught from the canteen of water the guard manning the gate handed to him before answering.
“T-the ship that ferried Prince Leon a-and Princess Thea here… it… it disappeared!”
The Ancient Cave again. I know what that has to mean, and I’m betting so do the others… but I can’t think about it overmuch.
The soldier told me all I needed to know - the ship disappeared on a fair morning with clear view and a decent wind, near the Ancient Cave, with none of the escort vessels detecting anything - and I turned to Maxim instantly, telling him that I’d prefer his help in searching for the prince. Tia, of course, was by my side regardless, but the others instantly pledged their help in this time of crisis. Once this is over, I must have a talk to prince - no, to King Alex. Maxim, Guy and Selan are all such magnificent friends of me and of the Kingdom, they deserve to be rewarded handsomely for their help to us! In fact, the entire world is already heavily indebted to Maxim and Selan, so it would just be confirming that their help and constant concern for all of us is appreciated and rightly rewarded...
The dungeon once again made my head reel upon entering it, but with Tia by my side and with Prince Leon and Princess Thea’s lives on the line, I’m not being boastful to say that a part of my prince’s courage inspired me to instantly take up my sword and slay the monsters in the room we teleported into. Tia was mindful of my new frame of mind and told the others that we’d best get going, and she then helped me clear out the next room of the floor we were on with her own mechanical weapon. She and I kept a steady pace of exploration going, leaving the treasure chests to the others and only pausing for the briefest while to divide the treasures we uncovered before heading on to the next floor.
After a few floors, we found Prince Leon, to my utmost relief - though I didn’t relax completely just yet since he was alone. Princess Thea had been abducted deeper still by the monsters that had taken them - when he said ‘monsters’, it confirmed my worst fears, and I swore revenge any way I could. Internally, of course; outwardly, I remained as calm as I could possibly be, telling Prince Leon to head to safety. Naturally, he refused - he even used my own words against me. “Great love”, he argued, “demands great sacrifice - you’d lay your life down to save Lady Tia in a heartbeat, so why should my crown or Thea’s make matters any different? I love her deeply, and to lose her would be the same as losing life itself.” How could I argue with that? How could I deny that he was right? Looking into Tia’s eyes, I knew that she was the one woman, the one person, that had supreme say over my life. I am no longer my own man. The strongest man of the world is entirely and happily in the servitude of this beauty, this strong and cunning woman with the heart of an angel!
...When I fought in the next few floors, Tia still by my side and Prince Leon being escorted safely through the maze of rooms by Maxim and Selan, I could feel it as plainly as if we’d spoken. My love with Tia could not be stronger.
...Whenever we pause for a second to catch our breath, I reach for her hand and gently caress it, to show how much she means, how much I love her… to show how much I look forward to our future together…
“Thea!” The party had arrived on the fifteenth floor of the Ancient Cave, finding the princess standing in the middle of the room, together with a familiar face: Idura, looking like he was king of the world. Prince Leon took a step up to her, but was held back by Dekar, who nudged his head at the insane priest, his look conveying that the princess wasn’t out of harm’s way yet.
“...Leon…”, she said slowly and evenly, and the prince exhaled a sigh.
“Thank goodness, you’re alright. Don’t worry, I’ll save you-”
“Save?”, Idura said, looking just about as delirious as ever before, his clothes dishevelled and his hair messy, as if he’d been living rough - next to Tia, Dekar’s hand closed a little tighter around the sword he’d been using, and she had to admit that she, too, wanted nothing more than to throttle the abductor. “...Just who will be saving who here, ehehehe…?”
“What do you mean?! I’ll save Thea from you, you vile monster!”, Prince Leon said, taking another step forward, though no more. Dekar, and Tia, and the others along with them, were only a hair’s breadth behind him, glaring at the mad priest in front of them even as he laughed.
“...Maybe, prince, she doesn’t need saving… maybe she doesn’t want saving! Mwahahaha, isn’t that right, dear?”, he said - to everyone’s amazement, Princess Thea nodded and grabbed Idura’s arm, a dull smile on her face.
“Oh, yes, right… Leon, I asked Idura to kidnap me.”, she said evenly, not a hint of emotion in her voice, and Leon blinked.
“Y-you asked him-” Either he played his confusion very well, or he was genuinely confused about the situation, Tia mused, glaring at Idura all the more harshly.
“Yes. Everyone knows our marriage is just politics, Leon - be honest to yourself, you know it too. I never truly loved you, and I never will.” It was said too evenly, and yet Prince Leon reacted as if she’d spoken from the heart, shaking his head, a frown on his features.
“No… no, I can’t believe that… I love you, Thea, and I won’t accept that you never loved me-”
“I’ll say it again if you want. I never loved you, Leon. Please, leave. Now.” the princess didn’t move a muscle, her expression didn’t change from its wan smile and void look, and Idura only added to the group’s suspicions of foul play.
“You heard her, Prince Leon, better to scurry off now, mwa ha ha ha!”
“...Prince Leon, Princess Thea would never say that. She’s… not herself at the moment.”, Selan said softly, and Maxim agreed.
“I think Idura has some kind of hold over her, either by magic or by blackmail. ...But the situation’s still too dangerous, we can’t intervene without risking her-”
“Regardless what you say, Thea, I love you - and I won’t accept your saying that you don’t love me!”, Prince Leon said, oblivious to Maxim and Selan’s words, stepping out of Dekar’s reach briskly though he didn’t yet step into arm’s reach of either Idura or the princess. Yet the effect on the princess was clear: her features showed a split second of emotion, of turmoil, of struggle, while Idura’s features grew shocked for a second. Then, however, her features blanked again and the priest snorted as she stepped away from him again, drawing a knife from his pocket.
“Don’t come closer. I’ll stab you. Maybe then you’ll accept that you were duped.”, she said dully, but the prince shook his head. Dekar groaned, powerless to stop his prince, unable to raise a hand against the man, his obedience too deeply ingrained in him, and Tia struggled along with him for similar reasons; Maxim and Selan, though, weren’t held back by that.
“Prince Leon, get back, Idura’s controlling her!”, Maxim said, and Selan voiced right after:
“Don’t get any closer!”
“I believe only in our hearts and in nothing else!”, Prince Leon ground out, stepping closer to Thea and getting stabbed the second he placed a hand on her shoulder: she was untrained and clearly agitated, so the knife sank in his lower stomach, but the effects were no less deadly. Prince Leon gasped sharply and then dropped to his knees in front of the princess, who seemed to awaken as from a deep sleep, blinking and looking around herself in confusion.
“W-what… where… Leon? H-how did we end up here… a-and why… this knife… y-you’re bleeding, oh…”
“Thea…”, he panted out, reaching up to her cheek shakily to wipe tears off her cheeks with his hand. “...I… I’ll never… let you go… ever again, m-my love…”
“L-leon, no… no, don’t die…”, she said loudly, crying freely while Idura cackled madly and spoke of how Bound and Gratze would go to war over this, how peace would never reign again and how chaos would follow - all to the bidding of his master, whom he named ‘Amon’ and whom he called ‘Lord over Chaos’ - but Dekar had shaken off his stupor. His sword’s blade connected to Idura’s arm, forcing the man to cast a hasty spell, teleporting at the other end of the room.
“Idura! You will pay dearly for your crimes!!”, the Bound warrior exclaimed, motioning for Tia to get the injured and heavily bleeding prince and the distraught princess to safety while Maxim, Guy and Selan all rushed towards Idura as well, who hastily summoned two monsters to fight for him while he stood safely in the cocoon of the energy barrier they powered for him.
“He’s just waiting it out!”, Maxim said, and Dekar gritted his teeth, realizing the truth in his friend’s words. Time was being wasted dealing with the mechanical monsters - time his prince didn’t have… ticking away like the steady clanking and ticking of the robots they were facing off against… ticking… Suddenly, Dekar’s features brightened, and he turned to his girlfriend, nudging his head at the monsters, prompting her to nod.
“Maxim, Guy, aid Tia in dispatching those mechanical mayhems, I will keep track of Idura and prevent him from summoning more!!”, he said - Selan didn’t ask to be included in his plan but merely nodded, knowing that Dekar relied on her keen senses and nimbleness to support him. Tia grinned as she unleashed the full power of her mechanical glove on the monsters, using the grappling hook it contained to reel them in close enough for Guy to smash their outer casings with his hammer or Maxim to slice deeply into their metal hearts. Her own glove had enough power to punch through several of their parts and damage their most sensitive mechanisms, as well, and it didn’t take too long for the monsters to fall to the ground in useless heaps of metal that vanished from sight, leaving Idura open to the barrage of attacks Dekar aimed at him. The priest still laughed when he was cut down, though Dekar’s sword slicing his chest and upper stomach open and causing blood to gush over his robes caused his mad cackling to turn to a pained whimper for a second.
“AHAHAHA, all for naught!! M-my master’s will is done! The end, the end in beautiful, wonderful CHAOS!!”, Idura said as he fell to one knee and then disappeared from view in a flash of purple smoke.
“Gah!”, Dekar grunted, throwing his sword to the ground and running to Prince Leon, who looked pale but was still conscious. Princess Thea pressed a blood-soaked rag, torn from her skirt, against his wound, tears falling from her face.
“L-leon…!”, she said, shaking her head as if she could keep him alive by sheer willpower, as if denying his wound made it all better. Dekar, on the other hand, walked over to Iris and spoke urgently but kindly to her.
“Please, Iris, if there’s anything you can do…”
“I’ll tend to his wounds.”, she said with a decisive nod, placing her hands on the Ankh of Runa, the magical item that had served them so well in the past. Its glow wasn’t as bright as before, but Prince Leon got some color back in his face and his breathing eased. “...It’s all I can do… but I think it’ll be enough.”, she said with a sigh, allowing the prince to sit up again.
“I’ll… uh, I’ll be f-fine…”, the prince admitted while Princess Thea sobbed and grabbed his hands. “Mmh… I c-can feel your warmth, Thea… I… I want you near, n-now… and forever…”
“I want that too!”, she said tearfully, allowing Selan a moment to check the prince’s wound underneath the rag.
“It’s not bleeding anymore, but it doesn’t look completely healed. We need to head to Bound immediately.”
“Yeah!”, Dekar said emphatically, reaching his hand out to pull Prince Leon back to his feet when suddenly, the entire cave shook and a sudden outpouring of purple smoke mixed with fearsome energy burst back from the middle of the room, preceding Idura’s return amidst them - but that wasn’t what had Dekar gasp and look in horror.
In Idura’s hands, strands of her hair in between the mad priest’s fingers, was Tia.
“So Prince Leon’s life is out of danger - rats! Still, I’ll do Master Amon’s bidding by taking this girl and sowing chaos in your hearts!”
“He’s still alive?!”, Dekar exclaimed, groaning as he reached in vain for his sword, and Idura snorted.
“I will live as long as Mistress Erim allows me to, mwahahahaha… First this girl, then, one by one, the rest of you miserable ‘heroes’!”
“H-hey, let - ouch! Let go of me, Idura, you freak!!”, Tia said, struggling in vain.
“I-it’s no use, Idura’s dead - it’s his energy keeping her down, not his actual body!”, Maxim said, gasping when suddenly, around Idura and Tia, a wavering purple hole in the fabric of the world appeared, through which only energy and emptiness could be seen.
“This is the gateway to another dimension! This spell can’t be stopped - trying to do so will just seal it! Only madness and hell await you, you foolish girl!!”, the priest said, laughing madly and allowing for Tia to utter only two more words.
The decision was made in a split second. Dekar grinned menacingly at Idura and vanished, trading places with Tia seemingly in the blink of an eye. But Tia knew that he’d used his energy core to bend the rules for just a second, slowing time to a crawl to allow him to rescue her, swiftly dragging her out of harm’s way and quickly hugging her tightly, whispering ‘I love you, my Tia’ before kissing her lovingly and needfully on the lips. And then, Dekar punched Idura right in the face with his right hand, ending his spell and sending tears to Tia’s eyes, streaming down her cheeks, as she realized what her boyfriend had done and what would happen. Slowly, from the ground up, a bubble of energy started to form around Dekar and the mad priest, encasing them in shimmering purple energy.
“W-what?!”, Idura’s form gasped, and Dekar laughed.
“I’ll take Tia’s place and go to this alternate dimension in her stead!”
“Y-you… you can’t-”, the priest tried, but the pink-haired fighter shook his head.
“The spell can’t be stopped, you said it yourself!”
“Dekar! N-no!”, Tia said, crying freely. She felt disbelief and fear, intense love and complete devastation, worry and the tiniest bit of longing… Taking a step towards him, she tried to reach out for him, only to see the bubble around him and Idura closing, sealing him from her touch. Her hand, which should have grasped his, reached only thin air. “No!”, she reiterated, and Dekar spoke softly, pride plain in his voice.
“...Tia, I knew you still had the power to cry… You’ve got some tears left, it seems!”
“Dekaaaaaar…!!”, she whimpered, shaking her head, but the bubble was slowly growing smaller, and Dekar spoke quickly.
“Maxim, make sure the prince and princess get to safety - and Tia.”
“But-”, Maxim said, clearly trying to find a way to break the spell despite Idura’s words, and Dekar flashed them all a grin.
“Don’t worry about me - the other thing I’m best at is not dying.” Then, turning to Idura and ignoring Tia crying out his name, Dekar’s grin became positively wicked: “...Idura, you worm, looks like we’re stuck together! What say you and I become best pals?!” His armband glowed vibrantly as he gathered his energy, but the gateway was shrinking rapidly by then, and the group didn’t see the concluding attack: with a flash, the priest and the Bound warrior were gone, and Tia dropped to her knees on the spot where they’d been only seconds before, crying out for her boyfriend to come back.
“D-dekar!!! Noooo…!! N-no, it can’t… it isn’t p-po-possible…”, she said raspily between deep sobs and heaving breaths. “G-guy, please, he… tell me he isn’t d-dead…”, she pleaded, but for once the blonde fighter didn’t have an answer for her, an expression of utter defeat on his features. “M-maxim, tell me…”, she tried again, only for her oldest friend to shake his head mournfully.
“T-the gate’s closed… Dekar could be anywhere…”
“Tia…” The answer the girl needed didn’t come from the woman she’d tried to address, but from Prince Leon, who had gotten to his feet, looking a little pale again but otherwise seeming okay. No fresh blood streaked his clothes at any rate, and his voice, though hoarse, was steady. “...Dekar never lied to me. He isn’t like that. ...He said he’d survive, so he will. Have faith in him, as you always have.”
“...I…”, she said, and the prince nodded.
“I… believe we have to fight for peace. If the world is at peace, Dekar can return safely. That’s why… we won’t go to Bound. We go back to Gratze.”, he said, and Maxim sighed. It was clear that the sudden, shocking loss of Dekar hung heavy over them all as they discussed that the trouble in Gratze needed to be solved, regardless of their sorrow for losing a friend - as they teleported back out, however, Tia and Selan remained behind for a moment.
“...Tia, I know it’s no consolation right now, but… I think Dekar’s love for you is truly great, and strong.”
“I… y-yeah… oh, Selan…!” The Elcid girl nearly threw herself into the arms of the other woman, who patted her consolingly on the shoulder while allowing her to cry. “...Oh, I love him, I love him s-so much… W-we… he was planning, w-when Prince Leon and Princess Thea w-were married-”
“I know.”, Selan said serenely, sighing. “I knew ever since you and he turned up that summer’s day for the beach… Don’t give up hope yet. Prince Leon said Dekar never lied to him… and he’s got you to fight for and return to...” Selan let her voice trail off, and Tia sighed, detaching from her and nodding, even though her slumped shoulders and the soft sob she still occasionally heaved showed that she still mourned his loss as permanent.
...It’s been a week, still no news.
A month. Gratze got destroyed. Prince Leon married Princess Thea in the middle of the ruins. The ceremony was beautiful, and I forgot my sadness for one glorious afternoon, but when I laid down to bed, I dreamt of him, only to wake up without him…
Gratze’s being rebuilt now. Still no news.
Every day, I drag myself through the routine: get up, get dressed, cook myself breakfast, bring Lexis something, sit in the Excelion’s steering hut, eat, sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Without Dekar, living means hurting. Without Dekar, my bed is cold, my chamber empty, my heart withered and dead. Without Dekar, my life is worth nothing.
Maxim, Selan and Guy must be worried, but what can they do? Nothing can bring back what I lost…
Two months. We’ve been across the world, and still… nothing.
Every night. I dream of him every night. I dream of kissing him, talking to him, holding him. I dream of the future we were supposed to have, the glorious love that was supposed to shine like the sun, the children we’d raise. I dream of seeing Dekar age but the love in his eyes only grow stronger. I dream of holding his hand, tracing his energy bracer… I dream of walking into his room and seeing him sitting on the bed, polishing his sword…
I dream of him so much I don’t want to wake up most mornings. This has been going on for three months now. And I don’t think it’ll ever… e-ever...
For a few days, while we travelled around with Karyn, things felt better. I didn’t dream of Dekar so often. Now that she’s gone…
Idura better be dead, or I’m going to make him wish as much.
“...Milady Tia…” Looking up, Tia saw their newest traveling companion, Artea, exit his small room on board the Excelion. So much had happened since they’d gone back to Gratze: the revelation of another Sinistral called Amon, the sudden fear he’d struck into the hearts of the people, the discovery of the elves of Eserikto - the spirited girl Milka, her warm-hearted mother Karyn, and Artea, their protector… Karyn’s special and unique power to soothe hearts just by singing had come in handy to bring calmth back to the world in an attempt to draw Amon back out of hiding, only it had worked too well. The Sinistral had whisked Karyn away and, in an attempt to neutralize her power of counteracting him, had absorbed her, meaning that defeating him would kill her as well.
“...Artea, how-”, she started, meaning to ask the sympathetic question merely because it seemed like the right thing to do, but he shook his head.
“My emotions are calm. My grief over Karyn is there, to be sure, but… I can sense your own grief, Tia, for someone who was to you what… what Maxim is to Selan.” Artea’s only hesitation seemed to be to find the right comparison, and Tia sighed.
“...I’m sure it’s just Daos’ work, finding the tiniest grain of horrible feelings inside someone and making it worse-”, she said, but the elf shook his head.
“No, Tia. I’ve spoken to Maxim, to Lexis, to Iris. They all acknowledged to me that you’ve been missing your boyfriend, who… sacrificed himself for you, much like Karyn-”
“No!”, Tia said hotly, clenching her fists as she felt anger, white-hot and overpowering, drown out reason for once. “No, Dekar isn’t dead like Karyn is! He’s out there, somewhere! I’ll die before I admit that he’s gone forever!”
“I didn’t mean…”, Artea started, only for Tia to stomp off to the deck, probably to watch the horizon zoom past as the Excelion flew over the land and the ocean on its way to the desert to the east.
“...She exploded, huh?”, Selan asked - Artea, showing no sign of surprise that she’d walked up to him, answered calmly but mournfully.
“Yes. Tia is a woman whose spirit shines bright with passion and hope - perhaps brightest of us all, if it weren’t for this all-overpowering gloom she feels at the loss of her boyfriend-”
“Fiancé.”, Selan corrected, elaborating when Artea raised a delicate eyebrow: “...They never spoke a promise, they never pledged their hands to one another, but they were planning to marry. That’s as good an engagement as Guy has with his Jessy - and it’s a lot better than Maxim and mine, we just… got together, and then got married.” Sighing, Selan shook her head. “I guess I’ll head up to deck as well. Thank you for at least trying.”
“...Bound is where he was from, no?”, the elf queried, and Selan nodded.
“She was the one who reported his sacrifice to King Alex. They… well, King Alex is only fourteen or fifteen, but he and Tia are good friends, and he isn’t one for protocol. They spent about two hours crying and hugging and crying some more. ...Returning to Bound… she’s reminded of everything she had and lost. We can’t blame her for being moody.”
“...She continues to believe that he’s still out there.”, Artea said, shaking his head. “But in an alternate dimension… there can be no escape, save for the most powerful magic. He is as good as lost to this world.”
“...Don’t let Tia hear you say that, she needs all the hope she can cling to…”, Selan merely said before heading up to the deck, and after a while, Artea followed her, intent on speaking to Tia again, though this time carefully avoiding the subject of her missing boyfriend.
It is madness, what I am about to do. Idura lays defeated at my feet, though for how long I don’t know, and I stand at the shimmering core of this alternate dimension he’s brought me at. This will take some thought…
He’s dead again. He keeps coming back, though. No matter, I’ll figure this out!
Dead again. Just a little more…
Rats, thought I had it. Oh well, Idura’s back anyway, time to make him pay for the three hundred fifty-fourth time.
Six hundred thousand and five…
It feels like I’ve aged a year, even though it’s only been a few days since I came here. A week at most. A week of constantly battling Idura and using the time in which his body is restored to try and find a way out of this nightmare to return to the others - to return to my lovely lilac… Tia’s tearful face in my memory is all that keeps me going. I promised her that the world would be ours - I promised her we’d see the conclusion of all of this together! I have to figure this out for her sake!
I lost count. Have to start over again. Or maybe I should just call it an even million. That merits an award or something! I’ll be sure to award Idura with my Exploding Fist right in his face!
...Wait… my Exploding Fist attack… could it be so simple? Could I… overload this dimension’s core nexus and… no… my regular attacks won’t do in this case… maybe, if I go all out...
I have to try! I might die trying, but an eternity stuck here without Tia is worse than death, so I must try!!
“Haaaaa…. BLAST WAVE!!!”
“W-we did it!!”, Tia cheered as the energy receded from Marie again and the woman stood smiling on top of the pedestal. On the other pedestals, she could vaguely make out the forms of the others, but then… A feeling like a wave of rolling blackness, of midnight dark and deepest horror, rolled over her and Selan, and the two women looked at the other towers to see a wave of blood red energy descend near the tower where Maxim and Iris were. A familiar wave of blood red energy at that…
“I-it’s Daos!! Maxim is in danger!”, Selan gasped out, and Tia nodded.
“Let’s go!” They used the teleporter to head back down to elevator that would take them to the ground floor again, finding the monsters that had impeded them on their climb, before, having returned full force. Meanwhile, they could feel Daos’ power fluctuate - and, to make matters worse, a second feeling of dread, this one cold as the dead of winter and stagnant like the air of an infirmary, overcame the two women. Yet still, they clung to their newfound hope.
“Maxim…”, Selan ground out as the elevator that bore them was slowly descending, and Tia put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Selan, he’ll be fine - and we’re getting to him!”, she said with a firm nod, which prompted Selan to smile at the other girl. A change had taken place in Tia ever since Daos had shown himself in Caldia Shrine, ever since Elaine had woken up and Albert, the elderly man from Elcid, had declared his love to her and had gotten her love in return. Selan could only guess that Tia believed, if Elaine and Albert could be together, she and Dekar would find a way to find each other again and renew their happiness, even if it would take her entire life to have just one last glimpse of him.
“Tia… you’ve grown so strong…”, she said, and Tia smiled. “You’ve grown so mature, too.”, Selan added, and Tia chuckled.
“Had to happen some day… I can’t leave all the wisdom up to you and Maxim, right? Now, let’s get going!”, she said, just as the elevator shuddered to a halt. They could no longer feel Daos’ energy, along with the other, more potent, energy…
“H-hey, d’you know what’s going on?!” Guy’s shout preceded him and Artea running up to the two women, the elf seeming a little shocked by something. “Artea just said ‘so it finally took place’ and…”
“Daos was here, as was the hitherto unknown fourth Sinistral.”, the elf said calmly, though his eyes still betrayed worry and fear, something Guy was oblivious to and Selan elected to ignore in the face of the danger to her husband.
“Let’s just head to the tower.”, the fighter-mage said, running ahead of the others down the walkway onto which Maxim and Iris had disappeared together with Lisa earlier, with Guy and Tia following her and Artea bringing up the rear. However, when they arrived, Maxim just teleported to the ground floor, and he wasn’t alone.
Tia’s heart stood still. There, in front of her, stood Dekar, tall and proud as ever, not a hair out of place on his head and not a scar visible on his features. His silvery eyes still shimmered, and his cock-sure grin was still as crooked and self-assured as it had been before.
Dropping her weapon, she rushed up to him and, before Maxim or any of the others could speak up, nearly bowled Dekar over in grabbing hold of him in a tight embrace, kissing him with all the relief, all the remaining sorrow, all the overflowing joy in her heart venting all at once. She trailed her tongue none too subtly over his lips and wasn’t surprised that he deepened their kiss in a heartbeat, and she had a proper taste of him again, which made her heart nearly jump out of her chest, and-
“A-ah, guys? I… Uh…” Maxim’s hesitant, slightly embarrassed voice reminded the two that they weren’t alone, but Tia could care less, and Dekar clearly felt the same way.
“...Yes, quite true, Maxim - but Tia, you’ve only grown more beautiful and strong while I was away, I expect you to regale me with the full account later.” She blushed softly, nodding and taking a half-step back from Dekar though she couldn’t bring herself to let go of him, and he kept his arms wrapped loosely around her as well, his hands resting gently on her back.
“...Uh, as I was saying before you two decided to-”
“Before Tia and Dekar showed how happy they were to see each other again.”, Selan said tactfully, smiling benevolently at Tia and Dekar, feeling happy for them; Maxim nodded and grinned softly as well, though only for a split second, and Dekar turned serious as well.
“...We… lost Iris as a companion.”
“What?”, Tia said flatly, disbelievingly, and Guy gritted his teeth.
“No. No, it seems… Iris played a part. She… she’s Erim, the last Sinistral. The Sinistral of Death.” The silence that hung over the group was absolute and grim - Maxim broke it after a while, his voice mournful and his preceding sigh heavy. “She swore to kill me on Doom Island.”
“And Daos?”, Guy asked, his jaw set.
“Daos seemed to find it a good idea. He apparently doesn’t think we stand a chance. But…”
“But what?”, Artea asked, looking serene again - serene, and determined, as always. However, Maxim shook his head, dismissing his earlier thought and turning back to the more important matter at hand.
“Now’s not the time to think about Erim and Daos just yet - let’s make sure we get to them first. Parcelyte, Bound and Gratze will probably be willing to lend us their energy cores now that Doom Island is frozen in place and unable to attack us anymore. ...Actually, let’s go to Bound first, okay? Everyone’ll be happy to see Dekar again, I’m sure!”, he said with a grin, and Dekar nodded, grinning from ear to ear, squeezing Tia a little closer against him.
“...Huh, ya pair of show-offs…”, Guy said, grinning as well - there were dried tears on his cheeks, showing he’d gotten a little emotional when he’d seen Dekar return, and Dekar sighed dramatically.
“Guy, did you still not marry Jessy, then?”
“Oh, he’s set a date now. Or, well, kind of. They’re getting married exactly a month after Guy beats Daos. Jessy made him swear, with witnesses and everything.”, Tia said, smiling so broadly that her cheeks hurt, her arms still tightly wrapped around Dekar’s midriff and her head resting against his shoulder. “...Come on, Dekar, let’s go see King Alex together.”
“...You guys, we’re in Parcelyte now.”, Maxim said as the group sat in the kitchen, waiting for the ship to reach their second destination. Dekar nodded and rose, but Tia stayed in her seat and sighed.
“...I… do you guys mind going without me, maybe? I feel kinda drained from everything… climbing that tower wasn’t easy, and rushing down to help you together with Selan was tiring - not to mention I haven’t slept a wink in the two hours we spent speeding to Bound or the hour we spent zooming through the air on the way over here.” Maxim gave her a questioning look, which managed to get her cheeks to feel like they were burning up. In reality, she wasn’t all that tired, but she was hoping that Dekar would understand the hint and stay behind with her, giving them a little valuable and incredibly rare time alone. To her joy, he instantly nodded and patted Maxim on the shoulder.
“Tia is right, Maxim, she looks exhausted. Don’t worry, I’ll stay behind with her to keep her safe.”
“I’ll bet.”, Maxim said, but Tia could take the rest of the group knowing exactly why she and Dekar were missing from their band for the moment in favor of speaking to her boyfriend, who waited until Maxim was out of the kitchen to gently grasp her hand and lead the two of them to his quarters, closing and locking the door before gently pulling her closer for a much-needed and lengthy kiss, which only ended when they sorely needed to breathe properly.
“...Tia, to me, the time I spent there was only a week - but even that was too long without you. Every hour, I thought of you. Every wink of sleep I got, I dreamt of you. I saw you in Idura’s hands again and that fuelled me to defeat him a hundred times over… I saw the hurt in your eyes again as I had to sacrifice myself for your sake. Oh, Tia, we’ll never again be separated, I swear.”, he said, and Tia nodded, idly running her hands over Dekar’s shirt.
“I missed you for every second of the past four months, Dekar. I… felt like life was meaningless without you. And now that I have you back, you’re never leaving my arms again.”
“I can live with that… mmm…”, he happily mumbled as their lips met again, and again, their kisses fierce and needful. Their caresses turned more demanding as well, and when Tia peeled Dekar’s shirt and coat off him, he gladly shrugged them off and allowed them to fall to the floor in a careless heap, together with his bracer and gloves. “Ahh, Tia…”, he sighed while pulling her dress aside a little so he could kiss her shoulder, remembering how sensitive it was, and she sighed happily.
“Dekar, you have no idea how badly I’ve missed you… how much I wanted-”
“I think I do have some idea.”, he said, grinning boldly as he ran his hands over her back to her hips, kissing her neck and shoulder wherever he could manage, feeling her shiver undelicately under his palms. “T-tia… we swore patience until it was all over…”, he said half-heartedly; Tia shook her head, vehemently digging her fingertips into Dekar’s bare shoulders and pushing him a little ways away from her so she could look into his eyes.
“Dekar, I don’t care anymore! I don’t care if we get in trouble, I don’t care if it isn’t proper, I don’t care if… whatever! All I know is that we’re going to do battle soon, against gods who swore to kill all of us, and that we have to win in order to have a future! And…” She relinquished her hold, her fingertips caressing over Dekar’s bare skin slowly and her eyes softening again, the fire in them growing tender but no less passionate. “...And I want us both to know what we’ll be fighting for, Dekar. If the future ends with our failure, I want to have at least had one moment where all that matters is our love; if the battle is just the start of a long life together for us, then what does it matter if… if there’s consequences?” She kissed him tenderly, lovingly and longingly, and then pulled apart from him again. “...Lexis once told me the meaning of that Bound saying that got you all dreamy-eyed. And maybe we won’t get a chance to sign our love, or see it delivered, but if our fate is sealed, then why not seal our love? And if we still have a chance at winning just as we’ve always won before, then why not win knowing how beautiful the life that awaits us can be?”
“Tia…”, Dekar said softly and reverently, slowly smiling more and more until his entire face was alight with joy, and they kissed again, lengthily and with a passion that eclipsed everything else. “...Oh, Tia, you’re too right… I can’t deny all that you said… B-but please, allow me to do the honorable thing first… marry me. Once all this is over. Let’s not wait for anything - let us marry each other in Bound, in front of my king and the people that I have fought so hard to protect. Be my wife, my Tia-”
“Yes, I will, we will.”, she said quickly, kissing him tenderly - however, their kiss soon turned heated again, and Dekar grinned when he detached from her.
“Ahh, my fiery Tia… Now that we are engaged, let there be no hesitation. My heart is yours, my love is yours… and even without a grand ceremony, all that I have and am, I gladly give to you.”
“And I to you, Dekar.”, Tia said earnestly, her words turning into a heated groan when Dekar reapplied his lips to her neck and shoulder, his hands in the meantime wandering to the front of her dress to slowly remove it from her form. “Dekar, love…”, she whispered when he got it undone and she quickly divested it, allowing him to fully appreciate her body in the glow of the light shining from overhead.
“Ah, my Tia, you look enchanting… I am enraptured by you, powerless under your spell…”, he admitted, his words faltering for a few moments when Tia’s hand ran from his shoulder down his chest and to his stomach before lightly trailing over his side again to come to rest on his back to hold him close. “...I’m lost in your warmth…”, he murmured, clearly driven to that dizzy half-frenzied state she felt herself in as well, where the heat of his body, the sound of his voice and the touch of his hands and his lips were all that still managed to register. When she moved her hand back to the waistline of his trousers, however, he moaned her name. “Tia... “
“Dekar, please… you’re making me… l-lose…”, she tried, but he kissed the words from her lips and she found her hands faltering, moving to tangle into his hair and keep him in place. His hands, one resting on the small of her back and the other still on her upper arm, pulled her as close as humanly possible, and she could feel the steady tension in his muscles all to clearly, not to mention it was all too obvious how eager he was for their finally, finally claiming one another fully. Then, he detached from her, stepping backwards slowly, and Tia blinked as she noticed that he’d shed what had remained of his clothing.
“Come on with, Tia.”, he said, the dawning of a luxuriating grin on his features, and she smiled back the same way, blushing without feeling it and speaking sensuously without being aware of doing so.
“Dekar, you have never looked more handsome… oh, I love you, I-” He pulled her along to the bed, sitting down on the edge and pulling her onto his lap before kissing her languidly, with a need that seemed to burn her lips and singe the imprint of him onto her forever.
“Oh, Tia… T-tia…”, he murmured, pulling her close, so close, and then, he gasped and shook in her embrace, burying his head against her shoulder. “Ahh…!”
“Dekar?”, she said, looking him over in slight apprehension, and he blushed as he looked into her eyes.
“W-well, you are lovelier than an angel, Tia, my Tia… a-and I have… longed for so long… I kind of… couldn’t take the tension so well?”, he said, looking a little guilty, and Tia chuckled softly.
“Oh, Dekar… I’m sorry-”
“Never apologise for being the very image of fiery passion and divine perfection you are!”, he said, kissing her again and sighing when she let her hands roam over his chest and stomach. “Ahh, Tia, after this moment, there isn’t a single force in the entire world that could ever part us… not Idura, not Gades, not even the gates of death can keep me from you!”, he said, kissing her neck and shoulders lightly while he gently pulled the both of them down onto the bed. The way their limbs had entangled and their lips and tongues felt like they were melting together, Tia mused in a distant corner of her mind, it certainly lent credibility to his claim that nothing on earth, in heaven or in hell could exist to part them. Not now, and not ever.
“Dekar, oh, Dekar, my love… m-my heart…”, she crooned in between kisses, the friction from their every slightest movement stoking the blaze she felt consuming her. Dekar’s only reply was to gently move them so he covered her body with his, her legs wrapped around him - she could feel him inside of her, his movements slow but deliberate, and a gasp of his name escaped her just at the same moment he leaned down and rested his forehead against hers.
“Oh, Tia…”, he mumbled, looking right into her eyes, icy blue meeting ocean blue, his exhales seemingly breathing more heat into her, inspiring more flames to lick at the places where their skin pressed and rubbed together. “Tia… ahh, this… you… you are m-my goddess… my heaven… you’re all…” Tia couldn’t answer coherently anymore: all she could still do was wrap her legs higher, around his hips, and arch her back a little to be able to kiss him, though she could only manage to do so for a minute before she had to gasp again. Her hands wandered aimlessly over his back and shoulders, over his arms and sides, fingers tangling in his hair or pressing into his skin hard enough to bruise as every lightest twitch of his hips brought more and more heat into her until she felt something had to give.
“D-dekar… ahh, I can’t… can’t… Ohh!!” He groaned just as she did, shivered along with her, and for one glorious second, she was suspended high above the world on unseen wings along with him before they came crashing back to their senses, smelling their mixed scents with every steadying breath. But they smiled as they parted again, laying close together though no longer connected.
“...Tia, my sweetest, let us tell the others before we part for Gratze that we are engaged.”, Dekar suggested, and Tia nodded, threading her fingers through Dekar’s hair for a moment or two longer before she felt his lips on hers in an infinitely tender and loving kiss.
“Let’s tell the world. I… We’ll need to head to Elcid anyway, and then I’ll send a messenger bird to King Alex to tell him to look forward to seeing the both of us back soon. And Prince Leon and Princess Thea… and Leefa… oh, everyone should know!”, she said gleefully, which Dekar answered with a chuckle.
“...My darling, my love… my sweetest, most beautiful Tia… such ardor, such splendor… how honored I am to be your fiancé, and how delighted to answer your love with my own…” He kissed her again, a little more at length, pulling her a little closer again, and Tia could only indulge his whim. After all, she couldn’t deny that she looked forward to sharing everything she had with the man she loved - including that moment and the happy cocoon they had, if only for as long as the others took to travel to Parcelyte and back.
Maxim and the others were… not surprised to hear our grand news. Lexis congratulated us profusely, giving Dekar a few stern words of warning that Dekar took to heart, bless him… Prince Leon and Princess Thea also congratulated us in their own demure, calm way, though their eyes showed that they were really over the moon for us. Even King Jude of Gratze gave us one of his rare smiles - he said Dekar would always be a welcome guest in Gratze, due to his services to Prince Leon and Princess Thea back in the Ancient Cave. Heh, even the elves congratulated us!
...But now, with the Excelion equipped with the cores, our engagement has to take a backseat just for a moment. We all have to be focused on the fight at hand. Though I’m sure that, with Dekar by my side, there isn’t any battle we can’t win. I’m sure.
Today, we battle the Sinistrals; tomorrow, Dekar and I will hold hands and pledge our lives together, signing what’s sealed. Nothing could be a match for the strongest love in the world!
The castle was in an uproar ever since that morning, but Dekar had little attention for the hustle and bustle that was going on outside his room. He checked himself over in the mirror a final time and groaned.
“Oh god… I think I can hardly breathe in this tuxedo…”
“Oh, would ya calm down?!”, Guy said - the tall, brawny fighter paced over to him, straightening his jacket again and then shaking his head, though with a good-natured grin. “Sheesh, you’d think we’re fightin’ the Sinistrals all over again, the way you’re makin’ a fuss about yourself… it’s just a wedding!”
“It’s not ‘just a wedding’, Guy - today is the start of a lifetime, so it cannot be anything but perfect! Today is the moment that is the crown upon a two-year-long spell of unparalleled beauty and joy! Today-”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud…”, Guy said emphatically, throwing his hands up, but the next words calmed Dekar down again.
“Dekar, it’ll be perfect. And besides, if you compare this ceremony to the wedding my darling Thea and I had, it’s downright glorious. A wedding befitting the strongest man in the world and his lovely lady, one-third of the Doom Island Six. The Fire Energy Core will shine its light benevolently upon your unity, and the entire kingdom of Bound is ready to celebrate your love. Honestly, what could possibly be wrong about all of that?” Dekar exhaled shakily and straightened his jacket again, looking at Prince Leon who had come back to his native lands as a guest of honor - Princess Thea would be helping Tia get ready together with Jessy right now.
“...I’m just nervous…”, he admitted, and Guy snorted.
“Lemme guess, the second thing you’re the best at is bein’ nervous, right?”
“Well, no, I’m actually bad at being nervous, but thank you for believing in me, Guy!”, Dekar said with a half-smile, prompting the Parcelyte fighter to groan but not respond. A knock on the door halted the rest of the conversation: King Alex dashed in, grinning from ear to ear. Dekar found some solace in the youth’s excited words.
“It’s nearly time, it’s nearly time! The captain’s ready - oh man, that suit looks great on you, Dekar!! - and I just saw Tia, she looks amazing - and the entire army’s gathered out in the town square to salute the two of you! And the cooks are working hard in the kitchen, and there aren’t any monsters in sight!”, he said, prompting Dekar to chuckle.
“Thank you, my king, for your gracious kindness and your enduring excellence! Tia and I are in your debt-”
“No, no, Dekar, the other way around!”, the youth said earnestly, though he smiled again the next second. “Josef says he looks forward to Tia teaching me protocol, but she’s not really gonna do that, is she?”
“Well, if she is going to do that, would you mind her doing so?”, Dekar asked, and the young King of Bound chuckled, shaking his head.
“No, of course not, Dekar! You and her are my friends! If you give me advice, I’m listening to it! ...Oh, I think it’s time now-”, he said before Artea ducked his head around the open door.
“Dekar, my friend, the time is at hand.” Dekar gulped, his nerves returning full force, though he walked after Guy out the room and into the hallway. Jessy and Princess Thea were waiting for their men in the main hall, looking Dekar over appreciatively.
“...S-so…”, he whispered, and Princess Thea took pity on the Bound warrior, smiling graciously as always.
“I can’t describe it, but you’ll love her all the more today. And she you.” Dekar grinned shakily before walking down the steps leading to the town proper, knowing that, in five minutes - five short minutes! - Tia would descend those steps and they would pledge their lives together for eternity. King Alex stood next to the army’s captain, who would officiate the wedding, and all of the people they’d met the world around, as well as the majority of Bound’s citizens and soldiers, stood gathered in every nook and cranny the village had. Next to King Alex, Dekar was happy to see his sister Elsinora and her husband standing, their baby boy standing next to them, his hand clutching his mother’s skirt. And then… First, Guy and Jessy came down the steps, Guy taking his place next to Dekar on the left side; next, Prince Leon and Princess Thea descended, and the prince stood on Dekar’s right side. Then, Josef descended the stairs, holding the population registry where they’d sign their names to officialize the marriage, and then… the gates of the castle opened, and Lexis, dressed in a sharp-looking suit that Dekar vaguely recognized as Maxim’s, gently led a heartstoppingly beautiful Tia down the stone steps. The bouquet of Priphea in her hands only highlighted her natural charm, and the desert sun made her eyes sparkle and her hair shine like the most precious of silks. As was customary, Dekar held out his hand for her to take, and she duly took it, with Lexis pressing their hands together as per the tradition, but the way they entangled their fingers was new. New and refreshing. So refreshing, in fact, that the majority of the ceremony passed Dekar by without him even noticing it until they came to the most important part: the exchange of their vows.
“Sir Dekar, do you take Lady Tia to be your wife, come sun or rain, come prosperity or adversity, come health or sickness, for as long as you both shall live?”, the captain asked, and Dekar looked right at Tia’s glittering eyes as he spoke solemnly as ever before.
“Lady Tia, do you take Sir Dekar to be your husband, come sun or rain, come prosperity or adversity, come health or sickness, for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do.”, Tia said clearly, her eyes bright as the sun overhead to him - and yes, maybe they kissed just a heartbeat too quickly and a blink of an eye too long, but who in the world would ever blame them?