You stood still, unmoving. You would not budge.
Skrimir roared, his deep voice shaking the earth in ways you did not know was possible. "Get out of my way, Beorc girl!" he snarled.
"No," you replied smoothly. "I won't allow you to harm him. He can't defend himself."
The red lion was none too happy at your defiance. "Then you'll just have to die with him." He lunged, his claws extended fully, waiting to tear through my soft flesh. Surely, you were destined to die at that moment but it mattered not. You were defending something which you held near and dear to your heart: mercy. It was mercy which saved you and now you felt obligated save others.
You heard a hiss and Skrimir was shoved away by a blur of blue. "This Beorc girl is a friend of Gallia and King Caineghis. I will not allow you to treat her in such a manner." Ranulf had spoken and his fur rippled defiantly in the wind. "If she dies at your fangs, you would have to answer to your uncle."
Skrimir growled deep in his throat-- he was angered as he so often was. You mentally shrugged, knowing that there was little you could do to calm him down. The lion laguz had a temper, and he was infamous for it. There were few who would dare question him, especially now that he had been promoted to the rank of general.
But Ranulf was not afraid, and Skrimir wouldn't completely disregard the words of his uncle's right-hand laguz, especially if that would anger the Gallian king. Skrimir turned upon his heels, reverting to his weaker form. He then stalked away without another word.
You sighed a breath of relief. That was much too close for comfort, especially since Skrimir most definitely would have torn right thought you had Ranulf not interfered. You turned to the man who you were defending. He was, indeed, a civilian of Daein, and although he wanted to protect his people, he was out-powered by the laguz. Still, you didn't feel that he needed to die for his noble cause. "Go on," you said. "You can leave now."
With a murmur of thanks, he scrambled off. You watched him run into the mist before turning back to your company.
"_____, you are much too kind. Your mercifulness will be the last of you someday," Ike said as he cleaned his sword.
"Perhaps," Titania replied. "But at least she knows where her heart is. There's nothing wrong with showing kindness. That man was not a soldier regardless of what he was doing; he was only trying to protect his family. Because of his efforts, his family was able to get away. _____ obviously understood that."
You nodded at what the red-haired woman had to say since she had stated your thoughts almost exactly. "This is why I'm here," you said. "To protect my loved ones... why shouldn't he have the right to do the same?"
"Too bad Skrimir has difficulty getting that idea through that thick skull of his," came the chipper voice of Ranulf. The blue cat leapt toward your party, landing gracefully upon all fours before changing back into his two-legged self. He sighed. "But that can't be helped. The young general of Gallia will have to learn eventually."
At least you were still alive, and you had Ranulf to thank for that. "Thanks for stopping him," you told Ranulf. "I doubt I would've survived had you not been there." While you could have defended yourself, you didn't want to take your sword up against an ally. As irritating as Skrimir was sometimes, you knew that deep down, he was still a good-hearted laguz who only wanted to defend his homeland and prove himself.
"Oh that? Don't mention it." He grinned widely. "I'm sure even King Caineghis would have done the same for you."
You returned the smile. As modest as you wished to be, it was probably true. You had spent most of your life in Gallia, living among the beast laguz. They all treated you with respect at King Caineghis' request, but you knew that not all of them trusted you because you were a beorc. It was a social divide, caused by years of racial gaps between the laguz and beorc, much thanks to the treatment of laguz slaves in the past. You understood but hated it. Luckily, King Caineghis' wish for peace among the two races calmed the nerves of most of the beast laguz; they were tolerant of beorc.
"Well, as much as I know you love to chat," Soren began, "I wouldn't do it here. We're out in the open and who knows what other Daein armies are in the area? I suggest we let everyone rest and plan our next course of action after finding a secure place to spend the night." Soren was always the voice of reason and took his job as a tactician seriously; naturally, no one could disagree with this notion. Caution was something which all of you had to take during this time of war.
The team under the command of Ike of the Greil mercenaries set up camp.
"Do you think that we'll win this war?" you asked Ranulf as the two of you sat near the campfire. At the moment, the two of you were keeping an eye on the entire camp; for three hour shifts each night, every few days, two members of the group were designated to watch the area for signs of any intruders. Tonight, you were paired with Ranulf, which was a good combination for you, particularly because he could sense things easily with his deepened laguz senses.
He sighed. "I wouldn't say that it's about winning this war anymore," he admitted. "We all know that Begnion's presence in Daein has been a cruel one. Those of Daein are rebelling because of this unfair treatment. Do you really want to 'win this war' only to cause the civilians more pain? I understand that we have to fight even though we have nothing gain-- we're at the point where we simply can't lose."
Of course, you left it up to Ranulf to come up with such a politically correct response. You never would have thought of it in such terms; you were out here to fight and defend your loved ones. Right now, the Daien soldiers were simply... enemies to you. Then again, you did save an innocent earlier. Perhaps you had already understood the concept on a smaller scale without truly realizing it. "You're right as always," you replied.
The fire crackled as it consumed the wood that Ranulf threw into it. "I'm not always right, _____, as much as I would like to be, you know." He chuckled lightly. "But then again, I'm not the King of lion's right-hand for nothing. My head isn't entirely filled with nonsense." The last part was said playfully.
"Wise nonsense, perhaps?" you giggled.
Ranulf raised an eyebrow. "Wise nonsense? Isn't that a bit contradicting? I expected more from you, _____. It seems like you're the one with this wise nonsense."
You sighed mockingly. "You know I'm only joking with you."
"Well, so am I!" he responded. "I have a sense of humor when I can afford it." The cat folded his arms across his chest. "It's just that, unfortunately, there has been too much to do lately, with this war and everything."
Although you completely understood, you couldn't help but comment. "I miss the old Ranulf," you said. "Remember those days when we used to lie beneath the fruit trees in Gallia before all of this fighting started? We actually could relax. You still served King Caineghis, but you had time to spare on things other than politics..."
"They sound familiar, these days of lying beneath the fruit trees," he pondered, a silly grin blossoming across his features. "Ah, I can't remember the last time I had fun. Oh, this is tragic indeed!" He posed himself, letting his chin rest upon his fist. "We must change this when the war is over."
"If we both survive," you added with a bit of dry humor.
"If you don't survive, I'll have to hunt you down for dying on me," Ranulf responded. "And I expect you to do the same for me, missy."
You laughed, the first time you had done so in many days. "And that's supposed to be incentive for me to not die?"
"Exactly. You know you'd never see me coming if I were to hunt you down, so save yourself the embarrassment and simply not put yourself in such a situation."
A smirk appeared on your face; this was the Ranulf that you used to know. He was playful and competitive, always willing to take a risk and laugh at you or himself. "I think not!" you said. "You know I could handle you, Ranulf!"
"I'm sure that explains how I tackled you down to the ground when we sparred last."
"I tripped!" you defended.
Ranulf threw a mocking glance toward you. "Over perfectly flat ground, I suspect?" He then laughed, that clear indication of joy that you had not heard in such a long time coming from his mouth. "You know that I'm just messing with you, _____. You're a decent warrior, even if you have to use that piece of metal to fight."
You rolled your eyes. "I don't have fangs or claws like you do, Ranulf," you reminded him. He was such a different character around you than when around everyone else. Yes, he still managed to smile and make jokes, but because he was a superior officer within the realm of the laguz, he had a reputation to keep. He couldn't be a silly cat around his inferiors as he could be when he was around you. You understood why he had to show that serious side of him; he didn't do it because he was trying to hide himself from the world. It was almost like he genuinely had different facets of him-- one for organizing the serious affairs and one for relaxing.
"I know, I know," he said. "You beorc never cease to amaze me." He then fell silent, watching the flames dance, leaping and wavering with one another. "This war... I never thought that it would come to this. I had thought that after defeating Ashnard several years ago was the end of it all, but it seems like I was wrong. We were all wrong."
You had not participated in the first war when Ike's group had invaded Daein to return Crimea's throne. At that time, King Caineghis wanted you to remain in Gallia for your own safety. Your swordsmanship needed much improvement before he would allow you to go to war for even Gallia's sake. "Well, like you said earlier, you can't always be right," you comforted. "I mean, sure this war is unfortunate, but we just have to take things as they come. We're mortals; we can't predict the future."
"There are just sometimes when I wish the answers were more clear-cut," he spoke. He had slipped into one of those trances, when you felt that he was talking to himself more than he was speaking to you. "I feel like I don't know what we're aiming for anymore."
You rested a hand upon his shoulder. "Sometimes, we're not supposed to understand why we do the things we do. I'm sure that the Goddess has plans even greater than us all... don't dwell too long on it."
Ranulf gave you a warm smile, his two, different colored eyes sparkling in the firelight. "I'll try not to."
"You need to stay confident for our troops anyway. They rely on you for moral support," you added. "It's always your jokes that get us through a long day's travel. If you're caught depressed, who knows what will happen to the rest of us!"
Before he could respond, Oscar appeared. "You two should get some rest," he said as he stifled a yawn. "Boyd and I will finish the rounds for the night." Behind the even-tempered Oscar was his younger brother, who appeared to be quite a bit crankier than he did. "Go on, don't worry about us."
"Thanks, Oscar, Boyd," you replied. You looked at Ranulf who had pulled himself onto his legs. "Goodnight, Ranulf. I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well."
The cat stretched his arms. "I think I'll go on a jog first. I don't think that I'm tired enough to sleep yet anyway." He continued before you could make a comment about how it might have been dangerous. "Don't worry about me, _____. My senses are sharper than you think. Have a good night." Ranulf winked, and then turned around, racing into the night.
You sighed, but shrugged, heading toward the tent you shared with the other women.
You had fallen asleep, but the night was not restful. It seemed like you had something lingering in the back of your mind, although you consciously didn't know what it was. A phantom haunted your thoughts, constantly reminding you that all was not well. Finally, when your eyes fluttered open, you saw someone fling the flap of the tent open.
It was Oscar. "Quick everyone! We're under attack! We're surrounded!" Even the usually calm Oscar sounded distressed, and, indeed, he had every right to be.
The women threw their blankets aside, grabbing a hold of their weapons before darting out of the tent. "How many?" Titania asked, untying her loyal horse from its post. She lifted herself onto the beast, drawing her axe in the dim moonlight.
"Too many," Boyd replied as he raced toward the group, the men arriving behind him. "I jogged to the nearest river to get some drinking water, but I heard voices. After seeing a group of Daien soldiers, I rushed back to the camp to warn the rest of you."
"Well, it's a good thing you did," Soren said. "I've had just enough time to devise a plan, even if it’s a rough one."
"We've been in these sorts of situations before," Ike added. "We'll make it out just fine with your expertise. Soren, whenever you're ready."
"Beorc Tactician," Skrimir began. "Hurry. I long to fight these Daein scum!"
It was then that you realized something; Ranulf was still out there! Your heart raced for his safety. You knew that it was stupid and that only a fool would run after him, but you felt like you had no choice. The idea of Ranulf being hurt and you unable to help him was devastating. This was Daein territory... any enemy who found a laguz wandering the land was bound to treat said laguz mercilessly.
You acted upon your emotion and snuck off while Soren was appointing positions to each member of the group. They would manage without you-- they were the Greil Mercenaries. Right now, you knew that you had to find Ranulf. You had your sword strapped to your waist, and you were decently skilled with it so you could defend yourself if you were cornered. Somehow, you hoped that you wouldn't have to use it; your goal was to find the blue cat and that was it.
You brushed past the trees, using your arms to push branches out of your way. Although you didn't know which direction the enemy was coming from, you did know which direction Ranulf had run off in. The chances were that he would be fine; you would find him and he would remain safe-- he was a great warrior of Gallia after all, but that didn't comfort you. The beorc of Daein hated the laguz with a fiery passion, and you knew that they would deploy weapons, particularly those of fire, to defend their home from the beasts of Gallia.
Several minutes into your traveling, you began to hear rustling which did not result from your movement. You stood still, crouching low to the ground so that the cover of the bushes could protect you from unfriendly eyes. There were the Daein soldiers! Luckily for you, there weren't that many-- they had probably split up at some point to attack your camp from different directions. Still, you held your breath, hoping that they would walk right past you. You didn't want a fight if you could avoid it.
Too late. You must have shifted into an awkward position, causing a frightened rabbit to rush out from the bush you were hiding behind. Naturally, the Daein soldiers knew that you were there. They stepped toward you, and at that point you figured that you wouldn't be able to escape. There were too many of them for you to run from, and the forest was difficult to navigate as was. You would have to fight them before they had the chance to formulate a plan and use it against you.
With a warrior cry, you sprang from your hiding place, your sword held high. You brought your blade down upon the first soldier who had not expected such speed from his attacker. It was a fortunate strike on your part-- he fell easily enough. The others rushed forward-- they mostly had axes which worked to your advantage, as your sword easily gave you the upper hand. Even so, you remained out-numbered, and you began to tire.
You had formulated your own plan, using your speed and light weight to your advantage; you would run ahead, allowing the faster of the soldiers to catch up with you and you would quickly cut him down. This repeated strategy worked for a short while, but your arms were beginning to become numb from the constant slashing and stabbing.
To your surprise, two soldiers had rounded you off and attacked you from the other side. You were caught completely off guard, with only enough time to brace yourself for the blow, but it never came. A fearsome screech echoed through the land as Ranulf sprang forward, raising his paw to slash your enemies away. They were surprised and defeated quickly, which allowed you and the cat to team up again the remaining soldiers.
"I thought I'd find you out here," Ranulf commented before dashing toward a foot soldier with a lance. He knocked the man off his feet, using his fangs to silence him.
You side-stepped a blow from an axe-warrior, then came inside of his reach to slash at him with your sword. With only one more attack on your part, he died, falling to the ground with a thud. "I thought I'd find you here!" you replied, which was indeed why you had come out here in the first place.
He chuckled. "It all works out in the end, doesn't it?" With another screech, he launched himself at the last soldier, tearing through the man mercilessly. Ranulf landed with the signature grace of any feline, an attribute that you wished you had.
"I suppose," you sighed. At least the battle was over on your part for now. You then realized that your friends at camp would very possibly need the aid. "We should head back," you told Ranulf. "Ike and the others will need us!"
"Agreed." Ranulf shifted from his large cat form to his two-legged self. Being a laguz, he needed ton conserve energy. "Come on," he said, motioning toward the forest. "I found a decently clean path through the woods that'll get us to camp in just a bit of time." You nodded and followed.
By the time the two of your reached camp, there were only a few Daien soldiers left, but Ike's group was tiring out quickly as well. Ranulf shifted to his beast form, ready to aid his friends in battle. You drew your sword, the ring of metal sounding in your ears.
"We were wondering when you'd show up!" Boyd announced the moment he saw you two. "Well, what're you standing around for? We saved some fun just for you!" He swung his arm, lodging a hand axe into the head of an incoming enemy.
"Oh, I think we've had enough fun for the night," you replied with a sarcastic laugh. "But I'll join you guys anyway!" You rushed at an axe man, your sword eager to slice through flesh, despite having been used earlier.
"That's the spirit!" the green-haired mercenary said, before turning back to work.
You felt as though you were doing well; your training in Gallia with the other cat warriors paid off. King Caineghis was right when he said that you would need to hone your skills before leaving for an actual war. These momentary thoughts diverted your mind foolishly and you were caught off guard as a ball of fire rushed toward you. Fortunately, the mage's aim was poor and you easily dodged the first one. Another flame quickly came, however, and this time you weren't so lucky. It hit your shoulder and singed your arm. You gritted your teeth, falling to your knees. A clash of metal sounded as you dropped your blade-- your good arm burned in pain.
"_____!" You heard a voice, vaguely recognizing it as genuine concern from Ranulf. Before you had the chance to turn you head, the blue of blue hit you, shoving you out of the path of another fireball. Your body made rough contact with the ground, but there was no damage; instead, it was Ranulf who took the blow of flames, which his kind was already weakened toward.
"No!" you shouted. Ranulf had just risked his life for yours. He knew that his kind was susceptible to the damage of the fire element, but he threw himself into the scorching flames to protect you. You forced yourself to your feet to see if the cat was still alive. "Ranulf, I can't believe that you're so stupid!" He was alive, but barely.
It didn't come to your attention, but Ike's mercenaries broke through the invading group of Daein soldiers. The mage who had casted the fire spells now lay dead. Oscar and Titania rode around the camp to make sure that all of the enemies had either retreated or were defeated.
Rhys and Mist, the two responsible for healing the party, dashed toward the both of you. While the more experienced of the two, Rhys, looked at Ranulf's more serious wounds, Mist tended to your arm. Your burn was healed within a matter of minutes, but Ranulf was left unconscious, the result of coming into contact with such flames. He had automatically shifted to his weaker, two-legged form. Would he be alright?
You sat next to him, paying close attention to his every motion, though they were few-- so far, you could only say that his breathing was steady, but he had not yet woken up. "_____..." Rhys had placed a gentle hand on your shoulder. "I told you already. Ranulf will be fine. He just needs some time to recover."
"I know," you responded, with a small smile. Rhys had done a wonderful job with the laguz. You could not see any burns along his body, which was certainly a good sign that he was recovering. "Your healing skills are fantastic..." you added, nodding at Ranulf.
Of course, Rhys was much too modest to reply to that. Instead, he simply nodded. "You need some fresh air and rest, _____. You've been in here all night. Let Ranulf be; he'll recover, I promise." He then left the tent.
You didn't want to rest. If you left Ranulf's side, you knew that you wouldn't be able to stop thinking about him anyway. "I can't believe you did that..." you said to him, a quiet whisper so that no one else could hear. You doubted that he was listening, but this was more for yourself than him anyway; you had more of a chance of surviving another fireball than he did. "You didn't have to, you know. I would have been fine, but you..." You frowned. "You're left like this... Ranulf, if you die, I..." You couldn't finish the sentence. Instead, you looked away with a sigh, tears stinging at your eyes.
"...you'll what? You'll hunt me down?"
Your eyes widened and you turned to look at the cat. All of your potential tears disappeared. "Ranulf!" Perhaps it wasn't the wisest thing to do, but you rushed at him, throwing your arms around his neck. Luckily, he seemed to be in great shape. He even managed to sit up atop the sleeping mat before you attacked him with your embrace.
"I'm glad you're eager to see me," he laughed. He returned the hug, even though he was surprised at your outburst. At this point, you were practically sitting in his lap, which was slightly awkward for you, though you found it impossible to escape. Ranulf didn't notice your awkwardness and kept his arms around your waist. "At least that means that what I did was worth something."
"Worth something?" you said, your voice rising in volume if only slightly. You momentarily forgot about the currently awkward situation. "You could have gotten yourself killed, Ranulf! You ought to know that laguz of the beast tribe are greatly affected by fire-based attacks! I can't believe that you did what you did--"
"--well, I did what I did because I wanted to. Did you expect me to sit back and simply let you get burned? You know that you would have done the same for me or anyone else in our group."
You sighed, knowing that he had a point. "You're impossible," you finally admitted, giving him the argument-- not that there really was an argument to begin with.
"Not impossible." A wry smile spread to his lips. "Just right."
"Hah!" you scoffed. "That's a first." Your worry for him faded away once you realized that he was back to his old self. Now the two of you returned to square one, joking and making fun of one another.
Ranulf shifted, his head tilting to the side. "Aww, that hurts, _____! You know that I'm more or less correct a good percentage of the time."
"Alright," you said with a nod. "Prove it."
"Let's see," the blue cat began, his green and blue eyes sparkling with what was obviously a curious idea. You recognized that look in his eyes all too well. "I know why you're here, for one. There's a reason why you've sat next to me all night and why you're still here even though you know that I'm perfectly fine."
You raised an eyebrow. What exactly was he trying to prove? "And..?" you asked, prompting him to continue.
"And this'll prove it all." Ranulf then did something unexpected. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against yours in an entirely innocent gesture. You froze, though not out of fear or disgust or any other negative emotion... you were simply surprised, excited and strangely happy. The kiss didn't last long, but all you could focus on was the feeling of his soft lips as he displayed his affections. When he pulled away, you saw that he wore a smile-- a true, sincere smile upon his face. "I love you, _____. I always have and I always will. Do you love me too?"
You replied by leaning forward to kiss him in return, which you had not done previously out of sheer surprise. "I do," you whispered against his lips, your foreheads touching. "I love you too, Ranulf." Your arms tightened your embrace.
His hands shifted to bring you closer as he stroked your back affectionately. "See, _____? I just proved it. Once again, I'm right."
Your heart fluttered with joy. He was right, and this time, you were simply too happy to care.