“Why couldn’t I go with them?” Shards complained as she slouched in her personal armchair, the red fabric feeling comfortable as ever.
“Because,” Romeo began from the couch nearest the fireplace, reading the newspaper. “Like Riku said, the fringes of a warzone is no place for a young lady such as you.”
“Oh don’t start Romeo,” Shards sighed, looking away to the kitchen, watching Strawberries cleaning up after making snacks. “Besides,” she went on, “If that’s the case, then why did Nikz and Midnight get to go?”
“Because Midnight went to act as a translator,” Abigail said as she entered, giving a wave to Straw before standing beside Romeo’s couch. “And Nikz went to make sure Midnight is looked after when Riku isn’t there.”
Shards thought of launching another question as to aid her cause, but knowing it was futile, sigh instead, muttering “Whatever.”
“So,” Abigail went on, now talking to Romeo, “How are you feeling today?”
“Alright,” He replied, looking up at her with a smile. “At least Ales hasn’t done anything to rouse me yet.”
“Don’t worry,” Abigail said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “We can hold our own in a verbal exchange with him. Just don’t let him get under your skin and you’ll be fine.” Romeo shook his head, the smile still stretched across his face.
“Sometimes,” He said, looking Abigail in the eye. “I think about how lucky I am to have you as a future spouse.”
“That’s right,” Abi replied, leaning down so their faces were close. “And don’t you forget it.”
“Never planned to,” Romeo said before the two kissed.
Shards stood up from her armchair, a finger pointing to her open mouth. She headed for the doors, avoiding the public display of affection.
“Not one for romantic moments, Shards?” Strawberries asked from the kitchen, a smile on her face.
“No,” Shards replied, waving as she walked off. “I just need some fresh air. I’ll see you three later.”
With that, the young Duchess began walking the length of each hallway, bored and thinking on what she could do. She had already had a training session earlier that morning, so that was out of the question, and without Nikz to fool around with and the others busy with their own activities – or each other – Shards had no one to relax with.
As she ascended the staircase towards the bedrooms however, something outside the window caught Shards’ eye. Standing closer to the glass, Shards peered down at the view, looking over the northern side of town. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Shards glanced at the Palace walls.
Angel was lying prone on the wall.
Fear and confusion quickly spread throughout Shards’ petite body, her heart rate accelerating. She quickly started back down the steps, descending two at a time. As she jumped down to the foot of the stairs, Shards motioned for two patrolling guards to follow her at once.
Palace attendants quickly made way for her, confusion written clearly on their faces. Shards quickly thought up of every conceivable reason for Angel to be in the position she was in, but not one made any sense.
Shards and the guards halted at the door leading onto the wall, the young Duchess turning to face them.
“You,” She said sharply, pointing at the one standing to her left.
“Yes My Lady,” He replied, standing at the ready.
“Head to the Garrison and fetch Captain Arthur, and tell him to bring my personal item.”
The guard bowed from the waist and began running back the way they came. Shards then turned to the remaining guard, awaiting his orders.
“You’re with me,” Shards said, and the guard nodded in reply before they began running on the wall. Shards did not allow herself to get distracted by the beautiful day that was on display all around them. Only one thing ran through Shards’ mind at that moment; to see if Angel was okay.
After a few minutes running, they finally reached the Lady, unchanged from when Shards first noticed her. Shards fell to her knees beside Angel, concern overwriting any other emotion that could form on her face.
“Angel,” She cried as the guard knelt down on Angel’s other side to see if she was okay.
“She is unharmed, My Lady,” He replied, sending a minute feeling of relief throughout Shards’ being. “She has just been tranquilized. It will take some time for it to wear off.”
Shards breathed a sigh of relief, looking down at Angel’s unconscious form. “At least she’s alive,” She thought.
“What’s happening there?” The guard asked, staring towards the northern gate. Shards stood and turned, trying to see what the guard had pointed out. Once she spotted it, her eyes went as wide as they could and her mouth slowly opened in shock.
Ales was returning to the Palace, with a knife at Lydia’s throat.
Her teeth and fists clenched, Shards emotions morphed from shock to nothing but pure, unadulterated rage. She turned on her heel and began running back to the Palace.
“My Lady,” The guard called out, still cradling Angel.
“Attend to her,” Shards ordered without looking back, seeing Arthur waiting at the Palace entryway. He saw her features set in a furious mask, and stood aside, holding her sword outstretched. She caught it as she blitzed past, focus set on extracting an explanation from Ales, by any means necessary.
Tired from the run, Shards finally reached the northern entrance hall, and saw both Ales and Lydia staring at her.
“Ales,” Shards panted, her breath ragged from her run. “What are, huff, you, huff, doing?”
“The question should be what are you doing holding that?” Ales replied, his face impassive as he pointed at Shards’ sword,
“You, huff, should have an idea.” Shards, glared at the Prince as she drew her blade, Lydia’s eyes widening at the suggestion.
“Ha ha,” Ales laughed. “You really think you can use that against me?”
“Run Shards,” Lydia cried out. “Don’t worry about me-” Her pleas were cut short by Ales tightening his hold around her neck.
“Don’t give her ideas, Lydia,” Ales whispered in her ear.
“Ales,” Shards said, taking her combat stance, “If you have any shred of honour left, you will fight me in a duel.”
“What,” Lydia said incredulously.
“What would the stakes be?” Ales asked.
“If I win,” Shards continued, “You will release Lydia and peacefully march yourself down to the gaol in the Garrison.”
“Very well,” Ales replied, a familiar smirk on his face. “But if I win, you take Lydia’s place.”
The stake Ales placed confused Shards for a second, but she let it recede to the farther recesses of her mind for now, nodding in agreement.
Ales flung Lydia to the floor like a doll before throwing the knife at the Duchess. Shards ducked, falling forward onto the floor. When she looked up, she saw Ales drawing his sword, a murderous look in his eye and a now psychotic smile on his face.
Shards rolled to her right just in time to dodge a stab before rising to one knee and slashing upwards. Ales sidestepped this easily, bringing his right arm around in a wide arc as he slashed wildly at her. Shards blocked this but then Ales grabbed her right wrist and squeezed hard, pulling the hand away and with it her sword.
Shards winced in pain, but saw the opportunity and landed a resounding punch to Ales’ cheek. Ales let go and staggered back a step, his hand resting over his cheek. It still stung as he pulled his hand away, but instead of grimacing, he smiled even harder.
“Looks like you’ll give me a good fight after all Shards,” He said, now eyeing the Duchess as she took a defensive stance. “You have no idea how happy that makes me!”
Ales began swinging his sword wildly again, but every strike was block by Shards. Shards noticed Lydia was now protected by at least three guards and Arthur was readying his sword. But she shook her head at him before blocking another attack, silently telling him this was her fight and her fight alone.
After one more resounding strike was blocked, Ales kept the pressure on Shards’ sword, testing her strength.
“Is that all you’ve got?” He roared in delight. Shards spun around Ales, spinning as she swung her sword with all her might.
But Ales placed his sword across his back, blocking her attack. Shards gasped.
“You really think I don’t recognise Riku’s technique when I see it?” Ales asked as he knocked back Shards’ blade, spun on his heel to deliver a backhanded fist to Shards’ cheek before kicking her to the ground.
“Looks like he hasn’t taught you enough to challenge me yet,” Ales mused as he approached Shards, one hand clutching her sword while the other pressed against her left cheek.
Shards tried to slash at him from the ground, but Ales deflected the attack and kicked the handle out of her hands. Shards tried to reach for it, but Ales had his blade at her throat.
“Looks like I win,” Ales stated with that twisted smile on his face starting to morph back into its common scowl.
“You will come with me. Do anything else and you die.”