Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Rating: R, eventual NC-17
Summary: Co-written with tsukinofaerii. With the Solidors overthrown and banished to the far edges of Ivalice, Larsa eagerly escapes to take up a life of pirating. Nine years later, he never expected to encounter a fiery Dalmascan girl by the name of Penelo. AU
Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction.
The Trial of Fire
Penelo's eyes flew open.
"Hello, darling. I take it your rest was a good one? You've been sleeping so soundly I thought you might be dead, if not for the simple fact that you were still snoring."
Death, she thought. Maim. Massacre. Destroy. Ruin. Bloodshed.
It took a few seconds for her mind to catch up with why it felt so bloodthirsty. Then she remembered the kiss Lamont had bestowed upon her, subsequently followed by that sleeping potion, the slimy, lying, filthy, double-crossing, back-stabbing, sneaky—
Penelo took a deep breath, winded from just thinking about how absolutely furious she was. She pushed herself into a sitting position, ready to act on her darkest desires, only to give a tiny groan and put her hand to her forehead as the world swam in a dizzying tilt. Lamont grasped onto her shoulders to steady her, but she shoved him off.
"I hope your dick shrivels up to the size of a moogle's!" she spat.
His eyebrows flew up. "Are you really so surprised that I kidnapped you, given that you said you know my secret identity?"
"I trusted you!" she said, completely ignoring him. "I thought—I thought you actually—" But she couldn't face the embarrassment of saying it aloud, of giving into the knowledge of what she had almost allowed to happen. Thank the gods she was one smart cookie, else he'd have turned her head right on her shoulders, and she would have never known the truth…
"Cared for you?" Lamont tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. "I will be honest, I had begun to. But then you found out—"
"My father will know I'm missing!" She couldn't, couldn't listen to him talk about what might have been. As if he had the right to stand there and do so, after all the lies he'd told her, told her family, told everyone.
Now Lamont gave a curt chuckle and shook his head. "That is hardly likely." While she was sputtering protests, he held up a hand and spoke over her. "You see, her father currently thinks you are in the Tchita countryside at my estate, enjoying a summer getaway, and that you will be returned safely after you have been properly wooed and have accepted your position as my fiancé."
She wanted to tell him he was dead wrong, that her father would never believe such a thing, but… sadly, that was not the case.
"Get away from me," she said, in as cold as a voice as she could muster, "you foul, horrible—"
"Now, really, Penelo—I know I am a Solidor, but I had thought you, of all people, would not be so quick to judge me. You are fair, logical, you think everything through… yet here you are, unknowing of my side of the story."
"You kidnapped me—" she began automatically, only to cut herself short. She lifted her eyes to his.
Solidor, Solidor, Solidor.
It rang through her head, chiming alarmingly, and she sat there, frozen with numb disbelief. Her mother had kept her on good behavior as a child by threatening her with the Solidors if she put a toe out of line. No one dared speak of them. Anytime someone did, it was like a chill had entered the room. They had almost destroyed Ivalice—when they'd been banished to the far edges of the world, they were to never be seen from again, or it was death on sight.
Penelo sat back, reeling. That day at the tavern for lunch… when the moogle and the bangaa had been going on about the wanted posters… Lamont had wanted to leave…
Her mind flashed now on the night before, in the alleyway, with Lamont holding up that blade. He'd wanted the posters taken down, was even threatening to kill the man in order to see it done.
She did the first thing she could think of. She leapt to her feet, and before Lamont could possibly know what she was going to do, she swung her foot out and connected it firmly with his groin. As he doubled over, crying out in pain, she made a run for it, diving out of the tiny room she was in. She still didn't even know where the hell she was, but judging by the lights in the corridor and the metal everywhere, and the two seats… in a cockpit…
They were on an airship?
Of course they were on an airship. Lamont—or whatever his name was—wouldn't have risked staying in Rabanastre. It would have been too risky, too easy for her to get away, and then she'd be one scream from having the guards down on him. She'd never flown an airship, never even been inside of one, but how hard could it be?
Steady, Penelo, steady. She made herself take a slow, deep breath. The guidance map on the screen suggested they were headed... Northeast? Penelo blinked down at the course. What could Lamont want in the north? He was a Solidor—she'd assumed he'd be headed for Rozarria, or maybe the Plains. Somewhere he wouldn't be recognized on sight, not Archadia's next door neighbor.
It didn't matter. The ship was over the Estersand. All she had to do was land the ship and hotfoot it back to Rabanastre. Easy.
Heart in her throat, Penelo wrapped her hands around the controls and pushed them forward.
Immediately the airship sank into a nosedive. Penelo tumbled back, spine jabbing into the armrest of the copilot's chair before she flipped to the floor. Her heart and stomach collided in her chest as the ship bounced and twisted. Panicking, she scrambled back to the control and yanked them back upward but that just set the ship to rolling, clouds flashing past the window in a blur of white. Metal ground as the flaps on the wings fought to pull them out of the spin. The ship broke through the cloud cover over the golden expanse of the Estersands, headed straight down.
I'm going to die, Penelo realized, almost in a daze. She kept pulling on the controls, but she may as well have let go for all the good it did. The Estersand was a gorgeous, glittering cloth of gold that stretched from horizon to horizon and drew closer with every breath she took. We're going to crash, and I'm going to die.
A thousand recriminations passed through her head. She should have told Reks how she felt, should have apologized to Vaan for always making him play second, should have traveled outside Dalmasca, should have been more adventurous, should have—
Strong arms wrapped around her waist and nearly threw her away from the controls. Lamont tapped away at the consol, eyes locked on the gauges as his fingers danced over keys and levers. The engines sputtered and whined in Penelo's ears, dying away for a second. Then they returned with fresh force, roaring fit to shake the airship apart.
The ship rolled off to the side, turning into the spin and changing it to a spiral. Penelo toppled over the seat again, rolling across the floor until she slammed into one of the walls. Pain exploded across her body as the airship flipped, turning all the way upside down. She swore she saw a cactite running for safety as they skimmed the sands and leveled back out into a steady climb.
Lamont unhooked his legs from the pilot's chair and collapsed backwards, panting. "Fair did us in with your meddling," he snapped.
Penelo groaned. It was the best she could do. In the tumbling about she'd tangled around herself, getting bruises and aches in places that she would have blushed to think about if she weren't sick from the sensation of falling through the sky.
"Yes, I thoroughly agree," Lamont replied, as if she'd answered. He levered himself out of the pilot's chair with, she couldn't help but notice, a slight wobble. "Prevention is indeed the best medicine."
"Shut up, you monster," she wheezed. "I have—nothing—to say to you—"
"You nearly killed us!" he seethed. It was the first time she had ever seen him angry, and she didn't much like it. As always, he was tall, but like this it was somehow worse, energy crackling around him and lending to the illusion that he was much bigger than he was. "All because of things you do not understand!"
"I'M NOT THE ONE WHO KIDNAPPED YOU BECAUSE I THOUGHT YOU KNEW SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T!" Penelo exploded. She was back on her feet—barely. She was shaking all over, and she didn't think it'd stop anytime soon. "I didn't lie to everyone! I didn't play my father for a fool! I—"
"Are you going to be this difficult the entire time you are held captive?" Lamont drew nearer to her, and she backed way until she hit a metal sheet.
"You're insane!" she shouted. "You're freakin' insane! It's a good thing you were banished! Your family—"
"You know nothing about me!"
The yell was so loud, so venomous, so full of resentment, that it shook her to her core. She stared at him, breathing hard.
He looked away, drew a hand over his face. "I am only holding you captive because I cannot risk you telling anyone about me. Not until you… understand."
Her laugh was bitter, and he snapped his eyes back to hers. "I'm never going to understand, Lamont! But that's not your real name, is it?" She put her arms around herself, trying so very hard not to think about that kiss they shared. She just wanted to go home and cry like a little girl. Instead, she was stuck on an airship with this Solidor-turned-pirate.
"Will you cooperate with me or not?"
She spat at his feet.
"Very well…" He drew in a long, slow breath. "You leave me no choice. Until I can trust that you will not be difficult, I must restrain you."
She eyed him, sizing him up. "I'd like to see you try," she snarled. Reks and Vaan had shown her a thing or two about self-defense, and she wasn't afraid to employ it now. Already, she drew her feet into the proper battle stance, lifting her hands because she had no weapon and would have to hope for the best with just herself.
"Do not challenge me, Penelo." His eyes flashed.
Penelo jerked her chin up. "You're gonna lose."
She wasn't sure why she had bothered.
Penelo yelled loudly against the gag in her mouth, but it only came out muffled. She tugged and wrenched at her wrists and ankles, but those, too, were restrained. She couldn't believe the struggle had literally been over in less than two seconds. He was so fast. He moved like lightning. Maybe it was his long limbs. Bastard.
"Yes," Lamont said idly from the pilot's seat, "I agree, Penelo. It is much more peaceful like this."
She bounced in the copilot's seat, screaming as loudly as she could, until her throat ached and her face felt like it was on fire.
"Quite, I've always enjoyed a long flight as well," Lamont murmured, eyes half lidded, as if he were truly relaxed and not just feigning to annoy her. Every line of his body, from the set of his shoulders to the easy splay of his legs spoke of nothing more than calm, quiet contemplation. Even his fingers drummed over the controls lightly, tapping away a rhythm.
Snarling behind her gag didn't do any good, but Penelo gave it her best go anyway. All the best curses she knew, and a few she invented on the spot, wasted for a bit of cotton in her mouth. Lamont just kept tapping away at the tune. It was just on the far edge of familiar, teasing her memory.
Da-da dada a rainbow shell, that paddles in da dada dah...
When she saw Lamont's mouth quirk, Penelo realized she'd been leaning forward in concentration. Huffing through her gag, she leaned back again and looked away. Just another one of his games, of course. He couldn't do anything that wasn't designed to annoy her.
Silence hung heavy in the cockpit, other than the melody he was playing with his fingers. Even the airship was whisper quiet. The hum of the engines was miniscule, so soft she imagined that it could have taken off in the dead of night without a soul the wiser. There was none of the roar and chatter she associated with the aerodome.
Outside the cockpit windows, clouds passed them by, some above, some below. They were like the sand sculptures she'd made on the riverbank when her father took her to the outpost as a little girl. Sunshine turned the domes and spirals to shimmering gems, pearls here and the glitter of rainbows there. Far, far below a forest made a green backdrop, emeralds broken by sapphire lines of rivers and lakes.
It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. For a second, Penelo nearly forgot her anger, captured by the scenery. But no matter how lovely, she was still a prisoner, tied up and at the mercy of a monster. Only the gods knew when, or even if, she'd see her family again.
Heat pricked the back of her eyes. Penelo sagged backwards into her bindings, blinking back the tears.
The steady beat slowed to a stop. "Have you considered behaving now?" Lamont asked in a tone she might have called friendly if he hadn't tied her up a half hour past. "I fear we are rather stuck together for the moment, so you may as well be polite. It costs you nothing, after all."
Penelo pressed her lips together behind the gag and made an assenting noise, leaning hopefully toward him. She needed the blasted gag off at least. With it on, she couldn't even ask any of the questions that were running circles through her head.
He eyed her warily, but nodded and reached over to hook his fingers in her gag. More patiently than she'd ever dreamed of being before, Penelo let him pull it down to dangle around her neck…
And then she bit him.
Lamont yelled and yanked away, cradling his hand to his breast with an injured look. Red blood dotted his white gloves where her teeth had broken the skin. "Is this the gratitude you show me?"
"Gratitude? Gratitude?" Penelo bounced again, wishing she could get her arms free. Even if she couldn't land the airship, she could at least see to it that he died in the crash, too. "You kidnapped me and you expect gratitude!"
His shoulders pressed back and his chin lifted as he bristled. "I could have killed you if you prefer!"
Scoffing, she looked away to watch the clouds soar past. "Sure. The great Solidor turned pirate. I wouldn't put it past you to kill a helpless girl."
"I would!" Indignant anger dripped off his voice, just like the teenager he really was. "I've killed dozens of people before, and you'd not be the last!"
Penelo's mouth twitched. If she'd been looking at him, she probably wouldn't have been able to hold in her laughter. Sometimes it was easy to forget that he was still just a kid under the slimy exterior and kidnapping, and then he did something like that.
When the threat of a giggle fit faded, she dared a glance at him. "So. If you're not going to kill me, then just what are you going to do?" There were worse things than death, she knew that well enough, but somehow she didn't think Lamont had it in him. "Killing me probably would have been easier."
Silence. A telling silence. Penelo glanced over again. Lamont was staring at the controls of the airship with nearly a religious dedication, just the tiniest hint of a blush visible under the sunburn he'd gotten the day before.
It was too much. She doubled over with laughter, pressing her face to her knees. "You don't know, do you?" Penelo snickered. "The big bad Solidor doesn't even know what he's going to do now that he has me! Some pirate."
"Hush! I am thinking," Lamont snarled, obviously trying to be intimidating and instead just sounding helpless. Laughter bubbled up in her chest again.
Ridiculous. It was all just damned ridiculous. After everything else that had been a mess, this just took it. Maybe if he'd kidnapped her with any idea of why he was doing it, she would have been more afraid, but instead it seemed like he'd just grabbed her up out of panic. It was just her sort of luck that she'd get tangled up with an amateur.
Panicked or not, it didn't give him a right to go around kidnapping helpless girls. He could have kept his secret instead of being a pirate, turned his life around and started fresh. Choices abounded, and he'd picked the life of a criminal. It was his own damned fault if he got his head chopped off for it.
Lamont stared at her, face twisted up in a scowl. "Are you quite done?"
"No." Chuckling still, Penelo rested her cheek on her knee and looked at him. "Which one are you?"
"Pardon?" With gloves on it was hard to tell, but she thought his grip on the controls tightened. Was she annoying him?
More important, did she care if she was?
No. No, she didn't. "I said, which one are you? Lamont can't be your real name, and I know there were three Solidors. Emperor Gramis and his two sons." Unless more had been born after they'd gone into exile. Time enough had passed for a dozen of them to be born. Had any of them been married?
Lamont definitely was starting to lose his patience with her. Tiny frown lines crossed his forehead, and the corners of his lips turned down unhappily. "Larsa. My name is Larsa."
Larsa Solidor. A much better name for him than Lamont had been.
He lifted the cloth that had been the gag and tucked it back around her mouth. She twisted this way and that, confused as to why he suddenly wanted it back on her, when she hadn't done anything wrong. Her teeth snapped, but he was expecting it this time, and his hands remained deft. Before she knew it, she was screaming against a bit of cloth again. Why!
She stared up at him with hurt. She wasn't sure why it bothered her so much, but it did.
"I have decided, Penelo," he said in a rough whisper, "that for the time being, I prefer companionable silence and nothing more." With a few toggles on the controls, he was out of his seat and then, in two long strides, out of the cockpit, as well. For a moment, Penelo panicked, thinking they were going to die with the controls unmanned. Then she remembered auto-pilot. It was how he had talked to her in the first place.
Frustrated tears stinging again, she thunked her head back against her seat. She would have thought the person she wanted to see most right then would have been Reks, or even her mother or father. Instead, an image of Vaan swam before her mind's eye. His warm hand on her forearm, callused, his thumb stroking along the fine bones of her wrist. His hand could have swallowed it whole. His brown eyes, staring intently into hers.
Gods, she'd been so blind.
Why had she had to go after the Solidor-turned-pirate? If she had just stayed in Rabanastre… let Vaan worm his way into her heart as more than a friend… She'd be safe right now, likely in his arms, the two of them teasing one another and basking in the desert sun. Unlike Lamont—no, Larsa—Vaan preferred the heat. He'd been raised there, after all. He tanned, he didn't burn. And he didn't wear idiotically heavy clothing so that he could dehydrate himself.
She could still feel the slide of Larsa's lips on her own. That was something she couldn't compare with Vaan, and she cursed herself, feeling stupid, feeling that maybe, just maybe, she deserved what she'd gotten. Vaan had tried to tell her, again and again, and she just hadn't listened to him. She'd followed her singing hormones. Flirting with Larsa… because as rough as she'd been about it, as hard to get, that's exactly what she had done… and now here she was, on a ship to who-knew-where, her father thinking her about to be happily wooed, and…
Her tears soaked into the soft cloth of her gag, and she was just glad Larsa had left her alone. She, too, preferred silence in that moment. She only hoped he couldn't hear her sniffles. That would have been too humiliating.
Vaan, I'm so sorry…
It was close to evening when Larsa returned to the cockpit. Darkness was crawling over the sky, eager to blot out any trace of sunlight. Pink and red hues had long ago disappeared, leaving only the first twinkling of stars. The world below looked cloaked in shadows, the pretty colors from earlier transformed into various shades of gray and black. Penelo watched the scenery numbly, only to look up, startled, when Larsa suddenly stood in front of her.
They looked at one another in the dim light overhead.
His hand stretched out, his gloved fingertip, still stained with blood, ghosting over her cheekbone. She twisted her head away, closing her eyes and lifting her nose. She saw little use in yelling against the gag—her throat was too sore for that—but she could ignore him like he had ignored her. He was the one who had kidnapped her, yet he got mad if she had questions. What lurked in his memories that just the mere mention of his real name made him want to be alone for so long? Hmph. Whatever, did it matter? He was a Solidor, and it seemed more and more that everything she had ever heard about them was right.
A soft pattering drew her attention back to the windows. They'd hit a patch of rain, but there weren't really any clouds. The land spiraled away below, cliff edges and beautiful wildflowers, leeched of color in the twilight. The rain wasn't helping matters. Here and there, windmills popped up out of the landscape. Where were they now? They'd flown a long time…
Deep in the heart of the Feywood, she heard her mother whisper in her ear as a child, as she soothed Penelo's ringlets off her forehead, guarded by fierce monsters and mist, there's a city… very ancient…
What's there, mama? Penelo curiously replied.
No one really knows… it is very difficult to get to—but there's something there that helped drive the Solidors into madness… Emilia poked her shoulder. So don't misbehave, do you hear me? Or I'll pack up your things and send you there myself… Emilia's fingers suddenly seized her in a tickle.
Memories of laughter still ringing in her ears, she cleared her throat and looked up to find Larsa still watching her. He hooked his finger once more into the gag, and he pulled, so slowly she thought he might be having second thoughts. But she didn't make to bite him this time. She had some semblance of control now. Besides, it was too soon. She'd wait for a better opportunity to wound him. If he thought she struggled too much, he'd never relax enough around her for her to make her escape.
He knelt in front of her, elbow resting on the arm of her chair. Her gag was still in place, and that annoyed her. So he had had second thoughts.
"I have some business to attend to in Balfonheim…" He tapped her wrist. "Pirate business." His teeth were white in his grin. Whatever storm clouds had come over his expression earlier when she had brought up his past, they were gone now. "Do you think I can trust you not to run away?"
His chuckle made her glare, bristling. "That was too cute, Penelo. Do you think me dimwitted?"
Though he couldn't see the smile, she still made a sickly sweet one that would no doubt reach her eyes as she nodded again.
Contrary to being irritated, he only laughed harder and straightened his long frame. She thought she heard something crack, and he winced. Was he still growing? Good gods, the boy was a giant enough! He didn't need any more inches on him!
Furthermore, where was Balfonheim? If he would just give her a little bit more info, she could deduce where they were, and maybe from there route a way home…
"No, I will be storing you away someplace safe."
She gave him a look of horror.
Annoyance did cross his face. "I am not a villain so much as that, Penelo. Worry not. Not a single hair on your head will be harmed, nor will you suffer anything more than a locked door." He left again, leaving Penelo to sag in her seat, her mind whirling from the range of emotions he kept displaying today.
The oddest things offended him, and he remained unruffled about others. It was almost like he was upset with her for her being upset about his lies, about his betrayal. Maybe he was just a crazy person. The Solidors, after all, had gone mad…
She fell into a light doze, and she dreamed of mist, of snow, of monsters she hid from, trembling, dressed only in her thin Rabanastran clothing. She was crying to herself, as quietly as she could, her tears frozen on her cheeks. Snowflakes lightly dusted her hair and shoulders. She was curled up in the dark, where she couldn't be found, wishing Vaan would come, come and save her.
A figure materialized out of the dark. She brightened, calling out Vaan's name. But the figure grew taller, had broader shoulders, and when it leaned over and extended its hand, she saw it was Larsa.
She jerked awake, blinking rapidly. It was still dark outside. What had roused her? There, by the controls, was Larsa, making adjustments. They were losing air, dropping several hundred feet at a time, easing their way back to ground. She could see the ocean. It was something she wasn't familiar with, and she went to get out of her chair, only to remember she was still bound.
Larsa glanced over his shoulder. "Ah, I see you are awake. Did you enjoy your short nap?"
Penelo ignored him in favor of watching the ocean.
He followed her gaze, then smiled to himself. "Yes. It is quite different from the desert and its rivers, isn't it?"
Lightning flashed, illuminating the inky blackness. They were approaching a town. She could make out lights shining in windows through the thin rain. Larsa set the airship down with barely a bump, dropping anchor in the middle of a field. Just off the edge of the horizon, the ocean was still visible, the last of the sunlight glinting off it. Lightning made the waves seem to dance and sparkle like they were winking at her.
Freedom, they promised. All sorts of towns littered the edge of the oceans, ports for trade and fishing, little villages that survived by hunting the strange monsters that littered Ivalice. If she could get free, she could follow the shoreline in any direction and find civilization. From there, it would be child's play to get back to Rabanastre.
All she had to do was escape.
Toggles and buttons flipped and clattered as Larsa set the airship to rest. "Here we are," he announced, entirely unnecessary. "You'll be safe here while I go about my business."
"Mmph," Penelo growled, curling in on herself. As if she was going to take his word for it.
"Don't be that way. Think of it as... as a respite from my company." Larsa patted her head as if she were a child. "Don't squirm now."
The warning was barely past his lying lips before he'd scooped her up, ropes and all, and hefted her against his chest. Surprised by the sudden elevation, Penelo kicked out. Her foot cracked against the back of the pilot's seat. Pain popped at her ankle, searing up her calf in a sharp stab. Against all her determination not to show weakness, she whimpered, face scrunching up.
Larsa either didn't notice or didn't care. He maneuvered her to the back of the ship, using his elbow to toggle open the cargo bay doors. Other than when they dropped against the ground with a muffled thump, the doors didn't so much as squeak. Of course, a pirate would keep his doors oiled. Hard to creep away in the night if the hinges creaked.
The doors opened onto a closed plain, littered with scattered trees and a trace of sheer cliffs. Only one building was in view, something that looked more like a hut than a house, but she'd never seen a hut so big. The thatching was in good repair, but it had obviously been expanded over the years. Of what Penelo could see, half of it was built into a cliff wall, and the rest was a strange amalgam of stone and wood.
Fat raindrops started to fall as Larsa trotted down the ramp with Penelo in his arms. The door to the strange building opened up, golden lamplight shining welcomingly as the silhouette of a woman beckoned them.
"Hurry, hurry!" she called. Bangles rattled on her wrists as she waved them in. "Th' storm's fair to be a nasty one!"
Larsa ducked his head and sprinted, jarring Penelo even more as he dodged and leapt over rough terrain. Rain splattered against her skin, cold needles pricking right down to bone. They cleared the porch steps in a single jump that rattled her teeth in her head, running straight past the woman into a warm sitting room. Something spicy filled the air with the scent of cooking meat, and Penelo's stomach pinched in response.
Priorities rearranged themselves in her head. Food, then freedom, and murder somewhere between the two.
"Welladay, m'boy, it looks like yer in a spot of trouble." The woman closed the door behind them and turned, smiling widely. "Set 'er down and come have a kiss."
Dressed in a rag-tag mix of at least three different brightly colored skirts and a bodice without a blouse underneath, she looked nothing like anyone Penelo had seen before. Fine wrinkles marked her as just a little younger than Penelo's mother, with dark eyes and a headful of messy brown curls that had been pulled back into a half-hearted braid and covered with a scarf. Every bit of her that could had a piece of jewelry, from the bangles at her wrist to more on her ankles, rings at her ears, fingers and toes and even a piercing at her belly.
Penelo found herself dropped onto an over-stuffed chair while Larsa accepted a hug and a loud kiss on the cheek from their host. "I must apologize for imposing so—" he started to say, and was cut off by a slap on the shoulder.
"Nonsense, boy. Yer the reason we gots this place. If t'werent for ye, we'd never ha' got the gil up." The woman smacked him again, getting a wince from Larsa. "Now c'mon, we'll get some grub into ye, and ye can tell us why yer friend here's all trussed up."
He smiled, a relaxed, happy expression that made something indescribable slice through Penelo's chest. The only person she'd seen him give that smile to was her. What had this strange woman done to earn it?
"I would appreciate that dearly, but first I must have a room with a good lock for my—my guest." Larsa held up his finger to show the bloodstains. "As you can see, she is rather resourceful, and I cannot abide the chance of losing her."
"O'course, o'course." Gold and silver clattered as she turned toward a hall. "Jus' pick 'er up and follow me, there's a lad."
Once again, Penelo found herself scooped up and carted off. They were led down a long hallway, past the point where the wood and stone turned to carved rock. If it weren't for the dark brown stone and the lack of windows, she wouldn't have known the difference between it and the rest of the place. Mosaic tiles peeked out behind rugs that muffled their footsteps, and someone had taken time to decorate with cheap tapestries and murals.
Keys joined the ring of jewelry as the woman opened up a room at the very far end of the hall. "And 'ere we go, she'll not be getting outta this."
It was a bedroom, with a real bed and a wash stand, and even a bookcase filled with precious books. No windows, and only small vents carved in the ceiling provided airflow. Magicite lamps kept it cheerfully lit.
Larsa settled her down onto the bed gently, making sure she was balanced before letting her go. "You will be safe with Therese," he promised. "Do not make trouble for her. She's a good woman who does not deserve your abuse. And do not think to escape. These lands are filled with wyrms the size of a palace that would eat you long before you made it even a mile. When I return, we will talk. Agreed?"
She kicked him in the shins. Pain bloomed in her hurt ankle again, but it was worth it to see him wince. The woman—Therese—snickered from the doorway.
"Why don' ye let me handle her?" she asked mildly. "I'll bring 'er some grub and we'll have a talk, gal t' gal."
Anyone would be better than talking to Larsa just then, and food clenched the deal. Penelo nodded hopefully and gestured with her bound hands. Therese stepped forward and bumped Larsa out of the way with her hip, long fingers plucking at the ropes. They unraveled in an elegant coil that piled at her feet.
Immediately, Penelo yanked down the gag and rubbed her aching wrists. "Thank you, ma'am," she said as politely as she could. Other than being friends with Larsa, Therese hadn't done anything wrong to her yet. And it was probably a bad idea to antagonize her jailer and her kidnapper both.
True to form, Larsa's jaw tightened, obviously annoyed that she wasn't going to prove him right. "Be careful with her. She's a handful."
Therese stroked one of Penelo's pigtails, her nails scratching lightly at the base of her neck. "Oh, I think she an' I 're gonna be jus' fine. Now, let's get ye fed and hear yer story, eh?"
He gave Penelo one more look before turning for the door. Therese winked and followed, layered skirts swishing jauntily. The door locked behind them with an audible click.
Alone, Penelo finally unbound her ankles. The one was definitely swelling, probably sprained. When she tried to stand, it took her weight, but she decided not to push it. Maybe she could get a healing potion from Therese, if she asked nicely. If not, she didn't want to do any more damage before she made her escape.
And she would escape, no matter what it took.
Penelo settled in with one of the books from the shelf to pass the time and distract her from her empty stomach. It was a romance, of all things, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Her ankle throbbed enough to make reading difficult, but she piled pillows and a blanket to prop it up, which seemed to help.
She'd just met the useless prince of a male lead when keys rattled in the door and Therese let herself in. Her arms were loaded, one holding a covered tray and the other cradling a familiar package.
"I don't want it," Penelo said automatically. Her eyes narrowed at the silk-wrapped gift. After everything Larsa had put her through, he was still trying to give that blasted thing to her? At this point, she wouldn't have taken it if they were trapped in the Estersand and he said it had water.
Therese clicked her tongue in disapproval. "I don' think tha's quite the tone t' take, moppet," she chided, setting the tray down on the bedside table. The bed dipped as she took a seat, dropping the box square on Penelo's lap. "When a man's give ye a gift, ye don' refuse 'til ye know what's what about it. Specially not from a man the like o' Lord Larsa there."
Penelo snorted. While Therese clearly had a high opinion of Larsa, Penelo hadn't exactly had any stunning examples of his good behavior. Besides, her swollen ankle had put her in a bad mood, and she was beginning to worry about it. If she didn't get it wrapped properly, and soon… She chewed on her lip, avoiding gazing at the gift.
"From what I'm understandin', 'tis a birthday present." The older woman placed it directly in her lap.
She didn't want anything to do with it, but she wasn't going to say so. Instead, she placed it beside her on the bed and gave her jailer pleading eyes. "Therese—he kidnapped me!"
"An' why would he go an' do a thing like tha'?" A dark eyebrow quirked at her.
Penelo puffed her cheeks out, debating on what was safe to say. But Therese had just used Larsa's real name. So… Clearly she knew that the boy was a Solidor. Penelo blew her breath out, then pushed her curls impatiently out of her eyes. "I figured out he was a pirate instead of the noble he was masquerading about as for my father. It made me mad, and I might have said some things. But… I guess—Larsa thought I had discovered his other secret, and he kidnapped me…"
"Would you've told on 'im? Told someone 'e's a Solidor?"
Biting her cheek, Penelo averted her gaze.
Therese leaned over, grasping the smaller girl's wrist, and gave it a good, comforting squeeze. "Then ye can 'ardly blame 'im, lass! 'Twere me, I'd kidnap ye, too!"
Great. She was being held captive by a woman who was blindly following Larsa's lead, all because he'd given her a roof over her head. For whatever reason, Penelo didn't know, and she didn't care to find out. She just wanted to get the heck out of this place. Larsa didn't even have a plan. He'd just taken her up, like a panicked little boy, and… what did he expect to happen?
Why had he even taken up a life of crime in the first place?
Perhaps Therese had caught a brain wave from Penelo, or she was just that keen on getting Larsa in Penelo's good graces. Either way, she lowered her voice, put her hand on Penelo's knee, and said, "'E's a good lad. 'Is brother, ye know, 'e was very rough on the youngin'… some 'tings, they're awfully 'ard to abide by, and Lord Larsa…" She let out a small breath and rose to her feet, leaving the covered tray in her place. "But I've gone an' said too much. You'll be wantin' to eat now. Git ye strength up."
Penelo would have made a run for the door if she thought her ankle could handle it. She was obviously more fit than the other woman, and she wouldn't have been afraid to gun it. But… there her ankle was, throbbing painfully. She wished someone would let her go and find a white mage. Or bring one here. For someone so "misunderstood," Larsa hadn't cared that her ankle was hurting something fierce.
Left alone with the amazing odor that was wafting from beneath the tray, Penelo lifted the lid, her mouth instantly watering. She shoveled down the soup and bread, barely tasting it until afterward, realizing it had a unique taste akin to fish, but something she had never had before. Likely some kind of sea life. It was good.
She sighed and picked up her book. She really didn't want to deal with the prince anymore…
Stretching, she climbed off the bed, remembering her injured ankle a second too late. She staggered, knocking into the bedside table and barely catching the magicite lamp before it took a tumble to the floor. She replaced it, then sighed. From there, she very carefully made her way to the bookshelf so she could peruse its contents yet again. Maybe she'd seen something that hadn't caught her eye the first time.
…To Seduce a Mad Baron… No, definitely not. …The Pirate Who Plundered Her Jewels… Penelo's face flamed. What kind of books did Therese read?
…Simple Magicks… A Way to Get a License… If You've the Gambit… 101 Ways to Use Cure…
Useless. Penelo didn't know magick, had never had any interest in learning it because it proved pretty useless in her life. She'd been stuck working in her father's shop, and aside from the occasional errand run to Nalbina, nothing overtly exciting happened to her. Heck, this was the first time she was seeing outside the desert.
Her eyes lingered on the last title, 101 Ways to Use Cure. Her ankle hurt so badly… It was illegal to use magick without a license, to be sure, but—if she was just going to try and heal her ankle, and she'd get a license for it when she was free, what was the big deal? Surely she'd be fine? Who would find out, anyway?
Heart picking up in excitement, Penelo pulled the title from the shelf, along with Simple Magicks, and hobbled back to her bed. At first, the instructions on the pages seemed foreign to her, like an ancient language. Worse yet, she didn't have any spellstones. Didn't magick casting require them? Some sort of magicite to draw power from?
But why would Therese have a whole bunch of books on magick without any magicite? It didn't make any sense.
Penelo spent the next hour searching the room, albeit as quietly as she could. Any floorboard that looked remotely suspicious, she tried to pry it up. She searched behind every shelf, in each nook and cranny, until finally she was panting with the effort of putting weight on her foot and had to sit down again, her brow soaked in sweat.
Her eyes fell on the magicite lamp. It was for fire…
She bit her lip.
Learning the magick was not easy work. It required a great deal of concentration, a total clearing of the mind that was made difficult by the fact that Penelo's ankle would throb whenever she had achieved it. But since she had nothing else to do, what with the storm railing on outside and Larsa left somewhere within the depths of it, she made herself do it. The fire magick first, then the others. She didn't have the required magicite for them, but maybe she would, in time.
There are many types of magicite, she read. Skystone and spellstone were the most popular. The latter she needed for spell-casting, obviously, and the former was used in helping airships fly. The book even gave descriptions of wild magicite, and how to recognize which did what, though it warned that the size of the stone might not dictate how much power it contained.
Whatever. She needed only a little bit to give Larsa a taste of his own medicine…