She runs her fingers over the familiar crumbling stones, tracing the starburst outline of a dark stain. The ruins of Zeltennia’s chapel, blasphemed by fire and bloodshed, continue to draw her in whenever she finds herself in need of a quiet moment. She comes to rest among the ghosts of these hallowed halls more and more often these days, the din surrounding the seat of a wounded kingdom having planted a near-permanent ringing in her ears. Here, at least, the mournful spirits that saturate the air absorb and soothe that incessant wail.
Ovelia bows her head, but she can no longer pray.
She had continued to go through the motions for months afterward — even after she’d begun putting together the bits of conversations, whispered rumors about what had really happened to the Church. The official story laid blame solely on the Knights Templar — that they alone had been corrupt, seduced by demons. Her King Delita, meeting behind closed doors with Confessors and Priests in the dead of night, had made a grand public condemnation of the Templarate, whereupon he reminded the citizens of Ivalice united to thank the Father for aiding him in expunging those falsely devout. The entire sect were named heretics and executed, and the Church of Glabados once again promoted under a new order — one endorsed by the hero of the War of the Lions.
“‘Tis your birth or faith that wrong you, not I.”
And he struck her: Ovelia’s first impression of her King, when he was but a squire.
“Blame yourself, or God.”
(He was never a righteous man.)
And still, she prayed — to whom or what even, she could not say. It was a compulsion at first — the nauseating flutter of anxiety that plagued her was relieved only by falling to her knees. She prayed at sunrise, at every meal, before retiring at night. Even knowing what she knew — as a rational, intelligent woman — she could not bear to break the ritual that had been ingrained in her from monastic childhood. She knew not a life without prayer — and perhaps if she prayed vaguely enough, some other, truly benevolent (extant) God would hear her cries and welcome her into His omniscient embrace.
But the months wore on, and eventually, she found herself more sickened by reciting the empty Psalters than the hardening of her faith.
The first night she laid to rest without a prayer was nearly the most terrifying of her life.
Now, standing among the tattered chapel halls, she feels no stir within, no swell of a Holy Spirit in her breast — just the languid bob of restless souls (forsaken by the Father) in the air. She continues to run her palm along the desecrated stone walls.
It has been months; nearly a year. Delita has not pardoned Ramza’s status as heretic. He has paid but a single, brief visit to Alma’s grave in the Spring, and only at Ovelia’s behest. He is quick to anger at any mention of the name Beoulve. It is as though he means to forget a family by such name ever existed — forget that they were the ones who plucked him from the streets of Gariland and gave him a second chance at life. Forget that Barbaneth and his true son, Ramza, were good. That they loved him. He of all people should understand the insignificance of a name — never did anyone in Ivalice ever imagine that Heiral would one day be synonymous with King.
She met Tietra once, briefly. She wonders what sort of man Delita would be today if his sister had survived.
(would he still have struck his wife-to-be)
Ovelia scratches at the bloodstains, disregarding how the grain chips her lacquered nails. She will earn a scolding for this — even as Queen she cannot escape petty reprimands by her caretakers over such things as her appearance. A Queen’s hands are good for nothing but beauty or bondage, after all.
At least — in Delita’s Ivalice, it is so.
Her hand falls from the stone to her side, brushing against the hilt of the blade concealed beneath her cloak. She withdraws it from its scabbard — a short dagger, razor-sharp — and instantly her breath hitches. The warmth of her calloused hands, clutching hers, as she insists upon bestowing to her the knife. She runs a thumb along the hilt, embossed with a simple diamond pattern. Her only memento of the dear lady Agrias.
“When all is done, I shall return to you.”
And she kissed her hands: Ovelia’s last impression of her truest friend, before she rode to battle.
“I promise this.”
(It was never her promise to make.)
The violence subsided, and Ovelia waited. Alma was buried, and there came no word of Agrias. Delita proposed, and still, her lady did not return. The King and Queen took residence in Lesalia — and with her faith, Ovelia at last abandoned hope.
She trembles as she turns over the blade. All her life, she has been pushed and pulled in whatever direction suited the strongest man best. She was never taught to wield a sword herself; only to keep silent and alive. In nearly twenty years, she has never taken something back for herself.
But she almost did — once.
Her mind becomes awash with memories so painfully clear that her knees buckle, and she leans against the remaining demi-wall for support. Her gaze was steadfast, as it always was — sincere and full of love. Her lips rarely turned up in a smile, but it was always there, shimmering in the highlights of her eyes: absolute reverence for her Princess, her friend.
Agrias would never dare make such an egregious breach of code as to consider herself on those familiar terms — she was all chivalry and honor, but she was unlike the men who had come in and out of Ovelia’s personal service over the years. She was intense, driven by a perfectionist’s focus. But for as much as she perhaps thought she remained infallibly professional, Ovelia always saw the humanity in her gaze — noticed when a hand lingered just a second too long upon her arm, when she stood just a little too close.
Ovelia drops to the ground, struggling to catch her breath, strands of hair clinging to wet cheeks.
She remembers her scent vividly; a mix of musk and dirt and rosemary. Agrias cared not for makeup, but permitted herself the singular vanity of a perfumed oil, which she carried in a small vial during her travels. It was subtle, but distinct; Ovelia breathed of it deeply whenever Agrias took her hand to help her climb a steep ridge, or when she moved to shield the Princess in close quarters.
She fumbles with the dagger; palms sweaty, grip unreliable.
There were so many moments like their last in Zeltennia — tense, as though one or the other teetered on the verge of changing their dynamic irrevocably — and perhaps this time would have been different, had Delita’s eyes not been upon them. Ovelia wanted —
When Agrias had taken her hands and placed her lips upon them, Ovelia had wanted nothing more than to throw her arms about her neck and sink into her embrace. She’d wished to envelop herself in a tangle of earth and steel and indigo-dyed leather, to kiss those lips at last, to beg — not to order — Agrias to take her along, to allow the Princess to stay loyally by her side.
But she did and said nothing.
And she walked away with naught but a blade; a poor substitute for warm flesh and a beating heart.
There is nothing that awaits her back in Lesalia — or anywhere in Ivalice — that could even hope to bring her such joy as the sight of her lady’s silhouette on the horizon. Her marriage is a fallacy on the part of both players; their kingdom still a victim of deception. The story is the same as it has always been; only the cast has changed.
She can no longer bear it.
But even as she contemplates the dagger, her instincts rouse, and the words of the Aegis chant rush through her mind like a raging stream. The protective amber light washes over her body before she can even think to stop it, seeping into her pores and diluting her blood with artificial vigor. Her limbs refute her soul’s treacherous commands. The blade remains in her hand, but pointed outward. She pulls herself to her feet.
Agrias was always the one. And Ovelia always knew this in her heart, but she was too much a coward to swim against the current; too indoctrinated with the value of complacency, and — and Agrias, too loyal even for her own good, ever the flawless model of a Holy Knight —
Ovelia struggles to turn the dagger. Her own hands betray her, shaking so violently she nearly drops the weapon.
She could have been Queen.
(She should have been my Queen!)
Her sobs are ugly, ragged, distorted by the numbing effect of the Aegis spell. So much regret to pin onto a single inaction — how differently could things have turned out to be had she the strength to voice a simple word!
And then a sound reaches her ears — someone calling her name — and she instantly stiffens. Her breathing slows, the tremor in her hands subsides.
“I thought I might find you here.”
She falls lucid, suddenly more serene than she has been in days.
“‘Tis your birthday, is it not? I brought you —”
Ovelia turns, eyes wide, animalistic, and she dashes toward Delita, beloved husband, driving Agrias’ gift into his abdomen.
He softly stammers her name.
“You… You used them, and all the others!” she shrieks, voice raw and wild. “And someday you’ll cast me aside, just as you did him!”
Her muscles spasm, but she holds her ground. He says nothing more, his eyes locked upon hers in a venomous glare.
“Would that I had not stayed my lady’s hand when she meant to free me from your grasp!”
There is a slight movement in the corner of her eye, and then a sharp pain in her side — it feels at once like a pinprick and a searing burn. The Aegis spell shatters, and she sinks to the ground.
Her vision grows dim. Delita stumbles out of reach, and her body crumples without support. She thinks she can hear him say something, but she cannot distinguish his words.
The scent of rosemary cocoons her.