The few hours of airship travel seemed infinite to Drace. The distance between Archades and Nalbina was not that long, but the waiting… and the man standing still like a headstone a few meters away from her. She should have guessed before, that Vayne’s treachery would run deeper than she had expected. Yet, in her heart had remained a strand of hope. Gabranth would step up, he would speak, he would not defend her, she did not need defending. But he might have shown to Lord Vayne that he did not have the support he was counting on. She would not have been alone then. What a fool she had been, to think she could count on him! Vayne had him on a leash too, like all the others— no. Not all the others. Drace saw past Ghis’s mask of loyalty. Soon, she thought, he will be in my place. In the meantime, he was as much a hindrance to her plans as the others. Only Bergan and Gabranth were truly loyal to Vayne. Out of love, out of hatred, but faithful hounds nonetheless. The only one who she really could trust was Zargabaath. She did not resent his preference for inaction, for, as infuriating as it could be, it was not acceptance nor cowardice. He had been, after all, the one to beg Vayne to spare her life. For all the years they had worked side by side, she had never lost her respect in him. She knew that his loyalties had never lain in Vayne, truth be told she had been the only one he had trusted enough to talk about this since Zecht’s disappearance. Yet he could not act. The stakes for him were too high, and she understood. He had never been her enemy, and she had the feeling that as long as he remained by the emperor’s side, there was hope. Hope for a new future, and the just empire she wanted to fight for. Hope for Lord Larsa. She felt a lump in her throat at the mere mention of her young Lord. What had she done? If she survived the whole ordeal, how could she tell him? It would shatter his innocence, and the faith he has in his family.
Drace shook her head, the weight of the irons biding her wrists bringing her back to reality.
She was on the way to the imperial prison of the Nalbina fortress, dead to the world. The future would come later. She might never see him again.
Now she should focus on survival, and of course, escaping, if such a thing was possible. At first, when she had realised that she would not be executed - by her own comrades!- but sent off to rot away, she had felt angry. She was no common thief to be disposed of like garbage. Yet, even if the dungeon had the reputation to be escape-proof, she would try as long as she drew breath. Vayne could have killed her, she had been injured and defenseless, but he had chosen to spare her- why, was it a sudden feeling of empathy or on the contrary cruelty?-
It was a mistake to let her live. Now, from the shadows, she would do her best to protect her young Lord and the Empire. This time, truly, she would bring him down.
It had all happened so quickly. Her loss of control, her words, drawing her weapon, Bergan upon her in an instant. How could a man his size be so fast? His gauntlet crushing her head, sending her flying. The pain across her chest, her ribs on fire. Breathless. She should have been dead.
Gabranth did not speak to her during the trip. He looked lost in thought, she fancied it was remorse. He had been willing to kill her, after all. More than the blows, more than losing everything she had built, his behaviour hurt Drace. She had liked him. Ever since Landis. She had thought him different. She had thought he would wake up. She had underestimated men’s hunger for power, how easy it was to manipulate them into inhumanity. Deep inside her, she feared what would become of him.
She felt the heat of the desert even before the Airship landed in Nalbina. The ruthless Dalmasca Estersands. More soldiers than necessary formed a circle around her and Gabranth as they exited the ship. She walked behind him, and oh the humiliation! She could see the soldiers look at her, what were they thinking? That she was some common criminal, a pirate or worse? She steeled her eyes and held her head high. She was not some kind of Rabanastre low-town scum. Finally, they reached the sealed-off part of the old fortress. Guards lifted the heavy bars, and she was carelessly thrown in. It was done, she did not exist anymore.
Again, she would never learn, she spoke. Her tongue quicker than her caution.
“You will not be visiting him, Gabranth?” He took a sharp intake of breath. “Next time you fly by, come say hello to us.” She had stressed the last word, petty, yet she felt a hint of satisfaction when she heard his breathing quicken. Maybe all hope for Gabranth was not lost. Maybe the ashes of his heart could warm up again.
He did not answer, and the heavy barred door closed down behind him. Drace felt an unwelcome sadness rush over her as Gabranth left, walking back to the ship. Her feet began running on their own accord, running to him, the five steps between her and the door, and her dignity was lost for a second as she rattled the bars. The noise did not startle Gabranth, yet his helmet slightly turned in her direction when she said, her voice barely more than a whisper, “Take care of the Young Lord for me! Please...” and she imagined seeing him nod as the airship sas closed in on him. Larsa. When she thought about him her heart was filled with pain anew. He would know her dead, a Saint. He would grieve and heal through the perfect scenario Vayne had weaved, but what could she do? Even if she escaped, how could she reach him? Drace swallowed back tears. This would lead her nowhere.