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           Spindly legs pumped across the Phon sand with the mischievous determination of an Ozmone hare.  Larsa flew over the dune’s crest in a burst of white sand; his cheerful shouts resounded against the crash of waves that rushed to meet him.  Drace, whose austere countenance donned rare smile, watched her charge wage a futile war.

           Each year, when Arcadia’s towering skyline felt like a cage, several of the magisters accompanied the imperial family to the coast.  However, the party had grown smaller as the years and the war went on.  But what Drace enjoyed the most was that Larsa would abandon his regal upbringing and misbehave, as any normal child would.   

           “My, my,” Ghis purrs interrupted her peace. “I’d ne’er thought you would possess such a… graceful form beneath your armored exterior.”

           “How charming,” Drace replied cooly, as she watched Larsa emerge, sputtering but laughing in the face of unrelenting aquatic fury.  “Watching me from a far, like a lovelorn academy-girl?”

            “Yes and while I find it most refreshing to see our young master enjoying our excursion, it is not as nearly satisfying as watching her Honor sunbathing herself. (“Horrifying,” Drace interjected but was regrettably ignored.). Truly, such a sight is a breath of fresh air compared to the ladies of the court, who would sooner drape themselves in the coarsest nanna wool than acquire a little color.”

           Drace sighed as she crossed her browning legs and drew her sarong over them with little subtly.

           “My lord, after all these years of service as a judge magister and a warrior of fearsome notoriety, I am happy that you find me on equal measure with such foppish ilk as yourself.”

           Ghis did not flinch at her insult.  In fact, he dared to sit by her.  His arm, like a Midgardsormr python, wound itself around her shoulders.  Drace’s insides whorled.

           He smiled, attempting to put her at ease but Drace knew that it could never pass as anything but a duplicitous sneer at best.

           Suddenly, a sopping Larsa plopped down between them. He shook himself like a mastiff and effectively ruined the magister’s advances all at once.

           “Drace! Look at the treasures I found!” He chirped as he dropped a number of small shells and one bewildered hermit crap into her lap. “Oh, Magister Ghis, I did not see you there!” Larsa shook himself like mastiff and gave them a warm, disarming smile.

           “Your majesty, you all but sat upon me-” he started, utterly indignant.

           “Could you be so kind as to fetch me some drink? I’ve had my fill of seawater and now I wish for juice.  Fetch something for the lady as well!”

           “Yes, something for the lady, if you will, ‘good’ sir,” she mocked, as she carefully plucked the hermit crab from her lap and placed it on the boy’s head

           Defeated by Larsa’s dismissal, Ghis retreated to other men, who were still haunting the seaside bar.

           “Really now, Ghis,” Zargabaath said exasperatedly. “Leave Drace be.”

           “How can I? She’s so charming in spite of her more…masculine…qualities. ” His peers simply shook their heads.

           “Thank the gods, his Honor Bergan could not grace us with his presence, or we would have had another incident like at last year’s High Summer Fete.”

           “Drace threw her drink at him,” Gabranth said baldly.  

           “Why are you even here, lapdog?!” Ghis snapped, violently pulling a cork off of a bottle of madhu. “Haven’t you a sewer to crawl through, Ninethward rat?”

           “I was invited,” the judge sipped his drink and offered a small smile.  

           “Are you not supposed to be searching for your predecessor?  Or are you so content with your promotion that you cannot be bothered to do any work?”

           “He is dead.”

           “Are you sure?”

           “…Mostly.”

           “Landisian swine!”

           “Fop,” Gabranth replied simply, snatching the drinks that Ghis had so laboriously made and walked off.

~~~

           The rest of the day was uneventful: Larsa continued his struggle against the sea while Drace watched and the remaining magisters drank themselves into a sunburned stupor.  The sun took to her chambers, falling beneath the horizon.  Drace’s stern voice could be heard from Larsa’s tent, reprimanding him for putting on her nightclothes instead of his own.

           “But, Drace!” he cried. “The breeze feels so good!” He teased her by threatening to lift the front of the gown in a less-than-gentlemanly fashion.  It earned him a good rap on the crown.

           “Honestly!” she hollered, over Larsa’s false tears. “What is the matter with you boys today?!”

           Zargabaath entered, just then, to relieve her.

           “Enough of that, good sir,” he chuckled as he pulled Drace’s garments over his master’s smarting head.  “Let’s not scandalize our lady any further, shall we?”

           “Where are the others?” Drace asked wearily. “I am required to play nursemaid to fully grown men as well?”

           “Ghis has exhausted himself with drink and sun and has gone to bed.  Gabranth has disappeared.  Perhaps it’s best if her honor, seeks him out and sees that he is well?”  Zargabaath’s tongue lay a little to slyly in the slight-upturned crooks of his mouth.

           Shouting profanities to the night winds, Drace scrambled out of the tent and over the dunes to the shore in search of the missing magister and a moment of peace.

           She slowed when she came to the shore, taking in the night with tired eyes. There was little beauty in the world of the scales and of the sword; a world of false words and hard black steel, but the moonless, windless night and the stillness of the sea was a moment halted in time.  She stood at its precipice, lost in the shimmering midnight glass.  Drace thought that if she took one step, she could escape across it.

           “Taken to spying on my evening constitutional, now,” she called to the lapping waves. “You’re eerily quiet for one who has been drinking all day.”

           Gabranth stood at her back, watching her as she watched nothing.

           “Come! Someone might see!” Drace broke away before she seized him by hand and half dragged him down the shore.  He complied, shuffling soundlessly after her.

           “And how much did you have to drink?” she asked as they rounded a large dune, out of sight and sound.

           “Not much as Ghis but certainly more than Zargabaath.”

           “Oh, gods,” she chided. Gabranth watched hypnotically the moonlight and shadows danced on her tanned legs; his gait was clumsy but he held fast.

           When they were far away enough for her liking, Drace plopped down onto the sand and Gabranth toppled her like an untrained chocobo.  A bit of rough play was common between swords and sheets but Gabranth seemed determined to hold her down; his a weight, not oppressive, but familiar.  She closed her eyes - soft kissed placed on her eyelids, the crest of her nose, her lips, the curve of her chin, the crook of her neck...

             

* In the Square Enix manga, Drace and Basch face each other.