When Braev told him he'd be in charge of the Vestal, he seethed. But even if it went against everything he was taught, Braev said that he should, and he owed Braev his life. So, when he was arranged to meet the vestal to escort her across Luxendarc and help keep the crystals in check after the disasters, he did so reluctantly, but with diligence, his armor clinking against itself as he bowed to her in greeting at his airship before they set off for Anchiem.
He would soon learn that she was nothing to be trifled with, even given the very simple and pacifist vestal lifestyle. That was not her life, nor was it for a while—she evaded Eternian forces deftly, and even though she had friends alongside her to guard her, including his beloved Edea....all reports that came back were the same: she had fought alongside them, and she played an active part in taking down every single Jobmaster pitted against her. And gazing upon her as they traveled...she had the look of a young woman who'd seen too much in her life; her face was soft, her features full of energy yet, but at the same time, the way her eyes and brows had set onto her face and the way her smile almost seemed forlorn, he knew those looks too well. And while he had no idea what had happened to her upon her disappearance since they fought, it took its toll.
He kept watch outside the spacious gaping part of the temples the crystals were held in; he refused to go deeper. She walked in with authority, her chin held high and her stride confident. This was something that she knew well. The other acolytes gathered around her and followed her, and he'd watch as they flocked off so she could teach them the rites that she knew too well. She was the last of a dying group, one that he actively sought to destroy.
He almost felt guilty.
He felt unwelcome in the presence of the temples, as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders when he came there and watched over her.
When the rites were over, they would usually set sail again. Sometimes they'd fly, but they would also stay in the sea when it was time for Alternis to rest.
He'd lean against the railing, staring out into the seas....she put this all back together...not alone, of course, but they could not have succeeded without....
She stood next to him, leaning over as well.
“I know you are not fond of me...I thank you for assisting me, regardless,” She said simply, softly.
He was caught off guard for a moment, before relaxing. “You've told me this before,” he said simply, his voice echoing through his helmet. It was dark, he was off-duty, essentially, and yet he still wouldn't remove it...it felt safe.
“Yes, but...I wanted to reassure you. You've been quiet, lately.”
They were silent for a moment.
“It's the temples...It's by my hand that you're doing this in the first place,” He turned away from her gaze, subtly.
“You were doing what you thought was right, yes?”
“While many died at the Duchy's hand...and I may have been part of it,” She paused, putting her mouth to her hand. “I do not feel resent ment at you, specifically. Maybe it was because of Ringabel....”
Alternis scoffed. “The buffoon that looked like me?”
“Yes. As...difficult as he was he and you ….are made of the same things.”
“But I'm not him.”
“Of course not.”
“So then why extend the courtesy of your kindness?”
“It's what I always do, and...he was like you, once.”
Alternis fell silent once more, turning to face her, with one hand on the rail. The breeze was nice tonight, and her hair was ebbing gently in it.
“...thank you,” he said simply, turning away to go back into the ship, and hopefully get some rest.
The trips to teach rites and check upon the crystals would occur for a while, but even once they were complete, Alternis stayed steadfast by Agnès' side. The only member of her crew left was Edea, but she had political responsibility....and thus Alternis remained. Neither of them seemed to mind this arrangement, though—they were both rather prone to keeping to themselves, and time together was peaceful.
When he was around Agnès, he felt like nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed. While Agnès wasn't a huge distraction or interruption, she filled the vicinity with warmth. She was nothing but kind...and it was honestly such a jarring experience for him; even though Braev and his kin were kind to him as well, there was a stuffiness that came with being a ward of the commanding family of the duchy... Well, there was a lot of combat. While guarding a high-profile individual like Agnès came with that, she never really pushed for it, and was much more keen on talking...
Alternis couldn't really place his finger on it, but he never really quite had the same feeling he had around Agnès...ever.
Sometimes he'd catch himself staring too long.
His journals would be dominated by her. It would only seem natural, as he was her guard, but at the same time...he was sure all these idle figure studies while she performed daily tasks weren't normal. All the poetry he mulled over at night, that wasn't right either.
At night, he flipped through the pages of the journal, basking in his sketches, remembering the context....He used to think about Edea almost exclusively, believing his heart was hers and hers only....
He almost wanted to laugh. It seemed like a foreign memory, almost.
He wanted to share the poems he wrote, but he wasn't sure how to approach that. Weren't vestals metaphorically married to their crystal? Wasn't that immoral to pursue...a...?
An errant thought. He scoffed at himself and turned the page.
But...but could he...? The orthodoxy was bollocks anyway, right?
But she probably cared about all that....
Alternis shut his journal, pushing it onto the bedrest before turning over angrily. That didn't matter.
That night, he dreamt of her.
The months would pass, and he could tell Agnès was upset over something—namely, the separation from her friends. He had also begun to supervise the training of some knights to help guard her, which might have made things a little worse. Sometimes, she'd sneak off to be on her own during visits to Eternia and Caldisla, to where, Alternis had no idea, but she would return, slightly somber. Edea and her would meet, but it was never enough when you travelled side by side with someone for years and years... One day, they would see Edea, and the girls would catch up—Agnès would light up, a too-fleeting smile free of burdens on her face as they laughed and talked, like old times.
“Aww, he follows you around like a lost puppy, almost!” Edea giggled, grinning at him from over Agnès' shoulder. As usual, he was armored, so his redness was thoroughly hidden through his pitch-black armor.
“He's my guard, Edea, you know that,” she chuckled, peering over.
“Yeah...but he's really relaxed around you, you know? He's usually a lot stiffer than that.”
Agnès tilted her head, looking at her bodyguard. “You think so? I didn't know him too well before we came back...”
“Yeah, I know so! He's like a brother to me, Agnès!!” She ruffled up her friend's hair, just a little.
“I'm right here, you know!” He stammered, trying not to let his embarrassment show too much and staying facing dead ahead of the two ladies.
“He's flustered!!! I think he likes you~!” Edea had lit up now, the same way she always did whenever she tried to play matchmaker with anyone. Oh Crystals, now he was the target?!
They'd talk for some time yet, though Alternis tried to keep his distance in case he had to listen to Edea embarrass him further....The reunion would end too early, and Agnès would part ways with Edea and regroup. He was nervous under the armor, sweating, his pulse racing—was he really that obvious?
Alternis would learn eventually that the trips to Caldisla involved going to the graveyards. He learned by pure chance, as they made it down to catch up with Karl and Egil on a particularly balmy night and he needed the feeling of a breeze against his skin, the feeling of cold stone under his bare feet. He was lightly clothed—enough that he wouldn't have made a fuss if he was out wandering, at least—the breeze wasn't as potent as he thought it was.
He'd find himself meandering toward the graves purely on accident. He saw a figure kneeling, and slowed down, hoping he'd be quiet enough not to disturb them...
Getting to a point where he could see more of their body, he'd realize it was Agnès.
If she was saying something, he couldn't make it out. He turned around, heading back for the inn.
He wanted to give her some peace.
He was aware Tiz was being stored in Eternia. However, he never took any outings there, and assumed Agnès hadn't either, though it was very likely in the times she was not under his supervision that she was there. He didn't dwell on it. The way she talked about her experiences with him specifically, part of him didn't want to. She lit up when she saw Edea, but there was a certain melancholy that got evoked whenever Tiz was mentioned. It was subtle, but profound, as if the world stopped when she stopped talking, just for a moment.
This day, they were in the Eternian council hall, sadly Edea couldn't meet up with Agnès this day, she had things to tend to—but Agnès had buisness here, and so they travelled. The political business out of the way, Agnès had requested a detour over to the stasis chambers. He was filled with an ill feeling, but for his own reasons—this was where Victor used to work, and being in Victor's old labs gave him a mixed feeling.
It was much busier now. Scientists and doctors were scurrying about, checking chambers. The whole place reeked of the sort of antiseptic that Alternis remembered from visiting Mahzer, but multiplied tenfold. The guards let them in without a word, and their feet added to the chorus of clicking in the facility.
Agnès didn't need anyone leading the way, surprisingly—she was able to navigate this place well—unusual for someone so bad with directions, he thought to himself. It hit him then.
She'd been here before. Many times, even.
He could feel his stomach sinking. This place, it felt even sadder yet, knowing this. He was becoming spectator of a secret pilgrimage, and what this could possibly mean was beyond him. Was there a degree of trust that he'd gained? Was it simply a matter of convenience? Did it just happen?
His pulse was racing, creating an odd rhythm that grew more disorienting to him as it joined with the charivari of feet against metal bridge.
A blue light bathed both of them as they got near the chamber in question. Alternis glanced to the fallen warrior inside briefly, he looked almost peaceful, though his hair was growing long and haphazard.
Agnès started talking, without announcement. She was talking about things that he remembered having happened recently...she was talking to Tiz. Alternis glanced over to her, watching as she caught him up. He'd never seen such a tender look on her face...the way she was talking, he felt like he was invading on a private moment.
He wasn't there, so he had no way to know. Tiz had been comatose the whole time Alternis knew Agnès....of course, there's no way he could've foreseen this.
She started choking up, staying silent for a while. It was as though he didn't exist in this moment, it was simply her and the youth in the tank, rigged up to numerous wires, submerged.
“I hope you wake up soon....,” She said softly, her eyes drifting up to eye level with Tiz'. “I miss you.”
A million thoughts were racing in Alternis' head at that moment. All of them, futile.
There was a pause.
“I'll let you have peace with him for a while, I need to...do something,” He shook his head and turned, not caring how bullshit that excuse felt, he just wanted out, he felt like he was suffocating, and he needed some fresh air.
He thought long and hard about all of it as he navigated out of the facility and back into the primary parts of central command. He tried, at least, but his thoughts were jumbled, and at the same time, absent.
He'd already lost Edea. Why was the world so cruel as to make him face such difficult rejections twice?But was it really a rejection? Would they ever manage to recover her fallen comrade? He wasn't sure anymore, and old self-loathing was bubbling back. Darkness in his heart started brooding again, and he hated it, he was supposed to accept the darkness but this...he hated this feeling. He didn't want it, not right now.
He could hear footsteps, and a hand gently rested on his pauldrons. He looked up, and Agnès was there, looking at him with concern.
He sighed. “Lady Vestal...there...there is something I need to tell you.”