Chapter 12:

The Princess of Baustas

Setting Sun Story: Beta

Central Square - Arrabelle - 7:36 AM

"Retirement huh? Makes him sound like an old man."

Needing to be on her way to work, Arrabelle's conversation with Zalach was kept only a couple minutes long.

He told her only that he was finished as a member of Special Tasks, and wanted to seek something else out of life, giving a speech along the lines of, 'the dream of combat and soldiering was fun, but doesn't last long when you put too much of yourself into it.'

Zalach questioned whether or not all dreams are like that, and if life requires more broad exploration and interest than he had ever considered being enough for one man.

Obviously, Arrabelle didn't get too much of her own words in, but Zalach left her with two of them for advice: 'Self-consideration.'

Perhaps that concept was something she had already been mulling over, but after Zalach announced his departure, Arrabelle has been developing high hopes for the day.

A new dawn for all of us.

The Sun has finally begun to peek over the high wall.

Instead of passing through the Eastern Military District, the fastest way to her workplace, Arrabelle takes a longer route through the central square; it's somewhat close to Zalach's house, so she doesn't feel all that guilty about the extra time.

She'd never admit it, but she's proud of this little accomplishment in remembering to return his sword. With it, a certain simple pleasure building, her reluctance and anxiety surrounding the start of her menial job begins to fade away.

The bright morning light flattens out over the square, leaving everything with a subtle shine. The café in the Southwestern corner is bustling with morning folk, and people seem to rush here and there constantly, the square never emptying.

For the first time in maybe a decade, Arrabelle smells the dewy clear air coming off of the fountain.

Her arms still packed full with the work uniform, she bends over the water feature, letting her reflection look up at her. It's wobbly in the constant flow, but she inspects herself either way.

For some reason or another, she feels leisurely and content.

This is the world without titles. This is the world disconnected from her family, her battles, her illusions. Happiness certainly awaits in the freedom of independence.

Leaving the square to the North and passing beside the endless stairs to the High Tower, she's never noticed how out of place that building looks.

The black needle against the red sky, like an intruding weed growing out among the common flora. Everybody else probably sees this too, no wonder most civilians are so uptight all of the time, Arrabelle thinks to herself.

The pavement at the Tower's base is carved out in large blocks beneath each of its six thin extending support legs. It breaks the looks of the square entirely!

"Hmm," she groans out loud.

In a single morning it appears that her entire perspective has shifted. Or did she think like this normally? Only blocking out what she felt or even simply observed in favor of training constantly...

Mrs. Painny's Sweet Shop - 8:00 AM

Scratch that. The word mundane drools out off the tongue for a reason.

A single flickering oil lamp hangs over the floorspace of the old shop. Despite having a large window at the front entrance, the room still feels enveloped in a bland darkness.

Open chairs and woodgrain tables are spread sporadically around the room, seating only dust bunnies and topping themselves with little figurines of cows, rabbits and sheep; animals saved and farmed in Baustas.

Arrabelle stands jittering and cold with hesitation at the front counter. Her cupcake headband slides back a touch as she checks the clock.

It's only been twenty minutes since she came in.

She folds her legs a touch, leaning over the counter's glass, hiding as much of her abhorrent uniform as possible between the coverage of the pastries and sweets below.

If Julian were here, he'd definitely crouch down and say something along the lines of, 'I know what I'll be having,' frantically raising his eyebrows at Adam, nodding to the outfit's open expression of the thighs, visible beside the apple fritters. (He wouldn't really, you saw how he handled an outgoing role).

Startling Arrabelle so that she straightens right back up, the old Mrs. Painny comes out from a swinging door, leading to the back room. Doughballs on the tray in her arms, she scoots in next to Arrabelle, getting down and sliding them into a slot on the display.

"That uniform sure does make you look cute as a button, Arra," Painny says in a raspy grandmother's voice.

Standing up, she comes almost as high as the bottom of Arrabelle's chest.

Feeling at the edge of Arrabelle's skirt, Mrs. Painny grins. Arrabelle is stiff and uncomfortable as Mrs. Painny's thin, wrinkled eyes meet hers.

"My father came up with these, if you couldn't tell. I never could part with 'em," Painny admits.

"I'm sure he was a great man," Arrabelle responds with gritted, locked teeth behind a fake smile, silently cursing the late Mr. Painny.

Painny clicks her tongue and chuckles, throwing her arms in the air as she waltzes to Arrabelle's other side.

"He was a horndog!" She laughs... "But a good father either way."

Arrabelle falls silent, letting Painny reminisce in peace.

"Cherish the time you have with Taron, I still remember when he was just a boy. He moved so fast through those ranks, you know? I suppose that leaves him away quite often, doesn't it? All the more important, then," Painny lectures, before returning to the back.

The door swings back and forth alongside the pendulum in Arrabelle's head. 

She has nothing against the role of a soldier, but for her father to so many times, again and again act like nothing more than an emotionless, murderous, heartless dog to the Deacons, never once evoking any sense of apology, or even appearance of misfortune at the loss of her mother, any anger in the Deacons' unwillingness to do anything about her condition, and to then in the midst of all else return home after the deaths of all of his allies, staining her last name in the process.

Why not a single apology? He doesn't even bother to look me in the eye anymore...

I have no family left. Just the shell of an old, lost killer.

"Oh, and dear!" Mrs. Painny calls, cutting off her growing hatred.

"I'm awfully sorry this had to be your first experience today. We don't get too many customers at the beginning of the week," She continues apologizing, popping her head out from the kitchen.

Arrabelle, whose fingers were relaxing the migraine that bleeds through her skull, looks back to Painny with another pain-hiding smile, and insincere closed eyes.

"Oh, it's no problem at all!" She responds, relieving Painny's fear.

She lets out a sigh when Painny disappears again, dropping her head over the counter. Strands of her hair slip from beneath the headband, drooping down onto the glass. She looks to the clock again:

8:05 AM

A chime dings at the entrance. In such a stale place, the twing of the brass ringing may as well be a meteor crashing into the city.

A shiver shoots up Arrabelle's spine as a small child wanders through the door. She's never had to deal with children before... (or anyone for that matter)… like father like daughter.

The fact of the matter is that she's never held normal conversations on a typical basis.

Her eyes reach up to the ceiling while she furls her eyebrows, running herself through every possibility of what the conversation might entail.

The child looks intent, will she be prepared for his-?

"G'morning!" He yells, waddling up to the counter, smiling ear-to-ear, one of his front teeth missing.

"G- good morning," She responds awkwardly, but alleviated of her panic.

She waits cautiously, her eyes trained on the boy, examining the options.

He buys his lot and leaves, putting Arrabelle in a strange anxiety until Mrs. Painny returns frontside.

All those years of training... worth nothing here.

The concept is embarrassing, but somewhere deep, deep below, it excites her.

11:50 AM

Soon after the scarring sale, Mrs. Painny invited her to the kitchen, giving her a chance to try her hand at making sweets.

The kitchen, smaller than the main floor, retains its brightness better, complimented by a thin strip of windows, bringing sunlight in from the East. The sweet shop was never such a commercial success that they needed too much space in the back, so one large island sits in the center, with another counter-top and stove at the back end, and storage under the windows.

As it turns out, arm strength is great for kneading dough, and nobody sees her in uniform here, so she takes to it well.

Each time she checks the clock sitting above the counter-top, another half hour has passed.

She does question Painny's hearing, as a lot of the cutting equipment and tools are fairly loud. She notes to bring earplugs next time, deciding to take a break.

The windows at the top are noticeably dark, but it couldn't be cloudy out this time of year.

Arrabelle steps out to the main room.

"I thought I heard something loud earlier, but figured Terry had arrived, is everything all go-" She starts to explain as she opens the door.

Terry had come, but is found now face down on the floor, blood still pooling beneath him.

The front window is shattered, and Mrs. Painny's frail old body is in the street, lying in shards of glass.

Some of the tables are thrown about, but one remains intact, and sitting at their subsequent chairs, enjoying the treasured find of countless sweets, are two men in white coats.

While a hefty man with shoulders as big as his head sits away from her, she's stared in the eyes by a smaller accompanying man with sharp and long features.

The bigger one notices his friend staring, and turns, still biting with large teeth behind slobbering lips a bear claw.

She looks them in their blue eyes.

"You couldn't give me one day?" She asks.

The smaller man snaps to it, leaping up from his chair and pulling his white, blue gem-engrained sword from his hip.

Arrabelle picks up and throws a tray resting on the counter at him, hopping the counter as the bigger one stands up, carefully setting his snack down on a plate... If only he'd been so gentle with the window.

The little man swipes the tray away, lunging at Arrabelle.

She steps to her left, letting the thrust pass by her, before catching the handle of the blade with her right palm, and punching at his hand with her other.

The sword slips from his control, sliding across the floor.

She runs her right hand up his arm, unleashing a strong punch to his shoulder.

The small man throws a left hook, but Arrabelle blocks with the same right forearm, sending a left jab to his head.

Pulling the momentum of her block into a spin, she spinning back kicks the man to the ground.

The brute is just behind their romp, and as his buddy falls away, he launches his whole body, looking to wrap Arrabelle up in a bear hug.

She crouches beneath it, her only option to go for a tackle. As one can guess, he doesn't move.

"Dammit," she blurts out as the brute locks his hands together.

He drops his hands over her, striking heavily into her back, smashing her down into the floor.

Her forearms meet splintering and unkept wood planks as the wind is knocked out of her lungs. It scratches and grates against her skin. 

Looking forward, she finds a foot heading in to punt at her face.

Taking in a short breath, she rolls to the side, the large man's foot breaking through the glass of the front counter, ruining freshly made pastries.

In the direction of her evasion, the smaller soldier is crawling out for the blade.

She pushes off the ground with skinned arms buzzing in pain, and kicking forward with her feet, dives for the weapon, in time dropping her left elbow over his head, bashing his face in the wood.

The handle is just out of reach of her fingers as the heavy-set soldier returns, grabbing her ankle and dragging her off.

Her first two fingers dig in around the emblem at the handle's edge, scraping her arm and the sword along behind her.

As she cries out, she bounces her stomach up and twists onto her back, plucking at the sword to get a grip on it.

She chops down at the brute's hand, freeing herself, before pressing off her off-hand to rise up, rooting the sword in his chest. Bright, foreign blood seeps down to her wrist.

Oddly and painfully, the sword burns Arrabelle's hand where she touches it.

She's quick to let go in response, opting to kick the brute to the window, folding him back over a bladed spike of glass in the sill.

Stepping back and catching her breath, Arrabelle looks down at her palm, red and nearly bare. There's something satisfying about it. The wound calls out to her, like a hidden demon, shouting from far inside.

"What the hell is this?" She whispers, partially at the light scarring, but more so at her reaction, a mental blocker feeling satiated.

I could let myself become just like him.

A rat-like voice sounds off.

"You bitch!" The smaller soldier, yells from behind.

She turns to find him standing, his nose crunched to the side bleeding, and lips cut up on the floor.

He starts to sign out Light, his fingers tracing the gray form that follows on the air.

Before the symbol can manifest, Arrabelle spots a chair, pulling it in front of her with her foot, and sending it at the soldier's legs.

The glyph lights up as he's swept over the chair, his flailing hand passing through its light as he trips.

Accepting the return of the dull pain, Arrabelle reaches back, ripping the seemingly cursed sword from the other body as it sizzles against her skin.

The coincidental ball of Light explodes at her hip, knocking her to the side.

He grabs the symbol and fires more Light, grabbing the chair's back to pull himself from the seat.

Another one comes as she rolls over, dodging and scrambling to regain her footing.

It misses, a fatal motion that signals the end to the fight.

Clutching her lower stomach, she throws her shoulder to lift the sword up, and stabs down on him, the blade cutting all the way through his back down into the chair, crumbling its frame entirely.

With the last enemy gone, she can finally rest, releasing the sword drizzled with ashen skin as blood drips from her palm, the glow of her eyes starts to fade.

She tears a strand of cloth from her sleeve, holding one end in her mouth while she wraps it around the burn wound.

The symbol of Light that hovers above the body slowly drifts into blue ash, before it floats away into nothingness.

Arrabelle stands alone, bloodied, bruised, and cut in Mrs. Painny’s Sweet Shop.