Alton wasn’t having the worst day ever, but it wasn’t great. He had wanted to argue more about Sybil not being accepted but was resigned to the fact that Lady Till wouldn’t listen. Forcefully dragging her to the temple, he watched her, broken in spirit, try to pull out the different weapons from the Volo Refuge walls.
He had pointed to where Lady Larkin’s blade was. It’s where he had first met Sybil. Two days ago, when he went to try to pull out the rapier for himself. At the time, it seemed easier to pull a weapon rather than take the exams. Suddenly there was this girl from the core that had gotten there first. That was infuriating since she had gotten in his way, but now he was demanding that she succeed. She already seemed to know Lady Larkin personally. Maybe that already increased her chances.
His attempts at encouragement were only hurting his own pride. However, he was now a proper Braytons squire. Sybil was the damsel that needed to be saved, and it was his role as a knight to protect her. Then Barcus had to show up. The flames were coming out of his hands and directly at him. Alton knew he could protect Sybil from the spell if he stayed in front of her, but something within him told him to be better than that. He reached back and pulled a blade free just as Sybil had started to move out in front of him.
Suddenly his mind was in pain. There were flashes of someplace dark. Mysterious whispers, crying, and pleas for help. He didn’t know what was going on. There was a flash of a woman with strange, white eyes, pale skin, and all in black. Her eyes narrowed at him, there was a flick of her hand towards him, and then she vanished. The voice he had heard crying was becoming louder. She was asking if he could help her. When he gave a nod, the voice replied again.
“Please protect her.”
Alton found himself back in the temple again with Sybil standing in front of him. Barcus was on the ground, and for some reason he was unconscious. Without understanding what was happening, Alton looked down at his hand and saw that he was holding Lady Larkin’s rapier. In a panic, he hid the weapon behind his back and hoped no one had noticed.
“Uhh… Whose sword is this?” Sybil’s statement made Alton panic further.
He took a small step to the side so he could make out what was happening. Sybil was holding a falchion in her hands. The monks were delighted in seeing the sword drawn, whisking her quickly away to a different room. He continued to clutch onto the rapier until she was out of sight.
Approaching the monks at the counter, he placed the rapier down. “I need a favor.”
The monk looked down at the rapier and back up at him. “Congratulations, sir. It appears as though a weapon has chosen you. Allow me to escort you to one of our rooms while I fetch you the documents that you’ll need.”
“No, sorry.” Pushing the rapier forward, he shook his head. “My name is Alton Toval, and I’m a squire at Braytons. The girl I was with, the one that drew out a short sword, the original owner of this rapier is her personal hero. I can’t let her know that I have this now. I promise I will come by in the evening and get it without her. Please hold onto it for me until then.”
“If that is what you wish, Mister Toval. That will also give me time to put everything together.” Alton nodded and quickly answered any other questions he had.
As he turned away, he nearly ran headfirst into a woman who was waiting nearby. “Sorry, miss, I’m in a hurry and didn’t see you.” She smiled widely at him, and he started to realize that she looked familiar. Blonde, with shining gray eyes, and saintly sort of beauty. Her jacket was white and bared the sigil of Braytons high on its collar. Also, she was floating. For some reason, she was floating.
“Are you alright, sir?” The monk asked, leaning over the counter to get a better look at him. He didn’t react to the woman at all.
“I’ll be out front. If she asks, tell Twist that I’ll be out front.”
He was quick to exit the temple, doing his best to ignore the knight floating behind him. Even the act of her moving through the door as he attempted to close it on her was ignored to some degree. He leaned against the wall, folded his arms, and looked off in any direction that wasn’t orientated at her.
A laugh came from the woman as she swayed back and forth in the air. “It feels nice to be able to move around like this.” She looked around at the geyser field. “This place looks like it smells terrible. Oh! I remember now! It does! Just like old Grimhawk’s socks!”
Alton gave her a sideways glance. “Who are you?” He knew exactly who she was, but he was still in denial about it.
“Beware! I am the spirit trapped in the sword of Lady Lydia Larkin. You may have heard of me, as I am known as Lady Lydia Larkin. What a surprise! Maybe not though, because who else would I be?” She giggled and gave a bow. “It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance. And who are you?”
“... Alton Toval. A squire at Braytons,” he replied in a suspicious tone.
“And how old are you?”
“Alton… A seventeen year old Alton Toval… I thought I recognized you! You were the pretty one that always stood in the back whenever I was visiting Starsons! I liked to pat your head! And if you are seventeen, and judging from how hot it appears to be, you must be a brand new squire. How lovely! Congratulations?
Cutting pleasantries short though, what is your relationship with Sybil? Have you known each other long?” She placed her index finger on her chin and tilted her head. “I’m certain it’s a fine relationship, is it not? You were so eager to save her just then. I haven’t been gone for long but it seems like things have happened for the better while I was away.”
He was offended by her remarks. “I met her at the exams. She failed. I brought her here to cheer her up, but there is no relationship past that. We were on the same squad for the final day of exams. Nothing more.”
Lydia nodded. “Ah, Starsons never did learn to change, hmm? Might as well get to my point then. My final request, as put forward the moment I died, is that you need to protect Sybil Twist for as long as she lives. No excuses.”
“...” Alton stared at her. She smiled innocently back. “Very well. I will unite the outerland and core into one peaceful city.” Lydia floated into his view. She suddenly had a scolding look on her face. “That’s a lot easier to do than what you are asking.”
She began to say harsh remarks, mostly childish insults, but he ignored her while waiting for Sybil to return. They mounted his horse and Lydia flew next to him. Again, she tried to encourage him to stay by Sybil’s side and reconsider the idea of becoming her personal bodyguard. Lydia even went as far as to point out that they were cute together while on a horse, but that was of little interest to Alton.
When they reached Braytons, he bid Sybil farewell and walked Bibi over to the stables. Despite his annoyance, his newfound stalker still followed. “Why is she so important to you?” He talked while walking, only giving the knight the occasional sideways glance.
Lydia had to think about that. “There isn’t a clear answer. No, there is. I was meant to protect her father, but it didn’t work out so well in the end. You know, since I’m dead and all. Sort of puts a damper on everything, I know. But I tried to help raise her, even though I’m the reason her mother isn’t around… so…” Her voice faded off and her hands fumbling together nervously. “... I did really try my best, but…” Her voice became thin and pained.
Her tone annoyed him the most. “If she gets into Braytons, I’ll consider it. I can’t protect her without proper training, and I’m not leaving these barracks.” He reached the stables and removed the blanket that was on Bibi’s back.
“Hmm…” Lydia was conflicted. “I think that might be impossible for someone like her.”
“It isn’t impossible at all,” Alton grumbled. He suddenly turned towards her. “Are you going to be here for a while? Is this some sort of forever deal?” Lydia gave a shrug. “I’ve already done what I can to get Sybil in. She’s on her own until I graduate.”
His response appeared to appease Lydia. She quietly floated behind him as he walked around and helped move furniture for the rest of the group. Occasionally, she would make a remark on something that amused her. She would remember something from when she went to Braytons, or comment on how big either Zaniyah or Chickadee had grown. At least, remark on how big Zaniyah had grown. Chickadee, not so much.
She sat back and beamed as Zaniyah told the tale of how their squad failed to triumph during their group exam. Looking over to Alton, she pointed it out, “Zani has always been entertainingly expressive.” The way she looked at the three of them was more akin to a proud parent instead of a simple mentor.
Her face grew serious as Zaniyah mentioned Veximarl’s ability to turn into a ghost. She folded her arms and listened intently as Zaniyah waved her arms around and made spooky ‘ooos’ and ‘ahhs.’ The clarification that it was astral projection made her doubly concerned.
“Ah, dear sweet Vex. He has terrible magic at his disposal. It may not look it, but he has the potential to be quite powerful.” Her head tilted to the side. “Though he shouldn’t be casting that spell. He’s going to get in trouble for that.” Her head tilted the other way. “Someone is going to notice how outrageously powerful he is.”
“You’re kidding…” Alton looked over to her, tuning out the rest of the other’s conversation.
She nodded. “Absolutely. But I don’t like the idea of Sybil traveling alone with him. You have to tell her that they shouldn’t be together. It would be dangerous. Terribly dangerous.” Her hands went up. “Maybe not in a bad way! I could be wrong! But I don’t like the idea of her being put in that position. Being around him would, in turn, put her in a possibly painful situation.”
Suddenly Alton was forced to have more alone time with a girl he felt as though he owed nothing more to because a ghost had guilted him into it. His pep talk and trip to the temple was enough. The only benefit to him was that it was a chance to get Sybil’s side of the story, in case Lady Larkin was lying about their connection. But her story was similar to what the knight had told him.
“It wasn’t Stallis,” Lydia muttered. “The students from the university had somehow sabotaged the golem. I would want to prove that for Sybil’s sake, but the evidence of that may have died with them.” She was hovering in a seated position above the edge of the wall. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a pleasant memory for her.
But in the process of hearing her story, Sybil had told him something personal. Great. It meant he owed more to her. Alton hummed for a moment as he thought of something to say. It wasn’t a tune he recognized, but it felt natural to hum the notes. She seemed to appreciate it, however, it didn’t seem like that was enough.
In the end, he decided to tell her of his experience with his squad. It was all true. They did follow him around and act sweetly, but he also knew that they often argued with each other when he wasn’t looking. He would do what they asked occasionally, but only to make sure that they got good grades as a group. As long as he could get into Braytons, he didn’t care.
He thought about what had happened before they left Carapace. Vincent cornered him in a room and explained that Alton’s own squad was planning on betraying him. They were going to keep him stuck in in the city, where he would continue to work towards what they wanted. There were others against him as well. His so-called friends. The people he had spent the past seven years with... They were all planning on hurting his own dreams for their own sakes.
Alton hated them.
He hated what they had become as people. He hated himself for not putting a stop to it sooner. He hated the fact that he probably used them just as much as they used him. But he didn’t want Sybil to know that. All she needed to know was that there was a reason why he never liked getting close to people. It didn’t have to be the right one.
“Things can be hard for children your age.” Lydia sighed, remembering her own stories from the distant past. “A boy and a girl alone together... Hormones will naturally kick in. That is why you need to warn her about Vex.” If Veximarl was so dangerous, why did Lydia use his nickname?
Alton attempted to explain things, but Lydia kept talking over him. “It’s only natural. I don’t believe she’s had much experience with men. Not in the core, at least. Those people aren’t bad, but they’re terribly prudish. But imagine it. Those two will be alone together. She’s on a passionate journey, driven onward by her heart’s desires. A boy shows up and offers to help... She confuses the desires for her future for desires for him… Either that or she’ll try to eat him. It would be so much worse for her if she tried to eat him, now that I think about it.”
“I’m not going to say all that.” Though he was confused about what she meant by eating him, he also didn’t want clarification.
“They’re alone in the cold swamp,” Lydia’s hand went to her mouth, “next to a fire! He reaches for her hand to keep her warm, and she accepts his touch with grace. But! What of her future?! What of his… Seductively dark magic?” Her eyes narrowed. “They look at each other, lips parting slightly-”
“I don’t need to say any of that.”
Alton chose to explain that it might be dangerous around Vex. Sybil didn’t understand, and neither did he. He nuzzled her hair. She was offended. He kissed her in a forceful manner so she would get the point. She ran off, becoming even more offended in the process.
Alton frowned to himself. His hand went to his lips, fingers tracing the lingering warmth. “That was disgusting.” He had never forced a kiss on someone before. It made him feel shameful.
Lydia floated down so it was like she was sitting in front of him. “... Why did you do that?” She gestured to where Sybil had left. “Did you see how mad you made her? You’re supposed to protect her, not chase her off.” Her eyes widened. “What is wrong with you?”
“I’m making her fall in love with me.” He smirked at his sudden idea.
“Yes.” She spoke flatly. “That is absolutely what happened.” She nodded and looked at him as though he were insane.
“Lady Larkin, retrieving your rapier doesn’t make me your slave. I already have a plan for my life. I’m handsome, I’m rich, I’m beyond talented, and I’m going to be a knight.” He tossed back some of the hair that had fallen in front of his face with a quick jerk of his head. “If she falls in love with me, she’ll work herself to the bone to stay by my side, just like all the others have done.
She’ll chase me to the ends of this Lustro because of it. I’ll give her enough to make her think her efforts are worth it. Vows of love, marriage, whatever, but it will all be in vain. I will do what you ask, Lady Larkin, but I’ll do it as I watch her struggle to keep up with me. I’ll protect her as I become her everything. Every possible lover she could ever have will pale in comparison to me. So your dear Sybil will be taken care of, but I am going to live my own life. Don’t think I’ll make this easy for either of you.”
Lydia appeared disgusted by this at first. Her expression then softened as she let out a soft laugh. “And during that life you described, I will be watching. Remember that.”
“And I am honored to have the Hero of the Southern War serve as my personal mentor.” He stood up and dusted himself off. “Now let’s go get your stupid rapier and hide it someplace safe before anyone notices.”