It was another day in the Malice Desert. Another day in this hot, barren land. Another day...of trying to whip a dumb boy into shape.
"Hiyah!" Lorica cried as she dashed in, Vindrbrandr flashing in the sunlight.
She made a series of jabs at an uneasy Terrence, who only managed to intercept a two of them. The rest peppered his torso, tearing up the patches in his shirt and drawing blood. He stumbled back, putting an arm over his chest and panting a little.
A scowl crept on Lorica's lips. Almost three weeks since they began their trek through this hell. Almost three weeks since she began giving this wimp swordfighting lessons. And yet no matter how many times they sparred, he barely seemed to be getting better at all. He was still physically weak and unskilled with that blade.
"Are you even trying to improve?" The Elf snapped. "Get your butt in gear before I have to kick it!"
"I am trying!" Terrence shouted back. "Give me a break!"
"You have no time for breaks! En garde!"
Lorica swiftly lunged for him, aiming for his right hip. He guarded it as quickly as he could, grunting with effort as he deflected the rapier and tried to retaliate with a spin attack. However, she was quick to recover and leap over the boy. She then brought her heel down his head, sending him face-first into the sand.
The Elf made a flip before landing perfectly on her feet in front of Terrence, then she dismissed her weapon and frowned down at him.
"We're halfway to our destination, but you're getting nowhere with your sword skills." She criticized, hand on her hip. "If you can't figure out your style and reach your full potential by the time we reach the shrines, then all hope for our land is lost!"
Terrence groaned as he sat up, then gave the Elven Princess a look of annoyance.
"I know that." He muttered, rubbing his head. "But I'm not some damn prodigy who can master swordplay in a month."
"Then at least get skilled enough to survive the Trial that's awaiting you! Now come on, we'll have a quick dinner before getting back at it!"
Lorica turned and stomped off to the canopy, where the others were watching their little spat. Aquare and May were very concerned, while Cid looked very cross.
"You don't have to be so harsh on him." May said softly.
Cid crossed his arms. "Lor, do we really have to keep reminding you that he's just a kid? Beating him like this won't solve anything."
"That peasant is the Hero of Light." Lorica said bitterly. "Like it or not, I have to beat into him that he can't take it easy! None of us should be! Not when so many people are counting on us!"
"I know that! But we can't rush this, or else we'll just wear ourselves out!"
"I get what you're saying, Lor." Aquare said timidly, clutching his arm. "But...even you need breaks every now and then. I mean, we're all just people, after all."
Lorica bit back a retort. Dammit...they were royals. They had expectations to meet. They couldn't just slack off while they had a duty to uphold. But...even then...the Nymph was right in that they were still just people. That she was still just a person...
And she hated that.
"Whatever." She muttered, moving to sit away from them.
Terrence limped over to the group, and Aquare immediately went to heal him.
"I don't know how much more of this I can take..." The Human said with a groan.
Aquare huffed as he healed the wounds. "...Just gotta hang in there."
After they closed up, he gave Terrence a slightly weary smile.
"Hopefully, Lor will lighten up eventually."
"Hopefully..." Terrence muttered, shoulders drooping.
Lorica gave him a glare as she drank some water, and his eye twitched.
Lorica's mid-afternoon sleep was disturbed by the memories she kept trying to forget. The memories of all the failures she ever experienced...
When she was lured into a trap by the Goblins...then captured and hung up like a prize for them. That was the most humiliating experience...
She remembered what the Goblin Lord said to her as she was being put in chains.
"So high and mighty. Ha! You're just a weak little Elf who couldn't even save herself! How does it feel, knowing that you'll be the one made to serve? Forget being royalty, because you are just as pathetic as all the other mortals!"
"No!" She had said with defiance. "I am not to be some toy for your enjoyment. My pride as the Princess of Elves would never allow that!"
That's right...she wasn't to be toyed with. She was far too strong to be made a slave to a bunch of horrid creatures.
Yet...she was never able to get out by herself. She grew weaker by the day, and she had almost given up hope of ever getting out. She prayed for someone to help her...
And then the other Heroes of Arum arrived. While she couldn't really admit it...she was elated that they rescued her. But that elation was replaced by frustration at her own weakness.
Then she tried fighting the High Leader alone...and that ended in failure. She had even harmed Vivian in her reckless pursuit.
Even now...Lorica could remember the feeling of the Angels's blood on her hands. All of that guilt she felt...it ended up fueling her frustration. She kept trying to be above everyone else, unwilling to be seen as inferior and in need of them. But if she kept making so many mistakes...what else could she be but weak?
She didn't want to be that...so she had been keeping up her act, hoping that she could shrug off all the failures that were keeping her down.
Especially that failure...
"Oh, silly Lor."
Lorica opened her eyes to find herself in a stark white room, with Rosalyn in front of her.
"You really think you can just forget me?" The brunette said with a slightly harsh tone. "What about the good times we had together? We were best friends back then. Yet...you abandoned me."
The Elven Princess grit her teeth. "It was for the best. I had much more important things to do than play around with you."
There was a slight pain in her heart when Rosalyn's expression became one of heartbreak.
"Do I really not matter to you anymore?" She asked.
Lorica's voice got stuck, and she looked down. Dammit, why couldn't she answer?
"I know you've been looking at me whenever we're in the same hall." Her former friend said. "Don't pretend you've never thought about making up. I miss you Lor, and I know it's mutual. Why won't you just admit that you don't want to be alone?"
"...Because I don't." Lorica muttered, clenching her fists. "I will do just fine without anyone else to hold me back."
"And what about those you call comrades?"
"...Maybe I don't need them either."
That brought a great laugh out of Rosalyn.
"You really do want to appear all high and mighty!" She mused. "Oh dear Lor, how long do you think you can keep it up?"
And with that, she disappeared, leaving Lorica alone as the room gradually turned dark.
After a night time treck across the desert, the party set up their camp at dawn.
Lorica sat away from everyone else, not even facing them as she ate her breakfast. She needed to be alone...even if there was a slight ache in her heart.
"Hey." May called out timidly.
Lorica glanced to see her crawling over, looking concerned.
"What do you want?" The Elf asked coldly.
May's ears drooped. "It's just...you're being so distant right now...is something the matter?"
Dammit, she looked like that...Lorica just couldn't be mad at her. Seeing the Cait Sith's so wide and sad just made her heart ache more than it already was. Because it reminded her of Rosalyns face back when their friendship was broken...
"I'm..." Lorica sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just...I've been so stressed out lately."
"Because of..." May looked around. "all of this?"
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Lorica looked down at her bread as she considered that. A part of her wanted to be relieved of the burden on her shoulders, and May was willing to relieve her of it. The Cait Sith Princess had been there for her, all this time. She was the closest thing to a friend the Elf had.
Yet...there was still the other part that wanted nothing to do with anyone. To be strong enough alone and shoulder all of her own problems herself. She wanted to move on from all the hurt and heartache from her childhood...alone.
If she fessed up...she would be seen as weak. And she didn't want to be.
"It's nothing to worry about." She lied, smiling slightly. "I just need some rest."
May hesitated for a moment, seemingly contemplating those words, then nodded and moved back to the others. Lorica let out a sigh, feeling both relieved and guilty at turning the Cait Sith away.
That afternoon, after some more walking, Lorica sparred with Terrence while the camp was being set up.
"Fix your damn form!" She criticized, parrying one of his strikes. "You leave yourself too open, and you have no grounding! It's easy to counter your attacks!"
Terrence scowled at her, then tried keeping his blade close as he swung horizontally. However, his footing was still uneven, which made him stumble as his attack was deflected. Lorica then gave him a kick square in the chest, sending him flying a back a bit. He hit the sand, then slid a little before stopping.
"Again!" Lorica barked, reposturing herself.
The boy staggered to his feet and scowled at her, dismissing his weapon.
"Heck no!" He protested. "I'm done with this! You're not working with me on this, you're just beating me up and yelling at me!"
"I said I wouldn't hold back! It's not my fault that you're so pathetic!"
The Elf stomped over to him, feeling all of her pent up frustration boiling over. Did this kid not understand how hard this would be? Did he not want to improve himself? Well too bad for him, she wasn't going to show him mercy.
"You should be grateful that I'm even doing this!" She shouted, stopping to leer down at him "I didn't want to waste my time with a peasant like you, but I did it anyway. Because you are such a pitiable little wi-"
Lorica gasped as she suddenly felt a blow right below her chest, which knocked the wind right out of her. She fell back on the sand, eyes wide with shock and blood dripping out of the corner of her mouth.
She shook her head and slowly sat up, putting a hand on where she was struck. Then she looked up to see an equally dumbfounded Terrence. His fist was held out, the glow of Imperium fading from it.
"Uh..." He lowered it and stepped back. "I-I'm sorry! Are you okay?"
Something inside the Elven Princess shattered. Every bit of negativity that had welled up inside her...frustration...anger...anguish...was all let out in a earsplitting scream as she scrambled up and lunged for Terrence. She impaled him through the shoulder, driving her rapier all the way through.
He let out a pained scream, but she wasn't stopping there. She pulled Vindrbrandr back, aiming to stab the boy in the other shoulder. For that instant, she was feeling relieved as all of her emotions were being vented, not even caring that she was causing so much harm to the boy in front of her.
Then a colossal force struck her sword arm, a 'crunch' sounding as it was broken. She flew sideways for a bit, then tumbled across the sand before stopping.
She shivered there for a moment, groaning from the pain, before struggling to get herself on her knees. She looked up, still a little dazed from the hit.
A furious Cid was standing protectively in front of Terrence, who was in shock and being healed by a distressed Aquare. Nearby, May was looking at Lorica with a face of confusion, ears folded back and tail curled around her waist.
"You've gone too far, you treacherous bitch!" Cid bellowed, summoning his hammer. "That punch pales in comparison to what I will do to you in just a moment!"
"Cid, that's going overboard too." Aquare said as calmly as he possibly could, though still shaking. "We can talk about this."
"What is there to talk about!? You saw what she was about to do! She was going to murder our friend! If she doesn't deserve to be crippled, she at least deserves a good beating!"
"Lor hasn't been right lately..." May spoke up, eyes watering. "I know this looks bad...but I also think we should talk this out. If she explains herself and apologises...maybe we can forgive her?"
"That's right." Aquare nodded in agreement. "Maybe we've been too hard on her ourselves? Maybe we've been bad for not hearing her out?"
Lorica gave the Nymph and the Cait Sith an incredulous look. What kind of people were they to be willing to forgive her?
"No..." Terrence muttered. "I'm done with her."
Aquare and May looked at him in surprise. Even Cid did a double-take at those words.
The Human walked over to Lorica, stopping to stare down at her. His eyes held a mix of both hatred and a little fear, and it was enough to make her scoot back.
"I don't care about myself here..." He said darkly. "But...I care about what might happen to everyone else if you were to stay. So get out of here, or else"
Lorica lowered her head, and there was a tense silence as she contemplated on her answer.
She felt guilt over the mistake she made. For letting her emotions get the better of her like this. But she also felt anger at herself for letting it happen. If she couldn't control her feelings...then what good was she? She wasn't able to let go of her negativity, and it resulted in this.
She looked up and stared into Terrence's eyes again, and that's when she realized how truly weak she was. She could never have this very resolve of his. The resolve to forego himself for the sake of someone else.
It was the same resolve everyone else here had...and she didn't have it. She hated that.
The Elf staggered to her feet, clutching her broken arm. She looked away from everyone, not wanting them to see her tears.
"Fine." She muttered. "I don't need you. I never did."
Then she ran away, going as fast as she possibly could.
"Lor, wait!" May cried from behind her.
But Lorica shut her eyes and ignored it, trying to quell all of the sorrow and guilt already starting to eat at her. This was her path now, and she wasn't going to turn back from it.
No matter how lonely it was going to get.