The Mysterious Masked Knights

The Mysterious Masked Knights (Blame it on Oliver)

A humorous short story in which war is narrowly avoided, and it’s all Oliver’s fault. (Oliver may be the catalyst, but Agate is the protagonist. No pairings, save for a little EstellexJoshua in the background.)

Chapter 1: In Which Mueller has to Apologize for Oliver (Again)

It was a normal day in Bose, at least so far, when Agate walked into the Bracer Guild, looking for work. He spotted Mueller quietly conversing with Lugran. The presence of the Erebonian Major in Liberl surprised Agate and also reminded him of the letters Oliver, aka Prince Olivert, had been sending him. Agate had not bothered to answer any of them, no matter how many times Oliver invited him over to visit.

Though Agate had hated the empire in the past, and he certainly wasn’t fond of it now, he had moved on enough to judge Erebonians as individuals. Mueller for example, was someone Agate had come to respect as a swordsman, Oliver on the other hand, was someone he could only tolerate. He didn’t hate the oddball bard, or as he once heard Aina call him, the spoony bard, he just found the eccentric musician to be tiring to his patience. He could handle that though, if absolutely necessary, but prince Olivert was another story, that would be weird, awkward and if possible more unpleasant than dealing with Oliver’s undercover identity.

Setting aside his thoughts, Agate greeted Mueller and Lugran with a, “good morning,” and curiously inquired in a relaxed tone, “what brings you to Bose?”

Both Mueller and Lugran had become deadly quiet when Agate entered the guild. Mueller let out an exasperated breath and muttered, “that fool.”

Agate instinctively looked around for Oliver, least the blond attempt to jump on him with a bear hug and a plethora of nonsensical remarks.

Noticing Agate’s look, Mueller assured, “he’s not here,” which elicited a breath of relief to escape the red haired bracer.

“Is he missing?” Was Agate’s next guess. It was too bad Mueller appeared to be busy, he would have liked to spar with him.

“Missing a few marbles…” Mueller grumbled, visibly troubled by the news he was tasked with delivering. “I’m actually here to see you.”

“Me?” Now Agate was confused, though it didn’t take long for him to roll his eyes and take a guess. “Is this about me not answering Oliver’s letters? It’s not that I hate him or anything, I’ve just been busy and didn’t really have much to say.” The statement sounded like a contradiction once Agate had spoken it aloud, but Mueller didn’t look like he had the intention to point that out.

“I’m afraid he’s gone too far and I deeply apologize for any inconveniences this may cause you,” Mueller apologized, feeling true shame over what he saw as Oliver’s incessant impertinence. “My mission is to escort you to Erebonia. The Emperor and Empress are on a trip around the country, the Chancellor and his troops are with them, so the fool has taken it upon himself to plan a party in his parents’ absence. Worse yet, he has convinced his brother and sister to back him up. He insists that you should attend.”

Agate couldn’t believe this. He was ready to refuse, but Lugran chose that moment to interject, and judging by his expression, he had heard about the invitation beforehand. “I have a letter from the queen.”

Agate looked at Lugran’s outstretched hand, which held an envelope bearing the royal crest of Liberl. “For me?” He reluctantly received the letter, wondering why Lugran chose that precise moment to hand it to him. He opened the letter and curiously read.

“Dear Mr. Crosner,

First of all, I wish to thank you for your service to Liberl as part of the Bracer Guild. It also pleases me to hear of your involvement in cultivating friendly relations with our Erebonian neighbors.

I have received a request from Prince Olivert to encourage you to visit Erebonia. I’m sure that it has been your impeccable sense of duty to Liberl and its citizens that has prevented you from leaving your homeland. Rest assured, I’m certain your fellow bracers will be able to take on a few additional missions in your absence, and should any more assistance be needed, I will gladly lend the aid of the Royal Guard.

Please enjoy your visit to Erebonia without worries. Prince Olivert has assured me that he will provide you with everything you need. Given the state of the nations and the hopeful beginning of a new period of peace, I would also be grateful if you chose to accept my personal request to the Bracer’s Guild, which I hope will continue to strengthen our diplomacy with the Erebonia Empire.

Sincerely,
Alicia von Auslese”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Agate squeezed the letter in his hands, terribly wrinkling the official document. “He got the queen to write a letter and make a request to the guild?! Who the hell does he think he is?!”

“A fool who is hopelessly unaware of his own idiocy,” Mueller provided.

Quietly agreeing with the Major, Agate went straight to business. “What exactly does the queen want me to do anyway?”

“To deliver this,” Lugran picked up a pot off the floor behind the counter and set it down on its surface.

“A red and white rose?” Agate examined the flower with perplexity. “I’ve never seen a rose like that before with two colors, but is this really that important?”

“Apparently so, it’s not a kind of rose the have at the empire and the queen felt that the prince would appreciate it,” Lugran explained. “By the way, I didn’t know you were friends with an Erebonian prince, when did that happen?” Another question Lugran had was why Mueller felt so comfortable referring to the prince as, fool, idiot, and the like, but he felt that would be poking his nose too far into Erebonian business. Apparently that Oliver fellow was pretty close to the prince himself.

“It’s a long story,” Agate frowned.

Lugran took the hint and decided to keep his theories to himself. “Right, you should get going, you have a flight to catch!”

“Right…” The one word carried all the venom Agate could muster.

Mueller could only say, “I’m sorry,” and accompany Agate to the airport.

Chapter 2: In Which Agate is Involved in an International Incident

Mueller had been sensing Agate’s rage boil during the whole flight from Bose to Heimdallr and by the time they arrived, the Major had gotten used to the sense of impending doom that surrounded the flame haired bracer. The two men quickly made their way to Valflame, where upon entering the palace the guards all recognized Mueller and stared at Agate, some less discreetly than others. Agate quietly wondered if they were just curious about the prince’s guest or if they just didn’t have as many redheads in Erebonia. Wasn’t one of their more well known generals a redhead though?

Agate refrained from speaking and simply followed Mueller through a maze of overly fancy corridors and excessive decorations that made him feel out of place. A maid hastily exited a room at the end of the hall and disappeared down another corridor, not before sneaking a curious glance at the Liberlian guest. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of roaming the palace, Mueller opened the door to that very room the maid had left moments earlier.

The room was adorned in red and gold, with a variety of shields, swords and equipment polished to a mirror-like shine mounted as decorations on the walls. At the center of the room there was a table set up with tea and cookies, their aroma indicating that they were freshly made. Two guards stood quietly at either side of the door as Mueller directed a withering glare at Oliver, who donned his red Prince Olivert outfit.

“Agate! It’s so good to see you!” Oliver stepped forward, making a notion as if to hug his unwilling guest. He wasn’t sure what happened, but he went from feeling joyous, to feeling like he just lost a drinking contest with Schera.

Mueller’s jaw dropped, during all the idiotic exploits that Oliver had been a part of, the fool had certainly been in danger, but had not been seriously hurt. At those times, Mueller wasn’t always with him, this distance prevented him from acting as his bodyguard. Yet it was now, when Mueller was standing right there that Oliver ended up getting hurt, and all he could do as he watched the prince fly off his feet and unceremoniously land on the carpeted floor was think, “nice hook.”

The shocked guards that previously stood like statues at either side of the door sprang to life and drew their swords. Agate made a motion to grab for his blade in self defense, but stopped when Mueller stood between him and the guards. “At ease! There is nothing to worry about!” Mueller shouted in a commanding tone. “Mr. Crosner is a good friend of the prince, this is simply how they greet each other.” The two royal guards looked doubtful, but a severe glare from Mueller sent them scrambling to sheathe their swords and reassume their posts, along with their statue-like behavior.

The gravity of the situation and his hasty actions sunk in for Agate. He shifted uneasily, reminding himself that he was representing not only himself, but also the Bracer Guild, Queen Alicia and all of Liberl. At least he still held the pot containing the rare rose securely in the arm that he hadn’t used to punch the prince. Before things got worse, Agate yanked Oliver back to his feet.

The guards at the door tensed, but entrusted the situation the Mueller who, sensing their uneasiness, took the opportunity to assure them. “See? They’re friends.”

“Right,” Agate laughed nervously, hoping he didn’t just start an all out war with the empire. “Friends…” Oliver looked unsteady on his feet, the barely conscious prince held one hand over his battered face and place the other on Agate’s shoulder for support.

“We have things to discuss, I will retake my position as Prince Olivert’s bodyguard, you may leave us.” At Mueller’s order, the guards at the door hastily exited the room, closing the ornate door behind them.

Agate let out a breath of relief and dropped Oliver onto a chair. “I’m sorry,” he apologized to Mueller more so than Oliver. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that.”

“It’s ok,” Mueller sighed, “not everyone has been trained since childhood to endure this torment.”

“Water under the bridge, my dear Agate.” Oliver seemed to finally regain the ability to form full sentences, perhaps not full and coherent sentences, but full sentences none the less. The prince still felt like the Ariselle had crashed on his head.

“This is from the queen,” Agate shoved the sepith decorated pot into Oliver’s arms. As the prince received the gift, the hand that previously covered his face, joined his other in holding the pot, leaving his face uncovered. Agate cringed at the sight, he had punched Oliver harder than he realized, his eye was quickly swelling shut and purple bruises were becoming apparent in the area around it. “Sorry I punched you…”

“It’s alright,” Oliver smiled wide despite his aching face. “You brought me this lovely gift from your homeland!” He cradled the rose pot in his arms. “Pure white and passionate red mixing together on the soft petals of the flower of romance!”

“Do you want another black eye?” Agate half threatened and half joked, though Mueller wasn’t sure which half would win out, and considered offering another apology in Oliver’s name to smooth the situation. Following that thought the Major grimaced at how often he apologized for Oliver, especially lately.

For once, Oliver made the wiser choice and decided not to push Agate. He set the rare rose down on the table and motioned towards the refreshments. “Have a seat my friends and let us have a snack together, there is much to discuss!”

Agate begrudgingly sat down. “We do have a lot to talk about, like you forcing me to come here. Where do you get off writing to the queen?!” Agate could feel the volume of his voice rising and fought to keep his temper in check, least he really did end up causing a war.

“I apologize for my insistence, I just really wanted to get the whole gang together for this,” Oliver hastily excused. “Joshua and Estelle are coming!” He announced, hoping that would somehow help soften Agate’s reaction. “In fact, Joshua will be directly involved in the project I wish for you to partake in. I also wanted Zane to be a part of this, but alas, he has eluded me. Perhaps you’ve been in contact with him recently?”

“Not really,” Agate answered. He found himself wondering what the mysterious project was and if Joshua really did agree to participate in it. “Last I heard, Zane returned to Calvard.”

“Indeed,” Oliver sighed, “and getting ahold of him there has been quite difficult. I tried to contact Kevin as well, but Mueller wouldn’t let me be too insistent, he said what I wanted was impossible due to Kevin’s position in the church.”

“Now this is really starting to get suspicious,” Agate glared. “Just what is it that you want Joshua and I to do?”

“I want you to join…” Oliver felt the stinging pain that invaded his face and thought better of making the announcement so carelessly. He got up and picked up a large shield that had been mounted on the wall.

“That’s a priceless antique,” Mueller warned. The turn of events made Agate increasingly weary.

“I want you to join,” Oliver held the shield in a defensive position, “a boy band,” he covered himself with the shield as much as he could, but nothing happened. The blond peeked out from the side of the shield, but Agate wasn’t raging, he just looked confused.

“A boy band…” Agate repeated.

“Just until the end of the month, and you will only have to participate in one event!” Oliver elaborated. “Oh please! I know you’re the ideal candidate for this! I beg of you!”

“That’s what you wanted?” Agate stared at Oliver in disbelief, and Mueller did the same for Agate. “Why didn’t you just explain that to me? Sure, I can help out.”

Mueller’s jaw dropped at Agate’s words and Oliver wordlessly dropped the shield. Mueller snapped out of his stupor at the sound of the loud clank and snapped, “that’s a priceless antique!” He rushed over to pick up the shield and return it to its proper place on the wall.

“You agree?” Oliver stammered in bewilderment.

“Why is it such a shock?” Agate innocently inquired, unaware of exactly what he was getting into. “I think forming a boy scouts troop is a great idea. The Bracer Guild isn’t as active in the empire anymore and this is a good way to teach them self defense and keep them out of trouble.” It was the kind of thing that might keep people like some of the younger adolescent boys that sometimes showed up trying to join the Ravens in a better path in life.

Perhaps it was Cassius’ influence along with his own past, but Agate decided that as both a bracer and a human being, he should help. Of course, that didn’t mean he would go easy on the boys. “I have a bit of experience with this sort of thing. Just last week I was in Rolent; Schera and I helped train a bunch of rookie bracers from all over the place. Le Locle is doing some renovations and I guess they wanted the new obstacles to be a surprise, so they temporarily sent the trainees to Liberl. Plus, if I help train a bunch of young Erebonians, that’s exactly the kind of good will and diplomacy sort of thing I can report to the queen, since you had to go and drag her into this and all.”

Oliver smiled and shook his head, he should have known things wouldn’t be that easy. “That is indeed a good idea, I must look into forming a group of youths I can offer my guidance to.” It looked like Oliver was seriously considering it and Mueller was starting to fear the headaches that awaited him in the future. Didn’t Oliver have enough on his plate with the ongoing construction of the Courageous? “However,” Oliver continued, “what I meant by boy band was-” Mueller’s hand over his mouth prevented the prince from inserting his foot into it. Oliver tried to pull Mueller’s hand off while Agate watched them in confusion. “What are you doing?”

“My job,” Mueller forcibly covered Oliver’s mouth again and managed to hold his hands behind his back as he dragged the prince to the door. “Saving your life,” Mueller finished his explanation before harshly throwing Oliver out of the room and locking him out.

“Do I want to know what that was about?” Agate had a bad feeling about this.

Mueller sighed hopelessly, “let us go to the courtyard and spar,” he suggested. “I believe it will help you relieve your tensions.” Agate had a feeling that he was going to need that spar, and clearly, so did Mueller.

Chapter 3: In Which Kloe Has to Clean Up the Mess

“Extra, extra! Read all about it!” Nial, severely short on sleep and cigarettes, with a mix of coffee and alcohol coursing through his system, declared at the top of his lungs. Dorothy, the only other person inhabiting the Liberl News building at that late hour bounced excitedly at how comically loud Nial was being. “Liberl Bracer attacks Erebonian prince!”

“No!” The female voice echoed through the building as several others joined the journalist and the photographer.

The recent arrivals in the room, included non other than Kyle and Josette Capua, and “Princess Klaudia?!” Nial gasped.

“Where?!” Dorothy squealed and readied her camera.

“Please don’t print that,” Kloe begged.

“Um… Nial, this is Kloe, she’s friends with Estelle and Joshua,” Dorothy explained, realizing that Nial simply mistook her for the princess.

“It’s nice to see you again, Dorothy, Nial,” Kloe smiled, trying to compose herself.

“Oh, right, Kloe,” Nial played along, ignoring Dorothy’s antics for the time being.

“About the headline for tomorrow…” Kloe brought up the subject at hand, not sure how to address the situation. Honesty was certainly important, but not going to war with a nation several times their size, which now possessed their most advanced orbal engine technology, was a great priority as well.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, I wasn’t really going to print that. I told the staff I would take care of the headline and to just go home and leave it to me, but I’m having trouble making Liberl look good without resorting to telling a lie no one would believe. I just said those things out of frustration, not intention,” Nial assured.

Kloe was relieved, “thank you…” Despite that terrible headline being avoided, there was still a lot of uneasiness in Kloe’s face.

Curious as ever, Nial inquired, “so, what brings you two here as well? I’ve heard your delivery business is going well, or have you kidnapped the prin- Kloe?”

“What? No!” Josette shouted, offended.

“Go easy on him,” Kyle tried to calm her down. “He’s clearly drunk and tired.”

“I can see that,” Josette pouted.

“How did you get in anyway?” Nial asked, not bothering to deny his current state.

“I picked the lock,” Kyle admitted.

Nial looked like he was about to say something but Kloe hastily interjected, “I pardoned him and take full responsibility, we didn’t know there was someone still here at this late hour,” which essentially meant that they broke in, a fact which made Kloe cringe. Going back to the subject of why the Capua siblings were there, Kloe explained, “they’re here because they just made an important delivery.” Kloe reluctantly pressed on, “I gave them permission to land at the castle and also asked them to bring me here.”

“Weren’t there three Capua siblings?” Dorothy wondered, puzzled over the little details, rather than the bigger picture.

“Don is waiting with the Bobcat, ready to come down from the clouds that hide it and pick us up.” Kyle normally acted as the pilot, but he wanted in on the action happening on the ground, so he insisted that Don, being the more experienced leader, should be the one to remain behind and direct the operation. The compliment worked and Kyle got to tag along with Kloe and Josette on a mission that sounded much more exciting when Kloe initially nervously explained it.

“So… about the headline,” Nail returned the conversation to the main topic. “I take it you have an idea to share with us?”

“Yes, actually…” Kloe reluctantly handed Nial an envelope. “This is the urgent delivery that the Capuas brought.”

With the tension building up in the air, Nial dramatically opened up the envelope. “Don, don, don!” Dorothy sang, trying to add more suspense to the situation.

The radio Kyle carried crackled to life as Don’s voice was transmitted in return. “One daring rescue coming up!”

“What?! No! Don, stay hidden! Don’t make a scene!” Kyle frantically radioed back.

“But Josette sounded urgent!” Don replied.

“That wasn’t me! It was just Dorothy being dramatic! Stay hidden!” Josette emphasized.

“Alright, alright…” Don sounded a little disappointed.

“This is just a photo of Agate with Prince Olivert.” Nial took a moment to examine it more closely in case he was missing something.

“It’s a fake photo,” Kloe revealed, tortured by regret.

“Don, don, don!” Dorothy tried to add some drama to the revelation.

“Here I come!” Don once again mistook it for a call for help.

“Stay hidden!” Kyle and Josette chorused in return.

The photo in question showed Prince Olivert and Agate, greeting each other in a friendly manner. That wasn’t the unusual part about it though. “This photo has been touched up by an artist to hide the prince’s blackeye and reprinted to hide the fact that it was painted over. Prince Olivert has adopted a much more public role since his return to Erebonia after visiting Liberl. Because of that, there is much more talk about him and more people on the lookout for what he says and does. He doesn’t want this… mistake to cause any trouble, so he’s going to stay out of the public eye until-”

Dorothy’s giggling interrupted Kloe’s explanation and caused everyone to give her a strange look. “Eye, you said eye! He’s staying out of the public eye because of his eye!”

“Just ignore her,” Nial advised.

“Until he is healed,” Kloe continued. “The purpose of this photo is to downplay what happened, make it look like it was all in good fun, and show that the prince is fine. I understand that it’s terrible if me to ask you to do this and I feel very guilty participating of this lie, but the rumors of the blackeye have already reached Liberl and I don’t want Agate or the Bracer Guild to suffer because of it. Plus Prince Olivert himself insist that it’s no big deal and that he’s happy with Agate’s visit. We could turn this into something positive, a good diplomatic interaction, because at its core, it’s just two friends messing around, and… and…”

“I understand,” Nial nodded in agreement. “It’s not really a lie, because the prince isn’t even angry. The conclusions that people will reach if they hear the story without knowing the full context will be the lies. It can cause unrest if this gets out of hand, and this is certainly a bad time to rock the boat. How about this headline: ‘Erebonian prince reunited with Liberlian bracer friend’, we can include the photo and write an article about it.”

“Major Vander already had an article written. He coordinated all of this with the prince.” At this point Kloe handed Nial another envelope.

Nial quickly opened the envelope, curious to read the article. Dorothy took a deep breath, but before she could sing her dramatic syllables, Josette shouted, “stay hidden, Don!”

“I’m hiding! I’m hiding!” Don replied through the radio. “What’s taking so long? Destroying a batch of war inducing cover stories and replacing them with something peaceful shouldn’t take this long.”

“I think we’re almost done,” Kyle voiced. This hasn’t exactly been a super exciting secret mission like in the spy books, but they had assisted in preventing a war (again) and he had to admit, that felt pretty good.

Kloe blushed in shameful embarrassment at the discussion of her plans to sabotage the free press. “I’m so sorry…”

“It’s ok, really, we’re talking about preventing a war by stopping people from jumping to the wrong conclusions. That’s not lying as much as it is strategic use of context,” Nial consoled. “Still, it’s amazing how quickly news travels between borders these days.”

“It’s probably due to all the international flights coming and going after the peace treaty,” Kloe theorized. “News moves from person to person and spreads faster than ever.”

“It’ll be faster with the Internet!” Dorothy chirped.

“What’s that?” Josette curiously asked, before she could contain herself.

Nial shook his head. “It’s called the International Network, Dorothy just calls it the Internet for short, not that she truly understands what it is.”

“It’s magic!” Dorothy cheered. “They’re working on it at Zeiss, they want to make a Capel with pictures and connect a bunch of them all over the world!”

“I wouldn’t go as far as to call it magic, but with all the strange things that have happened around here, who knows if one day Professor Russell’s claims will come true.” Nial shrugged, still a bit skeptical about the whole thing.

“News will travel the globe in seconds!” Dorothy dramatically declared, directly quoting Albert Russell himself. “Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing lots of cute pictures of cats,” she added for herself.

“Cats?” Josette tilted her head in curiosity. Perhaps she should stop talking to this girl before the nonsensical randomness reached higher levels.

“Of course! If people can share their pictures all over the world, they would definitely share their kitty pictures!” Dorothy cheered, clearly she was really looking forward to that Internet thing. “Oh, and food, there will also be lots of pictures of food!”

“This article is pretty good,” Nial piped up. He had busied himself reading it while the others humored Dorothy’s farfetched ideas. “It has a hopeful tone to it, which I think people will appreciate. Looks like we got our cover story! Time to roll the presses!”

Chapter 4: In Which Chaos Ensues

Crossing the border between Erebonia and Liberl wasn’t so difficult, especially when you were desperately running to salvage whatever shred of dignity you might have left. Agate made it to Ravennue and snuck into his house, feeling like a traitorous criminal. Mueller had explained to him what a boy band actually was and it had nothing to do with training boys to fight monsters, survive in the wild, or make smores. Exhausted from his illicit secret trek across the borders, Agate collapsed into his bed. Even if he was tired he couldn’t fall asleep and lay awake uneasily thinking about what to do.

Oliver had angered him and he had punched him. That fact became a lot more complicated when taking into consideration that the fool was an Erebonian prince, not the heir, but a prince nonetheless. Then he got stuck making up for his mistake, being far more lenient that he would have ever thought he could be.

The crown prince, Cedric, was a quiet boy who seemed happy to hear Agate’s tales about the bracers that had become so rare in his homeland, listening quietly and hanging on his every word. Cedric was nothing like his siblings, he was sane.

Princess Alfin however, was too much like Oliver. She seemed nice enough initially, but soon came to show her hyperactive side. Agate could say for sure that he didn’t appreciate her overactive imagination, or her unfailing ability to jump to insane conclusions, or her unrequited, not to mention improper, marriage proposals. How old was she anyway? Barely older than Tita. Well, maybe a little older, since Alfin was a teenager and Tita was still a child, but she was still too young. He almost regretted saving her from Estelle’s wrath.

Though Agate was hoping that things would somehow settle down with the arrival of Estelle and Joshua, that wasn’t the case. Alfin started flirting with Joshua, and rather than trusting his better judgement and staying out of it, allowing Estelle to resolve the matter herself, he had to go and step in to prevent another international incident. Yet it all happened so fast, that Agate was only able to shield Alfin, not having time to protect himself. Estelle’s staff ended up colliding with his head. He was lucky she had been holding back, but it still hurt.

Estelle initially got angry that Agate had gotten in her way, but later apologized and thanked him for diffusing the situation. That was the event which triggered Alfin to start calling Agate her hero and continuously offering her hand in marriage, despite that other quieter girl who was always with her, Elise, insisting that she should stop teasing her brother’s friend. Elise and Alfin reminded Agate of Mueller and Oliver.

To top it all up, Estelle, now that Joshua was no longer a target, would interject and tell him that Alfin was just playing and he should humor her. As for Joshua, he made himself scarce, no doubt making use of all that Black Fang training from his past to sneak around and stay out of sight. The end of the month was fast approaching and Agate didn’t know what to do.

Joshua had resigned himself to participating in the boy band ordeal in exchange for Oliver reporting any news he might hear about Ouroboros to him right away. He took to playing the drums quite naturally, especially since he had some musical experience with the harmonica and was a dual wielder in combat.

Mueller had been dragged into the band because Oliver was unable to get a hold of Zane, lucky Zane. He played the bass, though not an ordinary one. Agate had adamantly refused to sing, which left Oliver as the vocalist and Agate stuck taking guitar lessons from the insufferable prince. The guitar he got stuck with was as strange as Mueller’s bass, it had a tiny orbal powered engine of some sort that made the strings produce strange sounds that felt somehow mechanical, yet musical all at once.

Well, musical when Oliver or Mueller played it, Agate took a while to get the hang of it. He finally managed to improve after getting some extra lessons from a boy called Elliot. Oliver was surprised at Agate’s progress and attributed it to redheads being able to communicate better with each other, or maybe he just needed a change of scenery and to get out of the palace.

Of course, Oliver and the others did eventually noticed that Agate had disappeared. Desperate to find the guitarist of his band for the ever approaching party, the center piece of which would be the concert, Oliver had contacted the Rolent Bracer Guild and whined incessantly at Aina until she passed the phone over the Schera, despite the silver haired woman vigorously shaking her head in an obvious ‘I’m not here gesture.’

“He’s gone Schera, gone! Oh, you must come over right away and comfort me before I forever fall apart!” Oliver dramatized over the phone.

Schera let out a breath and tried to prevent another international incident from taking place. She had seen the papers, but she also knew that an angry Agate wouldn’t pull his punches, so it wasn’t hard to put two and two together and reach a conclusion. “How did he escape anyway?”

“He was showing me his progress in playing the orbal guitar, and I must say he has become quite good. I showed him the sketches for our costumes and he just stopped playing and excused himself saying he had to go to the bathroom. Then he disappeared, I checked all the bathrooms at Valflame and he wasn’t in any of them,” Oliver cried out with exaggerated anguish.

“Should have knocked first!” A male voice scolded in the background, was that Mueller?

“Sorry, Mueller!” Oliver called out and Schera rolled her eyes.

“Oh, no!” A female voice was heard, “Did you hear that, Cedric? Agate disappeared while he was in the bathroom! People really can go down the drain!”

“You’re not going to trick me again, Alfin,” a boy spoke. “I’m not a little kid anymore!”

“Is that Schera?” This was a voice that she recognized as belonging to Estelle. “I want to talk to Schera!” The phone was seemingly snatched away. “Schera, tell Agate to get back here right away! Now that he’s gone, Alfin’s gone back to flirting with Joshua! He’s too nice to offend her, Agate needs to- hey!” The phone was dropped before Schera could get a word in to Estelle, but she could still here the staff wielding human hurricane, lying between her teeth for the sake of defending Joshua. “Agate said he likes you!”

“Really!” The voice of the girl who had theorized that Agate fell down the drain was heard again. “Agate likes me!” She squealed loudly.

“Sorry I’m late,” a new male voice joined the commotion. “Who’s this Agate I keep hearing about?”

The energetic girl squealed, instantly turning her affections towards the new arrival. “There’s no need to be jealous, Agate and I are just friends.”

The voice of Oliver soon joined the chaos, greeting new arrivals, his complaints on the phone seemingly forgotten for the time being. Finally, Mueller’s voice came through the orbal phone, clearer than the others, as he was actually speaking into the phone now. “I apologize,” he solemnly voiced, then ended the call.

Chapter 5: In Which Tita Becomes a Teenager (And Her Big Brother Can No Longer Deny It)

“Agate, what a surprise, I didn’t know you were back in Liberl, come in!” Greeting Professor Russell at the door, Agate was quick to state that he was only stopping by for a quick visit and couldn’t stay for more than a few minutes. He was promptly sent off to see Tita, who was upstairs, while her grandfather returned to his work.

Agate found it odd that Tita wasn’t working alongside her grandfather today, and wondered if she was feeling well. “Tita? You awake?” He gently knocked on her door, just loud enough to be heard if she was awake, but not loud enough to wake her if she was sleeping off a cold.

“Agate? Yes, come in!” Agate opened the door and found Tita, not resting in bed, but sitting on the floor surrounded by all manner of small machine parts. “Hold on, I’ll be right there.” She gracefully navigated the sea of fragile looking diminutive pieces of machinery, careful to ensure her small bare feet didn’t step on any of them. Being barefoot around such tiny parts might have meant a world of pain if she’s stepped on any of them, but it did make it easier to tip toe around them. “And I’m here!” She cheerfully greeted Agate with a hug as usual. “I wasn’t expecting you to return until next month, welcome back!”

“I’m just passing by,” Agate quietly replied. He really didn’t want to wear that ridiculous costume and participate in Oliver’s boy band, but he also didn’t want to cause a war, so maybe simply disappearing was the best idea for now. It was neither refusal nor acceptance, not a surrender and not a fight, the neutral point between the two. Besides, he was exhausted and really needed a break from all the chaos. “I was surprised not to find you downstairs working with your grandpa.”

“He’s working on some engine upgrades for commercial airliners, it’s an interesting project, but I really want to work on the graphical user interphase for the Capel. I’m going to have to make the hardware stronger though. Grandpa said I was old enough to take on my own projects and to do what I felt like doing,” Tita excitedly explained. “Besides, if the International Network becomes a reality one day, people from all over the world will be able to communicate more easily and stay in contact wherever they are. We could even send each other messages and they would arrive right away, rather than having to wait like with letters.”

Agate nodded occasionally, to show he was listening, though he hardly understood how any of that could be possible. Then again, he didn’t understand how aircrafts flew either, and they certainly did.

“So how was Erebonia? Did you bring the orbal guitar you mentioned in your letter? Can I see it?” Tita was bursting with excitement at the prospect of examining a new interesting machine.

“I’m leaving soon,” Agate dodged the inquiries concerning the guitar. He didn’t specify where he was going and hoped she didn’t ask, because he didn’t know the answer himself.

“Back to Bose?” Tita assumed. “I guess you must be wondering how the guild has been doing while you were away. It’s great that you’re back home, but I kind of wish we could have run into each other at Erebonia. I guess you’ll be too busy catching up with guild work to go back for a while?”

Once again avoiding the question, Agate curiously inquired. “You’re thinking about visiting Erebonia?”

“Yes, for the concert!” Tita happily exclaimed. “I heard there were posters and booklets, so I called the Capua delivery service and had them bring me some. Josette says she has a crush on all of them, but she doesn’t actually know who they are, no one knows. That’s how we got to talking. She doesn’t want to go to the concert alone, Kyle was going with her, but she knows he would rather check out the food stalls around Heimdallr with Don, so I offered to go with her instead. She has fast transportation and I have the best orbal video recorder and camera!”

“What?” Agate had become completely lost, and this time it happened before Tita even got to the part about machines.

“The Mysterious Masked Knights!” Tita carefully navigated her room and got the booklet she purchased. “The members’ identities are a secret and they’ll only make one appearance during the party at the end of the month in Heimdallr.”

Agate’s eyes were wide open as he stared at the illustrations in the booklet. There were depictions of the members of the band along with profiles, fake profiles with fictional personalities, each based around some sort of theme. There was a photo of Oliver posing with a ridiculous outfit and a rose, attempting to look seductive, with the words ‘the romantic,’ in big cursive letters on top. Mueller was shown in a similar fashion labeled as ‘the mature’ and Agate was shocked that the Major would pose that way or wear that outfit. What was the point of wearing a tie but no shirt?

He turned the page to find an illustration of Joshua along with his fake profile and the label of ‘the innocent.’ There was no way Joshua would pose like that and even less of a chance that Estelle would allow it. With mounting dread he turned the page and had to hold back a stream of profanities as he stared into the image of a very out of character version of himself labeled ‘the passionate.’

“This is not real!” Agate was not only referring to the life-like artistic depictions, but also expressing his frustrations and wishing that he could wake up and realize that the past weeks were just a crazy dream. “It’s just a drawing someone made!”

“Really?” Tita stared at the booklet. “The artist must be very talented to draw such life-like illustrations that look just like photos! The only artist I’ve heard of that can draw like this is Beryl, but she’s not from Erebonia. The band playing at the concert must be really talented then, since they’re both musicians and actors!”

“Do your parents know you’re going?” Agate didn’t think Erika would agree quite so easily.

“My parents are working on some high tech renovations at Le Locle, grandpa’s in charge and he gave me permission, as long as I don’t go off on my own. I promised I would stay with Josette the whole time,” Tita explained.

Albert pretty much let Tita do whatever she wanted, which normally wasn’t a problem, since she was pretty capable and responsible for her age. Yet this was different from the Liberl Ark situation, this time Agate wouldn’t be there to protect her. The topic of the band members being actors reassured Agate that disappearing wouldn’t bring such terrible consequences after all. Oliver could simply find a musically adept actor to dress up and play the part. Sneaking into the audience unnoticed to make sure Tita was safe would be difficult though, since even if he had a replacement lined up, Oliver’s people would certainly be on the look out for him the whole time.

Tita sighed dreamily, looking up at the poster on the ceiling above her bed. “I can’t wait for the concert! It’ll be as amazing as seeing new blueprints for the first time, or almost as amazing.”

Agate followed her gaze towards the image of a life-like artistic rendition of the whole band posing together. He felt his anger burning inside him and wished he had strangled Oliver instead of just giving him a blackeye. “Let me get rid of that for you.” At least he had the consideration to take off his boots before standing on the bed and reaching towards the ceiling.

“What? You want to take down my poster? No!” Tita jumped on the bed to stop him and the sudden movement threw Agate off balance and sent him falling into the pile of machine parts on the floor.

“Ahh!!!” Pain, there was pain, so much pain.

“Agate! Just stay still, I’ll get you out of there somehow!” Tita hurried to try to get the pieces out of the way, but there were so many of them.

“What’s all the commotion?” Albert appeared at the door and witnessed the scene with a painful grimace, assuming Agate had somehow tripped. “Oh, that’s gotta hurt, stepping on a transistor chip board is more painful than stepping on one of those colorful plastic bricks Tita used to play with when she was little.”

Through his pain, Agate focused on only the latter part of Professor Russell’s words. When Tita was little? Why the past tense? She was still little, wasn’t she? Agate was still lost in such musings when he finally detached the last transistor circuit board that had gotten caught on the fabric of his clothes, and judging by how sore he was, also the skin beneath it. “Sorry Tita, I ruined these… things.”

“It’s ok, they weren’t strong enough to support the new graphical user interface anyway, and I had mostly burned them through overclocking,” Tita reassured. She soon realized what she said and covered her mouth.

“No need to be embarrassed, Tita, being able to take risks and push technology to the limit is how you make new discoveries. Don’t be afraid of a few explosions!” Albert encouraged, much to Agate’s displeasure.

“Nothing exploded!” Tita felt the need to clarify.

Agate glanced at the poster in the ceiling, nestled between two blueprints that made his head spin. This was a teenage girl sort of thing, he supposed. Mischa would have gone through it had she lived, all girls went through it, except maybe Estelle, since she was a bit of a tomboy, but that wasn’t the point. His little sister was growing up and Agate could no longer deny it. She had clearly changed, gotten stronger, more determined, she had grown both mentally and physically. She was nearly as tall as his shoulder now, when in the past she stood barely taller than his waist.

The realization made Agate come to a decision, he wanted Tita to grow into the kind of person who didn’t run away. Dashing into battle had always been easy enough for Agate, but sometimes life presented a different kind of battle that he begrudgingly privately admitted he would rather run from. That wouldn’t be the case anymore. “You’re really growing up, Tita, just don’t be in a rush, okay?”

Tita smiled, different, yet the same, “don’t worry, I’ll take my time.”

“I really should be going now, I have a lot of bracer work to do.” It was kind of a lie, but kind of not. He had the diplomatic mission from the queen, which would take him back to Erebonia, but he would allow Tita to assume he was returning to Bose. He would face his predicament, but he wouldn’t tell anyone about it that didn’t need to know. He was certain he would die of embarrassment if Tita ever found out he was the actor behind ‘the passionate.’

Epilogue: In Which the Story/Chaos Reaches a Conclusion

It was the night of the concert and energy flowed through Heindallr. The city was crowded with people from all over Erebonia and beyond. Aside from Tita and Josette, Agate also happened to know that Schera, Aina, Analace and Carna would be in attendance. He just hoped that if they recognized him, they would have the sense and mercy to keep quiet about it. At least his ridiculous costume included a mask.

A knock on the door of Agate’s dressing room was followed by Oliver’s voiced asking, “Passionate! Are you ready?”

“No,” Agate opened the door, allowing Oliver to enter the dressing room. “This costume is ridiculous!” The pants were impossibly tight and had a cat tail, there was no shirt and the cat ears and bell collar were absurd.

“None of us have shirts, but don’t worry, it’s a warm night. Plus it all fits your theme, you’re the passionate, the one that inspires the ladies to cut loose and let out their inner passionate beast, rawr!” Oliver froze under Agate’s deadly glare. “You’re not going to punch me again, are you?”

“No, not right before the concert,” Agate decided to leave the possibility open for later, if only to motivate Oliver to behave.

Oliver, being Oliver, took it as encouragement and smiled brightly, though only for a moment, before his countenance became uncharacteristically somber. “If you really don’t want to do this, I have someone lined up to be your understudy. Joshua will get information, though I’m not sure how much I’ll have at my disposal. Mueller will get the opportunity to loosen up, which we all know he needs, but you… I realize I have little to offer that you actually want. I can offer money, but I have a feeling that you wouldn’t think of it as sufficient compensation.”

“Actually, I do expect you to pay Kloe back for every last Mira she spent fixing up your- our international incident. I also want to be kept informed about Ouroboros if they make any moves that might affect Liberl, and I want you to seriously start working towards maintaining the peace around here. From what little I’ve seen during my stay, there are bigger powers at hand, just make sure the scales don’t become too out of balance.”

“You noticed, I guess I should have known coming from a bracer of your caliber. There is unrest and the threat of something more brewing beneath the surface. There’s talk among the nobles, and the Chancellor’s been sneaking around. I don’t have all the pieces together yet, but I am starting to plan for it. I’ve decided to take your advice and start training people for what’s to come. I’ve even started looking for candidates to join a special class at one of our military academies, to create a neutral force within Erebonia if the need arises,” Oliver revealed.

“I also noticed that you’re not as dumb as you look, but you’re going to have to be careful, there’s still a lot of tension in Erebonia,” Agate cautioned.

Oliver recovered his cheerful attitude once again. “Don’t worry, you can count on-”

“Mueller, I know,” Agate interrupted. “He’s always there to clean up your messes, just try not to hinder him too much.”

“You can count on me too!” Oliver pouted. “You know, if you really want to help Mueller, when you go back to Liberl and report to the queen, you could take a moment to speak to Julia and encourage her to write to him,” Oliver winked.

“I don’t want to be involved in any more international incidents or any of your crazy schemes,” Agate reiterated.

“I’ll try to keep the international incidents to a minimum,” Oliver grinned. “So are we super close friends again?” Silence… “Friends? …Please?” More silence… “Pen pals?”

“I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to answer your letters every now and then,” Agate finally agreed. “Now let’s get this over with, it’s time to go on stage, and I’m warning you, my identity better not become public,” he picked up his orbal guitar.

“Don’t worry, our adoring fans will never know!” Oliver assured and followed Agate towards the stage.

They met up with the other band members just outside the dressing room. Estelle had been playing the role of Joshua’s personal bodyguard and walked him to the stage along with the band’s official bodyguard, a very tall bearded man resembling a bear. The concert was a big success and the large crowd of mostly ladies cheered loudly for the band. Agate even managed to spot a few people he knew in the crowd, but fortunately no one seemed to recognize him. The fewer people that knew about this the better. Overall, the festivities helped brighten the mood in Erebonia and calm the tensions, at least for the time being.

After the concert, the band members retired to Valflame to get some much needed rest. “It’s finally over,” Agate breathed.

“All too soon,” Oliver sighed. Estelle and Mueller glared at him while Joshua shook his head hopelessly.

“Well, since it’s over…” the tall bodyguard that had accompanied them spoke.

“Ah yes, you may retire as well my good man,” Oliver nodded.

“Good, because it’s a warm night and I was getting tired of wearing this.” The tall man removed his beard and wig, revealing familiar features.

There was a chorus of “Zane!” As the tall easterner let out a boisterous laugh. Despite being taller than most people, he was a master of the art of hiding in plain sight.

End

I hope you enjoyed the story. As you might have noticed, it takes place after Trails in the Sky 2 and before Trails of Cold Steel. At this point I’ve played Trails in the Sky 1 and 2, Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, and I’m playing Trails in the Sky 3, but I’m no where near finished. Though the story is mainly based on Trails in the Sky, it has a lot of references to Trails of Cold Steel. It also has a small reference to Final Fantasy IV’s spoony bard, Beryl from Tales of Hearts R and Legos (not the movies, the bricks).

The concept of this story came because I’m playing Trails in the Sky 3 and though I haven’t run into him yet, there are hints that I’ll be finding Agate sometime soon. There are also those rumors going around that Agate might be in Trails of Cold Steel 3, but unfortunately I won’t be playing that one, since it’s not set to be released on the Vita, my favorite system. The point is that I had Trails in the Sky and Agate on my mind when I was out shopping for sweet perfume and kawaii stickers (I’ll post pics at Deviant Art). I was driving when an old boy band song came on the radio and the thoughts just mixed together. Agate would never join a boy band, but Oliver totally would, and he might drag some of the others along with him.

Network: http://azurelight.net
Deviant Art: http://mikaristar.deviantart.com

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