The soldiers of the Harman army were no strangers to rough tongues; yet even a few among their seemingly impenetrable ranks wore incredulous expressions behind their concealing armored faceplates at the cacophony their newest prisoners raised -- the woman, much to their surprise, in particular. They were under strict orders not to cause the unruly mages bodily harm, or rather, to use as little physical force as possible, but it was hard to resist striking out to stop that horrendous screeching. Granted, she could hardly be blamed... it must have been a difficult prospect, the thought of being among the first scapegoats of the Avito empire, sacrificed to ensure the peaceful submission of others.
The more heartless among the military company smirked at the prospect.
They were thrown unceremoniously into a holding cell that had clearly been vacant for some time; clearly, the rumors concerning the unprecendented peace and stability of the Avito Empire were indeed based on some kernel of truth, if the prison of a respectably sized town such as this was so bare of vagrants.
Akasha charged immediately for the bars, gripping them with white knuckles, her furious voice echoing down the halls as the majority of their captors retreated with almost amusing haste. The few left behind to guard them looked none to pleased at the task, but there would be no sympathy on her part for these filthy invaders, however pathetic their gazes. Eventually, however, she ran dry of insults, settling into a sullen silence instead, much to their guards' relief.
"This is all your fault, you know," She shot at Arturo, who stood with a pondering expression on his features, leaning against the wall as though there were absolutely no need for concern at all. "Are you even listening? Hello?" Akasha waved a hand in front of his face, frowning in obvious irritation.
"Yeah, yeah..." He shrugged the imposing limb from his field of vision, continuing in a mild tone, "Don't worry about it so much. We've been in worse situations!"
"When?!" Akasha exclaimed incredulously, folding her arms across her chest.
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Angel and those other guys are still out there," Arturo reminded her, grinning. "You know Angel, she's just a modest white mage until someone makes her angry -- she'll get us outta here."
"Sure, let's just discuss this right here with our guards right outside listening to us!" Akasha hissed, aiming a kick toward the lower regions of his right leg. "How about a description next? Draw them a picture? Idiot!"
"Hey!" Arturo exclaimed indignantly, backing away slightly. "That hurts, you know..."
"Oh, please, cry me a river."
Quite some time passed in this manner, the guards exchanging harried glances at the constant banter, occassionally threatening the mages with reprucussions if their annoying conversation continued, though needless to say these threats hardly impeded the talk for long. As such, their captors were more than happy to hear the noise of footfalls approaching the prison after awhile, undoubtedly hoping their shift was up.
Unfortunately for them, that wasn't quite the case -- the soldiers who approached flanked on either side a rather recognizable figure: that goggle wearing character who apparently presided over this township as Mayor. Akasha raised a brow as she recognized him, wondering what on earth he was up to, presenting himself to convicted traitors.
"Thank you," He spoke in a dismissive tone, a severe look on his face. "You may go."
The guards who had accompanied him nodded once sharply in understanding, complying with only the faintest hint of hesitation. The cell guards remained, surveying the situation curiously.
"You too," the mayor insisted, looking at them purposefully. The guards exchanged glances, one of them speaking up in a confused tone.
"Sir, we really must insist--"
"Do you wish to make trouble with me?" came the unexpected inquiry, a knotted brow indicative of the mayor's increasingly foul disposition. "A dissaproving note on my behalf to the Empress, perhaps, should carry to your superiors quickly."
"No, sir!" The defeated man spoke up hastily. "...Uh... caution, then, sir, as the mages still have their magic..." He bowed clumsily in his armor, following his companion at a brisk pace from the room.
The mayor smiled. At least some aspects of the Harman army were predictable -- military beuacracy certainly had its benefits, at least when dealing with the soldiers on the lower rungs of the theoretical ladder. Though even he was somewhat surprised at their foolish audacity, to employ mere footsoldiers with the task of guarding their first unfortunate victims. Yes, he was seeing a few valuable chinks in their so called unstoppable force already -- a good sign.
"Mayor Winsael," Akasha greeted him cautiously, her sharp memory recalling the name spoken from that hateful false empress's mouth.
"I am going to make this quick, and I suggest you cooperate," the mayor began in a hurried, yet no less severe manner. "Explain the accusations you made today -- concisely."
"Are you blind?" Akasha spoke heatedly, indignation plain in her expression. She took a breath as to continue down this less than respectful route of reply, only to be halted by a hand on her shoulder as Arturo pushed her aside.
"It's like this," He began, hoping what limited knowledge they had might afford them some aid from this clearly ill at ease figure. "That woman that spoke today was not the Empress. First of all, the Empress of Avito is well known to have adored the Emperor... would she just stand meekly aside and welcome his murderers?"
"Of course not!" Akasha exclaimed furiously, though she knew the question wasn't directed at her. "And secondly, our Empress would have never pulled off that veil like that in public -- this many years and she pulls a stunt like that? It's a laughably poor hoax!"
"Right!" Arturo agreed with a grin, perhaps more jubilant than a condemned prisoner ought to have been. "Then, to top it off, we have some friends--"
"I wouldn't call them friends just yet..."
"Well, near enough, who said they saw our Empress's face, and that definitely wasn't her."
"...Intriguing," The mayor raised a brow at them, shifting his gaze between the two. "Need I point out the obvious contradiction -- the Empress never shows her face, yet you'd throw your lives away based on hearsay from someone who claims to have seen it? Tell me there is more evidence to support your claims." He obviously looked quite less than impressed.
"Nice one, Arturo..."
"Well, he seemed sincere enough about it."
"Look, if you honestly think that yellow bellied, lying, deceitful snake parading as our Empress out there is the real thing, I don't see why I should bother talking to you at all," Akasha snapped, crossing her arms and looking away in typical stubborn fashion.
"Don't be so quick to discount potential allies," the mayor snapped right back, rather perturbed at her attitude. "Or do you relish the thought of dying at the hands of the Harman people you so clearly detest?"
"How are you planning on helping us?" Arturo interceded quickly, attempting to diffuse the situation in the interests of their well being and possible escape.
"I don't have much time -- and I risked quite a lot to come here," he admitted, peering at them thoughtfully through the bars, "but I've an idea or two."
"So you believe us, then."
"I suspected it myself the moment the woman spoke of giving in -- your first point, I'm afraid, was the same glaring point that piqued my skepticism. The Emperor is dead; and the Empress's disposition as I understood it pointed not to surrender, but to war."
Akasha and Arturo nodded in wholehearted agreement, then leaned in expectantly to hear what Mayor Winsael had to say.
"Are you absolutely certain this is necessary?" Angel frowned, prodding a recently stolen suit of armor with an unhappy expression.
"Look, you want to save your friends, right?" Biggs sheathed his heavy broadsword with a grunt, eyeing his handiwork critically. Messier than it should have been, but carried out quietly enough to give them some time.
The fact of the matter was that at this point the town was all but crawling with Harman vermin, poking their way into everyone's business, observing even the most harmless child with an air of condescension, and constant, stifling suspicion. Probably due in large part to Akasha and Arturo's previous outburst; what had those two been thinking?
Angel, not one to miss an opportunity, had hatched this rather simple plan, though it was not without its obvious dangers -- and now that they had begun it, ironically, she seemed the most hesitant to follow through. Understandable, since it was she who would be in the most danger even if everything went smoothly, a facet of their plot that didn't quite sit well with him. There was little to be done about it now; the unconscious guard crumpled in a heap between them -- a young chap, unfortunate to have wandered from his comrades -- would be missed eventually, and the likelihood of them being discovered even before then was high given the sheer number of troops patrolling the area.
"Of course I do," Angel sighed, wrinkling her noise with distaste. "Fine, let's get one with it, then."
"Help me out with this, will you?" Biggs queried, moving quickly to remove the hapless man's armor -- it would be a tight fit, but it would have to do. They were fast running out of options. Angel moved obediently to aid him with the various straps and buckles that comprised a convincing Harman soldier disgiuse, and before long he stood before her, completely outfitted in that garb.
"Comfortable," Angel inquired, only half-teasing.
"...No, but there's nothing I can do about that, is there?" He replied gruffly. "Now come on, let's get going."
Angel nodded, and they began their ruse -- Biggs taking a dominating stance, Angel struggling weakly, though still surprisingly convincing -- as though they were captive and captor, approaching the prison as though they had every right to do so. Confidence was key in maneuvers like this, was it not?
Sweat rolled down his brow, induced not only by the incredible stress his current position afforded, but also by the stifling heat inside this metal casing.
He turned down offers of help from additional unsuspecting guards on his way, choosing paths less populated by patrols to minimize his interaction with them as much as possible, assuring each one that he could handle one unruly white mage. They seemed to agree, neglecting to press the matter further, likely anxious to get back to their regularly assigned duty anyway.
The prison loomed ahead, and Biggs took a breath to calm his nerves -- this would be the most difficult part of this little plot. A soft sound, barely discernable, probably only audible due the adrenaline coursing through him, heightening his senses -- the sound of footfalls at their backs. Both he and Angel turned as one, and his blood froze in his veins as he realized shortly what was about to happen.
"Don't--!" Angel all but shrieked at his side, but it was a bit too late for that.
Barta stood facing them, his features a mask of distaste and anger, his crossbow pointed squarely at Biggs. If there was one thing the archer prided himself on, it was for being an excellent shot; his crossbow fired even has Angel's voice rang out, prompting a hint of confusion even as the bolt sailed toward its target. Why would she speak out in behalf of her captor?
The bolt hit its mark with admirable accuracy, punching through a chink in the Harman suit of armor -- which didn't seem to fit its wearer properly, on second glance, making the shot that much easier. Barta was satisfied to hear a surprised grunt from the foe, who staggered back; he was already loading another shot when Angel threw herself across the stricken guard, eyes wide with some emotion he couldn't quite place.
"Angel, what are you--"
"Idiot!" she hissed in reply, and Barta watched in surprise as she knelt over the fallen Harman soldier, yanking the bolt from its resting place, and chanting some ancient rite with unmistakable intent. Barta lowered his crossbow, approaching cautiously.
A flash of light, and shudder from the white mage, whose had brought her staff up to bear to aid in channeling her magic -- the unmistakable sight of healing magic sinking itself into the wounded man before her.
"You're going to ruin our whole plan," She wailed lamentably, casting a rather nasty glare in his direction, and Barta paled somewhat as she flipped up her so-called captor's face mask, shocked.
"You shot me!" Biggs declared, sounding both furious and astounded.
"Can you get up?" Angel fussed over him, looking about with a furtive gaze. "Someone is going to see this -- hurry up!"
"He shot me," Biggs again marvelled, though he managed to drag himself up as he said it. "Barta, you bastard -- that hurt!"
"How was I supposed to know--"
"Shut up!" Angel hissed. "It's a wonder we haven't been caught already!"
Barta stared from Biggs to Angel incredulously, realizing what their plan had been already -- he hadn't exactly expected them to move so quickly.
And he'd have to apologize to Biggs later, he supposed. For now, there was simply no time to waste.
Note: I sure do hope Cid is allowed to play a role. *looks about with trepidation*
"Elzie is delightfully neurotic." - Rimmer