Arcana X: 3rd Assignment – Cruelty and the Beast Chapter 1 Pt.4

For the preceding chapter, click here for Arcana X: 3rd Assignment Chapter 1 Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3!!

Two years ago, Ecks had just returned from completing an assignment in the Kallus Region. He had found an Arcana Relic in the Valtous Mountains and turned it into the White Sage. He was on his way back to his chambers when he heard someone crying. Following the crying to an empty hallway towards the west wing, he finds a young blonde girl huddled on the floor against the wall. She didn’t look like a chambermaid or any of the other female knights. Perhaps she was a merchant girl who got lost. Not wanting to leave her, Ecks approaches the blonde girl.

“Hey, you alright?” he asks.

She doesn’t respond.

“Did you get lost or something?”

Again, the girl only replies with more sobbing.

Ecks scratches his head. What should he do next? He thought about getting one of the chambermaids or another female who can help but most of them are in the main foyer and east wing. He tries again. Ecks casually sits down next to her. Then he leans close to her. “You know, it’s rude to not answer someone when they are talking to you,” he says. The girl says something but Ecks is not able to make it out. “Didn’t quite catch that. Kinda hard to hear with your face buried in your chest,” he says casually.

The girl lifts her head enough to peer at him. “I said please leave me alone,” she repeated herself.

“Finally, she speaks,” said Ecks.

“Look, I just want to be alone right now, ok?” the blonde girl says to him.

“Alone? Now why would anyone want that?”

The girl throws a piercing gaze at Ecks. “What do you want?”

“Eh, nothing much. Just to talk,” Ecks replied casually.

“And why would you want to talk to me?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

The girl scoffs. “If you knew about me, you would get up and leave.”

“Oh yeah. Now why would I do that?” Ecks pauses a moment in mock thought. “Ah! It’s because you’re Captain Ashcroft’s baby sister, right?” he says.

“Hmph, go ahead. Make fun. Everyone else does,” she shot at Ecks.

“Hang on there. I’m not pushing any buttons,” Ecks says with a smile, raising a hand. “I’m just trying to have a friendly conversation. Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

The girl looks at him. She doesn’t know why but there is something about the young knight that seemingly puts her at ease. She doesn’t feel the maliciousness she felt from her peers nor has he shied away from her knowing who she is like everyone else. She smiles back at him for the first time and says, “No, I suppose not.”

“There. We got through step one,” Ecks says nonchalantly, getting a brighter smile from the blonde girl. “Now on to step two.”

“Which is?”

“I’m gonna need a name. I’m pretty sure it’s something other than ‘Captain Ashcroft’s baby sister.’”

The young blonde laughs. “It’s Wilhelmina,” she says.

“Wilhelmina?” Ecks says, twisting his nose in mock disgust. “Well, I’m not using that. How about…” He pauses for a moment in thought.

“Willow,” she says. Ecks looks at her. “I was never too keen on my name. My mother wanted ‘Wilhelmina’, but my father shortened it to ‘Willow.’”

“Willow, eh? It’s a lot better than Wilhelmina. Sounds like someone’s grandma.”

“Uh, it is my grandmother’s name,” Wilhelmina tells him.

“Oh, sorry about that,” Ecks said, rubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish grin.

“No, it’s fine,” Willow laughed.

Ecks looks at her for moment. Willow is cute, he admits. She looks even better with a smile. He keeps this thought to himself, however. And responds with his usual banter. “See, isn’t this a lot better than sulking?”

Willow replies with a nod. “Thank you.”

“No biggie. You just look like you needed someone to talk to,” says Ecks. Then he stands up. “Now that that is out of the way, how about we do this properly?” he adds. He holds a hand and helps Willow up.

Willow straightens out her skirt a bit. Looking at Ecks, she finds him to be quite handsome. “You know, you’re not so bad like everyone says you are, Lieutenant Ecks.”

“Yeah well, I try—wait a sec,” Ecks started to say before taking notice of what Willow said. “You knew who I was.”

“A brash, young knight with spiky blonde hair and a grey coat,” says Willow. “I heard some things about you, not a lot of them are good.”

“Hm, cat’s outta the bag, I guess.”

“But just meeting you, I see that you do have a caring heart and…you’re kind.”

“Thanks, I guess,” replies Ecks. “You know Willow, I try to keep to myself, but I have noticed how everyone else treats you. And you’re having a hard time finding a partner. That’s why I found you sitting here, isn’t it?”

Willow drops her smile and looks away. The sadness returns to her face. “I’m tired of being treated different because my sister is a Captain. I just wish someone would talk to ‘me’, not ‘Captain Ashcroft’s sister.’”

“Well, I talked you,” Ecks said. Willow looks at him. “I don’t care about you being Captain Ashcroft’s sister even though I’m her Second Lieutenant. People shouldn’t expect you to be like your sister. She’s herself. You’re you. It’s a shame that other people don’t want to see that.”

“Hmm, you’re the first person to say something that makes sense,” Willow said with a half-smile. “I love my sister. I do. And I’m glad she became a Captain but at the same time, it’s frustrating. Everywhere I go, I don’t understand why almost everyone sees her through me. Sometimes I just feel like yelling ‘I’m right here. Look at me,’” she tells Ecks. “It’s just so frustrating. Constantly being under someone’s shadow with no way out. Sometimes…I wish she never became captain. Then maybe everyone wouldn’t be so afraid of me because they’re afraid of my sister.”

“Well that just sucks out loud. That’s the reason the other Lieutenants won’t partner with you. Lame,” Ecks commented with a huff. “I bet none of those people bothered to ask your name, did they?” Willow shakes her head. Not once has anyone asked about her name even though they knew it. “I see. Well then, how about you partner with me?” Ecks suggested.

“Partner with you?” Willow said unsurely.

“Yeah. You’re looking for a partner and I’m not busy. So, whaddya say?”

Willow scoffs with contempt. “You sure you wanna partner up with Captain Beatrice Ashcroft’s little sister?”

“Nope,” said Ecks. “I wanna partner up with Wilhelmina Ashcroft. By the way, consider this the only time I will say that name.”

Willow smiles and laughs. “Deal.”

“Alrighty then. Welcome aboard, partner,” Ecks said with a bright grin, extending his hand.

“Glad to be on board, partner,” Willow replied, shaking Ecks’ hand.