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Final Fantasy Society Forums  >  Community Discussion  >  Creative Writing and Art

FFVI: Rags to Riches - 14 short stories

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 08.31.2011 6:40am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

All your fanfic forum belongs to me! Might as well post something here, soooo... Rags to Bitches, yo! Or at least, I would if I could post more than a couple thousand words! I'll have to post one story a day to keep the posts separate.
<p align="center"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Gau~</span>


A cloud of dust.

A glint of metal.

A piece of meat.

A blurred vision of rags and animal hides snaps up the dangling bait from the startled travelers before they even have time to realize what happened.

Good start. I eat good today.

The three chocobo riders, likely out on a morning hunt, are long gone before the dust settles and the lithe form of a human boy jumps to the ground from the lobo he was riding, now dead. He plops himself down on the ground and crosses his legs, eager to dig into his breakfast.

The Wild Child of the Veldt has struck again.

It&rsquo;s considered good luck by hunters to encounter the boy dressed as a beast, a sure sign that the beasts are biting that day. These hunters were after bigger game than a mere lobo, but offered their dried meat to the Wild Child all the same. It would be terribly bad manners not to, after all. This is the protector spirit of the plains(or so the tale goes), and to please him is to please the beasts he rides.

This simple boy knows nothing of the legends that surround him. He only knows the result: free food. He is not a stupid child, as all who meet him up close will attest to with a dreamy sort of confidence only a folk legend and a round of ale can inspire.

"...I saw him! His eyes shine with intelligence and his riding skills as good as yours or mine..."

"...Believe me, he may be smarter than the lot of you. He&rsquo;ll never go hungry, that&rsquo;s for sure!..."

"...I&rsquo;ll wager my chocobo that he&rsquo;s out there right now, laughing at us for thinking he&rsquo;s just a witless child that needs fed. Someone needs to tame that tornado and teach him some manners, hahahaha..."

And so on. The men regale themselves with their experiences, some true, some not. The Wild Child cares not.

Need find more friends. Good doggy, you sleep now.

Upon finishing his meal, the boy looks over his steed. Only a temporary one, but his fondness for all the beasts on the plain is the same. He cares for them as they cared for him these thirteen years. He doesn&rsquo;t know why he&rsquo;s here, or where he came from, but he doesn&rsquo;t dwell on such difficult thoughts. The animals took him in as one of their own, and he has learned their ways with uncanny ease.

Still, the boy has moments where he yearns for his people. He pets his poor friend killed in the hunt, a strange, but calm, look in his eyes. It is not sadness or anger, but the simple acceptance of life and death that can only come from living in the harshness of the wild. He will see many more deaths like this before the day runs out.

Without looking back, he leaps up and wanders towards the small bundle of houses near the eastern borders of the land he calls home.

Mobliz it is called, and Gau knows this. He knows many things from the men who come out to hunt every day. Gau has never entered the small village. He&rsquo;s far too afraid. All his life his wild family has shunned the place, and he has mimicked their behavior all too well. Whatever that place is, it&rsquo;s not for him.

But oh how he would like just a peek inside those walls. To see the creatures that look so much like him and whose cries sound so much like his own.

Is dangerous, Gau knows. But is Gau&rsquo;s kind...and I so alone...

Many hours past before the forgotten child turns his head away from the enticing sounds and sights of the village. Someday he will join them. But not today.

He leaps away, the scent of a new ride tickling his senses. A huge tusker gallops by him and pays no heed to the familiar sight of the human dressed in rags. He is one of them, and shows it by galloping right along side the tusker for a few paces, then leaping up and around the broad hairy shoulders of the bear-like mammoth. He grabs onto its back like a seasoned chocobo rider and hangs on, whooping with delight. How far the great creature will take him is up to the whims of the day.

Soon the tusker is joined by a trio of cirpius birds that circle it, waiting to feed. They twill and chirp and Gau twills and chirps. The tusker bellows a welcome to its feathery little companions, and Gau bellows his welcome, too. Anyone hearing the commotion would think there were twice as many of these animals raging across the plains.

And so the Wild Child leaps and rages, leaps and rages. He leads a carefree life only dreamt of by his more "civilized" brethren. They look at the free-willed child with a sense of awe and longing to join him. Of course the poor creature does not realize this, and is always hoping to join his kind and find a meaning to his life that the Veldt has not afforded him.

Does he understand that this is what he looks for? No. His mind, as sharp as it is, is still trapped in the world of beasts. All he knows is the longing in the pit of his stomach for something. Something...more.

Gau tired now. Gau go home. Good night Veldt! Good night Mobliz! Good night beasties!

The weary boy makes his way to the small cave he calls home as the sun sinks below the horizon. It is a pleasant place, full of the whooshing of strong water. The rushing water scares Gau, and always has, but it also calls out to him from the deepest reaches of his subconscious. A lingering memory of dread and fear in the back of his mind itches whenever he gets too close to the cliffs, but he knows he is safe in his cave at night. He wants so badly to be one with his own kind, yet an instinctual fear keeps him hidden from them while he sleeps. He will rest now, and start the next day anew, his hopes and dreams borne once again without a flicker lost to the night.

The child, so young and innocent, curls up in a ball and cradles his one possession, his one keepsake of the people he has been separated from. It is his treasure, his "shiny".

He sticks his thumb in his mouth and falls asleep like a newborn baby, the falling waters lulling him into a deep, peaceful trance. Good night, Gau.

 Jump to Post

 08.31.2011 8:53pm

Eu sunt Dracul

And I'll follow up with comments from the other dimension - and I'll touch on the ones I haven't reviewed yet.

I really like the innocence of this passage - it puts another dimension on Gau that you really don't get to experience in the game. I like how he longs to belong - he wants to join the people of Mobliz; and there is a sadness in his isolation - but through it all, he seems to maintain a positive outlook. Well written, and an interesting look inside one of the lesser-developed characters.

Now, as I look back I see the crooked path that I had been set upon all those years before, leading me inexorably to this moment. I can still see her face in my mind's eye, poor dear Laura, such a sad tale is ours. A tale of heroes who strove to save humanity only to lose our own.

 Jump to Post

 09.01.2011 5:35am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

Glad to see you dedicated to my stories! I'll be eager to see your thoughts on these older stories, too.

<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Mog and Umaro~</span>



"Good morning."

Deep in the caverns of the coal-mining city of Narshe a moogle is waking up from another long, unpleasant sleep. He is not happy.


"Yes, yes, kupo to you too."

The moogle rubs his eyes with his stubby paws and flexes his wings. The other moogles are already up and wandering about the caves looking for food. Mog is always the last to rise, his dreams keeping him from ever having a good night&rsquo;s sleep.


"Shut up."

This particular moogle is lucky enough to be able to speak the human tongue, although he would say it&rsquo;s a curse to be able to speak and have no one to talk with. As the leader of his clan, he has inherited the responsibility of receiving messages from the Thunder God, Ramuh, in his dreams. And despite his highest hopes, they are almost always the same.

Stay away from humans.

Keep out of sight of the miners.

Never venture from the caves.

Be mindful of the guardian of the caves.

That last one really irks Mog.

" &lsquo;Be mindful of the guardian of the caves&rsquo; he says," Mog grumbles to himself as he gets up off the straw bed he had tossed and turned in the night before. It&rsquo;s the same routine every morning, with the same messages echoing in his mind. What an annoying old man.

"What kinda guardian is the big lug anyways? I&rsquo;m the one who does all the guarding around here! That stupid sasquatch&rsquo;s just a spoiled baby..." Mog sighs as he scratches his backside and lets out a terrific yawn. To a human ear the yawn sounds like a high-pitched yelp, and the voice that of a child.

Mog reaches into a hole in the wall and pulls out a small hand-carved pendant made of mythril with a fat jewel stuck in the center. It&rsquo;s an ugly little thing, carved by his ancestors, but it serves its purpose well. When worn, Mog can waltz through the caves as he pleases without worrying about being detected by anyone or anything. Those poisonous were-rats would love to get a bite of moogle flesh, he&rsquo;s sure. And the vaporites that cling to the walls and ceilings...Mog shudders at the thought of them wrapping their wispy tentacles around him. Only the leader of the clan can wear this, and thus only the leader can leave the safety of the cavern the moogles call home. The others simply forage the immediate area while he has to go do the dirty work of keeping the mines safe from intruders. Lucky him.

"I&rsquo;d love to just sit around and dance all day like the rest of you guys, but nope. I&rsquo;m the head honcho and I gotta keep you brats in line. One of these days I won&rsquo;t be around anymore and then what, huh?"


Mog sighs, "Yeah, that&rsquo;s what I thought."

No doubt it is Mog&rsquo;s squeaky grumblings and mumblings as he wanders the caves that have spawned the stories of a ghost-child lost in the mines. Good for him and his people, since it keeps the annoying citizens of the city at the base of the mountains from sticking their noses in his business. The only thing more annoying than the so-called guardian of the caves are the humans who barge in and keep him up at all hours with their drilling and digging.

"And why shouldn&rsquo;t I leave, huh? I wanna get out of this dusty mine and see the world! I want to talk to someone who can say more than kupo!"

"Kupo!" A happy little moogle answers as he passes Mog on the way to the outer caves.

"KUPO KUPO KUPO ARGH!" Mog yells at the frightened little thing. He watches with a small amount of glee as the little one flutters off, terrified of his master&rsquo;s unexpected rebuke.

"You crazy old psycho. Why am I the one with this curse? Why can&rsquo;t I just dance around the caves like all the other moogles? Noooo, I have to have responsibilities."

Mog continues his gripes all the way to the back of the winding and branching caves where one more sleeper remains to be awakened. A loud snoring resounds off the walls, and an unmistakable stench greets Mog&rsquo;s nose. His big red bulb of a nose scrunches closed the moment he enters the ridiculous den of his hapless charge.

"Dammit, Umaro can&rsquo;t you at least try to bathe once and a while? And these trapdoors! I swear you reset them on purpose just to mess with me. Grah!" Mog stumbles onto one of the traps laid out around the den with obvious loving care. Umaro loves his pranks. Mog does not.

Mog lands on his feet, his wings keeping him from falling too hard or fast. The nasal foghorn is blaring louder than ever down here. Mog wonders how this lazy creature has escaped detection for so long when he and his kind have to work so hard to remain hidden. That&rsquo;s life, he supposes.


The snoring ceases and a loud yawn shakes the caves as a great white hairy mass jumps up from a pile of straw and bones. He eyes Mog like a dog to his master, a bashful look of reproach on his face . A strange sight considering the giant is the size of ten moogles.

"Don&rsquo;t give me that look!" Mog commands him without any fear.

"Ooh...sorry master." Umaro&rsquo;s deep resonant voice responds with groggy shame.

"Gah, get over here you. It&rsquo;s hard to be mad at the only thing around here that understands me. Although sometimes I wonder about that."

"Ooh! Ooh! Me understand master! Me smart!" The big brute thumps his pride-filled chest with a blue fist. A toothy grin breaks across his face, and Mog can&rsquo;t help but smile at how innocent the big galoot is.

"Yes, of course you are. Come along, then." Mog takes Umaro&rsquo;s hand and the absurd duo walks out of the den and back into the mines to watch over his people as they do what they do best: nothing. Poor, helpless fools. Harmless and big-hearted, but without him they&rsquo;d never survive. With him, they are a force to be reckoned with. He is the keystone of his people. He is Mog.

Despite all his complaining, Mog is content with his lot for the most part. Sure his own people can&rsquo;t understand him beyond the basic kupo babble he&rsquo;s grown to despise, and he&rsquo;s stuck baby-sitting a ten-foot toddler, but things could be worse. Mog&rsquo;s not sure how, but he&rsquo;s sure things could be worse. Things could always be worse. He could be alone.

You see, Mog may pretend to be annoyed by the lack of people to understand him and talk with him, but behind it all he loves his people. Heck, he even is rather fond of Umaro, bless his boulder of a heart. And yet, he longs to go out of the caves and speak to the rest of the world. The words of the Thunder God have been absolute since his distant ancestors, though, and not even Mog would dare go against them. He is a God, after all.

Still, every night he crawls back into his bed of straw after tucking Umaro in and he hopes for a future where he doesn&rsquo;t have to hide. To be alone even when surrounded by one&rsquo;s own kind can be a depressing existence, but it is the one he was born into, and he would give his life to protect his people, although Mog would never admit that.

So he grumbles and pleads to the Thunder God every night before going to sleep. Every night he waits for the voice of thunder and rain that will grant him escape from the monotony once and for all. He waits, and he dreams, and he hopes.

Protect your people, Mog.

 Jump to Post

 09.01.2011 11:04pm


Sorry to spam this up, but I keep reading the thread title as "Rags to Bitches" and thinking Thugnificent has started writing FFVI-inspired raps.

 Jump to Post

 09.02.2011 2:56am

The King's orders are absolute

I think I've read the Gau one at least back when you initially posted it so long ago. It seemed a little familiar to me. I liked the Gau one just a little more than the Mog and Umaro one, but they were both enjoyable to read.

Let's Play Chrono Trigger
Let's Play The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past
Let's Play Final Fantasy VI

 Jump to Post

 09.02.2011 5:49am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

<span style="font-size: 11px; color: #959595;"><a href="/forums/profile/52">Onyx</a> said:</span>

Sorry to spam this up, but I keep reading the thread title as "Rags to Bitches" and thinking Thugnificent has started writing FFVI-inspired raps.

Hah, I actually played off that pun in my first post. Don't worry, there are no booty buttcheeks in this thread.

And Fenix, I've since started writing this again on the other forum, and have added Setzer, Strago and Relm, and Cyan to the ones from so long ago. I'll be adding another one shortly, too. If you liked it way back when, now's a good chance to catch up on what I've done since then. And read Sands of Time! It's done too! (well, the first book)

<p align="center"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Shadow~</span>


"Pay up."

Two men sit at a table in a small room, the only light a pre-dawn haze filtering in through one lone window. One man is shaking from head to toe, his shadow quivering against the western wall. He wears the fine robes and gaudy jewels of the Jidoor upper class. The second man is dressed in nothing but black and does not move at all. He casts no shadow, for he is the night itself.

"B-but your;s outrageous! I&rsquo;ll never--"

A small knife flies across the room, nicking the man&rsquo;s cheek as it passes him by and embeds itself in the wall. A thin rivulet of blood trickles down his face, followed by a single tear.

He never moved. I&rsquo;m a dead man for sure.

"If you could not pay my price, then you should not have asked of my blade," the man dressed in black states in cold dead tones. The only emotion in his voice is one of impatience.

The quivering man cringes at the quiet voice like a dagger wrapped in silk. He has not looked into his hired assassin&rsquo;s eyes once since making the deal the evening before, but he ventures a pleading glance now, to his great folly. One does not ask a man such as this for mercy. To look into the eyes of a ninja is to see the face of death.

He stares at the ninja, his will subjugated totally by the piercing blue gaze. Now both men are still as stone. One second...



The deal is done. A pale hand reaches across the table and pushes the sweat-stained pouch of gil in front of the dark man. He does not take it, and remains as still as the stale air around him. The terrified man resumes his shaking, his head now turned towards the door, away from those eyes. His spirit has been obliterated in the span of three seconds. There was a lifetime in those three precious seconds he will never have back. In time he will realize that those three seconds were the real price he paid for the blood that was spilled the previous night. For now, his only thought is escape from this nightmare with his life.

Seeming satisfied, the ninja unsheathes his silken dagger once more.

"You may go," is all he says.

It is more than enough for the man. He tries to get up, staggers against the table, then bolts for the door as if on fire. It is the last time he will ever enter that room of dark dealings, the last time he ever asks for such services. The price was much too high.

I&rsquo;ve sold my soul to the devil. God help me, never again. Never again...

The prices was just right for Shadow, however. With shameless grace he plucks the pouch from the table and stashes it in his gi.

"A brigand&rsquo;s pay," he snorts with contempt. He lets out a sharp whistle and a large dog bounds in through the open door. Unlike his previous guest, the dog canters up to him without fear, nuzzling his open hand. Shadow muses for a moment as the growing sunlight fills the room.

That sniveling coward will live the rest of his life atoning for his greed with acts of charity. This town will prosper because of his guilt, and all it cost was the worthless life of a thief. I&rsquo;ve killed two birds with one stone tonight. Clyde you are a clever one.

"Come Interceptor. We have a long day ahead of us."

The ninja rises to leave, and his dog follows. On the way out, he casually pulls his throwing knife from the wall and shuts the door behind him. He will return here many times and make many similar deals before his own time of atonement finally comes. Every town has a place like this, a den of corruption and greed where those who wish it can find easy solutions to their petty problems. The solutions are never quite so easy and the problems such people leave with are almost always greater than the ones they come in with. No one knows this better than Shadow, who loses a piece of himself every time he enters these places as well.

For now, he has appeased his own demons as best as he knows how, and will leave this room and this town behind. No one knows where he goes when he leaves, not even Shadow himself, but they find him all the same. When the need arises for the simple justice of his blade, he will be there waiting for them as surely as the sun sets.

Without so much as a grunt from the guards at the entrance to the city, Shadow makes his way out of Jidoor unseen and unheard. Interceptor follows his steps with equal stealth. The two have logged many hundreds of leagues together, and will journey many more before the end. Shadow has no friends, no family, no master, and no servants. Interceptor is simply his companion, following him like the conscience his broken soul refuses to admit he has. Shadow never asks for this beast&rsquo;s company, and also never refuses it. They are together, and yet are each separate as two leaves floating side by side down a river.

Before long the two slip off the trail north and into the woods to hide, Interceptor&rsquo;s nose picking up travelers in the opposite direction. Shadow never stops where he can be seen, and is never seen unless he chooses to be. At the moment a group of bandits from the thief-town of Zozo is on its way towards Jidoor, most likely on another raid for food and goods. There will be violence, and probably a murder or two. Shadow knows this, and he will do nothing to stop them. It is not his way to interfere in the business of others. Unless he is paid to, of course...

The bandits rush through the woods, some passing within inches of where Shadow sits with perfect calm and poise. None see him, but they all feel the presence of his eyes on the back of their heads. How easily he could dispatch all five of them. All dead before they even hit the ground if he chose to be merciful. He knows what they are planning to do, and he is not even tempted to stop them, even though it would cost him only the smallest effort. Temptation and compassion were flaws the assassin worked out of his system many long years ago. He has no room for such weaknesses in his way of life. Let them pass, let their own deeds come back to haunt them in their own way. Life is a wheel, and Shadow is fully aware of how efficiently it turns without his help.

The bandits gone, Shadow descends from the trees above and continues on his way to the next town and his next job, his next attempt to save his wretched soul. Interceptor follows.

The only thing left in his world is the impossible burden he carries and the hopeless effort to escape it. The shame of his own cowardice haunts his every step as he searches for atonement. He left the only friend he had ever known for death, because of fear. He sacrificed the only woman he ever loved, because of fear. He abandoned his own flesh and blood, because of fear. It is this fear he tries to escape now. All other fears are so much dust on the ashes of his long-dead emotions now. If he truly wishes to be free, he must atone the only way he knows how. Teach others the true meaning of fear, let them drown in their own cowardice like he has. Perhaps if he instills enough terror and guilt in others, he will someday know peace from his own. Perhaps.

With the sun halfway across the sky, Shadow enters the peaceful town of Kohlingen. Even here, amidst the quiet pines and sleepy fields, there is work for him. There is always work for men like him, because there is always corruption and greed in the hearts of the people. Shadow is like an expert surgeon in this regard; he knows just how to slice into the smooth, untainted flesh of a place and bring the vileness that lurks within to the surface. From there, he takes a little piece of its soul, hoping to regain a scrap of his own in return. Life is like a wheel, and Shadow is always hoping for redemption on the other side of its ever-turning judgment.

He must rest here before he goes any further, for he does not sleep at night. That is the time he works his particular trade, for that is the time when men are most comfortable showing their true faces. Shadow never shows his true face, day or night. His shame binds him and he hides his face not from the world, but from himself.

No one stops him or asks questions of him as he drops a handful of gold coins onto the desk in front of the innkeeper. He is tired and ignores the stares of fear and suspicion around him. Fear of him does no good to his battered spirit. Only fear of one&rsquo;s own weaknesses and failures is of any use to him. He will teach some of them the true meaning of fear tonight, of that there is no doubt. Everyone knows of the wandering assassin Shadow and his fearsome demon dog. They shun him now, but when the sun sets they will come to him with their real faces exposed. And then he will feast.

Shadow slips under the covers, his dog faithfully resting at the foot of the bed. He has no worries of being robbed or killed himself. No one would dare to even look in on him while he sleeps. They&rsquo;d be dead before they left the room if they did. Or so the stories go. Shadow never kills without being paid to do so, but most people overlook this little fact. He has no problem indulging in their fantasies, for it only makes his job easier and his victory all the more sweeter when the stink of their own mortality chokes them under his stare at the bargaining table.

Sleep does not come easily to Shadow. He may dream tonight, like he does every so often. His dreams are his penance for all his running away. His subconscious forces him to relive the painful past he tries so hard to get away from while he is awake. But there is no escape from these visions in the darkness of his own mind.

Baram! I won&rsquo;t do it. I won&rsquo;t take the knife. You&rsquo; alright here until help arrives. The wound isn&rsquo;t so bad, see? You&rsquo;ll live. I&rsquo;ll come back, I promise.

He ran away and never came back.

No! It wasn&rsquo;t me! I wouldn&rsquo;t kill my own wife! Why won&rsquo;t you trust me? I&rsquo;ll find who killed her and return to Thamasa innocent, I swear it.

He never found the murderer, and he never came back.

My sweet little girl. I will come back to you as soon as everything is put right. You will not grow up with a criminal for a father, I promise you.

He never cleared his name, and never returned for her.

No! Stay away from me! I&rsquo;m innocent...innocent...innocent...

Shadow shoots up from the bed, sleep lost to him once again because of the dreams. It will have to be enough. The sun is beginning to set, and it&rsquo;s time he got down to business. Interceptor stares at him with an odd look in his eyes, as if he is trying to remind Shadow of something.

"What do you want? Stop that. I know what I am, and so do you. Leave me in peace, dog!"

Interceptor shrugs his strong shoulders in indifference. He is simply there like a fact of life and will not stay or leave on command - like a shadow.

 Jump to Post

 09.03.2011 5:54am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

<p style="text-align: center;"> <span style="font-size: 24px;">~Sabin~</span>


"Wake up, lazy bones!"

Master Duncan&rsquo;s intense training regime was enough to make most aspiring martial artists run crying home, but not his two finest pupils. Perhaps this was due to their indomitable spirits, or perhaps it was due to the fact they already were home and had no where else to go.

"Awww, but Master the sun isn&rsquo;t even up yet...," a sleepy-eyed man whined from under the covers of his bed.

"What&rsquo;s the matter Sabin, did I beat you too badly yesterday?" a second voice jeered from a large dark-skinned man already wide-awake and standing dressed at the foot of his bed. "C&rsquo;mon, I&rsquo;ll race you to the training grounds!" The dark-skinned man was out the door before the sleeper could even reply.

"Vargas wait up!"

A mountain of muscle tumbled out of bed and within half a moment was fully dressed and hot on the heels of his training partner and rival. An old man with a long flowing beard sat in the corner and stifled a laugh. Nothing like friendly competition to hone the fighting spirit. Duncan was pleased with his students for taking initiative and doing his job for him. Now if he could just rid Sabin of that nasty habit of sleeping in. Hopefully his son&rsquo;s example will eventually infect the young would-be prince. With an agile leap, Master Duncan was on his feet and following his star pupils to the forbidding Mt. Kolts, birthplace of his own fighting style - the blitz.

High atop Mt. Kolts in the center of a sunny bowl-shaped crater the dark-skinned man impatiently waits for his rival. He went easy on Sabin yesterday, and he plans on not pulling any punches today. The princeling needs to be trained right, and his fool of a father seems too afraid of injuring his royal highness to do it himself. Sabin has much potential, but years of being pampered by his servants in Figaro Castle have left him weak-minded and oblivious to his true talents. Vargas would awaken those talents even if his own father would not. A little blood-letting here and there was all part of the game. He would show his father he had what it takes to carry the secrets of the blitz to the next generation.

Sabin came huffing and wheezing to the pit where Vargas waited. He was greeted by a swift kick to the face that sent him sprawling back several feet. The astonished man wiped the blood from his split lip and answered with a cry of indignation.

"What was that for, Vargas? I&rsquo;ve barely healed from the injuries you gave me yesterday!"

Vargas sneered, but helped his training partner up as he said, "You&rsquo;ll never understand the nature of the blitz if you can&rsquo;t even anticipate my attacks, Sabin. You&rsquo;ve come a long way from your days as a scrawny teenager, but you&rsquo;re still as much a naive idealist as ever. Don&rsquo;t trust me just because I&rsquo;m your friend. You can only trust yourself in this world. Didn&rsquo;t you learn that from what happened to your father?"

This cut right to the bone for Sabin. His father, the king of Figaro, had been poisoned by the Empire, which had claimed to be on friendly terms with their kingdom. The unprovoked betrayal and lack of immediate action on his family&rsquo;s part shocked him to his core, and he ran away from that world of corruption for a purer lifestyle. The instant gratification and swift revenge of the well-placed fist naturally drew him east, over the mountains and into Duncan&rsquo;s hands. He was a lean but fit teenager at the time, but ten years under the tutelage of a world famous martial arist had turned him into a brawny bear of a man. He was still prone to emotional outbursts, and Vargas savored setting him off.

"Don&rsquo;t talk about my father like that, Vargas. He was a great man and his death a great injustice. I will avenge him someday, and I&rsquo;ll use what you and Master Duncan taught me to do it! Hyah!"

Sabin let fly a wave of punches, aimed low so as not to injure. Vargas easily evaded the first and second, barely parried the next three, and had the wind knocked out of him by the sixth.

Vargas had the edge in experience, being born and bred into the world of fighting, but Sabin had an innate talent for it, and his passion for the art had allowed him to rise in the ranks to be second only to Duncan&rsquo;s own son. That this stripling highborn could come so far so fast galled the man, but he said nothing. He let his fists do the talking for him most of the time.

Vargas quickly recovered from the attack and prepared his counterattack. He wouldn&rsquo;t be shown up today, not with his father watching.

"Lucky shot! Now try my Blizzard Fist!"

The dark-skinned man unleashed his own flurry of punches, each strike honed to deadly perfection. Sabin was still no match for Vargas&rsquo;s technique and soon he was on his knees, dazed but unhurt. Mostly. Vargas stood over Sabin and laughed, preparing to knock him to the ground.


Duncan&rsquo;s powerful voice echoed down from the lip of the crater. He sat perched on a crag of rock, and watched the spectacle below with a careful eye. Now it was time to take his son down a notch. Confidence was a valuable asset to a fighter, but too much of it and even the most powerful warriors became more dangerous to themselves than to their opponent. His son needed to learn this before his ego got out of control. The old man sighed and got up, then closed his eyes, stretched his arms out palms-forward, and breathed his own special mantra. A huge bolt of energy grew from his palms, and then with careful skill and practiced hands Duncan let the bolt loose and watched with pitiless eyes as it homed in on its target - his son.

The effect was immediate, and devastating. Vargas lit up like a candle as the force of his father&rsquo;s aura pushed him back against the cliff wall. He was out cold, but other than the bruises from the rock face, completely unharmed. The Aurabolt did not harm the physical body, only the spirit. And Vargas&rsquo;s overwhelming spirit could stand to take a few knocks now and then.

"There. You see Sabin? That&rsquo;s how it&rsquo;s done. That is the power of the blitz."

"Master...I&rsquo;m sorry, I&rsquo;m not strong enough yet. I&rsquo;m still as helpless as the day you took me in."

Duncan reached out and grabbed his pupil by the wrist and pulled him to his feet, smiling as he did. Yes, Sabin was a fine pupil, full of humility and grace and eager to learn. The years spent in the shadow of his twin brother must surely have influenced his demeanor. From what Sabin had told him of Edgar, it seemed the new king of Figaro could be every bit as arrogant and over-confident as his new brother-in-training. The heirs to great power usually were that way. It seemed the messy business of ruling and responsibility had siphoned some of that egotism out of Sabin&rsquo;s brother. Duncan only hoped when his son succeeded him as blitz master he would follow the king&rsquo;s lead and cool off a bit.

"Don&rsquo;t worry, Sabin. You&rsquo;re time will come soon enough. If you keep up your current level of training, you&rsquo;ll master my technique in a few more months. Here, let me show you how to really add some bang to those punches of yours..."

Vargas watched silently from where he lay, not quite as unconscious as he appeared. He seethed with contempt whenever he saw his father fawn over Sabin, while just pushing him out of sight. Sometimes it seemed the man cared more about that outsider than he did his own son.

Just look at that way he hovers over him, showing him his secrets! I&rsquo;ll not be ignored, father!

His own insecurity over his father&rsquo;s love fueled his rage and paranoia about being chosen to succeed him when he was gone. Over the years of Sabin&rsquo;s training Vargas had watched with increasing suspicion that, as impossible as it seemed, Sabin would be picked over him. Yes, impossible...but...

Stop it! I&rsquo;m his son, his only son. He can&rsquo;t deny me my right by blood! He can&rsquo;t, and he won&rsquo;t!

Sabin was oblivious to Vargas&rsquo;s internal struggles, and day in and day out focused only on making himself the perfect weapon of vengeance against the injustices that had killed his father. He trained not just to take his vengeance on the Empire, but to actively work against the corruption and pointless debate of politics as a whole. He hated the whole messy affair of ruling, and believed the only actions worth taking were the most direct ones with the most immediate results. When he had enough power to overcome the problems of the world through sheer brute force, he would return and show his brother what that power was really for - to be used. Not wasted in the endless red tape of political strategy, like Edgar believed. He would see the dream of a unified kingdom, and eventually the entire world at peace. He would make that dream come true, for his peace-loving father and for his kind-hearted Master.

He would be the hope of his people, taking action when his father and even his own brother would not. How he hated them for their cowardice. He loved them just as much, but as the time of his exodus from the castle came closer, the more he was prone to outbursts and heated debates that often left both him and his brother on the verge of tears. They had fought so much during those last few weeks after his father&rsquo;s death, and there had been so much love lost. Could he ever hope to rekindle those feelings? He must. Only the unified brothers could hope to achieve the dream of total peace. If he couldn&rsquo;t even save his relationship with his family, how could he save the world?

For now, he was beat. If Vargas pushed Sabin physically, Duncan pushed him even harder mentally and spiritually. He had come far today, but he still had much to learn before he could compare to Vargas&rsquo;s superb skills and dedication to the art. He would try harder tomorrow.

"I think that&rsquo;s enough training for today, Sabin. You&rsquo;ve done well learning the basic pummeling technique. I think you may even be able to give Vargas a few surprises tomorrow now that you have begun to understand the nature of the blitz. Speaking of which, it looks like my hard-headed son is beginning to recover from his own lesson for today. Shall we help him up?"

Duncan and Sabin shared a quiet laugh as they walked over to Vargas and offered him their hands with good-natured grins.

Fools! How dare you mock me! You&rsquo;ll pay for humiliating me. I&rsquo;ll...I&rsquo;ll...dammit Vargas get ahold of yourself. Control your anger. Use it, don&rsquo;t let it use you. Focus on being the best. You must try harder tomorrow.

"Thank you, Father. It seems I still have much to learn before my training is complete," Vargas said as calmly as he could.

"Not as much as you think, son. There is much you can only learn through experience, and you both still have your entire lives ahead of you. The world will teach you far more than I ever could if you keep your eyes open and your hearts pure. Remember that, you two."

Duncan spoke to both young men, but his eyes were only on his son. Yes, Vargas would need to open his own eyes and heart soon if he was intent on taking his place. He fought too many of his own demons, instead of focusing on what really mattered. If he could not be at peace with himself, he could never be at peace with the world and with nature, and never fully master the blitz.

The old man led his two pupils back to their hut at the base, reminding himself to keep pushing Vargas to understand what it meant to be a true leader. He would try harder tomorrow.

"It was a good day, wasn&rsquo;t it, brother?" Vargas asked Sabin as they ate their dinner. Master Duncan&rsquo;s students trained hard, and he made sure they ate just as much.

"Yes, I learned much, and it looks like you learned a rather painful lesson yourself. How do you feel?" Sabin replied in between large bites. Part of the secret to Sabin&rsquo;s amazing transformation from boy to bear was the hearty portions he ate every night. Duncan only allowed one meal a day, but Sabin definitely got his fill of it.

"Fine now. I learned a great deal today. A great deal, indeed. I&rsquo;ll see you tomorrow then," the dark-skinned man replied as he got up and left for bed. Vargas had barely touched his own meal.

Sweet dreams Sabin.

 Jump to Post

 09.04.2011 8:49pm
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

<p style="text-align: center;"> <span style="font-size: 24px;">~Locke~</span>


"Stop, thief!"

Locke didn&rsquo;t have time to argue with the man, as much as his pride demanded it. Now was not the time for semantic nonsense; he had a job to do. He hopped onto the nearest chocobo and was gone in a cloud of grass, dust and yellow feathers. The ranch hand only had time to wave his fist in anger before Locke was out of sight.

The Returner&rsquo;s hideout was still miles away, and he needed more speed than his legs alone could give him, as fast as they were. This rancher wouldn&rsquo;t miss one chocobo, and with some luck the creature would return to his home safe and sound in a few days.

How&rsquo;d I ever get myself stuck running errands for Banon and Edgar? I need to talk to one of them about a role more fitting for my talents. Delivering letters is no job for the world&rsquo;s greatest treasure hunter.

He had learned much in South Figaro that night, and with the first ray of light left the city walls with an urgent message for King Edgar across the mountains and desert sands far to the west. Figaro Castle was at least a day&rsquo;s ride on chocobo, and the mountain paths might prove dangerous without a guide. Lucky for Locke, there was someone waiting for him who knew the mountains very well. Whether he could trust this man or not was the real problem facing the tired traveler.

"I hate to have to resort to Lone Wolf&rsquo;s help," Locke mused as he wiped the sweat from his brow with his bandanna. "That man gives noble treasure hunters like me a bad name. If anyone&rsquo;s the thief, it&rsquo;s him. Still, I&rsquo;ve got bigger fish to fry today. Giddyup!"

Locke kicked the chocobo&rsquo;s sides and it sped up as it raced against the rising sun across the green plains of the Figaro countryside. The Figaro mountain range loomed in the distance, still dark and sunless. There were caves through it, but no chocobo would enter them, and he needed every ounce of speed he could muster. The King must be made aware that there is a traitor in his midst.

While King Edgar claimed to be on good terms with the Empire, he had always held a deep-seated hatred for them since their involvement in his father&rsquo;s death. He never missed a chance to make them look the fool while keeping that smile on his face that claimed nothing but good intentions and innocence. Sometimes Locke wondered if the King might despise all things Imperial as much as he did. They had both lost loved ones because of the Empire. Edgar certainly took it well, always laughing while he talked about his latest escapades with his "allies" in the Empire. Locke marveled at his composure, knowing all too well the pain he must be hiding.

Thoughts of his lost love stung him as he rode on. Rachel had been a truly remarkable woman. The only woman he had ever known whose lust for adventure matched his own, a lust that had proved to be her undoing in the end. How he regretted failing her, not once, but twice. If there was a way to make up for his past mistakes, he would find it. The hope of someday seeing her call his name again kept him going day after day, night after night. He would trade the greatest treasure in the world just for one more moment with her.

As he reminisced, the mountain range rose to meet him, and the day along with him. He had made better time than he thought, and he hoped Lone Wolf kept up his part of the bargain and was waiting where he said he would be.

Locke stopped and looked around the mountain base for signs of his guide. His keen eyes spotted a bestial form leap down from a nook in the cliffs. In half a heartbeat, Lone Wolf the pickpocket had nimbly picked his way from boulder to boulder to the ground, and was now ambling towards his "old friend". He reached out a shaggy, clawed hand in greeting, but Locke only stared at it.

"How goes it, fellow thief?" Lone Wolf asked after a moment.

"I&rsquo;m not a thief anymore," Locke scowled. "I&rsquo;m legit now, and I prefer the term treasure hunter."

The wolf man barked a laugh. "The years haven&rsquo;t dampened your arrogance, have they? I see you are in a hurry, so we can catch up on old times as we climb. I hope that chocobo of yours can keep up with me." The half-beast, half-man leaped back, and then sped off on all fours, proving he was indeed serious about Locke&rsquo;s ability to keep up. Locke couldn&rsquo;t help but smile at this. If there was one thing this scoundrel was good at, it was running away.

As Lone Wolf padded along just ahead of Locke, picking the best routes as easily as a bird following the wind, he attempted conversation, but with little success. Lone Wolf didn&rsquo;t seem to mind. He enjoyed jabbing at the high and mighty "treasure hunter" who thought he was too good for his company now. Lone Wolf knew Locke&rsquo;s dark past quite well, and would spare no barbs at his expense.

"So, how goes things being a delivery boy for the Returners? Oh don&rsquo;t look so surprised, I keep track of all my old accomplices, even if they avoid me like some rabid dog. You must be in dire need to come to me for help. Something stirring in the city, I assume?"

Locke said nothing, but he worried how many others knew of his dealings with King Edgar and Banon&rsquo;s Returners. If word got out, Figaro could be in danger, and Lone Wolf was just the type of person to let something slip for the right price. How he would like to silence this low-life, not just for Figaro, but to keep him from talking about other aspects of his life best left untouched. He knew Lone Wolf couldn&rsquo;t help but dig up those memories. And sure enough, it wasn&rsquo;t long before he broached the subject with his usual tact.

"And how is Rachel doing? Still sleeping soundly? You know, any other man would have forgotten about her and moved on when she couldn&rsquo;t even be bothered to remember their name. I never could understand why you tried so hard to stick around after she lost her memory. She never seemed like your type to me anyways. Too...fragile." Lone Wolf ended this with a sharp-toothed smile, knowing that this would have to provoke a response.

Locke couldn&rsquo;t stay silent at that. No one insulted his love, especially not this bastard. He narrowed his eyes and spoke in low tones, knowing full well Lone Wolf&rsquo;s ears would still be able to hear him.

"You know nothing of what happened to her, or how I felt about her. She was my life - is my life. What happened to her was my fault, and I stayed with her as long as I could to atone for my sins. An immoral cur like you would never understand."

Lone Wolf&rsquo;s grin only widened. "Oh ho! I understand quite well! You stayed long enough to see you weren&rsquo;t wanted, then left when things got bad with the Empire. If you really cared about her, you would have stayed by her side and protected her when the Empire attacked. Maybe then she wouldn&rsquo;t have gone out to fight with the rest, and not have been injured so badly. You know, just before she lost consciousness for the last time, her memory returned. When she realized you had left her, she fell back into a coma and didn&rsquo;t wake up again. Your name was the last thing she ever spoke, and you weren&rsquo;t there to hear it!"

"Shut up! You have no right to condemn me! I did what I had to, and left to spare her anymore pain. It would be just like you to turn a selfless act into something ugly. You always were a coward."

But Locke did not believe his own words. His thoughts were frighteningly similar to Lone Wolf&rsquo;s, and they both knew it. What if Locke had stayed? What if he had been there when she came back? What if he had never been so eager to explore the massive grave to the south in the first place? Could he have saved her from falling if he had been more careful? Could he have saved her from the Imperial forces? Could he have saved her from the darkness that eventually overtook her? So many questions that could never be answered. So many things to regret.

Thanks to the old herb master that lived in town, he would have all the time in the world to think about those regrets, and maybe someday be rid of the pain once and for all. Yes, she would sleep in a state between life and death for as long as Locke paid the man. Paid him in "treasures" he had acquired from all over the world. His price was always high, but the thought of truly losing Rachel for good was too much for Locke to contemplate stopping, even for an instant. That would be the ultimate failure, and he could never live with himself if she died.

"A coward I may be, but don&rsquo;t ever doubt that we are cut from the same cloth, Locke. Once a thief, always a thief. In the end, you ran away when she needed you most. That makes you a coward in my book. Now then, the mountains are winding down, and we should be able to see the desert soon. Will you be paying me now, or shall I accompany you to the castle as well?"

Lone Wolf knew full well that Locke would want to be rid of him as soon as he could, and would never agree, but he enjoyed the game too much to not ask. Any reminder of who Locke used to be was a thorn in his side, and Lone Wolf knew it. He expected Locke to throw him his payment and leave him in the dust without a word. When Locke agreed to continue with him, Lone Wolf nearly tripped over his own feet.

"Your payment is in the castle stores. Once we get there I will give it to you. Until then, I guess we&rsquo;re stuck together." Locke lied to him effortlessly. He knew Lone Wolf would be suspicious, any good thief would be, but he also knew that Lone Wolf had been looking for this particular item for ages, and would give in and follow him despite his doubts.

"Hmm...yes, the same old Locke." Lone Wolf grinned once more, his fangs bared and eyes gleaming with suspicion. "I guess I have no choice, then. I just hope for your sake you are able to pay me. You&rsquo;re the better thief, but I&rsquo;m still capable when I need to be. If you fail to pay me, there are always enough Imperial soldiers around that would be more than willing to share a drink with me, and maybe a tale or two about a fellow thief..."

"That&rsquo;s treasure hunter," Locke replied with cold grace, and said nothing more for the rest of the journey to the castle.

They marched across the sands, Lone Wolf now out of his element and trailing behind Locke. Soon the castle spires rose before them , the sun creeping behind them as it wound its way back down into the burning sands beyond the horizon. The castle was a mechanical marvel, and at the sight of Locke the gates creaked and gears could be heard grinding as the doors slid apart to let the travelers in. Only one of them entered, though. Lone Wolf would not go any closer to the castle, and demanded that Locke bring his payment to him as soon as possible.

Unperturbed, Locke walked into the castle and strode right through its halls to the throne room where the King sat, busy with matters of state. Edgar looked up from the scroll he was inspecting, and gave his usual disarming smile.

"Ah, Locke! It&rsquo;s good to see you again. What news do you bring us from the east?"

"Grave news, your majesty. But first, I have a small favor to ask you. There is man of ill-repute outside your gates who I believe wishes to cause mischief within the kingdom of Figaro. I strongly urge you to consider keeping him under your watchful eye for the time being." Locke tried his best to keep the act of formality up, but the sheer cleverness of his plan soon caused him to break out in a grim chuckle.

Edgar was no fool, and knew what game his friend was playing, and played right along.

"Hah! Yes, my loyal vassal. I understand your concerns. I shall send my guards out to &lsquo;escort&rsquo; our fellow traveler to his quarters. I thank you for your advice. Shall we see to your errand in my private office, then?" Edgar gave Locke a small smile as he ordered his guards to take Lone Wolf into custody.

Once they were alone, Locke dropped the formal tones and spoke to Edgar as an equal, and as a friend. There was no need for respect of positions here. They both shared a strong bond that transcended such petty concerns: loss.

"So, a traitor in South Figaro, you say? And it seems another one at our very gates, thanks to you. I&rsquo;ll see what I can do without arousing too much suspicion from Emperor Gestahl. Ah, how I wish I could stop this act and just strike out at the Empire, but a full-scale war is the last thing this continent needs. Just look what happened to the southern continent. My South Figaro will not burn like Miranda did."

"I agree, but it is becoming very dangerous these days. If a nobody like Lone Wolf knows about you aiding the Returners, then none of us are safe, even with him behind bars. I think someone has to make a move soon, or else..."

"I understand, Locke. I don&rsquo;t want any of us to suffer any more losses, but war is not the answer. Not yet. I won&rsquo;t stoop to Gestahl&rsquo;s level just for revenge. My father wouldn&rsquo;t have wanted me to throw away the kingdom for him..."

"...And Rachel wouldn&rsquo;t have wanted me to throw away my life to try and avenge her." Locke finished Edgar&rsquo;s sentence for him, knowing but not believing.

"We&rsquo;ll keep the charade up for now. Tell Banon not to make his move yet. I know he&rsquo;s itching to do something big, especially now that he almost has the backing of Narshe. Have you heard from Arvis lately?"

Locke was glad to get away from anything that concerned his past, and was grateful to change subjects to the invisible army that the Returners had been building.

"No, but he is expecting me back in Narshe soon. They say the Empire&rsquo;s looking to invade Narshe now, even though it&rsquo;s proclaimed itself to be neutral. Arvis will tell me more when I get there. For now, I must see an old friend off properly. You understand I hope?"

"Heh, of course. Stay well, friend."

"You too."

Locke left the room feeling hopeful for a change. The Returners were growing every day, thanks to the efforts of people like him working as confidantes to the leaders of the various nations. Soon the Empire would feel his wrath, and the pain he had suffered because of their greed would be repaid. It was time to repay another greedy soul, and Locke tried his best to stay serious as he made his way towards the dungeons.

"You!" Lone Wolf spat through the bars of his prison cell as Locke sauntered up to the doors. "Come to laugh at me, then? Coward!"

"Of course not, my friend. I merely stopped by to give you your payment, as promised. Like I said, I&rsquo;ve changed. I&rsquo;m not the same man you knew all those years ago. You, however, haven&rsquo;t changed a bit. Here&rsquo;s your reward. Enjoy it for what pleasure it will give you in here."

Locke tossed a glittering hairpin into the cell at Lone Wolf&rsquo;s feet, then got up and left without another word. He&rsquo;d had quite enough of this creature for today.

Lone Wolf quickly bent down and snatched the golden hairpin before anyone else could see him. Yes, this was the treasure he had been seeking. He had to give Locke credit where credit was due. This was a prize of legendary value, and he had spent many months looking for it himself before giving up. Now it just might be his key out of this cell if he waited patiently until his chance to pick the lock and escape. He wasn&rsquo;t known for his pickpocketing skills for nothing.

While Lone Wolf stewed and schemed in his cell, Locke trudged back to the guest room Egdar had prepared for a well-deserved rest. As usual, his thoughts were only on Rachel as he crawled into bed. Was she safe? Was she thinking of him in that eternal dream-state she had been drugged into? Would she remember him even if he did wake her? It was all too much for Locke to bear in his exhaustion, and he, too, collapsed into oblivion for the night, to perhaps share his own dreams with his love&rsquo;s.

Will you remember me, Rachel? Will I ever hear my name on your lips again? Say my name, just one more time, please...

Further to the west, over another mountain range and through another desert, a girl sleeps, and an old man watches. In the waning hours, he has dozed off as well, and does not hear a soft murmur from the girl, still unconscious.


 Jump to Post

 09.05.2011 9:10pm
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Setzer~</span>


"Get up, you lout!"

The shrill female voice in Setzer's ears dragged him up from the bottom of his half-finished glass of wine. He winced at the sunlight dustily falling into the empty bar. His head felt like a five ton weight had been dropped on it. It was much too early for this.

"Please, madam. Is this how you treat such a respected patron to your establishment?"

His words were elegant, but the obvious slur as he tried to remember just which establishment it was he had fallen asleep in the night before betrayed his true state.

"This is how I treat sauced losers who conveniently forget to pay their tabs!"

The barmaid was in no mood for Setzer's smooth talk today. The man was impossible to deal with, constantly flying away whenever the going-on of the previous night came up. She knew he was filthy rich, and just because he had an airship he though he owned every bar he walked into. Well, he had cast one too many rolls of the dice this time. Time to ante up, gambler!

The rather full-figured woman gave the half-awake man a swift kick to the side that sent him sprawling out of his chair and onto the floor. What a mess of a human being, she thought, as she looked at him.

Setzer remained calm, taking the unexpected violence in stride. Sometimes you got the barmaid, and sometimes she got you. Such was life. Despite his raging headache and newly sore side, it was another fine day for the Wandering Gambler, as he liked to think of himself. Time to get started with his day job.

He picked himself up off the ground with as much dignity as he could muster, straightened his long silver hair, and coughed once to try and get the taste of sour alcohol out of his mouth. Most mornings were like this for Setzer Gabbianni, the world's only airship pilot, and a notorious lover of wine, women, and above all, gambling.

Let's see if you can't get out of this one, Setzer.

The shameless spirit gave the formidable woman in front of him his best 'trust me' look, betting she would take the bait. She was mad, all right, but she was still female. Despite the nasty scar on his face from a long ago airship accident, Setzer knew he had enough good looks to get him through more than a few scrapes of this nature. He smiled like a prince, and rolled the dice.

"Now, now. I can assure you the fees for last night will be paid in full by the end of the day. As you can plainly see, I have nothing on me but my traveling coat, and admittedly, a few suds from last night..."

"Oh no you don't!" The woman interrupted. This was an old game, and she was not going to let the cad off that easily. "You're not leaving this bar without paying the 30,000 gil you owe us. No more tricks!"

Setzer was no fool. He had expected her to catch on immediately. She was a familiar face, and knew the more obvious hands he sometimes tried to play. Maybe something a bit more high stakes this time?

"You wound me!" Setzer cried, as if she had kicked him again. "We're old associates, you and I. You know as well as anyone that Wandering Gambler always pays his debts sooner or later."

"Yes. And as soon as you do, you fritter it all away again on cards or booze!"

"Too true," Setzer said ruefully. "But this time is different, I assure you. When I walk out of this bar in a few minutes, you will be quite satisfied with my payment."

The woman raised her eyebrows suspiciously. What game was he playing now?

"Look outside. My airship is waiting only a short distance from here. Hear that? That's the sound of the propellers, getting ready for lift-off."

The woman spared a glance out the amber-tinted windows, and sure enough the instantly recognizable profile of the Blackjack could be seen perched on a nearby hill like a giant boat, whirring away as it refueled. She nodded slowly, wondering what he would promise next.

"You say you won't let me out of here without paying, but what if I allow you to accompany me on my airship, where I can properly thank you for your hospitality?"

Setzer looked at the woman with pure innocence. As she glanced at the hulking mechanical marvel outside, he knew he had won. A precocious smile stretched across his face as he enjoyed this first gamble of the new day.

"You would let me fly with you?" The woman said, taken aback.

It was her dream to fly the skies unhindered like Setzer did. Wasn't it everyone's? But he rarely admitted passengers onto his airship without exorbitant prices, and even then, it was only the rich and elite of Jidoor that he welcomed personally.

He was a shameless dog, but he could also be a gentleman when he remembered his noble Gabbianni upbringing between glasses of wine. But those moments were far too few for her liking. How many years had she served him drinks, and how many times had he offered to take her up in his airship? Not once.

"If you let me pass, I shall show you a view of the world only the richest and most powerful men are allowed. The view from the top is something not to be missed, my fair vision. Shall you join me, and put aside my wretched behavior for a bit?"

"I...suppose I could take off for a few hours..." the woman said, blushing. Oh, this man! He knew exactly how to play her, didn't he! But this was the chance of a lifetime, and after all, Setzer wasn't really that bad of a man. Just a hopeless free spirit. Right?

"Shall we?" Setzer said agreeably, deftly putting his arm through hers and leading her out of the bar. She was a handsome enough woman to accompany him on the first flight of the day, and he knew he was giving her something wonderful in exchange for the tab he barely remembered. Would he mention that the price for even a quick jaunt in his precious Blackjack usually cost a customer at least 30,000 gil?

No, I think not. Why spoil the mood?

"Are we really going to soar above the clouds?" the woman squealed like a young girl half her age. She was completely won over at this point. Her, a lowly barmaid, gliding through the heavens on the famous Blackjack! She tittered nervously as Setzer walked her to the wondrous vehicle.

"We will soar like falcons, my dear."

A few hours and many miles later, Setzer had delivered the emergency supplies for the Imperial regiment near Doma(for free, Setzer thought glumly), and taken the now much more pleasant woman back to Jidoor. She had been ecstatic to see the world flit by under her feet, and once they had alighted, the topic of his debt never came up again.

You've done it again, Setzer. Another day well begun and another hand well played.

But this was not the complete truth, and Setzer knew it. He was perhaps the freest man alive, but he was also perhaps the most trapped. Every day started like this: innocent, friendly, happy, full of hope. But by the time the sun set, Setzer invariably found himself in some bar or other, drinking, gambling, and cursing his luck silently as he risked ever higher and higher amounts the more inebriated he became.

Someday you just may find yourself penniless and wingless, my good man.

That was a risk Setzer was willing take to get away from the inner demons that haunted him each day. He had spent the last few years trying desperately to erase the memories of love found, and then lost. Cards helped keep his mind busy on his off hours, and booze helped him to ignore the lonely nights and avoid the bad dreams.

Oh, Darill, why did Lady Luck decide to withdraw her hand from you, and spare my worthless soul?

The usual train of thought had already come rushing through him, and the day was still long. He needed a drink. Setzer ordered one of his on board workers to fetch him a glass of his special stock from Kohlingen. The taste of home was what he wanted right now.

Kohlingen. How many bliss filled days had he spent on his family's estate south of the respectfully small town, tinkering and flirting with the two loves of his life? The company of a remarkable woman completely in tune with his passion for life, and the triumph of building something that had long since vanished from the world since the War of the Magi. These were once the driving forces of his life, the simple joys that kept him alive. And happy.

Happy. Am I happy now? That poor barmaid would probably think so. Who wouldn't be happy with the amazing freedom I have? I can go anywhere, anywhere at all. Except for the one place I want to go more than anywhere else in the world. Where did you go Darill? What did you see when you flew closer to the stars than anyone?

Setzer would have followed Darill on her ill-fated voyage into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, but he had found himself lacking in spirit that one time. Darill had forever proved that she was truly the freest of them all, and had left Setzer behind. His lover and goddess had gone where even the Blackjack could not follow.

Darill, what did you see?

Setzer took a deep draft of the fine wine from his childhood, savoring the bouquet as he swirled the glass like a true sommelier. It was sweet and dark, faintly spiced, a true Gabbianni vintage. How many glasses of this very wine had he shared with Darill as they talked excitedly over blueprints or toasted each other after a good airship race? Too many. Not enough.

As the Blackjack passed over Kohlingen to his next stop, Setzer felt the urge to cry well up within him. He fought it back with a hearty laugh that startled the workers and waiters nearby. No one could see him like this. He had an image to keep up after all. At least until the sun went down, and he found himself drowned in another bottle of cheap liquor.

By the time the airship had arrived at the Imperial-occupied city of Albrook, Setzer felt a little better. The day was half over, and the flush of wine warmed his body and blurred the painful memories of his carefree past. Now was the time for business, but not the kind he liked. There was nothing to be gained or lost here, except perhaps survival.

"Welcome to the Imperial city of Albrook. Your permit, please." A guard said gruffly as Setzer exited his rather unusual vehicle outside the city walls. The guard did not act as if anything was out of the ordinary. The Blackjack was a common sight on the outskirts of the gloomy city.

Setzer never stayed here long. Some places were just too sad, even for him. Ever since the Empire had snatched up the surrounding cities and towns on this continent, a pervading air of sorrow and futility had spread across the citizens. Setzer did not care to wallow in other people's grief. His was more than enough, and these people were none of his business.

My business! Hah! The Empire "allows" me to fly their airspace in exchange for being their delivery boy. This is no business, it's blackmail, plain and simple. Darill would be ashamed of you, Setzer.

But Darill was gone, and all he had left of her was what remained of her own fallen airship, the Falcon. Setzer went over his current restoration plans for the broken companion to his Blackjack in his head while he flung the Imperial papers in the guard's face. Anything to keep his mind off of her, and off his current situation.

There were several bars in the besieged Albrook, but they were all full of soldiers. Poor company even after a few drinks. Setzer skipped his usual drink and round of cards and finished his business in the town as quickly as he could. Things looked more and more grim each time he returned to this place. Something was definitely stirring in the Empire. Setzer could feel it, smell it in the air, see it on the faces of the people. The winds of change were blowing, and Setzer wanted to make sure he was flying in a different direction when that wind came.

The Empire had made Setzer rich when he had first started using his Blackjack for the various needs of an earthbound world. The flow of money soon changed when that old dog Emperor Gestahl tightened his grip on his reigns and expanded his influence to the rest of the continent. Before Setzer knew what was happening, he found himself flying soldiers, provisions, even weapons for the tyrant. Setzer strongly suspected that last shipment he had sent to Doma contained some kind of poison, but he was not in a position to balk at the Emperor's orders, however despicable they became.

His wings were all he had left, and the Empire was more than capable of taking them from him if they chose to, as that weasel Kefka so often remind him in the letters he received for requisitions. They had their own Imperial Air Force(IAF), and while it didn't have the reach of Setzer's Blackjack, it had strength in numbers, and firepower.

No, Setzer was not as free as he led people to believe, although as he left the down-trodden Empire behind him, he was reminded that he was freer than some. He was becoming more and more a slave to the Empire with each passing month, though, and he was forever a slave to his own suffering and anguish. Setzer suspected he would either go broke from serving the Empire or drink himself to death by next year.

There was one small light in his life at the moment though. A woman as strong and fearless as Darill was slowly taking over Setzer's life, like a steadily rising star. He was not sure if he was in love with her or simply obsessed with the spiritual resemblance to his former flame, but it didn't matter. The famous opera singer Maria was filling the gaping hole in Setzer's life left by Darill, even if she didn't know it.

As Setzer completed the last run of the day - a quick tour of the faraway town Mobliz for some over-rich and overweight Jidoor noble named Owser - he thought about next month's big production at the opera house. Called "The Dream Oath", it was touted as the greatest adaptation of the famous Draco and Maria legend yet, not to be missed. And this was one show that Setzer would most certainly not pass up.

"Such a backwater place, don't you think, captain?" Owser's oily voice piped from Setzer's side as he piloted the airship. "Nothing of value there at all, and after I paid so much money to see it for myself. I didn't even see the legendary Wild Child of the Veldt. A pity."

Setzer ignored the prattling of the fat man and kept his eyes on the reddening skies. It would soon be dark, and he was eager to drop this man off at his mansion in Jidoor. He despised men who flaunted their wealth so outrageously as Owser, but these were the types of people who paid for his freedom now. Setzer was not the best example of wealth, assuredly, but he couldn't help but think he was a better man than this toad croaking beside him.

As per the usual custom with the elite of his customers, Setzer saw Owser to the door of his vast castle of a house once they had returned to Jidoor.

"I hope you enjoyed your flight, sir," Setzer said with false politeness he knew the noble would completely ignore.

"Oh, it was fine, I suppose." Owser said half-heartedly. "Not a very impressive destination, but the flight was a joy, as always. Thank you Setzer, that will be all."

The man waddled off to his various other vices, and left Setzer standing in the gaudy foyer alone. Now was his chance to put his plans into motion. He was tired of just looking, it was time to touch the forbidden fruit, or go insane with grief and loneliness. Darill would not approve of such low-born acts of lust, but Setzer was a man obsessed. He was tired of ending each night alone. Either Maria would be his, or he would die. Simple as that.

He waved to the nearby master servant of the house and gave him a very important letter, to be delivered to the impresario of the opera house on the opening night of "The Dream Oath". Setzer could easily deliver the letter himself, of course, but he was a busy man, and it would not do to make his appearance before the stage was set, so to speak. He had always had a flair for the dramatic, and this was to be his finest performance.

Before he slinked back to the closest bar for the night, Setzer looked over his handiwork one last time as he instructed the master servant. The letter was short and to the point, but it said all Setzer wanted known until he was ready. The plan would either work or it wouldn't. His life was just another chip in Lady Luck's pile now, and soon he would have to show his hand. But would Maria play the game Setzer had devised to bury his sorrows?

She must. We all must play the hand we've been dealt, and unfortunately for you Maria, this particular game has been rigged in my favor. Now, let us make sure the first move is worded just right...

"My Dear Maria,

I want you for my wife. I'm coming for you...

- The Wandering Gambler, Setzer"

 Jump to Post

 09.06.2011 3:56pm

Eu sunt Dracul

Sorry - was away from internet on a long weekend - but allow me to catch-up here!

Mog &amp; Umaro - This really is more insight into Mog's head - with this passage, it's easy to see why Mog joined forces with the heroes of FFVI. You have to sympathize with him, as it must be painfully dull to live with an entire community who cannot connect with you on an intelligent level. Poor Mog has the ability to communicate through language, yet all he has to talk to are Ramuh, (Indy) whose communication is more set as orders than anything else; and Umaro, who, as Mog says, at least understands what Mog is saying, but in reality, is a lot like a large child himself. Soon, Mog will get his chance!

Shadow - This passage really shines light on the man with a guilty conscience. It's very clear that he is a lethal assassin, but only works for his own gain - and as said above, to inflict fear and guilt into others. I see how badly he wants to be vindicated, and how guilty he feels in regards to Relm - and this makes it easy to see why he's so eager to follow our heroes from the shadows through a large portion of the FFVI game. It's also so refreshing to read because of the Interceptor factor. Poor Shadow uses Interceptor as a communication crutch.... and possibly just a companion to help him feel better about his situation.

Sabin - A nice look into the life of the young prince... and the reasons behind the split from Figaro. This helps elaborate on the Sabin/Duncan/Vargas triangle - and really almost provides more insight into the jealous head of Vargas than it does into the innocent head of Sabin. I almost feel bad for Vargas in this passage, as at first glance, it does sound like Duncan favors Sabin over Vargas. Of course, as a reader, I'm provided an insight in to why Duncan is so much harder on Vargas... but trying to separate what I know from what Vargas might, it's plainly obvious to see the difference in the way each are treated.

Locke - This entry really shows how noble Locke truly is, and how much he wants to leave his past behind him. I love how it shows insight into his adventures with the Returners, and the allied nations of the game. Also, a bit more backstory on Locke and Rachel, and provides more depth on his feelings for her, and what he must be going through during FFVI. Also, more insight into Lone Wolf, and how he acquired one of the Gold Hairpins we discover (depending on choice) in-game. Another well written piece here.

Setzer - A very nice bit on Setzer here, and some insight into his brooding existence. A very nice build-up to his encounter with the party in FFVI.
I love the charm instilled here, and the fact that he uses it to con his way through life - yet even still, as free as he is, he is chained to a memory of the one lost... as free as he is, he is still miserable.

I really like the disdain you've instilled against the Empire and Gestahl... it really helps drive a hidden motive and agenda for the second part of FFVI.

 Jump to Post

 09.07.2011 5:58am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

Update overload!

Slowly but surely, I'm getting everything reposted here. Blast it, that damn character limit is kicking in again. I'll have to cut this update in half and post the next part in 24 hours.
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Strago and Relm~</span>
<p align="center">

"I'm outta here, you old fuddy-duddy!"

Strago only looked at his granddaughter for moment after her outburst, his eyes still half-shut from sleep. The day had just started, and already they were arguing.

"Relm, please listen to me." Strago pleaded . "I have friends coming over today, and I was hoping you could stay and join us. Won't you at least try and behave for our guests?"

The small girl looked at her wrinkled old grandpa like he was crazy. She scrunched up her nose in disdain, her eyes blazing with unspent energy.

"Heck no! I don't want to spend my day with a bunch of other old fuddy-duddies! You have fun gramps, I'm going over to Lei's house and do something that isn't BORING. Laters!"

The precocious girl was out the front door in a flash of blond hair and a twirl of her little cape, leaving her grandpa before he could even try to argue. As usual.

"Oh, that child!" Strago fumed as he stood in the living room alone, his fists shaking with anger. After a moment, he calmed himself and rubbed the last bit of sleep from his eyes. Another wonderful start to another wonderful day.

Nothing to do for it now. Might as well get things ready for Gung-ho and the Elder. When will Relm ever settle down? Or perhaps I really am getting too old...

Strago sighed as he straightened his back and began his morning routine. Every day was the same here in Thamasa. Sometimes being the descendants of exiled mages could be such a pain. Surely the world had forgotten the crimes of their distant ancestors by now? As Strago flicked the lights on in the dining room with a magical snap of his fingers, he wonder if that were really true.

No, the Elder is probably right. It would be the War of the Magi all over again. Only this time we would be the magical beings people hunted down for their powers. Some power, though! I can barely keep a candle lit, and the Elder fears the abuse of our magic?

It was an old argument, and it was unlikely Strago would see an end to it today. The life of all Thamasans was very simple - never leave the village, never use magic in public. Everyone but Gung-ho had followed these words for centuries, being drilled from birth about the atrocities that were committed against the surviving Mages after the war ended. The few outsiders that managed to find their secluded hamlet were treated with cold courtesy, and given strong hints to make their visit short. Most got the message, and for a very long time life in the village had been peaceful, if not sometimes restrictive.

I'm too old to care about seeing the world now. Leave those passions to people like Gung-ho, and heaven forbid, Relm. Now, where did I put that plate?

As Strago tottered around his house preparing for his guests, Relm happily skipped to her friend's house, her quarrel with her grandpa already forgotten. The mind of a young girl was quick to anger, and equally quick to forgive and move on to the next big thing. For today, that thing was playing with Lei while his own grandpa was away. It just so happened Lei was the grandson of Gung-ho, and the gathering of the elders of Thamasa at Strago's was a prime excuse for mischief.

"Hey Lei, it's Relm! Lemme in!" Relm shouted as she ran up to the large house at the center of the village.

The forbidding mansion that rose up darkly in front of the girl belonged to Gung-ho, and for the moment, to his grandson. While Lei's grandpa was away, Relm and Lei planned on exploring the vast, ancient house all by themselves. They had heard rumors of all sorts of hidden rooms and treasures tucked away inside the house, and this was their chance to find something cool to show off to the other kids. Normally when Gung-ho was away on his little adventures, Strago or the Elder kept them from having any fun, but today they had the house all to themselves.

"Aw, Relm, keep it down, will ya? If my granddad hears you, we'll be busted for sure." Lei's small head poked out of one of the upper windows, and his voice whined down to his approaching friend in half-whispers. Once he saw it was Relm, he ducked back inside, leaving Relm tapping her foot impatiently at his doorstep.

After an agonizing minute of waiting, Relm heard a click, and saw Lei's head poke out the front door just like it had the upper window. His furtive glances back into the house told Relm that Gung-ho was still inside, no doubt preparing to leave for the exciting meeting at her house. Oh boy.

"C'mon, get in here quick!" Lei whispered, grabbing Relm's tiny arm and dragging her into one of the side hallways of the labyrinthine house. Before Relm knew what was happening, she found herself inside a small cubby-hole with Lei, finger to his lips.

Relm was about to say something to Lei that would have made her grandpa blush, but just as she opened her mouth she saw Gung-ho making his way towards them. She could sneak as good as Lei when she wanted to, and kept her lips shut tight, despite wanting to yell at her friend. Gung-ho passed the small alcove without seeing the two children, and made his way out the door and up the hill to Strago's.

"That was close!" Lei said, breathing out a big sigh of relief. "Alright, let's get down to business!"

While Relm and her friend made their plans for what little adventure they could find in the confines of their small world, the three elders of Thamasa were having their friendly get-together at Strago's. The only plans they had for the day were sharing old stories and reminiscing about the good old days. For old men who were far too wise for the world to surprise them anymore, reliving their past adventures was as close to the wonderful innocence of youth that they could hope to reach.

Strago welcomed his long-time friends, and apologized for the lack of his granddaughter.

"Did you really expect her to stay?" Gung-ho laughed. "Heck, even I was tempted to skip out and give that beast Hidon another crack!"

"Unless you can breath under water, I don't think you'd have any more success than all the other times!" Strago quipped. "You know that monster's nest has been submerged since the earthquake. Face it, the last bit of our glory days has left us. We're nothing but regular old men, now."

"You two never change," the Elder said with a smile. "Come, put on some mandrake tea and sit down. You said you had a real doozy of a story to tell us today, Strago."

Strago sat down and rubbed his aching legs, memories flooding his mind. Yes, he had a rare gem to share with them today. He had been waiting to tell this particular tale for a while, and wanted to make sure he could tell it to both the Elder and Gung-ho. The Elder was always busy with his duties, and Gung-ho tended to be away from the village far too often. He had hoped Relm could be here to hear this story, as well, but....some other time.

"This is a story very close to my heart, so if I get emotional at times, forgive this sentimental old fool." Strago began, clearing his throat. The other men sat silently, waiting to see what Strago had in store for them.

"As you probably know, Relm is not my real granddaughter..."

"Achoo!" Relm sneezed as she swept the dust off her beret and crawled back into the hallway to search out another room. "Why is your house so dusty?"

"Sorry." Lei said quietly. "Ever since my dad died things have kinda gotten messy around here. Grandpa Gung-ho likes to stay outdoors, and my mom just mopes around all day. She'll sleep all day today, I bet."

"Oops, sorry." Relm stuttered.

She knew how Lei felt. She had lost her own parents when she was only a baby. Her mother had died a mysterious death that no one wanted to talk about with her, and her father...she had no idea what had happened to her father. Now, it was just her and her grandpa. Gah, she hated that crotchety old man sometimes!

I bet my real dad would've let me go exploring, would have let me use magic, maybe even let me paint his picture. I don't even know what he looked like, and gramps won't tell me anything. Says I'm 'not old enough'. I bet my dad was handsome, and brave, and strong and...

"Hey Relm?" Lei asked, interrupting Relm's thoughts.

"What?" She scowled at him and sneezed again as the dust fell on her face. The two of them were alone in an abandoned room full of pictures of Lei's family.

"Do you think you could paint a picture for me?" Lei asked, a little embarrassed.

"Oh, that again? You know I'm not really supposed to do that kind of stuff." Relm pouted, then raised her eyebrow. "Unless you want me to paint a REAL picture. I'm allowed to do that, although it's not nearly as much fun."

"Um," Lei hesitated, turning redder by the second. "Have you ever tried..., uh..."

"Spit it out dummy! What do you want me to do?"

Lei bit his lip and blurted out his request. "Could you paint my dad? Could you do that thing you do, and bring him back?"

"Lei..." Relm whispered, as if he had just cursed.

"I know, I know! You're not allowed...but no one's here, and look...there's a portrait of him right on the mantle. Please?"

" doesn't work that way, Lei," Relm said sadly.

"C'mon! Try it! For me?" Lei pleaded, tears twinkling in his eyes as he spoke.

Relm definitely knew her friend's pain, and felt tears in the back of her eyes, too. Perhaps this was why they were friends. They both were so young, yet knew the indescribable pain of a lost parent. Relm had a strange magical gift, a gift to make what she saw come to life with the touch of a paintbrush....but there were limits to what she could do.

Lei, you dummy...don't you think I've tried that? I've tried it a million times. It doesn't work. It just makes you sadder when the picture person doesn't recognize you...

But that look in his eyes was almost fanatical. Was this the real reason Lei had wanted them to play here today? Relm didn't want to do this. She wanted to have fun and play explorer in the musty old house, not relive bad memories of those days...

"Please, Relm...try..." Lei said quietly, gulping back his tears.

"Ooh...alright, I'll do it," Relm said petulantly, but with a warm look of compassion in her too young face. "But don't get all mad when it doesn't work like you want it to."

Lei's face lit up like a firecracker and he clapped his hands with glee. "Yippee! I won't get mad, I promise!" He wiped the tears from his eyes and grabbed his father's portrait, reverently placing it on a chair in the middle of the room. Once the portrait was in position, Lei plopped himself down on a white sheet that had been covering some old furniture, looking every bit like a kid waiting for a magic show to start. "C'mon, do your stuff!" he squealed happily.

Relm didn't smile. She remained silent as she pulled her ever-handy brush from her belt. She knew how this was going to end, and Lei would hate her for the rest of the day now. But, she couldn't say no to him, not when she knew how much it hurt, and how badly he wanted to see his dad again.

Forgive me, Lei. Forgive me, mom.

She put her trusty brush to her mouth and wet it, sticking out her tongue as she smoothed the chocobo-feathered tip with her nimble fingers. Studying the portrait of the somber-looking man for a moment, she closed her eyes and imagined the man reaching out, putting his hand on his son's shoulder, smiling...

"Relm's mother was a close friend of our family for years," Strago said with a voice stronger than his years would suggest. Telling stories about the ones he loved always brought a new vitality to his spirit.

"My wife and I were never able to have children, bless her soul, but Bonnie was always there for us, helping us out as we got older, bringing a light into our lives we never thought we'd experience. She truly was a daughter to us. When my wife passed, Bonnie was all I had left. To see her fall into the hands of...that man..." Strago stopped his story and rubbed his forehead, a wave of anger passing over his face. This was the hard part of the story. If it wasn't for that man!

"We know, Strago," the Elder said. "That outsider should never have been allowed into our village, wounded or no. He brought nothing but pain wherever he went. He was a shadow on us all."

"Now, now," Gung-ho said calmly. "He wasn't so bad once you got to know him. I had some good times hunting with him, and he was surprisingly good with a knife. Granted, he was pretty rough around the edges, but he really cared for the people of the village. Just had some rotten luck, is all."

"What do you know of him?" Strago said a little too loudly. "All you saw was the outsider, the quiet loner that never hurt anyone. Well I'll tell you something, Gung-ho. That man hurt my Bonnie, and he hurt Relm perhaps even more!"

"Calm down," Gung-ho replied just as calmly as before. "We know what happened, at least on the outside. Remember, this is your story. Go on and tell it however you want. I won't interrupt or argue with you."

"Sorry," Strago said, trying to steady his shaking hands. "Yes, Bonnie was completely smitten with that man. When he arrived covered in blood, she was the only one who would help him." Strago stopped and looked squarely at Gung-ho, as if challenging him to say something. "You know, that blood on his clothes wasn't all his."

Both the Elder and Gung-ho looked at Strago wide-eyed. They didn't know this part of the story.

"He wouldn't tell us what happened to him, or where that blood came from, but after everything went down, I had my suspicions." Strago put his hands flat on the table and leaned towards the two silent men. "I think he killed someone. And I don't doubt for a second that Bonnie died because of something he did. He brought something evil with him from the outside world, and that taint took Bonnie away from us!" Strago was wheezing with effort as he glowered at the two men, wanting them to say something, wanting to defame the wretched villain that had killed his daughter a little more.

" you really think that?" the Elder said, dumbstruck. "I know the man was an ill omen, but murder?"

"If he didn't do it with his own hands, then he knows who did it. Why else would he run off after her body was found? He was guilty of something, of that I'm sure."

"Strago, it's not good to dwell on such things with so much anger. We're too old to get carried away with our emotions." Gung-ho said a little fearfully. If his friend wasn't careful, he might just make himself self-destruct. Run with the beasts too long, and you pick up more than just their attacks...

"You said it yourself!" Strago strained, his wiry old voice cracking. "You saw how good he was with a knife. Where does a man like that learn to fight? He was a scoundrel, and brought all the evils our ancestors tried to get away from right back onto our feeble heads." Suddenly the air went out of Strago's sails, and he slumped back into his chair. "I should have watched him more closely. Especially after Relm was born. I should have known how it would all end..."

The other two old men got up and put their hands on Strago's hunched shoulders. Bonnie's death had hit the small village hard. Everyone knew everyone here, and one person's death was always felt that much more strongly because of the shared mageblood they all possessed. They were all family in this place.

"Strago, I know it doesn't mean much, but I felt the same way when my son died." Gung-ho said, his calm breaking for the first time. "You can't wallow in the past. Don't be like my daughter-in-law, lost in her own world of regrets. Bonnie's gone, and you need to let her go. For Relm's sake."

"Relm..." Strago said, sniffing as he dried his eyes. "She should have had a father. A real father to show her how to act like a proper little girl. All she got was this...fuddy-duddy..."

"Quiet!" Relm hissed through clenched teeth whenever Lei chirped in excitement. Her tongue still stuck out to one side, and she had one hand stretched out in front of her, measuring the invisible angles in the air as she painted.

But there was no paint, and no surface to paint on. She was waving her brush through empty space, her eyes still closed. To an outsider, this would look absurd. But Relm's talent was well-known in the village, and anyone who saw her in this state knew to expect a miracle at any moment. How often had people seen her gaily sitting under a tree, painting butterflies as they passed, only to see twice as many butterflies magically appear and flutter about her head before vanishing back into her imagination? The mageblood that flowed through the people of Thamasa granted many strange talents, but few were as strong, or as beautiful, as Relm's.

Lei watched with intense longing as Relm made her deft motions in the air. At first, there was nothing, but slowly a form began to shimmer in front of her, and the strokes she made seemed to smooth the form out, give it a proper shape. With each swipe of her brush, parts of the mirage sharpened, and soon Lei could see familiar features emerge from the lumpy fog of magical energy.

"It's him!" Lei gasped, wondering what he would say to his father when he saw him again. There was so much to tell him! Perhaps if Relm really tried, she could make him last longer than the few moments her magical paintings usually kept.

"Shhh!" Relm hissed again, opening one eye to glare at Lei and make sure her magic was working. "Don't mess up my concentration!" Painting butterflies was easy. Trying to paint a full human, in all their infinite nuances, was an arduous task. And ultimately a disappointing one. As she saw the shape of Lei's father materialize in front of her, she knew this time would be no different. And she had really tried to push past her limits this time! She had actually thought for a moment that this time it might work. This time it might be different.

"Father!" Lei said, tears rolling down his chubby cheeks. He jumped up and tried to hug his father as the man appeared before him. It was a perfect likeness, indistinguishable from the real father Lei had loved with all his heart. He even looked down at Lei with those big, stern eyes that were a part of the boy's deepest memories. The phantom image stretched out its arms to embrace his flesh and blood, a look of kindness filling his features...

But Lei only tumbled through his father, landing on the floor behind them. Relm had to look away.

The father continued to look at his son with those same eyes, his expression of unutterable kindness still shimmering. As Lei looked into his ghost father's unchanging eyes, it was then he realized what Relm had done.

"Father, talk to me! Say something!" Lei begged the image. But it only shook its head, opening its arms again for another embrace. Was this all it could do?

Lei backed away from the false father, knowing that Relm had been right. She had painted his father all right. But her magical painting could only do what the source material knew how to do. Lei looked at the portrait he had chosen one more time. It was true. The look on his father's face in that portrait was the same one he wore now, and the portrait's arms were lovingly wrapped around a younger Lei, just like the ghost that stood there, unchanging.

"I'm sorry, Lei...I really tried this time," Relm said sadly, watching Lei go through the same inner turmoil that she had faced herself every time she tried to paint her mother.

Strangely, there were no paintings of her father, so she was never able to work her magic on his image. For some reason, gramps had gotten rid of every trace of her father, and refused to even mention his name. Relm usually just gave whatever her grandpa threw at her right back, but when it came to her father, she found the old man to be quite fearsome. She had stopped asking about her father a long time ago, knowing it would only put her grandpa into that scary mood that was so unlike his normal push-over self.

Lei snuffled loudly, and turned his head as the image of his father faded back into nothingness. He knew he shouldn't have expected this to work. But he had wanted it so bad! It wasn't fair!

"Daddy, I miss you...:" Lei sobbed.

Relm nodded, and carefully walked over to where Lei sat in a heap. She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly, her real body touching his in shared pain.

Mommy, Daddy, I miss you too.

(to be continued)

 Jump to Post

 09.07.2011 2:10pm

Eu sunt Dracul

I'll save my response for after the second part.

 Jump to Post

 09.08.2011 5:49am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

I'll see how much leeway leaving out the formatting gives me with the character limits, so that hopefully I won't run into this problem again, at least until Rags to Riches is done. Strago and Relm is actually the longest one so far, and I don't really want these to get much bigger than 5000 words. Hah, it's funny how they started out at only 1000 words, and got successively bigger with each character. That wasn't really my intention, but I just got more and more caught up with my own idea as I went along. Anyways, Strago and Relm, Part Deux!

"I don't know what to do about that granddaughter of mine," Strago said unhappily, sipping his mandrake tea and trying to calm himself after his previous outburst. "She's a tornado, with no manners, no self-control! And I swear she hates me!"

Gung-ho nodded in understanding. "My grandson can be a handful at times too. Don't worry too much about her. I'm sure she loves you as much as you love her. She's been through some tough times, and that's bound to leave its mark. You just have to be patient, and love her for who she is. Even when she calls you names and storms off, she still comes back at the end of every day, does she not?"

Strago smiled. "Yes, she does. And she always carries a faint look of shame with her when she walks back in that door, too. I think she knows how she is, but she just can't help it. She is a ball of energy, but she's my ball of energy. Bonnie would never let me sleep in peace if I didn't take care of her daughter as if she was my own. And I do my best."

"I can't argue with you there," Gung-ho said, getting up. "Now, it's getting late, and I think we need to get home. Your Relm should be getting back soon, and she probably doesn't want to see our wrinkly old faces here when she gets back. Thanks for the tea, and thanks for telling us your story. I know it must have been hard."

"It was a good kind of hardness," Strago said, feeling better than he had felt in a long time.

"Glad to hear it." Gung-ho said as he grabbed his hat and coat. He gave Strago a guilty look as he headed for the door. "I hate to spring this on you, but I'm leaving again, and I don't know when I'll be back."

"Not Hidon again?" the Elder spoke up, weary of the old men's never-ending quest to slay the beast, if it even existed at all.

"No, I'm going abroad. I sense that things are getting pretty nasty in the outside world, and I think it would be in all our best interests if I checked around, got some news on what's happening. The people of Mobliz aren't that far away, and the hunters there usually keep up with the goings-on of the world. I won't be long, only a few months at most."

"Take care, Gung-ho." Strago said. He grasped his comrade-in-arms with a tight handshake. They had been warriors once, and they both knew trouble was brewing just over the horizon. There would be no debate over Gung-ho's decision to leave the village like there usually was.

"You take care too, Strago." Gung-ho said, a rare look of concern in his wizened face.

"Don't worry about us," the Elder said, gathering his own things to leave. "Thamasa has stood here for a thousand years. It's not going anywhere any time soon. We'll all be here waiting for you when you return, just like we always are." the Elder looked wistfully at the stars just beginning to twinkle outside. "If there's one thing we Thamasans know how to do, it's endure. We're a stubborn brood of magical misfits, and it will take quite the catastrophe to change anything in this sleepy little place."

"I hope you're right," Gung-ho said with a yawn, pretending not to be overly concerned with his home's safety. "Well then, I think it's time we left. See you soon, Strago."

"Right, see you soon, Gung-ho."

With the two old friends gone, Strago sighed and began clearing the table. It had been a long day, with many tales shared, and many tears shed. But he felt good getting it all out of his system. Now if only Relm would behave!

Bonnie, I hope you're not ashamed of the way I've raised your daughter. I've done the best these old bones can. She's a headstrong young thing, and she makes me so mad sometimes! But I love her with all my heart. If anything happened to her, I don't know what I'd do...

"Hey Gramps!"

Strago wiped his eyes quickly and turned to find Relm bounding into the door, just in time for dinner. There was a strange look on her face that Strago had never seen before. She looked...older, somehow.

"I'm tired, Relm, dear. I don't have the energy to argue with you right now." Strago said weakly, expecting the girl to tear into him for not having dinner made.

Much to his surprise, the small child only leapt into his arms and hugged him tight, burying her face in his chest. What was this?

"I love you, grandpa." Relm said simply and sincerely.

Strago was so taken aback that he stood there like a statue for a moment, then with rush of warmth he hugged his grandchild back, unsure what had brought on this sudden display of rare emotion from his unruly child.

"I love you too, Relm." Strago responded, not asking for any explanations, and not needing any.

Relm pulled her head out of Strago's chest for a brief peek into his face. Her eyes were dry now, but Strago could tell she had been crying. He supposed his eyes looked the same. She smiled up at him, and the beauty of her angelic gaze broke Strago's heart.

"Do you think we could have pancakes for dinner?" Relm said impishly.

Pancakes for dinner? Hah, why not? They were Bonnie's favorite too.

"Of course, my dear."

For the rest of that night, a brief moment of quiet harmony endured inside the small house where two lost souls were brought together through shared sorrow, and shared love. Tomorrow was sure to bring new arguments, new reasons for harsh words, and new adventures in the confined realm of Thamasa. But for now, there was nothing but love in the magical house of Strago and Relm.

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 09.08.2011 4:09pm

Eu sunt Dracul

Wow, that one was pretty powerful and moving - showing a lot of pain and turmoil in all of these characters. Reading through these really makes me want to pull out VI again, and I may do that before your other book starts. It's been a long time, but these short stories really delve into the characters, and make for great reads, and insights into their backgrounds.

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 09.09.2011 6:28am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member

Onwards and upwards. two more to go and I'll have this caught up on FFS. Now, reposting Sands of Time on here...ugh, that'll be quite a chore won't it?
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Cyan~</span>


Cyan turned over in his bed, eyes closed tight, a look of pain on his face.

No! Get away!

"Wake up! You're having that dream again, aren't you?"

I have to keep running...running, running, running...

A firm hand grabbed Cyan as he tossed and turned, gently reminding him where he was. The stricken dreamer woke from his troubled night's sleep in a panic. Sweat covered his body, staining the bed he shared with his wife, Elaine. The look of a hunted animal briefly shown in his eyes before he recognized Elaine's peaceful face staring back at him. It was over.

As he slowly recovered his senses, Elaine softly tucked his disheveled, sodden hair back, wiping the sweat from his face with a loving hand. She knew exactly what was going on in her husband's head, as she always did. The two had been married for over twenty years and knew each other's weaknesses and strengths, quirks and habits inside and out. Cyan swore his wife was inside his mind sometimes, calming him, giving him strength.

"It was the chasing dream again, wasn't?" Elaine's kind voice said from his side.

"Yes." Cyan said quietly, blushing. It was shameful to admit such weakness. But if he couldn't confide in his own wife, who could he trust?

Elaine smiled at her husband's predictable reaction. She rolled over to face him squarely, her elbow on his chest and her chin resting on her hand. "You know," she said conversationally, "I think that dream is just your way of dealing with your fear of machines."

"And what, pray tell, makes you think that?" Cyan said, somewhat in a huff. He did not like his humiliating distrust of machines being brought up, even in the privacy of their bedroom. A warrior did not show fear of anything, especially inanimate objects! But his wife was as intelligent as she was beautiful, and so he listened with a slight scowl twitching his mustache.

"Well, think about it," Elaine started, a look of deep thought on her face. "The dream's always the same. You find yourself being chased by the Empire's magitek armor through endless caves, never getting away, but never turning around to fight, either. Right?"

"'Tis the general flow of the dream, yes," Cyan admitted. His wife knew him very well.

Elaine lifted her head from her hand and poked her husband in the chest. "It makes perfect sense. The dream is telling you that you need to stop running from your fears, and to face them head-on. Otherwise, you'll just keep running in circles."

"So far, you have the right of it, I suppose," Cyan agreed, reluctantly. A thought came to him, and he smiled. "What is there to be done about it, though? Shall I march up to the Imperial base, sword in hand, and declare myself the Warrior of Doma, and demand a duel with every detestable piece of equipment on hand?"

Elaine laughed, and Cyan laughed too. She stuck her tongue out at his quip. "Perhaps we should start smaller? A duel with one of Owain&rsquo;s toy soldiers might be better."

They both laughed again, and got up from their bed to start the day. Cyan was in much better spirits now, thanks to the playful ministrations of his wife. The sun was shining through the window, and a small head was peering in at them, its wide eyes as bright as the dawn. It was Cyan's and Elaine's only son, Owain.

"Papa! Let's go fishing again today!" Owain bubbled, already wide awake and impatient to start the day's activities.

Cyan blushed again, chagrined at his ten-year-old son seeing him with Elaine in bed still. The boy was just too curious for his own good!

"Now Owain, you must not disturb your parents before they are properly dressed and out of bed." Cyan said sternly, but with a smile on his face.

"I am sorry, father..." Owain said automatically and withdrew his head from the window. He was practically shaking with excitement, but managed to behave himself while his parents finished getting ready. His father had worked hard to teach him how to be proper and noble, like a Warrior of Doma should. Sometimes it was hard to stay still, but he must try to be like his father at all times.

After a few agonizing minutes, Elaine opened the bedroom door and entered the small internal garden where Owain waited like a trembling statue. Elaine smiled warmly and hugged her son good morning.

"Oh Mama! What's taking Papa so long? I want to train today!"

Elaine smiled wider and raised one eyebrow. "I thought you said you wanted to go fishing?"

"Nah, I changed my mind! I want to be a Warrior, like Papa!"

Cyan appeared in the doorway, carrying a heavy suit of fine Doman armor under his arms.

"So the lad wants to play at swords this day? Then we shall greet the morning with a clash of steel!" Cyan announced grandly. Owain almost burst with glee, and ran away from his parents to get his practice sword from the castle armory.

Cyan and Elaine silently watched their pride and joy bound away through the castle garden and up the stairs. It would be another fine day inside the thick walls of Doma Castle, no matter what storms were gathering just outside. For now, they must enjoy what small offerings of peace they could find, for each day brought the Empire closer to their doorstep.

"How much longer do you think we can keep the truth from him, Cyan?" Elaine said, her smile fading into a concerned frown.

"As long as we can, my love. I will not let the Empire dictate how I live my life in my own home!" Cyan said vehemently.

"But yesterday's reports claim that the Imperial troops have occupied another stretch of farmland. First the railways were smashed, and now our farms, our food!" Elaine almost shouted.

"Calm yourself, Elaine," Cyan reproved. "So far, the Empire has behaved with impeccable respect for the innocent civilians caught in the middle of this stand-off. They may be led by a dog of an emperor, but the troops stationed here have shed remarkably little blood and have refrained from any wanton destruction. Remember, no loaded trains were attacked, just the empty cars and rail lines. And the farmers and villagers in the occupied regions have been explicitly warned that no harm will come to them as long as they do not take up arms. Whoever is in charge, he has my thanks for his noble tactics. We may lose this battle in the end, but there is no shame in losing to a worthy opponent in a fair battle."

"Oh, Cyan, you and your honor!" Elaine yelled in frustration. "Honor doesn't mean anything if you're dead!"'

"Be still, wife!" Cyan said firmly, but in the same level tone as before. "I will not lay down my sword simply because the opponent plays fair, of that I can assure you." To emphasize his point, he drew a long, slender blade from the scabbard attached to the armor in his other hand, and slashed through the air with it. It sung beautifully.

"Cyan...I worry about Owain, about us..." Elaine said abruptly, grabbing her husbands strong sword arm.

"Never worry, my love. I will protect our family, and our kingdom with my life. No Imperial soldier will step foot inside this castle as long as I draw breath."

That's what I'm afraid of. Elaine thought sadly. Her husband was a man of his word, and she knew sooner or later the niceties of this war would fade, and the grim reality of blood-soaked battle would settle upon the castle's gates. How much would her husband's honor be worth then?

Elaine remained silent and moody as she helped Cyan strap on his armor. It was all she could do to smile when Owain came running back with his dulled practice blade in hand and padded leather armor proudly tied tight around his waist.

"Awright! Let's duel!" Owain yelled, waving his harmless sword back and forth.

Cyan briefly squeezed his wife's hand tenderly and discreetly, then took several steps towards his son, getting into proper battle stance. Owain had the makings of a fine warrior, and Cyan swelled with pride as he watched his boy mimic his starting stance perfectly. Yes, someday Owain would hold the family sword in his hands as a true Garamonde, ready to lay his life down for king and kingdom. That was the way of the Warrior, and the way of Doma. Cyan would do everything in his power to ensure that there was still a Doma to protect when his son came of age.

Several hours passed as father and son sparred vigorously. Cyan was a strict taskmaster when it came to swordplay, but his son was a fine student, and never showed signs of anger or frustration, even when his sword was slapped from his little hands by Cyan's much larger blade. Both were damp with perspiration by the time the training was done, and Cyan was pleased with his son's progress. Soon there would be another fine addition to the ranks of the legendary Warriors of Doma.

Elaine joined the two sweaty fighters with three glasses of fresh lemonade in hand. All three sat down in the shade of a cherry tree and enjoyed their midday's reward. For the moment, the family of three was at peace within the sanctuary of the castle walls. No one knew how long it would last, but for now, they were happy.

"Sir Cyan, a letter from the Empire!" A messenger from the frontlines rushed into the garden and interrupted the quiet moment. A shadow passed over Elaine's features, but Cyan only stood at attention and received the letter, no sign of emotion on his face. His eyes scanned the contents of the letter quickly. There was no sign of whether it was good news or bad on his face as he returned the letter to the messenger.

"Has our king seen this letter?" was all Cyan said in response.

"Yes, he asked me to deliver it to you as well."

Cyan sighed, the first display of emotion he had shown since the messenger arrived. "I will meet with my liege immediately. Thank you, friend."

The messenger bowed and excused himself. Elaine and Owain looked at Cyan anxiously. For a moment, he simply stood where he was and looked out at the sky peaking over the high castle walls, a slight breeze blowing throw his hair.

So peaceful. So quiet. It is always so before the storm.

"Elaine, take Owain inside and do not wander about the castle today."

Owain began to protest, but Elaine grabbed his arm with her firm hand and he quieted.

"Has it begun?" Elaine said, knowing Cyan would understand her perfectly.

"It has," was all Cyan would reveal in front of his innocent son. "I will be back before nightfall, I promise." Cyan patted his son's head affectionately, his eyes full of love. "You play inside today, Owain. I shall return in time for supper. Until then, listen to your mother, do you understand?"

Owain straightened himself up, and said proudly, "I'll take care of Mama. Don't worry about us, Papa!"

Cyan smiled, and nodded gravely at his gallant little warrior. "Elaine, do not worry. The spirit of Doma is unbreakable." Cyan leaned forward and put his hands on his wife's shoulders. He wanted to kiss her good-bye, but not in front of his son. Such things were not suitable to young eyes. He simply held her for a moment, then let go, his eyes full of longing.

Elaine's eyes said she knew exactly what her husband was thinking. She nodded and stood strong for her son.

"I shall return in a few hours. Be strong, both of you." Cyan said, and turned to leave.

Disturbing news...but not unexpected. We must prepare for the worst now, and pray the strength of our people holds out a little longer.

Cyan mulled over the letter as he walked through the sunlit pathways of the castle that led to the throne room. From the ground, the castle was almost impenetrable, but it was completely open to attack from the air. But who could attack from the air?

The Empire and their damnable machines, that is who. First walking armored suits, now flying armored drones. A single fleet of these "Telstar" satellites could wipe out Doma if they were deployed. Every day the Empire constructs newer, stranger weapons of war. How are they managing such innovation? What was the secret behind this strange new power of "Magitek"?

"Sir Cyan!"

"My lord!"

"Welcome, Sir Cyan!"

"It is an honor to see you again, Sir Cyan!"

Cyan passed many Doman warriors as he marched through the castle deep in thought. Everywhere he went, he was greeted with respect, and sometimes awe. He was the finest among them, and the best weapon they had against the endless horde of Imperial soldiers and machines. Generations upon generations of finely honed Doman teaching had created the ultimate swordsman in Cyan Garamonde. A thousand Imperial troops couldn't stand before the greatest Warrior of Doma to ever live.

Or so Cyan's admirers claimed. The truth was, Cyan was only human, and he was acutely aware of that. His pride would never let him admit weakness to others, but his dreams told him the truth, just as his wife had suggested.

I must stop running from the truth, and from my own weakness. To understand this modern enemy, I must stand my ground and face my own shortcomings. I am but a single man with a sword, against fantastic machines that I find impossible to understand, let alone combat. But I must stop running away. Let the Empire's "Magitek" come! I will be ready to fight them, tooth and nail. I will pit my own steel against theirs, and we will see who is the stronger!

Cyan bent to his knee as soon he entered his lord's throne room. Despite being older than the king by almost a generation, Cyan still acted with total deference to his liege lord. His current lord's father had ruled admirably, and Cyan had served under him with honor and distinction until the old man passed away quietly in his sleep several years ago. Now, Cyan gave his sword to the old king's son with equal loyalty. The new king was young, but he had fire as well as wisdom despite his years. He knew when to fight, and he knew when to stand down and listen to his elder warriors' counsel.

The young King of Doma looked up from his reports as Cyan entered the throne room, then jumped up and enthusiastically greeted his old mentor. "Ah, Cyan! Thank you for coming! Please, rise! Join me!"

Cyan slowly rose and walked up to his lord. He knelt once more at the young man's feet, and unsheathed his exquisite sword, holding the naked blade outstretched in his palms to the king like a gift.

"I am here to reaffirm my vow to protect king and kingdom, My Lord. This humble sword is yours to command."

The king shook his head bashfully and laughed. "Enough of that, Cyan! Is there anyone in this castle that does not know where your loyalty lies? Please, stand and let us shake hands as equals. When the enemy comes to our door, we all know it will be Cyan Garamonde who will lead the troops to victory, not I!"

"My lord!" Cyan said, shocked. "I am but a lowly warrior, a simple liegeman! It is your guiding hand that will win the day. I am only a weapon, to be used as you see fit."

"Even in all these years, you haven't changed," the king said kindly. "Very well, have it your way. But we both know who our soldiers will follow first, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Cyan opened his mouth to protest again, but the king waved his hand, and commanded his friend to have a seat beside him.

"Now then, I assume you have read the letter, so let's not beat around the bush," the king started matter-of-factly.

"Indeed I have, My Lord." Cyan said, as politely as before. His honor would not have it any other way. "The Blackjack has been sighted again bringing in a fresh wave of supplies, troops, and weaponry."

The king clasped his hands together and peered up at the ceiling, as if he could see the massive airship hovering above them through the stones. His face was grim now. "We cannot compete with the Empire's resources much longer. And if our spies are right, this newest batch of weaponry has a potentially disastrous addition."

"Flying Magitek." Cyan responded simply. They both knew the weakness of their castle.

"Yes. How would you suggest we defend ourselves against such a threat?"

Cyan shifted uncomfortably. "I am afraid I cannot think of a suitable defense. These mechanical horrors are beyond anything Doma has seen since the War of the Magi. If the Empire decides to use them, we may have to...abandon the castle."

"Unacceptable!" The king said passionately. Doma Castle had endured since before the ancient War of the Magi, over a thousand years ago. To abandon their home of millennia now would be an unbearable outrage.

"I agree." Cyan said with equal passion. "I will stand here and fend off the Empire's Magitek fiends to the end, but it would be wise to evacuate the women and children in light of this new threat. Only our troops will remain inside the castle." Cyan thought only of Elaine and Owain as he said this, wondering if his wife and son would agree to leave him behind. Could he agree to let them go, though?

The king nodded his consent. "Yes, I think that would be prudent. Our walls have protected our families for generations, but times are changing, and Doma must change with them, or perish. I will see to the evacuation myself." The king picked up some of his reports that were scattered around him. "Now then, we must discuss what to do about the rest of the Empire's forces in the meantime. I hear they plan to bring in another general soon to replace the current one, and this may change the tactics we have seen thus far..."

Cyan and the king continued talking over the many movements and strategies of their deteriorating situation for many hours, and throughout that time, the only thing on Cyan's mind was his family, and their future. Time's were changing, and Cyan was not a man who liked change.

I say we must prepare for evacuation, but that is not what I believe. This is our home! How dare the Empire tell us how and where we must live! I, for one, will never leave the soil where I was born and raised. Let this new general come. I will show him the meaning of honor, if he has any at all!

As the sun began to set, Cyan and the king wearily put the last of the reports to the side. They had done all they could to prepare, to plan, to make-do in a situation that was looking more hopeless by the day. What would come must come, and they were as ready as they would ever be.

Both men looked at each other with the same thought as they rose to leave - Would this new phase of the war bring and end to the almost incomprehensibly long history of Doma? Would the next pages of their kingdom's story be written in their own blood?

Elaine, Owain...I will not fail you. I will not fail my kingdom. I will not fail my King. I am a warrior of honor. I am Cyan Garamonde, and I have no fear. Death has no power over me.

Cyan repeated this mantra as he made his way back to his small quarters nestled comfortably inside the castle. He would protect his world with his life. As long as Cyan lived, so, too, would the kingdom of Doma.

Elaine opened the door and greeted her husband warmly after his long day discussing war. Cyan surprised her with a beautiful bouquet of silk-woven roses that he pulled carefully from behind his back. This was his secret talent, something no one but his wife knew about, but something he took great pleasure in nonetheless. The proud warrior, a master of the sword, and a weaver of the finest embroidered flowers in the land.

Sewing these masterpieces gave Cyan time to think, and to relax after a stressful day of defending his home. His wife claimed they were hers to anyone who saw them, and Cyan was fine with that. This was not something to be paraded about in public. But just this once, he had brought one of his creations home from his workshop, as a gift for his precious wife.

Elaine couldn&rsquo;t help herself, and kissed her husband deeply. Owain was in the room and cried out, "I saw that Mama!" as Cyan turned a deep crimson at the breaking of proper manners. But he did not pull away or chide her. This may be the last time they embrace like this for a long time.

"I'm glad you're back, honey. It has been so quiet here without you. Thank you for the flowers. They're your most dazzling yet!"

Cyan turned his head and shut the door, making sure no one outside saw what he had just done.

"I missed you, Papa!"

Cyan reached down and grabbed his son up into his powerful arms, letting the little warrior hug him just this once. Now was perhaps the proper time to put decorum aside and swallow his pride. Just this once.

Cyan looked at his perfect wife and perfect son, and inside his heart broke at the uncertain future ahead of them. It tore him apart as he said it, but he told them about the plan to evacuate the castle, and that he would remain behind to protect the kingdom at all costs.

"Absolutely not," Elaine said in no uncertain terms. "We will stay here by your side. Our strength is your strength. Let the Empire do their worst, we're all Garamondes in this house, and I will stand by your side, always."

"I'll fight too!" Owain added, as innocently as ever. War was still just a game to him, but he had his father's spirit, no doubt about that.

"Owain, Elaine..." Cyan said, breaking up as his wife and son embraced him together. "I do not know what the future holds for us, but know that I love you both more than I can ever say. If it is your wish to stay by my side, then so be it. My sword will sing for as all, and I will fight all the harder knowing you are with me."

The three clung together in quiet solidarity for a long time, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. Outside the sturdy walls of Doma, the engine of war edged closer every day, threatening to break down the world Cyan had spent his entire life creating and protecting. This house and these souls within it were Cyan's life, his love, and his pride. He could not lose this time. He must not lose.

Let the Empire come. There is no running this time. I am ready for whatever devilish schemes and weapons they unleash. They will learn to fear this blade and the Warrior that wields it. On my honor, they will tremble at the name Cyan Garamonde!

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