By Esmee

- - -

          "Ah! A boy!"

"Yes, Mamar said it was a strong lad; very active."

          "Wonderful Jerum, you must be very proud of your daughter."

          "I am."

"Pity Gener couldn't be here to see the birth of his son though."

          "True, but all the able bodied men are needed for this Hunt."

          "Ah, but that I could go on a Hunt again! The rush of the wind through my hair, the swift pace of the Chocobo under me . . . "

"Yes, the only problem would be holding on with only one arm!"

          "Bah! If I could just-"

          "Stop it you two, this is Jerum's day. Don't spoil it with your bickering."


- - -

          "A strong son Lillion."

          The tent was quiet but for the exhausted huffing breathes of the young woman laying on the thick piling of furs by the hearth, and the soft static sound of the fire. The wind gentle tickled the side of the tent, making them billow slightly. The mid-wife smiled down at her charge in satisfaction.

          "You see him Lillion? He is a marvelously strong babe. Comes from having a strong Dam, it does." She beamed her happiness down at the pale young woman.

          Lillion lifted a slightly shaky hand to push back a strand of pale blond hair that had fallen in front of her sweaty face. She smiled weakly. "Come now, the Sire ­does have some part in the making of it too, you know." Never in her young life had she ever felt so tired, nor so happy.

          The mid-wife snorted rudely. "A small part sure, but they don't have to carry the babe for nine moons and then spend hours contracting their muscles trying to get the wee thing out! Their part in it is all pleasure for them."

          "Mamar . . . " Lillion reproved sleepily.

          The mid-wife's eyes softened. "Get some sleep Childe. I think with this wee babe you'll need it."

          Lillion was already asleep.

- - -

          The young man paced.

          First he had paced around the outer perimeter of the camp.

          Then he had paced the inner perimeter of the camp.

          And then he had started to pace beside the fire. The young man paced on as his friend sat watching him in amused silence.

          Finally one man through down his carving knife and glared at him evilly. "If you don't stop that cursed pacing in one minute, I am going to pick you up and throw you into the river personally."

          The young man paced on defiantly.

          One minute later he sat shivering on the pebbled riverbank. Dark gold hair was plastered to his head, with icy river water dripping down his face and the back of his neck.

          "I warned you Gener." The other man said unsympathetically while the rest of the men snickered.

          Gener just glared up at him with chatting teeth. "My wife is having a child – tonight if Mamar's predictions are at all correct – and I'm out on a blasted HUNT when I should be at Lillion's side! What else do you really expect me too do Bran?"

          "Relax for one thing. You would think you were the only man in the world to have ever had a child." Bran grumbled.

          "Give the lad a break." A cool voice said from behind the other men. "This is his first child, and I seem to remember that you were a worst wreck than he is Bran for your first born, and you were right out side the birthing tent at the time."

          Red spots darkened Bran's cheeks, as he ducked his head in embarrassment. "I know Harper, but he made me mess up the figurine I was craving for Dannus." He mumbled under the good-natured laughs that followed.

          "I've got hundreds of good craving pieces in my pack, I'll give one to you alright?" Harper said briskly. "Gener,"

          The young man looked up from wringing out – or at least trying to – his sopping tunic. His hair was plastered to his skull like a dark gold helmet, the longer pieces hanging in his eyes, and his clothes hung wet and loose over his thin boy's build. He ran his hand unconsciously through his hair, making it stand on end. "Yes."

          "Get cleaned up and then come and eat." Harper managed to get out without chuckling and wounding the poor boy's pride more than it already was. He allowed himself a small snicker after the lad had stalked away, looking for all the word like an offended cat.

          Harper's eyes then deepened to twin points of darkness as he watched as the rest of the men drifted back to the fire where it was warmer, all talking cheerful about their loved ones at home, or reminiscing about their first born now that the subject had been brought up.

          Harper was left alone by the river, outside the ring of warmth and familiarity. He alone didn't talk about his family. He alone didn't have anyone to welcome he home joyfully. He alone.

          And Harper stood there alone; fire light gleaming on pale hair that was too old for his young face.

          He stood there alone.

          It was always him alone.

- - -

          The Shumi village was a hidden Eden in the wastelands of the north; clear streams ran through lush emerald and olive hills, beautiful gold and dun colored dome like houses throughout these hills. The sunlight that filtered down from over head was diluted and shimmery from the glass panels in the huge dome that protected the village from the harsh climate outside.

          On the path from the most opulent of the gold and dun colored houses walked the Artisan of the Shumi. He had just been in a conference with the Elder and was still dazed with what he had come up with to protect against an attack from the savages.

           The Elder is truly magnificent. The Artisan thought reverently. Not only is he a compassionate leader, and shrewd businessman, but a brilliant tactician as well! It was true; the Elder Acuma was the best Elder they had had in a long time.

          The Artisan was meandering his way back through the village proper, going back to his shop to start the designs of the weapons the Elder had requested. They were nothing fancy, just run of the mill weapons, and not many were required because Shumi had a natural proficiency for magic.

          Yes, He reflected. The Elder's plan is brilliant; with the help of the SeeD, they could finally be safe from those savages.

- - -

          Cid Kramer had just be asked – no ordered, He reminded himself – to help with the hunting down the nomadic tribe that shared the north with the Shumi people.

          "Let me understand this," He said pushing his glasses up his nose as he looked at the Shumi dressed in robes stiff with embroidery. "You want me to take the fully trained SeeDs that I have right now, and send them here to help you hunt down this people."

          The Elder nodded. "Yes, that is what we want of you."

          "And if I don't do as you ask, you'll cut my funding for the Gardens."


          "What if I said I had already found someone else to fund the Gardens?"

          The Elder made a deep rumbling noise in his chest that was equivalent to a snort. "Do not be foolish Cid Kramer, we know there is no one else who will fund this 'Garden Project' of yours. You will do this for us. There are benefits in this for you as well, it will be a the first field test for your SeeDs and if it is successful you will have much business."

          "I still don't see what threat these people pose to you," He argued. "They don't let their people use magic, they travel farther down south in the winter and farther up north in the summer so they aren't around to be bad neighbors, they are a shy people in general and don't come around the other cities and towns that often. Why do you feel it's so necessary to slaughter them?"

          The Elder stiffened and the edge of his tone was sharp. "It is of no concern to you what we do, but" He sighed heavily. "If you must know, they have been gathering together for the past year. Normally this would not be strange, they have some kind of pagan festival every summer, but this is different. They are gathering together all of the little clans becoming one large clan, and with so many together they will not be able to travel with the seasons as they have done before. They are meaning to settle, and if they settle the will fight us."

          "Why would they fight with you? Surly the north is big enough for both you and the Tribes."

          The Elder made a frustrated gesture. "The north is big yes, but we are the only people that live here in relative ease. Eventually, people among their tribes will become unsatisfied with the way they must live. They will see the way the Shumi live and they will covet it because they do not have it.

          "They will fight among themselves, the younger ones will want to live an easier life, the older ones will want to stay with the old ways, but the old ones will eventually die and the young ambitious ones will take over. Eventually they will get their way and attack us.

          "They will be many, and we will be few. They will have weapons and maybe even magic by then. We will not be able to fight them off and we will die. They will take our land, our homes. We will not be able to stop it if we let them become bigger, stronger. All we ask of you is to lend us your power and help us kill off the warriors of the clans, only them would we have your SeeDs fight."

          "Only them?"


          Cid Kramer bowed his head. He wasn't prepared to give up the Gardens. "They will be here within the week."

- - -

          "Do you think Gener will be back in time for the Naming?" Lillion asked wistfully.

          "Dear Heart," Her Father looked at his daughter with exasperation tempered with tenderness. "I'm sure he'll try to get back in time, but this Hunt is going to be a long one from all appearances. But even if he can't make it, his heart will be with you. You can be sure of that."

          "I know; I just miss him. That's all."

          "I know you miss him, I'm also pretty sure he's missing you about now, but we need this Hunt; winter is coming and our stores aren't even half full."

          Lillion sighed. She knew perfectly well that they need this Hunt; the game around the village had become next to non-existent, and with the Joining of the Clans they need much more game than they would normally need at this time of year.

          "Cheer up love," Her father encouraged her. "Nothing will happen to them, to him, Harper is with them."

          She brightened ever so slightly. "True, but even Harper is not invincible."

          Her father laughed. "There used to be a time you thought other wise."

          She grinned. "Part of me still does, but he is still only human Da."

          Her father looked at her, a sad knowledge in his eyes. You never did realize, did you? Harper would go through Hell itself to keep you happy. No harm will come to your Gener. Aloud he said, "Have you chosen a name of the wee one yet? Because if you haven't, I have a few ideas . . . ?" He trailed off, a twinkling of mischief bright in his eyes.

          This time she gave a true laugh – which in turn woke the baby. Lillion smiled as she went over to pick him up. He kept wailing loudly until she lowered him to her breast.

          "You are just so beautiful." She cooed to her suckling child. To her father she said, "We never decided on a name, but I'm thinking about calling him Stalion."

          He father looked over at her approvingly. " 'Proud courage', a good name to have, a name you can live on. A wise name my Childe."

          Lillion smiled, making the black tattoo on the right side of her face crinkle slightly. "I'm pleased you approve Da."

          He smiled at his daughter and grandson proudly. "How ever did you become so wise my 'Wise strength'? I know I didn't teach you," He came over and ran a calloused finger through the feather white-blond tuffs of hair on the baby's head. "Become just like your mother, you hear?"

          The baby burped and promptly fell asleep.

- - -

          Gener paused hesitantly in the entrance of Harper's tent. Lucky man gets a tent all to himself. Gener though grumpily. Well, He amended looking around the interier of the tent, maybe not all to himself. The tent was stacked floor to roof with the extra equipment that they had take with them when they had left the camp a week ago, leaving very little room for the small, foldable sleeping cot wedged up against the far wall of the tent.

          Harper was sitting on his cot with a large piece of parchment and a stick of charcoal. A small dish of burning oil was set on the floor by the cot, lighting up the sharp angles of his face and creating an intricate weaving of shadows over his Naming tattoo from the few strands of hair that had come loose from the braid that Harper had been pulled it back in. Slender fingers flew in deft movements over the creamy parchment with smooth, practiced strokes. Gener coughed slightly to get the older man's attention.

          "Don't just stand there," Harper said, barely glancing up from the parchment. "Come in and find a seat; you're letting the hot air out."

          Gener let the flap that was the tent's door close with a soft 'whoosh', effectively shutting out the cold, dull gray and brown landscape outside, and took a seat on a large piling of fur and skins by the tent wall. He watched Harper as he continued the rhythmic strokes of the charcoal.

          "You don't need to worry," Harper said breaking the almost hypnotic silence without breaking his pencil strokes. "Lillion is in the best hands there are."

          "I know." Gener sighed, "But still, I should be there; I'm the father." He failed to notice the shadow that passed over the pale haired man's face.

          "The best thing you can do for her right now is to make this a successful Hunt." Harper said practically.

          "I still wish I could be there though."

          "You're won't be the first man not to be there for the birth of his child and you won't be the last."

          Under Gener's eyes the scattered black lines began to shape themselves into an image. "You're good." He was starting to see a face in the black marks on the parchment.

          "Thank you," Harper used his thumb to smudge some of the lines. "But I'm not nearly as good as Lucian was."


          "My father."

          Gener continued to watch in silence as the picture immerged under Harper's hand. "Who is that supposed to be?"

          "Someone," He said evasively. "What did you come to see me about?"

          "Well," Gener fidgeted slightly. "You've known Lillion for a long time right?"


          "Well . . . I was wondering if you could tell me if there is anything that she has always wanted. I am quite good with my hands and could make it for her while we're on the Hunt."

          Harper glanced at him, amused. "What gave you this idea?"

          The younger man flushed. "You remember the other night when Bran tossed me in the river? Well, he said he was craving something for his son,"

          "Bran's boy, Dannus? Yes I remember; I gave him a really nice piece of Black Ash to crave with."

          "Well, I just thought that I would like to do something like that for Lillion because I can't be there."

          The pale haired hunter was quiet for so long Gener though that maybe he wasn't going to answer him.

          "That's right, you've only known her since spring."

          Gener jumped slightly as Harper's voice spoke in the stillness. "Yes, since the Clans joined."

          "Well," Harper said slowly, "When she was little, she had always wanted a pet bird. She never got one, but she kept wanting one. She just stopped asking for one after a while."

          "A pet bird?" Gener repeated surprised, "That's it?"

          "It may not sound like much, but it was really quite important to her at the time."

          "Well," He said thoughtfully, "I suppose I could make one for her. It wouldn't be that hard you know."

          Both men sat quietly for a while in a strange companionship. Gener had only known Harper for little more than a year, and knew about him only from the times the older man had come over to see Lillion or her father Jerum. And from what he heard about him from the others of the Clan. Harper was somewhat of an enigma to the others. He had come to live with Lillion's Clan ten years ago, being one of the only survivors from the Draconigena Clan massacre. He never talked about what happened to his Clan, but he was well respected by everyone who knew him.



          "Why don't you ever talk about your Clan? Your family?"

          Harper abruptly stopped moving.

          Gener gingerly tapped him on the shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry. If it's too painful you don't have too say anything."

          Harper gentle shrugged off his hand and resumed sketching. When he finally spoke Gener was surprised by what he said. "I never speak about it because no one ever asks me about it." He fell silent again.

          Gener was just starting to get uncomfortable when Harper began to speak again. He paused ever now and then as if searching for an appropriate word. "Our Clan was large, the largest next to yours actually Gener. We didn't think we were invincible, but somewhere close to it. At least that's what some of us thought. My father was one of them." He stopped, eyes slightly unfocused as if seeing something far away. "He had a right to think that, my Father did. He was strong. So strong, so very powerful. Brilliant as any one man could ever wish to be."

          Gener could hear an immense amount of respect in Harper's voice as he spoke of his father. "And your Mother?"

          "A sweet and giving women every day of her life. She was the one who knew Lillion's father; they had been good friends growing up and would often take me to see Jerum. My father liked him as well. They were all good friends."

          "Did you have many friends there?"

          "Yes. Many dearly loved friends, especially Laetitia."


          "My wife."

          The quiet was a living entity in the small tent, wrapped around the two men. Gener shivered slightly as a current of cold air found his unprotected face. Harper was sketching still; but his eyes kept their glassy, distant look.

          "It was early. Just after sunrise, really." He spoke slowly and cautiously, voice steady but there was a note of ancient hysteria was buried deeply in it. "I had decided not to go on the Hunt with the other; Lucian, Pertra, Dario, Kylar. I didn't want to go on the Hunt, had never liked the Hunt or hunting very much to my father's eternal dismay, I had always liked painting better, but I didn't really feel like being lazy either. I then remembered that Laetitia had been craving Flacontion for the passed little while. So I got my fishing gear out and went to catch her some. Clarus was awake. She asked if she could go with me."

           Please Daddy, can I go, please?

          "She pleaded with me, begging to go; said –said that she would mouse-quiet if she could come. Just her and me."

          We never get to do anything together any more.

          " 'Just you and me.' She said. 'Not Moma, not Lux, just you an' me.' I told her she had to stay home 'cause Laetitia need her little girls help to take care of the house, and she started to pout so I promised her I would take her to see the Chocobo forest we had passed by the week before. Just her and me."

           Really Daddy? Oh, THANK YOU!

          "And I went out. It was warm, warmer than normal for the time of year. I packed up Babel, my chocobo, and went down to the sea. The sand at the beach was dry and white and soft, warm with a fine though slightly grainy texture to it. I stayed there until the sun burnt my cheek and the skin started to peel on my nose. I had caught a large Falconation, and was happy.

           Com' on Babel, let's head back to Laetitia and the twins.

          "I started to notice how quiet it was as I was heading back. There was no sound. About half way back, I think, I came across the Hunt party. They were lying on the ground, all of them, just lying there like a set of toy soldiers that some huge hand had knocked over and scattered them thoughtlessly. I could see Lucian's eyes; a glassy film covered the iris and pupil, making his blue eyes a grayish shade. There was blood coming from his nose and mouth and a small trickle of it ran brightly from his ear.

          "Then I heard a . . . felt the after-wave from when a large fire spell is cast. I made Babel run. I slingshot from off of Babel's back and started to run through the camp. I was screaming something I think. I can't remember now. I could hear screams everywhere, including mine. Or maybe I was the only one screaming. Ahead of me I could see my tent. I came around the corner and I froze. A few meters to my left lay my Clarus, my baby, all the skin on the right side of her face was melted and black, like wax, and her hair stuck to the skin on her arms and neck. I could hear Lux crying."

           It hurts Daddy . . . Daddy it hurts so much . . .

          "I could see Laetitia trying to cover both Lux, who was lying burnt and weeping on the ground, and her stomach where our next child was. She had tears running down her face, and she was talking to the Shumi in front of them, asking it not to hurt her baby."

           I'll do anything you want, anything, don't hurt her, please, don't hurt her.

          "Then I felt a great rushing of warm air and was blown back by this huge blast from a fire spell. It knocked me out, saving my life; it made me look like I was dead I guess. When I woke up they, the Shumi, my family, my clan, were gone. I was alive."

          Gener took in a huge lung full of air, he felt dizzy and nauseous. He could see in his mind eye the fire: hear the crying. He tried to shake the feeling off and find something to say. 'Wow' was too cruel and childish, 'I'm sorry' too trite and artificial, there was nothing to say. He hesitantly placed his hand on the older mans shoulder, only to have Harper shake it off violently.



          "I said LEAVE!"

          Gener sprang up and dashed out of the tent.

          Harper looked down at his trembling, and then at the parchment on his lap. On it was a picture of a young woman with long hair falling in her eyes, two little children were peeking out from behind her skirt, and her hand was resting gently on her swollen abdomen. The children's eyes looking around the skirt were reproachful and the woman's from under her hair were beseeching.

           You were there Harper, why didn't you help me?

           You were there Daddy, why didn't you save me?

           You were there Daddy, why didn't you die with me?

          Harper forcefully ground the charcoal stick into the parchment and then flung it away from him. He wrapped his arms around his chest and bent over until his forehead touched his knees.

          He stayed that way for a long time.

- - -

          Gener stumbled away from the silent tent behind him. To have seen something like that . . . ! Gods, he didn't envy Harper, if that had been Lillion . . . Suddenly the woman holding her child swollen stomach had Lillion's face. She turned towards him and then the fire was there and- He almost ran to the bush so he could retch.

          He stood there for a long time after, catching his breath and stilling tears that the image had caused.

          When he finally moved away form there, he had a look of determination in his eyes.

          He would never let something like that happen to Lillion. Never.

- - -

          Lillion stood on her tiptoes, peering over the flap of the door tom see if they were ready for her son's Naming ceremony yet.

          "Sit down girl, the ceremony isn't for a few moments yet."

          Lillion walked fretfully back to her friend. "How did you do it Mara? How could you stand this waiting with Dannus?"

          Mara grinned and shook her head in a silent laugh. "I just sat down and waited, that's how I did it. And that's all you have to do as well, so SIT!"

          Lillion grumbled obesities under her breath and took a seat. She glanced at her dark hair friend deeply envying that aura of calm that surrounded her. She was just about to get up again when a small whirlwind flew into to the room. It stopped and gave a small shriek when it saw her. " 'Illion!" It cried as it hurled it's self at her . . . only to be caught by the shirt by Mara. "Aw Mom! Why'd ya do that for?"

          "You young man," Mara said looking her son firmly in the eye. "Are all grubby and you'd've gotten Lillion all grubby too if I'd let you jump on her like that."

          "I wouldn't 'ave!" The boy began indignantly, "I-"

          "-Love her. Yes I know, now-"

          "MOM!!!" The child wailed at the top of his lungs. "How could you tell!"

          Lillion managed to keep from smiling and spare the boy's dignity a further blow. "Don't worry about it Dannus, you know I love you too."

          Dannus's face broke into a dazzling smile that would break hearts in a few very short years. "You love me best, right 'Illion?"

          "Yes, I love you best."

          He giggled softly and ran out of the room.

          Lillion looked after him hungrily and Mara laughed. "Your boy will soon be running around like that my friend, have no fear about that."

          She grinned widely, "Was I that obvious?"

          "Un huh," Mara nodded gleefully. "You looked like a cat who had just seen a big fat birdy."

          They both snickered. A cough broke them from their gaiety and they looked up to see Angus, the clan's young apprentice priest. "The ceremony is ready for you Lillion,"

          "Thank you." She smiled at him and he let the flap fall behind him as he left. "Come on, sweet." She whispered to her baby, who was sleeping peacefully in the thick folds of lamb's wool and Chatterpillar silk. She scooped him up and stepped through the door and into the ceremony.

          The sides of the Priest's tent were cover in beautiful murals depicting Hunts, Naming ceremonies, and every day life. The air smelled sweet with incense.

          The priest, Angus, and her father all stood at the far end of the tent, waiting for her to come up and place the child in the ceremonially crib. Proudly, she walked towards the crib and laid her son in its fleece folds. Impulsively, she gave him a kiss on the cheek as she put him down and then went to stand beside her father.

          The priest began the ceremonial Naming prayer and Angus began preparing the dye for the tattoo. The priest finished the prayer and picked up the dye and brush. He knelt over the crib while Angus held the child still.

          "And in the eyes of the Mother and the eyes of the Father may your Name represent and bring forth the qualities for which you are named; Pride in your self and your family and your clan and your abilities; Courage in all that you do and that you set out to do and face in your life," The priest intoned gently as he used delicate brush strokes to make the intricate Naming tattoo on the baby's small face. "And so you are Named, Stalion; 'Pride and Courage'."

          Lillion thought her heart would burst with all the joy that filled as she watched this timeless ceremony take place for her son. The only thing that could possibly make this better, she thought slightly wistfully as she glanced at her father standing by her side in the place of where the father should be, is for Gener to be here too.

          Angus bent over and picked up the newly named Stalion gently, and carried him over to her with a large smile. She took him wordlessly and stared down at his tiny face. A tuft of blond hair darker than she own but lighter than Gener's stuck to his forehead, his face was slack and a strand of drool hung from the corner of his mouth and Lillion had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.

- - -

          Gener hesitantly approached Harper where he sat by the fire. He hadn't talked to the pale haired man since that night when he had foolishly asked him about his family. "Harper?" He asked timidly.

          He looked up. "Yes?"

          Gener felt extremely stupid, he had almost expected the older man to ignore him or something, not act like nothing had ever happened. "I'm almost finished the bird for Lillion and thought that maybe I should show it to you." He stumbled over some of the words in the rush to get them out.

          Harper looked slightly amused at this. "Gener, anything from you to Lillion would be treated as if the gods them selves had given it to her."

          He inspected the toe of his boot carefully. "I know, but I would like your opinion on it all the same."

          Harper chuckled. "Lets see it then."

          He handed a small bundle over to Harper.

          Harper raised an eyebrow quizzically, as he unwrapped the cloth form the bird then stared. "This is incredible." He breathed.  The bird had been made from slim strips of wood, sanded until glossy, bound together by even thinner strips of wood. A brightly polished river stone was set for the eye.

          "How in the world did you get it to stay together?"

          Gener's cheeks darkened slightly at Harper's praise. "I told you, I've always been good with my hands."

          "She'll love it." Harper said as he gently wrapped the cloth back around the bird.

          "Great." He smiled happily. "Thanks Harper."

         "I'm telling you, we should do some thing!"

          Harper and Gener both looked towards the source of the commotion and found Bran and some of the other men in hot debate.

          "Do what Bran?" One of them was saying, "There is nothing we can do."

          "But don't you think it would be a better life then what we have now? We must travel farther and farther just to find game, we need a place like the Shumi have to return to!"

          "Okay, say we could build a place like what the Shumi have built for themselves. It would take years to finish. Are you really willing to spend time and effort on something that might not even be finished in your lifetime or that of your children's?" Many of the men murmured in agreement.

          "I'm not suggesting we build one." Bran said seriously. "There's one already built and waiting to be used, all we have to do is take it." A dead silence greeted his words.

          "Your talking about war Bran." Gener said softly.

          "I know." He had all the men's attention now. "The way I look at it is this; they've taken so much from us and now it's our turn. There isn't that many of them, everyone knows that, though they are powerful, they aren't fast nor are there a lot of 'em. Now that the clans have joined together we are greater then they are, we are bigger and faster and out number them at least twenty to one. Surely we stand with some chance at those odds."

          "You're being a idiot." Harper said shortly. "We don't need to fight the Shumi, it will only cause a loss of life on both sides and that is something that is totally unnecessary."

          Gener glanced at Harper in surprise; he would have thought that Harper would have been one of the people for this idea not against it. Apparently others thought so as well.

          "I would never have take you for a coward Harper, I thought you would have the strongest argument for this, after all, they've taken the most from you." A voice said for the far side of the fire. "And we have a better than average chance for winning, I say we suggest this to the Council."

          Harper got up and walked closer to the fire, staring down into the flames intently. "That was my father's argument as well." He smiled and the fire made his face into a demonic mask. "He said the very same thing, he had all of my clan supporting him."

          "The Draconigena clan would have drawn us all to war?!" Another man cried out incredulous.

          "No," Harper shook his head. "We weren't going to demand Clan War Rights from any of you, we thought that we would be enough.  After all, we out numbered them about ten to one." He smiled again. "A better than average chance at winning wouldn't you say?" The men were silent.

          Harper looked into the fire again. "They found out about our plan to attack them some how, maybe someone betrayed us I don't know, and they came, killed us all and then left. Have they attacked any clans in the ten years since then?" Most of them wordlessly shook their heads. "Then we have no reason to initiate a battle we may not win."

          Bran shook his head stubbornly. "That's not true! We have a very good chance of winning, we just need to prepare."

          "Is that what you think Bran? Are you willing to see your child lying on the ground with her skin melting like black wax? Or watch your wife die while trying to protect your children? Or see your father lying like a broken toy on the ground with blood coming out of his ears? Are you willing to take that consequence? Are you willing to place the safety of your family, your clan in forfeit of this venture?" Harper bit off each word, each hitting home with shape accuracy. "Are you willing for that to happen?"

          "It may not happen, we might win!"

          "There's that word again, 'might'. If you might win then you also might lose. Whatever you chose, I won't be a part of it."

          Harper was just about to go to his tent when there came the sound of yelling and then the night watch came up, gasping for breath, but his message was clear: "We are attacked."

- - -

          Lillion quietly placed a thick blanket over the sleeping Stalion. Though she loved him when he was awake, she loved him more when he was asleep! She went over to where her father was sitting with his pipe and curled up against him, resting her head on his thigh.

          "Tired of the wee lad so soon daughter?" She could feel the laughter he was suppressing vibrate through his stomach.

          "No." She said playfully punching his thigh. "But he is so active, I never thought a baby could be so active."

          "You were just like that when you were little." He laughed.

          "Tell me again about how you met Mother." She asked softly.

          "Well," He began. "I had gone over to visit Rena, Lucian and Harper for a few days. It was always a joy seeing how big Harper got each time I saw him. I was talking with Harper when Rena came in with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. It felt like I had just been sucker-punched in the stomach. Rena brought her over and introduced her as the daughter of a friend of a friend of hers; her name was Gail.

          "I was tongue tied, I honestly couldn't think of anything to say to this vision in front of me. I think Rena thought it was very funny that I, the great playboy of all time, was unable to put together a coherent sentence in front of this woman. Afterwards, when she had left, Rena and Lucian reamed me about it for hours.

          The next time I saw her was a few days later a feast her family was putting on. I can't ever remember feeling as nervous as I had then. After I had been there for about an hour, maybe two, I bumped into someone and sent them sprawling. The person turned out to be Gail's sister. She was not blessed with her sister's looks, but she had an incredibly sharp wit and a beautiful sense of humor. We became friend quickly; we shared the same cynical out look on many things, including life in general, despite the large gap in or ages.

          "Peregrine was nothing like her sister, and that was probable a good thing in the long run, other wise I would never have been able to get up the courage to marry and then I wouldn't have had you. Anyway, at first I kept coming around to see Rena or Lucian and using that as an excuse to see Gail; seeing Peregrine was just a large added bonus. After awhile I came to see Peregrine as well as Rena and Lucian, she would always tease me about her sister mercilessly. You see the thing was, she became my confidant. I told her everything so there was no secret of mine that she didn't know.

          "I had known Peregrine, Gail and their family for about two years when one day when I came over I saw Gail sitting out side their tent. I called out a greeting, having finally gotten over the tongue-tied state a few months before and was now able to speak up to a full sentence in her presence, she smiled at me and said that if I wanted to find Peregrine she was in side preparing for her wedding.

          "For the second time in my life, by the same person, I felt like I had been sucker-punched in the gut again. I called out a hurried apology as I virtually ran back to Rena's. Once there I ranted at her for I think a full hour, about how she could be so inconsiderate as not to mention that one of my closest friends was getting married. She gave me a blank look and asked whom it was I was talking about. 'Peregrine.' I answered promptly. 'She's not getting married, she's helping her aunt get married.' Rena explained to me.

          "I stood stock still for a moment before running back to Peregrine's and barging in on her and her family, and stating in no uncertain terms that the only person she was ever getting married to was me, then I turned and rushed out to make the arrangements – Bride Fees, Betrothal Gifts, and whatnot – as she yelled after me if she had any say in the matter and I yelled back 'No' and went off.

          "We got married a week later and had you nine months later." Her father smiled down at the sunny head on his thigh.

          "I'm glad you married Mother." She murmured.

          "So am I." He sighed. "She would have loved to have seen Stalion."

          Just then there was a loud ruckus outside. Jerum and Lillion sprang up and rushed out in time to see a bloody Harper tumble from the top of his Chocobo.

- - -

          The Elder looked at the nervous young man in front of him. He wore a black uniform, with gold, wine and cerulean trim about the cuffs, collar, hem, and shoulders.

          "We have completed your orders." He said trying to give an impression of formidability without succeeding.

          "Good, we thank you for the satisfactory completion and fulfillment of the terms of your contract. You and your SeeDs are free to leave as of this moment." The Elder watched impassionate, as the young SeeD gave a sloppy bow before hurrying away to gather his people together. He watched as the boy picked up his weapon on his way out the door.

          The Elder suddenly felt very old. Today he had given the order to attack.

          Survival was for the fittest they said, and as the Elder of the Shumi people it was his job to see that the fittest were the Shumi. He shouldn't feel regret or remorse of ensuring the survival of his people. Survival is a bloody business, he told himself. This is just another drop in the bucket.

          But, he wondered, if that is true, then why do I feel a need to wash my hands?

- - -

          Lillion couldn't cry.

          It was not, she told herself, that she didn't want to cry, but that she honestly couldn't make the tears come. Maybe, she thought hazily, it was shock.

          She knew that Mara was somewhere to her right, weeping in near hysteria. But all that she could hear were Harper's words before he was whisked away by the priest, Angus and her father. She could only see Harper's dark eyes and the blood on his face and clothes.

          "They killed everyone."

          She got up unsteadily. She had to talk to Harper, it was all a misunderstanding surely! She would go see him and he would make everything okay just like he had when she was little, just like he had when mother died. Harper would make everything better. She gave a soundless whimper deep in her throat; he had to make everything okay, he was Harper.

          She made her way through the crowds that had suddenly appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. She was able to pass unchecked into the priest's tent, but paused just outside the skins that were strung up to give patients privacy. She heard her father say something and the Harper's voice reply.

          "-They weren't Shumi. They, they were wearing uniforms of some kind: black, red and blue. They had weapons and magic, powerful magic. We –we tried to fight them off but they were too strong, much to strong. They were on chocobos and we were on foot. There was so many of them . . . I couldn't fight them, there was just too many . . . "

          "You tried your best lad." She could hear the priest saying. "No one expected you to do anything more then try."

          She peered through a slit in the material. She could she Harper sitting on the foldable cot while Angus was busily bandaging his left arm. The priest and her father both stood off to one to give him so breathing room. Harper held his face in his right hand and the knuckles of his left hand were white where they held on to the fur of the cot as if for dear life.

          Angus spoke to him softly. "At least you got away, now no one need spend time anguishing over what happened to the Hunt."

          "You don't understand," Harper moaned into his hand softly. "I was right there, right next to Gener. We were fighting as hard as we could. I had my back to him." Harper was silent as he replayed the image in his over again and again.

          "There was so much blood . . . everything was a deep, bright red . . . and the smell . . . When I turned around, I saw Gener. He was only a little hurt I think, and I saw one of these men come up behind him." Again he saw the man in the black uniform raise his blade above Gener's head.

          "I . . . there was time . . . I had time to get over there or yell a warning or something and I . . . froze. I froze and watched the blade come down . . . it was so fast . . . so bright and shiny . . . there were dark spots on it, blood . . . so much blood came rushing out of Gener . . . and I could have stopped it, I could have warned him . . . " Again he was at the moment when he had the chance to do something and he didn't.

          Lillion thought she had stopped breathing for a minute, and then came the rage. She thrust aside the curtain; the men's heads all swiveled around in surprise to look at her. She walked up to Harper and her hand snaked out and hit Harper on the cheek so hard his head snapped back.

          "You bastard." She breathed unevenly. "You were there, you could have saved him!" She started to pound on Harper's chest. "YOU BLOODY BASTARD! YOU COULD HAVE HELPED HIM! YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HIM! You could have-" She suddenly gave a choked sob and broke down on Harper chest, still banging her fist against him though it was now no more powerful than a child's.

- - -

          Lillion was sitting with Stalion when the screams started.

          Harper burst through the entrance way just as the cry of 'Fire!' rose. He had a wild look in his eyes and a naked blade held awkwardly in his right hand.

          "What's going on, Harper? What's-"

          "Move." He said his voice harsh from lack of breath. "The village is being attacked by Shumi. They've started a fire, you've got to hide."

          "But Father-"

          "Just do as I ask! Please."

          Harper took her swiftly to the far edge of the village where the fighting had not quite reached yet. "Stay here, don't move. Don't speak, and keep Stalion quiet, sing to him softly or something." He said before he ran back in to the fighting.

          Lillion was trembling violently as the sound of the screams became clearer. In her arms Stalion started to whimper.

          "Shhh sweet, you must be quiet right now." She turned around so she wouldn't have to see the burning. "I will sing you a song, okay? Just please be quiet." She cast around in her mind for a song. The only one she could think of was an old lullaby her father sang to her.

          "Hush, little baby, don't say a word," The screams behind her were intensifying.

          "Mama's going to buy you a mocking bird." She broke off abruptly as she heard Mara call out for Dannus.

          "And if that mocking bird don't sing," She tried to sing again. "Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring." She broke off again as something crashed into the bushes beside her.

          "Hush, little baby, don't say a word," She curled around her child more tightly. "Mama's going to buy you a mocking bird."

          She was sobbing more than she was singing now. She felt sick and had a cold, tight stone in the pit of her stomach. "Hush, little baby," Stalion was starting to wriggle now, becoming frightened by the sound of his mother's voice. He let out a small cry.

          "Don't," She begged more than she sang. "Say,"

          Harper saw the Shumi with lance raised; standing over Lillion's turned and unprotected back. He felt a sick feeling in his gut. It's going to happen again! He thought with cold assurance. He started to run towards the Shumi and the girl. I won't let it happen again. "Don't hurt her!" He called out.

          Then he felt something cold pass through his back. "No-!" It felt almost like he had cut himself, but that was silly. He could cut himself on his back could he? The ground was getting closer and he realized in some dim recess of his mind that he was falling.

          His eyes were open when he hit the ground.

          She thought she heard Harper calling out, but didn't turn around. "A word." She finished in a whisper.

          She felt a sudden sharp pain in her back.

- - -

Esmee's note:

Did any one understand that? Was it good? Or should I go and lock myself away for even attempting to write something like this? Who was your favorite character? Tell me, I need to know!

Now for the real notes. This is the back story to my back story 'Hush' which some of you read hopefully and so understand and know whom this story is about. If you haven't, then I suggest you do, it will clear up a lot of things in this fic.

And for those who want to know, the title 'Supersto' is Latin for 'to survive'.

          One other thing, I forgot to add a disclaimer in 'Hush' but I will now.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of these characters, all character and setting and ideas, were born from the Squaresoft EA continuum.

Thanks for reading.