"Daddy, can you tell us a story?" His children sat up in their beds, eyes bright and shining.
"Of course." He took a seat next to his son. "What kind of story would you two like?"
His daughter seemed surprised at the offer, but his son immediately spoke up. "Uh, how about one with dragons and magic and monsters and-"
He laughed, cutting him off. "Alright, I think I've got one just for you. Now, are you comfortable?" They both nodded before resting their heads back on him. "Good, good."
"A long, long time ago, there was a book. Yes little one," He turned to his daughter before she could ask. "A very special book, called a the Gran Grimoire. Now, it was said that those who read this grimoire would have all their wildest dreams granted. Many fought to gain the book, for who wouldn't love to have everything they ever wanted? But the story of endless war isn't what I will tell you two. No, I'll be telling the story of four friends who discovered the book, centuries after the greatest mages of the land had sealed it away. Oh, there'll still be fighting and danger, and even some very scary things, but mostly, this is a story about friendship tried and true. And it begins on a winter day..."
Chapter 1: Wondrous Winter
"And that's how absolute value works." Isaac Leslaie finished, turning to face his class. He held back a sigh at the sight of them all. The front row was writing down notes, but from the frequent yawning he heard, Mr. Leslaie wondered how any of them were even awake still. Glancing at the clock though, he couldn't blame them. The last day of school before break, and another half hour before freedom. Why, it's as if he had asked them all to have some patience! Eyes settling on the light snow falling outside, Mr. Leslaie felt a similar jolt of impatience. He turned back to his class, already thinking of how to speed up this day.
"Alright everyone, since Christmas is just around the corner, and you all did so well on our last test, I've decided to give you a little treat." He raised a hand, silencing the cheers. "However, I'll only give it if one you can answer a one of my 'challenge' questions." He paused, amusement in his eyes at the sight of a now much more awake class.
"Lyle Mertavic." He said, looking to a blue eyed boy in the back of the room. "Tell me, what is the Greek word for 'Earth'?"
Lyle's head jerked up, realizing he'd been called. "Uh…" he muttered, glancing around for any sort of hint. Mr. Leslaie noticed one of his fellow trouble makers, Colin Lynch, make eye contact with the boy. The smug look on Colin's face as he mouthed an answer was confirmation enough for Lyle apparently. "Terra!" He shouted.
"Sorry Colin, but once again your aid is wrong." Mr. Leslaie said. The boy's face turned an interesting shade of red. " 'Gaia' was the correct answer. Perhaps you and Lyle should brush up on some mythology? Mrs. Reynalds tells me you two could use an expanded vocabulary." The boys' faces turned even redder as laughter broke out among the students.
Letting his class settle down, Mr. Leslaie asked, "How about you Ms. Malheur? What is the largest forest in the United States?"
Sitting in the front row, Ritz Malheur had always been Mr. Leslaie's go-to girl when no one else would answer a math question. Or any question really. He wondered sometimes if she even realized how intimidating she was to her classmates because of that. Of course, all of Mr. Leslaie's co-workers were proud of the girl, but he worried that she felt isolated. She had friends, but she never seemed to talk with them much, and heaven help any boy who came near her…
"Although," he reflected, noticing at the glare Colin was giving her, "That might be a special case."
Ritz's eyebrows scrunched in thought, and she kept playing with her strawberry red curls. Finally, she said, "Would it be the Chugach National Forest, Mr. Leslaie?"
A small smile on his face, Mr. Leslaie shook his head. "Close, but it's actually the Tongass National Forest, Ritz." She nodded, already writing down the answer.
Mr. Leslaie looked to the rest of the class, keeping a grin off his face at the sight of his students. He could hear whispers everywhere, and he supposed they were guessing who and what he'd ask next. "If only they'd be always this excited for learning." He thought.
"Well, two strikes everyone. One more, and as they say, you're out. Mewt," he said, pointing at the boy in question. The scrawny kid almost jumped out of his seat. "Can you name one of the religious capitals of the world?"
Mr. Leslaie felt a small pang of pity at the sight of Mewt. He was smart, but word around the water cooler had labeled him below average among his fellow students. Mr. Leslaie didn't agree with his gossiping co-workers though, and took every chance he could to bring out the most of Mewt. Which translated to questions out of the boy's comfort zone. As Mewt's face turned an odd shade of red, Mr. Leslaie supposed he might have embarrassed him, and he made to change the question. But motion behind Mewt halted his words.
It didn't surprise Mr. Leslaie to see Marche helping. If the boy hadn't been doing so much good, he would have received disciplinary action within his first week of school. As it was, Mr. Leslaie didn't know what to make of bright-eyed kid. Only having entered into classes a month ago, he didn't excel at much academically, but his other teachers swore he was just held back by something, perhaps a lack of interest. After all, how could such a kind, charismatic boy not be at the top of his class? He obviously knew his stuff, what with all the answers he whispered away.
Regardless, Mr. Leslaie decided enough was enough. "Mewt?" He prompted.
Jumping again, Mewt looked back to Mr. Leslaie, his hands gripping his desk. He took a couple of slow breaths. Then, so faintly Mr. Leslaie almost couldn't hear him, he said, "R-Rome."
Not responding, Mr. Leslaie walked back to his desk and began packing his supplies. It took every once of his self-control not to start laughing at the sight of his frightened class. Tugging on his gloves, he finally spared them a bewildered look.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" He asked, a grin breaking through his stoic façade. "There's a snowball fight waiting for you!"
Cheers rang out, and the students charged the door leaving Mr. Leslaie alone in the room. Chuckling, he followed, thinking, "I do hope Ms. Reynalds shut her blinds. Otherwise, her class is about to become very loud."
After quite a bit of yelling and threats from his co-workers, Mr. Leslaie managed to herd his class into the playground of the school. Luckily for him, it was near the side entrance, meaning dismissal would be easy. He had the students set their bags on the steps, then separated them into groups. Marche Radiuju was barely paying attention however, instead leaving his napsack with the others and walking out into the snow. The playground looked alien to him. The bright colors of the slides and swing-sets were buried under the blinding white snow everywhere. Even the bushes around the edge of the building had vanished, leaving only glimpses of the green that used to be there. Suddenly, he sneezed. With a groan he rubbed his nose and pulled his yellow scarf on tighter.
"How can they handle the cold so well?" Marche thought, watching his classmates throw snowballs at each other. "And how did Mom think this was a good idea? If Doned is bad in warm weather, how could he get better when it's freezing?"
"Aww, come on! Why'd I get stuck on the lame team?" Someone shouted. Turning, Marche saw it was one of the P.E. Heads, Lyle. The guy looked like he wanted to throw a tantrum. "Seriously, it's bad enough I'm stuck with the new kid and Lana-" Lana stuck her tongue out at that while Marche wondered how the guy still didn't know his name. "-but Mewt too! It's like Mr. Leslaie wants me to lose."
"Hey, you could always use Mewt's teddy bear for protection! Right Mewt?" Colin jeered, earning him laughter from Lyle and another boy, Guinness. Mewt whimpered a little, shuffling closer to Marche. Marche spared him a smile, before glaring at the others.
"Aww, what'sa matter, Mewt? Don't have ya teddy today, so you need someone else to save you?" Lyle said, focused on Mewt. "Like the new kid would do that." Smirking, he reached past Marche to shove Mewt. The shock in his eyes when Marche grabbed his arm was priceless.
Meeting the bully's eyes, he said, "Leave him alone." It felt oddly satisfying, even if he did feel guilty to be the bully
Lyle yelled, "Let go of me!" and quickly pulled away. All guilty thoughts vanished when something wet hit Marche's head, knocking him into Mewt.
"Pshh, come on Lyle, you got stopped by that little girl?" Colin said, another snowball already in his hand. Pushing his cowlick back up, Marche turned to see the guy had thrown a purple scarf over his orange sweater, attempting to stand tall on a snow-covered bench. "He can't even take one snowball!"
"And what is that supposed to mean, huh?" Marche watched the color drain from Colin's face as Ritz stomped over. Scrambling to join Lyle and Guinness, he tried, unsuccessfully, in Marche's opinion, to look confident.
Fists held at her sides, Ritz stopped right in front of Colin. She said, "I know 'little girls' who can kick your butt, Colin Harving! Like your own sister!" Laughter erupted from the others as Colin's face turned beet-red. "And since you and your cronies need a lesson, why don't I switch with you Lyle?" Ritz added. She turned to Colin, giving her patented "just-argue-with-me" glare.
Marche usually didn't like bullying, but when it came to Colin's gang, he'd gladly make an exception. Ritz had seemed way more aggressive about it then usual, though. He wondered if she was angry about Mewt, or maybe..."Hmm?" Ritz was looking at him.
"Marche? Hello? Anyone there?" Ritz was waving a gloved hand in front of his face. Seeing him nod, she asked, "You said it didn't really snow where you came from, right?" Nodding again, Ritz said, "Okay, I'll show you how to make the perfect snowball."
She took up some snow, slowly forming it into her hands, but then stopped. She turned to Lana and said, "Hey Lana, can you get Mewt? I wanna crush those jerks, and he's going to help."
As he copied her movements, Marche asked, "What's up with them? " He got a blank stare in response, so he jerked his head in Lyle's direction. "When I first came, the three of them usually just interrupted class. Why the sudden bullying spree?"
"Oh, that? Apparently, their dads' all made donations to the school. Big ones. Which means they've got free reign as long as the school doesn't catch on fire." She said. "They usually just call names outside of school, but lately they've had it out for Mewt..." Trailing off, she glanced at Marche's snowball. Surprised, she grinned. "Hey, not too bad! Now if you can throw it-"
"Hey Ritz, we're ready when you are!" Colin called out, confident once more. He stood on top of one of the snow-covered pedestals dotting the yard. "Hope you're ready to eat the ice!"
"It's snow, Colin. Are you failing english and science?" Ritz responded, not bothering to look at the boy. Seeing Lana dragging Mewt through the snow, Ritz got up, motioning for Marche to follow.
"Okay, this might be just a snowball fight, but I want to win this, got it? So here's what we'll do: Marche and Lana will stay behind the pillars at the entrance, while Mewt and I hide near the slide and-" Hearing snorting, Ritz stopped. "And what is so funny?"
"Please," Lana scoffed, "You know how this'll end. Mewt'll just run around hiding while the rest of us play, and the terrible trio will chase him." Noticing the glares from Marche and Ritz, Lana crossed her arms and looked away, muttering, "It's true..."
"Okay everyone! The snowball match is about to begin!" Mr. Lelaie shouted, getting everyone's attention. He'd gotten a megaphone from somewhere, and was standing a safe distance away from the 'battlefield,' as he'd called it. "This match will be team Colin versus team Ritz."
"Look, it doesn't matter." Ritz said, ignoring Lana's sighs. "I want Colin covered in snow by the end of this, and I don't care who does it. Now, positions!"
Dashing to his spot with Lana, Marche could feel excitement building up despite the cold.
"Come on Mewt! We have to move." Ritz said. Mewt let out a squeak as she tugged him with her.
"Guinness, did you get it ready?" Colin asked, making another snowball.
Looking over to the slide, Lana sighed in annoyance. Mewt looked ready to bolt.
"The dweb looks like someone bopped him in the nose." Colin sniggered. Glancing at Mewt, Lyle and Guinness broke out into laughter.
Taking a slow breath, Marche looked over the schoolyard once more. His eyes widened when he saw Mewt dashing around, Ritz shouting at him to come back to the slide.
Dashing out, Marche scooped up some snow, trying to form a snowball. Mewt was just a few feet away,so then he'd be able to do something to cover them both. At least, Marche hoped so. He heard shouts all around him, Ritz stepping out to chuck a ball at someone, other projectiles raining down around Marche, one or two grazing him. He tossed his own handful of snow behind him, not caring if it hit anyone. Mewt had disappeared underneath one of the bushes near the building, causing it to shake and tremble.
Sliding next to him, Marche reached out his hand. "Come on! You can't just hide." Mewt refused to move, muttering something about Colin, Marche couldn't tell. Glancing back to the others, Marche's face met a snowball. Sputtering, he wiped his eyes to see Lyle rearing for another throw, when Ritz ran in between them and chucked her own snowball. Lyle dodged, but it gave Marche enough time to ready his own projectile. Running towards the slide, he threw it at Lyle, smirking when he heard a satisfying slop sound. "At least we're keeping up in points." He thought, preparing another projectile.
Getting behind the cover of the slide, Marche checked on the rest of the field. Lana hadn't moved from behind the pillars, deciding she was safer pelting Colin and Guinness from there. The two boys had tried edging around her, when Ritz hopped over the pile of snow giving them cover, and with one kick, toppled it onto them. "Gotta do better than that boys." She said, jogging over to a giggling Lana.
Laughing at the sputtering bullies, Marche noticed the other girl, Mary, had gone up to Mr. Leslaie and was talking with him. Gathering up another snowball, Marche wondered what she was up to. Feeling a tug on his arm, he whirled around to see a snow-covered Mewt.
"S-sorry about freaking out." He muttered, looking at the slide. Marche thought his voice sounded weird. Not sad, or scared, but something else.
Patting Mewt's shoulder, Marche said, "Don't worry about it. We're going to win, and you'll help."
Marche could have sworn Mewt looked hopeful for a moment, but then the light drained from his eyes and Mewt turned away. "Sure. Like that'll-watch out!"
Pulled down by Mewt, Marche let out a loud yelp as snow flew over him. Scrambling to their feet, the two saw Lyle jump out of the nearby bushes, snowball in hand. "Run!"The pair tried to get closer to Ritz and Lana, who had made a base at the pillars.
"Where do you think you're going, dweb?" Colin said. He and Guinness stood in front of the escaping boys, a snowball in each hand. Marche looked behind, hoping to see another way around, but Lyle was right there, grinning like mad.
"Get 'em!" Colin shouted, and then the snowballs were in the air. Acting on instinct, Marche dropped down, pulling Mewt with him.
"Ouch!" Mewt shouted. Looking at him, Marche saw a bunch of snow falling off Mewt's forehead. Wondering why Mewt's eyes were tightly shut, Marche wiped the snow away, but froze when he saw red on his glove.
Mewt was bleeding.
Marche looked closer at the ground beneath them, and saw a stone poking out of the ground. Glaring at the smug faces above them, Marche's fists balled up. "What the heck is wrong with you guys? Who chucks rocks at people?" He shouted.
They didn't answer, just continued laughing, even as Marche got up and started walking towards them. Guinness was the only one who looked worried, and he turned to run. "How would you like it if someone did that to you, huh?" Marche shouted.
Stopping his laughter, Colin scoffed, "Please, like this even matters. The whole point of this was just to play a snowball fight, right? So what if one accidently had a rock in it? Mewt probably just sucked so much the snow made him bleed!"
"That was no accident, and you know it, jerk!" Marche shouted. Lyle and Colin both glared in response.
"I think your mouth is a bit to free, don't ya think new kid?" Lyle said. Making another snowball, he smirked. "I think you need to be cut down a peg."
"And you two are going do it?" Marche shot back. "You didn't even say the threat correctly. It's 'knock you down a peg,' and I don't even know what you butchered for your first insult."
As he watched Lyle pull his arm back to throw the snow, Marche ignored how badly this plan of his was going to be. "The kid asked for it," He reasoned, "And besides, he attacked first."
He felt the snow hit him, and waited. The two bullies laughed. "Guess you were just talk, huh, new kid." Lyle said. He gave Colin a high-five. "What a dweb, even fixin' my grammar. No wonder Mewt sticks to you, it's the only way he can pass class!"
He stayed silent, which seemed to annoy them both. Just as Colin reached for more snow, Marche shoulder tackled him. Ignoring the shouts of surprise from the purple-scarfed boy, he turned to deal with Lyle when a scream rang out. Marche looked around to see Guinness clutching his nose and moaning. Ritz stood above him, fist pulled back. "Say it again, you pig!"
"Ritz Maulher! Step back from that boy, or so help me you will be expelled!" Mr. Leslaie screeched, grabbing everyone's attention. The teacher was fuming, an angry looking Mary marching alongside him. Mr. Leslaie turned to Marche. "And you Marche! How will you explain this?"
"Mr. Leslaie, he was going to punch me next!" Lyle cried out. Marche was stunned. He was actually crying? "He just attacked us for throwing a snowball! I thought this was supposed to be fun."
His mind blanking out, Marche pointed back to Mewt, who was staring at them. "Mr. Leslaie, Mewt is bleeding."
Mary's smirk dropped into small 'o' when the teacher moved over to Mewt and wiped his forehead. "It's just a scratch, but Mewt, how did this happen?"
"O-one of the sn-snowballs had a rock in it. Colin's, I think." He looked into Mr. Leslaie's face, his eyes tinged red. "Please don't punish Marche and Ritz. They were only trying to protect me from more rocks."
Marche hadn't realized he'd held his breath until the fog appeared in front of him. The trio of bullies, two of whom had been crying, suddenly leapt up. "He's lying!" Guinness said, blood staining his orange scarf. "Ritz just attacked me for no reason!"
Mr. Leslaie ignored them, instead turning to the crowd of students who had surrounded the scene. "I'm very sorry, but the rest of the matches are canceled. Get home safe, and happy holidays to you all."
"Not you three." He said. Marche chuckled despite himself, the look of fear in those bullies eyes was wonderful to watch. "You three will be coming with me to the principal. I do not think he will enjoy your explanation for why a rock was in your snowballs, do you?"
Mary stomped her foot, sinking it into the snow. "And what about them, huh? They assaulted-"
Smiling coldly, Mr. Leslaie turned to her. "Why, Ms. Iller, do you mean to explain why talking about mathematics the day before a vacation was so important? Especially when you could have been playing as well? If so, you may come as well." She shook her head, backing away. "No? A shame. The rest of you may leave."
Marche stood there, watching as Mr. Leslaie led the boys back into the building. "What just happened?"
Ritz stepped next to him. "I think we just got out of some big trouble, that's what."
"Y-eah." Marche turned around. Mewt was rubbing his forehead. "Are you okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm fine." He sneezed, looking oddly at the two of them. "But...why did you do that? You could have gotten in a lot of trouble!"
Surprised, Marche didn't answer. Ritz apparently could though, planting her feet in front of Mewt and glaring at him. "We were just defending you. What if we hadn't done anything, huh? They would have thrown more rocks at you, or worse, and you know it!"
Mewt deflated. "Yeah, I know…"
"Hey, it's okay." Marche put an arm around Mewt. "We knew what we were doing, even if Ritz got a bit carried away." He glanced up to see her blushing. "Why did you punch Guinness anyway? You might have broken his nose."
Ritz fidgeted, curling strands of hair around her fingers. "It doesn't matter, the brat had it coming. And I wouldn't talk, that tackle definitely left some bruises on Colin."
Marche raised his hands and backed away. "Okay, I gotcha. No more questions...well, except one. You two want to come over to my house today?"
Mewt looked surprised, but Ritz made a face. "I don't know Marche, I wouldn't want to get home late."
"Well, my house is near the shopping center, it shouldn't be too far from your place. Besides, do you have anything better planned?" Marche said. A blush crept to his face, and he scratched his head. "And besides, you guys are the only two I ever really talk to. It'd be nice to hang out some more."
A smile rose to Ritz's face. "Can't argue with that."
"I'd love to come!" Mewt said. "But, can we stop by the bookstore? I saw an interesting book there yesterday, and I want to pick it up."
"Sure, lead the way." Marche said.
Grabbing their bags, the trio walked off the school grounds and into town.
"And that's how I won the championship." Ritz finished saying, her head held high. Marche and Mewt clapped as she bowed.
The boys had listened as Ritz recounted a particularly amazing tournament match against a neighboring school. As the trio walked through the commercial district of town, frantic shoppers rushed about them, in and out of every store along the street. It always saddened Mewt to walk around the stores during Christmastime, but Ritz had distracted him from the candy-cane lights and flowered wreathes with her stories. But even that couldn't stop the memories from rising…
Shaking his head, Mewt instead wondered why Marche had invited him over as well. Ritz, he could understand, but him? He's just a boring boy with a stutter around bullies. Marche had stood up to them though, and even fought them! A thought struck him. "Hey Marche, where do you come from anyway?"
His friend looked surprised. "I never told you?" Mewt ("And Ritz," Mewt noticed) shook his head. "I'm from Georgia. A small town along the border, Hendrick. And there was snow there, Ritz, just never enough to play with. It usually would melt by morning." He went silent suddenly, an odd look on his face.
Mewt wanted to ask more, but the sight in front of them make him stop and groan."Not again. He said he'd stop that crap."
Just across the street a middle-aged man with a pointed beard bowed his head towards two men in suits. Mewt didn't care about the suits, he only had eyes for the man in jeans and a sweater. "Pathetic. He's bowing his head at them like some kid."
"Mewt? You know that guy?" Marche asked, grabbing Mewt's attention. Ritz hadn't said anything, only looking at him with pity. Mewt slowly nodded, groaning again as the man noticed them and walked over once the suits were gone.
"Hey Mewt!" The man said, his voice annoyingly cheery. "What'cha doing out here? Hanging out with some friends?"
Mewt stared at the man for a moment, then a thin smile formed on his lips. "Yeah dad. We were just going to the bookstore for something."
Mewt almost gagged when they greeted his father. The man had actually waved their greeting's away. "No, no, Cid is fine. No Mr. Randall for me. Makes me feel old. Just keep my son out of trouble, okay? I'll see you at home, 'k Mewt?"
Stiffly nodding, Mewt felt his shoulders droop. Tonight would be excuse after excuse again...and after all the work he'd done to stop this drinking problem...
"Err, Mewt?" Ritz said, waving a hand in front of his face. "You alright?"
Mewt nodded, not wanting to answer the coming questions. "Yeah, I'm fine. Hey, look! The library's right there. Wait just a second." He dashed into the store before they could say another word.
Slamming the door behind him, Mewt sighed. Marche didn't know, he was sure of it. But Ritz did, and would probably tell him. "I hope he doesn't try apologizing to me, I've had enough of that since Mom died. Then again, it's better then bullying…"
Peeling himself off the door, Mewt looked around the room. Everything seemed dustier then last week. Many of the shelves were emptied, and boxes sat in their place. Even the sales counter was blocked off, although books were still displayed under it; Including the one Mewt had come for. There it sat, the bright greens and yellows rendering all other books dull in comparison. Embedded in the center of the cover was a blue gem the size of an eye, gleaming in Mewt's eyes.
"Who slammed that door? I paid good money for it, and I won't be the paying for it's replacement if it's broken!" A high-pitched voice called out. Glancing between the shelves, Mewt saw an old lady in a frazzled fur coat stomp toward him. The scowl on her face vanished upon seeing him. "Ah, Mewt! I see you came after all."
"Of course, Ms. Anushka. And I brought the money this time." Mewt said, grimacing when the lady hugged him. "It was forty dollars, right?"
She pursed her large lips. "Actually my dear, why don't I give it to you? As a parting gift you see."
"R-really? Are you sure?" Mewt looked around the store, and realized what she meant. "You're moving? But wouldn't you need the money?"
Mewt felt a shiver as he realized the coughing noise she made was actually laughter. "My dear, I don't need money where I'm going. Besides, this book is worth much more then forty dollars." Unlocking the display case, she waved her hand. "Take the Gran Grimoire, and enjoy it as much as I have over the years."
Grabbing the book, Mewt ran his hand over it. "The Gran Grimoire...Thanks again Ms...Anushka?"
He was alone. Clutching his book, Mewt glanced between the shelves. "Ms. Anushka?"
Something farther inside the building groaned. Mewt decided he'd take her advice and dashed out of the store.
"Come on Mewt. Just one peek?" Ritz said.
Mewt clutched his bag to his chest. "Nope. Not until we get to Marche's place."
Ritz sighed. "It's just a boring book, Mewt. It's not like we can all read it."
"Oh yeah? If it's so boring, why do you want to read it, huh?"
"Guys? We're here." Marche interrupted. Ritz looked at his house. A yellow roof, dull white walls, and only one window on the front side greeted her. There wasn't even a little pathway like the neighboring houses, just some stairs from the sidewalk up to the door. "Next time, they're coming to my place." She thought, following the boys.
Opening the door, Marche said, "Mom! Doned! I'm home!"
The trio heard a crash. "Mom?" Marche shouted, dashing into the house. Ritz took off after him, horrified.
Tripping over Marche's discarded knapsack, Ritz fell into Marche. He had stopped to look into a nearby room. "Mom?" He said, rushing in.
Getting a clear view, Ritz wondered how Marche's family could stomach eating here. The walls were a dull grey, although she guessed they'd been some other color at some time. The stove was burnt, and the one flame on was currently flickering on and off. Looking down, Ritz gasped. Marche's mother lay on the floor, surrounded by pots and pans. Rushing over, Ritz helped Marche get the woman to her feet, Marche yelling at her the entire time. "You know better then to carry so many at once! Why'd you even get so many? What if you had hurt yourself? And where's Doned?"
"Oh, stop worrying, Marche. Doned is upstairs in the bedroom. I'm fine, I just slipped. " She said, dusting her pants off. Looking up, she frowned. "And you two are...?"
Ritz glanced behind to see Mewt. Grabbing his arm, she said, "Slow down boy, Marche's mother is okay." Smiling to the woman, Ritz offered her hand. "Ritz Mauhler. Mewt and I are friends of Marche."
"Ah. Nice to meet you. I'm Mrs. Radiuju." She said, her frown softening as she shook her hand. "Well, I am glad to see that Marche has made some friends around town. Although it would have been nice to know company was on its way." She added, glaring at Marche.
"Sorry, but it was the last day of school, and," Marche sighed. "And I thought Doned would like to meet some new people."
"Oh, how thoughtful of you!" She said, suddenly smiling at the three of them. "Stay as long as you like you two. I'll just be down here, cooking dinner, okay?"
Ritz smiled again, giving Marche a questioning look once her back turned. He shrugged before walking out of the kitchen. Glancing at Mewt, she sighed. The guy was staring in confusion at Mrs. Radiuju. "Come on Mewt." She said, ignoring his protests at getting tugged along.
Following Marche around the house, Ritz realized just how poor her friend was. The walls were bare. She could see paint chippings hidden in corners, and she could have sworn she heard something running in the ceiling. She wondered how his mother even afforded this place, if this was how it looked.
"Sorry about my mom. She's been working a lot recently, so she's tired." Marche said, waiting at the corner for them, his blue coat lying on a table nearby. His plain white shirt and jeans stood out against the brown of the wall behind him.
Ritz followed suit, throwing her own coat alongside it. "Don't worry about it. Everyone's parents are a little crazy. Right, Mewt?"
"Hmm? Yeah, I suppose so." Mewt said, looking around. Ritz wondered what he was looking for. "Is it okay for us just to leave our coats out here?" He asked. "I mean, won't your mom get annoyed?"
Leading them further down the hallway, Marche answered, "No. Right now, she'd probably invite you two to dinner and ask if you'd come again soon." Stopping at the last door, Marche turned around and looked both of them in the eyes. "Sorry if I didn't mention it, but my brother Doned is gonna be with us. I apologize in advance for his attitude, but be patient with him, please?" Noticing their confused looks, he continued. "Doned is, well he's-"
"-a cripple." A young voice finished. Looking past Marche, Ritz realized just why the house had one floor. A young boy, seated in a wheelchair, was looking at them. His hair was a dark red, and small freckles were under his eyes. He wore a plain looking shirt and jeans, but what horrified Ritz were the metal clamps keeping his legs to the chair. The boy rolled his eyes at Marche. "No need to sugarcoat it, Marche. That's what I am." Looking past him, the boy addressed Mewt and Ritz. "Who are you two?"
"A c-couple of friends." Mewt said. "Marche invited us over to hang out."
"My brother actually invited people over?" The kid laughed shortly, turning his chair around. "Huh. Maybe this weather really will be good for me."
Shrugging in apology, Marche followed his brother in. "Sorry for the mess, but we just got all Doned's stuff back from the hospital, so there's boxes everywhere."
Ritz thought she'd stepped into a different house. Instead of the dirt brown of the hallway, the bedroom was a bright yellow, with posters of shows and games hanging over one bed. Some drawers were tucked next to one bed, and a small collection of books was piled next to the other. In one corner of the room sat a couple of desks, with a calendar above them. A metal furnace with a dented teapot on top rested in the other. Across from the beds lay a small television with a skateboard lying against it. Marche had moved a few of the boxes into the center of the room and sat on one, his brother next to him.
"So Doned, how was the hospital?" Ritz asked, copying Marche and taking a box-seat. She dropped her bag behind her, before turning back to the chair-bound kid.
Doned yawned. "Sooooo boring. Father Michael visited a couple of times, but other then him it's been mind-numbing."
"Father Michael? You mean the old priest across town?" Ritz asked. Across from her, Marche groaned.
Doned nodded. "Yeah, he visited me every day. Even tried to play a videogame with me once." He laughed softly, then turned to Marche. "Oh yeah, he asked if we'd be coming to church Christmas Eve."
Marche groaned again, but glanced at Ritz before saying, "We'll talk to Mom about it, okay?"
"Not my place to question." Ritz thought. Aloud, she said, "So could you go outside at the hospital? I know they have a wonderful garden to walk through there."
"No, the nurses said the snow would give a me a cold." Doned leaned back into his chair. "I don't know what they're so worried about, it's just some white stuff, but whatevers...hey, uh..."
"Oh, we didn't introduce ourselves, huh?" Ritz said, "I'm Ritz, and shy-guy over here is Mewt."
Doned nodded, and pointed at Mewt, who had frowned at her nickname for him. "Okay, Mewt. Today was the last day of classes, right? So, did you guys play in the snow?"
"Uh, y-yeah, we did." Mewt said, suddenly looking everywhere but at Ritz and Marche. "They organized a snowball fight for us, and-"
"And we almost won too!" Ritz cut in, "You know, your brother is really good in a snowball fight, Doned. I never would have guessed he's never even seen snow before!"
Doned stared at her, eyes wide open in shock. He opened his mouth slowly, then closed it the same speed. Ritz wondered if some medicine had kicked in, when the kid broke out into laughter. Gasping for air, Doned said, "Oh...m..my bro...brother? Good at something athletic? That's a good one!" Doned couldn't get anything else out, falling back into his chair, laughing.
"I'm sure he's not that bad." Ritz said, giggling hesitantly. Curiosity growing as Doned kept laughing, she looked at Marche. "Are you, Marche?"
He actually blushed! "Err, well, I mean..."
"Seeing that Doned is practically falling out of his chair right now, I'm guessing he is, in fact, that bad Ritz." Mewt said, a small smile on his face.
"Come on now, don't you gang up on me too, Mewt!" Marche cried out, finally finding his voice as Ritz broke out in laughter. He shook his head, drawing out a sigh. "First my brother, now my friends. Who next, my mother?"
Ritz could hear Mewt try to apologize, but the image of Marche failing to skateboard jumped to mind, and she broke down into more laughter.
She calmed down in time to hear Marche chuckling. "I set myself up for it by inviting Blabber-Mouth over."
"Hey!" Ritz shouted. "It's Ms. Blabber-Mouth to you, and don't you forget it!"
"Oh, I'm sure we won't." Marche said, holding back his own laughter. He turned to Mewt. "So where's this book you were talking about?"
"Oh, right!" Mewt jumped up, running to his bag. Ritz watched as he pulled out a huge, colorful book with a bright gem on it. "When I first saw this grimoire, that's what the lady at the store called it, it just called out to me. I mean, look at it! Who knows what's inside!"
"Wait, you mean you don't know?" Ritz said. "Like, not even the genre? Do you even know what it's called?"
"Err..." Mewt blushed, cradling the grimoire in his hands. "Not exactly. It's...not even in english, actually." Ritz groaned and he added, "B-but not even the lady knew what it was called! She gave it her own title, the Gran Grimoire."
"Gran Grimoire, huh? So, what language is it in?" Marche asked.
Sitting down, Mewt placed the book in the center of their circle. "I'm not sure. I meant to check it out tonight, but since you asked me over, I was wondering if maybe one of you knew." Flicking open a hidden lock, Mewt turned open to the first few pages.
"I certainly can't tell." Marche said. "How 'bout you Ritz?"
"No idea. It could be Latin I suppose, but that's just a guess." She said, running her fingers over it. The pages felt smooth under her fingers, but they looked as if they should have crumbled apart years ago.
"Well, why are we wasting time looking the boring stuff? Let's open it up!" Doned said, eyes wide with excitement.
With a quiet reverence, Mewt turned the pages slowly for them all to see. Yellowing with age, the pages were covered in the same foreign language as the prologue. Sometimes sketches and drawings of monstrous beasts and foreign beings filled them instead, and each one seemed familiar to Ritz. Dragons and goblins, magic and swords; every image reminded her of something. She wondered if the others thought so too.
As they turned to the center pages, the words gave way to a painting taking up both sides of the book. On the left page, a soldier with pale, purple armor stood, an army charging behind him. Men and woman alike, as well as some very odd looking creatures, were a part of the army. Some had swords, others spears or daggers. Above one dark robed warrior, Ritz could make out fire flowing from their hand. She grinned, the person could have been a black mage. On the right, a figure in orange mirrored the soldier, and his own army rose up. In the center, just above the clashing armies, were a five crystals. Pale light seemed to flow out of them, coating those below in their light. She ran her hand over one, the bright yellow, captivated by the intricate patterns. Her friends sat in silence, just as entranced as she.
"Is that a giant rabbit?" Doned asked, breaking the silence.
"I...I think it is." His brother answered. "And I think that's a walking lizard next to it."
"Just what is this?" Ritz muttered. "It's like an encyclopedia on fantasy."
"If only we could read it." Mewt whispered, staring in awe at the image.
They fell into silence once more, letting the pictures rest in sight for a few moments before moving on.
Suddenly, Doned slapped a hand down on a page. "Wait!"
"Yes, Doned?" Marche asked, looking over to him.
"What if...this is a magic book?" Doned said, a mischievous smirk on his face. "You know, filled with spells and stuff."
"Don't be ridiculous." Marche replied. "You're just saying that because you want to fly."
Ritz laughed at the adorable pout on Doned's face. "Well Marche, if your brother wants to fly, what would you want the magic to do?"
"Not you too Ritz!" He cried out. "But if I have too..."
"Wish you'd actually be able to skateboard!" Doned cried out. "Or at least get some balance."
Giggling at Marche's excuses, Ritz smiled at him. "When the weather gets warmer, we could all go to the park you know. I'm sure Doned here would love to see me train you."
"Oh, I'm sure." Marche said. He grinned, adding, "But that's only if I fall."
Ritz smirked. "I think you will." Doned broke out laughing again, and she joined him.
"You say something, Mewt?" Marche asked, flustered at the laughter.
Ritz turned to see Mewt concentrating on the book again. "Oh, I was just reading one of the lines. Here, look."
"That's odd, the ink is different here." Marche said, "And what's with all these shapes?"
"Let me see." Ritz said, turning the book to face her. The lines in question were circles and triangles around some other, unknown language. They seemed familiar though. "Weird, these look like they were added in later on. And the words don't seem to be in the same language as the rest of the book."
"So what? It's not like that means anything." Doned said, sounding bored. "It probably was written in by whoever owned it last."
"Yeah, but this looks like...almost like Greek, or maybe Arabic." Ritz muttered. Twirling a strand of hair, she made a mental note to ask Mewt about it tomorrow. "I've got no idea what it could mean though. And why write it a book you planned to sell?"
"Maybe they wanted to add to the story." Doned huffed. So this was what Marche had meant about 'attitude.' "Come on, who cares? Why don't we play a game?"
"What, like 'Final Fantasy?' Doned, we can't all play that." Marche scoffed. "Besides, Ritz probably doesn't even like video games."
"Hey! Are you saying that because I'm a girl?" She shouted. The nerve! Do all guys think girls played dress-up or something? "I'll have you know I actually do play Final Fantasy."
"Really? Me too!" Mewt said. "I always love pretending I'm out adventuring with Vaan or Zidane, saving the world and fighting monsters."
"Same here! Wow, you guys have magic books and play Final Fantasy? Marche, where have they been all my life?" Doned asked, a dreamy look on his face.
"Not in la-la land with you, that's for sure." he replied, shaking his head. "Although, after all those tests, an adventure would be fun."
"Swords and spells, out in the wilderness with just your friends for company. Sounds like the perfect getaway..." Ritz said. She shook her head. "If only, huh?"
"You alright, Ritz?" Marche asked as Doned wheeled toward Mewt. "You sound down."
"What? Oh no! I'm perfectly fine, I've just been stressed out. You know, school and everything." She said, smiling at him.
"Oh, believe me, I know." He said. Why was he fidgeting? "Just, you know, I-er, we are your friends. If something's wrong, we're here for you, you know?"
She couldn't help it, she giggled. "Aww, thanks Marche. But I'm fine, okay?" He nodded slowly. Ritz hoped he hadn't been insulted, it meant a lot that he'd even said that. Although, now she caught herself staring into his blue eyes and looked away. First time over, and already having awkward staring sessions. At least Mewt and Doned hadn't noticed.
A thought struck her. "Hey Marche, are you going anywhere for Christmas?"
"Hmm? No, we're just staying home." He said, all smiles again. "You?"
"I think so. Dad wants to go out to my cousin's place. They live in New York, and it's so cool there. We went for New Year's last year, and I got to explore their neighborhood and try the bakeries." She said. She giggled at the memory. "My mom was so angry when we got back, but dad told me he was glad I'd had fun. Unfortunately, I think we're going to my grandmother's for Christmas."
Eyes drifting to her bag, she noticed her phone peeking out. "6:02," She read, and her eyes widened.. "Oh, shoot, I need to get home!" Grabbing her bag, she rushed to the door. "Time just flies when you're having fun, huh?" She thought, waiting for Marche and Mewt get up.
"Same here. I probably should have been home half an hour ago." Mewt said, closing his book. "Thanks for inviting us over, Marche. And great meeting you, Doned. I'll play with you next time, okay?"
"Yeah, it was really nice meeting you! Hope you can play in the snow soon!" Ritz added, smiling at the boy. She wanted to cry when he smiled back, it looked so forced on him now.
"Hey, I'll walk you guys out." Marche said, walking over to her. "I'll be right back Doned."
"'K. Bye!" Doned called out, watching as they left the room. When the door closed, he let out a sigh. He wheeled himself to the window and pulled himself up to look out. He saw snow falling along the street. Ritz and Mewt were walking away, and Doned saw a few teenagers running by. Even when his mom called for him, he just sat there, watching the world outside. "Magic...if only."
Darkness had fallen on the town. Only the yellow glow of lamps remained for those wandering the streets. Like and old group of carolers, singing out joy on their latest evening together. They passed by the closed shopping center, the playground, and the church.
They sung by the low-town, staying a while as the normally isolated families gathered near to listen. A couple of adolescents joined alongside them, and stayed the rest of the night singing. Marche and Doned heard them from their room, the final sounds in their ears as they bid the world good night.
They moved through the high-town, gathering around doors when asked, and singing alongside the families inside. Ritz went out with them for a while until being called back inside.
Late into the night, the group converged by the central plaza, right around the fountain. Mewt watched through his window and watched as the group continued to sing.
"Everyone one of them can go home, knowing Christmas is just around the corner." He thought. His hand formed a fist, and he punched the book in his hands. "But not me. Dad'll probably get drunk again. Maybe he won't even come back home..."
Mewt lifted the teddy bear next to him and looked once more at the book in his hands. The cover felt inviting, promising him a journey to a new land with just a flick of his fligers. He moved to open it, to see the sights inside, but stopped. "Just another cruel joke. A whole world to see, and I can't understand it." With that thought, he threw the grimoire onto his bed. Mewt turned away, watching the snowfall outside.
"Magic...that would fix this mess, huh?" He whispered, resting his head against the glass. "But even that can't bring her back..."
The book landed cover down, bouncing up slightly. If Mewt had turned around, he might have seen the book open all on its own. If he listened, he might have heard the pages turning, ever increasing.
As it was, he didn't even turn before a bright light exploded outward, engulfing the room.
Hello everybody, and welcome to my latest story, a novelization of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance! This was one of my favorite games on the GBA, and I've come to realize that it has a lot of potential for good writing. Icey the Fox's story "Casualties" may have inspired me as well (Go read it if you'd like! He did a fantastic job!). So as a novelization, I plan on keeping everyone's perspective throughout the story, and adding my own little bits as well. Due to the nature of the beast, there will be OC's. They will be awesome, but not in the overpowered, story stealing way. They'll be there doing what they're supposed to do: add to the plot without stealing the show.
Updates will be sporadic. Honestly, this is a huge project, one that I've had in my mind since the past summer, and it will probably take me a while to complete. I may take breaks, but I'll work every day on it. If you have any comments, complaints, requests, etc, send me a PM and I'll be happy to respond. See you soon!