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Chapter 43: Good Deeds
Never let anyone make light of your passion for the truth. They mock it because they fear it. Take Ludvich Baerd. You know him now as a minor footnote—a criminal kingpin who came to power in the interim between the 50 Years' War and the Lion War. But the people of medieval Lionel knew him as the philanthropic head of the Baerd Trading Company. It was scholars like you who realized how many orphans in his orphanages disappeared from the rosters only to reappear as slaves of every stripe. It was scholars like you who matched personal correspondence, private journals, and official records to map what ships carries what weapons and what drugs. Who saw the links between the murders of machinists in Warjilis and the sale of new weapons at lucrative prices. Who pulled back the shining surface to reveal the monstrous truth beneath.
There will be those who hate you for it. Those who would cling to the lie because it is so much more comforting than the truth. But denying the lion will not save you from its fangs. Only by facing the truth squarely can we hope to change the world.
-Alazlam Durai, "Guest Lecture to the History Department of the Royal College of Lesalia"
"Do I really have to keep this blindfold on?" grumbled Mustadio.
"For the last time, yes!" growled Agrias. "Is it not enough we're letting you hold your weapon?"
Mustadio fidgeted with the metal object in his lap. "A bow's not much good without arrows," he mumbled.
Mustadio was sitting in the sunken chapel, a band of torn cloth wrapped around his eyes. The others were fanned out around him. Agrias watched the young man warily. Radia, Alicia, and Lavian were examining both Mustadio's gear and the gear they'd taken from the dead men—weapons and food alike. From this close, Mustadio stank—he smelled like shit, piss, and a few other nasty odors that Ramza couldn't name. No one sat particularly close to him.
"These are you...arrows?" said Alicia, fingering one of the metal objects—a metal cylinder that tapered off at the end, narrowing into a point.
"Bullets," Mustadio said. "Please be careful. I have to make them myself."
"That's what this is for?" Lavian asked, holding up a mold.
Mustadio tapped his blindfold. "Depends on what that is."
Lavian chuckled, and handed him the mold. He fingered it for a moment, and nodded. "Part of it, anyways," Mustadio said. "Then I have to secure a gunpowder cartridge, and..."
"So it's a gun," Ramza said.
Mustadio handed the mold back to Lavian. "A pistol, to be precise." He began to talk very quickly, his Lionel accent making his words flow into each other so it was hard to distinguish between the syllables (although it sounded very nice). "Bypasses some of the traditional limitations of firearms by making each bullet act essentially as a magic spell. See the runes?" He held up the barrel, and runes glowed along its length.
"This is Ydoran?" Alicia asked.
"No," Mustadio said, shaking his head. "Church takes any working Ydoran pieces. This is an Ydoran design, but I made it."
\ "You made that?" Radia said, evidently impressed.
Mustadio nodded, but he seemed less-than pleased. "That's why it doesn't work well," he mumbled. "If it were Ydoran make I might not even need bullets. I could basically fire pre-loaded spells."
"That makes me nervous," grunted Alicia.
"Why?" asked Mustadio. "As it stands, it takes years of dedicated training to produce a mage of any quality. Guns like this mean soldiers could sling spells against the best of them.
"As someone who went through those years," Alicia said dryly. "I'm not particularly keen on someone just getting handed those spells. There's a reason it takes so long."
"Alicia," said Agrias, in a low, commanding voice.
"But that's elitist, pure and simple!" Mustadio exclaimed. "Not everyone has the time, the money, the training, or the talent to learn magic, but with this we could-" He broke off with a sheepish look at the floor. "Sorry," he said. "I get excited."
"I can tell," Ovelia said warmly.
Everyone looked back in alarm. Ovelia was supposed to remain hidden in the priest's office behind the old pulpit—that was where they'd put her before bringing Mustadio inside the building. Agrias looked to be having a stroke. "Your Hi..." Agrias trailed off, blanching as she realized that using any honorific would reveal too much. "What are..." But she trailed off again, white-faced and baffled.
"Who's that?" Mustadio asked.
"A friend," Ovelia said. "If I can call you one as well."
Mustadio offered a pale, trembling smile. "A poor friend, who needs so much help."
Agrias was still struggling to find a way to adjust the Princess without calling her by any titles. Radia sighed and said, "We just met him."
"Ramza trusts him," Ovelia said. "Don't you?"
Ramza nodded, thinking of Mustadio's defiance and defense of his father. "I do."
"And so does Agrias," Ovelia continued. "Or she wouldn't have let him in here."
"I had little choice," Agrias grunted, with a sharp look at Ramza.
"Be that as it may," Ovelia said. "It's Mustadio, yes?" Mustadio nodded, and Ovelia said, "You may take off your blindfold if you wish."
Mustadio hesitantly reached up for the cloth. His fingers played with its edge, but didn't quite pull it off. "I, uh..." he started. "I'm grateful, and I don't...if there's something I shouldn't see, I can...I can keep it on."
Agrias heaved an exasperated sigh. "Oh, take it off," she said at last. "I think the damage is done."
Mustadio pulled the blindfold off. He winced even in the dim light, blinked and looked at all of them in a slightly stupefied manner. He smiled nervously around the room. "Hello," he said.
"Hello, Mustadio," Ovelia said. "My name is Ovelia."
Mustadio blinked. "I'm sorry?" he said, in a high voice.
"Ovelia," she repeated. "Your Princess."
"Oh." Mustadio blinked again, then gasped and fell to his knees. "Your Highness, I'm sorry, I didn't even think-"
Ovelia chuckled and gestured around them. "Please rise, Mustadio," she said. "I don't think there's much call to stand on ceremony here, hm?"
Mustadio stared around the ruined chapel, and smiled. "I...suppose not, your Highness." He rose hesitantly from his knees, and reclaimed his seat.
"Why can you lot not show such respect?" grunted Agrias.
"I've never been the type to hang around on my knees," Radia said.
"I knew some girls who did at the Academy," Alicia said.
"Alicia!" Agrias said sharply, as Ovelia, Lavian, and Radia roared with laughter. Mustadio grinned nervously.
"You're from Goug?" Ovelia said, when the laughter had subsided.
Mustadio started nervously. "I'm sorry?"
"You're from Goug?" Ovelia repeated. "You've the look of a machinist."
Mustadio nodded slowly.
"A machinist?" Ramza said, his tongue tripping over the unfamiliar word.
"What do you know of Goug?" Ovelia asked over her shoulder.
"Not much," Ramza said. "Guards the only land route to Mullonde, yes?"
"Not a land route," Ovelia said. "A bridge. Mullonde was one of the largest cities in the Ydoran empire. Bridge let'em take trade across."
"It wasn't called Mullonde back then," Mustadio added. "But during the Fall-"
"Mullonde sank into the sea," Ramza said, remembering vague sermons from Church.
"Along with most of the Ydoran heartland," Mustadio said. "With exceptions like the island the Church renamed...and Goug."
"What's so special about Goug?" Radia asked.
"Was a factory city for the Ydorans," Mustadio said, and his voice assumed that same rapid cadence that blurred the words together and made it hard to understand him. "Wrecked by the Fall, like everything else, but there's plenty there you can dig up and work on and we can't do everything the Ydorans did but we can still learn from them especially their machines but it all works together you can't understand the machines without the magic and vice versa so it takes-"
He broke off with a look of embarrassment. "Sorry," he said.
"You're fine, Mustadio," Ovelia said. "You sound like you're quite a machinist."
Mustadio shook his head. "No. Not compared to my father."
"Who's your father?" Alicia asked.
Mustadio stared at the ground with a look of anguish on his face. "Besrodio," he said. "Besrodion Bunansa."
"The Besrodio?" Alicia exclaimed.
"You know him?" Lavian said in surprise.
"He's the one who refurbished my stave!"
Mustadio's head snapped up. "You have some of his work?" he said.
Alicia withdrew the scepter from its place in her belt and handed it to him. Mustadio studied it intently, running his fingers along the smooth metal. "Yes," he whispered. "This is his." There were tears shining in his eyes. Ramza knew that expression well. He was pretty sure he looked the same, every time someone recounted Balbanes' deeds.
"Why is he in danger?" Ovelia asked. "Why are you in Zaland? Who were those men?"
Mustadio shook his head "You have all been so good to me," he said.. "I do want to wish to endanger you."
Ovelia laughed again. "I think I'm endangered enough."
"My lady!" Agrias exclaimed, as answering laughs spread among the others in the room, Ramza included.
Still Mustadio hesitated. "It is not just that," he said. "There are...I cannot share parts of the story."
"That's fine," Ovelia said. "Just share what you can."
Mustadio closed his eyes. After a moment, he nodded. "What do you know of the Baerd Company?" he asked.
Radia stiffened. "Those men were Baerd's?" she asked. Mustadio nodded,and Radia groaned and ran a hand anxiously through her hair. "Lucavi take me. That's not good."
Agrias frowned. "The Baerd Company?" Agrias said. "Why would they have men like that?"
"Hold on," Ramza said. "What's the Baerd Company?"
Agrias turned to face him. "The Baerd Trading Company," she said. "One of the largest trading firms in Lionel."
"Really started booming during the War," Radia added. "Since their founder, Ludvich Baerd, had a knack for being just where other traders couldn't get."
Ramza felt a chill of premonition. "By which you mean..." he prompted.
"Hard to say," Radia answered. "There's nothing concrete. Just weird jobs for the offices, the charities, the people who run things. Odd rumors from the mercs."
"Rumors like what?" Agrias asked.
"Shipments of weapons," Radia said. "Drugs." She paused for a moment. "People."
"Absurd," scoffed Agrias. "The Crown would never allow it."
"It's true," Mustadio said. They looked back to him. He was still staring at the ground. "I didn't believe it, either," he said. "The Baerd Company's all over Goug, sponsoring digs and workshops. You hear things, but you don't..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "You can't believe it," he said "Because then you might not take the gil. And there's so few digs the Church isn't sponsoring..."
"You don't like Church-sponsored work?" Ovelia said in surprise.
Again, Mustadio hesitated. Ramza was surprised at the difference between the fierce young man who had spoken so defiantly to his pursuers and the hesitant soul carefully choosing his words.
"Sometimes what we dig up..." Mustadio shook his head. "Sometimes it doesn't quite line up with what the Church teaches."
"Like what?" Ovelia asked.
"I...I really shouldn't," Mustadio said. "Anyways, it's...once the Inquisition gets involved, it's a whole different...you don't want anyone investigating you for heresy, even if..." Still he searched for the right words.
"Mustadio," Ovelia said gently.
"Call me Mus, please," he said at once. "I know my name's a bit of a mouthful."
"Mus." she said. "It's okay. No one's perfect, not even the Church."
Mustadio's face screwed up. "But they're better than him," he whispered. "I shouldn't even...how can I..."
Silence, as he fought his tears with shaky breaths. At length, he continued, "They...sponsored one of my father's digs. Baerd Company. He...had these reports about an airship crash, and he was hoping...and when we found it, they wanted it and he wouldn't..."
"What did he find?" Alicia asked.
Mustadio shook his head. "I can't tell you."
"A weapon?" Alicia pressed.
"Alicia," Ovelia said quietly, and Alicia subsided.
"They came for us," Mustadio said. "He...stayed behind. He has to be alive, right? He has to..."
No one answered. Mustadio's eyes were watering.
"He's a hostage," Radia said. "They won't kill a hostage. Especially not if they want what you found."
"They do," Mustadio said. He relaxed a little.
"So what are you doing in Zaland?" Ovelia asked.
"I...didn't mean to come here," Mustadio said. "I was trying to get to Lionel. If I could get an audience with Cardinal Delacroix..." He blinked in confusion as surprise rippled among Ovelia's company, glances of disbelief exchanged among them without thinking. "What? What did I say?"
"I..." Ovelia visibly reasserted her composure. "I suppose I'm just curious, given what you said about avoiding the Church."
"Not the Church!" Mustadio exclaimed. "I believe in the Saint! Only..." He sighed. "Only I do not wish to deny what evidence I see. A machinist's job is to uncover the truth—the way the thing works. You cannot pretend it does not work simply because it challenges you! And the Cardinal... the Cardinal agrees! He's...he's a good man. Keeps the peace. Doesn't mind discussion. It's not his fault the Church digs run through the Inquisition Office."
"You're a long way from Lionel Castle," Ovelia said.
Mustadio nodded. "Baerd's men are everywhere," he said. "I couldn't get close. I made it this far, but I..." He buried his face in his hands. "I don't know what to do."
Ovelia frowned, and turned away from Mustadio. She searched the faces of her companions—first Agrias, who shook her head, then Alicia and Lavian, who each looked unsure. Last she looked to Radia and Ramza. Radia pursed her lips and shrugged slightly. Ramza hesitated just for a moment, then nodded. He'd already made his decision when he'd decided to intervene during the fight outside. Besides, how was Mustadio any different from them? Just another victim of powerful opportunists. Just a man who loved his father, and wanted to try and save him.
Ovelia's mouth thinned into a line. Ramza didn't know what he'd do if she refused to help Mustadio. He couldn't abandon the Princess, but he couldn't imagine leaving Mustadio on his own, either.
"You're in luck," Ovelia said, turning away from Ramza to face the young man. "We're trying to reach the Cardinal, too."
Mustadio's face lit up. It was a surprising, endearing change: he went from a frightened, uncertain, grungy child to a confident, bright man. It was astonishing what a little hope could do.
He fell to his knees and bowed his head. "Thank you, your Highness!"
"My lady," Agrias said in a low voice.
"We are all going the same way, Agrias," Ovelia said. "And I cannot imagine that adding the Baerd Company's henchmen to the ranks of the Hokuten and Nanten will make our task any more difficult."
Agrias sighed. "Yes, your Highness," she said, in a tone that clearly expressed her disagreement.
"The Hokuten?" Mustadio repeated, and then his eyes widened. "Oh, of course! No wonder Zaland's full of them!" He looked down at his stinking coveralls with a grimace. "Oh no."
"What?" Ramza asked.
Mustadio sighed and flicked off a particularly nasty bit of offal clinging to his pantleg. "It just figures."
Ramza and the others exchanged looks of confusion. "Are you alright?" Ovelia asked.
Mustadio looked up with an ironic smile. "Oh, fine," he said. "I just don't want to go through the sewers again."
"What do you mean?" Radia asked.
"Baerd's men were chasing me," Mustadio said. "And he's got money to throw around, so you know he's got guards and knights on the payroll. You think I get through the city if I go through the gates?"
Agrias stared at him. "There's another way through?"
"Not through," Mustadio answered. "Under."
Ovelia laughed. Agrias shot her an alarmed look. "My lady?" she said questioningly.
Ovelia's laughter faded a little, but she was still chuckling. "Just thinking," Ovelia said. "No good deed goes unpunished."