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Chapter 47: An Unexpected Reunion

...You tread upon thin ice, Ludvich. We have not forgotten how slow you were in alerting us to the Stone in Goug—as slow as you were to tell us that you could not find it, when a single boy thwarted all your men. And now that circumstances conspire to place it back in our hands, we remind you that we have not forgotten your failures. You will deliver the Stone to us personally, and ensure that the Bunansas and their associates do not live to inform anyone of what they have seen. If you should fail, your men and your money cannot protect you. You know how far our reach extends.

-Burned letter recovered from the fireplace of Ludvich Baerd

Ramza was not prepared for Goug.

He had lived among Ydoran construction all his life—the Beoulve Manor had once been the home of an Ydoran consul, and Ramza had traveled far and wide across Ivalice and seen all the ruins and remnants of that once-mighty empire. But most of what he'd seen had been the vestiges of the ancient nation—the frontier, beyond the borders of the country proper. Goug had been one of its cities—had been a place of industry, And thought it was a sunken ruin, it still retained a ghost of that former grandeur.

Hollow wrecks of metal towered above them, casting their slanted shadows over the roughshod slapdash sprawl that had grown up around them. Shacks and houses had been built up against the polished stone of broken Ydoran manors. Huge pits cratered the cityscape and the surrounding countryside, each one porous with shafts and tunnels. From one such dig site, a crew of laborers was dragging the metal prow of ship that Ramza thought must have been as big as the Beoulve Manor, when it was whole.

"-so the tunnel collapsed, but I could not forget how it looked. The way the metal gleamed, or...Ramza?"

Ramza blinked and guiltily twisted back around. Mustadio stood a little ways in front of him, as men and women carrying strange devices and bits and pieces of scrap hurried to and fro.

"Sorry," Ramza said. "What?"

Mustadio grinned. "It is quite a sight, no? The Ydorans made such wonders. As I was trying to tell you."

Ramza flushed. Mustadio's grin widened, and he took the lead, beckoning for Ramza to follow. It was nearly a week since they had left Lionel Castle, taking the winding coastal road that wound through the marshes and swamps of northwest Lionel. Ramza had spent those first few days in a melancholy funk, doubting what he was doing, hating Radia for what she'd said to him and hating himself for what he'd said to Radia.

But the closer they got to the city, the more excited Mustadio became. The excitement took the form of an almost constant stream of chatter—about the design of his pistol, and how it compared to Ydoran pistols, and Ydoran gunsmithing in general, and the different branches of gunsmithing and how those had factored into regional political differences, and how his father had led a dig that had uncovered one of the old shops that had built small airships for the rich, and-

On and and, and sometimes it was annoying when Ramza would rather be alone with his thoughts. But Mustadio's energy was infectious, and Ramza found himself fascinated in spite of himself, asking questions about Ydoran history and the nature of excavations and Mustadio's father, and soon enough his guilt was something that troubled him only in idle moments, or when he laid his head down to rest in the dark of the night and stared at the empty space in his tent and wondered if Radia would ever lay beside him again.

Mustadio shouldered his pack and led on. Goug seemed more populous than even Igros to Ramza's eyes—Church officials in fine robes, merchants and soldiers, hard-eyed men with weapons at their hips, and the babble of many accents, from Ivalice and from far beyond its borders. Everywhere were machinists. No two looked alike, or carried similar gear, but Ramza recognized them by the grease, oil, and soot that clung to their persons, and by the strange devices they carried with the same familiarity that a soldier holds his weapon, or a scribe his quill.

Still Ramza marveled. It was all so different than he had expected! The city teemed with life, excitement, and adventure! What must it have been like, to grow up in a place like this?

But it wasn't all Ydoran wonders and discoveries, was it? There were the other parts Mustadio had told him about—the constant attention of Church Inquisitors, and the fear that must tinge every new dig, if you uncovered something that contradicted official doctrine. And the predators like Baerd and his ilk, lurking in the shadows for some opportunity to strike.

And Ramza and Mustadio hoped to save Mustadio's father by pitting the one against the other.

The grim reality of their predicament brought Ramza steadily back to earth. He listened much more attentively to Mustadio, and kept wary eyes on the crowds around them, alert for any of the dangers the Cardinal had warned them about. Mustadio led them to a ramshackle lean-to built right up against the side of one of the sunken factories, and led Ramza through the creaking door.

Ramza blinked his eyes to adjust to the change of light—from streaming daylight to the dim glow of a rune-laden chandelier quite at odds with the squalid interior of the bar. Mustadio approached the bar and ordered two drinks in an undertone; Ramza automatically slapped the requested gil on the bartop, and took his drink.

"This is the right place?" Ramza murmured, eyeing the other inhabitants—all a little worn and dingy, sticking to their tables, keeping to themselves.

Mustadio nodded. "S'what the Cardinal told me," Mustadio whispered back. "We're looking for a man with a red...a red..." Mustadio trailed off and squinted at one corner of the dark room, and then his eyes widened in disbelief. "What?" he breathed.

Ramza followed his gaze. The man in the corner was dressed in soot-stained clothes as dirty as anything in this place, save for the red scarf draped around his neck. Their contact? Ramza supposed that made sense—his clothes might be filthy, but there was something in his face that stood out, even in the shadows. His brown hair was pulled back in severe ponytail, exposing a broad, heavily-lined forehead. His thick-lipped mouth was curved into a frown beneath his hooked nose. But it was the eyes that marked him out from he crowd. Everyone else in this bar had a look that was a little beaten, tired, or weary. They watched each other without interest, or stared blankly at their cups. But the man with the red scarf had eyes that glittered hungrily, avidly. Wherever they fell, they seemed to be devouring what they saw.

Mustadio crossed quickly to the man in the corner—too quickly, in an odd jerking motion. Eyes rose from around the room to follow his path, and Ramza hurried after him, unsure whether he should stop him.

The man in the corner rose. His mouth spread into a broad smile that did not quite reach his eyes. "My friends!" he exclaimed, and pulled Mustadio into an embrace. But Ramza was close enough to hear him whisper, "Don't draw attention to us!"

Mustadio stiffly allowed himself to be pulled down by the table. Ramza followed suit after a cursory handshake with the man in the red scarf.

"What are you doing here, Barich?" Mustadio whispered.

Ramza frowned. That name was familiar. Barich...where had he heard it before?

The man in the red scarf shrugged. "You were told to meet me here, weren't you?" His Lionel accent was not nearly so thick as Mustadio's—indeed, his voice was almost accentless, clean and casual.

Mustadio blanched. "You arethe Cardinal's man?"

"Keep your voice down," Barich said, still smiling.

"But you want independence for Goug!"

"I still do," Barich said, and the hunger stole back into his eyes.

"You know each other?" Ramza asked, in an undertone.

Barich glanced at him. "You're the Beoulve?" Ramza hesitated—he'd spent so long shying from that name, and all its burdens—but at last he nodded. It was what the Cardinal had called him, after all.

Barich nodded in turn. "Nice to meetcha. I'm Barich Fendsor, Worked with the Bunansas a few times. He's almost as good a mahcinist as me."

"You have got it backwards!" snapped Mustadio. "And you're not answering me!"

Barich glared at Mustadio, who glared back. "Lower. Your. Voice."

Something clicked into place. Mustadio had told stories about Barich—about tearing around across the town, and wild drunken nights. They'd known each other.

"What are you doing here?" Mustadio asked.

Barich sighed. "I...got arrested."

Mustadio shook his head. "By the Inquisition?"

Barich nodded grimly. "They...they claimed the Goug Independence Coalition were heretics. That they...that..." Barich trailed off.

"I told you not to join them!" Mustadio hissed.

"I know!" Barich exclaimed. "I know. But...but I guess the Templars have been keeping an eye on things? They...intervened. Got the charges dropped, as long as I..."

Ramza frowned. "You're a Templar?" What an odd notion—those elite soldiers who answered personally to the High Priest were rarely seen beyond Mullonde unless they were escorting Church dignitaries or relics.

"Nah," Barich said. "Just a guy they can trust to give'em info."

"Info about what?" Mustadio asked.

"About what they're looking into," Barich said, and then dropped his voice lower still. "Like Baerd."

Ramza and Mustadio exchanged glances. Mustadio clearly hadn't expected to know the Cardinal's contact, and had questions burning in his eyes. But they had come here with a mission—to save Mustadio's father—and for that, they needed Barich.

"You're going to arrest him?" Mustadio asked.

"It's been arranged," Barich answered. "Didn't know who we could trust between the Grypons and the Inquisition, so the Templars are going to take him."

"The Templars?" Ramza said in surprise. Odd enough that the Templars were keeping such tabs on the Inquisition as to intervene to save Barich: now they were arresting someone in the Inquisition's stead?

Barich nodded. "A Stone's on the line," he said. "Funeral's taking no chances."

"Funeral?" Ramza repeated. "Does that mean-" But then he broke off. He didn't know what Barich had been told, and he wouldn't endanger the Princess by revealing where she was.

But Barich nodded, and said, "Times like these, direct action's needed. Like making sure our royal friend gets the protection and support she deserves."

"You know about..." Ramza trailed off and shook his head. The Cardinal had told them he intended to call on people he could trust, but he hadn't realized that extended to the Templars—and to their informants."

"Big things in motion," Barich said. "Why do you think I signed on?"

Mustadio studied Barich for a moment. Barich stared steadily back. Ramza watched the two men as his eyes flickered among the crowd, looking for anyone who might be looking too closely.

"Do we know where my father is?" Mustadio asked.

Barich nodded. "Baerd's holding him in the basement of his house. We'll free him when we take Baerd." Barich looked guilty. "He, uh...he might be in a bad way, you know."

"What do you mean?" Mustadio asked, breathless with fear.

"They...they only got your word that you're the one who hid the Stone," Barich answered. "They might've...tried to make your father talk."

Mustadio clutched at the side of the table for support, his face pale.

"Do you know that for sure?" Ramza asked quickly.

Barich shook his head. "Barely know anything," he said. "Just...just don't want you unprepared, if..."

"But he's alive?" Ramza asked, trying to give Mustadio reason to hope.

Barich nodded. "One of Baerd's men saw him two days past," Barich said. "He's alive."

Mustadio still clung to the edge of the table like a sailor to driftwood, but he seemed to loosen his grip a little, and his eyes no longer looked quite so wild.

"We have to get him out," Mustadio said.

"We will, Mus," Barich said. "Everything's ready. Templars and a handful of Inquisitors are standing by; we're gonna arrest him and drag him to Mullonde before anyone can object." He hesitated then, and added in an even lower voice. "But you know we need the Stone."

"I know," Mustadio said. "I'll take you to it."

Barich nodded, and rapped once upon the table. A man and a woman sitting on the far side of the room rose together and hurried for the door. "They're giving the order," Barich said. "Baerd will be in custody within the hour. You want to see your father the moment we have him, right?"

Mustadio nodded dumbly. Barich rose and headed for the door of the bar, beckoning for Mustadio and Ramza to follow. The man who'd risen from his table waited just outside.

"Where we headed, Mus?" Barich asked.

"My father's workshop," Mustadio answered.

The man nodded and darted away, disappearing into the crowd. Things were even busier than they had been before, machinists and merchants and workers of all stripes hurrying in a hundred different directions as squawking chocobos pulled laden carts and hovering caravans floated along established routes, with the crowds pressed thick around them. Above, the heavy grey skies looked still more leaden, and the faintest rumblings of thunder could be heard even over the noise of the city. Mustadio picked his way through the crowd, and Ramza and Barich hurried after.

Mustadio was leading them into a rather poor section of town. It rather reminded Ramza of the slums of Dorter, or the abandoned mess of buildings at the outskirts of Zaland.

"Your workshop's here?" Ramza asked.

Mustadio nodded. "When you work with explosives, your neighbors appreciate it if you keep your distance."

"That," Barich said. "And you usually know if anyone's coming."

Mustadio nodded. By now the crowds had thinned out—there were only a few scattered clusters of people bustling their way towards other buildings.

"So you were arrested?" Mustadio asked.

"Hm?" Barich was studying their surroundings, not looking at Mustadio. For the first time, Ramza noticed his hand resting on his hip, where he wore a pistol that seemed markedly different from Mustadio's.

"You were arrested," Mustadio said again.

Barich nodded. "I was."

"And the Templars offered to drop the charges of heresy," Mustadio said. "In exchange for information."

Barich's dark eyes flickered to Mustadio's back. "That's right."

"About Baerd?" Mustadio asked, glancing over his shoulder.

"Aye," Barich answered.

"And what else?" Mustadio asked.

Barich did not answer. Ramza had dropped back a little, and felt his neck prickling. There was something here he didn't understand.

"What they asked of me," Barich said at last.

"How long have you been working for them?" Mustadio asked.

Barich shook his head. "Less than a year."

"So before my father was taken."

Barich didn't answer right away. "Yes," he said, so softly it was barely audible.

"You were still talking about independence when I saw you in Pisces," Mustadio said mildly. "Were you telling the Templars who else came to those meetings?"

Barich stopped walking. Mustadio stopped as well. Ramza's eyes flickered around them, wary of any hidden danger, but his gaze kept returning to the two men in front of him. Besides, there was no one left in sight: wooden huts and shacks leaned gloomily on either side of the dirt road.

"There's parts of the Church that would let us go free, Mus," Barich said.

"But there are those parts that want to keep us, no?" Mustadio asked. "And perhaps those who know that people who talk of freedom might not be friendly to the Church if they ever got it?"

Barich shook his head. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Perhaps not," Mustadio said. "But a thought occurs to me. It is a nasty thought, I admit, but one I am having trouble dispensing with. I wonder just how many of our friends you met with, and then told the Templars or the Inquisitors or..." Mustadio managed a wavering smile. "Well, I suppose it does not matter who you told. It is the telling I object to."

For a moment, Barich was silent. Mustadio's face was pale, and his hands were shaking, but his eyes were firm. Ramza did not know what to say or do, but he trusted Mustadio here.

"I'm doing what I have to do, to make sure Goug goes free," Barich said. "Just like you're doing what you have to do, to see your father safe."

"I understand," Mustadio said. "But I do not wish to deliver the Stone into your hands. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of trust."

Barich scoffed. "I'm all you've got, Mus."

"I do not think so," Mustadio answered. "I will retrieve the Stone, and take it to the Cardinal myself. My friend has already promised to return to the Princess. Once I have seen my father safe, I will do the same."

"A fine plan," drawled a chipper, reedy voice. "But I am afraid I will be taking the Stone to the Cardinal."

Ramza and Mustadio turned to the source of the voice. Barich's voice, low and bitter, murmured, "Drop your weapons."

Ramza glanced back at him. Barich had drawn the bronze pistol from his hip, with its wider barrel that flared out towards the end. He had pressed it against Mustadio's head, and Mustadio stood frozen.

"It didn't have to be like this," Barich said.

"Whatever you need to tell yourself," Mustadio grunted.

Barich grimaced, and his dark eyes flickered towards Ramza. "I told you to drop your weapons."

Ramza remembered the battle against Mustadio's attackers in Zaland. He had managed without weapons back then; now he was armed. Surely he could-

"Mustadio," Barich said. "Why don't you tell him what kind of gun I'm holding?"

Mustadio's nervous eyes darted towards Ramza. "Spell gun," he said. "Ydoran make. It...it hurt, if he pulls that trigger."

"Bet your ass," Barich growled. "Now drop your weapons."

"You'd better do as the man says," chuckled that same reedy voice. "You're already surrounded."

Ramza gave up, reaching for his belt, his mind racing, wondering if he could do as he'd done the last time Mustadio had been taken hostage, go for his weapons and fight his way free. He risked a glance, and felt that hope melting away. Other faces had appeared—men and women in rough clothes, with weapons in their hands and on their hips.

Only one of the people surrounding them was unarmed. He was distinguished not only by his lack of weapon but also the fine quality of his clothes—a large robe of yellow with a green border, that bulged here and there thanks to the man's corpulent weight. His greying hair was thin atop his round head, and beady dark eyes glittered in the folds of his soft, pale face.

He nodded as Ramza's weapons hit the ground, followed shortly by his pack. "Good, good," the fat man sighed. "So much easier this way. We've had quite enough trouble, haven't we, Mr. Bunansa?"

Mustadio's jaw clenched, and he did not look at the fat man with the thin hair. "Not enough trouble for you, Mr. Baerd," he whispered.

The fat man chuckled again. Ramza felt his insides crawling, and snapped a furious look towards Barich. "You're working for him?"

Barich pursed his lips and shook his head. Standing above the, Baerd laughed harder. "No, no, no," Baerd said cheerily. "We share the same employer."

Ramza stared at the man standing above him. His mind felt like was stumbling, thoughts in freefall. He couldn't bring himself to understand, even after Ludvich had confessed. Had told him exactly what he intended to do with the Stone once he claimed it.

Because Delita was taking her across the bridge because he didn't care that we were going to see the Cardinal and the Cardinal wants the Stone and the Cardinal has the Princess and the Lionesses and Radia oh God oh God oh God what have I done

He saw the same dawning horror in Mustadio's eyes, and for a moment they exchanged glances and Ramza saw fire there, anger and resignation, because both had were grateful to Ovelia and she deserved the best from them and maybe one or both of them would die but they had to try and get free. Ramza tensed, watching the men and women fanning out around him, and then-

And then two men stumbled into a view. One was a solid brick of a man who wore a tattered vest over his bare muscular chest, who had one meaty hand on the other man's shoulder. This other man had his arms tied behind his back and was rather slender, his greasy curtain of dirty-blonde hair hanging around his face, one eye swollen with bruising. But the other eye was bright and blue and familiar. It looked so much like Mustadio's eye.

"Father!" cried Mustadio, and made a jerking motion towards him.

"Don't make me do it!" Barich shouted, digging the barrel of the gun into Mustadio's skull.

Everything froze again. Tears welled up in Besrodio Bunansa's eye. "My son," he croaked. "I am sorry."

Ludvich Baerd clapped his hands together. "Father and son, reunited!" he said. "It warms the heart, does it not?" He glanced towards Barich. "The Stone?"

"He says it's at their old workshop," Barich said.

"Well, then!" Baerd said. "Lead on, Mustadio." His dark eyes glittered. "Or shall we be forced to find other ways to ask you?"

The man holding Besrodio tightened his grip on the man's shoulder. Besrodio flinched.

Mustadio's eyes were wild and pain and fear. His gaze flicked between Besrodio, Ramza, Ludvich, and Barich. At last, they settled on Barich.

"You fucking monster," he hissed.

Barich shrugged. "Just doing what I gotta, Mus."

Baerd sighed and nodded. The muscular man holding Besrodio socked him in the back. Besrodio fell to his knees with a squeal of pain.

"No!" Mustadio bellowed, and jerked towards his father again. Barich snapped the gun up, and brought its handle down upon Mustadio's head: the blonde man collapsed with a cry.

"I do so detest violence, Mustadio!" Baerd called. "But I am willing to resort to it if you leave me no choice. And between your father and your friend, I've no shortage of targets."

Ramza held himself very still as Baerd's men huddled closer. His weapons were on the ground in front of him. There were at least a dozen men around them, all with their own weapons. He could strike at Ludvich, or at Besrodio's captor, or at Barich...but no matter how fast he moved, someone would die. Maybe all of them.

And even if he could save them, what would it do for Ovelia? For Alicia, Lavian, and Agrias? For Radia?

He had to wait for his chance. He had to hope a better moment would come. He would have to wait as the world crumbled around him, and his hopes of righteousness collapsed with them.

"Mustadio," Ramza said, in a shaking voice. "We don't have a choice."

Mustadio lifted his head. A little rivulet of blood dripped down from a cut in his forehead and ran along his nose.

"Alright," he grunted, and rose unsteadily to his feet.

"Tie their hands!" Baerd called.

The men drew closer. Ramza closed his eyes.