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Chapter 75: Proud Believer

...first Queen Ovelia and now Alma Beoulve have demonstrated abilities they have no business knowing, and the false words of the heretic Ramza Beoulve have proven that we face a canny and sophisticated enemy who cannot be allowed access to the Stones. I was content to allow Father Simon his retirement at Orbonne (and all the ease that Virgo provides) but we can no longer allow him free reign. Do not harm Father Simon, but the Archives must be secured, and their treasures removed from his control.

-Marcel Funeral, "Excerpt from a Transcript of the Brave Council"

"I don't like this," Agrias growled, glaring up at the leaden skies as they marched down the spacious white road to Orbonne. Rain had not yet begun to fall, but thunder grumbled to itself somewhere beyond the horizon.

Alicia nodded. "Storms at Orbonne haven't historically gone well for us."

"Poor Katherine," murmured Lavian.

"Poor Katherine," agreed Alma, squeezing Lavian's shoulder.

"My failure," Agrias said. "I should have..."

She trailed off, looking grimly into the distance as her fellow Lionessess spoke hesitant words of comfort. Ramza barely heard them. His eyes kept finding Radia, flickering away whenever she looked towards him. But sometimes when he looked at her, he saw her eyes darting away, too. He suspected they were sharing the same thoughts. The last time they had walked to Orbonne, they had done so in the service of Gaffgarion, with jokes on their lips.

"Katherine and Ysabel..." Alma's voice was small: when Ramza looked back at her, he found she was surprisingly pale, her eyes wide and glassy, her hands clenched in front of her. "I...I'd just met them."

Agrias put a hand on Alma's shoulder. "They were good soldiers," Agrias said. "And died in defense of their liege."

"Still died," Alicia grunted.

Agrias shot her a wary look. "You wouldn't do the same?"

Alicia glared at Agiras and held up the hand short a few fingers. "I really need to keep proving myself?"

Agrias' face softened. "No. I'm sorry."

Alicia nodded, though her face was still stony. Lavian reached out, and took that hand in her own.

They continued like that—all a little prickly, haunted by their ghosts and regrets. When they drew closer to the Monastery, they left the road behind, taking to the rolling green hills. They crept up the last line of hills circling the graceful majesty of white-domed Orbonne, poked their heads over to take a look.

And saw at once that something was wrong.

The grand wooden doors were cracked open. A long Caravan sat just outside those doors, guarded by two soldiers. They were ornately dressed in fine armor, with finer weapons in hand. Elaborate runes gleamed along its sides and roof: more elaborate than the merchant Caravans, if Ramza was any judge of such things.

"Templars," Lavian said grimly, ducking back behind the hill. "I can tell by the runes."

"She's right," Alicia added. "Defensive and offensive spells. Plus enhancements for speed. See the streamlined design?"

"Even cheap Caravans cost as much as a ship," Mustadio muttered. "This thing wouldn't look out of place in an Ydoran army."

"We have to assume they're here for the Stone," Radia said.

"But how did they learn about it?" Agrias murmured.

"They're looking for the Stones," Alma said. "We'll never be far ahead of them."

"Does that mean Simon's with them?" Ramza asked.

Alma pursed her lips and thought for a moment. "I don't know," she said at last. "He's...he's still got pull with Mullonde, but he's been retired a long time."

"How do we get past the guards?" Mustadio asked. "If I use my gun, it'll alert everyone.

"Leave it to us," Radia said, glancing at Ramza.

Ramza nodded. They moved together, circling around to the unprotected rear of the building, creeping down the hills in fits and stars, sheltering in the scant bushes and trees that lined this side of the Monastery, until they reached the white stone building itself.

"Thirty seconds," Radia whispered.

"Make it a minute," Ramza replied. "It's a big building and we've got to be quiet."

Radia pursed her lips, then nodded. They parted ways, circling around opposite sides of the building, Ramza forcing himself to keep his breathing steady and count off the seconds in his head. As he drew closer to the front of the building, he slowed his rapid steps, and pressed his back against the smooth white stone. He crouched low, risked a quick peek around the corner. Both soldiers were studying the line of hills.

"You see that?" asked a lanky young man with an ornate mustache, squinting towards the hills.

"See what?" grunted his companion, a stocky man with thinning grey hair whose hand was already on his sword hilt.

56, 57, 58... Ramza took a deep breath, drew a dagger from his belt, and dashed forwards. The lanky man turned to face him: Ramza clapped a hand over his mustached mouth and drove his dagger into the man's throat. The man's eyes went wide, and he grunted once as the bloody dribbled down across his armor.

"What-" started the grey-haired man behind him, whirling with sword in hand. Radia had just stepped out behind him: she wrapped her arm around his neck in a chokehold, and buried her blade into his back. He stiffened, struggled in her grasp; Radia twisted her sword, and with a body-engulfing shimmer, the man went limp. She let him drop to the ground with a thud.

Ramza and Radia drew their weapons back, stepping away from the corpses. Already, the others were hurrying down from the hill. Alma trailed behind them. Her pale face was fixed on the corpse in front of Ramza.

"You..." she started, her eyes flickering towards Ramza's face. She trailed off, shaking her head. "I didn't...I've never seen you..."

Ramza felt a pang of guilt a little stronger than usual. "Not the only ones I've killed, Alma," he said, as the faces fluttered across his mind's eye (as always, Argus' and Gaffgarion's stood out most of all).

"I know." Her voice was thin.

They hurried through the main doors of the Monastery, through the antechamber and into the sanctuary proper. Alma gasped: Simon was sunk low against the wide altar at the far end of the room, his bald head mottled with bruises, his white beard stained red where the blood that had trickled from his mouth had fallen.

"Oh God, Simon," Alma whispered, rushing towards the battered priest. The ring on her finger glowed, and shimmering light flowed from hands and fell like silk upon the priest's head.

"Alma?" Simon's fluttering eyes found her, had trouble focusing even as her magic worked. "How..." He nodded slowly. "Of course...the Stone..."

"How did you know-?" Radia began.

"I still...have friends...at Mullonde." His eyes flickered towards Ramza. "You...the Cardinal...?"

Ramza nodded. "Yes."

"It's not what you think-" Alma began plaintively.

"What...matter...what I..." Simon closed his eyes. His breathing slowed.

"Hold on," Lavian murmured, lifting her staff and adding her own translucent waves of cascading light to Alma's.

Almost at once, Simon's eyes opened, though they were still unfocused. "Templars...below," he said. "The...Braves..."

"Like Delita told us," Agrias growled. "Using the old legend for their own ends."

"Lucavi!" spat Alma. "They'd dare hurt a priest in the sanctuary.

"Not...much...of a sanctuary," Simon breathed, as blood trickled down one of the cuts in his head. "If...violence...can..." His eyelids fluttered again: with a rattling breath, they snapped open. "Do not...waste time...on me! They cannot...take...the Stone!"

The priest was right. The longer they waited with Simon, the better the chance that the Templars would find it. They had to move fast.

"Which floor?" Ramza asked.

"Lowest...level..." Simon muttered, losing focus again. "You will...know it...when you..."

His eyelids closed against. His breathing was steadier than before, but the beating had clearly taken its toll.

"Go," Alma said, cradling Simon's head in her lap. "I can tend to him, and you need Lavian."

Ramza stared at his sister. "I'm not leaving you alone up here.

"She won't be alone," Radia said.

"Uh, Radia?" Alicia said. "We could really use you-"

"One of us should stay up here anyways," Radia said. "Who says there aren't reinforcements on the way? We'll need the mages with you guys, and a Mage Knight's gonna be way more use than me if there's Swordbreakers with'em."

Oh, hell. Ramza hadn't even considered that. These were Templars: they were the only ones who practiced the magic arts that destroyed metal, stone, and wood with the right spell. Ramza had never faced once, but they were said to be nightmares on the field, able to shatter the armor and weapons of their enemies, even from afar.

"We'll be fine, Ramza," Alma said. "You heard Simon. You have to hurry."

Ramza nodded, but his eyes found Radia again. She was staring steadily back at him. "I'll keep them safe," Radia said.

"Thank you," Ramza said.

No more time for hesitation. He had brought his sister along on a dangerous quest against an enemy that kidnapped and hurt his friends and declared him a heretic for the crime of trying to expose their misdeeds. He had a chance to get ahead of them. He couldn't waste it.

Back along one of the stone hallways, just past the priest's little room where he had spent a scant few minutes on the night his life had changed again. A door stood open at the far end, with faded runes glowing half-heartedly along the ceiling as worn stone steps spiraled downwards out of sight. Ramza and his friends hurried down dozens of flights of stairs.

And in spite of his worries and fears, in spite of the need for haste, Ramza slowed in wonder as they reached the bottom of the stairs, and stepped out into the archives.

He should have put it together when Simon had told him to head for the lowest floor. There had been no landings above: they were headed deep beneath the earth. But the archives were more immense than Ramza had ever considered.

The ceiling was lost in darkness, but the shelves were illuminated around them, runes glowing at their joists. The shelves reached halfway up to that cavernous ceiling, lined with old books and scrolls piled in haphazard disorder. Piles of books and scrolls sat on the floor, too, and atop dusty glass cases. Passing by Ramza spied a rusting sword, a metal arm, old designs for airships, a necklace whose runes yet glowed.

"Saint Above," Lavian whispered, as they hurried through. "All these years..."

"You never came down here?" Mustadio asked. He was at the rear of the group, having lingered a bit too long over the metal arm.

"Forbidden," Agrias answered. She and Ramza remained near the front of the group, never pausing long. "These are Church secrets."

"Nothing too powerful, anyways," Alicia murmured. "They wouldn't leave anything that strong..."

"Except for a Stone," Mustadio said. "But why? Why leave it here why they hatch their schemes?"

Ramza wanted to join the conversation, but instead held up a forestalling hand. He heard voices up ahead, muffled by distance. Ramza followed the swelling voices, found another flight of stairs past the shelves, crept down it with the others following him. This one was shorter than the others: they stepped out into a room illuminated by merry runelight. The stairway was half-shielded by shelves lined with immaculate books: Ramza and the others pressed themselves against the shelves.

"Pull it out, Izlude!" exclaimed a frustrated man's voice. "We have to go!"

"Patience, Leuke," said a young man's voice, serious and thoughtful. "The magic here is a treasure in itself, and one I'd rather not unravel."

Ramza crouched low, poked his head around the corner of the bookshelf, and took in the scene. Just past the book shelves where Ramza and his friends stood was a wide, open gallery. The gallery was lined with several other glass cases, all open. There were a few treasures left upon their tables—the broken fragments of an old pistol, two simple rings of similar style but contrasting material (white gold and onyx), and a necklace of beads with different runes on each bead—but Ramza guessed that most of these treasures were now in the hands of the six men and women standing at the back wall of the gallery.

They were unmistakably Templars: each wore the mark of their order, the twelve Zodiac signs all circled around a dominant Virgo symbol. Some wore it on breastplates, some as little symbols over their hearts, and others had it emblazoned upon their red cloaks. All of them held remarkable treasures—a slender rapier that shimmered with a Mage Knight's threatening power, a bow with lines of light tracing their way to and fro across its arc, a trident with each prong a different metal, and more besides.

Behind them was a wall. No ordinary wall, this: etched upon it was a dizzying array of Ydoran runes. The sheer profusion of them daunted Ramza—it was the kind of fine detailwork usually reserved for a noble's treasured weapon —but there was even greater complexity here, spread across a mural of magical intent. The runes themselves were assembled in suggestive patterns, arcane angles and curves, and magic danced along their length to suggest still more constellations—an archer, a ram, a glowing sun, a crescent moon.

"What does it matter?" demanded a long-haired blonde man—the same one who had spoken before. "We have our orders!"

"It matters," answered the brown-haired young man who stood at the center of the group—the one who answered to Izlude. He wore a green cloak draped over golden armor, and his broad shoulders flexed as his fingers trailed across the runes on the wall. The Templar symbol was etched upon his armored shoulder. "This magic blows through the whole Monastery. If we have to take Virgo, we need not destroy the infrastructure. There's much we can learn here..."

His bare fingers came to rest on a section of stone duller than the others, with only a faint halo of runes glowing around it. Then his grip tightened. The halo of runes flashed brighter: the elaborate patterns across the wall swirled and whirled. At the center of this luminescent array gleamed a lurid red stone, a more vivid scarlet even than Scorpio.

"Look at that!" Izlude exclaimed. His fingers tapped a few of the runes around the Stone, then plucked it from its resting place. At once, the runes along the wall began to dim. Izlude had eyes only for the Stone.

"Let's get out out of here!" hissed a tall, tan woman to his right, with the marvelous bow in her grasp.

"Our orders were clear," Izlude said, slipping the Stone into a pouch at his waist and taking a runed gauntlet from one of his fellow Templars. "We have to secure Stone and Gospel alike. Simon said it was on this floor." He pulled the gauntlet into place: he wore a similar gauntlet upon his other arm, with runes glowing at regular intervals along the fingerplates.

"We're in a fucking library!" spat the squat older man holding the trident. "We're supposed to look at every fuckin' tome?"

"It should be written in old Ydoran," Izlude said. "That'll help narrow the search."

"We're in fucking archives, Izlude!"

The Templars started marching back towards the shelves. Ramza glanced over his shoulder. The others nodded, pressing back against the shelves. Ramza stepped out into the open, an arrow nocked to his bow. The Templars froze.

"Drop the Stone," Ramza said.

"Who..." Izlude trailed off and nodded. "Ah. The heretic Beoulve." Ramza was surprised to find no malice in the young man's voice: if anything, he seemed intrigued.

"The one who rants about Lucavi?" asked the tall blonde woman to his left, her gloved hands glowing with runes.

"The very same," Izlude replied.

The blonde woman made as if to raise her bow: Izlude held up a forestalling hand. "They have the stairs, Carmine. And Lady Lavian is no slouch with her wards." He smiled sardonically. "She's behind the shelves, I take it?"

Ramza did not answer. He remained where he was, arrow trained on Izlude. "I won't ask again."

"And you'll kill me if I don't?" Izlude shook his head. "Even if I believed your threat, I am a Templar. I am not afraid to die to bring about our paradise. None of us are."

"A paradise?" Ramza scoffed. "For Lucavi, perhaps."

"Yes, Zalmour told me of your scheme." Izlude sighed again. "Corrupting the legend of the Stones so that when our Braves take centerstage you can accuse us of...this." Izlude shook his head again. "It's a clever plan, Ramza, but we don't need to be enemies. We could be allies."

"Your Cardinal made us such an offer," Ramza said. "Right before he turned into a monster."

"He was a monster," Izlude agreed, surprising Ramza. "That such a noble man could sink to such depravity..." He shook his head. "So please, no lies. You had your reasons to kill the Cardinal. We are better off without him in our ranks. And better off still with you and yours."

Ramza studied the young man in front of him. He was serious, almost friendly. But Ramza well-remembered the fine performance the Cardinal had put on for them, when he'd pretended to be their ally. It oculd be just the same.

"You call the Cardinal monstrous," Ramza said. "But his plan was your plan. You started this war."

"You are not so dumb as that, Ramza Beoulve!" Izlude exclaimed. "It was not we Templars who compelled the powerful to wage bloody, brutal war against Ordallia! It was not we Templars who repaid our debts with the gil, sweat, and blood of Ivalice's populace, and crushed any bold enough to object to our thievery! And it was not we Templars that sent assassins to kill a Princess, just because she posed a threat to our plans! We saved her, Ramza!"

"So you could use her?" Ramza shouted.

"Use her to lure out the parasites!" Izlude retorted. "Give them the excuse they so desperately crave! Men like Goltanna! Men like Larg!" His eyes narrowed. "Men like your brothers."

A jolt of cold in Ramza's heart, and pulsing down his veins. "What?"

"Your brothers," Izlude repeated. "The loyal dog who tears to shreds all his master's foes, and calls it honor. Or Larg's pet viper, whose poison corrupts and corrodes our kingdom. And look at the youngest brother! A heretic, hunted and hated, and still better than the rest. Join us, Ramza."

Ramza stared at him. His arrow drooped a little. "What?" he said again.

"Think of it!" Izlude exclaimed. "A heretic Beoulve, whose brothers serve a wicked usurper! Bereft of God's light, he sinks into heresy, but serves God even then, killing a holy man who has gone astray! And when he is redeemed by the magic of the Stones and the grace of Saint Ajora, he joins his childhood friend and the new Braves, and in service to the rightful queen whose life he once saved, helps build a better Ivalice. An Ivalice where every soul has a voice in the future of our nation!"

"Every voice you haven't killed," Ramza said, though he found there was little anger in his voice or in his thoughts. There was nothing of the Cardinal's smug glibness here. Izlude was speaking with dreadful earnestness.

"Have you learned nothing from our Saint?" Izlude asked. "Fixing this world requires sacrifice."

"That should be their choice," Ramza said.

"Like it was the Death Corps' choice?" Izlude asked. "Ramza, the powers of Ivalice will never allow the people their freedom. That is why we fight. We shall bring the Braves against these modern Lucavi, cut the rot from Ivalice, and save our nation!"

"Why do you get to decide who lives or dies!" Ramza shouted.

"For the same reason you stand before us, Ramza Beoulve," Izlude answered. "We do not shy from the difficult path, and I am as proud of my father's name as you are."

Ramza stared at him. "Who are you?"

"Izlude Tengille," the other man replied.

Tengille. As in Vormav Tengille. As in the famous Knight-Commander of the Templars, a warrior of great renown across Ivalice.

"Think on it, Ramza," Izlude said, and his voice rose feverishly. "The last Lionessess, fighting in service to their kingdom. Gaffgarion's daughter, atoning for his sins. A machinist bringing to life the wonders of the past for the needy of the present. And a heretic Beoulve, redeemed by the Stones as he takes his rightful place among them. It's the stuff of legend!"

Too much earnestness in Izlude's voice. Nothing insincere or pretentious. And it occurred to Ramza that he didn't know of the Lucavi, just like Zalmour. So what was Ramza supposed to do?

"Izlude-" he began, and then stopped. He'd heard something, something he almost hadn't registered as a sound. Then he heard it again. A scream, made dim by distance and thick stone. A scream he recognized. And when it came again, he heard words in that scream.

"-za! Ramza help!"

"Alma!" Ramza cried, whirling back towards his sister's voice as all his other thoughts fell away.