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Chapter 77: Merciless

...Funeral's heart is soft. Were it not for Father Simon, we would never have lost the Cardinal. Were it not for Father Simon, Ramza Beoulve would never have escaped Zalmour. Were it not for Father Simon, Ramza and his allies would never have troubled us to begin with. He is clearly a threat to our plans, and the knowledge he holds way be dangerous to the peace of Ivalice. Eliminate him, and anyone else who gets in our way. Prove you deserve your place among us.

-Vormav Tengille, "Letter to Wiegraf Folles"

"Alma!" Ramza cried, whirling back towards his sister's voice as all his other thoughts fell away. His sister was in trouble. His sister, who he'd brought here.

"Move!" Izlude cried.

Rattling behind Ramza, footsteps and the clanking of metal. Simon had no trouble imagining what that might look like. He remembered the weapons trained on him; the bow, the trident, the mage knight's rapier. He had turned his back upon them: no matter how fast he was, no matter how he reached to draw back a bowstring against or thought of the runes etched carefully around his gloves, he did not have time to use any of them. He would die, right now, for his carelessness.

Gaffgarion would be ashamed of me.

What a strange thought! He had betrayed the man, more than once: he had even killed him in the end. But as everything fell apart, Ramza could not help the self-recrimination. Gaffgariou would be ashamed of how easily he had let himself be distracted. He could almost hear the mercenary's voice now.

A moment's distraction, and you let yourself fall apart! Battlefields are nothing but distraction! How do you intend to survive if ya cannot keep your focus!

But he couldn't. Not with his sister crying out, in such terror. What had happened above to make her so afraid? What danger was she in? He couldn't lose anyone else he cared about.

And how will you save them when you're dead?

He wouldn't, of course. If he died, so would she. And his fear had made him bare his back to his enemy; his fear had cost him his life, and might cost Alma hers, too.

The crack of a pistol, the hissing roar of a fire, the thundering whoomph of a Mage Knight's blade. "Go, Ramza!" Agrias' roar was audible even over the sounds of battle. "We'll hold them here!"

He was already moving. He wanted to fight at his comrades' side, but he knew he could not stay. Mustadio, Agrias, Lavian, and Alicia were all warriors of experience and renown: he could trust them to hold their own behind him. Not so Alma, screaming in terror somewhere far above.

He did not look back. He could afford no more distractions. He would as merciless as Gaffgarion, if that was what it took.

Pounding up the stairs, fast as he could manage. Arrow dangling in one hand, bow in the other. Mind racing, inventorying his available weapons. Sword on one hip, dagger on the other, small knife beside the dagger; quiver of arrows bouncing on his back (12, yes? He thought 12); runes here, here, here;

He reached the top of the stairs, and a spear drove out at him.

Ramza shouted in alarm, heard his shout echoed by the man in front of him. Ramza snapped up his arrow to nock it to his bow-

Too slow! The spearman lunged after him, lank red hair already damp with sweat. He'd closed the gap with terrible speed, and Ramza was left whirling to dodge the spearhead as it cleaved after him, bow and arrow falling to either side. In the distance, he heard alarmed shouts.

"Someone's here!"

"Grab her!"

"RAMZA!" Alma cried.

Dodging's all well and good, long as you've got the strength to seize your moment.

Ramza twisted to one side the spearhead cut through the air beside him, ducked low and started to draw his sword. The spear followed Ramza: Ramza hammed up with his palm, caught the spear just beneath its head so it jerked upwards, finished drawing his sword and slashed. The spearman staggered backwardswith a fresh weal of chunky scarlet on his face, mouth open in a silent scream.

A flicker of movement, just to his left. Ramza had just understood it was an archer when she loosed her arrow: he snapped up one hand, touched the warding rune Lavian had taught him with his fingers still tight around his sword. Shimmering light burst from his hand in a loose half-dome: the arrow hit, flared, burst with wild magic like a Mage Knight's blade. Ramza's ward shattered, and he gasped at the jagged pain loosed in his bowls as he was knocked backwards, into a wall. The ward had held long enough to keep him from the worst of the blast, but his palms were burning, and his back stung from the impact.

Pain is a distraction like any other! Focus!

Ramza hurled himself down and forwards, diving behind a display case just as a second arrow sped over his shoulder. He braced himself, ready for the explosion-

Your enemy's weapons can be your weapons, if you have only the skill to use them!

Ramza landed in a crouch, waited until he heard the first rumbling crash of the explosion: Ramza lunged out of his cover at the same moment, riding the shockwave to jump farther and faster. He landed hard, rolled and felt something scrape hard against his shoulder. The archer was just in front of him, another arrow already nocked and trained on him. But Ramza's own hand had flown to his waist as he felt, and drew the knife. It flew, swift and true, to the archer's shoulder. She was wearing armor: the knife glanced off, but slowed her draw enough for Ramza to duck low as she loosed the third arrow. Ramza rose in a flurry of slashes; the archer tumbled backwards, flailing with her bow to deflect his blade.

He felt rather than saw the faint shift in magic, somewhere to his right He leapt away as a bolt of lightning tore through the air where he had been, shattering a nearby shelf and setting the books and scrolls ablaze. The smoky misery of burning paper filled the air as Ramza charged on, risking a glance at his new enemy. A pudgy man in leather armor had a slender metal rod trained on Ramza, glowing with runes. Fresh magic was already swirling on its end.

Ramza dropped his sword and raised a hand just as the mage loosed a fresh searing bolt. Ramza willed as Radia had taught him, as he had practiced with Agrias, Radia, Alicia, and Daravon, as he had learned when facing the monster Cuchulainn. And he had done all those things without his sister's life at stake.

He defused the magic as it impacted his palm, drank it in. He could feel it scorching his palm, crackling inside him, demanding release. His hand found the right rune on his wrist: he fed his stolen magic into his own sun-bright bolt, flying swift and true after the mage. The charred corpse flew backwards, and smashed against a wall.

And the archer was back on her feet, another arrow nocked to her bow. Ramza turned to face her, his hand on the same rune. For a moment, neither of them moved.

The archer loosed her arrow. Instead of firing off a spell, Ramza spun as he had once seen Miluda spin, lifting out a hand to catch the offending arrow. It rested lightly between his fingers, spinning with him. He released it as gently as he might release an ailing bird, skidding to a stop as he did so. He watched the arrow tumble through the air, hitting the ground close to the archer.

A burst of white light and thuderous force: Ramza squinted, staggered backwards. He blinked his eyes against the afterimages. A crumpled body was barely visible beneath a fallen shelf.

"Enough."

Frost chilled its way up and down Ramza's spine. He recognized that voice. He turned slowly to face the source.

Wiegraf Folles stood at the base of a nearby stairwell, half-masked in the rising smoke from the two lightning bolts. His golden armor, covered with red cloth at the joints, was dented and torn. A cut just beneath his hairline dribbled blood over one eye. In his hand was a shimmering Ydoran blade, its edge pressed gently against Alma's throat.

"Three Templars," Wiegraf said. "I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by your skill or your bloodlust, Ramza."

Ramza barely heard him; his eyes were fixed on Alma. Her face was pale, her eyes wide, her breathing quick and shallow like a frightened rabbit. She was terrified. Because of what Wiegraf had done. Because Ramza had failed to protect her.

"Hands on the ground," Wiegraf said. "We can still end this peacefully."

There was the sound of clanging metal in the distance, from the stairwell Ramza had sprinted up to reach Alma. A gunshot, a shout of pain. "I don't think so," Ramza said.

"I am still the same man who fought beside you at Zirekile," Wiegraf said. "I am still the man who saved you and Delita at Zeakden!"

"Don't listen, Ramza!" Alma cried. "He killed Simon! He-!"

Wiegraf's hand snapped up with a snake's agility, knotted in Alma's hair and jerked her back. She broke off in a squeal of pain.

"Looking a lot like Gregory, Wiegraf," Ramza said, raising his voice to carry over the whispering flames.

Wiegraf's eyes widened. "You dare-"

"Taking hostages," Ramza said. "Making threats. Killing old men. Is this what the Corps always comes to?"

For a moment, Wiegraf's eyes were wider still, riven with disbelief. Then they narrowed into a fierce, contemptuous glare. "You've become as keen a killer as your brothers."

Ramza shrugged. "If it saves my sister."

Wiegraf laughed bitterly. "Of course! When you kill my sister, you demand my patience. But yours-"

"I didn't kill your sister, Wiegraf. You fight beside the man who did."

Wiegraf and Ramza locked eyes. Wiegraf's eyes were hard, but no longer glaring. Ramza didn't recognize the man looking at him.

"I told your sister," Wiegraf said. "Like I told Radia. I have no love for the Church, and I would not see you harmed."

"But you do their dirty work all the same."

"And you?" Wiegraf asked. "How many men and women died to make your master a little coin? How many died just now for your own selfish causes?"

"I don't work for the Church!"

"Nor do I!" Wiegraf spat. "But I will see Ivalice fixed, by whatever means necessary."

"So you kill priests."

"So I kill who I must," Wiegraf retorted. "The same as you."

"I thought you were with Delita?"

Wiegraf laughed. "And you think his hands are clean?"

"He's not the one with a sword to my sister's throat." Ramza started to say more, then stopped. Something occurred to him, something that had simply slipped his mind. A wave of cold dread in his guts, shaded by guilt.

"Where's Radia?" Ramza asked.

A flicker of something in Wiegraf's stone face.

Footsteps behind Ramza. He pivoted on his heel, so he could keep Wiegraf in the corner of his eye. Izlude burst out from the stairwell Ramza had just run up, jumping high to land atop a shelf. Nimble and strong, sure-footed as he raced across the creaking bookcases. He skidded to a sudden stop, looking between Ramza and Wiegraf. His armor was singed, and he moved as though his side injured him, but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. "Your companions are fiendishly strong, Ramza!" shouted Izlude. "Are you sure you're not Lucavi?" His smile faltered as he looked towards Wiegraf. "We don't need reinforcements."

"The Beoulve has already killed three Templars," grunted Wiegraf. "I doubt your companions below have fared much better."

Izlude was still frowning at Wiegraf. "You've taken a hostage."

Wiegraf shrugged. "We knew each other once. I wanted to resolve this amicably."

"Hm." His eyes flickered between Wiegraf, Alma, and Ramza. "She's your sister?" Izlude asked, glancing briefly at Ramza. "My apologizes." He looked back at Wiegraf. His frown had deepened. "Who ordered you here?"

"Who do you think?"

Izlude scowled. "My father can never leave well enough-"

A shift in magic, sharp and sudden. Ramza's head twitched in its direction—towards Wiegraf, with a jolt of terror electrocuting its way across his nerves. But it was not Wiegraf preparing to cut down his sister. It was Alma, the slightest light unfurling from her hand across her skin.

"Don't-!" Wiegraf started, too late: she glowed like a sun, and burst into a pillar of light. Wiegraf fell backwards. Ramza took off towards them. The sword he'd dropped was just in front of him, a shadow in the fading radiance; he scooped it up as he ran. There, appearing from the light like a vision, Alma, running towards him. Close now, close enough that he could protect her, close enough-

A shape of green and cold blurred past him. Izlude, impossibly fast, bounding from bookcase to bookcase, leaving them creaking and swaying behind him. With his last bound, he left the bookcases behind, and hit the ground just between Alma and Ramza. He was still moving: in one fluid motion he slugged Alma in the stomach, ducked low, and tossed her over his shoulder without breaking stride. Ramza screamed in rage so his throat was hoarse with it: he stabbed towards Izlude's back with the sword in his hand.

Another sword drove into his, and the sword in his hand shattered like fine china dropped upon a stone floor. Ramza felt the reverberations all the way up his arm.

"GO!" Wiegraf cried, standing before Ramza with with his own sword in hand.

"Move!" Ramza cried, lifting his hand. This time his finger found the rune for fire, and crimson flames spilled out of his palm. Normally casting left a pang of exhaustion somewhere deep in his stoamch, but this time he barely registered the effort. His sister was only a few steps beyond, slumped over Izlude's shoulder. He would not lose anyone else. No matter who stood in his way.