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Chapter 78: An End to Martyrs
Was this truly Ramza Beoulve? The young man who'd spoken with such trepidation on the hills of Fovoham, and who'd shouted a warning to him so they did not have to fight? Was this the man who had struck down three Templars, and now poured fire down upon his head?
Wiegraf slashed down, detonating his collected magic. It was more than a year since he'd received it, but he still relished the ease this Ydoran sword afforded him. It had probably cost more than a week's worth of supplies for the entire Corps, but it allowed him to use the Bursting Blade with such ease. No wonder the nobles towered so far above them, when their wealth afforded them such advantages.
Had to be fixed. But once again, a fool stood before him, throwing him off his course.
These foolish boys, who had warped the fabric of his life. How had they come so far these last three years? Ramza Beoulve, who had once struggled to fight without killing, and borne his hate without complaint, now cut a bloody swathe through the Templars, looking like a man possessed. Here he came with the flames whirling around him like a cloak. Did he know he looked just as Delita had, cutting his way after that arrogant blonde noble at Zeakden?
It was that look—that rage, that desperation, that grief—that had drawn Wiegraf to their side at Zeakden. It was that look that had drawn Wiegraf to save Delita before the fires could devour him.
Fresh from his battle with Zalbaag, the last redoubt of the Death Corps in flames around him, its gunpowder stores put to the torch to serve as Gregory's self-made funeral pyre. Wiegraf had seen that himself: the blonde man's unseeing eyes bubbling and popping in the bursting heat as heavy stone crumpled like paper around them. And as Wiegraf had fled the failing fortress, he had seen the red-headed boy collapsed face-down in the snow, with his sister's corpse still cradled in his arms, illuminated by pillars of fire climbing high into the sky.
How could Wiegraf not have saved him? Knowing how hard he had fought, and how much he had lost? Knowing that grief for a dead sister had driven him as surely as it had driven Wiegraf himself?
So Wiegraf slung the boy across his shoulders, stumbled free of the hungry flames and into the biting teeth of a rising blizzard, and trudged step by weary step up into the mountainside caves where his guerrillas had sheltered from the storm, waiting for their chance to strike at the unguarded rear of the exhausted Hokuten. Boco warbled happily to see him, left behind because Wiegraf trusted his own footing more than the bird's in this miserable weather (and because he did not want to risk his last link to his old life in the chaos of the mountainside battlefield). Supplies had been thin for his scores of vengeful soldiers, but for just two tired, wounded men, there were plenty: Wiegraf built a fire, and tended to Delita's wounds, and waited for his soldiers to return.
The hours passed slowly. The fire burned low. No one else stumbled in out of the rising snow.
Wiegraf knew how desperate their straits were. He knew that the rebellious Corps he'd led on a rampage across Gallione had been cut to pieces, and the dregs he'd drawn together were hemmed in by two large, well-funded, vengeful armies. Hence had he hidden the bulk of his forces in these caves, waiting for a chance to strike at the unguarded rear of the distracted Hokuten. Deal them a bad enough blow, and let his soldiers melt away, to fight another day. But still the snows rose and still no soldiers came, and Wiegraf's dreams of a blow well-struck and soldiers fleeing to fight another day were dying with every moment.
A low, miserable groan distracted Wiegraf from his growing despair. He hurried to Delita's side, grateful for a distraction.
But so much had changed since those days! Wiegraf was a Templar now, a man of power and reputation, with the vengeance he'd dreamed of in reach at last. Once the Church had a grip upon the Throne, it could reorder the world properly, weaken the nobles and give power to the common man. And if the Church would not, Wiegraf and Delita would make it so themselves. Couldn't Ramza understand that?
So why? Why did he advance so fearlessly, so relentlessly? How could he, with only a single dagger and his glaring eyes, plunge after Wiegraf without hesitation! Because his sister was in danger? Because his sister was in danger? Where had such fearless rage been when he and his had struck down Miluda?
The privilege of nobles. Even in good causes, they believed themselves better than those around them. It enraged Wiegraf to no end: he charged Ramza, sword gleaming, ready to shatter him.
How could he and Delita be friends? Delita, cold and practical, who had risen from the fog of his injuries with only hard determination in his wintry eyes, long after the snows had settled and no sign of man troubled the mountains?
"Let me see if I understand you," Wiegraf had asked back then, so thick with guilt and grief and rage that he had not known what to do. "You killed my sister. You killed my soldiers. And now you want an ally?"
Delita, his face swaddled in bandages, his voice hoarse with the damage the smoke had done to his throat, shook his head. "I'm offering to be your ally."
"Fantastic," Wiegraf growled. "Two men against the Hokuten."
"Not just the Hokuten," Delita whispered. "You think this would be any different among the Nanten? Among any of them?" His eyes burned as bright as the fires of Zeakden. "Zalbaag Beoulve called Teta his sister, and gave the order to let that arrow fly. I saved the life of Argus Thadolfas, and he hated me for it so much he tried to kill me."
Echoes inside Wiegraf—of the madmen he'd known during the war, the ones he'd tried so hard to convince himself were aberrations isolated from the greater goodness of men. He'd lost that illusion in the waning days of the War, saw it fully shattered in Larg and Dycedarg's betrayal; he found his picture colder and clearer with every massacre and every crime desperate nobles inflicted upon their subjects for fear of the Death Corps.
He knew the fire in Delita's voice. He had often felt it himself, and longed to feel it again. But they were still just two men.
"Let us imagine I accept your offer." Wiegraf said. "How would we proceed?"
"However we could," Delita answered. "Until we find the right lever to unseat these noble bastards."
Noble bastards, yes. Just like Ramza Beoulve. Dimly, Wiegraf recalled the last time they'd seen each other, swords in hand as they fought against Hokuten assassins. They had been allies then, even in their disagreements. Why not now?
But the answer was obvious, wasn't it? It was the same privilege as the sword in Wiegraf's hand. Ramza believed he and he alone was allowed to bloody his hand for noble causes. He believed that Wiegraf was supposed to serve him. He believed it as firmly as every noble in every corner of Ivalice. Common men were means to an end, tools to be discarded if they did not serve their purpose.
Wiegraf raised his shimmering sword, than slashed down with explosive force. Ramza spun like a dancer, white flames leaking beneath his skin. One hand was wrapped around his wrist: a gust of wind sent Wiegraf staggering backwards, and Ramza raced past him, chasing after Izlude without a second glance Wiegraf's way.
Wiegraf meant nothing to Ramza Beoulve now. Maybe he never had.
Was all his work that meaningless? All his effort and sacrifice? Fighting bandits in the fields, trying to find the dregs of his Corps or the men and women they had relied on, trying to build something from the ruins? He and Delita traveled together, learned together, fought together. All of it was meaningless.
"No will remains," Wiegraf whispered, his head buried in his hands. The little shed behind the merchant's house was cozy enough, reward for saving the merchant and his wife from the depredations of bandits claiming some of the Death Corps old authority. But those men were not soldiers of the Corps, whatever their claims, and four months of work searching for allies in a new rebellion had found nothing but such pretenders. The failure, and the corruption of the Corps' legacy, left Wiegraf feeling more broken than ever. "No one wants to fight."
"Lots of people want to fight," Delita said gruffly. "But the poor don't think they can win, and the rich just want to get richer." He sighed. "I didn't realize..."
"I did not show them we were better," Wiegraf whispered. "I showed them it was a losing cause."
"You didn't," Delita whispered fiercely. "You didn't!"
But all the ferocity would not change it. Wiegraf had dreamed of a noble legacy, had preached his cause to every corner of Ivalice. He had not realized what the failure of that cause would cost. He had not realized that no one would fight for something that would kill them.
There was a knock upon the door. "Go away," grunted Wiegraf, in no mood for company from the merchant or his children. But there was another knock, louder than the first. "Did you not hear me?" Wiegraf growled.
"I did," replied an unfamiliar voice, muffled by the door. "But we have business to discuss, Wiegraf Folles."
Wiegraf and Delita exchanged glances, then rolled aside to grab their swords. In spite of his despair, Wiegraf was gratified to see the flickers of the Bursting Blade around Delita. The boy had talent, no mistake: he learned fast, in spite of Wiegraf's poor tutelage.
"If you value your life, you'd do well to leave!" Wiegraf shouted.
"There are things more valuable than my life," said the calm voice outside the door. "Things more valuable than any life. I think you, of all men, would agree."
Wiegraf and Delia exchanged glances again. Who knew Wiegraf's name, and knocked at a door rather than bursting through with armed men in tow?
"Why should I open this door?" Wiegraf asked.
"If we are to be allies in this endeavor, we should meet face-to-face."
Delita and Wiegraf exchanged glances once more. There were echoes of Wiegraf's feelings in Delita's face. The same doubt, the same fear, the same hope. He nodded slightly. Wiegraf nodded back.
"Make one false move, and we cut you down," Wiegraf said.
"I understand," the voice answered.
Wiegraf unlocked the door.
"You are a hard man to find," said the hard-faced man who stepped into the dim lamplight of the shed. His dark hair was speckled with silver and grey, and his ice-cold eyes gleamed with merciless awareness. The cold eyes flickered to Delita. "I had word of a companion, but no knowledge of a name."
"Delita," Delita replied.
The silvered eyebrows of the hard-faced man arched slightly. "Delita Heiral?"
"I..." Delita nodded, confused.
"Hm." The hard-faced man nodded. "Unexpected...but perhaps useful."
"Useful for what?" Wiegraf growled.
"For fixing Ivalice," the man said. "For restoring the natural order of our world."
Wiegraf stared at this unknown man who intruded on him from out of the dark. "What?"
"What is one question," the hard-faced man said. "Who might be a better one." A dark smile flickered across his face and then was gone. "My name is Vormav Tengille. I've been looking for you for some time."
Vormav Tengille, Knight-Commander of the Templars. Vormav Tengille, who had hatched this mad, marvelous plot, and set them all on their paths. Vormav Tengille, whose son fled with Alma Beoulve slumped over his shoulders, with Ramza Beoulve in close pursuit.
A moment's sympathy for the boy, even through Wiegraf's rage. Ramza Beoulve was so soaked in his privilege he did not understand how he frittered away freedoms men like Wiegraf had fought for all his lives, but Wiegraf knew his desperation. If he had hope of saving Miluda again, he knew he would have done no less. No enemy would have been too strong, no obstacle too great.
But he had not known. He had trusted her, and she had died fighting a futile battle against enemies she did not have to have. So when Vormav Tengille asked them to come to Mullonde, Wiegraf could not refuse him. Too many had died for too little, and Ivalice refused to change. Vormav and his Templars seemed to share some part of Wiegraf's cause. Nor were they alone.
They had been cleaned and fed in the luxurious halls of the Cathedral City. They were allowed to keep their weapons, but not to leave their rooms. And so they waited anxiously for some word of what was to be done. But when someone knocked upon their door, it was not Vormav who entered. It was a silver-haired noble, familiar to both Wiegraf and Delita.
"Messam!" Delita's eyes were wide with disbelief.
The Marquis Elmdor chuckled. "Of course," he said. "Now that you've left the Beoulves, you've no compunction forgetting the proper honorifics." He wore simple clothes, but a Doman katana with runes gleaming on its hilt was sheathed at his side.
Wiegraf stared a the Marquis. The first time they had met, consoldiating their forces near Zeltennia, he had seemed another species entirely, so far above Wiegraf's station as to stagger him. But their armies had shed blood together against the Ordallian tide of steel, and soon Wiegraf had forgotten his awe, forgotten it so well that when the time came he could lift up his blade against the lofty nobles who had wronged Ivalice, knowing they were as human and fallible as any solider.
When last Wiegraf had seen the Marquis, he had pressed a sword to his throat. When last he had seen him, he had been striking down Gustav for his betrayal. When he had last seen him, Miluda had still been alive, and her Valkyries intact. It was these men of Limberry who had hurt them. The Marquis' men.
"What are you doing here?" Wiegraf asked, and heard the confusion and uncertainty in his voice.
"Checking to see how my recommendation has worked out," the Marquis said.
Wheels turned very slowly in Wiegraf's head. He was still trying to understand when Delita gasped. "It was you," he whispered. "You're the one who sent Vormav to find us."
"Mostly correct," the Marquis said. "With one exception. I did not go looking for you, young Heiral. I went looking for him." He looked back at Wiegraf.
"Me?" Wiegraf scoffed. "Why?"
The Marquis considered him for a long time. His reddish-brown eyes searched his face with an intensity Wiegraf did not entirely like.
"I believe you know who paid Gustav," the Marquis said at last.
A Beoulve! Another damnable Beoulve, like the one fleeing in front of him. Wiegraf raced after him, but his fight with Radia had taken its toll: something was still twinging in protest in his calves with every step. Ramza's lead was growing.
How like a noble! Their leads were always growing, while they ground the common folk beneath them so they would not dream of rising! How could Elmdor, raised among nobility, not have known that?
"Did you not?" Wiegraf asked, and did not try to hide his disdain.
"I..." The Marquis shook his head. "I did not imagine that the son of Balbanes Beoulve was capable of such duplicity."
"Then you're a fool," Wiegraf said.
Delita stared wide-eyed at Wiegraf. The Marquis only closed his eyes, and nodded. "I am," he said. "I...it was never something I had to think on. I was the lord of Limberry, pledged loyalty by all who followed me. I was blessed by God." He paused, glanced at Delita. "Balbanes and I spoke of this once. Those blessed by God with good fortune must use that fortune for the good of all his creatures. I...I assumed..."
Wiegraf felt disgust, at the Marquis and himself. Was this how he had sounded when he had preached his cause to the Corps? This short-sighted, blind, and foolish? He had thought himself a realist. Now he wasn't sure.
"I didn't know," the Marquis continued. "That such rotten fruit could be produced from such a tree." He paused thoughtfully. "It's rather instructive, isn't it? Even the son of Balbanes falls prey to the petty games of pride and ambition."
"Your point?" Wiegraf asked.
"You spoke with Vormav," the Marquis said.
"Only a little," Delita put in. "He...he just said we share a cause."
"We do," the Marquis said. "Larg and Goltanna both play for the throne. Every power in Ivalice will take some side in this war, hoping to rise as the common people fall."
"And you're different?" Wiegraf asked.
"I believe so, yes."
The Marquis flipped open a pouch at his side, and pulled out a glowing sphere of crystal, gleaming with lustrous violet light. Emblazoned upon its front was the Gemini symbol.
The Gemini Stone. How much blood had been shed for these wonders? How many had been killed for the possibilities they represented? These Stones were the reason they feared Ramza Beoulve. These Stones were the reason for this raid on Orbonne. These Stones would save Ivalice, and build a better nation than the one that had betrayed the Death Corps, and so many others besides.
If Ramza Beoulve had to die for that cause, so be it.
The Beoulve had reached the top of the stairs: Wiegraf was three steps behind him. Ahead, Izlude was shouting curses. Radia barred the hall, clumsily swinging her crimson sword with her left hand as her right hung limply by her side. Wiegraf was surprised to see her standing: he could not break her sword, so he'd had to blast her off her feet with the bursting blade. He was pretty sure he'd broken her right arm in doing so.
Should have killed her so she couldn't stand in there way. But as he'd stood over her slumped body, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He couldn't strike down the last of the Valkyries.
Izlude deflected her blade with one of his metal gauntlets, swept Radia's legs out from under her and jumped over her sprawling body. But the moment had cost him time: Ramza had closed the gap between them. He was close enough for his dagger to reach Izlude's unguarded back.
"NO!" Wiegraf bellowed, and jabbed with his sword. Hot magic swirled out, exploded in a great sweeping wave down the hall. Izlude leapt at the last moment, letting the shockwave carry him forwards: Ramza lost his footing, and Radia tumbled by his feet. The two fell together in a sprawl.
Wiegraf jumped over them, caught up to Izlude, who was panting and staggering. He wrapped an arm beneath his shoulders, hurried him down the hall. They had reached the chapel, and the main doors.
"You have the Stones?" Wiegraf asked.
"Virgo," panted Izlude. "Not his."
"Get out of here!" Wiegraf growled. "Take his sister! We'll exchange her for the Stones."
Was this what Wiegraf had come to? Ramza had been right down below, this was the same ploy as Gustav and Gregory. A noble hostage taken for the thing they wanted most.
No. Not the same. Wiegraf did not bargain for survival. He bargained for salvation. As he had from the moment he had understood what the Templars wanted from him.
"When the war is at its worst," the Marquis said, returning the Stone to its pouch. "A company of Braves shall step forth, and put an end to the fighting."
"You've all twelve?" Delita asked.
"Not yet," Marquis said. "But it is only a matter of time. The High Priest himself has ordained this cause, and his followers are devoted to it."
"And will Ivalice be better with the High Priest on the Throne?" Wiegraf asked.
"Ivalice will be better when the one who hold the reins of power do so for something other than ambition!" The Marquis' shout was sudden, his eyes blazing. "I know the men and women you have faced, Wiegraf! I am an Inquisitor, and I know what looking into darkness does even to a heart like yours." His voice had softened: Wiegraf felt a pang. God, he was tired.
"The Church is no bastion of purity," Wiegraf whispered.
"The Church is an organization of men, like any other," the Marquis said. "With one exception: we fight for more than power. We fight to build the world Ajora preached. To make all men equal, and love each as our brother. We could make Ivalice a paradise. His voice rose like a preacher's, soaring with visions of a better world. "One by one the Braves will reveal themselves. Their tales will shape our world. Who better than you, Wiegraf Folles? The heroic rebel who could not stop the wicked powers fighting to give birth to new corruption, only to find salvation by the Saint's grace?" He placed a hand on Wiegraf's shoulder. His eyes were gentle. "Help us in our struggle, Wiegraf. Build a better world."
For the first time since Gustav had died, Wiegraf felt the warmth of hope.
"You haven't told him yet," Delita said. Wiegraf and the Marquis both turned to face him: his eyes gleamed with the same dead glow of the burn on his cheek in the runelight.
The Marquis smiled sadly. "You see far, young Heiral."
"See what?" Wiegraf asked.
"They came looking for you," Delita said. "They need you."
"For my name," Wiegraf said.
"Not just your name." Delita was still staring at the Marquis. "If Ivalice must be remade, the nobles have to be broken, and the people have to be desperate." Delita looked at Wiegraf. "They want your experience, Wiegraf. They want rebellions in every corner of Ivalice."
But that was impossible. First, the people lacked the will to rebel. Only scattered soldiers remained, hungry farmers and angry merchants, criminals eager to expand their reach, minor officials looking to climb the ranks. Rebellions in every corner in Ivalice would only mean bloodshed. Bloodshed that would weaken everyone, until every person from the lowest peasant to the highest noble would crave some answer, some release, to put an end to the violence.
The weight of what they wanted—the weight of what it would cost—stunned Wiegraf. He could not speak.
"You're not wrong, Messam," Vormav's cold voice remarked from the hall. He stepped into the room without asking for an invitation. "He does see far." He studied Delita. "Perhaps too far."
Delita shrugged. "You can kill me, or you can use me."
"We'll see," Vormav said.
"We won't," Wiegraf said. He was still reeling, but he had enough presence of mind to speak. "If you want me, he's part of the deal."
Vormav waved a hand dismissively. "He is your companion, with knowledge of the Hokuten, vouched for by a member of our Braves. We've no intention of killing him unless we have to."
"Thanks," Delita grunted sardonically.
"You're welcome." Vormav looked at Wiegraf. "But you understand what we want from you."
"You want me to be your Gustav," Wiegraf said.
"That's not-" the Marquis began.
"Exactly," Vormav interrupted. "To harry and harass every noble, so they all feel the strain of the war."
"And so every potential rebel is crushed, along with the hope they carry," Wiegraf said. "So that when the Braves return, they will be the only hope to unite the desperate people of Ivalice."
In any other circumstance, the contrast between the two faces of the men in front of him might have been comical. The Marquis was forlorn, his face contorted with anguish. Vormav looked almost serene.
"I want to meet the High Priest," Wiegraf said.
"Why do you think I've come to get you?" Vormav asked.
So Vormav Tengille had led Wiegraf down the halls of the Cathedral City to the seat of the High Priest, as Wiegraf himself now led Vormav's son down the halls of Orbonne Monastery to Boco, waiting patiently outside.
"I don't like it," Izlude whispered. "It's not right-"
"We need the Stones!" Wiegraf yelled. "What does right-"
Footsteps behind him, Wiegraf released Izlude, whirled around with his blade in hand. Ramza was charging forwards, clutching Radia's blood-red blade. "DO AS I SAY!" Wiegraf roared, lunging towards Ramza, gathering all his magic. They crashed together in a detonation of force that scattered the nearby pews, smashing one to splitners against the wall: again, and the ground beneath them cratered. Now they pressed their blades together, their faces so close the might have kissed.
"OUT OF MY WAY!" Ramza screamed.
"NEVER!" roared Wiegraf, and smashed his head forwards, headbutting Ramza. He heard the crack of a breaking nose. Ramza staggered backwards, and barely raised his sword to block Wiegraf's next attack. The searing blast Wiegraf unleashed, fueled by all his rage and determination, cracked Wiegraf's own armor and sent him stumbling backwards: it flung Ramza off his feet, to crash into the altar at the far end of the room. The blood-red sword clattered to the floor, and Wiegraf strode towards Ramza, raising his blade for the kill.
He did not want to kill Ramza Beoulve, as he had not wanted to help plot the thousand riots and rebellions that had plagued Ivalice these past years. He had not liked every one he had met along the way—there were rich men using lofty words to mask their wicked ambitions, and murderers eager to keep to their killing. But there had also been idealists, good men of principle, as exhausted as he was with the depredations of the powerful. A charismatic farmer in Limberry, a brilliant young scholar in Zeltennia, a bandit-turned-rebel in Gallione. So many men and women who he would have gladly taken into the Corps, and who were instead left to die in caves and beaches and fields.
But Wiegraf still remembered the day Vormav Tengille had led them to a small, well-kept office, lined with shelves. An old man sat at a desk near the door, wearing a simple priest's robe. When he looked up, dark eyes flickered merrily in a heavily-wrinkled face. Long white hair matched a long white beard. The only thing that marked him as a man of any means was his ornate necklace: thirteen bejweled Zodiac signs on a silver chain, with Virgo large and glorious upon his throat.
He smiled up at Wiegraf. When he spoke, it was in a voice that raised the hair on Wiegraf's neck. It was a quiet voice, radiating power. "I am glad to see you, Wiegraf Folles."
Wiegraf incline his head. "Your Holiness."
High Priest Marcel Funeral chuckled, and glanced at Vormav. "How did he take it?"
"As you thought he would," Vormav said.
Funeral nodded. When he returned his gaze to Wiegraf, any trace of merriment had faded. His dark eyes burned with the same fervent brightness that had seized the Marquis. "There are too many men like you, Wiegraf Folles. Men of great virtue and iron will, consigned to ignominy and sin because our kingdom lacks the vision to give you the reward that is your due." He looked past him, to Delita Heiral. "Your young companion is the same, no? No less talented than Ramza Beoulve, brilliant and insightful, and apt to be thrown away for the convenience of the powerful."
"If your Holiness has his way," Wiegraf said. "Many men like him will be thrown away."
Silence in the room. Wiegraf's gaze was locked with the man who commanded the world's largest religion.
"You are a commander, Wiegraf Folles," Marcel Funeral said, in that same preaching voice. "How many men died fighting for your cause?"
A stab of guilt. Wiegraf shook his head. "They shouldn't have."
"The died for what they believed in," Funeral said gently. "Martyrs one and all, just like our Saint." He paused for a moment. His eyes had darkened. "But the Saint was martyred by the folly of men. I would put an end to martyrs."
"By making more of them?" Delita asked.
Funeral glanced his way. A flickering smile crossed his face and was gone. "Bold indeed," he said. "But yes. For the sacrifice of Ajora laid waste to the Empire that had struck him down, and if we work God's will than our sacrifices will strike down our enemies and build a brighter world and when we have forged our paradise there will be no more need for sacrifices." He looked back at Wiegraf. "You wish to put an end to martyrs? Join us, Wiegraf Folles." He pulled open a drawer, and drew forth a glowing orb of blue crystal. "Join us, and see that the dream of the Death Corps realized among the living."
There it was. The one thing Wiegraf could not resist. The idea that he could give meaning to the sacrifice of all his fallen comrades. That every soldier who had died fighting the wretched nobles of Ivalice might still lay the foundation for the world to come. So that the Death Corps would not have fallen in vain. So that Miluda would not have fallen in vain.
For that, any sacrifice was worth it. Any betrayal was worth it. Whether it was Funeral's Braves or Delita's own mad plans, Ivalice would be made right.
So he rushed towards Ramza Beoulve, who raised a hand and loosed another gout of flame. Wiegraf cut through it, barely slowing down. He knew Delita would be furious for the loss of his friend. Hell, Wiegraf himself would grieve. Whether on the hills of Fovoham, or the fires of Zeakden, or the mad battle beneath the heavy branches of Araguay Woods, Ramza Beoulve was a comrade worth having. That they had ended up on opposing sides was miserably chance.
But Ramza was only another young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Wiegraf Folles had lost far too much to stop now.
And then, as the flames cleared, a shadow rose in front of him. Ramza's left hand clutched at the hilt of Wiegraf's sword, slowing him just for a moment, trying to drain away the gathered magic radiating along the blade: as Wiegraf reached for the Beoulve's throat, Ramza's right jabbed up at from his waist, clutching his dagger. The flat of the blade slipped through the crack in Wiegraf's armor, and cold steel drove up beneath Wiegraf's ribs. More than blood drained out of him; magic was pulled along the hilt of his sword and the wound in his chest, shuddering out of him in a gust of weakness.
Wiegraf stared down at the blade plunged through his cracked armor. He looked up at Ramza's blood-streaked face, just in time for his forehead to crash against Wiegraf's own face. The crack he heard this time mingled with fissures of pain spreading out from his nose.
Wiegraf fell. He hit the ground, face-first: the dagger drove deeper inside him, a spurt of fire filling his chest, robbing him of strength. He rasped horribly, feeling it reverberate through his chest and down into the blade.
"Alma!" Ramza cried, stepping over Wiegraf's body as he raced for the door.
Stepping over him, of course. Wiegraf he never been anything but an obstacle to be overcome. He knew that. Wasn't that why Wiegraf was here? He and Delita shared that in common. Their sisters had died because of this flawed, rotten world. Everything they had done had been to honor their sacrifice, and make sure no one else would have to die as they had died. The Beoulve brat was just the same. Killing Wiegraf was just a step after a sister he could still save. So he stepped over him so easily, as all nobles stepped over their fallen servants and fallen enemies to claim a world that seemed made just for them. To save a sister he would be able to save, where Wiegraf and Delita had failed.
Anger gave Wiegraf enough strength to try and stand, but anger could not keep him upright: he staggered with a groan, knelt and rolled onto his back. He stared up at the vaulted chapel ceiling he could no longer quite see. Black mists were closing in around his vision, dimming the distances of time and space. Memories flashed like lightning in those misty clouds. Memories of so many dead. Of the men and women he'd failed. Of the men and women he'd killed. Of the only man he'd surely saved.
The fire had burned low, and Wiegraf did not want to stoke it again. He sat close to Delita, stretched out on the ground with his glassy eyes staring up into the darkness of the cave. Neither of them had spoken in some time.
"You should kill me."
Wiegraf looked down. Delita was still staring unblinking at the ceiling. "Should I?" Wiegraf asked. "Why?"
Miluda, fierce and regal, harder than he was, colder than he was, stronger than he was. Miluda, who had kept them both alive as the kingdom collapsed around them, who had fought on many battlefields for the sake of ideals she did not cherish as he did, who in spite all her cynicism had believed Ramza Beoulve when he'd offered her safe passage. Miluda, dead because she'd believed in noble virtue. Miluda, dead because she'd believed in Wiegraf's cause.
"No more than I did," Wiegraf answered. "No more than they did."
They, that numberless they, men of power and means, men like the scum he'd known during the war, living in luxury as their soldiers fought and died. Men like Argus Thadolfas, who would use one man's good intentions to enact his vengeance. Men like Zalbaag Beoulve, so unwilling to question his place in the world that he would strike down a woman he knew rather than bargain. Men like Larg and Goltanna, who thought they could spill all the blood they pleased to secure their rightful places.
Men like Ramza Beoulve, who even in virtue and valor believed he deserved to win where others had lost.
Wiegraf started to laugh. It hurt to laugh—even the smallest chuckle sent the dagger in his guts twitching, so bolts of flame spread out from his stomach and curdled in his limbs—but he couldn't stop himself. Laughing, harder and harder, laughing through the pain, laughing at the pain.
All for their sisters. All the bloodshed and betrayal, because Delita and Wiegraf had not been able to save theirs. All the fallen Templars, because Ramza was desperate to save his. Because decent as he was, he was still a noble. He could not truly understand that he was entitled to nothing. He had never had to live with the reality of failure.
Laughing harder, because failure was all Wiegraf had ever known. He had learned the basics of the Bursting Blade from a washed-out cadet, and for all his talent had been scorned by any potential tutor as a liar and a pretender, and those few who had not dismissed him out of hand had demanded payment he could not afford. He had led soldiers to prove their strength and equality to the finest Cadet-trained officers, only to be left hungry and desperate by war's end. He had brought war upon their betrayers, and seen his friends destroyed and the traitors victorious. He had allied with the Templars, soaked his hands in the blood of idealists, and now...
Now he was dead. Killed by another noble bastard, as all his dreams had been. Another martyr for a dying cause. The Death Corps was the Dead Corps, now. Their sacrifice was meaningless.
The voice was like a thought in Wiegraf's head, but too real, too clear, like a trumpet ringing across his thoughts. It was a man's voice, deep and outraged. Unacceptable, that a man of your power should come to this.
A man...of my... It was dreadfully hard to think, as darkness rushed in to fill the places where his blood had gone.
Power! Chimed in a little girl's voice. You're so strong, Wiegraf Folles!
No. Not strong. Never strong. Too much lost.
Human weakness! sighed a woman's voice. It's not your fault, Wiegraf. Humans are so...limited.
You're strong, Wiegraf, said a different woman's voice, thick with grief. Stronger than any noble of any proud bloodline. Look at you now. One knife put paid to all your plans.
He was well aware of his weakness. He did not need the reminders of these strange voices.
But that's just it! exclaimed a boy's chipper voice. You could not help your weakness! The men and women you fight learned the trick of hiding it long ago! They shield their hearts in the flesh of broken men, and call it strength!
How many soldiers of common stock have died in the names of the mad prince and the warmongering Duke?
How many die for the name Beoulve?
How many die for any noble or any high-paying man, desperate for a trickle of gil?
They build their power on needs they make.
Burn the crops to keep them hungry.
Because hungry men will kill for food.
Hungry men will kill for the promise of food.
Hungry men will for the hope of the promise of food.
Each sentence spoken by a new voice, but each voice shared the same deep well of outrage, and Wiegraf felt that outrage echoing inside him. Yes. Exactly. Hoarding the wealth and means that could save so many, because in the hoarding they forced men and women to choose between principle and survival, and few indeed are the men and women who will choose the former over the latter, and how many of them have died just in these past years?
Parasites who live in a broken world, terrified of the day it will be fixed.
Terrified of the men who will do the fixing.
Terrified of men like you, Wiegraf Folles.
No. He would fix nothing. He never had. For all the High Priest's promises, he was just another martyr to an empty cause.
Accidents of birth kept you from the reins of power.
And allowed fools, murderers, and tyrants to trample upon the common man.
But if accidents of birth can decide some fates, perhaps accidents of chance can decide others.
And our meeting is no accident.
Do you not feel it, Wiegraf Folles?
The second heart beating at your side?
The second...wait a moment. There was something, lost in the dying. He could feel a fierce tug, like a too-hard pulse after exertion, a persistence, erratic drumbeat against his waist. Groaning with effort, he reached down to the little satchel at his side. Groaning with effort, he pulled out the azure Stone gifted to him by Funeral.
Pulled it out, and almost forgot his pain. If the Stone had glown before, it shone now. It was as though he'd pulled down a star from the sky: it throbbed with unearthly beauty, the light swimming in languid liquid strokes. It seemed bigger than it should be, as though Wiegraf was peering through a window into heaven. How was this possible?
It is the will of God.
The will of the Bloody Angel.
The will of Ultima.
Your will, if you will it.
Flashes in Wiegraf's head, of cities burning, of whole kingdoms scoured by fire. Faces appeared in those melting flames. Larg. Dycedarg. Argus. Ramza.
We can do it, Wiegraf Folles
We can give you the power to set this world to rights.
To kill the parasites and all their mad soldiers.
Join us, said the deep man's voice.
Join us, said the girl's.
Yes. Power at last. Power to show those noble bastards exactly what failure felt like. Power to make them martyrs, and do honor to the sacrifice of those who'd fallen. He wanted the vision the voices offered him. He wanted the fire.
You'll do it? asked the voices, each voice whispering so they sounded like the rustling of trees become an oncoming storm. You promise?
"Wiegraf?" Ramza's voice was soft and small, somewhere in the distance. With great reluctance, Wiegraf took his eyes from the deep blue majesty of the Stone. From his perspective, Ramza stood upside down in the doorway to the chapel. His armor and clothes were singed, cracked, and torn. His face was pale; his eyes were wide.
"Wiegraf," he started. "Don't-"
Wiegraf did not hear the rest: the explosion of rage evaporated his hearing, annihilated his pain, obliterated anything but anger. Even now, the noble bastard thought he could tell Wiegraf what to do. Even now, he gave orders, expecting the commoner to follow.
"I promise!" spat Wiegraf, and the blue light bloomed with the force and violent of Wiegraf's rage, and Wiegraf Folles ascended, power filling his veins, and when he laughed this time it was with the countless voices he was becoming, with the countless powers he would wield.
The visions had not lied. With this power, anything was possible. With this strength, this will, and this fury.
He thought of dead Gregory, who had blasted away a fortress in his death throes. Wiegraf would pay homage to his legacy. He would ignite a pyre that would burn Ivalice itself to ash. No, better: he would be the pyre.