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Chapter 79: Sins Unredeemed

...in spite of his presence in multiple records, Belias (occasionally called the Gigas) is not considered one of the "known" Lucavi. Unlike Cuchulainn, there is no evidence of a human who is the origin of the legend: there is only catastrophe, attributed in apocryphal or discredited accounts to the actions of a single, malevolent force. There is no subtlety to these accounts: Belias obliterates armies, sunders walls and brings castles and fortresses to ruin. Even the most forgiving historians assume it is more a term of comparison, referring to mages or weapons that wield the power of this legendary Gigas that no man could oppose. The last such account dates back to the days of Saint Ajora, in the twilight of the Ydoran Empire...

-Alazlam Durai, "In Search of Myth"

Ramza pounded up the stairs, careless of Wiegraf behind him, careless of everything but Izlude, still just out of reach, so fast even with Alma slung across his shoulders. But suddenly Izlude slowed, for ahead of him stood Radia, scything her crimson sword one way and another as her free arm dangled limply at her side.

Just a moment's relief, so see her still standing. Then that faded away, as Izlude blocked her sword with one gauntleted arm and took her legs out from under her with one sweeping kick. In the same movement, he leapt over her falling body. Ramza leapt too. Close now, so close: Izlude's back was within reach of his dagger.

There was a roar in Ramza's ears like cannonfire. As Ramza landed, stabbing down for Izlude's back, Izlude was jumping again. A wall of force smashed into Ramza's back, and a body collided with his legs. Izlude, jumping into the blast, was carried out of reach as Ramza fell.

Wiegraf bounded over him like a panther going for the kill. He had Izlude up on his feet in a moment, stumbling down the hall, far out of reach.

No no no no no this could not be allowed it could not be permitted his sister would not be taken from Orbonne like Ovelia had been taken like Teta had been taken he was so tired of losing.

Ramza clawed himself upright, kicking and thrashing against the heavy weight that had knocked him prone. It was only as he started to rise that he realized what had hit him: only as he was standing that he saw Radia sprawled out by his feet, her left arm crooked, her face mottled with bruises.

A stab of guilt: Ramza pushed it away. Guilt was for later. Now there was only Izlude, and Wiegraf, and Alma.

Gaffgarion's red-bladed sword had been knocked against a wall a few feet away. Ramza snatched it up and sheathed his dagger in the same movement: he was already sprinting down the stone hall, dented and scarred by some past battle. Izlude and Wiegraf stood at the back of the chapel, with the heavy stone doors cracked open to admit puddles of rain from outside. Wiegraf's head snapped back around as he heard Ramza's pounding steps.

"GO!" Wiegraf roared, shoving Izlude through the cracked door. Ramza screamed in rage, slashing out with the red-bladed sword, ready to absorb and deflect Wiegraf's blow. Even so, the blast almost overwhelmed him: with a thunderous boom the pews around them scattered like so much kindling. It was all Ramza could do to keep it from burning him.

Their blades were locked, as were their glaring eyes. Ramza could see Izlude moving just outside, stumbling past the rune-laden caravan. Alma now slung across his shoulders like a sack of grain.

"OUT OF MY WAY!" Ramza cried.

"NEVER!" Wiegraf barked, and hammered his head forwards. His forehead caught Ramza dead in the pain: a flare of pain stirred tears in Ramza's eyes, and he staggered backwards, half-blind He barely registered Wiegraf's sword rising again: he barely parried the sword, and had no strength or will or magic left to stop the explosion that followed.

The blast flung Ramza through the air, to crash against the altar at the far end of the room. The scrapes, aches, and pains in his back from the archer's blast flared up once more: he gasped, immobile with the agony as blood poured from his broken nose.

Stronger. Wiegraf had grown stronger. That towering figure who had held his own against the four of them, who had loomed ever-larger in Ramza's mind as an example of what a swordsman should be, of what a man should be, was stronger.

And that terribly strong man was walking towards him, sword raised for another blow.

Ramza snapped up his hand, found the rune for fire, unleashed a deluge of hot orange flames. Exhausted and agonized as he was, the strength of the spell swamped him with dizzy nausea. He could see the shimmering flickers of the Bursting Blade warding the fires off, the shadow of the man who wielded them growing sharper with every moment. This was life-or-death, or Wiegraf was the stronger.

Wiegraf was the stronger. Alma would be taken. It would be Ramza's fault. Like Ovelia. Like Teta.

A wave of anger washed away his pain. Ramza lurched into motion, unleashing an extra spurt of fire with an effort that made his legs feel like jelly. His hand fell to the dagger at his waist: he dove into the fire he'd made

No. Never again. Not his sister.

Wiegraf strode out of the fire just as Ramza rushed to meet him. There was a look of surprise and consternation on Wiegraf's rugged face. Even as Ramza caught the hand holding the sword, he could feel the strength inside of other man: his magic was volcanic, as colossal and irresistible as a force of nature. But Ramza's eyes were sharp: he spied the crack in Wiegraf's armor, just beneath his ribs. His dagger was already plunging upwards; Ramza made a last-second adjustment, to match the flat of his blade to the shape of the crack.

The faintest resistance, as metal scraped against metal, and then cut through cloth and flesh. He saw Wiegraf's eyes widen slightly. His surging magic stuttered, and Ramza smashed his forehead home into Wiegraf's shocked face.

Wiegraf fell, his magic draining into Ramza. Ramza stepped back, and let him fall. No sooner had he hit the ground than Ramza was stepping over him, turning the step into a stumbling jog, turning the jog into a full-on sprint, refusing to use the magic he'd taken to heal himself, focused only on speeding his steps. There was still time. He could still save Alma.

Out into the dark. Night had almost fully descended upon the Monastery, and a low drizzle misted the horizon. There was no sign of anyone outside—only corpses around the war caravan and a few birds tethered to their posts. No Izlude. No Alma.

Ramza started to one of the birds, but energy and will drained from him with every step. He had barely reached the side of the caravan when he fell to his knees against the stone walkway, right beside the wide-eyed man whose throat Ramza had stabbed. Even if he reached the bird, where would he go? He had no idea which way they had gone. His eyes kept searching the melting horizon, as though some miracle would occur—as though a bird would rise up over a hilltop, with Alma on its back, free of her captor.

But of course, there were no miracles. There hadn't been any for Teta, either.

Ramza stared helplessly out into the dark. He had taken her from safety, too blind and stupid and needy to see what he was doing, too weak to send her back, too desperate for the company of someone who understood, really understood. And now, for all the blood on his hands, he was still too late to save her: after he'd stabbed the man who lay dead beside him, and blasted and cut his way through the Templars who'd stood in his way, and after he'd stabbed Wiegraf-

Wiegraf. He'd stabbed Wiegraf.

Ramza lurched to his feet in one ab-aching heave, whirled around and stumbled back to the door. His mind was wild with panic, his throat thick with guilt. Wiegraf. He'd stabbed Wiegraf. Wiegraf who had saved the Marquis, Wiegraf who had spared him and Delita, who had bought him the time to rescue the Princess, who had tried to talk him down and end this without bloodshed exactly as Ramza had once tried to do with Miluda.

It was Ramza who had driven him to fight, Ramza who had tried to kill him and his friend, and Ramza who had driven the knife into his chest, and what had Wiegraf every done but give him chances he didn't deserve.

Had to save him. Couldn't kill another friend.

He staggered through the cracked stone doors of the Monastery, stopped suddenly. An eerie blue light was pulsing through the chapel, a light too thick and too viscous, sticking to shattered wood and cracked stone like syrup or honey. In spite of the light's brightness, there seemed to be a current of darkness beneath it, like the weight of the night sky surrounding dim stars.

Ramza had seen this light before. It had consumed the Cardinal, before he had become a monster.

He moved as though in a dream, walking through the thick light that clung to him like cobwebs. He stared down the center aisle of the chapel, where Wiegraf laid upon his back, a glowing blue Stone clutched in his upthrust hand. There were whispers in the air, as thick and cloying as the light itself. Humanoid shapes seemed to flicker in the corner of Ramza's gaze, fading to nothing when he tried to look at them. But he wasn't trying particularly hard. His eyes were fixed on Wiegraf.

"Wiegraf?" he whispered, and the word was echoed around him by the other voices, in a mocking, hateful undertone. Wiegraf's head tilted back to look at him in disbelief. Already the blue glow seemed to have crept beneath his skin, and the blackness with it. There was something heavy in Wiegraf now, a painful weight that strained Ramza's eyes.

"Wiegraf," Ramza started, not sure what he intended to say. "Don't do-"

The words stuck in his throat, choking him. The moment he'd said "don't," Wiegraf's surprise had been obliterated by such raw, animal hate that it stunned Ramza where he stood. He'd seen that look before, in Argus' dying face.

"I promise!" Wiegraf growled, and the growl was taken up by the surrounding voices, by the shimmering figures that seemed to solidify momentarily, a phantom host of many faces and many mouths, all repeating the word with rapturous adulation:

promise

Promise

PROMISE

...promise...

louder and louder with each moment. The blue light and its undercurrent of shadow convulsed, tightened, swirled down like liquid into a drain, swirled down into Wiegraf Folles.

For a moment, Ramza stared in horror as Wiegraf's figure swelled, brightened, and molted. The glowing blue figure was no longer recognizable as Wiegraf Folles: it was humanoid, but too big, too broad around the shoulders, and there were too many gesturing arms around its body, each of them the wrong shape and size. Something was wrong about the head, too, as though it was threatening to sprout wings. And the chapel was thick with countless voices, all laughing uproariously.

Lucavi. He was seeing a Lucavi being born in front of him. A monster just as terrible as Cuchulainn.

He wanted to move towards it. He wanted to strike it down while it was being born. Radia's red-bladed sword lay among the splinters of a nearby pew: he could reach out and claim it, try to kill the beast before it took proper form.

But in the swelling shape in front of him, Ramza kept seeing flashes of Wiegraf's hateful face, curled into that animal snarl. That hate had driven him to make whatever dark pact now reshaped him. Ramza had driven him to this.

Ramza was on his knees, and did not remember falling. He stared, empty and hollow, as the light dimmed a little, and the figure solidified, and a new Lucavi stepped into the world.

The creature Wiegraf Folles had become was taller than Cuchulainn had been, and so muscular that it seemed almost to have been chiseled from stone. It was naked, so the taut shape of its abs, and the thickness of its thighs around a grotesquely large set of male genitals, were easy to see.

The too-broad shoulders bulged like boulders: two arms sprouted from each. The inside pair of arms were more or less human, the left as crimson as blood, the right as blue as a cloudless sky. The outside arms were bigger and longer, and seemed to be forged of stone and obsidian, the gargantuan hands tipped by pointed golden claws. Its whole body was wreathed in fire that swirled robe-like around it, sparking and hissing.

But Ramza took in these other details in a distant, absent way. Most of his attention was on the monster's head. What he had mistaken for wings were actually two great, curling horns, like a ram's. The face was likewise faintly goat-like, too long in the jaw, too pointed, and the bared teeth were like those of a goat, too, flat for chewing. But it was the merciless black eyes that transfixed Ramza, and pinned him where he was. Those eyes were huge pits of terrible darkness, like pools of ink. But there was emotion in those black eyes, terribly familiar. Those eyes cradled the animal hate Wiegraf Folles had worn before he had become this beast.

"Beoulve," murmured the creature, and the fires of his body blazed with sudden heat, and shimmering magic pulsed around his smaller arms, and the great stone hands curled into fists. "Child of power and privilege who dared give me orders." The bared teeth spread in a savage grin. "You thought to rob me of my vengeance. But destiny has given me the chance I always craved."

The beast took a step towards him. The chapel trembled with that step: Ramza felt ripples of magic battering him like waves on a shore. "You still face Wiegraf Folles," growled the demon. "Refined and reforged into a finer blade." The grin widened. "No, not a blade. A cannon. And my blast will shake the heavens and the earth."

The flames swirled with renewed vigor, like stormclouds rushing across the sky. The beast was still striding towards him. "You face Wiegraf Folles, Beoulve!" howled the beast. "Reborn into the Gigas of Belias! Reborn to put an end to you, and all your miserable kind!"

Close now. Close enough for those great stone hands to reach out towards Ramza. Ramza couldn't bring himself to move.

The crack of a gunshot, and a burst of frosty air. Belias have a roar that shook the air like thunder: a human figure blurred past Ramza, and slashed its sword. There was another explosion of radiant white, and Belias staggered backwards, its smaller arms raised in a warding gesture. Agrias stood before him, her blue-scaled armor slick with blood, her sword raised in a guard position. Ramza looked over his shoulder, found Mustadio to one side and Alicia to the other, their gun and scepter trained upon the demon.

"More puppets for a noble bastard!" Belias roared. "Die, if you are so-"

The beast flinched. It was a comically human gesture from such an inhuman shape: he looked like an angry man who had just troubled an old wound. The long arms curled protectively in front of him: the smaller ones probed a spot near his sternum, about where Ramza's dagger had stabbed Wiegraf Folles. An almost bemused smile crossed his bestial face.

"A blow well-struck," Belias grunted. "And my form too new to treat it. I am not fool enough to face Cuchulainn's killers like this." The bemused smile darkened: not just the smile, but its whole body, as though some black sun was radiating shadow from within it.

"Centuries spent waiting," Belias whispered, and his whisper filled the chapel like the rushing of wind. His form was so black that it hurt to look at. "Years spent searching. We can wait a little more. We will find you, Beoulve. You, and all your wretched kind."

And in the thick of the shadow, there was a flash of terrible light. Ramza found he had screamed without meaning to, and he did not think he was alone. That light, that horrible light, swarming like a host of insects, too thick, too much, it clogged Ramza's eyes, it clogged his mind, it clogged his soul-

It was gone. The chapel was empty. No sign of the demon who had haunted it.

"Another one?" whispered Mustadio, in a haggard voice.

"Who was the host?" Alicia asked.

Ramza did not answer. He could barely keep himself upright.

"Let...let me go!" Radia's voice was thin with exertion and pain, but staggering steps came closer behind Ramza.

"You need to rest!" Lavian exclaimed.

"Not...me!" Radia gasped. "Simon! Have to...have to save..."

She staggered past Ramza without a sideways glance. Her arm still dangled limp by her side, while one leg dragged behind the other. Lavian was just a step behind, her face so pale that the livid bruise on one cheek stood out like a torch in the dark.

Agrias sheathed her sword, and put her arm around Radia, helping her to walk (as Wiegraf had helped Izlude to walk, with Alma cradled in his grasp). Ramza stared after them without quite seeing them. Failed. He'd failed. He was a failure. His sister, taken. Wiegraf, transformed.

Simon. Hadn't Alma said something about Simon?

Ramza rose to his feet, almost fell over. Mustadio and Alicia caught him (though he heard Mustadio grunt in pain), and together the six of them stumbled down the shattered, bloodstained aisle to the altar Ramza had been hurled against during his battle with Wiegraf. The priest lay on the floor in a pool of his own blood, his hands clasped around the wound in his belly, his eyes closed, his face pale, a trickle of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. He didn't look like he was breathing.

"Saint Above!" gasped Lavian, falling to her knees so the blood splashed around her, raising her staff above his clasped hands. Shimmering light radiated from her staff, flowing into Simon. "Father? Father, can you hear me?"

Simon's eyelids fluttered, but did not quite open. "Lav...ian?" he whispered. "It's...you?"

"We're here, Father," Agrias said. "We're all here."

"I'm sorry," Radias sobbed. "I'm so sorry."

Ramza stared down at the priest. He felt hollow.

The priest's lips were still moving, though Ramza could not make out the syllables.

"We can't hear you, Father," Agrias said, her voice taut and tense.

Simon's mouth stopped moving for a moment. The hands clenched over his wound tightened. A moment later, his eyes opened: wide, glazed, and unseeing.

"Lucavi...?" Simon croaked. "It's...a Lucavi?"

"Don't worry about that," Radia said. "We gotta get you healed, okay?"

"It was...a Lucavi?" Simon repeated. "A demon...of old?"

"It was," Ramza replied. The words rasped out of his throat. "Is." His fault it existed. His fault it was free. A Lucavi loose in Ivalice, and Alma a captive of the Church.

Simon closed his eyes again. "Oh...oh God." There was terrible fear in his voice, guilt and regret and horror layered over his pain. "I...did not...I...could not..."

The emotions in Simon's voice echoed inside Ramza, redoubling with every moment. The vacuum inside him was filled with wild emotion, with the same terrible fear, terrible guilt, terrible regret, terrible pain. Tears stung in Ramza's eyes: he fell to his knees beside the priest, pressed his hands over the wound so his fingers were interlaced with Simon's. Some distant part of him searched frantically for some spell of his own he could cast to aid Lavian, to save the old man's life.

Aloud, he said, "I know. I know."

"You...know..." The glazed eyes rolled towards Ramza. They cleared for a moment, focused on him, so their gazes were locked. "You...know." There was surprise in his voice, and sadness, too. "I'm...sorry, Ramza. A man...so young...should not..."

His eyelids fluttered again.

"Don't talk, Father," Lavian breathed. "We'll save you."

"We will," sobbed Radia. "Can't...not again."

"Not again," agreed Alicia, with tears in her voice.

"Not again," Agrias repeated, with iron in hers.

Simon shook his head a fraction of an inch. "All...too young...for this. My fault...I should have..."

"You didn't do anything wrong," Radia whispered frantically. "I did I trusted him I shouldn't have-"

"My fault..." the priest murmured. "My sins...I saw...but did not...want to..."

"Saw what?" Mustadio asked.

Simon was quiet again. His face seemed paler. His eyelids were fluttering, but could not quite seem to open.

"My...room..." the priest whispered. "My...things. Take them...please..."

"We'll take them," Radia said. "We'll take you, too."

Simon shook his head harder. "No, you...have to...fix it...save...what I..."

Simon drew a deep, shuddering breath. His eyes opened for a moment, looked right at Ramza. A surprised smile passed over his face. His hands squeezed Ramza's gratefully. "Balbanes," he said. "I thought you were..."

He paused for a moment. His lips pursed in confusion. He drew in a deep, thoughtful breath. Then he exhaled in a low rattle, and the light in his eyes died.