(Sorry for the delay, everyone. It's been a stressful time. If you're hungry for more content while you wait, please check out if quickascanbe dot com and follow me on Facebook and Twitter)

Chapter 81: Pointless

...in theory there should be 13 Gospels, though in practice time, the whims of the powerful, and the redundancy of the texts have narrowed the canonical texts to a mere five. Yet in spite of this winnowing, and in spite of his despicable reputation, no one has ever disputed the existence of the Germonique Gospel. Indeed, we have records of this Gospel existing, though every copy of the text was burned as the work of a supreme heretic. Within these volumes were said to be the most insidious lies concocted by the world's most infamous betrayer...

-Alazlam Durai, "Curios of the Glabados Church"

The battered caravan hovered over a hilltop, passing slow and silent over the long grass that ran from the hills to the old manor. No lights gleamed from its windows: all was quiet on the Daravon Estate. All was equally quiet inside the caravan. No one spoke; not Mustadio at the helm, nor Agrias at the rear with sword in hand; not Alicia, snoring against one wall, nor Lavian, still looking over Radia; not Radia, stretched out silent and bruised upon the floor, nor Ramza, huddled at Radia's feet, watching her.

No sign of Alma anywhere in the hills surrounding Orbonne. And they could not linger long. Not with the state Radia was in. Not with the Templars out in force, and a heretic's bounty on their heads. And even if they could afford to stay, they had no idea where Alma and her captor had gone.

The caravan glided silently into the stables. They jumped out without a word, grabbing their supplies, their stolen weapons and treasures from the monastery, the scattered books and notes and effects Simon had asked them to take. As good as his word, Besrodio had left a stretcher for them; Lavian and Ramza placed Radia upon it, and carried her across the quiet night and into the dilapidated halls of Daravon's manse.

Daravon was waiting for them, a single candle in his hand. He put a finger to his lips and bade them follow. They trudged in silence, down into the spacious training room. Besrodio paced by the mattress he'd set up within, a little table laden with tools close at hand.

"Hurry, hurry!" Besrodio called, holding a delicate iron instrument not entirely unlike a sextant, save for the large crystal orb that stood at the intersection of its spindly legs. "Her condition may be worsening!"

Ramza's heart felt as though it quivered in his chest. He stumbled, sped up until they were close enough to transfer her from the stretched to the mattress. Besrodio placed the instrument on her chest at once, so mirage shimmers fished upwards like the trickling of a brook. Besrodio studied the gem for a moment, then nodded. "Good."

"I've never seen it this bad," Lavian murmured.

"You wouldn't," Besrodio replied. "Healing requires you to give your magic. You do not take it in, like she does."

"I still don't get it," Mustadio said. "How many too much magic be a bad thing?"

"Air is good, but I could pump it into your lungs until they burst," Besrodio said. "Blood is good, but I could fill your veins until they ruptured. Too much of anything is a bad thing."

"She faced a Lucavi," Agrias grunted. "How could a man hurt her worse than that?"

"A broken bone is a bad thing," Besrodio answered. "A broken bone you try to stand on is worse."

Ramza understood. He had watched her, after all: Radia, limping after all of them, trying to help them sort through the various treasures from the archives, shrugging off any attempt to help her until she collapsed to the floor, spilling the bundle of books she had cradled in her arms. Lavian had rushed to her side, panicked and desperate, and with everything they had taken and nowhere else to go they hurried aboard the war caravan.

And Ramza drowned in guilt.

Radia was hurt. Simon was dead. Wiegraf was transformed. Alma was taken. All of it because he was too slow, too weak, and too stupid. He had led his friends from the safety of Daravon's estate; he had brought his sister into the midst of danger as the Church had come chasing after him; he had struck down Wiegraf, rather than make any kind of peace.

"I'll stay here," Lavian said, though her voice was flat and dull. "Help out."

"The hell you will!" Alicia snapped. "When was the last time you slept?"

"Needs me," Lavian said, in that same dull voice.

"I do," Besrodio agreed softly. "I need a healer to check my work." His voice hardened. "A healer sharp and well-rested."

Lavian did not answer. She hung her head, and a curtain of greasy hair obscured her features. Alicia took her by the shoulders, and led her gently from the room.

"I can help," Ramza said.

"You can," agreed Besrodio. "Same as she can." He jerked his head after Lavian. "Go. Rest."

Ramza did not want to rest. Rest would give him time to think. He would still see Radia's face, wherever he was. Just like he would see Wiegraf's, and Simon's, and Alma's. Just as he still saw Argus', and Miluda's, and Teta's.

But Radia would not approve of him lingering over her when there was work to be done.

He rose slowly, turned and left the room. Mustadio and Agrias remained behind, murmuring to Besrodio. Daravon waited just outside his spacious training room, the single candle still in his hand, a faraway look in his eyes. At the sight of his old Instructor, Ramza felt something inside his heart tremble, so droplets of cold scattered through his veins.

"We'll leave come first light," Ramza said.

"You'll do no such thing," Daravon answered, his voice still distant and distracted.

"We're heretics," Ramza said. "You're already taking too much risk-"

"And my son is beloved of the Church, is he?" For the first time, Daravon looked at him directly, and there was a note of wry distaste in his voice. "If I had to fear their persecution, I imagine I would have felt it already."

"I don't want you getting hurt," Ramza said.

Daravon smiled. "I am, of course, flattered to have the concern of a student-"

"I'm not joking."

Daravon's smile faded. "I know, Ramza. I know."

He stepped down the hall without another word. Ramza stared listlessly after him, then followed, up the stairs to the foyer with its armchairs and its inert fireplace. He stopped, staring up at the nearby staircase that led to the bedrooms. Agrias, Mustadio, and Alicia had piled everything they'd pilfered from the Monastery. Daravon knelt by the fireplace.

"You've been on the road for some time," Daravon said, as the fire began to kindle.

Ramza didn't answer. It was too hard to talk. Too hard to think.

"You will not have heard the news," Daravon said, standing as the fire roared to life.

Ramza blinked. "What?"

Daravon turned to face him. The fireplace cast him in silhouette, obscuring his features. "The Marquis is dead."

If Ramza's thoughts had been sluggish before, they now stopped entirely. He heard someone say, "I'm sorry?" It took him a moment to realize he was the one speaking.

"Three days ago," Daravon said. "While leading a counteroffensive into southern Lesalia. The work of a poisoned arrow."

Ramza was sitting in a chair. He didn't recall sitting down. He didn't recall moving. But suddenly he was sitting, staring past Daravon, into the fire. Staring past the fire, into his own past. He did not speak when Daravon asked if he was alright. He did not speak when Daravon left the room. He did not speak when Agrias and Mustadio came up from the training room, and tried to ask him what was wrong. He did not speak when they gave up, and left him alone in his misery.

Dead. The Marquis was dead.

Ramza was used to failure. How could he not be, when his life was soaked in it? He'd failed to make peace with the Death Corps; he'd failed to save Teta, and Ovelia; he'd failed to protect Alma.

But always at the back of his mind there was a memory of triumph. Always at the back of his mind was the confrontation in the Rat Cellar, and the heady days of war and victory that had followed. Always there was a lingering hope that he might achieve something pure and righteous and clean.

And what had that victory come to? The Marquis had died, a puppet in a war driven by men and monsters for purposes unknown. Those same devilish forces had kidnapped Ovelia and Alma, plunge Ramza and his friends into mortal conflict with Gaffgarion and the Cardinal, and transformed Wiegraf into a demon. There was nothing Ramza could do to stop them. He was a failure, as he had always been. As he would always be.

So what new catastrophe would he wreak? Who would be the next person he cared about who would get hurt or die, all because of him?

Ramza flung himself out of his chair in the now-silent manor, unable to sit still any longer, desperate for any relief from his thoughts. Everyone had been too exhausted to put away the stacks of strange objects, supplies, and books they'd taken from Orbonne, so Ramza did it now, quietly, carefully and quickly as he could. Weapons over here, dried rations over there, return this to this bag, put this aside to ask about later, stack the books-

He stopped for the first time in several minutes as his fingers touched the binding of a strange little tome, its cover worn thin with age, parts of it blackened by what seemed to be fire damage, other parts of it crisp and crumpled by exposure to water. He stared down at it and found it vaguely familiar; it took him a moment to remember that he'd held it once before, when he'd helped Simon to his bed after Ovelia had been taken.

(Simon who had died thinking him Balbanes, but Ramza was no Balbanes, Balbanes had been good and noble and decent, if it had been Balbanes in the Monastery Alma would never have been taken, Ovelia would never have been taken, there would be no war destroying the lives of men and women all across Ivalice)

Ramza fled from his thoughts and studied the book frantically, looking for some sign of what it contained. Like a few others in Simon's collection, there was no writing on the binding or cover, so Ramza flipped it open to try and figure out where it belonged.

He opened the book. He frowned. The writing was dense and strange, in a character and style he didn't recognize. So hard was it to make any sense of that it took him a moment to realize he was holding it upside down. He flipped it over with a twinge of embarrassment, opened the right cover, and a page of loose, crumpled paper slipped out.

He set the book down, read the paper, and stopped. His eyes flickered to the tattered book on the little endtable, then back to the paper. He read it. He read it again. A disbelieving smile played on his lips.

Put down this book. Put it down, walk away, and forget you have seen it. To touch this book without the blessing of an Inquisitor or someone yet higher in the Church echelons is to be at immediate risk of trial for heresy. I hold it only by virtue of my previous title and by the trust placed in me as guardian of this Monastery, so that I may better understand the perfidious lies that trouble our one true faith.

Ramza almost felt like laughing. He had touched a book that might bring down the wrath of the Church! Oh, how terrible! Whatever would he do?

Ramza set the paper down, and picked up the book. This time, right-side up, it was much easier to recognize. This was old Ydoran, a language difficult to decipher for even the best of scholars. Knowledge of it had largely been lost in the chaos following Ajora's Judgment. He knew Alicia and Lavian could read it a little, and Besrodio and Mustadio still more; Ramza himself could discern only a few characters here and there, the ones that had common roots with the runes he used.

But there was common Ivalician atop the page, in a far different hand from the one that had scribed this book, and when Ramza read it the smile on his face died. He stared in disbelief at the words, written in a hand identical to the one that had penned the little note he'd found tucked into the cover.

The Gospel According to Germonique