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Chapter 83: A Lesser Man

For a long time, Ramza stood on the balcony, staring at his gore-slick hands. He felt completely untethered from reality. The Gospel, Simon's commentary, and the threats of the speaking bird spun like dervishes inside his head, whirlwinds scattering the debris of his thoughts. His mind stormed.

And then, almost as quickly as it had come, the storm was gone. Ramza flicked his hands over the side of the balcony and rubbed them against the rough stone of the railing. Then he turned, and walked inside the house. He closed the door quietly behind him, then crouched low, moving with a rolling step that made no sound upon the floor—the way Gaffgarion had taught him, over a dozen odd nighttime reconnaissances—and hurried into the salon where he'd read the Gospel. He'd just organized all the stacks and piles of stuff: he knew exactly where to find what he was looking for.

Soon enough, he'd patched together a patchwork armor of leathers, mail and plated joints, all built around the greaves, gloves, and chestplate he'd spent so long on across the years. He'd packed a bag with canvas, food, and a canteen of water, all carefully arranged so as not to crush the Gospel and the journals he'd backed deeper inside the bag, and then shrugged the pack onto his shoulders. A bundle of tied arrows protruded from the pack, and a bow was slung across the straps. He wore a sword on one hip, and a dagger on the other.

He took none of the magical items they'd plundered from Orbonne. He took none of the Stones. Before he left, he crept across the manse and down the stairs. He was in luck: Besrodio seemed to have gone to bed, and brought all Ramza's companions with him. There was only Radia, breathing more easily on her mattress near the center of the spacious training room.

He approached her uncertainly, relaxing his posture a little with a nervous glance to the corners of the room, wary that he might have missed someone. By the time he looked back at Radia, her green eyes were slitted open, fixed on him.

"Ramza?" Her voice was a low unsteady rasp.

He nodded. "Hey."

She looked up at him. He looked down at her.

"You're leaving." Her voice was quiet, but it wasn't a question.

"Yeah."

Radia nodded, and twitched a little, trying to rise from the bed. Then her eyes scrunched closed, and she sank back down to the mattress. Ramza had already fallen to his knees beside her, clasping her wrist. "Easy. Don't try and move."

Her eyes were still closed. He thought he saw tears pooling near their corners.

"Why?"

Ramza said nothing for a moment. "They have my sister."

Her eyes slitted open again. "The Templars?"

"No."

Radia exhaled slowly, and closed her eyes. "Who?"

"He didn't say," Ramza said. "Just told me...to come to Yadrow, and..."

"You're going alone." Again, not a question.

"Yes."

"Don't."

Ramza shook his head against the burning of tears in his eyes. "I have to."

"Why?"

"Why?" Ramza repeated the question. He heard the tears in his voice, and did not have the strength to stop them. "Alma. Alicia. Your father. You. I...I can't..."

So many fallen. So many people hurt, betrayed, and abandoned. He'd killed people, and allowed people to be killed. Now Wiegraf was a demon, and his sister was a captive, and Radia laid immobile upon a bed. The last time Ramza had lived within this house, he had felt devoid of purpose. He had left, hoping to save something. He had only lost more.

"It's not...your fault," Radia managed. Her eyes were on him again, bright with tears. She squeezed his hands. "Not...your..."

"Maybe not," Ramza said, though he didn't quite believe her. "But I didn't...save them, either. I...couldn't save them."

"Can't save...Alma...alone," Radia pleaded.

Ramza folded his others hand around hers. "And if I bring you with me?" he asked. "How hurt will you be this time? How many times do I risk your life before you lose it? Before I lose you?"

Radia said nothing. They clung to each other as though they were driftwood in a storm.

"I don't know if I can save her," Ramza said. "But I...I know if I bring you, or Agrias...Lavian, or Alicia, or Mustadio..." He shook his head. "We've been...so lucky," he whispered. "We could have lost...so much more. And I can't keep gambling on your lives like that." He squeezed her hands again. "I can't lose you, Radia."

Radia drew in a deep shuddering breath. Her eyes creaked open, a matching pair of tears trailing down from the corners of either eye. "I can't...lose you..."

She held his gaze for a long time. Ramza's thoughts felt very strange, like slow ripples spreading across a placid pond surface.

"Why'd you join the Corps?" Ramza asked.

Radia closed her eyes. Her hand held Ramza's tight.

"Needed...to," she said. "To be...me."

Still, they stared at each other. Ramza's thoughts still oozed. Her touch on his hand was like cool water on a sunburn.

"You'll...come back," Radia said, as firmly as she could manage.

"I promise," Ramza said.

She pulled at his hand. He leaned forwards, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. He breathed deep the smell of her—like a summer's night, warm with remembered heat, the scent of grass and dust and life. He looked down at her, and she looked up at him.

At the same moment, they released each others hands, and Ramza turned from her, fighting every urge to look back over his shoulder. He grabbed the bag he'd packed, and hurried up the stairs. His thoughts were whirling now, his heart was aching, and he felt something bucking in his veins, a wild, childish urge to break into a rambling run.

Ramza was a failure. He had always been a failure. He had failed Teta, as he had failed Ovelia, as he had failed Alma. He had failed Argus, as he had failed Wiegraf, as he had failed Delita. He had left his brothers, but he had never escaped the weighty shadows of the men and women who towered over him.

He was a lesser man. He had always been a lesser man. Perhaps he was doomed to always be a lesser man. But that did not mean he was going to let other people pay the cost for his mistakes. And if there were mistakes he could fix by himself, he would. He had never been as brave as any of the people he loved: as Alma, as Alicia, as Lavian, as Agrias, as Mustadio, as Radia. But he could still try.

Pack and weapons carefully arranged upon his hips and back. A door opening into the oppressive silence of the night. And for the first time in his life, Ramza Beoulve set out alone