A Road Less Travelled
Plot idea that fell into my head based on the fact that it's possible to leave Faye and Kliff behind in Ram for Celica to recruit in late Act 2.
Disclaimer: I own nothing
The first few days after they leave are spent in a blur. She wakes up, does her chores, meanders about aimlessly until it gets late, and then she goes to bed.
She tries training a couple of times, practising the sword strokes Mycen had patiently taught her and the rest of her friends, but doing it all alone makes her feel foolish and sloppy. Alm's gentle smiles and words of encouragement are painfully absent and any real desire to continue is quickly snuffed out.
She leaves her training sword in the yard where she dropped it.
She tries sewing too, and picking wildflowers, her old comforting habits, and for a while it almost works as she can put her focus on what designs she will weave onto her cloth or how she'll arrange the flowers just so in order to brighten any room she brings them into, instead of letting her mind wander down more unwelcome paths.
But when the deed is done she has no one to show the handkerchief to, no one to offer the flowers to as a gift.
She leaves them in Alm's room anyway, placing them neatly on his worn desk. Perhaps he'll see them and appreciate them when he returns.
She quickly realizes that without any of her friends around, there is an infernal lack of things to actually do.
Nights are probably the worst. She lies down on her bed, body aching from the day's work, and wonders about what he is doing now. She is worried. Worried about him fighting a war – an actual war! - worried that he'll get himself hurt somehow, worried that he won't and that somehow, he'll move even further away from her.
And she wonders why he didn't so much as ask if she'd wanted to come along with him before he departed.
It was true that she loved life in the village. She loved the peaceful days, the friendly neighbours. But she loved Alm too. If asked, she'd have dropped everything in a heartbeat to follow him.
She thinks about chasing him down, even now. Surely he couldn't have gotten that far? But common sense rears its head and reminds her that lone woman are easy prey for the brigands that roam beyond the village walls.
And so she continues living in a cloud of irritated frustration, taking longing glances at the path that leads out to the great unknown.
She'd never particularly cared for the rest of the world beyond her hometown. Even now she can't summon more than an idle curiosity about events shaking the world at large.
But she does want to know more about them. Her friends.
She begins paying more attention to news from outside the village. There's never very much of it, and of late there's even less thanks to brigands and thugs making travel ever more hazardous, but what trickles in from pedlars and travelling merchants is that the Deliverance are striking back hard against Desaix's regime and they'll be marching on the castle soon.
She also hears rumours about the new leader of the Deliverance, the young grandson of a famous war hero who appeared out of nowhere and rejuvenated the entire movement, scoring victory after victory against the usurpers.
She tells herself that she's happy that Alm (and she knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it's Alm they're talking about) is doing so well, and tries to ignore the fluttering anxiety in her heart reminding her that once he's tasted such heady success, risen to such a high station, what appeal would there be in returning to a quiet life in Ram?
And then, it happens.
One month or so after Alm leaves the village, an entourage arrives.
It's not particularly big – about seven or eight people, all told. But the weapons they bear and the way they carry themselves speaks of experienced travellers on a long, difficult journey.
For her part, Faye glances at them briefly as she passes through the town square. It's true enough that they stand out amongst the locals, but that alone isn't enough reason for her to pay them much mind.
The lady who appears to be the party's leader seems somewhat familiar. She is dressed in clothes that lend an air of elegance and grace to her person, but her expression is... distant? She's worried about something. Her red hair almost seems to glow in the midday sun, and it feels nostalgic for some reason. Faye takes a second glance back at her, but remembers that she has other things to do.
With hurried steps, she makes her way to Alm's house.
Faye makes it a point to visit the place regularly and to keep things clean. She sweeps the floor, dusts the furniture, and airs the rooms out. She wants the house to be ready to welcome him when he returns.
If he returns.
Every time, like an annoying, buzzing fly, the thought resurfaces. Every time, Faye grabs the thought and pushes it deep, deep into the back of her mind, willing herself not to think about it as she goes about her daily routines.
Today, though, she barely has the time to get started when she hears the front door creaking open.
"Hello?" a woman's voice, clear and airy sounds. "Alm? … Grandfather? Is... anyone here?"
Faye purses her lips and rounds the corner, preparing to inform the newcomer, whoever it is, that Alm isn't here and hasn't been here for weeks, and anyway she has no right to enter somebody else's house unannounced.
She finds herself staring into the face of the woman from the village square. The woman's eyes widen in surprise but she composes herself quickly.
"Oh, I'm sorry – I... I was looking for someone."
"Yes, I heard you," Faye is barely paying attention to the conversation. Up close, the sense of familiarity and nostalgia is even more overwhelming. Faye knows this woman from somewhere, she just doesn't know where yet, and judging by the furrowed brow on the woman's head as she tries to stare without making it obvious she's staring, the feeling is mutual. "You know Alm?"
"Yes," the woman nods and then sighs. "Well, knew. It was a few years ago. I only stayed here for a month or so, but Alm became a fast friend of mine. Him and all his childhood friends, I suppose. I heard they'd left the village, but I wanted to come check for myself."
The other shoe drops.
"Celica?" her voice comes out like a squeak, light and tinged with disbelief.
Celica – because it has to be her, no one else – blinks once and takes a closer look at her.
"Faye? Is that... It's you, isn't it?"
"Yes! And I can't believe – it's been so long! I didn't even recognize you at first!" she's not even sure why she's so happy to see Celica. Probably because right now, any familiar face is a welcome sight.
Celica chuckles a little at that, "I have to admit I didn't recognize you either. But you look well."
Does she? She doesn't think so, but she decides that disagreeing about it now won't help.
"Well, in any case, if you're here about Alm," Faye sighs and smiles ruefully. "Then the rumours are true, I'm afraid. He left to join the Deliverance."
"Oh, I – I see. Then – is what they say about Zofia Castle...?"
"I don't know. There isn't that much news that makes its way down here. I mean, last I heard they were planning on attacking it, but who knows if they've succeeded, or even actually tried yet."
Celica bites her lower lip, and bows her head, "I see. In that case, I'll have to -" she is already turning away, but then she pauses and turns back, a question in her eyes. "Wait, if Alm left, then Gray, Tobin and Kliff...?"
Faye feels the ache in her heart intensify for a brief moment but she ignores it as she speaks, "They went with Alm. Gray said something about impressing the girls, Tobin heard that the pay is good, and I think Kliff was just so bored he wanted to go anywhere that wasn't Ram."
Celica's eyes are now set, and the furrow in her brow is even deeper, "And he left you here alone?"
The same thought that had oozed through her mind a thousand times somehow manages to feel new and unpleasantly harsh when spoken aloud by someone else. But it's the truth, and Faye merely sighs in acknowledgement.
"He... doesn't think I'd like it outside the village," or at least that's what she hopes he thinks, and she hopes that he thought of her at all before he left town with a sword at his hip and the fire of purpose burning in his eyes. That part she keeps to herself. Suddenly a new thought strikes her and opens her mouth, "Are you on some sort of quest or journey too?"
Celica smiles and nods, but Faye is perceptive enough to pick up sadness behind the smile, "I am, actually. I'm headed to the temple of Mila. Well, that's the end goal, but right now, I think I'll be stopping at Zofia Castle first."
Where Alm is.
Faye feels her heartbeat quicken. This could be her chance!
To leave the village.
To leave home behind.
To say goodbye to a quiet, peaceful life with no guarantee that she would be ever be able to return.
But staying here wringing her hands, being unable to do anything but to wait and hope that it would all turn out okay (that Alm would come back) is even worse.
And so she opens her mouth to speak, "Celica, do you think... maybe I could... come with you?"
Celica's mouth opens slightly at the unexpected question before her expression grows stern, "I'm not going on some vacation, Faye. It's dangerous beyond the village walls."
"I know! Why do you think I never left myself? But... I don't want to stay here all alone." I don't want everyone else to leave me behind. Not anymore.
Celica looks at her for a long moment, and then she nods as a smile breaks on her face, "Well, if you're absolutely sure, then I won't refuse. Just be prepared for what you'll face out there."
"Oh thanks so much!" and Faye realizes to her surprise that she is looking forward to travelling with Celica, spending time with her and learning what the enigmatic girl who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as suddenly has been up to.
And of course, if Celica was headed to Zofia Castle, and the Deliverance was headed to Zofia Castle, and Alm was with the Deliverance...
"I'll – I have to go pack," Faye says hastily. "And – and say goodbye to everyone! Are you in a hurry? I can be ready in a couple of hours so – "
Celica laughs and the sound seems to fill the room, making it just a little bit brighter, "Take your time. I'm sure my friends want to take a breather anyway."
"Oh, okay then!" Faye smiles as begins to walk towards her home.
It is only when she crosses the doorway of the house that she pauses.
If she's gone, no one will be there to look after Alm's house and make sure it's kept clean.
She sighs in frustration and decides that she'll just have to live with that.
In between throwing everything she wanted to bring with her into the biggest sack she had, hastily explaining what was going on to her bewildered parents, and brief but tearful farewells, it's nearly nightfall by the time she appears at the village gates, struggling for breath and stammering out hasty apologies for being late.
She wonders if they've decided that it will be too dangerous to travel by night and her delay has forced them to spend the night in the village but Celica assures her that it'll be fine – by all accounts the local groups of brigands have been routed and any survivors are laying low. Night travel will be safe until at least the next town.
One of Celica's friends – the male one – grumbles that there's still the danger of passing too near a graveyard and getting an army of Terrors on their tails but another friend – a young energetic girl with pink hair tied back into thick twintails – snorts and points out that Terrors will rise and attack them just as enthusiastically under the light of day so it doesn't matter what time they travel.
And Celica smiles and chuckles at their lighthearted argument before turning to Faye and gracing her with a smile.
"Faye, are you ready?"
"As much as I'll ever be," Faye smiles as well, and takes a step forward.
Where are you now, Alm?
I've set out on my own too. And I'll catch up with you soon, I'm sure.
But... what will I do when that happens and I find you? I don't really know that yet. But I know I can't sit back any longer and just wait.
So... wait for me. Wait for me, and don't drift too far away, okay?
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