Title: Glass (2/??)
Disclaimers: The Lady Rosanna, Deneb, Warren, and all other unit leaders belong to Quest, Enix, Imagineer, Nintendo, and all others involved in the production of the SNES game Ogre Battle. Feedback: Considering this is a new area for me, and I'm not sure if an audience exists, it would be greatly desired and usually responded to.
Spoilers: Takes place at the end of the Deneb's Garden stage of Ogre Battle, usually Stage 6, "Glass Pumpkin"
Distribution: If you want it, just ask.
Summary: Doing the right thing by not killing a defenseless woman. Getting the Glass Pumpkin. Good reasons to spare the Witch Deneb's life. What if they're not the real ones?
"So," Rosanna murmured as she lounged in a chair, "what's your opinion on the matter?"
"You know how I feel on the subject," Warren said gruffly. One hand clutched his staff tightly while the other absently stroked the shaggy pelt of the massive two-headed hellhound that slept at his side. "It's a bad decision, but one that can be easily remedied."
"Yes, but I thought you would have had the night to marshal your arguments," Rosanna replied, herself the essence of calm. "Tell me what the downside is."
"There is NO upside," he grumbled. "The Liberation has only just begun. Yes, we've made real gains at this point, but we're about to begin our first TRUE test. Kaus Debonair, one of the four Devas himself! General Debonair is sitting in the Zenobian capital with a real army. If we can defeat him, we'll garner instant credibility in the eyes of the towns all over the Empire!"
"I agree," the Lady said. "We all do. What does this have to do with - "
He glared at her. "You don't have the leisure to be merciful at this stage, Rosanna. After Zenobia, perhaps, but not now."
"You didn't seem to mind when Gilbert - "
"That was Canopus' decision," Warren pointed out. "We needed the birdmen, and we agreed that if Canopus was willing to give Gilbert a second chance, that was acceptable. At least Gilbert was doing what he thought was best for the people of Sharom. The witch, on the other hand, was abducting innocents for use in her experiments!"
"They've said that Deneb halted the practice several months ago," Rosanna pointed out.
"And if the werewolf Sirius had halted the practice of kidnapping and consuming young women months before our arrival in his territory, that would have been acceptable as well," he said.
Rosanna glared right back at him. "Point," she finally admitted. "Could you give me some concrete political and military ramifications though?"
"Your reputation will suffer, there's no doubt about it," he said. "You're supposed to be their liberator, Rosanna. That won't matter to the people if they hate you. When word gets out - and it WILL get out - the people in this area will become distinctly unfriendly. And, if the worst case scenario happens and we fail to take Zenobia on our first try - well, I doubt we'll be able to fall back here. We might have to pull all the way back to the Pogrom Forest."
"That's not a very optimistic outlook, Warren."
"Just because you have the Herostar doesn't mean you're the One, Rosanna," he replied darkly. "I have seen others, you'll remember."
Rosanna shifted uncomfortably. The burden of being a prophesied Hero was a heavy one. But not as heavy as living with knowing you could have been, but weren't. "Then all the more reason we have to take Zenobia."
"A walled city," he mentioned. "We've never launched a siege war before."
She sighed and massaged her temples. "Thank you, Warren, for being the cold, forbidding voice of reality once more. Patricia?"
Warren did not enjoy sharing a room with the seafaring shamaness. Her placid, accepting nature could be - annoying.
Patricia adjusted her green robes and smoothed her hair. "This war is not going to give you many opportunities to be merciful, my Lady," she said. "I say it's good for the soul to yield to your better intentions at this stage. When others see YOU, they will see a better person, and THAT is what people respond to."
"Oh, please," Warren muttered. "This from the woman who sleeps with fish."
The shaman frowned, which was a lot coming from her. "An octopus is NOT a fish," she said archly.
Rosanna smiled at last.
When Warren had joined the rebellion, he'd sent out a general "call-to-arms" to the people in his lands. Many of those first fighters and Amazons had, with experience and teaching, had become the knights and clerics and valkyries that led units today. Because of the magical nature of his powers, however, he'd also summoned beasts of lore, some even larger and more fearsome than his two "pets", the two-headed canines that were rarely away from his side.
The largest of all had been two giant monsters that rose from the deep ocean, octopi with tentacles like oaks. Warren had apologized for the trouble, calling them unruly beasts of little use. Rosanna, however, had decided to keep them, noting the damage such creatures could do to Empire shipping if kept controlled.
The problem was - who could control them?
The lone volunteer had been the cleric Patricia, who was raised on the coast and claimed to have experience taming smaller sea creatures. Rosanna had given her the job, even though clerics were hard to come by in those early days. If the octopi had torn her apart, the army's medical units would have depleted.
Since then, Rosanna had seen those tentacles with their enormous suckers lift Patricia as if she was a child of their own and set her on land. And she'd seen the shamaness astride an octopus' back as it smashed wooden ships to splinters. The octopi had played complete havoc with the Empire's abilities to send reinforcements during campaigns, and Patricia had suggested, in her mysterious manner, that the creatures seemed to learn faster with every engagement.
What exactly an octopus learned, Rosanna didn't know. But after seeing the sea creatures pull themselves across land and dive into a nearby river, she was willing to let them learn.
At any rate, Patricia had become her wisest cleric, the first to earn her shaman's robes. Unfortunately, she was also gone for weeks at a time, so Rosanna consulted her on matters of peace whenever she was available.
"Any leader can hide behind a mask of piety," Patricia went on, unruffled. "But if you expect to meet people like Canopus and Lans in the future, and convince them to join you, you will need to maintain their respect when they look past your reputation and get to know the person you are."
"We all know Rosanna," Warren responded. "We know the kind of person she is. You're not actually suggesting that handing Deneb over to the local authorities will turn her into some kind of monster, are you?"
"Killing a person changes a man - or a woman," Patricia said.
"She's killed before!"
"I am in the room," Rosanna murmured.
"She's never walked up to an unarmed woman, begging for mercy, and killed her," Patricia retorted. "You honestly think a person can do THAT and not lose a piece of their innocence? And don't give me that 'local authorities' line," she added with a trace of asperity. "She can't show mercy and then take it back by turning her over for execution. The blood will STILL be on her hands."
"We all need to make sacrifices for the good of the cause," Warren said coldly. "Or haven't you noticed the skeletons in the woods south of the castle?"
Rosanna winced, but Patricia only sighed. "They're not mindless spirits, Warren. They know the position they're in. They're helping us because they believe we can release them."
"We could now . . ."
"And send them to Hell? I don't think so," Rosanna said before Patricia could speak, earning her a gratified smile from the shamaness. "Look, I appreciate your advice. Both of you," she said, looking at Warren. "I have to balance my beliefs against my responsibilities to both the army and the people. I will take this under advisement, okay?"
Warren nodded. "Fine," he said gruffly. "It's as much as I hoped for. But you don't have much time. You have to deal with Deneb before we leave. Speaking of which - "
"A few days," Rosanna said. "We give the men time to recuperate, and we revisit the towns and temples like we always do. All right?"
"I can't stay long," Patricia replied. "We'll be heading for the Kastolatian Sea shortly. My octopi are hearing rumors, and we're going to do some investigating."
"You make it sound like you talk to your not-fish," Warren said to her.
Patricia only made that little placid smile of hers and let herself out.
Warren scowled. Clerics.
"My Lady," the valkyrie said deferentially as she stood upright.
"Jill," Rosanna replied. Unlike most of the others, Jill had come to her with battle experience, so she'd put the bow aside long ago and taken up the spear. She enjoyed chopping her way through a crowd of fighters. Sometimes Rosanna worried that she enjoyed it a little TOO much. "I'm told she's awake?"
Her captain nodded. "She's getting dressed. She expressed a wish to wear something other than what she had on. She doesn't appear to be in any condition to try something, so I granted her a moment's privacy."
Rosanna nodded. A cleric's healing did wonders for curing injuries, but if you weren't a hardened soldier, you would still be left spent for hours afterwards. Deneb would walk with difficulty for a day or two.
"Shall I accompany you inside?"
"That's all right, Jill. I'll see to her."
Rosanna casually opened the door and entered without bothering to knock.
Deneb squealed and pressed the dress she'd been holding against her chest. "Don't you rebels know how to KNOCK?" she yelled.
"Sorry," Rosanna said, glancing away.
What Warren hadn't bothered to mention, but which other captains of hers had, was that there was one silver lining to Rosanna's decision to spare Deneb - Rosanna wasn't a man. A man would have been accused of saving her because of her beauty, perhaps even because he wished to bed her. It would not do for people to begin spreading tales that the army leader was more libertine than liberator. It might lead people to wonder how else the rebel commander intended to "indulge" himself.
As a woman, however, Rosanna remained above such suggestions. And well she should - she had no intention of bedding the witch. Sparing her life had been a matter of honor, and principle.
But she certainly intended to look.
She did not look now, however. If Deneb got even a hint that Rosanna was sexually attracted to women, she would undoubtedly attempt to regain the upper hand by seducing her. And, as Deneb was a woman of considerable beauty, Rosanna felt the best way to resist temptation was to make sure the witch never tried to tempt her in the first place.
"You can turn around," Deneb finally said, irritated.
Rosanna looked again and found Deneb dressed in something closer to what she knew as traditional witch's garb. She wore a black dress that fell to her ankles and revealed very little in the way of cleavage, but it didn't reach her shoulders and it clung to her frame in a manner pleasing to the eye. Long black gloves extended to her elbows. A wide-brimmed floppy hat with a pointed crest rested on her head, exactly like the one destroyed the day before except for the black coloring, the brim almost completely shadowed her eyes. "I thought they said your wardrobe was composed of 'frilly things'," she said.
"They didn't look long enough," Deneb replied, shrugging. "I thought this would be 'demure' enough to avoid provoking some harpy into stripping me down again."
"Those harpies are my soldiers, and I'll remind you to speak of them with respect," Rosanna snapped.
"Sorry," Deneb said sulkily.
"You should know that some of my captains have proposed it's in my best interest if I hand you over to your people."
Deneb flinched. "But you said - "
"I spared your life, yes. But you shouldn't have taken that as a blanket pardon of your crimes, Deneb. Why shouldn't I?"
"But - they'll probably burn me at the stake!"
"Well, they do view you as a murderess, and with reason," Rosanna pointed out, although she didn't condone such a cruel form of execution and would, if she did decide to turn Deneb over, insist on a more humane punishment.
The witch looked away. "I'm a witch, remember? I didn't learn magic to heal people or fight, like all the other wizards and clerics and such. Witches are about learning. That's why our spells are defensive in nature."
"So you turned men into these pumpkin-headed slaves in the pursuit of learning," Rosanna said dryly.
"Gee, when you say it like that," Deneb pouted. "Look, my garden was my most important possession, as well as where I conducted most of my experiments. But those stupid people! They'd take things, they'd smash things - I was just the witch who lived all alone! So yes, I found out a way so my plants could PROTECT themselves. And then Rashidi! He gave me control of this entire valley, the men to hold it with, and the books you were SO interested in having your wizard read. HE'S the reason I was able to do my work in peace, so don't you make me feel SORRY for what I did, okay?" She folded her arms and turned away.
Rosanna frowned. "I don't accept what you did, and frankly you need to learn some remorse, if you're so good at 'learning'. But you were right about one thing."
"Those books. Frankly, I'm outraged by your attempt to justify your actions, and those books carry a taint of evil about them. But . . . my captains have tried to frame the question of your life as one of good versus evil. I should save you because it's the right thing to do. No, I should leave you to die because of your crimes, and because it would help my mission."
Deneb trembled as Rosanna casually discussed her fate.
"But I thought I could allow you to live," Rosanna added, "and not just because it IS the merciful thing to do. You told me you could help me. You said you were about to finish your research on making these 'pumpkin-men' without sacrificing humans first. So tell me, Deneb - can you? Can you make my army stronger by providing me with more of these creatures?"
The witch looked curious. "You want me - to make more of my special pumpkins for you? But - but when the Empire sees them, they'll know it was me who made them! They'll think I'm one of you!"
"Horrible, isn't it?" Rosanna agreed. "The people will think the same thing. They'll think I'm just like you."
"Why do you have to be so mean?!"
"Look, Deneb, it's really quite simple. If you can do it, I'll let you live. I'll even bring you with my army so you're not lynched the second I leave. Maybe the Empire kills us all some day. Although frankly, even if you don't help me, AND even if you manage to survive, I'm thinking the Empire won't be too impressed with your performance anyway." Rosanna sighed. "Do you want to live? Do you want to finish your work?"
"Well, yes, but - "
"Then what's your answer?"
Deneb sat down, her look dismayed. "All right," she finally said. "It will take a week, but . . . I can give them to you. P-promise me we're not going to die in the end?"
"We're all going to die someday, Deneb. Didn't your research tell you that?" Rosanna shrugged and sat next to her. "If you come through for me, I'll protect you like I would any other member of my army."
"You send them into battle every day."
"Yes, well, I like to think I'm sending them into a situation where they're less likely to die."
Deneb chuckled weakly. Then she looked up. "Yesterday you said you saved me because I was beautiful. Did you mean that?"
Rosanna's cheeks colored slightly. "I did. I thought someone who looks like you couldn't be all bad. I hope I was right."
"I - I should start work as soon as possible. I doubt you want to hang around here for any longer than you have to," Deneb said.
"Fine. Expect to see a lot of me. I'll want to be apprised of your progress, so I know you're not feeding me lies about your research."
Deneb nodded. Then she laughed. "Are you kidding? You're the only thing willing to keep me alive? I've GOT to make this work."
Rosanna didn't respond. She was keeping a lot of people alive. She knew all about making things work.
To be continued . . .
(Author's Note - for those of you unfamiliar with the game, Octopi and Hellhounds are actual monsters in the game. Amazons can become Clerics and Valkyries when they reach a certain level. Hence all Clerics are women. Clerics can become Shamans.)