AUTHOR'S NOTES: This fic is rated PG-13 for violence and creepitude. Also, massive spoilers for Breath of Fire IV are within. You have been warned.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything of Breath of Fire IV besides a copy of the game, a soundtrack, and a strategy guide.

Pluralis Majestatis

Chapter One: That Which Passed

Nina thought the strangest thing about the days and nights that had passed since their battle with the First Emperor was how identical they were to the ones that had come before. She'd expected visible change, a shift in the stars, at least a conspicuous silence emanating from the gap left by the Endless. But she could forget for an hour at a time that they had gone.

The words passed around the campfire were the same - she thought Ershin might have been acting a little odd, but then Ershin had always been a little odd. Another day to Sonne village, it's a good thing we have all this fish, what a relief to have gone past that hexed forest and don't you wonder why they fired on their own lands?

Cray had passed the last query to Ryu, and his response had been immediate. "He was passing through that forest. They aimed the hex at him. Fou-Lu, I mean."

"That's terrible." Her words sounded false and routine, but there hadn't been much else she could think to say. From around the campfire had come murmured variations.

He'd nodded. "Yes. It was terrible." And the subject was dropped.

As she finished wiping off her plate Nina glanced around for Ryu and found him sitting at the edge of the camp, sword and fishing pole lying beside him; he alternately polished the one and adjusted the line of the other. That was another thing. The Ryu who stood tall and proud, who had reassured then told her "I am also Fou-Lu," had disappeared fast as he had arrived. Maybe it had to do with being complete, had to do with the power of the Yorae Dragon. Maybe that power had influenced him for that little time - influenced him to cast it away.

She marveled that she could think so clearly about the happenings of two days past. The giddy afterglow - I helped to save the world - was now little more than dim flickers that failed to drive away the worries.

She put away her dish and cutlery and went over. "Are you okay?"

He looked up. "Oh - Nina. I'm fine. How're you?"

"I'm okay."

He saw the lie, as she had hoped. "Please - sit down." As she did so, he apparently lost interest in the sword and pole and delved into a pocket. From there he produced a small round gold bell and shook it in his hands as he listened.

"It's about home," she started. "The Ludian troops at P'ung Tap. Scias-" she lowered her voice, "-he's a great friend, I'm glad to have him around, but back then… he must have told them we went home - Wyndia, that is," she corrected herself, as she had been and was the only Wyndian in the group, "- for protection."

He nodded. "That can hardly improve relations."

"And when we went to Worent after getting Cray out - a lot of the Worens were angry with Ludia, pushing for war…"

"Some must have cooled off after a while."

"They might've, but the rest? We could go back right into the middle of that war."

"Why haven't you brought this up with the others?"

Nina shook her head. "And make them all worried too? Well, there's nothing we can do till we get home, so I had better not think about it any more. Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"

"Oh, no. Go on. Please."

"There's not much else I can say, really." Not much that doesn't have to do with Elina.

The people of Wyndia, including Elina herself, would have been quite shocked at the amount of anger she had been able to gather and aim toward the man who had been ultimately responsible for her sister's death - the Imperial official Yuna. She thought that if she were thrown in the Carronade and fired at him, without the usual preliminaries, the resulting hex would make North Chamba a haven of sunshine and adorable furry animals in comparison.

But that was nothing to tell Ryu.

He nodded. "I know." Again it seemed he knew exactly what her secret meaning was. "At least you won't have to worry about the Empire invading while the war's going on."

"Why not?"

"It looks like Ursula's the highest-ranked by default, since most of the high command's been taken out, one way or another. General Rhun, for one, and a lot of the soldiers he took with him -" Nina winced as she remembered Ursula telling them she intended to look for Rhun; even she must have known the man had been dying when finally they caught up to him. "The Thirteenth Emperor, Rasso, Yohm-"

"Yohm? Who's Yohm?"

He stopped shaking the bell and brought a hand to his forehead. "Did I say that?" She nodded. "One of the generals - we never met him. I think it's an echo. One of Fou-Lu's memories. I get them from time to time."

"Are they… bad memories?"

"Hard to say, really. It's just little bits, sights and sounds - you remember the hermit in the Zhinga Mountains? The one who taught us all those fighting techniques?"

"Oh yes - his name was Bunyan, right?"

"Mm-hm. Bunyan. I saw him - I don't know, differently. And there was this bell…"

"Like the one you have?" Nina indicated it.

Ryu looked down and nodded. "I found it in the throne room. After we came down from the roof."

"I wonder what it was doing there."

"I guess they used it in ceremonies or something." He didn't look too convinced of this. "I keep on hearing it. In my head, not when it actually jingles."

"That's interesting. You think it might've been important to him? Not this one, necessarily, but one like it."

"One like it. Yes." He didn't look too convinced of this either. "Wonder why."

She began to get up. "Thanks for listening to me, Ryu."

"The pleasure's all mine." He got up with her, then leaned toward her. "I'm sorry about your sister."

"Uh? You already said that... a long time ago."

"I wish I'd thought to save her while I was at it."

Oh, Ryu. She shook her head. "You're too kind. She was gone by then. Nothing could have-"

"I might have managed," he said. "I don't know how much I could have done with all that power. But if I kept it longer than I had to, I thought, I wouldn't have been able to give it up nearly so easily. Stupid!" His hand went back up to his forehead. "I could've at least found out if I could've done it!"

"It's all right, Ryu," she told him. "Nobody's asking you to save the world. Once in a lifetime's enough."

When Nina had gone he felt free to really speculate about the bell. In ceremonies, he'd said. That could have been right after all… tied up in a bunch and shaken, maybe one had fallen off?

No. It was attached to her hair. It jingled when she walked.

In whose hair?

Ryu froze and stared at the thing in his hand. He saw it glinting in her hair (but whose hair, again?) with its twin; the hair was brown and tied back with the same ribbon that held the bell; most of the hair above that point was concealed by a white kerchief. She turned and he saw her tentative smile. He remembered.

I never met her, not the me I was. But Fou-Lu did. I saw her, in his memory before we fought, before we merged. He called it fleeting sentiments, meaningless, but he didn't mean that, did he?

It was night, a one-room cottage, she knelt next to him - no, Fou-Lu - no, him, he was also Fou-Lu after all - and as blood hurried to their faces she said - I canno' stand t'see ye look so sad.

Then she was in the day and she hurried toward him, the bell jingling. She spoke - her words were only half-remembered but they carried a general tone of concern. He rebuffed her - no, Fou-Lu had, he couldn't think of himself saying that.

Thou shouldst not involve thyself in mine affairs!

She leaned forward as her hands moved in an unconscious pattern, her fingers locking, interlocking, unlocking. B-but… if'n I didn't want t'be… involvin' m'self, I wouldn'tve helped you in the first place!

And in the center of a wavering ruin of a hex he (Fou-Lu) lay coughing blood. A gleam fell from the intact blue above. As it landed before him it emitted a single familiar sound, and before the bell had properly come to rest he knew what it was, and whose it was.

Ryu shut his eyes as the pained, hysterical yowls of remembered laughter faded in his mind, then opened them to stare again. He - I - had it with him, when he - I - went to Chedo… when he - I - was in the castle…

The blood from the Dragonslayer wound trickled downward, staining the fabric. He was seated on the throne of the Empire and he looked at the object in his open palm. He closed his fingers around it, then shook his head, sending strands of pale hair into his eyes, which closed. And as they closed he moved his arm and let go. He didn't open his eyes again till the tinkling had faded.

Fou-Lu loved her. I am Fou-Lu and so I loved her. I remember her and I loved her and I never knew her. That's impossible, isn't it?

It's not as if one of us had the tongue and the other had the hands. Split in two. Hundreds of years ago. Hundreds of years ago we were one. He had to rest for so long because he was not complete. He waited for me, he was looking for me. I was looking for me, I mean. No, wait. Right the first time. He was.

Why did we think that once we reunited everything would be all right? Did we think we'd just blend back to the way we'd been hundreds of years ago? How could we - how could I ever think two minds would fit in one body for a lifetime without one giving way?

He shuddered and began to shake the bell again, with quick jerks of his arms and his joined hands. I am Ryu and I used to be a half-god and I haven't had my first birthday and I have years of someone's - who used to be me - memories inside of me and from those I remember General Yohm who I never saw and a girl with a bell who I never knew and her name was - "Mami."

He nearly choked when he realized he had said it himself; it had been identical to what he remembered of Fou-Lu's voice. And I don't only have his memories, either. I have him.

"Fou-Lu," he said, reasoning that if he could tell the name of the girl, Mami, then it could work the other way. "Don't show me any more. Hold on to yourself. We were one once, but it's been a long time." He paused. "You're you and I'm me."

Another pause, and his nose felt funny and was he about to cry? He went on. "Don't get too close to me. I never wanted you to die. Remember I never wanted that." If Fou-Lu had even heard his warning, he gave no sign.

As Ryu listened to the sound of the bell, as his arms began to tire, he thought he saw a familiar shape in the darkness around the camp.