Based in the universe of Final Fantasy XI. Thanks to SquareEnix. I am not making a penny off of this fic. Burning in the depths of the pits of darkness, let the fires of Fair Use take you! (points to those who get it)
The Paladin Way to Fall
1 - What Swords Reap
Vana'diel. Land in turmoil, a history of blood and war. The Beastmen against the civilized. The civilized against the wall and put to the sword. Sacrifices, in twenty years, all forgotten. Races, once mighty and united, now divided. San d'Oria, Bastok, Windurst, none of the three kingdoms hold common ground now. Jeuno, the binding force that rallied the free people of Vana'diel, now finds itself increasingly isolated. The world slowly slips back into darkness, a foe believed to be sealed away forever stirring, waiting for the times to shift. The Crystal War is doomed to be a page in history that no one cares to remember. The greatest adversary walks among the people, weaving its' deceptive web, all while the good races of Vana'diel slowly adjust the noose around their necks, and await the executioner. Few, so very few try to fight the tide of history. A new age, scholars have called it. With politics at the forefront, the armies of the nations find it increasingly difficult to stem the renewed march of the Beastmen, and so they look to the willing to fight for their cause. They look to the adventurers.
One enters a Bastokan pub with two burdens, the heaviest of which he shows to very few.
He walks into the pub, exhausted. This was not a new sight to the patrons of the Steaming Sheep Restaurant. Adventurers came in from the wilds exhausted all of the time. For some of the more loyal regulars of this place, this man himself was a regular sight. Every night, around the same time, he would return from his excursions into Palborough, the stench of blood and sweat thick around him. He always carried a heavy bag upon his return, and he'd been at it for three months. Most people did not speak with him, either the smell of his fashion sense deterring them.
Today, it seemed as though he'd seen better hunts. His short brown hair was matted with his own blood, running down parts of his face. The chainmail he wore was torn in places, missing in others. Despite his apparent injuries, he hadn't lost the purpose in his stride. He still dragged the bag with him. He sat in his corner of the restaurant, and he waited, arms crossed, eyes closed.
"Mister Arngrim? I trust you'll be having water again tonight?"
Arngrim raised an eyebrow at the inquiring waitress.
"Honestly, with the way you come into this place every night, you would at least thank us for not kicking you out by ordering something other than water." She got a smile out of the man, and she feigned shock. "Oh my, I suppose tomorrow I'll have to dress my best for your return!"
"Margaret, if women like you did not exist, there would be no reason to smile. As for your…request, I will settle on something of your choice. I could eat anything at this point." Arngrim's smile faded into a wince as he readjusted himself in the seat. His client was late, and he refused to take the delivery back to his own house. He would wait.
Half an hour passed, and Arngrim was well into his meal, a sheep steak, well done, sautéed to near perfection. He tore into it, savoring his first meal of the day.
"Didn't your mother tell you to never bleed when eating at a restaurant?"
"I am on time, as you see my friend, where as you found it convenient to be late. I always thought Galka were a punctual sort." To this, the immense creature snorted derisively. Goraow attempted to find a seat, found that his frame would not quite fit in one, so he elected to stand.
"I have not been well, as it were. I do apologize, and I am sure you will find the pay to be most satisfying." He eyed the bag with some wonder. "How many this time?"
"At least allow me to finish this steak, Goraow, I deserve at least this much." The Galka nodded, but his eyes were locked onto the bag. Taking up his glass, Arngrim washed down the rest of the meal with a final swig of water. "Thirty this time. The last six ambushed me, but I suppose the exercise was needed."
"Thirty? You killed thirty Quadav? Alone?" Goraow was amazed. His questions turned a few heads of the patrons. Arngrim killed thirty Quadav? On his own? Lies! Trickery of some sort, no doubt. Perhaps if he was Elvaan, yes, but no Hume could possibly-
"Don't ask so surprised, Goraow. I am only one man, but I am a fair bit smarter than the average turtle. One by one, my friend. One by one. Until those last six, that was a good bit of running. Now I ask you this. Nine hundred-"
"Yes Arngrim, per-"
"Nine Hundred per helm?" The hume's eyes were alight with glee.
"Per helm, Warrior." The Galka hefted the bag over his shoulder. "I shall follow you to your quarters, where it is safer to give you the payment. Have you considered the company of a good White Mage recently? You look like hell."
"I'm not particularly religious." Arngrim grunted as he stood, the pain getting to him. "Altana this, Altana that, if such a being existed, then I need not accept your vengeance as part of my own." The Warrior waved at Margaret, waiting for the waitress to make her way to him.
"Leaving so soon? Seems you have stirred some of the crowd, Mister Avenger." The girl flashed him a smile.
"Smile more broadly, madam. See your tab on the table, and I am sure you will know what to do with the excess." Arngrim bowed slightly before turning on a heel to follow his Galka client out of the restaurant.
"Money or flattery fails with me!" She called after him. "Though it may be a healthy start." She whispered.
"Any particular reason why you are giving me a flat thirty thousand?" Arngrim asked as they moved to the Mog Houses at the city center.
"Why do you kill Quadav?"
At the entrance to the residential area, Goraow poured a measure of gil to the ground, and counted out enough pieces until he had thirty thousand gil for Arngrim. The Warrior opened the bag of Helms and counted out thirty. Some were in terrible shape, with sword puncture wounds clean through them. Solemnly, the Galka nodded his approval.
"Many thanks for the payment." Arngrim said, taking the gil.
"The same to you and your services." Goraow pointed at the chainmail. "With that kind of damage, will you be prepared for tomorrow? I can understand that you may need-"
"Rest? My Moogle is excellent at this sort of damage, and by morning, I should be patched up enough for another run at the mines."
"I do not believe I will need you tomorrow." After a bow, the Galka trudged off. "When you have healed, come speak with me."
"Kill them all, Arngrim. Leave not one standing in those mines."
"I do not break an oath. She would not expect less of me."
Goraow kept walking. The sound of the helms jangling in the bag echoed across the Port of Bastok. Arngrim sighed and retired to his home.
Once inside, he pulled off his equipment piece by piece. First the short sword, then the longsword. The buckler on his back, the claymore as well. Then the pieces of his armor.
The Moogle was gone, probably out chatting it up with the neighbors. Well, surely he'd see the state he was in, and figure to make things better by the morning.
He glanced around at his flat; A bed, a dresser for his normal clothes, a small smithery for the moogle, and a rack for his field gear. This was all he owned, outside of what he wore. He would use the public baths in the morning. He used to live in a house with his sister that had such commodities.
He looked at a picture of the woman on the dresser. "Good night, Maya." The world faded to gray, then to black. Stiltzkin came in through the fireplace hours later, and found the exhausted man passed out mere steps from the bed.
"Please find in yourself to not spill your innards on the floor of our home." Stiltzkin said as Arngrim awoke in his bed.
"I'm sorry I nearly died, moogle." Arngrim glanced down at himself, seeing the various bandages wrapped around him.
"I even managed to bathe you, there was no way I was going to treat some of those wounds without cleaning them." The little mog threw a smithing hammer at the hume, and Arngrim batted it aside with ease.
"I'm sick you know."
"There's that stupid grin again." Stiltzkin hovered over to the bed, sticking his furry face into Arngrim's. "You're going to end up a corpse in some Altana-forsaken part of Vana'diel, and it will be your fault, you understand?" Arngrim stuck his tongue out at the moogle. "Honestly, of all the moogles on this world, I have to be the one fated to be serving a suicidal-"
"Occasionally homicidal." Arngrim added.
"-halfwit warrior who cares more about killing Quadav than his personal safety, let alone my own sanity!"
Arngrim pushed the moogle aside, chuckling as it fluttered off balance in the air, finally crashing into the wall.
"You're welcome." Stiltzkin muttered.
"I know." Arngrim looked at his armor. "It's a total loss, isn't it?"
"Absolutely, trying to repair it would just leave it weakened in the future." The moogle sighed. "What did you do, fight thirty of them at the same time?"
Thrown against the rocks, Arngrim gasped for breath. The lead Quadav of the six, helm adorned with feathers of some kind, wielding a greatsword that was easily as long as the warrior was tall, charged him with speed that did not seem natural to the race. He spun to one side, hoping to juke the rush at the last moment, and was rewarded as the edge of the blade chipped into his side, right through the armor, during the roll, burying itself into the wall.
"No, but I did get ambushed by six of them. What of the weapons?"
"The Centurion blade is a total loss as well, fractured blade. Nothing short of a complete reforging will suffice, and I've not the materials here. The elvaan longsword is still useable, and your claymore didn't see much action did it?"He'd run far enough. The Quadav, now numbering three, cornered him. His back was at the water tram that would lead back to the Zeruhn Mines. Two of the Quadav advanced, sensing a kill. One swung a longsword, a powerful blow that Arngrim almost did not manage to parry. Sparks flew, and the blade flew from his hands, skittering along the dock and tumbling down the stairs to the boat.
"If it had, I wouldn't be here now."
"You'll need a new shield. The buckler is worthless."
The greatsword had missed his body by an inch, shunted aside in a last ditch effort, now planted firmly through the metal of the docks and through his buckler. The Quadav rested atop the longsword, given to him by an Elvaan boy some time ago during a visit to San d'Oria. Neither being made a sound for a long time, only staring at one another, both out of stamina, and in the Quadav's case, out of time.
It pulled itself away from the blade, taking a couple steps back, resting against one of the handrails on the docks. It did not take its' eyes off of Arngrim.
The hume finally let out all of his tension, breathing heavily, shakily making his way to his feet.
The Quadav coughed, it was a terrible sound. Sickly, weak, not at all like the fierce warrior it had been minutes ago. "Well met," it said.
"One of them spoke to me." Arngrim murmured, hands now running along the ruined buckler.
"Did it now?"
"Nothing worth mentioning."
"W...well met." He had managed to say to the corpse of the last Quadav, before hefting his bag of helms.
"I'll need materials to work on the sword, or you can take it to a smith in the Metalworks." Stiltzkin said. "You might as well get out of here. You've got blood on the bed sheets. Another busy day, thanks to my master!" One could taste the lie. Arngrim threw on some casual wear before hastily exiting the house with useless weapon in hand, more in a hurry to get away from the fuming moogle than to repair his equipment.
"If it isn't the Avenger himself."
Oh no. Not her, not this morning, not right now.
"Ayame. I smelled a Musketeer. It isn't something I care to deal with today."
"Pleasant as always. I would like to speak with you." The woman hastened to add, "As equals."
Arngrim raised an eyebrow.
His history with the Iron Musketeers was a bitter one. He spared them little courtesy. Ayame, for her part, was smarter than the average Musketeer, her being of the rare Mythril variety. It didn't stop her from butting heads with the obstinate warrior from time to time.
"This is important." She insisted.
"Might I remind you," Arngrim started, his voice raising with every word, "that I have asked your people to deal with matters of import in the past? And you have sat by and done nothing?" Ayame's face betrayed how deeply those words stung.
"I-" the words caught in her throat momentarily, and she closed her eyes, counting to some number before finally loosing the arrows. "I have not ever in my entire time in theMythril Musketeers shirked my responsibilities to those who live in this country! From one who has, those accusations are laughable!"
Passing adventurers were left to gawk at the two as they marched hurriedly to their own destinations. Arngrim found this amusing to a degree. Lovers having a quarrel perhaps?
"It is far too early for this." They both growled. Pause.
"It is important." Ayame said, coughing to hide embarrassment.
"I cannot accept any missions at this time." He pointed at the Centurion's blade. "I was headed to the Metalworks to fix this." Arngrim began a brisk march to the Metalworks, and the shorter Ayame had slight difficulty keeping up with his long strides.
"You always had no finesse." She said after inspecting the blade herself. "You also cannot lie worth a damn, you carry a small arsenal with you on missions."
"I didn't have a choice, Quadav are not exactly like playing with the training dolls." He sounded miffed.
"Come back to the Iron Musketeers, Arngrim." He stopped walking.
"Hmm, they must be lead by a woman, their judgment seems to be as erratic."
"I am completely serious. Bastok needs more able-"
He studied her face. She seemed to mean it. Pretty eyes too, nice lips. The armor she wore was not her usual ceremonial gear, but the more form fitting Bastokan Chainmail, and the effect was pleasing. Did she let her hair down? She needed to do this more often, he did have a thing for the raven-haired girls. There was that look. She was saying something, but he hadn't been-
"Two things," she said. A slap was issued. "Second, despite your inability to keep your eyes focused on anything important, you are one of the more skilled men in Bastok with a sword, and you, unlike these adventurers, do not tend to stray from home very often. We could use you."
"Rest assured, I always keep important things in focus, and one of those things is decidedly not returning to the Iron Musketeers."
"Why are you afraid of coming back? You could have so much more than you have now."
"I have what I need."
"Is that why you kill Quadav?"
"It pays well enough. It doesn't replace what I lost, but it allows me to live." He swept into the Metalworks, increasing his pace. Ayame stayed close in tow.
"Killing is not a way to make a living, even if they are just beastmen."
"Perhaps you will learn their language and explain this concept to them!" his voice dripping with forced enthusiasm.
"You want to die for a memory?" she nearly cried out. He whirled on her dangerously.
"Memory? Memory? My sister was my sister. The Musketeers were a group of halfwitted drunkards who paraded around after hours, wielding authority on these streets as a child with a saber, while the few that did give themselves to the duty got nothing for it! My only reward from becoming one of you was that I could not be there when this memory you speak of needed me most! Bastok is a nation of self-centered fools. Industrialists! People die every day in this land, and we've stood by and let it happen, be it from the Gustan wastes to the damned Quadav. I'll not waste my life for this nation, the people in it, and I'll certainly not do it with the inept Musketeers."
"Make them adept then! Sir Vengeance, Sir Idiot! How could you turn your back on your home, your family's home? What makes you better than us? "
Another pause. Several other Musketeers in the area watched the confrontation with increased interest.
"I can't change them, I can't lead them. That is your job, and I do not wish to share in it."
"Even if that is how you feel…" Ayame's eyes were shut tightly, her breathing uneven, as if struggling to hold something back. "I want you back in. Naji, Volker, all of the others. What happened to you, Arngrim? What made you so different?"
"I learned that I should not hold a position of honor if I could not live up to the task of protecting my own family." He looked at the sword on his belt, then let it fall to the ground. "I decided I do not need to be here for any business. Good day, Ayame."
"Can you tell me what you reap with your swords, day after day?" She asked him.
"Does it do anything for you?"
"Good day, Arngrim." The woman stalked off.
"No sword?" Stiltzkin asked, hours later as the hume returned to his dwelling.
"I've enough of those." Arngrim contemplated the elvaan longsword for a long time after that. "We're moving."
"Running away?" Stiltzkin managed to dodge the incoming glove.
"You can call it that. I've been thinking about giving it back to Exoroche."
"This? Does he even know it is missing?"
"A common boy gave it to me without his permission. I should not hold the weapon of an elvaan knight." Arngrim was already moving about the room, throwing together a survival pack for his journey.
"She invited you back again, did she?"
"Have I ever mentioned that you are too perceptive for your own good?" Arngrim took the half finished pack and slung it on the moogle. "Hold this." Stiltzkin crashed to the ground. "I now revoke your permission to speak."
"I'm bad at taking commands, 'swhy I couldn't join a military at all." The moogle pushed himself free. "Arngrim, do what you think is necessary. I'll have everything ready."
"Should be no more than five days. I'm not taking a chocobo." Arngrim donned a breastplate over his common wear, and over that a doublet. "San d'Oria is nice this time of year."
"Jueno if you are looking for the ladies."
"Yes, Jueno for the ladies. I taught you that one."
"Only thing of any worth. You get to where you are going safe, you miserable bastard smoothskin."
"Safe. Of course. Send good tidings to Margaret, and tell Goraow that I'll be out of the country for some time."
"What about the others? Can't make Ayame, Cornelia or any of the others feel jealous." Arngrim's eyes widened slightly. He began to pack a little faster. "Don't we have several errands for the Tenshodo as well?" The warrior finished the pack, and was now trying to force on a set of studded trousers, the difficulty coming from having his boots already on before that. "Forgot about that did we?" The moogle continued. "What about-"
"Goodbye!" Arngrim called back, dragging the claymore and his pack with one hand, the longsword in the other.
Authors Note: I do not own anything of FFXI, cannot profit from it, nor do I intend to. I was bored one evening, and began to write this. Arngrim is the name of a character from Valkyrie Profile, and also the name of my old character on the Garuda server. He was a Paladin. I deleted him after I lost an awful lot of equipment in an incident involving someone else knowing my POL password. I've been clean for months now. Arngrim is the first of a small few original characters in this fiction that could remotely be considered mine. To any who may read this and remember me from those days that I played, sorry that I left so abruptly. I needed to get out damnit! Heh, such a soul sucking piece of software. Hope you guys still have fun. FaahhhQ (most likely spelled wrong) was the best LS I ever was allowed to be in.
This iteration of Chapter 1 was made possible because of a fair number of good people, but most of all, Jeff. You are, as we are keen to say, the straight business. For realio. Preach.