Nothin' but blue skies, baby
"Doga . . ." the guard muttered as he lowered the telescope from his eye.
"What is it?" asked his Captain.
"Some kind of dragon," the guard replied as he passed over the telescope, "riding the front of the storm. It's amazing."
The Captain of the Watch grunted in distaste as he sighted the creature, conveying his own opinion on dragons. A pair of gigantic green and purple wings came into view, stemming from a body that seemed absurdly small in comparison and splashed with red. His brow creased slightly and he lowered the brass tube, glancing briefly behind him. "Man the cannons. It's heading straight for the castle. That thing's got a purpose in mind. Alert the docks too; it's big enough to take down a freight ship."
The guard nodded and turned away, but stopped after he had taken a couple of paces. "But . . . Sir, am I imagining things, or does it look like it's carrying something?
Amarant's teeth were ground together hard enough to shatter as he mustered every ounce of energy he could to keep himself moving forwards towards Linblum castle. A magical storm was chasing them, brewed from the crumbling forces that had held the sky garden in the air for so long. The raw lightning crackling along his wings was no help to this; energising the air and adding to the chaos behind. Freya was limp in his arms and barely breathing. The potion Ipsen had given her had taken far too large a toll on her body, being one only meant to be consumed by those whom death held no sway over. To a mortal, the cost was dire, burning out every source of power their body had to offer. Energy, fat, magic, adrenaline . . . Nigh all of this had drained from Freya and the only thing Amarant could think of was to get her to the closest white mage he knew. Two hard months of experience had given him the kind of trust in Eiko Carol's abilities that he rarely afforded, so Lindblum was focusing on the horizon.
He spotted the first cannonball as he heard the crack of the gun and banked sharply to avoid it. More and more followed, and the graceful flicks in his wingtips that he made to spiral through them soon disintegrated into desperate flapping to try and find some gap in the dark iron that assaulted him. "Fucking Lindblums!" he yelled compulsively as he heard the shells cracking behind him and felt the heat of the bombs growing. The blasts grazed closer and closer, shredding his wings and battering him from side to side. A primal roar tore from his lips as he grasped Freya close and fell from the skies.
"Bastard's coming down!" the Captain yelled over the deafening noise of the dragon, his feet already carrying him towards the stairs that led down into the theatre district. He kept his eyes on it as he ran, slowing unconsciously as it passed overhead.
"My gods," he uttered as he saw finally made out the humanoid structure of its body, and the limp figure clothed in red rags that it clutched to its chest, "What is that thing?"
"Was it carrying someone?" one of the soldiers running with him asked.
The Captain nodded, regaining his senses once he saw it crash through the roof of a building. "That's the theatre of Dead Gods! There'll be time for thinking once we stop that thing from eating anyone!"
"But what does it mean?" the same guard asked as they accelerated to a sprint towards the stairs.
"It means it picked up a bloody snack, alright?" the Captain shouted back, "It's a dragon, not a sodding chocobo!"
The thunderstorm had hit now, a crack of thunder muting another roar that sounded strangely like the name of the princess. "Things were easier with the bloody mist monsters," the Captain panted to himself as they rounded the final corner to Dead Gods.
They all stopped in their tracks as they saw it. The building was blazing through the rain, the fire no doubt started by the lightning on the dragon's wings. Patrons lay strewn all around, sobbing and coughing their lungs out. Ten or twenty guards lay with them already, groaning and nursing broken bones. And in the centre of it all, framed in the burning doorway, thrashing like a wounded animal . . .
"That's . . . That's . . ." a guard trembled.
"The Flaming Amarant," growled his Captain. "Go to the castle and sound the alert. Go! Now!"
The guard flinched, breaking into the fastest run he could muster towards the castle.
"What do you want, monster?" the Captain spat, concentrating on keeping his sword arm from shaking. The last thing his men needed was to see his own fear, "Where's the dragon?"
". . . killed her . . . ," the murderer heaved. His dreadlocks looked soaked in blood in the flame light.
"What?" The Captain said, too astounded to say anything else. "What-"
"You could've killed her!" Amarant bellowed, struggling to his feet. Only then did the assembled soldiers focus on the red clothed figure cradled in one arm and the light playing over her face.
"Oh my gods . . . That's Freya Crescent . . ." someone said.
"How dare you touch her!" screamed another guard, running forward, "After everything-"
He was cut off as Amarant's boot hit him in the stomach, kicking him backwards several feet.
"EIKO!" Amarant roared again, "Come you fucking pixie!"
"He's here to kill the princess too!" The Captain shouted. "Kill him! He's going after the rest of the Seven!"
"AMMIE!" screamed another voice - that of a young girl - as the charging soldiers felt themselves crash into an invisible barrier. A gigantic wolf bounded into the square, skidding to a stop even as a young girl jumped down from its back. Amarant collapsed to his knees again, groaning at the effort of keeping himself conscious.
"I saw you flying, what- Freya? Is she . . .?" Eiko stammered as she stopped midway through throwing herself around his neck.
"She's alive." Amarant answered, slurring around a mouthful of blood. "Help her."
"Princess! Get away from him!" The Captain screamed as he tried to break through the barrier, interrupting Eiko.
"Shut up!" She screamed, with all the authority that little girls dream of having. "We have to take them to the castle, and get my mum! Don't argue!"
"I'm the princess! Me! Do what I tell you!"
Several guards broke off in a hesitant run towards the castle, urged on by Fenrir's growls. Eiko let the barrier fall, so the remaining soldiers could get in to help the people injured in the crash and those beaten by Amarant. Several surrounded Amarant, Eiko and Freya with their swords drawn. Eiko glowered at them.
"Princess, he has no soul," the Captain hissed, motioning carefully for her to come to him, "You have no idea what that man has done."
"Yes I do," she whispered, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. Amarant's eyes squinted as she did, before falling sideways unconscious, still cradling Freya. "And hopefully Dagger will let us tell everyone else now."
The Captain stared at her in confusion, before stepping in to help untwine the two unconscious figures. "Gods I miss the Mist," he muttered.
When Amarant regained consciousness, he felt himself chained – both by magic and metal. He kept his eyes closed while he regained his senses and took in what he could of his surroundings. The room smelled of damp stone. There was some flowing air, but it was stale, as if breathed too many times already. A dungeon. Another mixed scent, carried on an eddy; old blood and filth. A deep dungeon. There was a light glow that bled through his eyelids, but Amarant assumed it to be the lantern of a jailer outside the cell before he made out the imperceptible swish, swish of something disturbing the air. The crackle of a turning page placed it inside the cell, and that goddamn incessant brushing noise could only make it . . .
"Zidane . . ." he rasped, his throat coarse and dry.
The Royal Consort of Alexandria started, dropping his book and almost knocking over the oil lantern he was reading by. "Red! You're awake," he said.
"Water," Amarant answered, clinking his chains as he experimented with flexing his muscles.
"Don't do it, red. I know you can, but don't," Zidane warned as he held a bowl up to Amarant's lips, pouring it gently so that the prisoner could drain it. Amarant's eyes bore into Zidane with mistrust and questioning as he drank. Zidane stared back with exhaustion.
"She's alright. Eiko did everything she could, and her mum helped out. I came with Dagger soon as I heard so she had the best three healers on the continent looking after her."
"When can I see-?"
"You can't. D'you get what's going on here?"
"My execution," Amarant rumbled, "Not that much of a surprise. It'll be fun figuring out how."
"What? No," Zidane answered, looking a little shocked, "It's your trial, you morbid bastard. Everyone's shown up and we're doing everything we can to stop it from getting anywhere near that."
Amarant laughed incredulously.
Zidane sighed as he refilled the bowl from a pitcher in the corner. "Lindblum, Alexandria and Burmecia are, well, not on your side as such, but willing to listen. Treno's screaming for blood, but no-one gives a shit about what they want anymore. But New Cleyra's siding with them. This is a big, red."
"Why can't I see her?"
"Because you two're doing the nasty."
Amarant looked slightly surprised. "You told people?"
"Nah, not me. Freya did. You've been down here three weeks and she's been slightly mobile for the last one. She still managed to fight halfway down here," Zidane answered, flashing a grin, "She must'a taken out fifty guards before Dagger finally brought her down and she was screaming for you the entire time. Rusty nearly had a hernia when he heard, it was brilliant."
Amarant snorted. "Fuckin' stupid rat."
Zidane draped himself back across his chair, the light hearted grin fading from his face completely. "Why're you with her, Red?"
Amarant said nothing.
"Because if it's just the sex, I'll kill you right here. You owe me the truth."
"I just want to know that, all this mess aside, you're not going to just up and leave her on a whim. She deserves better than that."
Amarant continued to be silent, but finally broke his eye contact with the thief. Zidane smirked.
"I was in prison once, when I was a kid," he said slowly, leaving silence after.
Zidane said nothing and stayed still, his face expressionless. Eventually Amarant continued.
"I wanted revenge on someone. I thought of so many things I could do to her. Then they let me out, and I burned everything that woman owned to the ground. I killed everyone and everything I found, when I was nothing more than a kid. I never looked back."
"Until you met us?" Zidane suggested.
"No. The war made me start to think. No, it was you and your goddamned morals. Freya . . . makes me want to be human."
"I can understand that," Zidane said softly. Amarant's eyes shot back to him, boring uncomfortably through his skull.
"Freya told me about what happened - only me though," he tacked on hastily as Amarant's eyes narrowed.
"My world is none of you business, Tribal."
"You're missing the goddamn point. Garland made me to kill this entire bloody planet, so if there's any one person who can be any sodding help in walking away from that, it's me alright?"
"I don't need your help."
"You fucking infuriate me sometimes, Coral. Yes, you really, really do. It's not just Freya who loves you, y'know. We all do. You really want to throw away a family that's actually got their priorities right out of stubbornness?"
"I'll take that as a no," Zidane said cheerfully, after Amarant failed to speak. "Don't worry red, family looks out for each other."
"I can't stay here," Amarant answered.
"You have to. If you break out I doubt you'll get another chance at a public reform."
"My redemption is my own and it is not finished."
"Not over? I thought you killed that King thing?"
"The King is dead, but not the power. And it still reeks of Garland."
"Garland? What the hell does Garland have to do with it?" Zidane exclaimed.
Amarant snorted. "There's a balance to eidolons. Five thousand years ago, Garland corrupted it by controlling the King. It left . . . traces. Pieces in everything with eidolon in them. A change in power should've cleansed it."
"Five thousand years?" Zidane muttered in disbelief. "Do you know what's happened?"
"I have ideas. I need to finish what I've started."
Zidane sighed. "That bastard's like a cancer. Do you absolutely have to do this? I mean, these immortals can't do it?"
"It's what I was made for. I can't live until it's done. I know that because of . . . because of the war."
Zidane smiled. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd just admitted to us all getting to you."
Amarant smirked. "Don't kid yourself, monkey boy."
With a sigh, Zidane got to his feet. "Getting anything out of you is like getting blood out of a stone, red. Just . . . sit through the trial at least, alright? And don't kill anybody."
Amarant snorted. "One condition. And if you prove my trust's misplaced Tribal, I'll gut you."
"Hey, I've covered for you this long haven't I?" Zidane answered, tweaking a resigned smile.
"Esto Gaza. One week from now. Tell her I'll be waiting."
Zidane nodded. He pulled a whistle from his pocket. "Guess I better get changed into whatever crap Dagger's put out for me this time," he said before blowing two short blasts on the whistle, followed by a third long one.
"Problems in the Royal bedchamber?" Amarant asked, with a tint of sarcasm.
"Things've just-" Zidane cut himself off with a snort. "Almost got me there, red. Actually thought you cared for a second."
Amarant grinned in a fairly unpleasant fashion. "You caught me."
The hatch in the door pulled open as the guard peered in. "Sire? Are you ready to leave?"
Zidane's tail bristled slightly at the formal address. "Yeah, I'm ready. Let me out."
"The trial's in a few hours," he added as the door opened, and he stepped through. "Remember she's not just a soldier, alright?"
That statement seemed to replace any words of parting, the door slamming and bolting behind it. The lantern was still in the cell, along with the book. The title read 'Apocrypha Tantarian', and Amarant burst into laughter.
Three hours later, the ceiling opened with the deafening roar of machinery and the piece of floor Amarant was chained to began to jerk upwards. It entered a chimney of smooth metal bound by even more protective magic. There were claw marks in the metal for the first ten feet, until they disappeared under a circle of small hatches. There were more of these hatches, spaced roughly every fifteen feet further upwards, obviously there for guards to subdue any unruly prisoners.
When he finally emerged out of the shaft there was a clamour of noise, quickly cut short by the ringing of the judge's bell. The room was packed with people, separated from Amarant by a triple layered cage of magically enhanced metal. He stood in the middle of a room styled on ancient theatres; a semicircle of rising seats lay before him filled on every level with people from all over the continent, with the court officials and city rulers – including Garnet and Cid - lined on the lowest row. Several Lindblum soldiers stood between them and the cage, bolstered by Adelbert and Beatrix Steiner.
A young voice yelled "AMMIE!", and he moved his gaze to see Eiko waving in the row behind the judge and jury, flanked by the rest of his war companions and her mortified mother. He settled on Freya, and saw the fur below her eyes was matted. She looked away as soon as their gaze caught, and he saw that Zidane was gripping her arm.
A second peal of the bell rang out, this time stilled before it had run its course. The judge ceased his glare at the excitable Summoner girl and turned to begin his address to the heaving courtroom.
"This court is gathered here today to charge the criminal Amarant Coral, alias the Flaming Amarant, alias The Man With No Soul," he began, his voice amplified by means of magic or architecture.
His gaze fixed on Amarant. "You stand charged with multiple counts of murder, assault, the creation of illegal substances – including variants of dead pepper root and opium, the sale of said substances, property destruction-"
The list was never finished. A cascade of rubble crashed off of Amarant's cage, chased by a red cloaked figure that landed gracefully on the floor in front. Before anyone could blink, it covered the cage in twisting red cloth, intersected with lightning flashes of blue.
The metal fell to the floor and Amarant shrugged off his chains. A quick glance told him that Freya was being restrained by Zidane, and the guards were moving in. Gilgamesh grabbed him by the neck of his shirt, snapping his attention back.
"ASH IS THE KING!" Jack screamed over the shrills of terror that bounced around the room.
"GO!" Amarant replied, and a second hand grabbed him by the belt. Jack took flight, and they were gone, leaving swords and pikes to swing through nothing.
"Oi, Freya, over here."
"Zidane? What the hell are you doing here? The guards will kill you if they see you dressed like that!"
"It's cool, we knocked them out. We've got around ten minutes 'til they wake up."
"Yeah, Blank's here with me. Even I'm not good enough to climb up here solo."
"What on earth are you doing here?"
"I came to break you out, didn't I? Red's expecting you."
"Sal? You know where he is? Tell me!"
". . . So help me Tribal, you better-"
"Relax, I'm gonna show you. Like hell I'm missing out again."
End of Book One