Anam Cara
Events can pile up on top of one another, with nary a catalyst in sight; people sometimes pass it off as coincidence or don't mention it at all.

The answer to the question that nobody asked is: there's no such thing as coincidence. Things happen because they were always meant to happen; coincidence is a term uneasy people give to outward displays of fate.

People are uneasy because fate's a bitch.

'Dear Amarant!'

Amarant sighed and rubbed his forehead. Lani didn't need to put the exclamation marks in. It wouldn't make him any happier or angrier about the letter. Why did she do it? The exclamation marks always got exponentially bigger in her letters to him, as if the woman got more and more excited as she scratched out her big round child's handwriting.

'Met nice guy in Alexandria when you were off faffing around in the mountains last week or whatever. Decided to go with him, can you blame me no you can't! Left this in the secret place just so you wouldn't worry or something.'

Like he would. Not only because Amarant was not prepossessed to worrying, but because as any smart person knew: don't screw with women with enormous axes. It made your life span a hell of a lot shorter, even if the woman had freakin' stupid taste in hats.

'Cross your fingers for me, hope it works out!'

She shouldn't have put that in. Lani put that in every time she came across a new man possibility. It was probably bad luck, especially considering Lani's track record with men. She swapped them like particularly disposable marbles.

'I'll contact you in two months if it all goes okay, right? Don't get caught, Ammy!'

'Ammy' shuddered.

'Back in no time I bet - the best and most beautiful bounty-hunter ever, Lani!PS. If you come and find me and mess this up I will shit on you!'

As if anybody else would have written the letter. With a painfully disgusted look on his face, Amarant Coral balled up the little bit of flimsy in his hands and shoved it back into the rock with all time's other notes. That was a setback - travelling with the little brunette bountyhunter sated his thirst for conversation, if nothing else, and travelling without her would be - lonely. He could admit that. Lonely.

Oh, well. It wouldn't be forever. Lani couldn't hold on to a man even if she smothered her hands with glue. All there was to do was settle down, maybe get a little bit of travelling in before she came back and complained about every little place they went.

Time would fly, that was for certain.


He knew it would.


Ah, hell, he'd go to Treno. Maybe there was something he could steal.

The bounty on his head had been static far too long.

After travelling rain-sodden for many days, sleeping on pine needles and grass, Freya clung to her bed like it was a holy shrine bell. She was used to roughing it - after all, the past three years of her life could well be defined as 'roughing it' - but a nice warm dry bed, with clean sheets and soft blankets and a mattress and pillows - oh, pillows! - could clearly also be defined as heaven.

The Burmecian eagerly stripped off her crimson coat and helmet, the things that had kept her from being truly waterlogged (everyone knew that the Burmecians were wisest in the ways of waterproofing) and practically kicked her feet on the rough wooden boards in joy, left in only the tunic she wore beneath to keep it from chafing. Carefully she put the winged helmet down, leant her spear against the wall, and folded the coat over a chair - no use in mussing anything.

Mentally, she ticked off the points in her head as to what she had to do.

Hot bath - hot meal - clean clothes...

Long, long talk with herself.

Her trek out of Burmecia had gone a little haywire and she'd eventually settled over to the city that never slept. She defined it as the only place where she didn't have bad memories to haunt her as she tried to come to terms with herself.

It's not like Fratley and I ever went anywhere together anyway, she thought rebelliously, the first trickling sign of anger against the real Fratley. Why did he never let me go anywhere with him, except out on missions? Why was he trying to shelter me from the real world? The only time I ever got out and saw the world was on your trail. Why, love, why? Anger melted as she got the tight feeling in her throat, knowing that never again would he be able to answer her question.

For a very long tim, in order to pull herself back together, Freya hugged her pillow tightly and lay on her bed.

Freya, you have to get over this... remember the code, you must be able to stand up and fight at all times. You would not be able to stand up and fling a rock at somebody in your state.

The Burmecian took some deep breaths, then nuzzled the pillow and decided to mope. There was no code of honour against that.

Five hundred and sixty-three down...

Strike two, one to go.

The tally was doing quite well, although the last ones had been far too easy. They were old and retired and it had been quite easy to strangle both of them until the skin was discoloured black and blue. Pathetic, really, when things could be so much better.

Revenge was a dish best served in large helpings.

However, eventually one wasn't hungry any more at the end of the hunt, when one was so blooded out that more would just stain the bloodstains. After all, when this was done, he could finally rest, yes, finally. Rest good and easy. Everyone could rest easy after this, sleep without wakefullness, sleep without the nightmare of having to stay behind.

He would be their saviour. They would hail him as a hero, all of them alive or dead, though there were more now than the latter. They would feast in the hall of scales until they wept from joy!

One more to go... he'd sent someone on ahead, not of his ilk but good enough at the price he'd demanded; he doubted that the assassin would last very long but it would be good to soften the last one up for an easy hunt.

The last one, he'd been following for such a long time. Now that his target was alone, he could get what he'd been craving all for so long - this would be sweet.

It wasn't easy to catch Treno in any sort of semblance of 'midnight'. For a city that never slept, any sort of midnight was the few seconds when people actually decided that sleep might be a good thing and quiet reigned supreme on the smoky streets.

The city that never sleeps was named badly. It should have been 'the city full of insomniacs', but 'never sleeps' sounds better and marginally more healthy.

Freya had stumbled on one of these quiet moments, the lull in the night when only the stupid and the brave and the both venture out. The calm was eerie on the normally bustling streets and she felt exposed when before she had felt free, with clean hair and a brushed coat and an unidentified-meat stew settling in her stomach. Her claws clattered on the cobblestones and she was shadowed by the blaring yellow glow of the lanterns, and suddenly she felt comforted that she'd brought her spear. Setting her helmet lower to make her appear more ferocious, Freya stopped on the street, where a few people were still milling around; they were under the spell of midnight too, saying nothing, as quiet as rain upon a lake.

She looked around, head twisting thoughtfully as she surveyed her surroundings. The night suited Treno better than the day ever could; the daylight just showed every stain, every cracked window, every sign of the tired old town that it had come to be. Nighttime shaded the imperfections, gave it panache, gave it mystery...

The Dragon Knights of Burmecia are trained from when they are ten years old. Had they not been, the crossbow bolt that was fired from the alleyway would have gone straight through her neck. As it was, Freya's trained sixth sense felt the whine of the crossbow before she could hear it. Her head twisted and the bolt sailed harmlessly by into a wall; Freya spun around, weapon fluidly ripped from the harness off her back, turning to the alleyway and jumping to the side before another bolt could be fired.

There was a clatter as the crossbow was dropped and a completely black-robed figure barrelled out of the alleyway, a spiked mace in their hands. Freya blocked the first clumsy swings with her pike, then jumped back as they grew in intensity; dragon's breath! What in the name of every dank hell was happening? She hated fighting like this; Freya jumped back, using the advantage she had of a long weapon, trying to keep out of the way of the smashing blows delivered by the man.

Some people screamed and fled and others stared wide-eyed at the ensuing battle. Freya had to admit that her attacker was dangerous, but the sort of dangerous borne out of fierce determination and a single-minded desperation to kill or be killed - a suicide fighter, with nothing left to lose. Unpredictable, undefinable. She hated fighters like that. A man, as well; women walked differently.

He'd caught her by surprise, which was never good, but she had gotten her footing back and she would be fine just if she disarmed the fool, by everything that was holy that mace hurt, having to hold her spear in two hands and use it as a convoluted sword to ward him off; parry parry thrust -

That was a mistake; polearms needed to use their advantage oflength. As he slammed her mace down on her head, she blocked with her pike, and he deftly kicked her footing out from under her and gave her a kick to her chest that knocked the breath out of her, then a blow at the back which hit her kidneys, which had her writhing in pain...

The black-garbed assassin looked around at the huddled handful of people on the sidelines, shrugged and picked the dragoon's spear up. Then, like a streak of summer lightning, he was out of her view, and suddenly there were screams and garbled bloodied sobs and bubbles of breath and the casual normal sound of punctured spear wounds.

Oh, Gods!

Freya stumbled to her feet as the man nonchalantly came back from his mission, hands bloodied from the corpses that now littered the street. He still carried her spear - his mace was lying in the street next to her, and now she was the one disarmed.

Just her bloody luck.

The man raised his spear to drive into her stomach, but having wielded the weapon all her life, Freya knew better than anybody what it's limitations were. As he drove it down she flung it back, with all her upper-body strength gripping onto the shaft of metal and flinging him over her head. Her assailant skidded back onto the flagstones of the street, and deftly flipping her bloodied spear back over in her hands, she slammed the point through his ribcage and into his heart, stabbing him until the flopping body stopped writhing.

When you stand in the middle of the street with a cooling corpse at your feet, littered with bodies around you with blood on your hands, people often get the wrong idea. Freya admitted this. Even she momentarily got the wrong idea.

"The Guard! The Guard! Get the Guard!"

"Oh, Gods, are they all dead!"

"Entraya! Oh, god, she ain't breathing, and I can't feel a - "


The last denunciation was the loudest of all, and suddenly Freya felt herself boxed in on all sides by many angry denizens of Treno.

"Burmecian wretch!"

"Someone get the Guard! Oh, thank the heavens - "

"You'll hang for this!"

The crowd parted for the Treno Guard, who ringed around the bloodied area and deftly disarmed the flabbergasted dragoon. Things seemed to be snowballing into one enormous mess.

"You've gotten the wrong idea," she said weakly, knowing how incredibly pathetic she sounded - and looked. "I - "

"Save your words for trial," one of the guards muttered darkly.

Another one, who looked half-Burmecian and a fraction kinder, was wrapping a rope around her wrists. "Don't worry, lady Knight. I bet this is a big mistake." He looked more optimistic than Freya felt.

"Trial?" one of the citizens shrieked, eavesdropping. "Hang the murderer now!"

Freya left the square bewildered to the chorus of jeering and screaming inhabitants, wondering exactly how this had happened.

It really wasn't her night.


He knew that Nodune was incompetent, but not that incompetent - and now he was dead!


He'd arrived about an hour after the incident, staring at the milling crowd around the bodies, senses hungering at the scent of blood. When he found his tongue, he was able to mutter, "Who did this?"

A human citizen - a male with a female weeping onto his shoulder - turned around and answered his question. "Some Burmecian wench gone insane," he answered heatedly. "Killed my niece - Entraya..." The woman on his shoulder broke into fresh sobs.

"Where is she now?"

"Taken to the jail. Hanging ain't good enough for the likes of her."

His mind raced. If he tried to break in alone he'd never get through to her, and if he left it any longer - well, he didn't want to leave it any longer. The time for waiting was over.

With feigned desperation, he plunged through the crowd and fell upon the black-robed body as if tenderly, propping up the head with one of his large hands, poking through the cloth. Then he stood up and looked at the inquisitive crowd.

"How many of you have lost friends tonight to that monster?"

There were scattered angry mumblings and shouts from the crowd.

"My brother lies dead at my feet," he declared, which was a rampant lie; his brothers had lain dead for the past fifteen years. "And now his killer, just because she is a stinking Burmecian knight, will most likely go free! What happened to justice?"

More mumblings, even angrier this time.

"Obviously it's time to take justice into our own hands. I for one am not going to let my brother rot while his murderer still breathes! Look at how many dead lie around us!"

"My daughter was barely sixteen!" the man who had spoken to him before shouted.

"Exactly. Why should she be allowed to live when a little girl is dead?"

Shouts, now. Encouragement. Anger.

"I say we take justice into our own hands!"

Cheering, now. The anger and shock of a crowd is a malleable thing, especially to one who knows how to direct it... he'd had a lot of practice back home.

"Who's with me?"

This time, everybody cheered, and as if they were birds, each one flocked to the leader, who lead them off triumphantly the way the guards had gone, brandishing a dagger.

The only thing missing were the torches and pitchforks.

He smirked.

Fate is indeed a bitch.

Had Amarant arrived an hour earlier, he could have assisted Freya. Had he arrived half an hour earlier, he could have at least prevented those people's deaths. Ten minutes earlier - well, who can say? However, he arrived five minutes late, grumpy, and generally apathetic until he was confronted by the stragglers of a crowd and people cleaning up bodies. An 'acquaintance' of his, a thief by the name of Andry, was busily 'helping' the corpses by removing jewelry and wallets and anything else that might have hampered them on the way to Paradise. However, when he saw the hulking shadow of the Flaming Amarant over him, he squawked innocently and dropped a few gil onto the pavement.

"What happened here?"

"Nuthin'," Andry said immediately. "I wuz jus' helpin' these good people with their things'n all - "

Amarant rolled his eyes. "I mean with the corpses, you fool."

"Oh." Andry began picking up the spilled coins nonchalantly. "Some Burmecian tart cut a few throats and they shoved her in jail. Then this big ugly oaf - sorta reminded me of you, heh, heh - " the thief blanched when Amarant appeared not to be amused. " - but, ahem, got up a crowd, now they've gone off t'hopefully storm the jail and kill 'er or something." He sighed happily. "'Aven't seen a mob like that since last year's Summer Festival. Jus' beautiful."

Amarant went on full alert, moving back into the shadows. "Why would a rat kill so many people?"

"Don't ask me." The thief bent down again. "But either the guards'll hang her or the crowd will. Heard some people say she was a dragon knight... thought that was a load of tosh, though. Wish she'd left her coat - those sorts of things leave a mint on the market, an' it's not like she's gonna need it now, is she? ... hey, where'd he go?"

Freya had long ago stopped shouting and had taken to sitting back on the straw pallet, swallowing hard to soothe her hoarse throat, bewildered and angry and more than a little bit worried. She knew that once Garnet and Zidane were informed, she'd be granted amnesty, but there was the matter of her holding out before then to generally unfriendly guards and the whispers of a mob outside the jail.

The whispers turned into far-off angry voices and the voices turned into shouts, chantings, the clink of weapons being drawn. She herself clung to her pike like it was a piece of wood floating out in an ocean - she wouldn't have been allowed to have it had the very upset Burmecian guard protested that she wouldn't cause any harm with it and that it was sacrilege to take it away. He was dreadfully unhappy - imagine, arresting one of the last Dragoons for murder! He kept muttering something about how his 'mam would never forgive me', but the other guards wouldn't let him get near her; they guarded the top entrance and stayed well away from the otherwise empty cells. Freya was grateful nobody else shared her prison.

The voices were getting louder, and Freya attempted to shy away from the little barred window that joined her jail cell to the outside world. Feet stomped loudly on the cobblestones outside; she hugged the wall - to no avail, however.

"In here!" someone shrieked. To her deepest shame, the Burmecian found herself cowering like a rat in a hole, but straightened up quickly to take whatever came head-on.

What came head-on was an pitch-soaked, flaming rag that smouldered on the greasy floor before being joined by more. Gleeful sniggers emanated from the barred rectangle and Freya pressed herself against the bars of her cell; damn it! If only she could cast a spell, anything, but she'd probably only get in more trouble than she already was in, and she couldn't even poke her pike out.

Suddenly the cell was thick with cloth and fire, the straw in the pallet alight. Freya threw caution to the wind and grabbed onto the bars of her cell. "I require assistance!" she hollered. There appeared to be no reply - probably fending off the mob at the entrance, she thought gloomily. Another rag was thrown, deftly aimed at her back; she quickly slammed herself back to put it out and used her tail to fling it away. The little cell was full of fire and smoke now, greasy and choking. "For the love of everything holy," she muttered, then began to choke as the smoke filled her lungs. She had to get out of there!

The Burmecian hit the floor, taking deep breaths of the smoke-free air not there yet. Freya wasn't particularly afraid of fire, but she hated being boxed up in tiny little spaces; she was secretly claustrophobic and she was running out of time. More chokes started as the smoke began to drift her way, more rags being thrown in every minute they could soak and light them. Pitch burned foul and smoky.

Suddenly, with the screech of tortured metal, a bar was snapped open on her cell. Freya gave a slight mew of surprise.

"You sound like a kitten," a rough, husky voice grunted. "Come'n help me with this last one, otherwise they'll storm the place down and you'll be flatter than a griddle cake."

Freya rose out of the smoke and wiped her sooty eyes, staring in joyous disbelief. "Amarant?"

"Who else! Is that smoke making you blind?" The hulking figure grabbed onto another bar and tugged with all his might. It soon gave way and there was a little opening for her to push through. "Hurry up, woman."

"Don't call me woman," she grumbled, but eagerly squeezed her lithe frame through the opening, feeling so relieved she could have floated. "What are you doing here?"

"Rescuing you, obviously. No time for talking," he commanded. "Let's get out of here." He lumbered off to the side, crimson locks looking like the flames he was named for as the fire flickered off them.

For the first time in her life, Freya followed the bounty-hunter gratefully.


Not again!

This was turning out to be a bad night, and it was all Nodune's fault. Now the bitch was gone and his revenge was set back once more! Fools of guards, they deserved to have their necks wrung out to dry! He had to narrowly avoid being arrested himself, but in the scuffle that followed the dragon knight's escape, none of the mob were prosecuted.

How could she have gotten out? Those bars were twisted. The rat never could have done that by herself; she must have had help. Strong help. Help that could twist iron bars...

Something flickered in his mind, then died out abruptly. No time for musings; it was the knight that mattered, not her help.

Damn it to hell...

Shoving his dagger back in the sheath, he stalked off into the night.

It would not end this way. Hmph… if you wanted something done right,you had to do it yourself.

For the Koralle!

Amarant dumped the Burmecian in his crude camp on the outskirts of the city, where she cleaned her wounds up and related her story. He didn't comment, except for the occasional nod, busily attempting to chew to death some dried meat rations by way of breakfast.

Once she had finished, the red-haired man turned back to her, brooding. "Doesn't sound like that man was just mad," he said after a while. "He was out to kill the witnesses. An assassination."

"Who would want to assassinate me?" Freya curled up on the blanket she'd been provided tiredly. "Honestly!"

"Hmph... don't discount it. It sounds to me like an assassination." Amarant watched the woman curl bonelessly up on the sheet, then sighed and flung a canvas over her. "Get some sleep and stay under that. I'll go and check out Treno for you. Don't move."

Freya would have argued with him, but once again, tiredness and relief won over contrariness, and she slipped away into sleep. Amarant looked at the lumpy figure beneath the canvas briefly, then sighed and slipped away into the forest.


At least things were interesting now.

If you can call one of you comrades being called up for murder as well as attempting to dodge assassination interesting, but one could at least label it more exciting than waiting around in the mountains for Lani to come back and announce, 'I hate men!', then proceed to tell him long and greasily sordid tales about her ex-flame. It was getting rather funny by now. She always said the same thing.

Treno by daylight was worse than Treno by night - harder to hide, for one thing - but the thieves' quarter was always open to him, and thus the mucky little alleyways that led to it were the places he haunted. As always when he entered any room, there was a noticeable hush, but it ended when it appeared he wasn't there to beat anybody and headed straight to the bar. It was curiously empty - only a few cardsharks and wallet-slitters were there at the moment, lost in their cups.

"Small ale," he nodded to the barkeep, pushing a few gil across the counter.

The man obeyed with an anxious grin, taking one of his cleaner mugs and taking it to his barrel. "Haven't seen you around in a while, sir."

Amarant grunted noncommitally. "I've been travelling."

"Ah." The mug was placed before him with a great deal of speed, and as he sipped, Amarant cast his eyes around the generally empty bar.

"Losing business, I see?"

"For now, anyway." The man straightened up and smoothed out his apron nervously. "Thought you and the little lady would be out with the other hunters."

Everybody called Lani the 'little lady'. She had awful manners and could quite concievably drink herself to death, but she could flutter her eyelashes and declare 'La, sir!' to the best of them. Everybody who wanted to survive with their genitals intact called her as such.

"Not a bounty big enough to interest." Amarant swirled the ale around in his cup, then took a gulp. "Not for me, anyway."

The barman raised an eyebrow, moving down the other end of the tiny bar and mopping at it ineffectually. "Not even the latest one? Forty-thou a head, so I hear. Biggest one since poor ol' Radeen 'Slitter' Stevens..."

"Forty-thousand?" he said in surprise. It was far larger than the bounty on his head; and with the way people were always trying to remove it, no wonder every bounty hunter in existence was after the poor sod. "Somebody must have murdered a..."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he blanched inwardly, slammed down his half-full cup down on the bar and practically tore the door off it's hinges in an effort to get out of it. The stragglers inside stared at him in as he practically stampeded out the bar.

Dragon's blood, no wonder every bounty hunter in existence was out of Treno. He was a fool to let Freya sleep on the outskirts of the city! Forty-thousand - Lani would turn him in for that sort of money! They'd be combing every continent for her head. She'd have to be on the run constantly; so many of them out there, and the best might band together in order to better achieve the bounty. It would be impossible to hide her, there was no place that was safe - for her at least...

Except one.

Stalking through the streets of Treno, Amarant inwardly growled at his conscience. After so many years of disuse, he didn't really appreciate it speaking up.

No. I've never even taken Lani there. She's not worth it.

They'd all do it for you in a heartbeat.

It's sacred!

So is life, and you know they'll kill her outright if you don't findanywhere else left to hide.

You of all people know what it's like to be hunted.

… I'll just send word to Zidane and his little queen.

She's wanted for murder. They can't take off the bounty – they don't work with the thieves – and even if they change it to 'wanted alive', most bounty hunters don't know the difference. And what about the assassin? They'll be back, you know –

I never knew you talked so much.

I am you.


You know what you have to do, don't you?

… ONLY until it's all resolved. Nothing to do with me. And I don't like it one bit.

So engrossed was he that he almost bumped into the Treno gates.Swearing to set them alight the next time he had some pitch anda will to do so, Amarant stalked once more onto the plains outside the city. When he had felt that he had walked further enough, he rolled his eyes with the humiliation of what he was about to do, drew out a battered old flute from the pouch at his waistand gave it a piercing whistle.

With blurred speed, immediately a little pink-and-red-and-white creature came to his call, the round ball on its head bobbing merrily. Amarant had never felt the need to call on a Moogle before, but sometimes one had to swallow pride until one felt bilious.

"Kupo! I'm Mook! This is Moguo's sick day. You're a friend of Zidane's, aren't you?" the little thing chirped, unbearably cheerful. "I was just saying – "

"I need to send a letter," the red-haired man cut him off. Moguo's sick day? Just his luck. "Immediately. To Zidane and Dagger. Got anypaper?"

"I can remember it if you like, I have a great memory, all of us do, youknow, and I can put it down on paper as I go along – "

Amarant shuddered. Well, that was fine, he supposed; he couldn't write that well, either. Any note he tried to write would come out, 'to Zitarn and Daggre'."… fine. I'll tell you the message. But, if you breathe a word of this to anybody else…" he let the sentence hang in the air. The moogle nodded hastily.

"Good." Amarant racked his brains for a moment to decide exactly how to frame the entire sorry mess of a situation. Zidane and Dagger would have most likely heard the story by now as Treno would need to take the case to the Royal Court; however, there was the political ramifications of the entire thing to consider as well, and they could throw an enormous spanner in the works. Amarant disliked politics.

He took a breath and started. "Tell Zidane that I've got Freya…"

"'… and that I've taken her somewhere safe. Don't try to get her off free, won't work, overturned anyway, situation goes balls-up if you try. Just make the bounty alive instead of dead. Will send you more messages – and don't worry, the little chit is innocent, only criminally stupid. – Amarant.' "

Garnet pushed her chair back and went to stand moodily in front of thewindow. "He's right, you know," she sighed after a while. "I hate that."

Knowing she was at the end of her tether by now, Zidane Tribal moved up behind his Queen and gave her shoulders a reassuring rub. "Well, at least Amarant has her. She'll be safe now."

"Who would try to assassinate Freya?" she burst out. "And we know she wouldn't kill anybody. This is all an enormous set-up, Zidane, and I don't like it one bit." She shuddered and leant back into him. "We're just lucky that Amarant made it in time."

"That was rather a stroke of luck," Zidane agreed. "And… I've been thinking… I want to go down to Treno and see what I can dig up. Maybe if I can find the killer, we can get Freya out of this without a riot on our hands."

Garnet turned around, brown eyes soft. "That would take a weight off my mind. Promise not to get hurt?"

"Like I would." He deposited a swift kiss on her lips, then gave her a cocky grin. "Besides, I think it'd be good to get out of the palace. Everybody's brewing for a scandal. You really should do the right thing by me, miss, and marry me, do right by me and not live in sin – "

"Was that a proposal? Get out of here, Zidane!" the brunette said laughingly,gently tugging a lock of his hair. He grinned, saluting, then sped off down the corridor.

The Queen of Alexandria sat back down again and pulled her chair into the desk, already in her mind's eye composing the letter to the Mayor ofTreno.