a Final Fantasy Tactics fanfic
"...Why don't you think it over? We've been through a lot together."
-Generic Soldier, Final Fantasy Tactics
His voice is kind, and that makes it worse.
I hear him coming for almost a full minute before he reaches my post, though he probably thinks he's being quiet. Grog Hill is mostly bare of tell-tale vegetation; there are no twigs to snap underfoot or reeds to rustle, and even at this distance the campfire has made me a little nightblind, but his footsteps still sound painfully heavy, even when he's out of most of his armor. If I was an enemy, I could've put three or four arrows in him by now.
To be fair, though, most of our enemies aren't as good as I am. The others probably don't even realize that he's slipped away to talk to me like this, and I know that in my place most of them couldn't have detected his approach. Agrias might be able to swing a sword, but getting her to just listen is next to impossible.
I try to tell myself that he finds me only because I told him where I would be. I've always been proud of my ability to move soundlessly, to lie motionless for hours while the noisy world lurches clumsily all around me, to pick a sound out of the dark and send an arrow whistling after it. These days, I hold onto those things more tightly than ever, because they're all I have.
I lie on my belly in the lee of a small, squat boulder, watching the thin dirt-serpent of road that twists below the hill keenly, waiting for any kind of attack. It's possible that more deserters will show up; this may very well be a secret mustering-point (though that seems far less likely after our battle here), and there are always monsters to contend with. I watch, and I think I am prepared, but I didn't expect the attack to come from behind, not from him, not in that voice.
I know something's wrong the as soon as he clears his throat, before I even turn around and raise a hand in greeting. His face is shrouded in shadow, the moon just starting to rise behind him, and I can't read anything there, but that noise is enough.
That was the kind of noise my father always used to make at social gatherings when I had said too much about those family interests that were frowned upon in polite society. I remember how I felt then, all my giddy excitement turning to shame, to frustration, and I wonder what I have done wrong.
It wasn't wrong, I think defiantly, hoping he doesn't see my cheeksgrow redin the wan moonlight, but it's the past I am thinking of.
I learned to hunt in the sparse forest outside Gariland with my father when I was only a girl, too old for dolls and too young for breasts. Together with a few trusted servants, we would rise early, moving through the still-sleeping hamlet below our manorunder cover ofdarkness. Once we reached the edge of the forest, we went to work, pulling on rough green woolens, using twine to wrap our bodies with twigs and bits of brush, staining our faces with earth and muck and cheap green paint.
Then we would creep through the woods, slipping between the springy trees and crawling across the fallen logs with bows out and arrows nocked. Our feet, shrouded in slippers or nothing at all, made no noise. Our scent was shrouded by musk and the wind, and the animals never knew we were there until it was too late. I remember getting my first kill at age twelve; the big elk took the arrow in the heart and jumped, snapping branches around it like twigs, and then it fell, dead before it hit the ground.
Other nobles would never have hunted that way, my father told me, hoping to prevent me bragging about our exploits in polite circles. Their hunts were sterile, ritualized things full of dogs and horses and powdered, primped ladies. They didn't know what it meant to truly get close to nature, to walk among it as a part of it instead of as an invader, to prune and shape it carefully from within instead of hacking away great, clumsy chunks from the outside. They were pitiful in their ignorance, and though for the most part I obeyed my father's wishes and kept our hunting a secret, I always seethed within at other's claims of martial prowess in their artificial games.
Let Algus talk of his hawking all he wants, I told myself a thousand times. I am a hawk.
I had certainly never felt like most other nobles, due in large part to my father and his meddling. Some said he had gone eccentric in his old age, or that mother's death in childbirth had driven him mad, but I neither knew nor cared. I wouldn't have had him any other way, and if he ever resented me for killing his wife without even providing a male heir in the bargain, he never showed it.
That was even more of a miracle because he had wanted a son so desperately. Our line was old but waning, reduced to the ownership of a tiny ailing estate outside Gariland that could barely support itself, surviving mainly on a series of shaky loans and Dycedarg's tolerance. We had our pride, which was more than the Sadalfas family could say, but little else.
None of that mattered to me then, and it doesn't now. It mattered that my father didn't care that his daughter was a tomboy who preferred swords to cross-stitching and the bow to both. It mattered that he allowed me to attend the military academy as I requested, and it mattered most of all that he felt pride in my position instead of regret that I couldn't be content with a dowry and a husband.
Ivalice and the Glabados church speak of our equality under one god, of tolerance and forebearance. Women have fought in the armies of every province for the past two hundred years with bravery and distinction. The church accepts women into the ranks of both its priesthood and its monasteries. Thieves' Guilds and secret societies allow women to pick pockets and perform ancient blood-rites to eidolons and aeons alongside the men.
All of that is not the whole story.
Half the girls who populated the Death Corps and more than a few in the Hokuten underranks were former whores, and most of the rest were petty thieves who would rather risk their lives than lose a hand, or stout farmgirls their parents couldn't afford to feed, or the stray bastards of some lordling or another, or just late-born daughters with no hope of securing a dowry. They were, no matter how much others might think differently, just like the men they fought alongside, just people. They were not aberrations or symbols of their sexuality but simply soldiers. No matter why they might be there, whether they were fighting for a cause or themselves or only for survival, they did fight, and I respected them for it, even if we were trying to kill each other.
My father understood that, when so many others did not, could not, and it meant everything to me. He never drank overmuch, or beat me, or favored his paramours over me, but if he had, I would have forgiven him, because he understood.
My father has been dead for two years, before I ever left the academy to battle that starving collection of brave fools called the Death Corps, before I became a mercenary, before I turned my back on my old life, on the army, on the Church.
The man I had done all that for also understood, and he is the man who speaks to me now: Ramza Beoulve, straw-haired and lean, accomplished Knight and burgeoning Samurai, wearing his rough travel clothing, his shoulder still swaddled in a bandage from the fight with Velius, his voice quiet, and sure, and-
It is the same tone I have heard him use while soothing a hungry, wailing child on the streets of Dorter with a potion and a handful of gil, while stroking Boco's head softly and feeding him his greens. It is an affectation, a false thing, and it stings to hear him speak to me that way, my name like an alien syllable in his mouth. His very gentleness offends me now, in a way his hundreds of frantic, angry shouts never could have.
Ramza is a softspoken man outside of battle, but when he takes the field he roars, rough voice spreading ungainly wings and taking flight, sweeping over us, encouraging and harranging, driving us forward or guiding us in retreat. At times his screams seem to serve no strategic purpose at all, but they intimidate the enemy and lend us strength, almost seeming to take physical form, pushing us over shattered fortifications and fallen bodies, bolstering us against the arrows and spells and curses of whoever or whatever dares to stand in our way.
Ramza will never possess the subtleties of the Mediators, who can spin just enough magic into their words to seize your mind in a philosophical trap or a religious fervor in the middle of a battle, but what he has is better: raw, elemental. When he shouts his commands in that voice, I know that I am a soldier.
If I am a hawk, I am proud to let him guide my flight.
So scream at me, curse me, call me a flaming idiot, my mind begs him. But don't talk to me like this, Ramza, not like this.
His tone names me woman, stranger, pitied, and part of me hates him for it. Then I realize what he is actually saying, and it's not anger I feel, but fear.
-just not safe anymore, he says, kneeling beside me in the grass, hand resting on my shoulder. You know I'm always concerned about the welfare of my troops, and I think you-
Don't cry, don't cry gods damn it, you knew this was coming, you knew it from the way he doesn't look you in the eye when he gives the briefings anymore, you knew it from the way the others are pulling more and more of the weight, you knew it from the way he wouldn't even let you into Riovanes Castle...
But I didn't know it would be like this. I didn't know there would be pity, concern that seems like a cruel joke after everything that has happened.
I've bled for you across half of Ivalice already, Ramza. I remember it if you don't, or won't. I remember:
Rain in Dorter, splashing off the cobblestones, running down the eaves along with my blood. I'd climbed that roof all by myself, shredding my hands on those cheaply-nailed shingles, taking an arrow in the calf on the way up with that bastard Algus shrieking something incomprehensible from below. I didn't have time or the angle for the shot so I went at the Death Corps archer up there with my short knife and opened his throat like a wet red melon. He fell backwards off the peak of the roof, tearing shingles loose in his wild, bonebreaking tumble before crashing in a shattered heap on the stones below. It was the first time I'd ever killed a human being and before that day was out I'd kill another and that night I kept shivering long after the potion Rose had given me had helped seal my wounds and I drank and drank until I was sick and I'd do it again in a heartbeat because it was for you.
The crack of flintlock and the reek of smoke and blood and oil, the smell of Goug. The chemists on the other side of that nasty scrap-filled gulch the machinists called an alley were using weapons beyond what the Death Corps or even the Hokuten could regularly field, fire-belching Romanda Guns that far outmatched my bow. But I knew I was good enough and I knew we had to take them out so I crouched on the lip of that ugly steel chimney and fired and fired until they died, even after they had shot me in the shoulder and in the belly and that night Rose told me she didn't think she was going to be able to put me back together again, that my insides were all mixed and mashed together and springled with fragments of the cheap lead musket ball and we both cried and the next day I got up and fought again, for you.
The monk's punch nearly took my head off, ringing my skull like an anvil, and I went downon my knees, blind in one eye. Somewhere up ahead you and the others were busy with Zalmo and I couldn't let them get to your sister, partly because I knew with the kind of intuition that I should probably have denied that you loved her more than anyone else in the world, mostly because it was your order, and I was a soldier, and we both understood that. I couldn't go for my knife, not that close, not against a bloody monk, so I staggered back a step and nocked and drew and hoped. I even prayed, for whatever good a heretic's gasped plea would do against a Bride of Ajora.
Maybe he really does have a sense of humor, however twisted: my arrow cleaved right through her throat, the head bursting out the back of her neck, the spray of feathers dangling between her breasts like some exotic necklace, and she fell back, blood streaming out across the chill autumn air in a fine red mist. She took a long time to die, and I held her hand, and she moved her lips in words I wish hadn't been choked by the blood that bubbled out around my arrow. I don't know if she was forgiving me or damning me or giving me words for someone else. I don't know if she truly believed or was just another person forced by circumstance and fate into a life she never wanted. Either way, I killed her, and I would've killed a hundred just like her for you.
I'm not afraid to be hurt. I'm not afraid to kill. I'm not afraid to be a soldier. So please-
-best archer I've ever seen. But things are getting tougher, and with some of these things it doesn't matter how good of a shot you are. We're running out of room - I can't afford to keep such a large formation if we're going to move fast enough to avoid both sides in the Lion War and the Church. The people we need have to have the skills to-
Is that what it is now, Ramza? That I'm not qualified? I can't deny it.
Oh, I've picked up a few things here or there - Bryant taught me a mild hex or two, and Rose has been trying to show me how to knit flesh and bone with prayers, but it's just no good. I've known magic is real all my life - you can hardly deny it in our line of work - but that's different from believing in it, you know? In the end, somewhere deep in my mind, all I can really trust is my own two hands and my bow. Magic is like one of those fickle ladies my father used to rant about. Give it what it wants and it'll move the world for you; spurn it, even just a little, and it'll laugh in your face.
I guess that's not all. I know a little bit about battlefield-sleight-of-hand (do you remember the time I yanked that thief's dagger away with my bare hands, Ramza?), and I guess anybody can sling a potion or two, but I'm not like the others. I can't work magic through a sword like Agrias or wield two blades or summon an eidolon or heal with a word. I'm just an archer, and somewhere during this whole mess all our comrades - not to mention you - passed me by.
Maybe it was because I was always hanging back while the others charged ahead, watching, making sure you were safe. You've always been so reckless, breaking right into the enemy formations, leading the charges as if you weren't the glue that holds us all together, as if losing you wouldn't kill us all. Have you forgotten all those times, or did you never see?
We hadn't expected to run into a pair of rebel monks along with the other troops in Sand Rat Cellar. They were so young that they probably hadn't won anything above a mid-grade belt yet, and so skinny that they looked like mummies shriveled in the desert heat, but they were fast and they were brave, and their sudden attack on our flanks was overwhelming.
A single uppercut was all it took to take Delita to the ground, stretching him boneless and twitching on the parched earth. I thought he must be dead after a blow like that, but there was no time to think about it because the monk was coming for you from behind, his eyes alight with menace, emaciated body gleaming bronze in the sun as he closed the distance. There was no time to scream a warning, barely any time to aim. Acting on pure instinct, I put an arrow right through his heart. He ran on for a few steps before falling, tumbling head-over-heels, kicking up a cloud of dust, and I was already looking the next target. I don't think you ever even turned around.
We walked right into the trap at Golgorand, but you never wavered even as they surrounded us, sending a wedge to shatter the advancing knights while you went straight at Gafgarion. You were so concerned with him you didn't see the pair of Time Mages lurking atop the arch. If I hadn't pinned them down with my arrows until Bryant could take care of them, they would've torn you apart.
Cardinal Draclau screamed as the ruby light swallowed his body, cries growing ever more shrill as he jerked wildly atop his dias, swelling into a bloated abscess of milk-pale flesh and gnashing teeth. I remember the others staggering as the stink of him, like something long dead and festering in a swamp, washed over us, and if you had asked me then, before our heresy had even been named, I would have said that no religion capable of spawning a monster like this deserved worship.
All the time he never stopped screaming, from what used to be his human mouth and from the other that sprouted across his belly. His screams were something like a crow's and something like a rabbit's and something like a woman's and something like steel scraping against steel. They cut through the air, through us, vapor and steel, insubstantial and yet crushingly heavy. My brain vibrated in my skull and I saw the others go down, Agrias slumping in a faint, Mustadio blind and stumbling to his knees, but not you, Ramza, never you.
You screamed back, a smaller sound but all the more fierce for it, cutting across Queklain's inhuman cries, defying them like you defied your brothers and the Church and anyone else who told you how to think or what to do. I heard that scream and found the strength to draw my bow, to start sending arrow after arrow into his bloated body as Rose moved among the others, whispering incantations, parceling out healing herbs.
You didn't see, but I've been watching you, Ramza. I've been protecting you. I've been fighting for and alongside you, and no one but you could ever make me stop.
Who will watch you when I'm gone? Who will take my place? Maybe I can't do the things the others can, but no one will ever fight harder for you, Ramza, can't you see that?
His eyes crinkle, and a false smile smears across his face. It hurts, more than all those arrows, more than being clawed by that huge cat in the Zeklaus Desert, more than being gutshot.
-pleasure serving with you. We've been together for a long time, and you stuck with me, after-
and his voice catches, the mask slips, and I know what he's thinking of. I wonder if that's the reason for this farce, if at the end of it all he sees me as just a woman.
The smoke was still climbing from the fort when we stopped for the day, staining the orange sky like spilled ink. We'd come down out of the mountains and into the high scrublands to the north in perfect marching order, those of us who were freshest covering the retreat while Ramza led the way, but we were flagging badly by the time the sun slipped below the horizon. The morning's battle had taken a huge toll on us; no one had died, but almost everyone was hurt, some too badly to walk, and the thought of our treason, the realization that we had actually taken up arms against the Hokuten, weighed on us more far more heavily than our small field packs.
It was worst for Ramza: he'd seen Algus kill Teta, entered into battle with his own kin on her behalf only to be denounced and damned by Delita, and then seen Delita die in the massive explosion that had consumed the fort. In the immediate aftermath, he'd called his shaky troops into order and led us from the pass as if we were going on any other march, but as the day waned and we were forced to stop, I saw that facade of strength, of command, collapse. Alone and isolated in the dark,he wept, and I went to him.
I still don't know why it happened. Maybe not everything has to have an explanation, or even a justification, as hard as that is for someone as pragmatic as me to admit. Maybe I wanted to help my commander in a way only I could. Maybe the very fact that he had never treated me as a woman made me willing to go to him as one. Maybe I didn't understand what my love for him meant then, maybe we were both just young, stupid, strained and tired and desperate.
Any blueblooded young nobleman - much less a Beoulve- who hasn't had a servant or a whore by his age tends to be frowned upon, and he'd probably had a lot better options than a woman like me, all hard edges and no soft curves, so I know I couldn't have been his first or his best, but to me he was both, and I've never regretted what I gave him that night.
He was gentle the next day. I think he wanted to take my hand, but was afraid that might mean something to me that it didn't mean to him. We spoke quietly well away from the others, who probably thought he was just giving me orders for our renewed march. How they could think that from the way he looked away, eyes downcast like a guilty child, I don't know, but if any of them ever realized the truth, they have never told me. And I never gave them, or even him, any reason to think differently. Never batted an eye, or cried a tear.
We had made a mistake, he said. Neither of us were thinking about what we were doing, he said. A commander and his troops couldn't behave in such a fashion. It wasn't the proper way for two people to comport themselves. Even so soon after the horrors of Zeakden, without him even realizing it, I heard the words of the Church and his brothers and probably even his wet nurse coming out of his mouth. That was hard for me because I'd always respected him for choosing his own path. But he had already proved at the fort that he was willing to do so, and in a way I guess he was still doing it: he just didn't want me walking beside him, not like this.
I wish he hadn't called it a mistake. That was the only thing about it that ever really hurt me, him calling it a mistake. No matter why I did it, it was my choice and I knew what it might mean when I made it.
Maybe he thought it would ruin me as a soldier. Maybe he thought I would hate him for it. Maybe he thinks that's why I'm not advancing like the others, maybe that's why he's speaking to me in this voice. This voice that isn't his, this voice that cuts me now like it did then.
I still haven't spoken a word and that voice is still going and I wonder who taught him to speak so eloquently when he's breaking someone into pieces, with such tenderness and such resolve - his brothers, or some clever tutor, or old Balbanes himself. Maybe I was wrong about him not being a Mediator, because his words are honey and poison and I can't even begin to accept what they really mean.
-as far as Lesalia with us if you want, but it might be better to break off now, head for the smaller towns. They won't be looking for you there, and you'll be safer than with the main force-
I shake my head fiercely, not trusting myself to speak, wanting to cry for the first time since that night at Goug but forcing myself not to, and his voice is firm.
-been a loyal soldier, a good friend, but this is getting out of hand. Celia almost had you on the roof... enemies that can kill with a brush of their fingers... I won't lead you to your death.
But I would follow.
I have followed you through danger, heresy, hunger. I have bled for you, and watched out for you, and given myself entirely to you, and all I ask is that you let me keep doing so. Can't you give me that, when it means so much?
I've fought alongside you so long that I know nothing else, that I have no idea what my life would be without it, and you would cast me out in the name of expediency, safety. To soothe a guilty conscience, to quiet nagging doubts.
You don't think you can keep me safe, but I never doubted that I could protect you, not for an instant, because it wasn't just you I was fighting for, but myself. I was fighting for the person I can only be when I'm battling alongside you, for the person who can command your respect, for the soldier only you can make me.
That woman, that soldier, was born to a family half-dead and a world that wouldn't understand her and resolved herself to fight it. She learned to kill without a sound before she learned to kiss boys. She learned to laugh at the right moments, to deflect probing questions and eager hands. She learned how to put an arrow through a bullseye across a broad green range or through a man's eye across a body-choked battlefield.
She has fought on dozens of them, rat-infested slums and ancient libraries and green riverbanks where the rich black soil drinks the blood of the fallen eagerly. She has battled the base and the lofty, the just and the criminal, the believers and the faithless, the living and the dead, and things that defy both. She has killed boys too young to shave and women old enough to be her mother. She has seen once-treasured scriptures come alive in a tangle of rank, shrieking limbs and then helped send them back to hell.
She has been stabbed, and shot, and suffered the wounds of a monk's iron fist, felt the searing kiss of a dragon's fire, tasted ozone-air and blood from a spent Lightning spell. She has fought on half-blind, with poison screaming through her veins, with broken ribs grating against rasping lungs, covered in blood and oil and mud and shit.
She has fought for Ramza Beoulve, and she loves him intensely, passionately, not as a woman loves a man but as a man loves the sun glinting on bright steel, the pleasant ache in his muscles after a day of grueling work, the rich soil in the ground and the moss-rimed stones of a clearing touched by time. She loves him as the hawk loves the rustle of grass, warm prey thrashing in its talons, the caress of the wind and rustle of its feathers as it cuts across the free, blue expanse of sky. She loves him like life, because for her that is what he is, and her love is a dangerous thing, a razor bright enough to blind the world and sharp enough to cut it in half.
For him, for her friends, for herself, she would stand alone against the combined might of the Nanten and the Hokuten. She would face the Lucavi with bare hands and bared teeth. She would spit in god's eye, and wash it out with the blood of the Holy Church Fathers. She would fight until she died and then rise again like one of the screaming Revenants, tearing apart anyone who dared to stand before her.
She will fight until the sun burns to a cinder, until the stars fall from the sky, until the vines swallow the ruins of what used to be Ivalice, until time itself grinds to a stunning halt.
She is fearless. She is cunning. She is unstoppable. She is unassailable. She is invincible.
All it takes to kill her is his next word. His last word. The only word.
Author's Notes: Not much plot in this, but this idea has been nagging at me for some time and I've had a recent burst of fanfic inspiration. Coincidentally, I just got a review from someone who wanted another FFT piece, so hopefully at least one person will be happy with the result.
I normally don't dabble with OCs this much in fanfiction, as I think that kind of defeats the point and often delves into story pathways that most fans of the game probably aren't that interested in. In this case, though, I don't feel guilty since the nameless heroine stands for both one specific generic soldier and all of them. And YES I do feel bad when I dismiss them.
Oh, and expect something new from me soon. Quite soon. As in "finished but I can't submit it here for a couple weeks due to certain binding reasons soon."
Thanks to Crystal Zeal for supplying soldiers' quotes to the poor guy who couldn't find his FFT disc.