Lay Down Your Sword
by R. Hyperion

"Here, here!" The man had grinned stupidly, pressing something gold and red and oddly-shaped into his palm. "I'm sure you'll figure out what to do with it."

Jack had raised his eyebrows and muttered something resembling gratitude...only not really. They'd closed the bar shortly after, and that guy he'd been drinking with all night disappeared without even a name. Well, that was just fine. He'd grinned at his own luck.

Some idiot had given him something that'd probably be worth a fair bit of gella, for nothing. Not even a drink. And when he'd stumbled into the inn, it turned out that Cecilia the teetotaller had already gone to bed...but Rudy was still around to help him navigate those damn tricky stairs. Good kid, that one.

...He'd woken up without a hangover, too. Damn lucky.

Only...not really.

Because scarcely a week later, he found himself and his designated walker standing in the patchy grass outside Baskar, attempting to prepare themselves for anything.

That thing was called a 'Dispellado', she'd said, looking up from her book with dark eyes. Some powerful artifact that could dispel magical seals; stronger than Dispel, stronger than a Duplicator. Too strong; because when there's a key, there's a lock to fit it in. Another door they couldn't let the demons get through, especially if there was any truth behind what she'd read.

That was why they were here, watching Cecilia trace paths around a ring of stones that hadn't made sense the first time around.

"You know, why the hell is it that after I met you two, nothing's ever just 'a trinket' or 'a pile of rocks'?" Jack said, eyeing Rudy suspiciously. "Everything's part of some secret weapon...or just out to kill us."

Something soft, small and blue popped out of his collar. "Buddy, everything was out to kill us before, too. You were just too busy almost dying to notice," Hanpan quipped. His partner made a very negative noise and swiped at him. No good -- the wind mouse had already disappeared back into the folds of his jacket. Rudy laughed behind a gloved hand.

Then the column of light shot into the sky, sending a small tremor through the ground. They ran to her, weapons ready, but Cecilia turned and lifted her arms to bar the way.

Behind her, in front of them, was a small building with a steeply pointed roof. It didn't seem to be much more than one room in size, but towered several stories high. The stones it was made of were yellowing, and smooth with age. Round columns guarded its entrance.

This was an old shrine.

As they came closer, its age became even more apparent. Wooden doors rotted around rusted handles and hinges. The stone stairs on the stoop crumbled under Cecilia's feet, and she was lightest of the three.

Jack noted a severe crack in one of those pillars, and a clear chime went off in his head. "Are you sure --"

"Trust me." she countered. Before they had the chance to ponder her cryptic words, she'd flung open the doors and entered.

The outside had seemed ancient. The inside foyer was equally so, albeit less weather-worn than locked-away. Like the Sealed Library at Curan. The room was thick with dust. Cobwebs hung in gray strings from everywhere, connecting ceiling to moth-eaten tapestry to bookshelf to floor.

In front of them, a deep crimson carpet stretched underneath another set of doors. Cecilia's small hands strained at their tarnished golden handles for a bit, until they opened.

This room was a far cry from the one before it. Sitting in the torch holders were not dull flames but glass orbs, shining starker light than the sun. They lit stone walls that were glaringly white, as if they'd never been touched by human hand. Arches of color interlaced themselves through a floor made of marble, so frighteningly clean you could almost see yourself in it. Everything in this place looked newer-than-new, impossibly so.

Except the familiar sphere of power hovering just above the dais at the end of the carpet, which felt impossibly old.

The "power that no human should ever possess" was not a weapon...but a Guardian.

"Innocent One." The voice that echoed off the vaulted ceiling was male. "I have been watching. I know what you have done. What you are doing. And," he continued, light growing brighter, "I know what you will do!"

It flared too brightly for them to keep staring. Rudy's sight faded back in first.

Several feet in front of them hovered an enormous black cat -- almost his own height -- with glowing yellow eyes, and a splash of white fur centered around his muzzle. This Guardian's outfit was unlike anything he'd seen before; the guise of a noble from some long-dead age. His jacket was the same red as the carpet, lined in blue and elaborately trimmed in gold. His pants were loose until below the knees, where they narrowed to fit inside large brown boots. A ruffled collar bunched at his chin, and he gently adjusted it with spotless kid gloves.

"I am Dan Dairam, Guardian of Time." He bent at the waist in a deep, theatrical bow.

Cecilia bowed low as well.

"A refusal to aid you would be...remiss, given my position and the state of Filgaia." Her heart lightened, as he answered the question she didn't have the chance to ask.

"But since you are here, I suppose there is something else I should bring to your attention."

He raised one arm to the sky, slowly tracing a wide circle in the air. It was only when the lights flared around its circumference that they realized its significance -- the backwards winding of a magical clock.

The clock's face faded into a hole, revealing a single point of brilliant white light hovering in a field of darkness. Dan Dairam floated backwards with arms slightly outstretched, allowing his handiwork to take front and center stage.

"I am sure at least one of you recognizes this human soul." he said, coolly.

The atmosphere turned a bit sinister.


Neither of them had noticed Jack take two faltering steps forward.

"Jack..." Cecilia trailed off, unable to think of what to say. Rudy said nothing at all...but the same sympathetic hurt was etched on his brow.

"She is being held between 'here' and 'hereafter' by a strong bond to this world." Dan Dairam twirled once as he came forward, hovering next to the illusion. "It is, I suppose, the curse of all short-lived beings -- this compulsion to cling so desperately to the past," he mused.

It was obvious who the Guardian addressed. His baleful gaze had been locked on its target since they'd started on this topic. Jack lifted his chin, feeling himself bristle. Was this guy...mocking him?

"What're you trying to say to me, Dairam?"

"I am saying that you have two options, Garrett Stampede." Jack flinched, as if the name had struck him. The Guardian's eyes narrowed, in a smile that wasn't quite a smile.

"She can be brought back to this world. Alive and whole. If that is what you want."

Cecilia gasped, raising both hands to her mouth. " can do that!"

Dan Dairam turned to her, and she felt a chill. Many of the Guardians hadn't been rays of sunshine; looking back, it seemed like most of them weren't. Angry, exhausted, hurt...bitter. She couldn't blame them. But this one was...

"If you speak of some celestial law," he said, interrupting her thoughts, "there is none. We are merely Guardians. We are not your gods." This time he did grin, baring sharp white teeth. "And I can't, technically. Not alone. But Odoryuk will not refuse. He is very fond of you three...and if it were up to him, no one would ever die anyway. You can only imagine the fights he's had with Ge Ramtos."

Rudy glanced down at one of his vest pockets, and felt a bit relieved that he didn't hold the Death Rune as well. Almost-peril forgotten, a shy smile pulled at the corners of his mouth -- though Cecilia's expression was hidden behind her fingertips, her joy had always been a little contagious.

Even if this time, it felt a little bittersweet.

"At any rate. This soul cannot stay where she is. She is putting a wrinkle in some of my best time," he said, a note of impatience marring his formal tenor. "So." Dan Dairam dropped to the floor, staring up into the tall man's face.

For the first time, his voice was earnest. "I can tell by their faces what your comrades would have you do. But they are not you, and this is your decision."

Jack opened his mouth.

Garrett! Have you listened to a word I've said? Elmina's voice, gently mocking.

She used to say that a lot. Hell, she used to talk a lot. Of course, he used to space out when she was talking a lot, too. Couldn't help it. Just fell into those bluer-than-sky eyes and drowned, every time.

Then, a realization from some small place inside himself that stopped him cold.

Past tense.

Those words shone light all around him; tore the curtains he'd put up out of necessity away and forced him to look. He stood ready for war -- in a castle made of rubble and cold Arctica sky. Its defenders' brittle bones lay half-buried in swirling snow.

And the hilt still clenched in his armored fist ended in a broken blade.

Jack shook his head to clear the image, unable to loosen the steel knot in his stomach that had formed while he'd been daydreaming. Rudy's grandfather. Cecilia's father. Adlehyde, Saint Centour, Court Seim...Arctica.

...Damned if there was anyone left on Filgaia who hadn't lost someone important, you selfish bastard.

A smile so bitter he could taste it spread across his face. Apparently, he still had a lot to learn about that 『 Courage 』 she'd...died for. And about the strength those two kids behind him had, whether they knew it or not.

Actually, there were a lot of things he still had to do, weren't there? The duties he hadn't completely failed yet. But they could wait.

'Right now' was already being enough of a pain in the ass.

Jack gathered up all his strength -- then turned around and began to walk away, eyes fixed on something beyond the door they'd walked through. Focusing hard on anything that wasn't Rudy, or Cecilia, or piercing regret.

Dan Dairam merely bowed, one last time.

"As you wish."

Wild Arms 1 © SCEI 1996.

notes: Twisting canon a little harder this time. :3 But not as hard as you might think...Dan never says that Elmina's spirit remained alive of her own will. (And I really don't buy that "Oh, only the demon body was destroyed!" business -- it introduces a whole slew of other plot inconsistencies...)

Regardless, what should really make the Jack × Elmina fans squirm are the words missing here -- he also never said that bond wasn't her heart clinging to his.

Though this is muddled and ill-researched (Will someone please give me an accurate description of the Dispellado situation? I completely forgot what that guy says and made the whole thing up) --

-- I should dedicate it to AngelicProfile and Saeto. Because if they hadn't said anything about liking WA1 stories, I probably never would have bothered to write this down. If either of you read this, I hope you enjoyed it. Or at the very least, I hope you didn't hate it. *hat tip* :3