Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy Tactics or any of the characters therein. I am using them without permission and will cease to do so if asked. Please don't sue.

Chapter One: Facing Heaven

"Don't blame us. Blame yourself or God." The gold-armored knight gives me a final dismissive glare, then ignores me. He leaps onto his waiting chocobo, next to where the stunned Ovelia is coughing weakly, then heels the feathered mount forward.

Fear grips my heart and twists my face as I chase, but the bird is too fast, even double-loaded. After a few paces I slow and slump to my knees, watching helplessly as they flee. "Oh, God," I whisper. I've been defeated, tricked. I want to blame that ass Gafgarion for being so eager to fight Goltana's men, but I know the bigger failure is on my part for having left Ovelia's side in the first place. I'm her bodyguard; my place is with her, not elsewhere. It's that simple.

My lips curve from the realization that I have unintentionally obeyed the nameless knight's command, but the gesture is one of bitterness rather than amusement. It is fleeting in any case.

Just past the corner of the monastery, the mercenary Ramza is staring after the knight with a bizarre expression of surprise. "Delita?" he asks, apparently of himself. "You're alive, Delita? But why are you in Goltana's troops? Why?" His voice is twisted with some pain he cannot conceal.

After a moment I stand and turn away from the receding chocobo; self-pity will accomplish nothing. I round the corner of the building and shoulder back through the door, already planning how to retrieve Princess Ovelia.

The inside of Orbonne Monastery passes in a blur as I stride through it. The knight cannot be far; despite his mount's speed, it will fatigue quickly through the rough terrain around here, since he cannot take the roads, and carrying two riders will slow it further. He left over the water, though, so perhaps the bird will have an easier time of it for an hour or so.

It matters little, I decide. The man is leaving Orbonne, which means he is heading for Dorter now, whatever his ultimate destination might be.

Coldly I push through the front doors of the monastery and glance around. Everyone but me has congregated to discuss the battle, it seems.

"...know who kidnapped her?" Gafgarion is asking. Curiosity and mild surprise edge his otherwise rough voice.

Ramza doesn't answer; his entire body radiates unease. His eyes dart to me as I approach.

"He's taking Princess Ovelia with him," I declare. "Can't be that far."

Gafgarion turns to me. "Are you going after him?"

"Of course!" I snap. "I couldn't face the royal family unless I do." What kind of bodyguard walks away after her charge is abducted? No, he's just trying to goad me. I take a slow breath, trying to calm down.

The veteran mercenary raises a cool eyebrow. "We won't help you," he states flatly. "It's not in the contract!"

"We don't need help from one who's not even a knight!" I counter hotly. "A knight must fix his own mistakes. This is one of our responsibilities as guards!" I pause for a moment, again attempting to let some anger go. I have my faults, I know, and the inability to watch what I say when I'm angry is one of them.

Finally I sigh, turning to my subordinates. "Lavian, Alicia, let's go!" I'll be glad to be done with these cutthroats anyway.

Before anyone can react, Simon, the old priest, shuffles out of the monastery. His eyes dart all about, doubtless searching for Ovelia.

I hurry over to him. "Are you all right, milord?"

He brushes my question aside tensely. "The Princess... how is she?"

She's gone, is how she is. I shake my head sadly. "I'm very sorry. I swear I'll get her back!"

"No," he protests weakly. "You'd be in danger..."

I find myself wondering if the attack has caused his wits to flee. I'd be in danger? Being in danger is what I do. How can he think my life is worth anything in comparison with Ovelia's? "Don't worry," I assure him, keeping my voice as firm as I dare to a priest of his standing. "I swear on my knight's honor I'll save her!"

Abruptly Ramza steps forward. "I'll go, too!" he declares. "I won't be a burden!"

Surprised, I glance at him in question. What kind of mercenary is he? As much as I distrust his kind, his apparent unprofessionalism makes it worse; sellswords do not, as a rule, volunteer. Then again, I saw him in the battle against the Black Lion's men just moments ago. Though he's a squire, he fights like a knight. He must have studied somewhere.

"Are you crazy?" snarls Gafgarion, rounding on the younger man. "This is none of your business!"

"I have to know!" insists Ramza earnestly, turning to stare off into the wilderness. "I must see it with my own eyes!" His apparent rashness, his openness with his motivations, strike me as somehow forced and thus suspicious, and it occurs to me that I am starting to dislike him.

Gafgarion seems as impatient as I am. "You mean, that boy you saw?"

Ramza nods slowly. He says nothing, fortunately.

His commander grunts in disgusted resignation. "You're stubborn as a mule. Don't cry to me for help if something happens!" Rad, the other mercenary, shakes his head silently.

Lips tightening, I suppress my simmering frustration and address Ramza, as it saves me from speaking to Gafgarion. "Your blades will be... appreciated on this journey," I allow politely. "There are no chocobos to spare here, so we must make the hike to Dorter." Damn it. The coastline makes several odd jags around here, so if Ovelia's captor has crossed a waterway we'll have to go around, he'll have gained hours on us. Chocos aren't reliable swimmers, though, not burdened so heavily, so perhaps there is reason for optimism.

"Agrias," begins Simon, shuffling towards me, hands outstretched, "may God favor your journey. I know you will retrieve the Princess safely."

I clasp his hands in my reinforced gloves. "Thank you, Simon. You needn't worry."

The old priest smiles, somehow making the gesture include everyone present. "Go with God."

"You too, Simon." Without another word I turn my back on him and regard the motley party I'll be taking with me. "Does anyone need to potion up before we travel?" I ask, eyeing Alicia significantly. "Anyone with wounds?"

Gafgarion chuckles richly. "What," he wonders sarcastically, "no white magic? No gentle words of prayer to soothe our pains? Must a Holy Knight lower herself to using chemists' concoctions?"

You're such an ass, Gafgarion. "Magic is not to be wasted," I reply curtly. "Potions are only slightly more expensive than wine."

"Oh, wine," answers the dark knight with false joviality. "You in the church know all about wine, I imagine."

"It is used ceremonially," I remind him coldly. Before he can answer, I turn to Alicia and frown at the bleeding wound in her left thigh, a gift from one of the Black Lion's late archers, a fellow still on the ground not twenty paces away.

The knight grits her teeth and forces a smile. "It doesn't hurt," she lies. At least she's pulled the arrow out of the injury.

I let coldness touch my face and voice. "You'll slow us down like that. I'm not in the mood for nonsense." Certainly not with Ovelia gone. My God, Alicia's as bad as a man sometimes.

Beside me, Lavian rummages around in one of the packs and produces a glass bottle, which she pushes towards the other woman, nodding encouragingly. With a sigh, Alicia uncorks the thing and drinks it, then waits while the wound knits itself back together, leaving bloodstains and a hole in her breeches.

"Anyone else?" I ask darkly, eyeing the rest of the group, but everyone else just shakes their heads. Gafgarion sighs heavenward, clearly bored.

"Fine," I grunt. "Let's go." Without another word I stride through the party, away from the monestary. Lavian and Alicia follow, hurrying to catch up, and the mercenaries do likewise.

Quickly Orbonne disappears into the trees behind us as we travel along the road, little more than a vegetation-free band of dirt heading into the nearby woods. I turn to Rad, the nearest of the men. "You took this road to get here, right?"

The squire nods, dark eyes watching me nervously. Is he afraid of me? "It'll go to this... I don't know what the place was called, some farm village. From there we can take another to Dorter."

"Why, Agrias?" wonders Gafgarion from behind me. "Do you suppose this knight will be trotting along the road ahead of us?"

I turn my head to scowl at him; he knows better. "What do you think?"

"I think he'll be taking the woods," shrugs the mercenary, glancing about at the surrounding trees. "No chance of him stumbling across a Hokuten patrol that way. In fact, I don't see why he won't just avoid roads and cities the whole way. You won't find him in Dorter."

"I know we won't find him there," I answer acidly, slowing so I don't have to twist half-around to talk to him. I choose to walk on his left side; he is right-handed. "But he'll be going through Dorter at some point, unless he's carrying a week's worth of supplies on that chocobo in addition to himself and Ovelia." I raise my eyebrows, daring the man to say that this is plausible, but he just waits for me to continue. "Since he's going off-road, we may be able to beat him there if we hurry." I know we almost certainly won't, but every minute we save is more precious than gil.

Gafgarion doesn't answer me. Instead, he's studying the trees lining the road as though expecting to find hidden attackers, and I realize he is ignoring me.

Trying to smooth another scowl, I quicken my stride and take point again. Of all the resourceful knights in the area, I wonder, why did the Hokuten have to send me this guy? Were they going out of their way to find someone I wouldn't like?

My ears inform me that the dark knight has fallen back, covering the rear along with Rad, though perhaps he's doing it just to be as far away from me as possible. I don't like having him behind my back, but it's better than letting him lead. The arrangement leaves Ramza walking with my subordinates in the middle.

For a time we travel in silence. Trees float past, reaching verdant arms over the road as though to shelter it from the afternoon sunlight. The occasional boulder pokes through the undergrowth in places, an island of stone among the sea of tiny leaves, and at one point the road curves to parallel the placid bay before veering off again. The calls of hidden birds echo in the still environment.

Eventually I hear Ramza clear his throat. "Lavian?"

"I'm Alicia," corrects my knight with a giggle.

"Oh." He pauses, probably embarassed. "Where are you from?"

"Lesalia," she answers idly. "The city, I mean. My family's not noble, but we've been knights for generations."

"Oh," he repeats. "What about you... Lavian?"

"I'm from Bervenia," answers the other woman evenly. "My parents were merchants."

Again silence reigns, broken only by six sets of boots on dirt, as well as the distant animal calls all around. Finally, though, I hear Alicia speak again. "Where are you from, Ramza?"

"I... Gallione," he replies, discomfort audible in his voice.

"What part of Gallione?"

"All over," he sighs. "A little of everywhere."

I shake my head silently at his non-answer. If he doesn't want to talk about his past or his family, he can just say so.

Time again passes without anyone speaking; I am setting a brisk pace along the road, and if people have spare breath enough for conversation, we're not going fast enough. Eventually, however, boots grind against dirt close behind me and I sense Ramza's approach.

"Uh, Agrias..." he begins, uncertain how to address me. "You're imperial, right? St. Konoe?"

"I am," I confirm.

"Where are you from?" he continues.

I spare him a sidelong glance, but he's just looking back at me, waiting patiently for me to answer. For some reason that irritates me. "I'm from the capital," I answer finally.

He nods. "You must be a noble," he reasons.

"I am." As much as it disgusts me, one cannot rise to command the bodyguard of a princess without being of noble stock. My family is not powerful or influential, but they do qualify. There are some in St. Konoe who resent that, probably thinking I'm not fit for the position, but I proved my merit in the War. Lavian and Alicia accept that, fortunately. They were there.

Ramza falls silent, apparently thinking. Of what, he does not say.

After a moment, I eye him again. "I thought you'd be Hokuten," I venture, "but you must not be." Are they so undermanned these days that they must send mercenaries instead?

"I... am not Hokuten," he confirms uneasily. "I'm just a mercenary."

He's lying somehow, I know, or at least not telling me everything, but that is his right. "And yet you're a noble," I remark, to see his reaction. His accent, his entire manner, screams nobility.

The sellsword's face goes cold, and I wonder if I've gone too far. Quickly, though, his features soften back to their normal wide-eyed openness. I begin to wonder if that is an act, a mask he dons. If so, he's good at it.

When he doesn't answer I nod to myself, accepting his silence as a response in the positive. A noble, then, but living as a mercenary and answering to Gafgarion, whom the Hokuten sent to me. I frown. Something doesn't add up; something's missing.

Abruptly I smile to myself, wondering why I'm thinking about one sellsword squire so much. Perhaps it's because he's not as transparent as the others, despite his apparent openness; Gafgarion and Rad, on the other hand, are fairly straightforwardly a dark knight and a hired arm, respectively. Ramza is... a mystery, for now. I will find out soon enough what's behind his big hazel eyes; I need to. A bodyguard who protects nobility must watch unusual people, must read them. Though I don't believe Ramza is an assassin, I've been wrong before.

Birds continue to chirp, and he is still walking beside me. I wonder if he thinks the conversation is still going.

His eyes dart to the side, perhaps to catch one of the singing birds. "Have you ever been betrayed?" he asks.

Betrayal? Hmm. If he was a noble on the wrong side of some political fallout, that could explain things. Vaguely I wonder if Ramza is even his real name. "Not personally," I answer, "but the War was a mess. Have you?"

Again coldness passes over his face, this time mixed with helpless pain. "People can do such terrible things," he answers after a moment. I am unsure whether he refers to himself or others.

Shaking his head sadly, Ramza slows and falls back to accompany the other knights. I feel my face wrinkle in bewilderment. First with his origins, and now with betrayal; why does he bring up topics he know will hurt him when the questions are turned back on him? Does he simply not think about it? Or perhaps he asks things he himself wants to answer with some calculated reaction when he gets the chance.

He's dangerous, I decide. Crafty. Either that or he's a total dunce, which seems unlikely if he's been fighting with Gafgarion.

We continue to travel until past dusk. On a good day, we could have reached Dorter before dark, but we didn't leave today until after noon. We will be doing well to reach the trade city tomorrow morning, I figure.

Soon even muted twilight fades to darkness, leaving only ghostly moonlight filtering through the leafy canopy above. I ignore the darkness and keep marching.

"Captain," calls Lavian behind me some time later. "It's... dark out."

"I see," I acknowledge without turning around.

"Shouldn't we stop and camp?"

"Eventually," I admit. "Our friend cannot travel at night with a tired chocobo; this is our chance to make up some ground."

Lavian says nothing, but I can hear Alicia grumbling something. No one else says a word, not even Gafgarion, for which I'm thankful. Perhaps, for once, he finds no fault with what we're doing. Or perhaps it's just that he's more comfortable in darkness.

Some two hours later I call a halt and we move off the road some fifty paces, just enough to make a quick camp. Apart from myself, Gafgarion is the only one betraying no signs of fatigue. I find that humorous, considering that he and I are the oldest present.

"We'll sleep fast and rise early," I announce, simultaneously kicking aside some underbrush to clear a bed for myself. "I'll take first watch. Then Alicia, then Lavian." The other women nod, apparently at ease; I'm thankful for their composure, as roughing it is not something they've done often before.

"No fire," grunts Gafgarion as he sees Rad fumbling through the darkness for fallen branches. "There's no time." The younger man shrugs and starts unbuckling his armor.

I hide a small smile as I gaze off at the moonlit road. Gafgarion, I know, will see to his own men, and I will see to my women. There is enough professional respect between us to leave the other alone in that respect, but that's probably about as far as it goes.

"Ramza," continues the veteran, "you're first watch, then me, and Rad last." It seems he is, indeed, most comfortable in the heart of the night.

Shortly the others are lying in their beds of fallen leaves and needles, using cloaks as blankets, shields as pillows. Luxury enough for any soldier, I reflect. I am looking forward to my own bed, such as it will be, but I doubt I'll be able to sleep and I have other duties for now anyway.

Lavian begins snoring softly behind me. I find a fallen log and sit on it, rummaging through my belt pouches until I find a strip of salted meat. The field fare tastes and feels like leather, but I don't care. It's just fuel for the body.

Some time later leaves whisper behind me and I turn my head, listening to Ramza's approach. A shadowy man-shape, he steps to some five paces away, then hovers there. "May I sit with you?"

"Be my guest," I reply, gesturing to my right. Ramza, I hope you don't want to talk.

The boy -- young man? I wonder how old he is -- sits down a good pace away from me, then plants his chin in his hands and stares into the distance. He says nothing.

I conceal a sigh of relief. If I want to know things about him, I'll ask, but there's no need to be chatty. I'm terrible at small talk, for one thing, and I also don't want to wake the other behind me, or alternately have our voices attract attention in the woods.

In silence I finish my rations, then follow it with a moderate pull from my waterskin. From time to time I glance behind me, but no beasts or intruders have materialized. I trust my ears, but I'm no woodswoman, and caution keeps people alive.

Some time later, perhaps a half hour, I nod a question at my companion. "How do you know this man, this... Delita?" I keep my voice low, controlled.

Ramza stiffens. "I... grew up with him. He was like a brother to me."

Oh? Interesting. "And now he is with the Nanten," I observe quietly. "Why?" I am assuming Delita is from Gallione as well, making the Nanten a somewhat unintuitive career choice for him.

"I don't know," whispers Ramza bitterly. "I thought he was dead, and I didn't see him for a year. I don't know what he's thinking now."

His words and his posture strike me as honest enough, but he is a strange enough man that I will still assume he is acting, at least until proven otherwise. I don't want to lead an assassin straight to the woman I've sworn to protect. "Why did you think he was dead?"

Ramza turns his face away from me. "There was... an explosion. A fire, I mean. He was there with his sister, and she was... I thought he died."

An explosion? A year ago, he says. That tickles my memory, something I heard a while back about the Hokuten fighting the Death Corps. "Fort Zeakden?" I guess wildly.

He says nothing. I again interpret this as a yes.

So. He was there for that battle, or shortly afterwards. The rumors I heard were confused, as most witnesses to the explosion were distant or killed. Either Ramza was with the Hokuten or the Death Corps then, I reason. Or he's totally lying. The pieces have begun to click together, but again he could be leading me on, a professional flim-flam artist plying his trade. If he is an agent, then Gafgarion's presence makes a sort of sense; I will focus on him as the biggest threat and ignore sweet little Ramza who'll slit my charge's throat.

"What happened there?" I press, trying to take the edge off my voice. He doesn't deserve my rudeness if he's legitimate, and if he's not, my gentle tone will make him think I believe he is.

"They..." His voice is warped with pain. "I... don't want to talk about it," he decides hollowly. "That's all in the past. I ran away, and it doesn't matter now."

"But it does matter," I note. "Delita is not dead. He's not only alive; he's got Princess Ovelia in his possession." Wait... they were like brothers? Could they still be working together? I wonder about that. It seems implausible -- if Delita was an assassin with Ramza, for one thing, he'd just have killed Ovelia at the monastery -- but perhaps killing is not their goal. It could be some elaborate plain to gain her -- our -- trust when Ramza "heroically" battles off Delita to save her.

It's farfetched, I'll admit, but I can't discount it.

Ramza sighs heavily, and his shoulders slump. "I saw Delita's sister killed by the Hokuten. Right in front of his eyes. I... think he snapped, then. My brother... I don't want to talk about it."

I frown in thought. It does not escape me that he referred to the Hokuten in third person, as though he was not among them. Was he in the Death Corps, then? If so, and he's here now, he'd be a very dangerous individual. Then again, why would he tell me this if he was? I'm torn; his statements weigh against him as much as for him.

"You were in the Fifty Year War?" he asks. One toe pokes the soil and moss before him.

I nod. "I only saw the last few years, but I was there." Again I glance behind us, but there is nothing but trees and snoring.

"What was it like?"

With another frown I ponder that question. "I... started fighting in Zeltennia, trying to expel Prince Lanard's armies, but there were too few of us. With the heavy taxes, and Ordalia razing farms, there was barely enough food for us, let alone everyone else." I pause for a moment, remembering. "When I accompanied the Queen's guard to sign the treaty, my commander, Lord Valisar, suggested that we should be more worried about the Queen's own subjects than her enemies. There were riots, terrible riots, but fortunately I did not have to bear steel against my own countrymen."

I stop abruptly, snapping my mouth shut. Why am I telling him this much? As I scowl, the answer occurs to me: no one has ever asked before.

You are a sly one, Ramza.

He says nothing, continuing to push the dirt around with his boot. I wonder if I've said too much.

After a time I sigh, making an effort to straighten my posture. "Keep your eyes open," I remind him. "You're on watch."

I see his head jerk up, and his body suggests careful alertness. Sloppy, Ramza. Sloppy. You should have been like that the whole time.

The rest of our watch passes without conversation. Eventually I stand and toe Alicia. She wakes instantly, blinks about for a time, then rolls out from under her cloak. On the other side of the "camp," Ramza pokes Gafgarion with a stick, apparently wisely, as the other man wakes with a violent defense. Something snaps, and part of the stick hisses into the woods.

I shake my head and start removing my armor. Ramza does likewise and finishes first, having less than I do. He seeks his blankets and falls still.

As I am working on the straps of my breastplate, Gafgarion saunters over. "No middle watch for you?" he asks quietly, his tone disappointed. "There is good killing in the dark."

I give him a cold look he probably can't see. "I prefer the daylight." When I die, I want to be able to see the sun.

The dark knight chuckles richly and wanders off, towards the camp's perimeter. Alicia buckles her sword belt on, watching him silently.

When I am done, I hold my scabbarded blade in my left hand, keeping my right on the hilt, and gaze at Ramza's still form. Ovelia's safety is paramount, I remind myself. Assassins must not get near her. If he is one and I fail, I will be unable to face the royal family, not to mention potentially executed. But if I kill him in his sleep and he is innocent -- perhaps even if he is guilty -- I will be unable to face God.

Sighing, I release the sword hilt and lay the weapon next to my makeshift bed. You can live another night, Ramza Ruglia.

Lavian wakes me up at dawn. Hunger gnaws at my belly but I ignore it, as I have done so often in the past. Instead I push away fatigue and don my armor and weapons. I've done this so many times my hands move without thinking.

On short sleep, no one is in the mood for chatting, so we begin traveling again in mere moments. I take point again, letting the others sort themselves out behind me. Rad hangs back with his commander once more, I note, and my knights bunch together, leaving Ramza alone.

I have long legs, and I let them eat up the dirt road in a steady rhythm. When I tire -- and I do; everyone does -- I imagine Ovelia and Delita are around the next bend, over the next hill. What is he doing to her? Is he hurting her? She's completely helpless against a trained knight like him.

My concern sharpens my will. I walk as though Ivalice itself depends on me, and in a way it actually might. I'd run if I thought the others could keep up.

Perhaps an hour into the day we encounter the village Rad spoke of, little more than a collection of shacks and houses around an intersection of roads. A handful of villagers are about, some waving at us or trying to speak, but I respond only with curt nods. We take the east road out of the town and in moments the packed dirt is our only companion again.

I hate walking. I hate walking when our prey is ahead of us and on choco.

Sometime around midmorning, the city of Dorter looms before us, a sprawling collection of buildings hugging the coast. Wispy columns of smoke rise from here and there in the city, the breath of a prosperous place.

My legs burn as we enter the city's periphery, but the discomfort seems small enough compared to the importance of our task. The number of people and animals in the street grows as houses and shops pass, many of the structures built into the sides of hills. Strange scents fill the air, odd spices from cooking food as well as the usual combined odor of dirty humans and chocobos. We draw more than a few eyes from passersby -- Gafgarion is known here, for one thing, and imperial knights are probably an unusual sight -- but no one attempts to stop us.

Abruptly a gleam of golden armor catches my eye from somewhere up ahead, and the hilt of my sword becomes a solid thing in my grasp. My heart pounds in my chest for the split moment it takes to realize that the greying knight in question is not Delita. Damn. Not that I really expected to find him here anyway, I suppose.

I suffer a second surprise, however, when the man ahead glances down at the rest of us. "Ha," he laughs abruptly, though levity does not touch his face. "Speak of the devil. There they are. Get them!" The man turns and strides off into the street crowd.

The assassin he'd been speaking to suddenly gapes in astonishment. "That's Gafgarion!" he exclaims. "Damn! 700 was too cheap!" After throwing his hat to the ground in frustration, he puts fingers to his mouth and whistles.

I sigh as more attackers appear out of the surrounding crowd, which itself begins to disperse as people decide they are needed elsewhere. This is just going to slow us down.

"Ambush?" yawns Gafgarion, appraising the men and women up the hill from us. "Going all out, huh?"

I turn to give him a scowl. "If you don't like it, you can leave!"

He gives me a dark grin. "I usually don't do freebies, but I'll make an exception!"

"You patronizing..." I trail off in disgust, partly because the attackers are advancing, and partly because I don't want Gafgarion angry at me while we are fighting someone else.

The dark knight laughs in scorn and excitement, drawing his blade as he races up the hill. I follow, preparing a protect spell; those archers up there are not an insignificant threat.

As Gafgarion lets loose a Night Sword attack, Ramza startles me with a sudden yell; I watch as he runs right past me, charging straight up the hill, and cuts down a casting wizard with a single strike. Arrows soon start to fall; I finish casting and my spell takes effect, surrounding myself and Lavian with an ethereal barrier.

The battle quickly becomes an explosion of noise and chaos. I ignore everyone but the quick-moving thief in front of me; my companions can take care of themselves. A magical explosion rumbles somewhere nearby, leaving me untouched.

The thief darts forward, feinting under the reach of my sword, and I let him. As I prepare a counterattack, however, something punches into my shoulder, spinning me half-about; the back half of an arrow is now protruding from my flesh.

My enemy attacks in earnest during the moment of distraction, but I catch his knife against my shield, and as he is recovering I sink my sword halfway into his side. With a strangled gasp, the fellow backs away, attempting to hide behind one of his companions long enough to drink a potion or two.

I'm not having any of that. "Life is short! Bury! Steady Sword!" Chunks of crystal air piece themselves together as my attack takes shape; two death cries reach my ears, but I am already turning away to survey the rest of the fight.

To my surprise, it is over. None of my companions are on the ground, though Gafgarion's armor sports several charred spots and Ramza has a pair of arrows sticking out of him. Lavian seems to be limping, but not too badly.

"There's no time to waste," I grunt, snapping off the arrow in my shoulder and letting Alicia pull the head through. Pain lances through my chest, but it's temporary. "We must hurry and rescue the Princess!"

Gafgarion eyes me. "Where are we going? Do you know where they went?"

"There is only one place they could've escaped to," I note. I've been thinking about this; a single Nanten knight holding the Princess against her will would be out of his mind to head anywhere but back to Zeltennia, or at least to Bethla Garrison. Either way, his next stop is the same. "Impregnable fortress... Bethla Garrison."

Ramza twitches in startlement. "Bethla Garrison," he echoes, worriedly.

I meet his gaze and nod. I know what he's thinking; it's quite likely we'll die there. On the other hand, there's a chance we'll live, a chance that we can get Princess Ovelia to safety. Ivalice depends on our courage, and more importantly, our speed.

Calmly I start rooting through a belt pouch, then produce a potion and uncork it. "Heal up," I command. "We won't get there just standing here."