(A/N: I do so love FFIX. I love the atmosphere of the game, the nostalgia and I love all the minor characters you get to meet and the way their little stories play out. So I wrote this story: a fairytale, and what better character to star in a fairytale than a fairy? Or, to be more precise, a moogle. I absolutely love Stiltzkin too, the way he seems to follow you around and all the letters you deliver between the moogles.
So this story is a homage to the minor characters. It is almost entirely populated by obscure characters that only fans of FFIX with good memories and a fondness for the game are likely to recognise. I hope to convey something of the lovely atmosphere of Lindblum. And I hope that you enjoy reading too. Reviews are very much appreciated!
Once upon a time there lived a moogle called Stiltzkin. Like all moogles, he had pink fur, tiny bat like wings and a red pompom which waved in time with his nose. Twitch, twitch. But unlike most moogles, he also carried a very heavy backpack, which he took with him everywhere. For Stiltzkin was a Travelling Moogle. And being a very wise and experienced Travelling Moogle, Stiltzkin knew that he should always carry a generous supply of Kupo nuts, his favourite food; scrolls and quills so he could write to all his friends and record his adventures; spare change to pay his way; and finally, a goodly number of pocket handkerchiefs.
Stiltzkin lived in the beautiful kingdom of Alexandria. All of the other moogles agreed that it was a very fine place to dwell; the locals were friendly, the streets were clean, and Alexandria Castle stood strong and proud like a mighty guardian, casting its benevolent gaze over the rest of the city. Sparkling water surrounded the castle and a sparkling crystal rose up from it like a church spire. It was said that at noon on Midsummer's Day the sun was in just the right position for its rays to catch the crystal in all its brilliance, and on that day, for a whole hour, the light reflecting from the crystal and the lake shone upon the entire city and all its inhabitants would halt their labour to marvel at Alexandria's glory.
"Unless of course that day happened to be cloudy," said Stiltzkin.
"Oh… you're right, kupo." Kupo looked a little downcast.
Stiltzkin chuckled. "Don't worry. I'll be back in time for Midsummer's Day."
"You'll write to me, won't you, kupo?"
"Sure." Stiltzkin hoisted up his bag. It really was very heavy this time. He had promised to write to so many of his friends; he hoped the Mognet service was working again.
"Thank you, kupo! You're a wonderful friend, kupo."
"It's no big deal," said Stiltzkin. "You know I don't need much excuse to travel."
Above them, the bell began to chime.
"I'd better get going!" said Stiltzkin.
"Have a safe journey! Good luck, kupo!" Kupo waved frantically, his pompom bobbing up and down.
"See ya, kiddo." The bell's chimes faded away, and peace was restored in the clock tower again. A pair of doves began to coo. Stiltzkin left the base of the tower and came out into the open air. He breathed in happily. The sky was blue, a fresh breeze blew new and enticing scents from across the plains, and he was faced with the warm, familiar sight of the white stones of Alexandria. An old man fishing at the end of a bridge tipped his hat as Stiltzkin walked past.
"Mornin'. Off again?"
"Yeah." He smiled. Such a bright, beautiful day as this was perfect for another Big Adventure. And this time, Stiltzkin had a particular task – a favour to carry out. Inside his backpack was a Very Important Letter, sealed with red wax and tied with a white ribbon.
But it was a long way to Lindblum and Stiltzkin didn't mind doing some sightseeing along the way, as long as he didn't get delayed too much. He wanted to see the city again, since it had nearly all been rebuilt after the war, and that meant new places to explore and things to see his experienced moogle-eyes hadn't yet observed in his trips around the world. Alexandria was warm and familiar: these patterns in the pavement, that cat mewing at him from its perch on a crumbling wall, those flowers hanging from a basket of an old woman's house.
But as he strolled along the winding streets, he decided to take a short cut through a shadowy alley and something different caught his eye. A young lady with a painted white face flounced up to a nearby barrel, brandishing an old-looking hammer in her hand.
"Cinna, touch my special stage props agin an' I'll give you such a good thumpin' wi' that hammer o' yours, you'll never drink agin!"
The barrel quivered. A plaintive voice emitted from it.
"Ah, no, Ruby, you can't touch my hammer!"
"Oh, carn't I?" Ruby said dangerously.
"No!" A head emerged from the inside of the barrel. Cinna's eyes popped when he saw Ruby charging towards him. He yelped, but he was too slow. Ruby whacked him with the hammer. Doink!
"That'll serve you right. Now git yourself outta that barrel and back in the theatre! You've got a lotta cleaning up to do afore I let you run off back to Lindblum."
"All right, all right!" Cinna pulled himself out of the barrel and promptly fell on his face. Ruby tossed him the hammer, which he snatched up, and then she glared at him with her hands on her hips. Cinna looked at her face, gulped, and ran away into the theatre.
As for Stiltzkin, an idea occurred to him. He knew that shady characters often frequented this alley, but Ruby, despite her fierce attitude, was a softie at heart. He approached her and tugged at her skirt. Ruby jumped, but as she looked down, her face melted into a big smile.
"Hello, darlin'! Whut can I do fer you?"
"Are your friends going to Lindblum?"
"Yup, jus' like them. They come back to perform fer Zidane and Princess Garnet's weddin', after I've seen nary a sight o' them fer nigh on six months, an' then they troop in here as if they own the place, but the next mornin' comes an' bless me if they don't wanna run off an' leave me agin! 'Course, Baku asked me if I wanted to come back to Lindblum this time, but I've carved out my own li'l niche here, so I turned 'em down. Still, it was nice to see the boys agin, but bus'ness is goin' jus' fine an' dandy without 'em." Ruby bent down and studied Stiltzkin appraisingly. "Say, you're a cute li'l critter. I've been thinkin' 'bout puttin' on a performance of 'Moogle Wannabe 2'. There's a part perfect fer you!"
"No, thanks," said Stiltzkin quickly. "I'm on my way to Lindblum too. Could I catch a ride with you guys?"
"Sure you can! The boys won't mind a li'l company." Ruby turned to the dark entrance of the mini-theatre and shouted, "Blank!" She waited for a second, tapping her toes. Then: "BLANK!"
A few seconds later, Blank strolled out of the theatre. Now, Blank, like most of the members of Tantalus, was a thief. He wore an eye patch and had thick chestnut hair and quick, nimble fingers. He slung an arm around Ruby and affected a disarming smile.
"How's my Ruby doin'? You want somethin'?"
Ruby shrugged him off. "I ain't your Ruby. My li'l pal here wants a ride to Lindblum on your airship. Gonna take him?"
Blank looked at Stiltzkin. Stiltzkin looked at Blank. Moogles, as you may know, are fairies, and widely known as good and helpful creatures. So Blank's face stretched in a wide grin and he reached out and flicked Stiltzkin's pompom affectionately.
Stiltzkin dipped his head away. "Lay off the pompom, buster."
Blank grinned. "A moogle with attitude, huh? I like that. Yeah, you can come along."
Blank tilted his head, as if considering. "You don't happen to have gil to pay with, do ya?"
Stiltzkin's paws went to his satchel, where he kept his stash of gil, but Ruby frowned and kicked Blank in the shins.
"Whutever happened to hospitality, you money-grubbin' thief! This cute li'l moogle ain't done nuthin' to you. An' it won't cost you nuthin' to let him on your ship neither!"
"I was jokin'," said Blank hastily. "Honest…"
Ruby turned back to Stiltzkin. "Whut's yer name, li'l fella?"
Blank held out his hand and shook Stiltzkin's paw. "Well, it's great to meet you. We're settin' off as soon as Cinna's done mopping the floor. Welcome aboard!"
A minute later, Cinna and another member of Tantalus emerged from the mini-theatre. Cinna was wringing his hands, looking rather mournful. The bandit next to him grinned and slapped his back.
"Ready?" Blank asked.
"Yep, we're all done here," the bandit answered. "The boss'll be waitin'."
Ruby drew out a white, flower-patterned handkerchief which fluttered in the air as she waved it.
"Have a great time, darlin's."
The members of Tantalus grunted their goodbyes and set off towards the main square of Alexandria. Stiltzkin trotted after them. A sense of excitement was building up within him once again. He loved the feeling of freedom that came with travelling; the notion that he could go wherever he wanted, wherever his feet led him and the path took him.
The bandit noticed Stiltzkin had joined their party. Beneath his bandana, a frown appeared. He jerked his hand towards Stiltzkin. Blank chuckled.
"It's all right, Marcus, Stiltzkin here is comin' along for the ride. We've got ourselves a resident moogle!"
Marcus grinned and clapped hands with Blank. Cinna's face split into a grin too. A spontaneous cheer broke out, which made one of the noblewomen examining a flower stall turn around and 'humph' at them. They were happy because, as everyone knows, moogles bring good luck to an airship, or indeed, any vessel. Fewer airships crash with a moogle aboard, and even those that do always have a happy rate of survivors.
"I won't be onboard for long," Stiltzkin cautioned them. "As soon as we get to Lindblum, I'm jumping ship."
"Don't fancy being a flying moogle, huh?" Marcus asked.
"I'm a Travelling Moogle," said Stiltzkin proudly. And he could tell by the bandits' impressed expressions that they could hear the capital letters in that title.
The bandits' airship was almost new; it had an engine which ran without Mist. Stiltzkin was so fascinated by this that he spent most of the journey in the engine room, feeling his fur dampen with the heat of the boilers and the steam curling lazily through the air. He used several pocket handkerchiefs and wrote a letter to Kupo about the exciting new machinery. The airship was fast too; very soon, they left the mountains of Alexandria behind and flew over the high green fields of the largest city in the world. And that was how Stiltzkin came to Lindblum.
His first thought after the airship docked and he found his way to the station was to go and visit Moodon. Moodon, a cheerful moogle, lived in an inn in the Business District. Stiltzkin didn't know his way around the city of Lindblum very well – and even less so after it had been rebuilt, so he was sure his friend could point him in the right direction. He toddled out from the station into the Business District and immediately a little girl streaked past. The whoosh of air combined with his unbalanced paws descending the steps caused Stiltzkin to trip over. He landed on the pavement in an ungainly heap. Rolls of parchment flew out from his backpack. Stiltzkin adjusted the striped cap he wore to shield himself from the rain and sat up. His pompom crumpled in dismay as the wind caught the Very Important Letter and tossed it into the air.
Stiltzkin hastily gathered the other scraps of parchment, just managing to snatch one before a passer-by trod on it. The streets were so busy. He looked around for the Letter – there it was, twirling in the sky. He jumped up, but the wind was feeling particularly capricious today, and the Letter danced out of his reach. Higher and higher it flew… Stiltzkin watched in dismay as it finally tumbled out of sight. The red roofs of Lindblum were inaccessible to him.
He thought, now what am I gonna do? Somehow, he had to find that letter. He had made a promise, after all. Perhaps there was some way to reach the roofs of the Business District. Moodon might know.
The inn was right across the street, just as he remembered. Stiltzkin dodged past a couple of arguing red mages and through the door. The inside of the inn was just as he remembered too. The wooden floor gleamed with polish, bright sunshine beamed through the windows and the statue of the Bobo bird stood solemn and majestic. The innkeeper smiled to see the red pompom bobbing past. Moogles were always welcome in such public places; they were often willing to deliver mail or leave a good luck charm if they were treated well. Of course, Stiltzkin, being a wise and experienced Travelling Moogle, was not your typical moogle at all. But he was amiable enough and so admired that almost every moogle in the world knew his name.
So it was with Moodon. When Stiltzkin shuffled into one of the rooms, his expression glum, Moodon leapt up and squealed in joy.
"Yeah, it's me. How're you doing, Moodon? Long time no see."
"I'm very well, thank you, kupo," said Moodon. His bat wings were still beating in excitement. He twitched his nose and hugged Stiltzkin enthusiastically.
"Careful," said Stiltzkin. "I'm carrying some important stuff here. At least, I was," he amended.
Stiltzkin explained the situation. Moodon looked concerned.
"That's too bad, kupo."
"I'm not giving up, though," said Stiltzkin. "If I can get through the destruction of an entire world, I can find one measly letter."
Moodon looked at him in admiration. "I'm sure you will," he said. "Good luck, kupo."
Now, Moodon was not a particularly active moogle. He was secure and comfortable living at the inn, and indeed, the whole idea of Adventure and Travelling, though very interesting for him to read about in Stiltzkin's letters, simply wasn't in his nature. So Stiltzkin did not expect him to come out and help, though he valued his friend for his good nature and as a source of useful information. When he was tired or lost, he could always come back to the inn and count on Moodon to make him a drink and chat.
Having learned from Moodon that the highest place in the Business District was the clock tower where a card player lived, Stiltzkin smiled and took his leave. He went out into the hustle and bustle of the city again. And what hustle and bustle it was! In the market place, vendors shouted out the merits of their wares, while shoppers browsed here and there, or strolled along, getting in each other's way. Blind old Grandma Pickle still ran a popular business, so that the whole district smelled faintly of gysahl pickles, and the marketplace in particular smelled strongly of them. Children chased each other, holding balloons or screaming in delight. Pigeons flew to and fro, picking at scraps on the ground or cooing at each other from the chimneys.
As Stiltzkin weaved his way in and out of the crowds, it was hard to believe that only a few years ago, this place had been torn apart by Alexandria's attack. Once rebuilt, the city had imbued itself with even more vigour, so that the new flagstones and the repaired buildings and the expanded shops spoke of an even greater, livelier Lindblum. The city was flourishing.
But there was the clock tower, the place he must check out first, before all other delights, for it afforded the best view of the district. The door was shut. Stiltzkin knocked and waited. There was no answer. He knocked again. Still nobody responded. Now if only he could reach up and grab the door handle… but it was too high! Moogles are small, round creatures, with small limbs and small paws, so poor Stiltzkin couldn't reach the fine iron door handle.
Oh, curse this, he thought. Moogles aren't made for high places. He stretched his neck, looking right up the curved stone wall of the tower to the top. A ledge jutted out and sitting upon it was a white dove on her nest. She cooed at Stiltzkin. Her nest was the usual mess of grass and straw and twigs, but peeping out from under the dove's breast, Stiltzkin noticed something flat and pale… and tied with a white silk ribbon.
His neck was starting to hurt from craning it up to the sky. Stiltzkin stepped backwards and before he knew it he blundered straight into a very tall Someone!
"Hey! Watch where you're going!"
"Sorry," said Stiltzkin, checking that his money pouch and backpack were still safely secure. He looked up at the very tall Someone. She was a red mage, her tall hat and ragged clothing obscuring a sharp rat face and beady eyes.
"What were you doing?" the red mage asked suspiciously.
Stiltzkin pointed at the dove nesting in the rafters. "The wind blew away my letter. It's up there now. But I don't know how to get to it…"
She sniffed. "Tough luck, bucko."
"You wanna help me? I'll give you something in return."
That made the red mage pause for thought. She bent down and stared at Stiltzkin. "Beats hanging around here before the Festival, I s'pose," she muttered. "What you got?"
After his travels around the world, Stiltzkin had collected many useful and not-so-useful trinkets. He dug around in his backpack and drew out a ruby. As he held it up, it sparkled in the sunlight. The red mage's paws twitched.
"That's a pretty stone you got. All right, I'll help you." And with that, the red mage's claws grasped the door handle and she barged in.
"Hey, I think someone lives in there," Stiltzkin called, but she ignored him. He heard light footsteps scampering up the stairs. If someone was up there, he was going to get a shock.
Stiltzkin waited outside, squinting against the sunlight. The dove hadn't moved. It cooed contentedly. A couple of minutes later, the window at the top of the clock tower flew open and voices drifted out.
"Hey, wanna play a card game? The card game is deep."
"That supposed to be a chat-up line? Oh, man." The red mage appeared at the window. She jumped on to the window ledge, one paw clutching the frame, and leaned out.
"Hey, it wasn't that bad, was it? Don't throw yourself out!"
"Shut it, dumbass." The red mage teetered on the edge for a moment – and then jumped! For a moment Stiltzkin felt as though he had swallowed his pompom. But the red mage landed gracefully on the sloping tower roof, her claws scraping on the tiles. She made a snatching movement towards the nest. Alarmed, the dove flew off – but the fluttering of her wings caused the Very Important Letter to fall out of the nest too! The red mage grunted and swiped again, but missed; the Letter curled and drifted in the air; at first Stiltzkin thought it was going to come back to the ground and he smiled, but then a gust of wind caught the Letter and sent it flying off again.
Stiltzkin started to run. He couldn't wait for the red mage to catch up with him; instead he shouted a brief thank-you, wiped his brow with a handkerchief and toddled off as fast as he could in the direction of the Letter. He huffed and puffed and his pompom bobbed up and down in time with the furious pattering of his paws. He dashed past a fountain – the Letter was getting lower now, though it was still out of reach… it drifted down like a feather. Stiltzkin stopped just in front of an item shop, in the exact spot he judged the Letter to land. He stretched up his paws…
"Ooh!" said a little girl's voice. "Look!"
And Stiltzkin found himself being shoved unceremoniously out of the way as two children ogled the Letter. A boy jumped up and grabbed it.
"Treasure!" he said.
"Hey!" said Stiltzkin. "That letter's mine – give it back!"
The boy stuck his tongue out at Stiltzkin. "Sorry, fairy – finder's keepers!"
"Losers weepers!" said the girl. "Nyah!" And both of them dashed off, their laughter ringing over the sounds of the marketplace. Stiltzkin tried to follow but quickly lost them amidst the crowds. He stopped next to Grandma Pickle's stall and gasped for breath. Stiltzkin was not an unfit moogle – he had travelled long distances on foot, after all – but travelling meant walking, and at a slow and steady pace too. No moogle was built for sprinting. He clutched a stitch in his stomach and sat down on the sun-warmed pavement. He hadn't realised how troublesome this one delivery was going to be.
"Is someone there?" asked Grandma Pickle, her sightless eyes casting around. She shuffled out from behind her stall, tapping the ground with a stick. Stiltzkin jumped up just before her stick came within thwacking range.
"Yeah, it's me, Stiltzkin."
Her wrinkled face cracked into a smile. "Stiltzkin! I remember you. You sound out of breath… Care for a pickle?"
Stiltzkin wrinkled his nose. "Sorry, I'm in a hurry. Next time, I promise!"
She chuckled. "That's what you said last time. I might be blind, but my memory ain't gone yet. It's all right though. I know moogles prefer Kupo nuts."
Stiltzkin nodded enthusiastically and then remembered she couldn't see him. "Yeah," he said instead. "Anyway, nice to see you!"
Someone poked him in the back. "Oi."
He turned around. The red mage glared at him. "Were you trying to run off on me?"
"I was trying to get the letter."
"Oh." She looked at his stumpy little legs and snorted. "Didn't catch it, huh? Well, am I gonna get my ruby or not?"
"These two kids ran off with it."
"You mean Bunce and Lucella?"
Stiltzkin's heart pitter-patted. "You saw them?"
"Yeah, those rascals ran past me while I was looking for you. Didn't see them carrying a letter though."
"Where did they go?"
"How should I know?"
"Bunce and Lucella?" Grandma Pickle had been listening to the conversation. "I know those two rogues. They're members of Tantalus. Their hideout is in the Theatre District. I'd bet all my pickles that's where you'll find 'em."
"Thanks!" said Stiltzkin. He glanced back at the red mage. "Are you coming along?"
She folded her arms. "I've had enough, buddy. Just gimme that jewel."
Stiltzkin did so. Her little black eyes lit up as she examined the ruby. "Thanks for your help," he said.
"Maybe I can buy a decent weapon with the gil I get from this," she muttered, not listening. And without further ado, she slipped the ruby into her pouch and stalked off, looking excited for once at the prospect of shopping.
The Theatre District had been Stiltzkin's favourite part of Lindblum the last time he had visited. He was a moogle who appreciated Art and Culture, so naturally the overabundance of dramatists, actors and artists in these parts appealed to him. Even as he emerged from the station, the warbling tune of a street musician floated its way to his ears.
But where was Tantalus' hideout? He would have to ask around, Stiltzkin decided. Nearby, an old man sat on a bench, surrounded by pigeons. As Stiltzkin approached, the pigeons flew off. The old man regarded him blearily.
"Good afternoon," he said. "Bright, sunny day, isn't it?"
"Yeah," said Stiltzkin. "Would you happen to know where Tantalus' hideout is?"
The old man frowned. "I don't know anything about those thieves," he said. "I just come here to feed the pigeons."
Stiltzkin looked around for the source of the music. Behind him, on a grassy clearing nestled between two tall houses, he saw a crowd. The twang of an instrument came from over there, and then the fine baritone voice of a young rat. He finished his song and the crowd cheered. Stiltzkin smiled, but felt it best not to disturb their entertainment. Instead, he noticed an advertisement plastered to the stone wall of a nearby building.
'Studio Fabool: Fine Art at its most Sublime.'
That's interesting, thought Stiltzkin. Maybe I can do some sightseeing and find out where the Tantalus hideout is at the same time! He was very pleased with this idea, so at once he straightened his backpack and headed inside the studio. But looking around, he saw that the place wasn't so much of an exhibition as a working studio. Pieces of paper were pinned all over the walls, most of them half-finished paintings, advertisements for art competitions, notices for local fairs or vague splashes of colour. Paint splotched the stone floor, a permanent rainbow varnish, and the various tools of the artist's trade were scattered around or poked out of open drawers. In the centre of the studio an easel had been set up, and on it was a blank canvas. A young man stood staring at the canvas blankly.
Stiltzkin descended the stairs. "Hey," he said.
The young man noticed him. He sighed and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He held a paintbrush in one hand; the paint on the brush seemed to have migrated its way to the rest of his arm; his sleeve was covered with it. This man was Aspiring Artist Michael, and for several years he had been attempting to break into the elite circle of Actual Artists. Unfortunately, lack of persistence meant that he had never managed to finish any of his paintings in time. For him, the whirls of colour were like a dream and the blank canvas before him grim reality.
"What do you want?" asked Aspiring Artist Michael.
"I'm looking for Tantalus' hideout. Do you know where it is?"
"Tantalus! Those wannabe actors – you know they're all thieves, don't you?"
"Yeah," said Stiltzkin, thinking of the stolen Letter and scowling. Those children were out of line. Even the worst bandits respected moogles, and the members of Tantalus had honour. Well, as much honour as could be expected from a group of criminals. After all, they had let him ride on their airship, and treated him very well.
"Hmm," said Michael, studying him. "Maybe I should use moogles as the theme for my next painting. Yeah, that's it! A symbol of hope and luck in the midst of decadence!"
"Do you know where their hideout is?" Stiltzkin repeated patiently.
Michael grabbed a pot of pink paint and started flourishing his paintbrush. Eyes concentrated on the canvas before him, he answered with his tongue sticking out of his mouth, "Yeah, I know where it is."
"Could you give me directions?"
He glanced at Stiltzkin again and added a few more brushstrokes. Then, in a distracted voice, he told Stiltzkin how to get to the hideout.
"Thanks!" said Stiltzkin, but Michael wasn't really paying attention.
"Hmm," he mused, "where did that old Moogle suit I had go?"
Armed with the directions from Aspiring Artist Michael, Stiltzkin quickly found the hideout. The members of Tantalus lived beneath yet another clock tower. As he approached, the bell chimed out three times. The afternoon was drawing on. He spotted Blank leaning against the wall outside.
Blank spotted him too. He waved. "Hey, Stiltzkin! How's it goin'? How's the big city treatin' ya?"
"I wanted to ask you a favour, buddy," said Stiltzkin.
Blank straightened up. His one visible eye gleamed. "A favour?"
"Are there two kids called Bunce and Lucella in there? Because if so, they've stolen a letter of mine, and I want it back."
"Oh ho, is that so?" Blank chuckled. Then he turned towards the entrance and whistled.
Two children came running out. Stiltzkin recognised them; they were indeed the same young ragamuffins who had stolen his Letter! They looked at Stiltzkin and gulped.
"I hear you got somethin' of Stiltzkin's, Bunce?" said Blank lazily.
Bunce fidgeted. "N-no, we haven't!"
"Don't lie," said Blank. "We may be thieves, but we're honest thieves, ain't that right?"
Lucella looked down at the ground. "It's our treasure," she said. "We found it first!"
"You didn't!" said Stiltzkin. "You shoved me out of the way and grabbed it with your mucky paws!"
"Geez, you're acting like a bunch of kids," said Blank. That made Bunce and Lucella shut up.
"We're not kids," Lucella pouted. "I'm nine years old!"
"And we're members of Tantalus," Bunce added. "Ever since we found that treasure for Zidane."
"I miss Zidane," said Lucella.
"Yeah, we all miss him, kid." Blank crouched down to talk to them. "But as members of Tantalus, you know this rule, right? We don't steal from our friends."
"No, but…" Bunce looked puzzled. "I don't get it."
Blank flicked Stiltzkin's pompom affectionately. Stiltzkin growled and blinked several times, feeling dizzy. Why did people always have to touch his pompom?
"Stiltzkin is a good friend of ours," Blank explained. "So we don't steal from him. Get it?"
"Yeah, I get it!" Lucella cried. "Okay, I'll get your letter, Mr Stiltzkin. Don't worry, we haven't opened it yet!"
She and Bunce ran back into the hideout.
"So, who's the letter for?" Blank asked.
"I don't know them in person," Stiltzkin explained. "I'm delivering it as a favour for a special friend of mine."
"A special friend, huh?" Blank winked. "Know what's in the letter?"
Stiltzkin shook his head. "All I know is that it's addressed to Justin."
At that moment, Bunce and Lucella reappeared. Lucella clutched the Very Important Letter in her hand. She gave it to Stiltzkin. Luckily, it was undamaged. Despite its rough journey, even the beautiful white ribbon was still intact.
"We're sorry to have stolen it from you," said Lucella. "We won't steal from friends again, we promise!"
"That's all right, kiddo. Now all I gotta do is find this Justin guy…"
"Hey, how about we help you?" Blank asked. "To make up for stealing it in the first place, you know."
"Sure!" said Stiltzkin in delight. This city was turning out to be friendlier than he had anticipated.
And so perhaps half an hour later, Stiltzkin found himself in the newly rebuilt Industrial District, flanked by Blank and Marcus, and looking around with interest. There were no signs of ruin or destruction, but it was obvious that the place was new. Fine bricks had replaced the dusty old stones. Modern architecture, with its focus on edges and sharp, hard lines, made a marked contrast to the tumbledown feel of the Theatre District, or the comfortable bustle of the Business District. A new statue of Regent Cid IX had been erected, but it was made of metal rather than stone, and his fine bushy moustache was burnished impressively.
The two bandits strolled along at their ease. Stiltzkin had to scamper to keep up with them, his pompom bobbing up and down and his nose twitching as he huffed and puffed. He had tucked the Letter inside his backpack, as secure as he could make it. The enticing smell of Kupo nuts had wafted up from the bottom of the pack. Stiltzkin promised himself that once this adventure was over, he would treat himself and Moodon to a feast of Kupo nuts and get a good night's sleep at the inn.
Down a couple of winding alleys and past a water wheel… Blank and Marcus stopped so suddenly that Stiltzkin almost ran into them.
"Here we are," said Marcus. "Justin lives here. He's an engineer now, like his father."
"How do you know him?" Stiltzkin asked.
Blank grinned. "He was the leader of the so-called Vigilantes, the most useless resistance group I've had the good fortune of knowing."
"They did manage to ambush some of the Alexandrian soldiers at the harbour," Marcus reminded him.
"Yeah, but it turned out to be pointless anyway because some weird thing from the sea had already scared all the soldiers away."
They started walking away, still in discussion. Stiltzkin toddled forward and knocked on the door. Rap tap tap!
"Come in!" called a muffled voice.
Stiltzkin opened the door – he could reach the handle this time! – and entered the house. The smell of oil struck him immediately. Complex bits of machinery sprawled in odd places all over the living room and models of airships hung from the ceiling. Sitting at the table in the centre was Justin. Large scrolls of what looked like blueprints were spread out in front of him.
He looked at Stiltzkin and raised his eyebrows. "A moogle? What brings you here?"
"I have a letter to deliver to you," said Stiltzkin, feeling relieved at last that he could get rid of this infernal Letter.
"Really?" Justin stood up. He wore blue overalls and had a warm, freckled face.
Stiltzkin handed the letter over. "It's from a friend in Alexandria. She passed it on to Kupo, who passed it on to me. It's been a long journey…"
Justin's eyes widened at the mention of Alexandria. He ripped the letter open at once. The white ribbon floated to the ground, where it lay clean and fresh amongst the junk. Justin's eyes darted rapidly across the parchment. He cleared his throat and started reading.
My dearest Justin,
Until very recently, I thought that you were dead. You do not know how my life shattered when I heard the tragic news! Even though on the outside I wore the strong metal of an Alexandrian soldier, inside I was like broken china, and it took me years to mend the pieces again. I returned to my post in Alexandria and kept my grief locked up inside.
But Fortune at last decided to favour me. Not a week hence, I happened upon a moogle by the name of Kupo. He had recently received a letter from a friend of his in Lindblum. I asked him how the subjects of Lindblum were getting along, for I knew they were rebuilding their lives as I had rebuilt mine. And, of course, my thoughts turned to you. At the mention of your name, Kupo jumped in recognition. He had heard tales of your exploits, how you had hidden yourself in the castle and met Regent Cid himself. And sorrowfully, I told him that he had not heard the full news, that you had gone missing in the aftermath of the war – killed by my fellow countrymen!
But Kupo shook his head – his friend had told him that you were alive and well, so he said. And knowing that moogles are truthful creatures, for the first time I allowed myself a flicker of hope. Love began to stir in my bosom again.
And so, believing that there is a chance you may yet be alive, I write this letter to you. I wonder why you have not sought me out. Have you forgotten me? I have not forgotten you.
I know we have been parted for so long and yet my heart aches for you. Now our two countries are at peace, we have no reason to fight. I know you love Lindblum, as I love Alexandria, but our love transcends the boundary between kingdoms. Do you still feel that bond? I write this letter to you in hope that this is so.
Now I have only one last favour to ask. Will you come back to me? Even if it's only to say goodbye. The last time we parted, there was a rift between us. I would not have it end so. Please come. Peace reigns now and there is nothing to stop our love blossoming as it did before.
Still waiting for you, your precious soldier,
Justin finished reading out the letter. His hands shook. Stiltzkin wiped a tear away from his eye. In all his travels, he had seen many different kinds of love. He had seen couples separated and couples united. Love brought out the strongest emotions in people.
"I thought she'd forgotten about me," said Justin in a hoarse voice.
"You read the letter, kiddo. Doesn't sound like she forgot."
"No… you're right… I have to go to her!"
"You're leaving for Alexandria right now?"
"Yeah," he said. "At once! I can't let my love wait any longer!"
"That's great," said Stiltzkin. "And while you're going that way, could you deliver this letter to Kupo for me?"
"Oh, of course!" said Justin, taking the letter. "Anything to show my appreciation of what you've done for me."
Justin moved as though he was in a trance. He picked up random objects and shoved them into a rucksack. He kept going back to the letter, touching the paper, smoothing over its edges and tracing the lines of Nicole's handwriting as if to reassure himself that it was real.
"Good luck, buddy," said Stiltzkin. He sensed that the young man needed some time alone to collect himself. So he unobtrusively left the house and headed back down the streets of the Industrial District.
He took the carriage back to the Business District and joined Moodon again.
"Kupo!" said Moodon. "Did you find the letter, kupo?"
"Yeah, I did." Stiltzkin took out the last of his pocket handkerchiefs and wiped his paws before delving into his rucksack and reappearing with a huge packet of Kupo nuts. Moodon's fur quivered all over.
"KUPOPO! Kupo nuts!"
"Yep," said Stiltzkin, stuffing one into his mouth. "We deserve 'em," he muttered thickly.
And so the two moogles passed the evening by quite amicably and by the time they went to sleep, their bellies were a lot rounder than they had been before. Stiltzkin snuggled comfortably into the blankets provided by the innkeeper. Lindblum was, he decided, a very nice city. But Alexandria would always be home.
One week later…
Stiltzkin trod over the warm flagstones and smiled at the sight of the little girls playing with their skipping rope. Alexandria. And here was a clock tower he'd never get tired of seeing, and Kupo waiting for him, a wide grin stretching his furry face.
"You're back, kupo!"
"I am." Stiltzkin settled himself next to Kupo with the air of one returning to an old and well-worn armchair that fits its owner perfectly.
"I kept all your letters, kupo. But now I want to hear everything first paw, kupo!"
Stiltzkin described the story of how he found the letter, delivered it to Justin, and what it had contained. Kupo's eyes grew bigger and bigger with each new part of the tale. Finally, he let out a sigh of relief.
"That's wonderful, kupo! And now, I have some news for you, kupo!"
"I got a letter from Moodon this morning, kupo! He told me all about your visit and what's been going on in Lindblum. Did you know that the Festival of the Hunt took place soon after you left? They say a red mage won the festival, kupo. And the members of Tantalus are rehearsing a new play, kupo! Ruby sent them a new script for 'Moogle Wannabe 3'. They found a great musician to compose the music and a really talented artist who paints moogles as well! The posters are all over the Theatre District, kupo."
Stiltzkin grinned wryly. "I guess moogles really do bring good fortune."
"And the best thing is," Kupo continued, "that Justin arrived here before you did and now he and Nicole are getting married on Midsummer's Day! Isn't it all wonderful, kupo?"
"Yeah. We brought two people together. That's wonderful. There isn't any more wonderful sight than that."
"Not anywhere, in all your travels, kupo?"
Stiltzkin smiled. He had seen high mountains, great forests, grand castles, sandstorms and all the wonders that human endeavour and nature could create. But all that grandeur faded away when he thought of the people he had encountered. They were what made his travels worthwhile. And so he answered with perfect sincerity.
"No, not anywhere in the whole wide world."