Chapter Seven: Dark Realisation

The plan was obviously that they would both alert him of their presence and then he would realise that he could not handle two enemies at once and panic. No such plan was able to work however, as I jumped onto the back of the unsuspecting Ninja who had been under the impression that I was preoccupied with my fallen comrade. He tried to shrug me off without success and then began chanting to use some form of ninja technique, and so I drew my knife from my belt and slashed gingerly at his wrists while keeping my forearms locked into his throat. Pallanza had noticed the two of us and had obviously understood the Missionaries' plan right away, and had turned his full attention to the Gunner, who no longer looked very sure of himself. The whole enemy Clan appeared to work on the assumption that their opponents would remain dazed and confused throughout the entire engagement, and thus staying in our line of sight had not been their intention. Sorbet had finished with the gritty business of petrifying Villi, and suddenly broke out his mythril rod and fired a single string of thunder in the general direction of the Gunner, who subsequently jumped out of his skin as he received and unexpected "shock".

And yet, without hesitation the Gunner had angled his gun towards Sorbet and fired. The shot, which appeared to be a fire capsule, missed Sorbet's shoulder by millimetres and Sorbet could not help but smile in the knowledge that he had successfully rattled a member of the Jagd Missionaries. I finally started to grow tired of the Ninja's fighting against my grip and tore my knife along the length of his throat in a sudden motion that caused him to convulse involuntarily and loose his balance as he fell to his death on the floor. Pallanza then sheathed his sword over his back and put both hands out in front of him in the same way as he had done when we had first fought days before, and I knew what he was going to do to the Gunner. The Gunner was on a third storey roof when a sudden blast of concentrated win blasted him in the stomach and sent him reeling, and another shot of thunder from Sorbet ensured that he fell from his perch and landed with a sickening crunch on the paved patio of the Pub.

The three of us that had remained standing turned to Villi to help her only to see that the two Malboros were slithering off with her in the opposite direction. The engagement was as good as over, and yet the Malboros had obviously been trained with a specific objective in mind, and Villi appeared to be it. There was no hesitation from any of us; we all ran flat out after the creatures that had less than a minute's head start and made back lost time quickly. Within twenty seconds the three of us were right behind the first of the two (the one that was not carrying our Viera companion), and were all surprised (no, literally blown off of our feet) when it turned around to us and swiped a hideous tentacle that smashed us to the floor in a heartbeat. Unfortunately the lead Malboro had not stopped to investigate and so one Malboro was slithering quietly away from us while the other was making sure that we could not follow.

The creature inhaled deeply in preparation for a release of poisons from its body known quite simply as "bad breath" upon us, when Pallanza jumped up to full height and tore downwards with his blade. It cut cleanly through the Malboro's body and the brilliance of the attack was only dwarfed by two things; the fact that the second Malboro was still fleeing, and the second that the fallen creature had begun to exhale on reflex, and had poisoned the air around it. Pallanza fell to the floor clutching at his airways and suddenly fell over unconscious. At that point a Judge, the Judge that had started our engagement, appeared behind the dead beast and waved a hand at Pallanza's body. Pallanza simply vanished, leaving only a dull red glow that hung for a moment before fading with him. The Judge chuckled before speaking to us like an adult does to foolish children.

"Your Clan leader broke the laws of the engagement, and since the breaking of said law caused injury…" He looked at the heap of what could only be called green sludge and then back at us. "…and death soon after, he has been reprimanded and held in custody." For a moment we thought that the Judge was then going to simply vanish again, but instead he seemed to think carefully again before commenting on Pallanza further.

"Since he is your Clan leader and is being indefinitely held in custody, your Clan is hereby disbanded." And then he flashed away in a dull light while chuckling to himself again at how well the plan had played out for him. Less than a full second later another Judge materialised in the spot where he had stood, and I recognised him instantly as Baku. To say the least, he looked worried.

"A red card was issued, but the offender was not sent to the prison." Sorbet and I looked at each other dimly as Baku stated that which we had already guessed; the Corrupt Judges had captured two members of a Clan that had humiliated them, and had effectively disbanded them. And in truth they had; with only Sorbet and myself we could not have continued Clan activities in any event, but when it was factored in that neither of us was the Clan's official leader there was nothing that we could do. Baku looked equally disturbed and asked quietly for us to fill him in on the situation, and we told him everything we knew. His expression remained unchanged throughout the explanation and he listened in a state of disinterest without a comment to either of us, and it was only when we finished that he shrugged and muttered "I'm so sorry". What threw me was not the fact that he was apologetic, but the fact that he was being so clearly insincere in his tone and in his weak motions to the contrary. For the first time I had to wonder how honest Baku had been with me up to that point; he had been very quick to help us after the incident with the first Corrupt Judge, and even quicker to arrive at the scene of our most recent bout. The unbelievable attempt he made at acting honest only helped to further feed the doubt in my mind that he had suddenly become untrustworthy.

I had to change my thoughts on him almost right away, however. After all, he had supplied us with weapons and armour the likes of which a Clan of our level would not have seen for years, and he had raised our renown over night. But again my trust was shaken when I put to myself the question of why exactly Pallanza had been so quick to deny Baku's offer to us; although that could have been simply because he did not wish to be a part of the Judge's internal affairs, but I was more inclined to think that it was something deeper. One thing was for certain though; I no longer felt that I could trust a word that Baku said until I was able to speak to Pallanza again to clarify my thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, it seemed that I would need to trust him for just long enough to reach that crossroads at which I might have a chance of finding Pallanza, my guide and guardian in the world of Ivalice and a truer friend than I had ever had in the real world. I glanced at Sorbet and saw, unfortunately, that he appeared to have reached the same conclusion, and so we silently agreed to trust Baku for a little longer until such a time as we were reunited with Villi and Pallanza. It was Sorbet who acted first, simply by stepping forwards with his head bowed slightly and speaking gingerly to the Judge who was making no effort to hide the look of uncertainty on his face.

"But, surely you know where they would be taken?" For a moment I thought he had spoken too quickly or that Baku had noticed that his voice was too strong and realised that we planned on using him, however he just looked the Moogle in the eye and nodded resolutely. Had I not been around in the moments prior to that, the look in the Judge's eyes would have made me think instantly that he was an honest man whom I could have trusted with my life. Quite the contrary in fact, I had no doubt that he would lead us into more danger further and further away from anyone that might be able to help us, and there was just as little doubt in my mind that would probably not see our friends again. He told us that we were no longer in a Clan (as it was technically disbanded), and so we had no official protection from the Judges. "But not to worry" he told me; he would defend us however possible and would ensure that no danger would befall us. It hurt me to keep a straight face as I was wrought with the certainty that he would vanish just when he was needed the most in the hope that we would die while he was not looking.

He told us that the Jagd Missionaries would have taken our Clan members back to the nearest Jagd where they could do with them what they wished without the interference of the Judges. What he meant of course, was that he would make no attempts to help us once we passed the threshold into whichever of the Jagds he chose. He told us that the most likely Jagd for them to go to, on account of it being the closest to where our Clanners were apprehended, was Jagd Dorsa. He told us that Jagd Dorsa, as far as Jagds went, was a nice easy-going place where the worst thing that happened was the "odd murder". Unsurprisingly, that did not fill me with much hope as to our survival chances, but since I had to keep up the charade of trusting him, I asked Baku how Jagd Dorsa could be one of the calmer Jagds if murder was a common occurrence. He simply told us in reply that there were things much worse than death; I note now that he struck me there as a particularly cheerful person, and I am sure you gather that there is sarcasm in there somewhere.

And so we made our way (under "guard" by Baku) towards the "calmest" Jagd in existence, and I could tell that Sorbet was quite unsure of himself, and the fact that I noticed it so quickly suggested to me that Baku had also noticed, in which case he probably assumed that all of his Christmases had come at once. I could not really make a point of comforting him in a truthful was for fear of blowing Baku's faith in our trust, and so I told him not to worry because I would make sure that we found our friends and paid the Jagd Missionaries back ten fold for the way they had treated us. If this caused any visible reaction in Baku, I confess I did not notice it. It was a three day trek from the outskirts of Sprohm to the outskirts of Jagd Dorsa, and I must admit again that I was amazed every morning when I awoke without some form of mortal wound inflicted upon me, although I summarised that this was due to the fact that whatever the Corrupt Judges plan was, it had to do with disposing myself and Sorbet somewhere that no questions would ever be asked, and so for that time, we were allowed to live under the pretence of friendship.

I would get up on each of the mornings and see Sorbet calling on low level magic in an effort to pin point his consciousness and calm his nerves, and even watching him do so seemed to have the desired effect for me, so I have always assumed that it worked well for him. Of course, that was the lie that we told Baku; the same as telling him that my reasoning behind sharpening my knife and sword every three or so hours was to do with sorting out my concentration, when in fact I was doing so to keep my weapons nice and sharp ready to stab the unsuspecting Baku with, and Sorbet was working his way up the list of spells steadily for the time he would get to use them. That said, telling Baku that we were doing it to improve our concentration was not a complete lie; it did help with our concentration and it was probably our activities that helped to keep us sharp and alert for the days ahead, which we had no doubts would be long and difficult.

In the afternoon of the third day we reached the boarder leading into Jagd Dorsa and saw why civilians would have been deterred from entering; there was a ghost fence put up that surrounded the whole diameter of the Jagd. A ghost fence is basically several skulls or heads placed on spikes, the other end of which is buried into the ground; normally in a line of three or four to block entrance to a holy (or particularly unholy) place. Amazingly, the inhabitants of Jagd Dorsa had killed so many that they were able to surround the entire once-city with one huge ghost fence, and the fear of the omens that it represented struck Sorbet down with horror so strong that he refused to cross it for any reason. However, I refused to leave him behind, and while Baku simply took it as though I was unwilling to leave him behind with the potential of attackers from the Jagd finding him, the reality was that I was worried that Baku hesitated to attack us directly when we were together, but that perhaps he would not feel the same if it was only Sorbet on his own.

I waited for him to calm down before telling him that I would destroy the ghost fence and bare the brunt of the bad luck that came from doing so, and the horror seemed to fade from his face. On the other hand, Baku seemed to inherit that horror, as I realised later that he had not expected us to be willing to pass the fence; he had thought that we would look for a way around it and that when we found none were would turn around and return home. We did no such thing, and so that evening, I smashed the decomposed skulls that guarded the outskirts of Jagd Dorsa into pieces and became officially "cursed", and we then moved on in.

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I am SO SORRY for letting this go so long without an update. I'm getting back into writing and can't wait to get this story back on the rails. I only hope my readers are still hanging around here somewhere!!