Amaranth
by Sora G. Silverwind

Summary: More than four centuries after the Rise, the land of Weyard is thriving, but its peoples are on the verge of chaos. Guided by the words of the Wise One, a young woman from Neo Valeriam must prevent a tragedy that could throw two kingdoms into war.

Rating: PG-13/T for violence and language, particularly from Ramesh and Minayo. Tsk, tsk.

Author's notes: I can has conteest entree yey? For GSR's fanfic contest, in which contenders were to write a fic set sometime in Weyard with a primary cast of either original characters or super-minor NPCs. This was supposed to be just a long-ass one-shot, but in order to get something into the contest on time, I broke it up into chapters. XD I have no sense of scale.

Premise of this fic taken from the fifth chapter of my GS fic What Remains of the Day, although I've changed a fair number of details from the original.

Disclaimer: You bet your space pirate booty that Meli and company (excepting the Wise One) belong to me. The world of Weyard is Camelot's creation, though I've managed to mangle that a little here too.

Also, the title has nothing to do with the fic whatsoever. I was too lame to think of anything better, so I swiped it from the awesome Nightwish song of the same name.

Special thanks to: Cookies, Odessa Chen, Within Temptation, and – as always – Mountain Dew. Also, the Golden Sun soundtrack, how I love thee.

O-O-O

"The gods have not revealed all things to people from the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better."

- Xenophanes, Frag. 18

O-O-O

It's only the fact that she tends to be fully awake by the end of nightmorn that keeps Meli from shrieking her lungs out at the sight that meets her when she throws open the shutters to let fresh air into her small, humble room at the boarding house of Kradinos Academy for Alchemical Achievement.

Suspended in the air outside of her sixth-story window, translucently lit by a mystical aura, is a large serpent armored in scales of the deepest blue. It – she isn't sure of the gender – inclines its head to fix her with a three-eyed stare of fire, gold, and water tones, brighter than jewels.

Meli merely stares open-mouthed at the otherworldly creature. Though the air is already saturated with the trademark humidity of Soltime, she shivers in her cotton nightgown and hugs herself. Even for her, it's far too early in the day to deal with this sort of surprise. After all, she hasn't even gone through her daily devotions! Surely the gods could spare a little mercy on a humble devotee and allow her to pay proper homage to them before dumping a cart of divine mischief on her!

Do you know who I am, Lady Melisande de l'Umbrano?

The serpent hasn't twitched a muscle, but Meli hears the voice clear in her head: a smooth, androgynous tone that conjures the image of a palm gently skimming the surface of still water. It does nothing to settle her worst fears about the current situation. "I don't," she answers as respectfully as she can manage, bowing her head and folding her hands in deference.

Might you have an idea about the answer?

A deceptively open-ended question. She'd read many a tale of mortals who had answered wrongly to a question posed by a deity or spirit and had earned themselves quite the punishment for it. Meli has no particular fear of snakes, but she also has no illusions about the Psynergetic power emanating from the beast in front of her. Well, she thinks, may the gods at least say that her answers were honest and forthright, and that she had been faithful in her observance of services and meditations. "You're a snake," she says. "Are you Coatlicue, or someone associated with her?"

Some legends say that I am.

"Are those legends true?"

The mightiest legends and myths spring from a single grain of truth.

Meli swallows. Does the serpent expect her to answer her own question? She thinks over the possible consequences, rifling through her mental library of various mythologies for help. If she answers affirmatively, it might demonstrate the depth of her faith in the divine and possibly earn her favor with this being. On the other hand, it could be a double-edged question. There are any number of legends about any given thing in Weyard, and she doesn't exactly know what other legends this being might correspond with. By associating him wrongly, she might offend him...and there lay the way to the end.

The serpent, however, seems to sense her anxiety and takes mercy on her.You may have heard of me as the Wise One.

"What?" Meli is taken completely by surprise, and her head pops up. "But...but I've read the stories, heard things from Grandmother! When you appeared to Isaac and Garet, you were a floating rock with one eye!" She claps a hand over her mouth in sudden horror. "N-not to accuse you of lying, it's j-just that..."

There is no need to apologize. The Wise One "smiles" in Meli's mind; it manifests as a vaguely sensual ripple of warmth in Meli's body. Perception of the whole in the mortal realm is limited. Believe me or not when I say that I have had many names and many forms over Time. This is not the form I would have asked for, had I even a choice in the matter. But it is the last vestige of my ego, a reminder to myself and to others about the prices I paid for this role as a result of my choices.

Meli is completely lost. She shakes her head slowly, causing dark purple strands of hair to slip out from behind her large ears. "I'm sorry...I don't quite understand you."

Ah, well.It is not something you need to understand. The Wise One coils himself, bringing his head down to her eye-level while also maintaining a comfortable distance from the window. Nevertheless, Meli flinches back a little. Perhaps if we fix this world, you – or anybody else – will never have a need to.

"Fix this world...?"

There was a reason my predecessor had alchemy sealed and tried to keep it as such. Alchemy is a great power that can, and has been, misused.

A sour taste stings the back of Meli's tongue as she recalls a frustrating memory. "I've seen some of the students in the lower academy practice their arts on those from the Mud Quarters."

Yet alchemy is the lifeblood of the land, he continues. Understand that if alchemy had not been released, Weyard would have crumbled to the point that the Apojii Islands would not have existed long enough to export those slippers of yours to Valerian shops.

Meli's eyes, dark like red wine, glance briefly down at her dainty feet, outfitted in the aforementioned sandals – a gift from a hopeful suitor. "But according to the master cartographers, Weyard has grown since then. The land itself, that is."

If only the same could be said about mortal minds. It is glossed in a veneer of prosperity and the growth of states, but Weyard stands poised to enter a worldwide war that would wipe out countless lives within half a century.

A childhood nightmare rears its head in Meli's heart. She banishes it with the surety of a maid sweeping away a rat. "With all accorded respect, Wise One, is the situation truly that bad? Not just in Neo Valeriam, but elsewhere? There's so much I don't know about what lies outside the city, and the academy can only teach so much..."

Weyard has been without the full reserve of alchemy for so long that its inhabitants have forgotten that nearly anyone can become Adepts if they work at it. There are those in Xian, Prox, Lemuria, and other places who have managed to independently re-discover some of the most dangerous of the alchemical arts, and would use them without proper instructions or full knowledge of the cost. The Wise One lifts himself up enough to glance southwest of the boarding house. Certain...rules prevent me from divulging all that I know, but I have reason to believe that a young man you know from the Mud Quarters may use a particularly potent Jupiter spell to assassinate your Princess Thea.

Meli blinks unbelievingly. "Ramesh? I knew he had been able to acquire translations of ancient Anemosian texts and was reading through them, but..." She starts nervously twirling a lock of her long hair around her finger as she works through the uncomfortable implications. "If he kills the princess using something from those books, King Hadrian will almost certainly pin the blame on a native Contigan, and the tensions between Neo Valeriam and Contigo will positively explode." Her finger stops in mid-twirl; strands of hair snag on the jagged edges of a well-bitten fingernail. "How powerful are those arts, truly? Could they get him past the defenses of the castle, bypass both the Psynergetic shields and the alchemistrial devices? Princess Thea is well-guarded at all times as well, and rumored to be a formidable Adept in her own right."

He is not so reckless as to try and infiltrate Solzea Castle. He has been biding his time, studying the princess' daily schedule; he will make his move when she is most vulnerable.

"But surely that's suicide!"

Ramesh is frustrated with the lack of any visible progress on affecting positive change in the Mud Quarters through legitimate means. His personal studies have fired his mind to rashness and violent dreams of revolution.

Meli thinks of Ramesh Flernir, her half-guide and half-friend in the Mud Quarters. True, he's stolen often enough, and delivered swift justice to those who would dare lay a finger on his loved ones, and his mind and mouth are fouler than three ditches of effluvia. But a murderer-turned-revolutionary-martyr? Meli doesn't (want to) think he could be so desperate and angry to do such a thing. And the princess is hardly a deserving victim, either. If Meli had to choose a corpse, it would be the king's. But King Hadrian is too difficult a target for normal folk; he sequesters himself in Solzea day in and day out. Princess Thea freely walks the city, and while she has a distinct tendency to ignore the existence of the Mud Quarters, she is otherwise is far more committed to the wellness of the Valerians than her father, and as such is favored by them. Dressing in simpler clothes than her station would suggest, she is a fairly common sight conversing with people in Deo Auris, a district not far from Kradinos Academy. There have been a number of official edicts that have generally improved Neo Valeriam's living conditions which owe their existence to the princess' articulate pleas. Her seeming death at enemy hands would doubtlessly incite the passions of the Valerians.

You need to speak with Ramesh soon, the Wise One says. Stop him however you must. Convince him to give up his plans.

She frowns. "Ramesh likes me, but not that much," she insists. "He has a deep-seated distrust of the highborn. He likes to jest that I am her Highness' secret spy, but I don't believe he means it entirely in jest."

Perhaps that is to your advantage. If you play that role when you next speak to him, and tell him what you know...

"With all accorded respect, I'll be lucky if he doesn't kill me before I finish my first sentence. My defensive Psynergy is well and good, but I've seen what Ramesh can do with standard spells. I don't have much faith in my ability to defend against him."

A different approach, then – tell him that you have caught wind of what he means to do, and insist that you wish to help him with his plans. Once he lays out the details, you can hinder him.

"I can't do that!" Meli gasps. "That would be lying!" She lowers her voice. "Besides, if I were to do that – and I won't! – I wouldn't be able to bluff my way through it."

Thankfully, the Wise One doesn't seem disappointed or frustrated with her, only thoughtful...and perhaps a little amused, oddly enough. Preventing Princess Thea's death is of utmost importance, he says. Might there be someone else you know who may be able to confront Ramesh directly?

"Minayo is in the personal employ of the princess as her bodyguard and spy," Meli says after a pause. "I don't know her or the princess personally, but I think I know of a way to warn the both of them. Minayo would be able to deal with Ramesh much better than I, and such a task is what she is there for anyway."

So be it. Work quickly, ensure that the princess lives, and we shall go from there.

A question suddenly strikes Meli, one that – if she asks – may earn her a dose of divine smiting. Nevertheless, she drops to her knees and asks it. "Forgive me my doubts, Wise One," she begins. "But how do I know that I can trust you? That you're truly the Wise One of legend, or at the very least someone who has an honest foresight?"

Did you not pray half a season ago for wisdom to descend upon you, in order that you may prevent more tragedies like the deaths in Garetius Square?

Meli's eyes go wide. "Y-you...heard me...?" she stutters.

We hear quite a lot in the divine realm, but it is rare that anyone or anything outside of mortal existence directly intervenes in mortal affairs of their own choosing. The last time it happened was right before all the lighthouses were re-lit. In other circumstances, I would let your princess die, but when you are outside of Time, you see the ripples more clearly. It is very possible that the war resulting from a clash between Neo Valeriam, Contigo, and their allies could literally annihilate Weyard in the process. Alchemical knowledge, practice, and technology have progressed to the point that all of civilization on Weyard – as well as the land itself – could be wiped out if people do not start taking responsibility.

Meli makes herself meet the gaze of the Wise One, trying to ascertain his intentions. She normally prides herself on gauging such a thing within a certain degree of accuracy, but the third eye in the middle of the serpent's forehead, crimson like blood and slightly larger than the other two eyes, is unnerving. She decides to put her trust in him; her parents didn't raise her to be an ingrate, especially not to the gods and spirits. "Do you know when Ramesh is planning to act?"

...within this week. Not today or the day after, however, for he is still working out the details of his plans.

She inhales sharply, wondering why the Wise One can't simply tell her the specific details for a preventing a tragedy that may herald Weyard's last days. As it stands now, she has to fumble in the dark with only the barest of flickering flames to illuminate the way with the Final Hourglass hanging above her head, sand rushing to its doom at thrice the normal speed. Still, Meli functions well enough under pressure. Even in her confusion she has sketched out the beginnings of a plan in her mind, resolving to do what she can at the moment. She has a job; she will do it. "If that is so, then I will get word to the princess about this as quick as possible so that she can act accordingly," she declares.

Do not rest after you have communicated with the princess and her guard. You, too, shall have an important role in this. That is why I am speaking to you now.

Ironically, there is a feeling of unease that accompanies the pride warming Meli's heart at the honor of being noticed by the divine. "With all accorded respect, I can't possibly see how, but...thank you for your blessings, and your aid."

The Wise One bows his head and closes his eyes. I do not deserve thanks for serving out my punishment, he says before he fades into shimmery dust.

In a daze, Meli ambles back to her bed and sits down, soaking in the full light of morning. A soft wind blows in, ruffling her hair and bringing with it the cacophany of life stirring below: the clack of horse hoofs on cobblestone as they pull merchant wagons of supplies to Solzea and to Valerian shops; the gossip passed between venders in the market, unintelligible from this distance but sure to be heard clearly enough by midday from other Kradinos students; the melody of the songbirds outside the window that Meli keeps on forgetting to look up in the library; the chatter of her housemates in the hallway. All is as it should be...

...which is why Meli is more than a little confused. Unless something had gotten lost in the dusts of history, this is the first appearance of that legendary sage to appear in at least four centuries! Shouldn't there have been more...well...evidence of his presence? After all, when he had last appeared, everyone had dropped to their knees at the sight of him. Grandmother had spoken of a golden veil that had enveloped the village of Vale, bringing new life into everyone and everything. The Wise One, she had said, spoke with a voice that shook the trees and yet was, in the Valeans' minds, quiet as a whisper. Admittedly, she had also been speaking from thirdhand experience. And from personal study of various myths and history in general, Meli knows that details frequently get lost, mangled, or made up even in firsthand accounts of happenings.

And those aren't really important details in situations like these, she insists to herself, bringing her knees underneath her and settling her palms in a relaxed pose on her thighs. She begins to breathe softly and deliberately, as taught for meditation. Remember what happened when Hatui ignored Nereid's pleas for help simply because she had used a butterfly to reach him. Experiences with the divine transcend rationality. The thought briefly occurs to her that she may have been hallucinating the entire experience. It's not entirely the voice of paranoia speaking: when she had nightmares as a child, she'd often wake up and still see the twisted specters of her visions right in front of her, as though they had been there all along and not just in her mindscape. The problem with this postulate in the current situation is that Meli didn't have a dream the night before.

But Meli had known from the moment that she had first seen the Wise One that she'd been graced with a powerful, divine presence, bearing words that must be heeded if the world were to be saved from its sure path to destruction. This is not just her truth, as is the case with most things relating to spiritual experiences: this is the truth.

She just wonders if anyone else will think so.