I have a confession to make… I'm a terrible speller. No, I'm serious. If it weren't for the wonders of spellcheck, it would be nearly impossible to read my stuff. My brain likes to add/reverse letters, especially when I'm reading or writing quickly… and if something gets entered incorrectly into my head, I continue to remember and use the incorrect version for months, if not years. I went back over the first couple chapters and fixed some spelling errors I noticed… so, if you see any noticeable mistakes, especially with any Final Fantasy names/terminology or just made-up words (my brain is a strange and frightening place sometimes)… please tell me! I don't have a beta reader and do my own editing, so I often miss that sort of thing.
In another note, I loathe this chapter. I've had it mostly done since last Friday, and have spent most of the intevening time trying to make it not suck. Personally, I'm not sure how well I succeeded.
Disclaimer: Curse you, SquareEnix, and your refusal to give me a controlling share of your stock!
Chapter-specific warnings: Bloodshed, death, language. (…not a surprise, I'm sure…)
A clan's life revolves around the local pub, where the leader of the clan accepts clan missions at his or her discretion. Individual members can also accept solo missions with the approval of the clan leader. Missions are the best, most legitimate way for a clan to earn the money it needs to survive.
To Rise From the Lethe
Second Chapter: Learning the Ropes
"I'm sorry, refresh my memory… what, exactly, does fighting monsters have to do with picking some herbs?" Marche shouted, avoiding the giant ant's slavering pincers by jumping over the creature, landing with one hand on its back and pushing off, ending up behind it to deliver a painful slash to its unprotected backside.
"Why did you think this was a mission request in the first place?" Chareen asked, firing an arrow into the overlarge blue ant's eye. It let out an unearthly shrieking noise before shuddering to a collapse, legs still twitching spasmodically.
"I don't know! I…" Marche flailed verbally, trying to find an answer as his mind went back to the previous day when Montblanc had been trying to introduce him to the workings of clan life...
"Picked up another misfit, Montblanc?" the man behind the counter asked, pouring a glass of water from one of the large barrels behind the counter and sliding it to the moogle.
"Be nice, kupo, and yes, Marche is the newest member of Clan Nutsy. Marche, this is Old Ryan. He's the owner of the Dragon's Claw and the Guildmaster of Cyril. All official mission requests go through him," the moogle explained as he picked up his glass of water and slid a few pieces of gil across the counter to Ryan, who made them disappear to some place behind the counter.
"I see. Now that you lot have a name, you should probably think up an official insignia for your clan, so that you can get some badges made. It'll be a requirement if you take on any more members, so you might as well get it out of the way now," the elderly man reminded him.
"Oh, kupo," Montblanc moaned. "I look forward to that with great relish."
"Um, missions?" Marche asked, trying to bring his mentor back to the point of this outing.
"It's jobs for clans, basically… how we make money. So Ryan's probably the most important person in Cyril… for the clans, anyway, so be respectful, kupo."
"I will, I will…"
"Seems like you really picked up an interesting case this time, Montblanc," Ryan commented. "Most people wouldn't be putting so much effort intareo helping a lad like this... but then again, you are you. After Lunais, he must seem like a breath of fresh air."
"Funny you should mention Lunais, since he said much the same thing when he and Marche were first introduced, kupo." Marche somehow managed not to laugh at the almost comical look of disgust on the elderly man's face. "By the by, Marche happens to be the reason I'm here today… I'd like to post a request."
The man's gray eyebrows disappeared underneath his head wrapping. "A request? Are you sure you really want to, Montblanc? You lot have been tight on money for as long as you've been in Cyril."
"It's important. Clan Nutsy is posting a formal request for anyone with information on Marche's past to come forward. We're posting a reward of five thousand gil."
"Montblanc, that will wipe you out entirely," Ryan protested. "I respect you for what you're trying to do with your clan, but there's a difference between helping people and being an idiot. If I heard right from your conversation then you have amnesia, correct lad?"
"Well, yeah…" Marche muttered.
"Then what's to stop some con artists from feeding you false information and going along their merry way? Be reasonable, Montblanc."
"Of course, we'll have to confirm the information ourselves. You'll get a thirty percent cut of the reward for being mediator. This is also to be a roving request, kupo," Montblanc continued as if he hadn't heard. "It stays up until I personally take it down."
Ryan blinked. "Montblanc, you don't have that kind of money."
"That's why we'll also be entering the clan wars," the little creature said.
"At your clan's current strength? That's suicide, moogle."
"As clan leader, that's for me to decide," Montblanc replied, pulling a brass loop with five leather chords strung with the shiny golden things - gil - out of a leather pouch around his waist and displaying them for the stunned guild master with a supremely unconcerned air. "As you can see, I have the reward money, kupo," Montblanc replied before detaching the leather strands holding the money from his ring, which he then put back into the pouch. "Please send a runner to notify me the moment someone responds to my request."
"Montblanc, I can't let you go so far to help me!" Marche protested. "This is way too much! I just met you yesterday, you don't have to do all this stuff for me!"
"When I formed this clan, kupo, I wanted there to be a place for people who needed help, no matter who they were. And you really, really need help, Marche. This is probably the best-"
"-and most risky… not to mention expensive…" Ryan cut in
"-way to find someone who knows something about your past," Montblanc continued as if Ryan had never interrupted, his attention fixed solely on Marche. "It sure beats wandering around at random and hoping someone recognizes you, right?"
"Montblanc, I…" Marche trailed off, not knowing what to say. Suddenly an idea hit him. "Um, Mr. Guildmaster?"
"Please, just call me Ryan. Everyone does," the old man corrected.
"Well, um… I know this isn't much, but… is there anything up there that I can get with this much money?" Marche asked, holding up the leather coin pouch he'd had since first waking up.
"Marche, that's all the money you..." Montblanc trailed off as Marche gave him a significant look. "Fine, kupo. Guess I'm not in a position to complain, am I?"
"Hmm," Ryan muttered, pulling out a brass ring about as wide as Marche's fully extended hand, from which a lot of leather strings were hanging, some of them as long as the ones Montblanc had just given away to the guild master. Three of the short ones were completely filled with gold coins and knotted at the end to keep them from falling off. "Looks like exactly three hundred gil. Well, there is one mission for that amount," the elderly man replied, smiling as Marche's face lit up. He then turned away for a brief moment to retrieve a scrap of paper from the monstrous area behind the counter that might have been a large wooden board before all the papers swallowed it. "Herb picking for the local pharmacists' guild. Won't net you a lot of cash as they're notoriously greedy gil-grubbers, but since it's only a mission to the Giza Plains, it won't be that bad a mission for seasoning a raw recruit, either." He then turned and shot a glare at Montblanc. "And since you seem so bound and determined on throwing your clan to the wolves, you could use all the experience you can get."
"It's time for us to move up," Montblanc said softly. "We can't stay on the bottom rungs forever, kupo."
"Whatever," Ryan grunted, clearly annoyed. "Are you taking the mission, Montblanc?"
"But of course, kupo."
"Very well," the older man sighed, taking the gil amassed on the counter and returning eight empty pieces of leather rope to their rightful owners. "I can't help but feel that I'm letting you youngsters down somehow, but then I guess doing stupid things is part of being young..."
"I'm just saying that 'easy mission' shouldn't include being almost eaten by rabid monsters!" Marche protested.
"Heh, you think this is rabid? These beasts are merely exhibiting normal aggressive behavior against entities that have invaded their territory… and probably would have ignored us if certain people hadn't decided to antagonize one of them with a throwing knife!" Arthur shouted at the thief currently embroiled in combat with an enraged goblin
"I still say the antlion was looking at me funny!" came the cheeky protest from the cheery young man. Marche was certain that Lunais was actually having fun. Marche couldn't understand that. How was the threat of being skewered, beaten, or otherwise mutilated fun?
"Are you a human or an adolescent bangaa? You do remember that the judges only appear to arbitrate disputes between clans, yes? This means that you can die when it's just you and your clan fending off a horde of monsters!" Arthur growled as another of the ant-things tried to pounce on him. A word in a language that Marche couldn't understand, spat in much the same manner as a curse, summoned a bright yellow light between the nu mou and his attacker. The monster bounced off, Arthur stumbled backwards, and the shield disappeared. With a few choice words of his own (all learned from Lunais) Marche dashed over to the beleaguered mage, hoping he'd be able to get between the healer and his attacker before it was too late.
"I ressent that comment!" Watoo shouted as he went fist to fist with his own opponent; a creature with brown fur and floppy ears, clothed only in a ragged piece of dark blue cloth belted around its scrawny body. Unsurprisingly, with the advantage of chain mail and a pair of steel knuckles, the bangaa had a commanding advantage. While the monk remained mostly uninjured as of yet, one of the creature's arms hung uselessly at its side, and it was warily worrying a loosened tooth with its tongue from an unsuccessful attempt to take a bite out of Watoo's midsection. "I have much more common ssensse than that foolissh thief!"
"Note that I said 'adolescent' bangaa. I would believe that that excludes you, my friend," Arthur replied, giving Marche a nod of thanks as he fell back behind the much more athletically inclined young man. "And speaking of adolescents… Montblanc! A bit of magical support would be appreciated!"
Suddenly a rather large fireball decimated a fairly large section of the field, crispifying both the antlion that Marche had been fighting and the goblin that had been giving Lunais so much trouble. It might have cooked Marche to a rather unpleasant extra-crispy as well if some buried instinct hadn't forced him to jump backwards at the last possible second. Thankfully for all of them the fire flared out almost the instant it ignited, leaving only a large circle of blackened plant life and a few smoldering monster carcasses.
"Learned a new spell…kupo…" the little moogle gasped, leaning heavily on his staff as his wings and antenna drooped in exhaustion. "…'s called 'Fira'. What'd….you think…?"
"I think you should give us some warning before you set the field on fire," Chareen observed, dusting some nonexistent grit off of the leather top and skirt she'd changed into before they left town. "And that maybe you should think a bit before you cast spells like that. What is it that we were looking for, again?"
"Just some muscmaloi… kupo. It grows everywhere around here… I used to collect it all the time… when I still lived in Baguba... It shouldn't be any problem… to find as much as we need… kupo."
"After you take a bit of a rest," Arthur insisted, holding a hand on the exhausted moogle's shoulder to stop him from moving. Montblanc slipped into slumber almost immediately, a half-formed protest trailing off as his head nodded and his staff slipped from numbed fingers. With a put-upon sigh, Arthur lowered their exhausted leader to the ground and assumed charge in his stead. "Now, everyone who was injured in that last fight, come over for healing. Also, if you did anything to your clothes let me know so I can do something about them when we get back to Cyril. Chareen, if you're not hurt put those tracking skills you're so proud of to use and find us some of those herbs. Also see if you can find a place to refill our water skins… we're going to have to go through the damn desert on our way back to Cyril. Marche and Lunais, you can help Watoo keep a lookout for…" the nu mou trailed off and grimaced, as if suddenly remembering something unpleasant. "Actually, why don't you help Chareen? It'll be easier to keep you out of trouble that way."
"I don't see why I should have to listen to-"
"Unless you need healing?" Arthur interrupted, giving his staff a surprisingly competent twirl that Marche found slightly intimidating.
"I'm alright, I think…" Marche muttered.
"I'm also good," Lunais conceded, throwing an arm around Marche's neck. "C'mon, kid, let's go do some gardening!"
"Ugh-hey!" Marche protested as he was dragged off. "Let go of me!"
"Not just yet. I want to talk, see?"
"Okay, I get it! Let me go and I'll do whatever you want!" Marche cried. Lunais dropped him instantly, a huge grin blossoming across his face.
"So, you'll spar with me every day? Awesome!"
"Um… are you sure that's what you want? I mean, I'm not very good. I don't really know what I'm doing half the time…"
"Marche," Lunais said, all traces of joking leaving his voice, "I know you don't remember much, but you are good. You clearly had training sometime in the past. Probably not the Military Academy… you're too unorthodox… but you were definitely taught somewhere. Besides, I want to learn how to do that flip-thing you just used! That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen!"
"If you say so… but I'm not really sure I can do that move again. It just… kinda happened."
"No big deal, I'll just have to… push you a little," Lunais replied, the same smile he'd been wearing the first time they met reappearing on his face.
"Um, suddenly I have a bad feeling about this…"
"Don't worry, nothing bad's going to happen… that's what we have Arthur for!"
"Why would we need a healer if we're just going to practice? I mean… hey, wait up Lunais! No ducking out on my question!"
"How's our fearless leader?" Chareen asked as they trudged ever closer to their home, Cyril. The stretch of desert between them and their destination was much easier to cross at night, according to Arthur. It was certainly cooler than the first time they'd been through the area, so Marche couldn't find anything to complain about. Not that he would have even if he did. After everything Montblanc had done for him, it would have been rude to complain.
"Sstill out cold," Watoo confirmed, shifting the unconscious moogle on his back to make him easier to carry. "I don't know how he expectss uss to ssurvive the clan warss like thiss… sspeaking of which, do we even know how he managed to do thiss to himsself?"
"I heard him… the fool cut the spell," Arthur grumbled. "Which would have been fine if he'd been casting something he already knew, but…"
"Uh… 'cut the spell'?" Marche asked, utterly confused.
"He left off part of the incantation. Basically, it allowed him to pour more power into the spell. If it's a spell you're familiar with you use your mind to channel the extra energy and increase accuracy, but since Montblanc hasn't mastered Fira yet at the normal power level…" Chareen trailed off with a wince.
"Ouch," Marche winced.
"Ouch doesn't begin to sum it up, he could have killed us all…"
"Lay off Montblanc, he got us all out of a tight spot out there. And as for the clan wars… I think it was time we entered," Lunais grumbled. "I mean, we've been a clan for six months, and what good has staying out done us, huh? Besides, it's not like everyone in the wars is super powerful. There are plenty of smaller clans like us trying to get themselves noticed."
"I know that… I jusst have a disslike for anything that reliess sso heavily on luck…" the bangaa growled.
"Um… I know you guys are probably getting sick of me asking all these questions, but… what are the clan wars?"
"Essentially, the wars are the common name for the struggle amongst the numerous clans for prestige, money, and control of the various territories of Ivalice. For example, the area we are currently passing through, as well as most of Cyril and the area to the south and west…"
"Hold it!" shouted an unfamiliar voice as a scruffy-looking man in a dirt-colored cape materialized from behind a sand dune. The pin that fastened it, a canine-looking face with teeth bared on a field of dark blue, glinted in the light of the quarter moon. "Looks like you've got a lot of loot there, kids. You know the rules: Borzoi takes a cut of all the supplies a caravan brings in to and out of Cyril."
"…is controlled by Clan Borzoi," Arthur finished in a growl. "Not now, of all times…"
"Are you blind? We sure as hell aren't a caravan," Lunais spat. "And there's nothing in the bags but medicinal herbs. Common ones too. We don't have anything worth stealing, so get lost, grunt."
From somewhere in the gloom, two arrows thudded into the sandy ground on either side of Lunais's right foot. He didn't so much as flinch. "Your archers can't aim for all the gil in Bervenia Palace," he sneered while the others stared at him like he'd lost his mind. If he'd ever had one in the first place.
"Lunais, lay off. Montblanc's exhausted and we don't know how many there are," Chareen hissed under her breath.
"What makes you think they'll leave us alone even if we do back off? We're flat broke, in case you've forgotten, but do you think the Bozos are going to care? They'll just keep coming until they get something worth selling. Our weapons would probably fetch a nice chunk of change after they've beaten us within an inch of our lives and stripped our prone bodies," the thief growled.
"Are they allowed to do that?" Marche asked, his grip tightening on his short sword. He still wasn't sure he was comfortable with the idea of fighting for a living, but that didn't mean that he was ready to give up on one of his few links to his past, either. That, and from what little he knew so far wandering around without a weapon was akin to asking for trouble. Giving up his sword would be giving up any chance of leaving Cyril for answers about his past, and he wasn't willing to put all his hopes in one basket. Not yet, anyway.
"The judges make sure we don't violate the combat laws. Other than that, pretty much anything goes, although killing downed opponents after an engagement is over is generally frowned upon," Chareen explained. Marche hoped she was joking, but something about her tone and the way the visible Borzoi clan member was sizing them up made him doubt that.
"Do you want an engagement, brat? We'd be happy to have it out with you. Just don't expect the revival field to be able to fix everything when we're done."
"Fine. You think we're scared? Do you know what people say about you behind your backs? 'It was out with the Phoenix and in with the Bozos.' Everyone knows that you never could have gotten as much territory as you did if you hadn't jumped when the judges said 'frog' and handed them Bela Raidiuju. Tell me, can you lot get your grubby hands on anything you don't take from people too scared to fight you or that the palace hasn't handed you on a silver platter?"
"I… you… I'll have your tongue, you lying little bastard!" the enemy shouted just before he vanished behind the sand dune he'd been hiding behind in the first place.
"You hate us, don't you Lunais? This is why you keep doing stupid things, right?" Arthur groaned as the judge appeared. Marche wondered if it was the same judge, or if they merely all dressed exactly the same.
"Clan Borzoi, lead by Raol has challenged Clan Nutsy, lead by Montblanc, to an engagement. Today's law forbids the use of archer abilities during battle. You may now commence." Suddenly the night seemed to be considerably brighter, probably because of the revival field. Marche breathed a silent prayer of thanks that they wouldn't be fighting in near-darkness.
"Exodus," Chareen snapped, slipping a few pellets back into the pouch hanging from her belt.
"Perk up, Chareen, we actually lucked out for a change! Sseeing ass they have at leasst two enemy archerss, thiss really hurtss them more than uss," Watoo pointed out while trying to shake Montblanc awake.
"I can't complain about having my effectiveness as a fighter cut in half?" the viera grumbled.
"It's better to thank Ultima for small miracles that come our way," Arthur grunted. "Instead of complaining, why don't you see if you can keep the archers occupied while Lunais sneaks over to try and take them out?"
"Easier said than done," Chareen sighed, probably thinking back to the display they'd been given just a few moments ago. "But hey, I'll give it a go. I just don't know how long I'll be able to keep at it."
"Do what you can. Marche, since you have the best armor of the lot of us, I'd like you to try and catch up to their leader. However, if you encounter any other resistance you must fall back immediately. You're a decent fighter and I know you still have those potions I gave you earlier but I'm not sure you're up to taking on multiple opponents at once."
"I got it," Marche replied, drawing his weapon and freeing up his shield. He wasn't all that interested in trying to fight two or three people by himself either.
"Should you need to fall back, Watoo and I will be waiting at this location for Montblanc to regain consciousness. If you can lure them back here we can ambush them, especially if Montblanc has already been revived. Once those tasks have been completed, we will regroup at this spot and then do a systematic search for all remaining opposition. Any questions?"
"Yeah, who died and made you boss?" Lunais snapped.
"If only I could arrange for it to be you," Arthur muttered under his breath. "Do you have any ideas that don't involve us all getting skewered or losing our cargo, or would you rather idle here until the Borzoi come to remder this debate moot? Might I mention how dire our financial status will become if we can't get this to the pub by tomorrow afternoon?" the nu mou asked in a voice that actually carried.
"Fine, off I go to skin me some archers," Lunais grunted. "Keep them from turning me into a pincushion, sugar-ears," he added in a much sweeter tone to Chareen, snatching her free hand and kissing it briefly before spinning off into the gloom.
"That shameless flatterer," Chareen murmured, but her cheeks seemed a bit darker than Marche remembered as she pulled an arrow out of her half-spent quiver. Gathering up his courage, Marche set off after the man in the cloak at an easy lope.
For all his bragging about pulling out Lunais's tongue, the enemy leader was surprisingly elusive. Only flashes of that dark cloak from behind a sand dune or a scrubby, dried out desert bush let him know that he was still on the right track. It was really rather annoying, actually, and despite his better intentions he felt himself losing his temper. By the time Marche caught up to his opponent the pale shimmer that indicated the border of the revival field was clearly visible and fireballs had begun erupting behind them, briefly painting the night red-orange before they smoldered down to embers. Marche crossed his fingers and hoped that that meant that Montblanc had revived from his previous spell-induced coma instead of there being an enemy mage.
"Well, well, well, the little boy comes all by his lonesome to feed the hungry blade of Raol Quickfingers."
Marche suppressed another flash of annoyance at the arrogance his opponent was oozing before trying to channel a bit of Lunais by asking, "What are you doing all the way at the edge of the field? If you're looking for Lunais he's over that way sticking sharp pointy objects in your archer friends."
"I can deal with that brat another day," Raol replied with a dismissive wave, completely different from the way he had exploded over the same sort of insult before. "I'm more interested in you right now. You're the one Nutsy posted the request about, right? Yes boy," the man continued, his brown eyes crinkling in unwholesome glee, "We already knew who you were when that thief started to run off his mouth. Your leader Montblanc has… a bit of a reputation. Moreso in Baguba than out here in the sticks, but it's impossible to outrun the reach of Clan Borzoi forever. And imagine our surprise when he posted a request for information about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy named Marche?"
"Do you know something about me?" Marche asked, the tip of his short sword wavering and lowering slightly.
"Only this one thing… that you will soon join your people in Hell!" the man shouted, drawing a sword twice the length of Mache's and lunging forward. Marche managed to deflect the thrust with his shield – barely – and deliver a shallow cut to the man's overextended arm. Raol flinched, but still managed to keep a grip on his sword.
"You can't kill me as long as we're in the field, so why throw out empty threats?" Marche asked coolly, resisting the urge to shake out his partially numbed shield arm. Raol might be sloppy but deflecting the full force of the man's attack had hurt.
"Who says they're empty?" Raol sneered, darting forward again with his sword raised over his head for a powerful downward strike. Despite the fact that his opponent was clearly telegraphing all of his attacks, Marche still didn't have enough time to get out of the way. Instinctively, his shield arm snapped up to intercept the blow, but the sheer force of the attack threw Marche backwards, sending him to the sandy dirt with enough force to knock the breath out of him. The downed soldier blinked, trying to regain his equilibrium and figure out why the sky right above him was shimmering like that…
The edge of the field! Marche realized, rolling to his feet and jumping the side just as a swathe of air ripped through his previous position. The edge of the blast still clipped his left leg, sending blood flying and spinning him in a half-circle, depositing him in the dirt once again. Only this time his nose was practically rubbing up against the edge of the magical barrier that was the only thing separating him from the difference between temporary injuries and a sticky death.
"Nowhere to run now, cheeky little brat," Raol informed him, an eerie smile creeping across his face as he raised his sword. Panicking, Marche dropped his sword, his hands twitching in a half-forgotten pattern before he slammed his left hand down and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Ninjutsu: Earth Veil!"
The earth seemed to roil for a moment before the sandy ground rose up like a wave heading at his target. The man tried to jump out of the way, but was temporarily buried beneath the dirt with a panicked scream. Marche sat there staring slack-jawed at the mound of grit that had replaced his opponent for a moment before he went into his own emergency pouch to try and find a potion to fix his leg. There was no way he was going to be able to keep fighting with a lamed leg, and something told him that whatever it was he'd just done wasn't nearly enough to stop his opponent. Fingers closing around the glass surface of a bottle, Marche wrenched it out of his pack, not even bothering to check the color of the liquid before he upended it over his injured leg. Red goop drenched his calf, and Marche could feel rather than see flesh knitting together as the pain disipated. The breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding burst from his lungs as he sighed in relief.
"Cheap little son of a bitch!" Raol screamed, bursting from the dirt like some sort of vengeful monster just as Marche had finished treating his leg. "You're just like the rest of your cowardly clan, you little monster!"
"I don't know what it was I did to make you hate me so much, but leave the rest of Clan Nutsy out of this!" Marche shouted. Charging seemed like a good idea at that moment. Not only would it take him away from the edge of the field and certain death, but it might provide an opportunity to land a hit on the man who'd just insulted the only people who'd shown him any kindness since waking up in this strange world. Raol met his charge blade for blade, the force of the man's parry forcing Marche backwards. Having expected this, Marche allowed himself to be thrown to the side by the full force of the parry, which left Raol's body wide open. Ducking underneath the outstretched arm, Marche managed to bury his short sword halfway up the length in Raol's side before the fighter forcibly ejected him from attack range with a scream of pain and a well-placed kick.
"What makes you think I'm talking about the rest of those fools, you miserable little piece of trash?" Raol snarled, clapping a hand to his bleeding side. "A worthless rabble of a clan like that… you think they actually matter?"
"What are you rambling about?" Marche growled, charging forward with his sword arm held across his body. Okay you overconfident prick, let's see if you're as bad at reading attacks as you are about telegraphing them. Mistaking the ready stance as a simple horizontal chop, his opponent ducked to the left with a wide smirk that changed to a look of surprise as Marche followed him, spinning on one foot like a top. Unfortunately his strike missed his enemy's neck, and the deep cut he landed across his surprised enemy's chest didn't stop the man from stabbing him in the back when his attack's momentum left him open. Marche screamed in pain and used his short sword to force the man to back off, only to scream again when the weapon tore out of the wound as the other fighter sprang back to get some distance. The blade had caught him almost in the right shoulder, and he could tell from the sudden burning pain that his lung had been punctured. With that and the loss of his shield arm this fight wasn't going to last much longer, not unless he could get an opening to use another potion.
"Now who's cheap?" Marche gasped as he tried to figure out what to do next. His right hand dangled uselessly at his side, the bronze shield feeling like a boulder strapped to his arm. His left hand currently held his weapon. If he sheathed his sword to go for a potion Raol would kill him and drag him out of the revival field. Marche wasn't sure he'd be healed if he left the battle prematurely, but even if he was the nearly black blade in Raol's hand was sure to make the point moot. If he didn't heal himself he would bleed to death, with the same results.
This would be an excellent time for Montblanc to show up with a conveniently timed explosion. Or for Arthur and his healing spells to save the day. Or for any of the others to lend some support. But they weren't coming, he was by himself this time.
"Heh… you're not bad, kid, I'll give you that," the man wheezed as blood dripped down his clothing, turning brown cloth to a rusty red. Maybe his last attack hadn't been as suicidal as he'd first thought. Now, if he could just get Raol off-balance somehow, maybe he could…"Of course, considering who your parents were, that's not surprising."
"You actually know who I am…!" Marche gasped, the hints and cryptic comments the man had been throwing out throughout their conversation suddenly coming together and forming an actual conclusion. Half-baked surprise attacks quickly slipped out of his head.
"What, surprised? One look at your face and it's glaringly obvious," the other man grunted, dropping his sword and trying to use his cape to staunch his bleeding. Unfortunately, Marche was too stunned by his revelation to take advantage of the glaring opening. "Well, to people who are in the know, anyway. I'm not surprised your bumpkin friends didn't notice anything. Tell you what, Marche, come with me to Borzoi headquarters and I'll tell you everything you want to know. Borzoi has connections that Montblanc and his band of infantile troublemakers could never dream of possessing even if they had a hundred years to try. It would be child's play to find someone to heal your amnesia. It would be even easier to track down your family."
"I think the offer would have been more tempting if you had left off the parts where you were trying to kill me," Marche growled, springing at his injured and unarmed opponent. Unfortunately he was already in midair before he noticed the smirk on Raol's face, and then suddenly the air became like an invisible fist, throwing him backward and up…
"Marche, can you hear me?" a female voice asked.
"Ow," Marche replied. His skull hurt almost as bad as it had when he'd first woken up to an empty memory in an alley that seemed like forever ago and far away.
"Okay, good. Ready to try opening your eyes?" the voice asked again. Since she'd asked so nicely, he did so. A viera with brilliantly violet hair swept up in a braided bun was smiling down at him, surrounded by a simple room with the same sand-colored stone walls that most of Cyril had. Like so many of the rooms in Cyril the single window was little more than a horizontal slit placed about three inches from the ceiling. Most of the light in the room came from the single candle sitting on the small table next to his bed, although judging from the complete lack of light filtering in through the window it was probably still nighttime. Or night again. How long had he been out, anyway?
"You look like Chareen," he muttered.
"I am Chareen, silly," the viera replied, rolling her eyes.
"Then what happened to your hair?" he asked, hoping his voice didn't actually sound as stupid as he was hearing it.
"Oh, this? I got bored waiting for you to wake up, so I dyed it a different color." Her head turned off to the right. "Oi, Arthur! Marche's awake!"
"It's about time," the nu mou muttered, sweeping into the room and leaving a familiar leather uniform splattered with something rusty brown on the table next to the door. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I got dropped on my head," the boy moaned. And then the pieces of information labeled Chareen's uniform and bloodstains and mortal peril clicked, and the last couple days of wandering and monster fighting and encounters with angry Borzoi clan members came back. "Wait… the last thing I remember was that Raol guy hitting me with some sort of invisible fist thing. Did we win the fight? Is everyone alright?"
"Well, I don't think you'd have woken up to such a nice reception if we'd lost…" Chareen trailed off as she and Arthur exchanged a Look. "Is that really the last thing you remember? You didn't see anyone besides the guy we sent you after? Or a flash of golden fire?"
"No, it was just me and him, and before you ask he was definitely the guy who knocked me out. I remember him making some sort of thrusting motion with his bare hand, and then I was flying in the opposite direction. What was that, anyway?"
"It sounds like the Air Render technique," Arthur sighed, moving over to Marche's bedside.
"And nothing like our mysterious flash," Chareen added.
"Indeed. Now, could you look at me for a moment?" Marche complied. "Hmm, childish though this question might sound... how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Three," Marche replied with a partially-contained snort.
"Correct, the nu mou snapped, not amused in the slightest. "Now... I suppose I should be glad Lunais isn't here... follow the tip of my staff with your eyes… excellent, although in the future I could do without the snickering. You don't seem to have a concussion, so…" the tip of Arthur's staff glowed a soft white and Marche's headache melted away. "…there. That should be all for now."
"Wait a second. Why were you guys asking all those questions before?" Marche asked as Arthur and Chareen moved towards the door.
"About ten minutes after the engagement began, we saw a flash of reddish-golden fire, about thirty feet high. Naturally, once our eyes re-adjusted to the night we regrouped and went to investigate. The Borzoi were much closer to the position and beat us there. We feared the worst for you, since we knew you'd gone in that direction alone, but… about five minutes after the Borzoi scattered, they retreated and the field went down. When we found you, you were out cold in the middle of a bunch of half-melted sand and… someone had cut off your opponent's head after charring him to a barely recognizable crisp. The revival field can't fix injuries like that," Chareen sighed, "so he's dead. And the Borzoi are probably going to think that we did it."
"What?" Marche gasped. "Who could possibly have… wait, you guys didn't think that I…"
"As Chareen said, you were found unconscious. When you were recovered there was moderate burn damage to your clothing, indicating that you were also hit by the technique. Furthermore, the bloodstains on your clothes indicate that you were probably too badly injured before the revival field went down to have enough physical strength remaining to behead a full-grown man with the weapon you favor. As such, it is unlikely that you were the one who killed our opponent," Arthur informed him.
"Translation: Arthur thinks you're too nice to be capable of something like that," Chareen added with a smirk.
"Hmph. Well, if you are quite done with mocking me, I believe I have a fair amount of work to attend to, and thus will take my leave. I strongly advise that you get all the rest you can, Marche. Remaining unconscious after the end of an engagement… it's rather unusual. It would be best for you and the clan to be certain that you are fully recovered."
"Do you think whoever killed that guy did something to me to?" Marche asked.
"…it's unlikely. I believe if that were the case, you would be among the deceased yourself." With that cheerful thought, Arthur gathered up the clothing he had been mending and left.
"…thanks," Marche muttered, resisting the urge to gather the blankets closer around himself. "By the way, you wouldn't happen to know what other sorts of injuries make it impossible for you to be revived, would you Chareen? I was under the impression that it was impossible to die in an engagement."
"Nothing's impossible, although it is pretty darn hard to be killed during an engagement," the viera replied. "Beheading, as you already know, is one of the few things that can permanently kill you. Same goes with having your skull crushed, although other parts of your body can heal fine from that. Severed limbs don't heal either, not unless you re-attach them before the field goes down. I think there are a couple of spells that can kill you permanently, but I don't know any of those, you'd have to ask Arthur. Oh, and if you get killed while you're petrified, that's it."
"Petrified?" Marche asked yet again, a part of him wondering when he'd finally have no more questions.
"Oh, that means you get turned to stone. Revival field fixes that once the engagement's over, but only that. So if you get broken to bitsy bits while you're a statue and get turned back, you come back as bitsy bits. Same goes with any injuries you had before you were turned to stone… they're still there when you get changed back."
"Pleasant," Marche grumbled.
"You already knew this wasn't a safe line of work," Chareen reminded him.
"There's a difference between knowing something and knowing something," Marche grumbled. It was too late to back out now though, not after Montblanc had put down all that money to help him get information. He had to stay in Clan Nutsy until he found some way to pay the selfless little moogle back, at the very least.
Unfortunately, the thought of that mission request brought something else back to the forefront of Marche's mind. "Damn it, now I'm never going to find out about…"
"Find out about what?" Chareen asked when Marche trailed off.
"Well… that guy I was fighting, the one who died? He said some stuff that made it sound like he knew who I actually was… although now that I think back on it, he didn't give any details." He looked up at Chareen, grabbing one of her wrists so she wouldn't try and shy off. "Do you think he actually knew something about who I am, Chareen?"
"Marche…" the viera murmured, gathering him up into a gentle hug. Every muscle in Marche's body tensed up, leaving him completely rigid for a moment before he relaxed. Chareen was just trying to comfort him, right? Her tone had been completely different from when she was talking to Lunais, right? "…the Borzoi are ruthless. That man probably just saw Montblanc's request in the pub and decided to use that information against you in the fight. He probably didn't know anything."
"I don't know… he seemed pretty intent on killing me," Marche muttered.
"Marche, we were in an engagement. That is the point, to hurt the other side so badly that they can't fight back," Chareen reminded him.
"No, I mean that he was really trying to kill me. I spent most of that fight trying to avoid being knocked out of the revival field," Marche protested, finally managing to extract himself from the viera's embrace. She flashed a grin at his discomfort before becoming serious again.
"Well, once you leave the field you're out of the engagement, that's true, but your injuries get healed up right away if you leave. You can't return to the engagement once you leave, but that doesn't really affect the rest of the clan unless you knock the clan leader out of the field, if he or she's on the mission. Then your clan automatically loses. Unless maybe they were trying to force a forefit by removing us all from combat?" Chareen wondered, but she sounded confused even to Marche… which made it a bit difficult to agree with her.
"No, I'm pretty sure he meant to kill me. He practically said as much himself."
"Hmm… there's still a good chance that he was just trying to psych you out," the viera muttered, holding up a hand to silence Marche before he interrupted her, "but, since you seem so certain about this… I'll talk to Lunais and we'll look into it ourselves. So don't mention this to the others in the meantime, okay?"
"Why would we keep a secret like this?" Marche asked.
"Well, those other three don't have a sneaky bone in their bodies, so I'd rather not get them involved. If this was just something personal that that Raol guy had against you, then it went into the grave with him." At Marche's dark look Chareen added, "He was attacking you, remember? Even if he wasn't trying to kill you, that's not the sort of thing an ally does. He wouldn't have given you any information anyway. And besides, he was a Borzoi… which would make him completely unreliable even without everything else."
"Chareen? Is something wrong, Chareen?" Marche queried hesitantly. He'd never heard Chareen talk about something with so much venom, not even when Arthur said something really cutting.
"It's… nothing, really. Anyway, until we find out if there's anything to this try and keep it to yourself. Watoo and Arthur are good people, but Watoo has a tenancy to act before he thinks and Arthur's… well, a bit inflexible. I'd let Montblanc know, but he'd just tell the others without thinking about the consequences."
"Which would be?" Marche prompted, not really sure he was getting Chareen's reasoning.
"…we'll talk about it in the morning, Marche. The last couple of days have been a trial for you; you definitely need some sleep," the viera replied with a note of finality in her tone that the boy couldn't argue with. She filed out of the little bedroom, taking the only candle with her. Alone in the dark with nothing else to do, Marche rolled over on his side and let sleep take him.
Q: What the heck happened at the end of that fight?
A: …why, whatever do you think? (evil smile)
AN: Montblanc as Clan Leader
Before you gut me with those nice, shiny pitchforks, please take a tiny breather to think for a second. Would YOU want some random kid your boss picked up off the streets that has no memory of anything about how the world works to take over running your organization? It makes no logical sense for Marche to become the clan leader at this point. Besides, I always thought it was unrealistic for the shy kid that Marche was painted as in the beginning of FFTA to suddenly step up and take on a leadership position. People's personalities don't magically change, they grow over time. My version of Montblanc is a bit too impulsive to remain leader for very long and he will eventually abdicate his position to Marche… but it will be a major conflict when it does happen. Some versions of my notes have some of the core members of Clan Nutsy leaving in response to the debacle. So, for any anti-Montblanc readers out there, please just sit back and wait for the impending explosion.
AN(2): Chareen's interaction with Marche in the last section
THIS WILL NOT BE A MARCHE/OC STORY! I loathe Mary Sues or any other non-cannon character fawning over a main character unless the story is written very well, and as such, if my original characters hook up with anyone, it will be with each other. Marche falls quite firmly into the 'lost puppy' category in Chareen's mind, and in case you couldn't tell, Marche finds her to be rather intimidating. Not good couple material, IMO.
AN(3): 'cutting spells'
Arthur's talking about a skill called Turbo MP in the game, which white mages learn from the White Robe. He didn't realize that Montblanc couldn't learn that skill… yeah, poor moogle just botched the spell. ;)
AN(4): Random fact
According to the online dictionary I use, a borzoi is actually a type of dog that was once used in Russia to hunt wolves.