Cuttingmoon57 here, and back with another chapter of The Tainted Grimoire. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy or anything related to it. If I did, FF12 would already be getting a direct PS2 or PS3 sequel. I also don't own any other anime, manga, or game that I take elements or characters from.

Suggestion: Head to Final Fantasy Wikia for information or images of the main cast if you'd like to see pictures of their appearance. They remain virtually unchanged in my story. (Other non-canon characters will be described.)

"Blah" = talking

"Blah"= thoughts, writing, sound effects, or flashbacks

"BLAH"= Yelling

(Blah)= scene change

"Blah"= quote or short poem (cause I thought it would be nice. Poems are in Kubo Tite's blank verse style and are heavily influenced by him).


"Where are we going!?" A captive Maria shouted as she struggled in the Luchorpan's arms. The creature darted between the trees at a breakneck pace, the Moogle Animist sitting on its violet shoulders. "I demand to know where you are taking me!"

"Please just be silent for now, milady…" The Animist responded in a small voice, his eyes focused on her own. The brown haired girl was surprised at his unusually quite tone, not to mention his gaze. He seemed to be…pleading with her. "I promise you everything will be alright. You must trust us on this."

"Who…Who are you?"

The Luchorpan increased its speed and the Moogle ignored her, keeping his eyes from falling down to her form. Thirty seconds of silence passed until they approached a small, grassy clearing, shielded from white moonlight by the branches of the forest canopy above it.

Two figures stood in the middle, one significantly taller than the other. Their dark green cloaks reached down to the earth, brushing the grass with the swaying wind. The nighttime darkness left only a silhouette of what lay under their matching hoods.

The purple goblin landed in an easy crouch in front of the two before lifting up while gently placing Maria on her feet.

"I-I demand to know what is going on here!" The brown haired girl yelled, stomping her foot on the ground. "How dare you try to impede me from my mission. Do you realize what is at stake here if I fail in reaching my destination..."

The two hooded individuals stood unflinching as her voice continued to rise.

"…Who do you think you are!?"

An eerie silence pervaded the area as a calm, almost ghostly wind passed by. The two figures' cloaks rustled and flapped with the breeze. The gust managed to gain enough power to blow the hood off of the taller figure.

His voice was still and small.

"Your brother…"

The girl stared in a mix of shock and disbelief as the hood was lifted. Forest green hair, a lanky but toned body structure, and piercing yellow eyes that seemed to bore into her soul directed their gaze at her.

Maria's breath left her body.

"Sothe….!?"

Oh, how we fear

That which we cannot comprehend

Chapter Fourteen: Night of Subterfuge

"Luso, don't let her get near Auggie and Hurdy!" The samurai called, evading yet another slash from Andie.

Claire bolted past the interlocking of blades between Andie and Ensei, pulling out the heavy Claymore from the scabbard on her back. The only thing that stood between her and the musician that was her objective was a fourteen year old greenhorn.

And if she had to cut him down to reach her target, then she would do it without hesitation.

Orders were absolute.

"Hurdy! Battle Chant me now!" Luso called to the Moogle over his shoulder.

The musician had just barely managed to play the tune in time as Claire delivered a powerful, downward strike at Luso, who parried it horizontally above his head. The brown-haired boy's arm and leg muscles began to grow more defined during their power struggle, presenting him with enough might to force her back with a hefty swing of his Sweep Blade.

A stare down ensued, both combatants focused on the other with weapons raised. A nervous calm crept up between them as each warrior clenched his handle tighter.

Rustling of leaves above the blue-eyed fighter alerted him to the last Falzen member's presence. A single, metal arrow blasted forth from a tree branch, hurtling straight for Hurdy and Auggie's position. Luso bolted into action, jumping back a few feet and bringing his Atmos Blade in front of him. The aerodynamic steel rod bounced of the lightning shaped blade with a ring and hit the grass with a thud.

"Nice save, Luso. I completely forgot about their archer." Ensei remarked inwardly as Andie's flurry of twin daggers kept his sword occupied.

Claire brought her sword around in a sweeping spin, causing Luso to plunge himself to the ground to avoid a death blow. Even in mid-swing, a second arrow rocketed forth from the trees, piercing through leaves in its path and heading straight for a crouched Luso. The fighter performed a dodge roll to the side before skillfully, yet luckily landing on his feet.

"They're starting to coordinate their direct and ranged attacks. Not to mention being on defense creates a huge disadvantage." Auggie noticed. "Be careful, Luso Clemens…"

……………….

"I'm sorry, Ensei, but you're boy is no match for Claire." Andie stated as the two came to a deadlock of blades. "That girl is the epitome of Falzen strength and ideals."

"Is that so?" The Parivir asked mockingly. The commander narrowed her eyes.

"There is no reason for needless bloodshed, Ensei. This is a pointless fight."

Ensei smirked, pushing Andie back a few meters almost effortlessly.

"That's the difference between us, Andie. You need a reason to fight…" His smirk widened into a grin. A pale beam of moonlight gave the Sweep Blade a soft shimmer.

"…I don't."

……………….

"Move out of the way, boy." Claire remarked, twirling her claymore around in her hand as if it was weightless. "I'd rather not have to kill an inexperienced child if not ordered to."

Luso simply fixed his gaze upon hers, eyes full of determination while he breathed heavily. The sound of his hands strengthening their grip on his Atmos Blade seemed to coincide with the sound of the bowstring being pulled back in the trees.

"I repeat, child. Out of the way!" Claire dashed at him from the front, making a stabbing motion at his head with her claymore. The boy fell for her feint as a blocked swing was followed by an uppercut with her free hand. The adolescent brunette stumbled to the side, the Atmos Blade falling a few feet away.

"Hurdy! Professor Auggie!" Luso called out, scrambling to his feet. The blonde Falzen member raised her sword and brought it down with all the power she could muster as she stopped in front of a surprised Moogle and a strangely placid Nu Mou.

Instantly, a barrier-like field covered the Sage and the Bard, causing the Hume's broadsword to bounce off of the protective bubble. The woman swung again, pressing into the barrier with her weight, but to no avail.

"What the….What's going on!?"

"I apologize, child…but I can't allow you to harm this Moogle." Auggie commented smugly, a few elderly coughs finding their way out of his throat. "…and besides…"

The Sage pointed a finger behind her. The blonde female swiveled around, barely making a parry against Luso's Atmos Blade in time.

"…it seems as though you have a previous matter to settle."

Claire pushed against his blade, but found her strength to be insufficient as the boy managed to force her off. Another stare down ensued.

Luso brought his right hand up to his mouth and bit into the blue-hued cloth that covered it up to his elbow. Claire's eyebrows raised as he began to wrap part of the cloth around the Atmos Blade's handle after clenching it firmly in his hand.

"He's tying his hand around the handle? All that will do is limit his sword movement. What could he possibly hope to accomplish?"

"Hurdy…" Luso called out in a low voice, sending a glance over to the pom-pom sporting composer. "….Resonate."

As if instinctively knowing what to do, Hurdy once again placed his flute up to his mouth and began to play a much faster tune than before. A soft, azure glow surrounded both his Aona Flute and the Atmos Blade. Within seconds, the lightning shaped blade began to vibrate rapidly, leaving but a small, blue-tinted yellow blur of the weapon. Claire looked on curiously.

"And what is that supposed to be?" She scoffed. The brunette assumed an offensive stance.

"I really don't enjoy using it, but it's pretty handy in certain situations." He responded, smirking. The blonde Falzen member took a defensive stance in response.

"Say hello to Luso and Hurdy's second combination: Resonation."

(The Clearing)

She couldn't believe her eyes.

"Sothe….!?"

The entire field stood perfectly still, with the green haired thief breaking an ominously long silence.

"Greetings, Lady Maria…"

"What are you doing here, brother!?"

"Maria, I…"

"Answer the question, Sothe."

The caravan leader paused in deep thought. The Animist atop the Luchorpan sent him a questioning glance that seemed evoke another surge of determination in the young man.

"We are here to make sure your wedding ceremony never reaches its resolution."

Maria marched towards him briskly, her head relatively down and a strange, livid intent about her step. All eyes fell upon the brunette and her odd behavior. The girl stopped directly in front of him, her head shooting up and her pupils locking with his. Her right hand began to tremble unconsciously.

Slap!

A scarlet, somewhat swollen imprint blossomed on Sothe's right cheek.

"And what goals do you think such actions will accomplish, dear brother?" A single tear streamed down her face.

"So that both you and our city may continue to experience freedom. That man will continue to pillage and consume our beloved land in order to satisfy his unquenchable greed and all in the name of some benevolent power….."

Another pause ensued as her eyes traveled downward. He continued on.

"…He has already taken my only child…He shall not have my sister…"

(With Gully and Falzen)

"Say hello to Luso and Hurdy's second combination: Resonation."

"What sort of magic is this?" Claire pondered allowed with eyes wide open.

To be honest, she wasn't even sure if what the boy was doing was magic to begin with. She glanced over to Hurdy who continued to play at his flute with the skill of a master. His music almost seemed to coincide with the blade's movements.

"You'll see soon enough." The boy responded.

"Don't forget, boy. You're still highly outmatched…in both number and ability."

Luso caught a glimpse of Falzen's Summoner over his shoulder. The rabbit eared woman was chanting something under her breath while holding her Snake Staff high. The air seemed to be growing colder over time, most notably at the times when he'd passed her vicinity. Even if it did give him an uneasy feeling, the lowered temperature did manage to cool down his sweat covered skin.

Not to mention, the blue eyed fighter could practically feel that archer's arrowhead aimed right for his body.

"No matter how you look at it, she's right. Ensei's busy, and Auggie can't spare a spell while shielding himself and Hurdy." His grip tightened. "Looks like I really have to do this on my own."

"And you yourself are naught but an inexperienced greenhorn, who knows only how to swing a sword correctly…and that, boy, will never be enough to defeat me."

Claire began a slow pace towards him, lifting her hefty weapon and slinging it over her shoulder.

"Kirsa, stay out of this. Belinda, hold your summoning after you've channeled enough mist. I will handle him alone…and show him just what kind of life he has stepped into."

She stopped just in front of him, staring down with superior eyes. He was shaking, though the blond couldn't tell whether it was his sword causing it, or simply fear.

"Are you afraid, boy?"

He unconsciously gulped.

"Not a chance."

Luso swung the Atmos Blade with all his might, creating a blurry arc in its wake. Instinctively, Claire brought her Claymore over to parry, using only one hand…

…and played right into his hand.

A sharp, metallic ring resounded as the two pieces of steel connected with one another. Claire felt something erupting from the boy's blade. Vibrations from the sword traveled down the length of her claymore and into the nerves of her arm in a single instant. The two opponents separated, Claire clenching her arm with her free hand and Luso smiling inwardly.

"What did you do!?" She shouted, finding herself unable to unclench her hand from the claymore's handle. The nerves in her hand…no, her entire arm were trembling, like they had gone completely numb.

"Pulse..." Hurdy, who had just finished his enchantment, began to explain to Auggie from inside their barrier. "The first technique of Resonation, kupo. It is concussion-type sword attack that, upon impact, sends a violent shock or pulse to the opponent's body and nerves."

The Moogle outstretched a finger towards the vibrating Atmos Blade, as Luso continued a series of slashes at Claire.

"The idea was borrowed from a Rockbeast we once saw during training, kupo. First, we create a magical link between my instrument and his weapon like a communication device such as Whisperweed. Then, the vibrations of my sound waves travel through the link to his blade, causing it to vibrate and produce...Resonation."

"Hurdy!" Luso's call garnered the musician's attention.

Again, Hurdy began to play once more, the tempo of the piece much more rapid than that of pulse. The vibrating seemed to calm down, though the blue aura that surrounded the blade transitioned into a vibrant crimson. Both sword wielders created a healthy distance from the other.

"Perhaps I've misjudged this boy." She thought, observing her enemy's blade while trying to calm her own arm down. "These vibrations are not as wild as before. That Moogle must be running low on energy. I need to end this quickly."

Forcing her sword arm with all the strength within her, Claire managed to assume a proper stance, before rushing Luso's position. The boy stayed calm throughout her charge, holding his ground. Two steel blades collided as the blond brought her giant sword down on top of Luso, who barely parried. Their weapons and eyes became interlocked.

"Looks like you comrade doesn't have the energy to continue your technique." She stated calmly, while continuing to push down on him. "Your vibrations have gone down considerably."

Luso smirked.

"What are you talking about?"

A show of arm strength from the boy gave him the opportunity to push the claymore up with his blade. But rather than forcing the sword up, Luso's blade began to actually cut into the claymore, leaving a jagged line in its wake.

By the time Claire had assessed the situation, the sharp blade of her Claymore was lying on the grass beneath, shaved off of the handle in her hand.

"The rate of vibration didn't decrease...it increased."

Claire stared at what once used to be her prized sword, simultaneously backing away from him.

"Shave. The second technique of Resonation." Hurdy explained to Auggie once again. "It increases the rate of vibration even more than Pulse, turning the blade into one large sonic vibration knife, capable of cutting through almost anything…within reason, kupo."

"Of course…" The woman realized. "The faster something vibrates, the more motionless it seems. He lured me into a false sense of security."

Luso continued to stalk towards her as she vainly continued to put distance between them. The red glow of his blade began to fade away and the vibrations gradually calmed down.

"Kirsa!" The blond Falzen shouted. A volley of metal arrows blasted out from the branch foliage, whizzing through the air towards Luso. His head shot around before his eyes shut in anticipation of the torrent of pain.

When his blue orbs had opened again, they settled on none but the beautiful, white elegance of a Save the Queen…and the Paladin wielding it.

"Raven!"

Next to him and sprawled out over the grassy forest floor were the previously airborne projectiles, which still rang from the collision with his sword. The Paladin looked over his shoulder to the fighter behind him, simultaneously resting his sword over his opposite shoulder.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, kid."

(With Adelle)

"How…?"

A nimble, dexterous silhouette raced across the forest canopy, hidden by the darkness of the leaves and hopping from branch to branch as it made its way through. Its movements, while ever graceful, seemed to be a bit rushed, as the figure on more than one occasion came close to slipping and breaking its neck from a heavy fall.

"How could I have let my guard down….?"

The shadowed figure pulled out a battle knife from a holster, using it to slash through a branch in her path like a machete. A strip of moonlight pouring in from an open spot in the upper branches illuminated her flowing, silver hair and cat-eared ribbon as she passed through it.

"How could I have let them take her away…?"

Ahead of her the tree line seemed to end, and the girl landed in an easy crouch on the last stable branch. Her eyes scanned the clearing intently, before resting on a small group off in the distance, most notably what looked like a Moogle on the shoulders of a Baknamy.

She clenched her knife while pulling out another, placing the second in between her teeth. Lastly, she grabbed a smoke ball from an item pouch on her backside, before leaping off into the clearing.

"I'm comingMaria…"

(With Gully and Falzen)

"Looks like our reinforcements have arrived." Ensei remarked cockily, noticing the newly arrived Paladin from afar after deflecting Andie's swing for the umpteenth time. By now, the Falzen commander was panting heavily and her clothing was littered with small scratches. "Are you sure it's best to continue this?"

The woman scanned the area over, taking note of her comrades' situations. Gertie hadn't returned from her assignment as of yet, and for her to take this long must have meant she had lost. Claire's claymore had been was useless at this point.

Her eyes shot over to Belinda with hope, only to have said hope dashed in an instant. Gully's Revgaji had already promptly knocked her unconscious before she could even finish gathering the necessary amount of Mist, nullifying the chance for a summon.

And lastly, after that last attack had been deflected, a chance for a surprise attack from Kirsa would be no more than futile.

"Then again, I'd be willing to continue our little scuffle if you're up for it. Haven't had this much fun in quite a while."

Her breathing began to become more labored and it grew harder to keep her hold on her twin Swordbreakers. All eyes were on the captain, Falzen members searching for a sign to continue, the rest gearing up in case of an attack.

"No…that's quite enough."

"Captain, we can't…!" Both Claire and Kirsa proclaimed, the former beginning a jog towards her superior while the latter landing in an easy crouch from the tree she was in.

"No!" Andie ordered, causing both females to halt. "This ends here. A fight to the death would be pointless here. I would rather avoid any further causalities on either side."

She began to approach the Parivir, stumbling throughout the walk until she stopped directly in front of him.

"…especially for a fight I do not believe worthy to be fought."

Ensei chuckled as the Falzen commander collapsed into his arms from exhaustion.

"Dramatic like always, I see."

"Oh, shut up."

…………….

"Hey, Ensei!" Sir Loin shouted, entering everyone's field of view with an unconscious Gertie slung over his left shoulder. On his right, the familiar form of a Black Mage walked in sync with the Seeq and on his left, Cheney strolled with bow slung over his torso. "We found you a rabbit and a stray bird. How should we cook 'em up?"

"Quit with the jokes and set her down over here." The samurai instructed while laying Andie softly on the ground, Cid mirroring his actions with an unconscious Belinda.

"All right, that's the last of them." Cid remarked gruffly. "Now…I want some answers, Ms. Kelt. Why did you attack us?"

Andie had just finished taking a sip of a potion before passing it to Claire beside her. She swallowed crudely out of exhaustion before responding.

"We were instructed by Sothe to bring Hurdy back, through force if need be."

"Why?" Luso queried. "What did Hurdy do?" She paused before continuing on.

"As you all know, the caravan was beset by a group of Baknamy earlier today. This was not a random attack, however. The Baknamy were controlled by music." Her eyes rested on Hurdy. "With Hurdy being the only person around capable of performing a control of that scale, it was only natural that he would be the prime suspect."

"Wait a minute." Luso exclaimed, garnering the attention of all those conscious. "Hurdy was with us the entire time. There's not way he could have done it."

"Also, we are aware of the identity of the true culprit." Auggie added. "Judging by the music he played and the way he sat upon that Luchorpan, I am almost positive that the grey furred Moogle we encountered on the trail is behind the attack."

"There was another Moogle?" Claire asked suspiciously.

"That's right, there was. Me, Hurdy, Professor, Kanin, Adelle, and Maria all saw it." Luso affirmed.

"Speaking of which…where are these females of yours?" Andie inquired.

"The last time we heard from them, they were off taking a …."

Ensei was cut off by the sound of rustling leaves behind the group, and promptly swiveled around and dashed for it with Luso's Sweep Blade still in hand. A shadowed figure leapt from the bushes and over a slash by the bearded man, landing gracefully on her feet.

"Father! It's me!" The silhouette, now recognized as Kanin, shouted.

"Kanin!? What are you doing here by yourself? Where are Maria and Adelle?" Cheney asked, beating everyone to the punch.

"Everyone…" The girl began, panting from her nonstop sprint. "Maria's been kidnapped…by a grey furred…Moogle. The one we saw earlier today!"

"What!?" Luso spoke for everyone's thoughts.

"We were attacked…at the freshwater pool…" She continued. "…at least a dozen Baknamy…they made off with her…Adelle went after them by herself…and told me to inform all of you."

Cid immediately took command of the situation.

"Got it, good work. I want everyone that can move to get ready. You have thirty seconds before we move out. Andie…" He turned to face the members of Falzen. "…whether or not you and your clan believe our story or want to help us out with…"

Before the Revgaji even finished, Andie, Kirsa, and a sword less Claire were all on their feet and somewhat revitalized.

"We'll help any way we can. Perhaps this might explain our predicament. I leave my girls and me in your care, Cid."

The Revgaji smirked along with Ensei, who tossed the Sweep Blade back to Luso and left to fetch his own katana.

"Alright. Kanin, you know the way so you're in front. Loin, Raven, and Crow…proceed how you see fit. The rest of us…let's move!"

Clan Gully rolls out!

(End Chapter Fourteen)


Character Corner

(Claire)

Job: Soldier

Height: 176 cm

Weight: 118 lbs

Race: Hume

Hair Color: Blonde

Eye Color: Silver

Skin/Fur Color: Pale

(Gear)

Weapon: Claymore

Helm: None

Armor: Minerva Bustier

Shoes: Spiked Boots

Accessories: Empyreal Armband

(Likes and Dislikes)

Favorite Animal: Birds

Favorite Food: Steak

Favorite Drink: Water

Fears: Disobeying orders.

Association: Clan Falzen

Favorite Color: Silver

(Trivia)

-Clare from the manga Claymore makes a cameo as a clan Falzen member in The Tainted Grimoire. Little to none of her personality traits are used here intentionally; just a simple cameo is all.


Author's Notes

Ok, I apologize for the LONG wait. Been very busy as of late. I'm not dead, and do plan on continuing the story. See you next chapter, where I hope to wrap this part of the arc up.