Cuttingmoon57 here, and back with chapter forty two of The Tainted Grimoire. Now, for the beginning of the next arc. Hope you enjoy!
Any beliefs expressed throughout my story are not my own. They are simply unique to the characters and their personalities. Just wish to clarify that.
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.
"Blah" = talking
"Blah" = thoughts, writing, sound effects, or flashbacks
(Blah)= scene change
"Ah, the salty Grazton air…"
A girl with raven black hair and tanned skin continued to stare forward silently as the gentleman that walked beside her drew in deep breaths, savoring every motion of the air passing through his lungs. She followed just slightly behind him to the right, her long sleeved white blouse ruffling in the occasional breeze, restrained by a decorative, blue, formfitting vest. Olive green pants tucked into short heeled leather boots, which with her practiced grace made no noise against the cobblestone underfoot as she stepped.
"It has been quite a long time since we have walked Jylland soil, eh Marie." The man commented over his shoulder to her, both continuing their stroll. His attention was grabbed by the presence of two, distinctly beautiful women passing by, and he lowered his sunglasses, chuckling simultaneously. "Hmm, and it seems this soil has yielded many a stunning blossom in my absence."
The girl only rolled her eyes as he turned around, and followed him more closely than before.
An odd visitor arrives in Grazton…
I cannot feel it, I cannot hear it
I cannot see it, I should not fear it
Yet there it remains, ever looming around me
Hidden amongst the shadows of my own imagination
Chapter Forty Two: Premonition
Luso Clemens stared pleasantly up into the blue sky above him, his back reclined against the side of the clan's wagon and his interlocked fingers forming a pillow for his head. The sun's rays, with the force of nearing late summer day, beat upon his skin. Thankfully though, an almost continuous, rather salty breeze had managed to balance out the heat, providing an excellent temperature throughout the journey.
It had been about one week since the clan departed from Vieg Town, and the entirety of the trip had been nothing other than incessant travelling, broken only by meals and camping. These meals soon became one of the major highlights of the trip, due in part to their newest addition, Vili. Everyone would gather around the campfire at night and listen as she told stories about her homeland and a few adventures. Hurdy's tunes also came as a source of delight, especially after one conversation where the clan learned that Cheney had some knowledge of the art of ballroom dancing. Every night, Kanin and Adelle would insist that the Hunter teach them, and Luso and Vili would unwittingly be roped in as their practice partners.
As far as scenery went, the journey was rather sparse. The Vieg Southroad, a continuation of the road leading through Vieg Town, contained few trees, and even sparser shrubbery. The first two nights passing through the area had been rather tense, as the Southroad was famous for its fair share of highwaymen. Luckily, an increase in volunteer patrol men had managed to deter any attacks, though Luso and Ensei personally wouldn't have minded a bit of action. The group continued into Baybold Lowlands, their current location; a region filled with hard winds, less plant life than the Southroad, and a section of the trail that provided an ocean view for miles. The Sea of Ewohl had turned out to be just as breathtaking as Cid had described it.
"If you think that's something." Ensei said from his position in the wagon's passenger seat, watching the faces of the younger clan members. "Just wait until we get to Grazton."
"It's been a long time since I've been here." Adelle added ecstatically, her gaze still fixed on the moving tides along the beaches. "I'm just ready to get out of this wagon, if anything."
"What's it like, Ensei?" Luso queried, sitting up. The Parivir held off on answering him for a few moments, then gradually the wheels ceased grinding against the dirt covered trail and the wagon came to a full stop.
"See for yourself."
Luso, as well as all the others in the back of the cart, climbed out over the side, and ran towards the edge of the cliff they had been traveling on. Luso was the first one to arrive, stopping just short of the edge, and as he looked out over the scene, his breath caught in his throat. Similar reactions came from the younger Gully members as one by one each reached the edge and looked out over the scene.
Even from miles away, their position gave them a clear view of the gargantuan city that sprawled out before them. It was massive to say the least, what Luso assumed was easily as large as Camoa. The settlement itself was mostly enclosed by the surrounding cliff side, and the remainder lay directly next to the ocean. The city itself seemed to be designed in tiers: the lower levels starting at the shoreline, gradually ascending like a staircase as they drew further from the water.
Ships of various sizes and types could be seen traveling throughout the bay area, though what caught the girl's attention more was the line of sandy coast on at the farthest point from their location.
"…unbelievable…" Luso exclaimed, looking out over the expanse of the city.
"It's huge, kupo." Hurdy tacked on.
"Welcome to Grazton, little ones." Ensei began, adopting a sort of 'tour guide' tone. "Second largest city in Loar, just behind Camoa, and most popular tourist destination. Mind yourself, though. Locals can get quite rowdy if provoked." He gestured for everyone to return to the wagon. "Now come on, we're burning daylight."
"Whoa..." Luso spoke breathlessly.
The Clan slowly rolled in through the western most entrance, situated on one of the city's middle tiers. The dirt trail they had crossed for so long morphed into a wide road of worn cobblestone. On each side stood rustic, earthen buildings, ranging in size from two to three stories. Women watered plants hanging along the wrought iron rails of their balconies, and waved as the clan and others passed by. The stretch of cobblestone lasted for only around fifty feet, and the group met with their next predicament.
"Where…is the rest of the road?" Vili questioned.
Before them lay another row of similar buildings, forcing the path split to the left and right, perpendicular to their current road. Lying at the bottom of these buildings was a pool of still water, and as Luso looked around the intersections, he noticed that this pool stretched all the way down in both directions. Along the edge of the water lay a series of boats, most small with the exception of one, none the metal clad monsters that Luso was accustomed to seeing. Rather, each was made of a high quality, black hued wood, carved to perfection in a manner reminiscent of the famous gondola; each complete with its own gondolier.
"Is…is it a river?" Luso asked.
"Not quite." Cheney answered curtly, before explaining. "You see, Grazton's unique in that it has barely any roads. Instead, canals function as the passageways throughout the city."
"Wow. That's amazing." The boy exclaimed, kneeling down and scooping some of the murky water into his hands before standing to his feet once more. "So I guess we'll have to catch one of the boats?"
"Yes, for now anyway." Ensei answered.
The group traversed what little distance they had left, thankful that the small number of people in this part of town would allow them an easier time of garnering transportation. Judging that most of the gondolas were too small to accommodate them, their chocobo, and their wagon full of belongings, the group came upon the particularly large gondola. While the craft retained the original shape of the luxury boat, it was significantly larger and wider, like a sea-faring bus. Cid silently handed the ship's proprietor the fee and in turn he let down the boat's ramp, allowing the Gully members and their belongings to cross into its interior. Once all were safely on board, two workmen aboard the ship opened the ships two sails, located at the front and back of the boat, and six gondoliers, all burly Humes and Bangaa, set to work on maneuvering the craft down the canal.
Ensei guided their chocobo towards the back of the ship in an open area designed to hold traveler's luggage and tied its reigns around one of the hooks. Luso and Cid pushed the wagon next to it, pushing it into the corner to prevent any unnecessary rolling. The three then joined the remainder of the clan at the front of the boat: a lush seating area with a beautiful hardwood floor and red velvet seats and pillows lining the perimeter, all facing towards the center.
Luso plopped down on one of the seats next to Kanin, leaning into its comfortable cushion, and released a contented sigh. From what he could see, the only other occupants in the riverboat were an odd couple, who silently conversed while analyzing a map. Both had black hair, though the female's was significantly more opaque, along with a darker skin tone which the boy had not seen yet with his interactions with the Hume of Jylland. He also noticed the long pistol at the man's side, almost two feet in length, as well as the sunglasses over his eyes, also an item the boy had not yet experienced in his time here.
The large gondola continued to sail on through the canal, taking every curve and bend that assaulted its path with the help of the six, burly gondoliers. As the ship sailed on, it entered a more populated part of the town, and Luso, Hurdy, Kanin, and Vili became wholly fascinated with the sights around them.
Dozens of gondolas and other boats filled the vast space of one of the market districts, and their boat did its best to avoid any collisions. A menagerie of vendors and street stands lined any open spaces on the area's sidewalks, their canopies creating a rainbow of color amidst the worn, earthen-toned stone of the surrounding buildings. They sold everything, from fruits and vegetables to fashionable accessories and instruments, and called out relentlessly to any passersby in hopes of garnering his or her attention.
The sidewalk area brimmed with people and races of all kinds, truly a metropolis of its time just like Camoa. As with everywhere the clan had traveled so far, the majority of the population had been Hume, though as with Camoa, here it was hard to tell which race had the majority. A number of Bangaa and Seeq, sailors and workman as evidenced by their notably gruff exterior, trudged along the sidewalks, carrying supplies, crates, or other tools. More Moogles and Humes manned the street side stands than any other, followed closely by Nu Mou. Kanin watched as a pair of Gria flew past, splashing some of the canal water into their faces. Even a few Viera walked the streets with their natural grace and poise, their ears and white hair sticking out amongst the crowd. The entire scene gave an immediate recollection of their time in Vieg Town just a week prior, a recollection very much welcomed.
While traveling through the district, Luso peeled his eyes, focusing on a number of Humes that seemed like they were walking closer to their boat. His eyes widened further as upon further scrutiny, they were actually walking closer to the boat.
Walking on top of the water, as if it were solid ground.
"What are you looking at, Luso?" Kanin queried, wondering what they boy was so fascinated by. She too, upon noticing the odd sight Humes walking atop the canal surface, stared with a mystified expression upon her face. "What's…what's going on? How can they walk on water like that?"
"It's a common sight in this city." Ensei began to explain, snaking an arm over his daughter's shoulder. "Dust from a Windgod Crystal is mixed with other materials to form a sap-like substance. This sap is then layered onto a shoe by a professional, and after hardening, allows the ability to walk on liquids as if they were any solid road."
"They do require maintenance though." Cheney added. "Since the bottom of the shoe is coated, friction from walking on solid ground can slowly wear on the hardened sap. Without a visit to a coater every couple months to apply more, it'll be of no use. It's extremely useful for this city, where water abounds, but you won't see it many other places."
"Then we have to try it at least once." Luso remarked in a hopeful tone. "It looks really fun."
"From your conversation, it would seem that none of you are of the local populace."
The Hunter along with the remainder of the clan turned towards the source of the voice, facing the only other passenger on the ship and his female associate. His black long sleeve shirt remained unbuttoned enough at the top to reveal an elaborate, metal necklace. A fair amount of light brown padding covered the sides of his formfitting khaki pants, and flat knee high boots retained the same color.
"A pity." Luso noted the heavy Spanish accent with which he spoke. "My lovely escort and I seem to be lost. I would have someone familiar with the lay of the land direct me to the Beltorey manse in the high town."
"We might not be locals, but we know our way around this place." Ensei countered, walking to the other side of the seating area. "Let's see here…" After sitting down, he began explaining the route to take, tracing his finger along the map at the same time.
"Ah, many thanks, sir. It is not normally must custom to seek the help of one so…unfeminine, but your assistance is appreciated nevertheless."
"Not…a problem." Ensei replied hesitantly, not sure of what to make the man.
"I'm curious as to what business you have with the baron. There aren't many people who could get an audience with a guy like that." Adelle said bluntly, her scrutinizing eye trained on the man.
"Ah, forgive me. It would seem rather odd, yes?" He rose from his seat, sauntering across the darkly stained wood of the boat floor, before dropping to one knee right in front of her. The woman accompanying him soon followed suit, though stopped a foot behind him. The silver haired girl's stare adopted a highly confused quality, as did everyone else's when they man took her hand in his. "So bound was I by the enchantment your beauty weaves, I neglected my introductions." He planted a light kiss upon the back of her hand, then rose and spoke.
"Al-Cid Margrace, at your service." He made a gesture behind him. "And this stunning flower is my assistant, Marie."
"Margrace?" Cheney was the first to speak after a lengthy silence, following everyone's initial shock at hearing the man's surname: everyone except for Luso, of course. "I presume you mean House Margrace."
"You presume well, my friend." Al-Cid responded with a small chuckle. "Though if you would, speak scarcely of it. The walls have ears, as they say. No need to attract unwanted attention."
"Unwanted attention? And what's so special about the name Margrace? Who are they?" Luso asked aloud.
"House Margrace. Rulers of a mighty land off east of Jylland named Rozarria, a great empire in its own right." Ensei said, taking the liberty of answering him. "Still, I'm curious what brought a Margrace to Jylland, especially Grazton of all places."
"Inquisitive, aren't we?" Al-Cid joked, turning to face the seated Parivir with a smirk, his tone anything but serious. "If you must know, I was invited here at your Queen's behest for your national festival, though I had arranged plans to arrive ahead of schedule. You see, I've been imprisoned by my duties for so long, I thought it best to take a…reprieve of sorts and travel the land. Baron Beltorey was generous enough to allow me my stay at his estate."
"Midtown! Hotel District!" The captain the boat called out, the six gondoliers simultaneously stopping the boat next to the sidewalk. The area sat at a four way intersection, around which a plethora of large and small rustic hotels were situated. Two of the gondoliers manually lowered the boarding plank to the sidewalk while the other four dug their lengthy poles in the canal's bottom for use as an anchor.
"Well that would be our stop." The Parivir spoke while rising to his feet, the clan following his lead soon after. Cid and Cheney quietly trekked to the back of the gondola, remembering to take their chocobo and wagon with them. "It was quite the…opportunity to meet you, Al-Cid."
"Likewise, my friends. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He and his assistant took their seat once more. "I pray our paths cross each other once more."
(Grazton, Baybold Hotel)
"Ah it feels so good to soak in an actual bath tub for once." Adelle remarked, exiting the bathroom door of the girl's suite and walking into the space proper. She looked around, pleased with the room's clean interior, a refreshing feeling from the previous inns she had occupied over her lifetime. Even more so was the length that the hotel went through, providing things such as bath robes, which currently covered her slightly soaked frame, and supplying twenty four hour room service. She offhandedly wished the clan could afford a hotel like this in every town they passed.
"I know what you mean." Kanin tacked on, sitting on the side of her selected bed while brushing her hair. "It's been a long time since I haven't washed myself in a stream or lake."
While grabbing a towel to dry her own silver locks, the cat themed girl simply began to stare at the White Mage, particularly her head. Eventually, Kanin caught sight of this, and raised an eyebrow in curiosity before Adelle spoke.
"You know, Luso's right. You really do look better without that hat."
Kanin dropped her brush immediately, and her head snapped around.
A loud rapping upon the door, followed moments later by the sound of Vili's voice, interrupted their conversation.
"Hey, the boys are already having dinner downstairs in the lobby. I'll save you two a seat."
"Oh I didn't say anything." Adelle remarked with a playful tone as she heard the Viera's retreating footsteps. "Well you heard her. We better start heading down there before the Luso, Cid, and your dad devour everything in sight."
Kanin only nodded, sighing in defeat.
"This stuff is great!" Luso exclaimed, thrusting his fork into the pasta-like concoction on his plate. He, Cheney, and Hurdy sat at a wooden, rectangular table in the hotel's lobby, an open area enclosed by earthen tone walls like the hotel's exterior. Surrounding them were other hotel patrons enjoying meals of a similar high quality. Waiters and waitresses, mostly Hume with one or two Viera, walked with purpose around the room, carrying trays full of different foods or penning customers' orders on notepads.
"Grazton's cuisine is none pretty far, kupo." Hurdy added, digging his spoon into a slice of warm chocolate cake. "Especially their confectionaries."
"Hey guys." Adelle spoke in a nonchalant manner as she, Kanin, and Vili approached the table, just finishing tying her signature ribbon into her hair. Her eyes went wide as, upon finding a chair next to Hurdy, she noticed the delectable dessert atop his plate. "Ooh Hurdy; that looks fantastic. I'll have to get me one."
"Honestly, you women and your chocolate." Luso sniggered, taking a break from his rabid consumption of the food in front of him.
"Oh, shut up." Kanin playfully tapped him on the shoulder while giggling at his comment, taking the chair to his right. "It's not something you'd understand." As the other two girls picked up their menus, she looked around, noticing that two key members of the clan weren't present. "Hey, weren't dad and Cid supposed to be here?"
"They left about fifteen minutes before you arrived." Cheney replied, cutting into a piece steak with a polished knife. "Said something about purchasing some of that water walking sap."
"Really? Do they plan to take it to a coater?" Vili queried.
"No, they said it'd be too much money. Ensei said that Cid will just coat it himself when they return."
"Cid knows how to coat?" Adelle asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"I've known Cid for a long time now, and I didn't even know that." Kanin stated. "Though he was originally from Grazton; maybe before he decided on making a clan, he was a coater."
The sextet merely allowed the topic to drop at that point, all satisfied with Kanin's explanation though secretly wondering what, if the White Mage's hypothesis turned out true, his reasons were for abandoning his profession. Regardless, the conversation moved on, covering topics from their individual plans for tomorrow to the events over the past week, specifically their encounter that afternoon.
"It's terribly hard to believe that we met a prince of Rozarria." Vili stated. "He's definitely not what I would picture one to look like."
"Yeah; you'd think he'd have a larger entourage with him." Adelle agreed, taking a spoonful of the chocolate cake she'd ordered. "Especially since he's going to see Baron Beltorey."
"Baron Beltorey…that guy mentioned his name too. Who is he?" Luso asked.
"A very well known man, Luso." Cheney said, pausing before continuing on. The sound of plates and silverware faded into the background hum. "Belmont Orlandeau Beltorey, Baron of Grazton; Fohgginus Eden, Lord of Camoa; and Basil von Reighlard, the Grand Duke of Moorabella. These three men each control a third of the Republic of Loar. Together they are known as the Coronet, second in power only to the Queen herself."
(Grazton, Midtown, Market District)
Ensei and Cid moved silently along down a two way canal road, rather than paying for a gondola ride opted to purchase a shoddy, rental rowboat; a simple craft designed simply to get them where they needed to go over the stay in Grazton. The Parivir took the liberty of paddling this time, and sat towards the back of the wooden watercraft, while the White Monk sat between the middle and front. The Market itself had already begun to wind down by this time. People, while still numerous, were far fewer in comparison to earlier that afternoon. The pervading orange radiance of the sun sinking below the horizon line cast its glow over the canal water and surrounding buildings, and the shrieking calls of sea-birds in the distance resounded throughout their area.
Their task had been a notable success, as evidenced by the large barrel that rested next to Cid, presumably holding that magical mixture that would allow the traversing of water. Both men sat in silence, a subtly concerned look plastered across the Hume's and only a vacant, forward stare manifesting on the Revgaji's. Ensei face forward, staring at his companions back for a good while, before finally speaking up.
"We got this barrel for pretty cheap, eh Cid?" A long, drawn out stillness followed soon after, and the katana-wielding warrior breathed a heavy sigh. "Alright, what's wrong?"
"That's literally the first word you've said all day. I'm no fool, Cid. I've known you long enough to know when something isn't right." Ensei continued to paddle down the canal in silence until a sigh of the Rev's own sounded out.
"I feel as though…we're being watched." Another lengthy pause ensued, before Ensei responded.
"I can tell you've been anxious for a while now; ever since Raven and Crow escaped in St. Galleria. I know you're afraid, Cid. I'm pretty afraid, too. We're in the heart of their territory right now, but we can't let that fear control our actions."
"I know, Ensei." Cid replied with an apologetic tone, slumping forward slightly. "I'm just…concerned for the kids…"
"I know what you mean, but it's something we can't help." He moved the oar to the other side of the boat, causing it to turn. "I'll make sure to remind everyone to keep a low profile, and to always travel in groups. We're only staying for the time it takes to get information on the Whitesilver Magicite. As long as we don't attract attention, we'll come out of this unscathed."
One last period of silence followed Ensei's last words. Within the minute the boat made a right turn, donning upon the street which contained the Baybold Hotel. Cid looked up at the sign on its exterior, and a final sigh escaped his throat.
"I only hope you're right."
(Grazton Wharf, Warehouse Thirteen)
A Hume Paladin looked up from his seat on a large, wooden crate and eyed the figure steadily approaching him. Evening sunlight drifted in from the horizontal line of rectangular windows on the upper half of the room, and the illumination provided a clear view of the figure: a Hume Black Mage holding a folded newspaper at his left side. The spellcaster stopped just short of the Paladin, facing him, then tossed the paper in his lap. As the Paladin began reading the paper, he spoke.
"Did you find anything?"
"Only that." He replied, referencing the newspaper. "The article says House Bowen and two members of Clan Gully took down the famous mark, Klesta. Our streetears in Vieg Town reported Gully heading South, and all that lies south from that point is Grazton."
"So they're in Grazton, huh?" The Paladin asked with a devilish smirk. The Black Mage hesitated before responding.
"Without a doubt. Also, the fact that they came to Grazton so soon could mean one thing. Whether they Judgemaster gave them the stone or not, they are here for information on it. Though I highly doubt that he would entrust such an important object to a clan, especially of such a small size."
A devilish smirk played at the corners of Dread Raven's lips, slightly unnerving Crow.
"Well…we'll just have to find out, won't we?"
The duo's return!
Alright, that's it for now. Hope you guys enjoyed the chapter, especially my version of Grazton. Always wanted to do a Venice-themed city, though a lot is from imagination, as I have no idea what Venice is actually like. Only Wikipedia.
Anyway, it's late where I am, so no character corner this time. Maybe next time…maybe.