Cuttingmoon57 here, and back with chapter forty three of The Tainted Grimoire. 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"= Yelling

(Blah)= scene change


"Alright…and heave!"

At their captain's command, two Bangaa, one with copper skin and the other's a mixture of yellow and brown, tugged strenuously at their fishing net, managing to heave the object and its contents onto the deck of the ship. The other Seeq and Bangaa deck hands gathered around at the two's catch: a plethora of green scaled fish flopping about in the net. The two gathered the net and began to drag it along the deck's surface towards a storage bin while the remainder of the on-duty crew returned to their respective assignments.

One such crewmember, a younger wiry Bangaa reached over the side of the ship to hoist up his assigned net. As he managed the majority of it onto the ship, something happened to catch his eye in the distance. He thought nothing of it at first. It was but the wee hours of the morning, sometime after midnight, and the deep pervading fog did little to convince him that the occurrence was more than his mind playing tricks. Though, no matter how many times he looked up to that same spot…

The silhouette of another ship seemed to pass by in the distance.

"Captain. Off the starboard side. There seems to be some sort of ship out there."

The captain, a middle aged Hume, trekked over to Bangaa's side, extending his looking glass and peering into the dark murkiness. He stared in silence for a few moments, only the movements of the other crew members working filling the quiet, before bringing the telescopic piece down, giving the man a shrug.

"I don't see anything. We haven't walked dry land for a week. Perhaps this fishing expedition is beginning to wear on you. If you need to, feel free to take a rest."

The captain began to walk away, and the Bangaa peered once more, this time unable to spot any trace of the mysterious vessel. Breathing a sigh of acceptance, he began at pulling the remainder of his net onto the boat.

It was then that something else caught his eye, just as he had given up the notion. One last time, he gazed, noticing a strange object drifting slowly towards the anchored wooden ship. It became clearer to ascertain the closer it floated to him, and within moments the bipedal lizard recognized the scales of fish over its hide. It was a large fish at that, easily clearing at least twelve feet in length.

The most perplexing thing was the numerous amount of playing cards imbedded into its flesh, like throwing knives piercing the skin of their target.

An ominous sign…


Chapter Forty Three: Acqua Alta


"Wake up, Luso."

Luso shot up immediately at the sound of the voice, his head frantically turning about. He settled down after seeing Ensei standing on the left side of the bed, his arms crossed and looking down at the boy. The Fighter scratched the back of his head, simultaneously releasing a yawn, then sleepily spoke.

"What…what's going on?"

"I need you to do me a favor." Luso raised an eyebrow at the Parivir's words, not for the statement itself but the worried way in which he had asked. A short silence prompted the elder Hume to continue. "I need you to go shopping."

Luso blinked.

"What?"

"I promised Kanin that I'd go shopping with her today along with Adelle and Hurdy, but some…things came up, and I can't go. I want you to go in my place." Luso's eyebrow remained raised.

"If it's the three of them, why can't they go themselves?"

"You think I'm going to leave all that gil unguarded with Adelle's around?"

"Kanin and Hurdy will be with her."

"…you think I'm going to have young, impressionable minds guard all that gil with Adelle around?"

"…Good point." The boy removed the covers from the remainder of his body, climbing out of the bed in the same motion, his bare feet touching down onto the darkly stained, hardwood floor. Ensei handed him a medium sized pouch, tied together by a small string, then proceeded towards the door.

"I'm leaving it to you. Make sure they don't spend it all and stay out of trouble." He grabbed the doors handle, giving it a quick twist, and yanked it open. His head turned back as he stepped into the hallway, and he whispered over his shoulder before heading down the corridor.

"Be careful."

Luso was dually perplexed at the Parivir's tone of voice along with his choice of words. He had only known the man for a few months, but that time had proved long enough to know that his voice was never as worried like it was now. While still curious, he opted to forget about it for now, and set on preparing himself for the day ahead.

(Midtown, Hotel District)

Hurdy stared nervously at the water in front of him, watching the distortion of his reflection by the flowing canal, feet planted firmly on the solid sidewalk. He looked up slowly and gazed at a particular duo across the street, presumably a Hume mother and her young son, walked hand in hand on the water's surface.

Seeing the successful results of a coating eased his fears slightly, but he still dared not try it himself.

"C'mon Hurdy." Luso beckoned; the boy, Kanin, and Adelle having already stepped out onto the canal. That sight alone had already convinced him that Cid had done a proper job with the coating, though again he was hesitant to take the initial step of faith. "It's really cool once you try it."

"No thanks, kupo. We Moogles despise the water. I think I'll just stay on the sidewalk."

"I promise you'll be fine." Adelle remarked, stretching out a hand for the musician to take. "You'll eventually run out of sidewalk anyway. Why not get used to it now?"

He opened his mouth to respond, but shut it as he found no fault in her logic. Sighing, he placed his paw in her feminine hand and brought his foot forward, tensing as his shoe made contact with the water's surface though gradually relaxing with each subsequent step. The Moogle looked all around him, finding that, even with the slight motion of the water, it still felt as though he was walking on solid ground.

"See that wasn't so hard." Adelle said with a smirk, releasing his paw. Kanin offered a hand to the still hesitant Moogle, and together the four clan members set off down the street. As they rounded their first street corner, Adelle pulled out a map the hotel clerk had been nice enough to give her and began scanning over it without breaking stride. "Alright, let's see…it seems like most of the good shops are in the high town, so that's where we'll head."

"High town?" Luso queried.

"Grazton's separated into different areas." Adelle replied, opening the map farther as the boy looked over her shoulder. "There's the high town where we're heading. It's literally the highest part of town, and is where most of the wealthy class lives. The midtown contains the middle class and below along with the hotel and market districts. The low town is where you'll find the Grazton Wharf and all the shipyards, as well as a majority of the pubs."

"Don't they have an amusement park somewhere?" Kanin asked

"You mean on the pier?" Adelle flashed a smile, and the Feol Viera nodded. "It's down by the wharf. We should ask Ensei if we can all go one night."

"Oh, and we definitely have to go to the beach, kupo."

"Amusement park, beach…this place is sounding more like a tourist spot than a port city." Luso commented, chuckling aloud.

The quartet continued on through the midtown hotel district, all taking note of the architecture that was so unique to Grazton. It reminded Luso of a scene straight out of Italy. The buildings held a Tuscan structure, most towering four to five stories over the Gully members' heads and quite a number of them were small cafés and restaurants.

As they drew farther from their hotel, Luso noticed a wall, no more than thirty feet in height, to the north of their position. Upon reaching the end of the street, the canal entered a large tunnel imbedded into the stone, and the wall itself stretched to the left and right as far as the eye could see. Two symbols lay on either side of the tunnel opening, one a capital 'H' and the other a bold arrow pointing upwards. Unsure of what to expect, Luso and the others closely followed behind the confident Adelle. Gondolas and other small watercraft passed beside them, and all traveled in the same direction, initially confusing Luso as to when the two way street had dropped the lane.

The quartet soon exited the tunnel, and Luso's jaw dropped. There, in a sunlit room large enough to accommodate its size, sat an enormous wooden waterwheel, easily clearing a thirty foot height; it's width at least twenty feet. It held not paddles, but bins, similar to that of a ferris wheel. The four followed the canal water, which led in a straight line to it, and stopped in a large, marked rectangular area in a pool at the end of the canal as instructed by two Moogle employees. One employee than made a signal at another Moogle in a raised balcony on the side of the room, who returned the gesture before flipping a lever.

With that, the waterwheel began moving, and Kanin, Hurdy and Luso let out surprised gasps as they realized they were standing in one of the wheel's bins. The other Moogle employee stood at the edge of the bin, providing words of comfort to a few frightened individuals, presumably first time visitors to the city. The wheel ceased turning as the bin reached the top, and the accompanying Moogle instructed the passengers to move forward. Another thirty second walk through a tunnel followed, before the group arrived at their destination.

On first impressions, the sidewalks and water roadways of the high town were considerably less populated than of the midtown, with less than half the usual traffic. All of the locals, a menagerie of the races with few to no Bangaa or Seeq, were neatly groomed and trimmed and held a wealthy air about them. Hurdy took note of the general cleaner feeling the area gave of; water much clearer than the midtown, buildings and signs with fresh coats of paint, shrubbery, trees, and other greenery providing color to an otherwise building filled scape.

"Alright, here we are." Adelle stated jubilantly as the party walked along. "The best part of the entire city, the high town shopping district, home to Galmia Pepe, Anne Sailer, Galleria Jewelers, and all the other giants of the fashion industry. Where should we head to first?"

"You can head wherever you want." Luso said with a yawn. "Count me out. I'm not into the whole shopping thing." He gestured a little ways down the street. "If you guys need me, I'll be down that way."

"I'll go with you too, kupo." Hurdy spoke.

"Fair enough. Just give us the gil. We'll meet up with you later." Within seconds, he complied, verbally reminding Kanin not to let Adelle spend it all, to which the blonde haired girl nodded in acknowledgement. The boy and the Moogle then began to walk down the street, and Adelle turned to Kanin, noticing her visible sadness at not spending the day with Luso.

Subtly, Adelle smirked.

"Say, Kanin. I think a brand new dress would definitely be able to get someone's attention."

Luso and Hurdy continued walking forward after bidding farewell to their female companions, drawing further into the high town's shopping district with each passing minute. The two talked about various things as they traveled, realizing that they hadn't spent much time together in quite a number of weeks.

Rounding a corner, Luso spotted an armory just down the street. He remembered that Ensei told him that the prices in the high town armory were too high even though the equipment was of higher quality, but the boy could not satiate his curiosity. With minimal coaxing, he and his companion set off towards its door, and walked in as they arrived.

As expected, the interior was very clean. Aged staves and crafted swords lined walls, armors with the finest luster sat on shelves, and unformed employees made sure that no wealthy-looking customer went unattended, which allowed Luso and Hurdy to browse in peace. The two slowly made their way to the front, inspecting all manner of items that they passed. Without even realizing it, they had reached the back of the store, where a number of patrons confirmed purchases with cashiers behind the large counter.

"Ah, yes. You were the gentlemen who wished to have his saber inspected and sharpened." The Hume boy and the Moogle turned to the northwest, their ears keying in on a conversation between one of the cashiers and two blonde haired customers. "Quite a fine saber, it is. Haven't seen one like this before."

"Thank you." One of the customers, a male no older than eighteen, replied while grabbing the cloth-wrapped weapon in his gloved hand. His companion, a lean girl of the same age with hair tied into two braided ponytails, dropped a few golden coins onto the counter surface. "The craftsmen of Rabanastre are the finest in the world, after all."

With that, the two left, giving a final wave to their cashier. Upon turning around and moving forward, however, they came face to face with Luso and Hurdy, the latter who only stared with apparent surprise.

The blonde male was the first to speak, raising an eyebrow.

"Hurdy?"

The Moogle's face lit up with excitement.

"Vaan? Penelo!"

(Midtown, Market District)

"Thanks for coming with me, Vili." Cheney spoke with a smile, walking along the surface water of a canal with his teammate to his right. Both had their respective bows slung over their shoulder and moved with the flow of pedestrian and small boat traffic.

"Oh, no trouble." The Assassin responded. "I didn't have anything particular planned today. Plus, this will be my chance to explore more of the city."

The Viera and the Hume took their time strolling throughout the various reaches of the market district. In truth, they did not have a particular place to visit in mind, though the Hunter did plan on stopping by a few armory outlets in hopes of finding or purchasing a higher quality bow or at the least having his own checked over. The two conversed over the various aspects of their ranged weaponry as they moved, both whose jobs were dictated by the tools of said trade.

It would be another half hour of conversation, wandering through the market, and scouting out local wares before the duo came across a peculiar sight down a particular street.

The entrance to what seemed to be a pet shop, as evidenced by its sign, appeared to be blocked off. Bright red cloth strands similar to caution tape surrounded the entrance in a square pattern and a number of JDP personnel, mostly Hume soldiers and a few Moogle Knights, either stood guard near the front or performed tasks inside, visible through the open door.

With curiosity welling up inside him, Cheney trekked over to the scene, his Viera accomplice right behind him, and passed by an odd Nu Mou. The long-eared being seemed to be scribbling notes with a quill pen in a small leather booklet, and his purple coat with a burgundy vest underneath suggested he was a Scholar. A flat, newsboy-type cap adorned his head, and a worn messenger bag lay at his side, its strap securing on the opposite side's shoulder.

The Hunter approached one of the Hume Soldiers standing guard around the investigation site, and as the man raised an eyebrow he spoke.

"What happened here?"

"Nothing you need concern yourself with, sir." The Soldier's tone was noticeably bland and practiced. "Be sure that the JDP will release a full report once details of the situation become clear."

Disapproving of the answer he received though realizing there was nothing to be done about it, Cheney simply shrugged, gesturing for Vili to follow him.

"You bet they'll release a full report." The capped Nu Mou stated cryptically as Cheney and Vili passed by him. His words garnered their attention, spoken just softly enough so that the guard could not hear them. "Right after they cut out and alter any incriminating details that they don't want the populace to know of."

"Incriminating details? What do you know of this?"

"Not much as of now, but I'm sure of one thing. This incident reeks of a setup." The Hunter's interest piqued. "The owner's an acquaintance of mine. Nice guy, middle aged; he's a widower as of two years ago. He's always done honest business…there's no way he would be selling poached animals…"

Cheney's eyes widened, and he donned a serious expression.

"I'm not normally one to get wrapped up in strangers affairs, but if it's about poaching, then this is a lead I can't afford to miss." He stared the Nu Mou in the eye. "I have a few questions for this shop owner myself."

The Scholar eyed him back, and eventually gave in to the huntsman's request, once again opening his leather booklet.

"What's your name, sir?"

"Cheney. Cheney Galliformes. And this is my clan mate Vili." The Viera gave him a small, polite bow.

"Pleasure to meet you. Very well then, Mr. Galliformes. Meet me back here tomorrow afternoon, and I will take you to see him." The Nu Mou finished writing in the booklet, stowed it in his messenger bag, then proceeded to turn around, beginning his walk down the street.

"Wait, I didn't catch your name." Cheney called out. The Scholar looked over his shoulder and smirked.

"Anrias, Reporter of the Truth."

(High Town, Shopping District)

"You were right, Adelle." Kanin remarked happily, a sheepish grin on her face as she swung her shopping bags in rhythm with her steps. "I really think I'm going to like this dress."

"I told you it'll look great on you." The silver haired maiden responded. She breathed out a dreamy sigh, closing her eyes and looking up towards the sky in delight. "Before we leave Grazton, you and I are having our own girls' night on the town. We'll invite Vili too. She needs to spend some time with us."

"Hey, there's Luso and Hurdy."

Adelle turned her head the left as Kanin spoke, peering over to the other side of the street. The familiar forms and colors of the chocolate haired boy and musical Moogle allowed the girl to instantly recognize them. Walking with them, however, were two people she had never seen before.

The first, a tan skinned young man with sandy blonde hair walked with gauntlet-coated hands firmly nestled in his pockets, laughing as the group of four conversed amongst themselves. His dark pants, held up by a red, silken sash, tucked into his steel boots, which came up to his knees. A large-collared white shirt stood out beneath his cropped vest. An elaborately crafted saber rested at his left hip. The second, a marvelously beautiful young lady with richer blonde hair tied into two braided ponytails, walked alongside Luso with graceful steps. The flawless skin of her midriff stood out between a faded red vest with a white shirt underneath and baggy shorts of the darkest navy whose ends tied inward just above her knee. White legging lined the remainder of her legs, and pointed, brown shoes covered her feet.

"Who is that with them?" Adelle wondered aloud, placing her left hand bags down and performing large waving motions to garner the group's attention. Even from the other side of the street, she could tell from Luso's expression that he had noticed them, and his group began traversing the width of the canal before stopping in front of them.

"There you two are." The boy commented. "We've been looking all over for you."

"Who are these people, Luso?" Kanin asked innocently.

"Old friends of my brother Montblanc and I, kupo." Hurdy answered in a cheerful tone. "We both used to live in Rabanastre a few years back."

"We'd always listen to Hurdy's performances whenever time was available." The blond haired boy remarked, stepping forward. "The reception wasn't always warm back then, so I'm glad to see our musician's doing well for himself. I'm Vann, and the lady there is Penelo."

"Nice to meet you." Kanin responded after a bit of hesitation. "I…I can't help but feel that I've heard your names somewhere before, though."

"Something tells me they weren't in a good light." Penelo spoke.

"Well I don't know about Rabanastre, but as for Jylland, sky pirates aren't much of a well-received lot." Adelle interjected. "I knew those names sounded familiar. According to the papers and pub gossip, you two have been on quite a heist streak."

"You steal a few precious jewels and suddenly a whole country won't keep quiet about you." Vaan stated, putting his hands behind his head and sighing. "This Jylland, nothing like Dalmasca, for sure."

"A few? Even one theft is enough to get you thrown in jail." Luso stated in a mixture of seriousness and sarcasm, before exasperatedly turning to Adelle. "Anyway, if you're done shopping I'll take the money back now."

Adelle, complying with his request, shrugged before reaching for the bag of gil she had tied at her side. She then tossed the bag to him in a small lob. The moment he caught it, Luso noticed that the bag seemed rather light, much lighter than when he had given it to her.

His fears where confirmed as he opened it.

"Adelle…what happened to all the gil."

"Well we went shopping, didn't we?"

"Yes, but there was a lot of gil in here. How could you have spent so much of it?"

"You've never been shopping with me, have you?"

The boy only stared breathless at her before sulking for an indefinite period after that, cursing the fact that he held even a margin of admittedly unjustified trust in the cat-themed girl. Hurdy only patted him in consolation reaching as far up on the boy as he could muster.

"Couldn't you return some of it, kupo?" Hurdy queried.

"No can do. Stores that expensive have no return policies." Adelle answered.

"Don't worry, Luso." Kanin said, also trying to comfort. "Maybe we could find a quick job down at the pub?"

"What job could you think of that would pay us around five thousand gil for a day's worth of work?" Kanin herself was taken aback by that, and her ears drooped in realization of the reality of their plight.

"Five thousand, you say?" Vaan said after some time of silence, stroking his chin.

"Forget it, Vaan." Luso interrupted. "I'm not taking any handouts like last time. I'm not one to make debts."

"Oh, trust me. This isn't a loan of any sort."

"I don't know about this, Luso." Adelle chimed in. "It's not a good idea to delve into business with a Sky Pirate. You don't know what you could get wrapped up into."

"Ah, such lack of faith." The blonde haired boy said, shaking his head in a playfully disappointed manner before smirking. "Trust me when I say there's nothing illegal about it. Well, not now anyway."

….

"The…Acqua Alta?"

Luso read aloud the medium sized poster spread out over the surface of the high town weapon shop bulletin board, situated on the wall just next to the door. All eyes excluding the sky pirates' curiously scanned the advertisement over.

"Yes." Vaan stated, speaking so that their entire group could hear. "It's a street race that Grazton runs every month or so. It's a pretty popular sport among the locals. There's acqua carri, which are water-based chariots that strap to the creature you intend to pull you."

"Oh, ok I see." Luso pondered inwardly, taking in the information Vaan described with the picture on the poster. "So it's basically like the wakeboarding back in my world, just without boats."

"Of course, it's more than just a simple race. Riders are allowed to use almost any means to win. Outright killing is banned, but the race can get pretty violent. If you have any weapons, I'd bring them." Penelo continued.

First place in the race is ten thousand gil, five thousand for second place, and three thousand for third." Vaan picked up where his partner left off. "First or second should be enough to get you back on your feet."

"It says the race committee provides any necessary acqua carri or gear, though all participants are responsible for acquiring their own animals." Adelle said upon further scrutinizing of the poster.

"Well, there is that." Vaan admitted. "Though it's simple to rent one."

"Except that I don't have the money to rent one." Luso commented dryly. "There's enough left to just cover the entrance fee and hopefully buy the carri."

Vaan paused at that.

"It seems so…" He placed his hands behind his head and began walking slowly away while speaking in a harmless taunting voice. "Then I suppose there's nothing we can do. Too bad…I was looking forward to beating you again."

"Wait, you mean you signed up for it, kupo?" Hurdy asked.

"You thought I would pass up an opportunity for easy gil? Not a chance." He turned to Luso, smirking. "If you do decide to participate, don't think you'll be receiving any sympathy from me."

"Wouldn't want it. Think of it as payback for our little fight back in Camoa." Luso retorted confidently. "How much time do I have until the race begins?"

"It starts tomorrow morning." Penelo answered. "Whatever you plan to do, I'd start right now."

"Right." The boy nodded. "I'll need your help on this, you guys. Hurdy, take part of our gil and sign me up." The Moogle muttered a kupo in confirmation. "Kanin, I need you and Adelle to take the rest and get me one of those acqua carri things. I'll trust you on which one to get."

The White Mage nodded before a puzzled look came to her face.

"What will you be doing, Luso?"

"It depends." He looked over at Vaan. "Do the rules say anything about what kind of animal you can use?"

"Not that I'm aware of." The Sky Pirate replied. "As long as you can harness your carri to it."

"Alright good." Luso smirked, while running off towards the direction of Midtown. "Then I just might be able to pull this off."

What plan does Luso have?


(End Chapter Forty Three)

Sorry for the delay on this one. School unfortunately has priority over my Tainted Grimoire.

Not much happened this time; it was mostly needed set up and a re-introduction for Vaan and Penelo. Next chapter promises to have some action in the form of the race, so look forward to that.

Until next time!