Cuttingmoon57 here, and back with the super long chapter forty four 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


"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."

Luso rushes to put his plan in action!


Luso Clemens

Even your ice cold chains

Can't hold me down

Chapter Forty Four: Acqua Alta 2 (The Icebreakers)


"What did you drag me along for again?"

Ensei let out a boisterous yawn as he and Cid meandered through the pristine streets of the high town. At this time of morning, the streets were normally calm, though for today, the day of the Acqua Alta, they were quite packed with citizens either claiming their ideal spot on the sidewalk to view the race participants or making their way through the massive crowd that had gathered for the event.

"Luso's participating in the Acqua Alta." The Revgaji explained calmly. "I figured it would be a good idea for us to watch."

"Acqua Alta? You mean that water race?" Ensei raised an eyebrow, keeping in stride with the White Monk who returned his question with a positive nod. "And you gave him permission to do it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well it is a pretty popular event. I thought we were trying to keep a low profile."

"I know that we are. I just…these kids have been through many things these past couple months." The Rev responded after a sigh. "We're here for business, I'm aware of this. Though unlike you and me, they need a good rest every once and a while, and I figured this is the time."

Ensei couldn't help but secretly smirk at his companion's concern.

It wasn't much farther until the two men ended up in Piazza de Cascata, the largest single area in the entirety of district. In truth, it was nothing more than the center of the Grand Canal that ran down the middle of the high town, a circular plaza given a majestic ambiance by the dozens of manmade waterfalls spewing from the surrounding buildings and architecture. Dozens of colored banners hung from houses and shops, and even more colorful dressed people waved flags in support of their preferred participant.

"Grazton sure knows how to go all out." Ensei muttered after whistling in awe.

"Aye, that's what I was told. I think I see Kanin over on the bridge."

True to the man's word, Ensei eventually picked out his daughter's familiar form near the middle of the bridge, leaning on the railing next to Adelle, Hurdy, and a blonde haired girl with two braided ponytails. The two men began making their way over to the Ponte de Cascata, a large bridge that connected the two sides split by the canal, situated just south of the circular plaza. Small, interspaced rectangular holes in the side of the bridge poured out water, merely a decorative addition to the waterfall theme the area held.

"There all of you are." Cid remarked after he and Ensei weaved in and out, sometimes forced his way through the crowd before ending up with the rest of his clan.

"Yeah, we did our best to save you two room, though there were more people than we thought." Kanin stated.

"Where's Cheney and Vili?" Ensei queried.

"We invited them kupo, but Cheney said he had something to do today, and Vili was going with him." Hurdy answered curtly, before catching the Parivir direct a questioning eyebrow to their unannounced guest. "Oh, this is Penelo, by the way. She's a long time friend." Ensei nodded in understanding, and the Hume and Rev gave the girl a small greeting, which she returned.

"I hope Luso gets here on time." Kanin admitted worriedly. "The other racers are starting to take their positions."

The others looked out over the plaza, noticing how people began to clear out of the canal zone, taking to the sidewalks. Only a portion stayed, twenty to twenty five in number and all armed with the trademark watercraft for the race. As Hurdy looked around, he noticed how greatly different each water chariot was. Some were fashioned like surfboards, such as Vaan's, who took his place in the third row. Some had a place to sit, made to look like miniature versions of the town's gondolas. Others even held space for more than one person. Participants weren't limited in variety either. Every race was represented at least once in the group, though Humes served a sizeable majority.

"I haven't seen him at all since we dropped off the acqua carri we bought." Adelle explained. "Is he going to make it?"

"Oh, he'll make it." Cid chuckled knowingly. "Trust me on this one."

….

"Where is that kid?" Vaan muttered to himself, looking around for any sight of the brown haired Fighter. When preparing for the race, he opted for the board-type acqua carri and purchased a trained Exocot, a sizeable fish with four elongated fins capable of allowing it to glide some distance. "Don't tell me he chickened out after all that talk yesterday."

"I wouldn't blame him." The Sky pirate turned his head to the left as a deep voice captured his attention. There stood a green hued Bangaa, his chest covered with decorative brown leather, bandages, and an oddly shiny, silver breastplate, gripping the reins of his chosen animal tightly: A Razor Fish, a particularly dangerous shark-sized predator from the Sea of Ewohl known for the sharpness of its scales. The carri he stood on was a two passenger gondola type, providing enough room for his accomplice, a Moogle Black Mage with dark grey fur. "This race isn't for the weak hearted, boy."

Grazton Native: "Diez" Carnosa

"Take it from Diez." The Moogle added, pointing to the Bangaa. "He's a three time champion. You'd best drop out like your friend while you still can, before you get hurt."

"Now, gentlemen." Vaan began, feigning courtesy. "I may be a stranger to this race, but I'm no tenderfoot to dangerous situations."

The Bangaa and Moogle chose not to reply, only casting a smug glance to each other before smirking. Vaan caught the gesture out of the corner of his eye and made a note to keep an eye out on the suspicious pair.

Participants continued to congregate after that, forming five straight rows of five contestants each based on orders from the various race officials. The only row that did not contain five was the fourth row, which Vaan assumed was Luso's spot.

"Sorry I'm late, Vaan."

Most everyone on the back two rows and the bridge turned around at the sound of the voice. Most everyone's eyes widened as they saw perhaps the strangest sight they had seen in all their years.

A chocolate haired boy, outfitted in yellow overalls and a red cap, kept his feet firmly placed on his acqua carri, a blue board-type with yellow racing stripes, as he moved closer towards the starting point from down the canal. This in itself was actually a normal sight, though what made the scene strange was the beast of burden the boy had decided on.

A full-feathered, vibrant yellow chocobo.

…..

Adelle deadpanned.

"Is he using a chocobo?"

"How is that even possible?" Kanin queried, clearly amazed if her voice was any indication. "Chocobo are completely afraid of water, much less being able to walk on top of it."

"It's completely possible." Cid's smirked returned to his face.

"Oh I see. That was what you were doing last night." Ensei's visage showed understanding at that moment, and he turned to look out over the assembly of participants. The Parivir explained for the remaining group as a confused look came to their faces. "Cid coated the chocobo's claws. I'm guessing Luso was the one that came up with this idea?"

"Yes it was." The Rev replied, explaining. "He came to me yesterday afternoon asking if I could coat the bottom of our chocobo's feet in that water-walking resin, saying he had a mind to use it for the Acqua Alta. I was a bit skeptical at first, but it soon began to look like this crazy idea might actually work. It took us until the dead of midnight to get it ready for the race. Sometimes it amazes me the things that boy can think of."

…...

"It's about time you showed up." Vaan jeered lightheartedly, his eyes scanning over the chocobo that slowly sauntered to its starting position. "Interesting choice of transportation you have there."

"I like to think outside the box." Luso commented back with a smirk of his own, steadying the bird's reigns. It had taken quite an amount of coaxing to convince the bipedal fowl to take a step out onto the water, though after that it had become more and more accustomed to the canal's feel under its feet, and it relaxed periodically. The boy was grateful that had been the main hurdle in the way of his plan. The weeks the clan had been using the chocobo to pull their wagon had paid off, and the Fighter found it simple enough to control the beast's movements with the reigns.

"Testing…testing…one, two, three…"

Everyone's attention, from the race participants to the eager spectators lining the sidewalk and the bridge, was drawn to the source of voice that dominated all other sounds in the area. Individual conversations died down, and person after person looked up towards a large balcony to the east of the bridge. There, standing next to the railing, was a youthful looking Hume male who held a strand of Whisperweed up to his mouth.

"Ladies and gentlemen; it is my pleasure to welcome you to this very special Acqua Alta, the twelfth annual Tour de Grazton. My name is Ling Wacciuto, and I'll be your announcer this fine Grazton day." Luso put the pieces together in his mind and figured that the weed was being used as a microphone for some sort of intercom-like system. He noted, while fundamentally different, how closely this world seemed to resemble his own. "Before we begin, a very special guest has offered to give us the rundown on this morning's race."

Whatever eyes weren't already focus on the balcony soon turned towards it. The announcer handed off the Whisperweed to another Hume, who quietly thanked him, before scooting to the side. To Luso, the man seemed like some sort of nobleman. His jet black hair cascaded down his back, stopping midway, and was fastened into a pony tail. His eyes, a deep shade of chocolate, seemed to glisten with wisdom beyond his years, despite the youthful quality of his tan skin and appearance. His ankle-length white coat with golden embroidering matched well with his royal blue shirt and pants tucked into a pair of dark brown boots.

"Greetings, my beloved citizens." His voice was as smooth and silky as his coat, and a number of girlish squeals could be heard throughout the assembled crowd, followed by the combined roar of an ecstatic crowd.

"Who's that?" Luso asked loudly enough for only the two adjacent contestants to hear as the man began to prattle on.

"That'd be Belmont Orlandeau Beltorey." The boy turned to his right, laying eyes on one of his opponents. The young man was around the same age as Luso himself, standing at an inch or two taller than the adolescent. Deep black eyes contrasted against solid white, shaggy hair came down past his ears, though Luso could tell from his black roots that it was dyed. A black leather vest covered his chest and allowed slender, toned arms to show. Black pants hid the remainder of his form, and boots of the same color provided good traction on his board type acqua carri. The white haired boy continued to clarify. "Baron of Grazton and one of the Coronet."

"So that's the guy Cheney was talking about the other day." The chocolate haired fighter wondered, looking up towards the balcony after muttering a small thanks to his neighbor.

"It seems we have a few faces unfamiliar to me. Very well, I shall give a thorough explanation." The Baron continued speaking through the Whisperweed while looking down at the assembly of contestants, specifically towards Luso and Vaan. "You and your opponents will race through the canals of this city before reaching today's finish line, the beach in the Lowtown. While specific canals have been cleared for the race, I care not how you arrive as long as you arrive first. In accordance with thatyou are free to use whatever methods you please, though the ban on killing stands."

More cheers erupted from the audience, more so from some of the more wild-looking competitors, namely Diez. Beltorey continued undaunted.

"From the earliest times of Grazton, our forefathers have been men and women who have clawed their way to success, and who have battled the sea itself to live. They did whatever they could to survive. 'Sustain yourself and your countrymen however you can'; is that not the Grazton way, my friends?" The Baron began to grin as the crowd grew more enthralled. "Every theme of this contest pertains to our glorious history. To tourists, it is a simple race. To the people of this city, it is the embodiment of the Grazton spirit itself."

He angled his eyes downward towards the participating group.

"I trust you'll uphold this spirit with all your might?"

Luso nodded his head confidently while grinning, Vaan muttered something along the lines of being the leading man, Diez roared ferociously in excitement, the white haired boy stayed relatively silent, and for one last time the area became engulfed in uproarious cheers. The Baron, with a nod of approval, handed the Whisperweed back to the announcer and returned to his seat.

"That Baron of ours sure knows how to rile up a crowd." Ling stated with a gleeful shout. "If the audience will please direct their attention to the west side balcony opposite of this one."

Following his directions, heads turned and eyes received sight of a particularly strange sight. A sphere of water easily clearing at least forty feet in diameter sat suspended in midair, most obviously wrought by the hand of magic. Luso stared at the four Nu Mou Sages below the massive water orb, their hands held high, and correctly surmised this majestic feat was their doing. Off to the side of these four spell casters stood a female Hume Illusionist holding a crystal ball in her arms. Her eyes remained closed, as if she was focusing, and slowly but surely an image began to form on the surface of the floating water, eventually revealing a live image of the race's starting line and contestants.

"So that everyone will be able to view every thrilling moment of this race, the Baron has prepared for a live feed for our eager audience to view." Ling explained over Whisperweed. "So, without further ado, let's get things started, shall we?"

More cheers and shouts followed suit, and within no time the announcer began his countdown.

"On my mark! Three!"

"You can do it Luso!" The boy had just enough time to look up and see Kanin holding a sign with his name on it, waving it around and drawing attention from the people next to her. He offhandedly wondered if she had spent even more of the money buying the materials for the sign.

"Two!"

"Show them how it's done, Vaan!"

"Teach these greenhorn's a lesson, Diez!"

"One!"

All fell silent for that one short space in time. Then, a Moogle Fusilier just next to the starting line raised his pistol into the air. Luso calmed his breath and steeled his gaze. Vaan took his position. Diez and the Moogle Black Mage grinned.

And as the shot was fired, everyone's animal's bolted into action.

…..

"Alright gentlemen, now that the race has begun, everyone has one minute to confirm their bets." Chimed in a simple female Hume attendant, bowing respectfully to the gathering in front of her. With a motion of his wrist, Belmont Beltorey allowed her to return to the betting table.

The Baron in question sat alongside a dozen other spectators, each a wealthy man in his own right, viewing the race's beginning progress on the water sphere from the sanctuary of the luxury balcony. He sighed, leaning back in his plush, scarlet chair, drumming his fingers along the armrest until a certain Rozarrian prince and his maid approached him.

"Ah, the white wines of Flugoris." Al Cid remarked in his usual eccentric tone, taking a seat in a similar chair next to the man. He drew another sip from his glass before directing his attention to his maid. "Ah, Marie; be so kind as to pour our friend a drink."

The black haired beauty silently did as she was told, taking the glass bottle she held and pouring the aged liquid into the Baron's cup as he raised it. She then returned to her post next to Al Cid.

"You have quite the sense for wine, Al-Cid." Beltorey's face lit up after partaking of a sip.

"Well, there's one thing House Margrace excels at." The dark haired man mocked lightheartedly, though the Baron had a small feeling that there was some truth to the man's biting comment. "So tell me…who have you decided to cast lots with today?"

Beltorey took another sip of wine, then directed his attention to the massive water sphere. Projected upon it was an image of Luso Clemens, his brown hair ruffling in the wind as sailed past one of his opponents.

"No one, yet. Though, I have an idea."

….

Luso Clemens turned his reigns while leaning his whole body to the left. In response, his clan's chocobo, which he had so aptly nicknamed Gull, picked up his intentions and made a hard left. The bottom of his carri skidded along the surface of the water, generating a few small waves, before he righted his balance and aligned himself behind his chocobo.

He was ecstatic to see that the previous night's preparations hadn't been for naught. Gull was still responsive to even the slight movements of the reigns; obviously a trait the bird had picked up over its many years of hauling different wagons. The resin seemed to be in good shape as well. The bird's claws didn't seem to go under as they pounded against the surface. It mystified him how a fowl who was so hesitant towards the water before could become so fluent with its motions now. All he could think of was how he had calmed it down the previous night.

The idea had come from his few final days with Gilmunto in the Aldanna Range. His synchronization with the Mist had managed to not only placate the golden Thundrake, but allowed him to befriend it as well. His hypothesis had paid off in the end with Gull, calming the fowl enough to successfully lead it out onto the water. Within an hour or so, its fear of water dispersed completely, and it carried the boy's carri as if it roamed dry land.

The Fighter looked dead ahead, locking onto the sight of Vaan's back a couple dozen feet ahead of him. It had only been around five minutes since the race's start. As the gunshot resounded through the air, instead of cracking the reigns to implore their animal forward, a few people had chosen to let their spells fly in an effort to eliminate competition from the start. In the ensuing chaos, three riders had been taken out while the rest scrambled forward to escape from the battle zone, battling and eliminating each other all the while. The boy had been fortunate enough to proceed unscathed, though whether it was by underestimation from his opponents or sheer luck, he couldn't tell.

He couldn't quite gather the location of the more notable players. He knew that one Bangaa Diez was most likely in the lead since he had managed to grab an early start. Of course Vaan was still in front of him, a situation he hoped to change soon. He hadn't seen the white haired boy yet, so he assumed he was behind him somewhere. What he was certainly aware of was that the incident had allowed him a spot somewhere in the middle of the remaining pack, doing his best to keep a healthy distance from those behind and attempting to pass his sky pirate rival.

He cracked the reigns once before holding them steady.

"Alright, Gull. Let's see if we can catc—"

Luso ducked. He wasn't sure what had compelled him at that moment to duck, but nonetheless he followed it without question. This action may have saved his life, as a single large broadsword swept horizontally over him, quick enough to slice just a fraction of his chocolate hair off in its wake.

Shooting back up, he tightened his grip on the reigns with one hand and retrieved the Atmos Blade at his side with the other. The assailant manipulated his momentum, whipping his Falchion above her head for a downward strike on the boy's cranium. Luso smacked the sword away with his own, keeping his feet firm on his board carri, then stabbed at him. In response, his opponent drew back, his own ski-type carri veering to the right to create a good distance between them.

Now no longer in close quarters combat, the adolescent was able to size his opponent up. It turned out he was actually a 'she', a Gria with cropped pink hair. The Broadsword Falchion in her hand and the serious look in her eyes reminded Luso of the impression Clan Falzen's Claire gave him, and while not as nicely outfitted, this Raptor seemed to hold the same toughened demeanor.

Luso brought the Atmos Blade up, his eyes on the Gria and his peripheral vision keeping an eye out for any turns in the canal's path that might befall him.

"Let's see what I can do."

Rather than veering in for another close confrontation, the Gria narrowed her eyes at the boy, than cracked the reigns three times. Her speed escalated with each snap, and she soon overtook the boy, cruising at least twenty feet ahead of him and expanding the distance with every second that passed.

Her decision confused Luso at first, though he eventually settled on catching up with her, cracking his own reigns. The chocobo doubled its efforts, though the gap only slightly decreased. No matter how speedy a chocobo was on land, the oversized tuna she used to draw her carri could still reach exceptional speeds in the water.

The Gria, now positioned directly ahead of Luso, faced behind her and lifted her Falchion over her head once more. Luso's eyes snapped open. He could feel Mist and circling winds gathering at a point ahead of him, and immediately turned his reigns to the left, though his efforts were in vain. The Raptor swung down with all her might, and a cyclone, its diameter half the width of the canal, spiraled upward. The resulting force of the swirling gale caused the nearby High Town pedestrians to run for cover, and Gull let out a mighty caw as it began to lose focus in the face of the windstorm.

"We can't afford to get sucked into this." Luso thought, eyeing the Gria as she sped away, celebrating her supposed victory with a laugh. His pupils moved to the whirlpool forming and expanding at the base of the cyclone. "Crap!" He snapped the reigns over and over, and Gull ran with all its might, doing its best to resist the pull of the churning air. With a single strenuous push, the chocobo managed to climb out of the canal and onto the patio of a nearby café, pulling Luso and the carri upon dry ground with it. The Fighter looked around at the scrambling civilians before turning to the growing cyclone as the winds played with his hair and loose clothing.

…..

"Looks like one competitor is having a bit of trouble there." Ling called out over the Whisperweed, his voice projecting over the plaza. Kanin and Hurdy stared with worried visages as the scene on the water sphere performed a close up of Luso, standing against the wind as defiantly as he could. Ensei, Cid, Adelle, and Penelo merely watched with straight faces, all inwardly curious to see what the boy would do.

…..

"I'd hate to pull this out so early…" Luso thought, now staring down at the Atmos Blade in his hand. He narrowed his eyes at the ever growing cyclone. "But I can't let these people get hurt." He stared directly into the center of the windstorm and raised his blade above his head. A bright bluish white energy began gather along the blade's steel, culminating until it began to shine like a distant lighthouse in the dead of night.

With as much force as he could muster, he swung the blade down, and a crescent shaped burst of aura blasted forth. It cut through the air, screaming as it passed by every molecule, and slammed into the cyclone, slicing into the very core of the spiraling tornado and tearing it in half from the inside out. Luso and the other pedestrians still outside shielded their eyes as the swirling structure collapsed in on itself and exploded in a burst of air.

The boy opened his eyes as the winds finally ceased and the whirlpool downgraded to a general sway of the water. Scanning the area quickly, he noticed that nobody was injured, and only unsecured items like chairs, pots, and the like had been displaced and broken. He turned to his chocobo, the bird only giving him a cute, curious look, to which he smiled contentedly. With a quick snap of the reigns, the fowl began dashing back onto the water and continued down the canal's path.

"Time to get back in this race."

"Yes! Luso did it!" Kanin celebrated gleefully, giving Hurdy a double high five, which he returned in full force and exuberance. Ensei and Cid merely smirked knowingly at each other while many people around them released sighs of relief and amazement that he actually took time out of the race to ensure the safety of the citizens.

"He's definitely more powerful than when we last saw him." Penelo remarked with a giggle.

"He's been through a lot of things since you last saw him." Ensei tacked on with a smirk. "Your friend there isn't so bad himself either, it seems."

Their gazes returned to the water sphere, where the scene zoomed in on a certain blonde haired pirate, traded blows with a familiar Gria Raptor.

….

The Gria swung her Falchion in a downward, diagonal arc, the sound of rushing wind following the blade's movement. Vaan only grinned; bringing his own saber up to deflect it with the smallest amount of movement and effort that was required of him. He lashed in retaliation, and just as before, the Raptor had no choice but to veer her carri off to the side to avoid it.

"He's definitely different than that brown haired kid he seemed to be friends with." She only gave him a disgruntled look as the two traveled along the street length at the same speed, which Vaan only returned with a small wink. "I don't think a cyclone would work on him. He's too fast to get caught up in it. I'll just have to rush him and hope for the be-"

"If you're going to do something, then do it." The Sky Pirate commented lazily, snapping her out of her train of thought. "I've got some catching up to do."

She gritted her teeth, and in a rage veered closer to him as fast she could, her broadsword pointed straight at his body. He grinned again, spinning the handle dexterously as she approached and knocking away her stab as she connected. The two continued trading quick, successive blows; sometimes kicking up water from the force of their swings and pausing combat for turns whenever they presented themselves. The Gria knew herself she was fundamentally outclassed by him. His swings were precise, fast, and accurate; she eventually switched to defense, blocking his more important swings while letting shallow stabs through. Feeling the pressure after a particularly powerful attack, she chose to create some distance between them, jerking the reigns to move her fish closer to the sidewalk.

"You're a formidable opponent." She called out curtly over the rushing of the water below. A smile played at Vaan's lips, and he sheathed the saber in his sash which confused her. Regardless, she continued. "Maybe when the race is over, we can have a proper match."

She gripped the reigns tight between her palms. However, when she cracked them to increase her speed, the leather snapped in half. Her eyes widened drastically as the recoil jerked her body backwards. Trying to piece together what had happened, she noticed Vaan chuckling to himself. Then, he simply sent her a small wave and cracked his own reigns, his flying fish increasing speed.

A turn approached the two, and with the Gria finding no way for her to steer her fish aside, she abandoned the water-based chariot, quickly undoing the straps on her feet. Her wings flared open as soon as the straps were loose, and she took to the air just her carri collided with the earthen, stone wall. The soles of her feet rested on the second story balcony railing of a nearby house, and she crouched down, looking across the way. The impact site was merely a collection of broken wood, leather, and splinters floating on the water with hardly any visible damage to the wall. She did not see her fish anywhere, and could only presume that it hadn't taken too much damage from the crash, simply swimming off on its own. Her eyes moved towards Vaan, who waved at her with a smug smirk as he rode off into the distance. She merely huffed, shaking her head solemnly.

"Talk about karma!" The announcer roared excitedly as the crowd matched his sentiments. "Though I can't tell what exactly happened, it seems last year's second runner up Lavine Soffiare is officially out of the race."

"What did happen, kupo?" Hurdy asked.

"Most people here probably didn't notice it." Ensei began to answer, crossing his arms. "He never even tried to cut her at all; all of those big swings he threw out were just to keep her distracted. That kid was subtly cutting at her reigns the entire time, just enough so that one big crack of them would be enough to snap them off." The Moogle and Kanin looked at each other with wide eyes, while Ensei turned to Penelo. "I'm guessing you saw it too?"

"Naturally." The blonde girl replied with a graceful smile. "I've known him all my life, after all. There isn't a thing he can get past me."

"Now let's do a little checking up on our race leader…" Ling remarked as the scene morphed. His eyebrows raised as he donned a surprised expression. Everyone's eyes refocused on the water sphere, which showed a view of a Bangaa and a Moogle sailing through what seemed like a large tunnel with curving walls. Two other acqua carri riders followed some way behind him, never quite being able to completely pass him. "Some of our race veterans have already entered the Galleria de Turchino."

The Bangaa handling the reigns seemed to whisper over his shoulder to the Moogle Black Mage, though unfortunately nothing he said could be heard. The mage nodded in response, then raised his hands parallel to the water. From the way his lips moved, he seemed to yell out 'Fire', an assumption confirmed by the small explosion and displacement of water behind their craft. The following chariots dodged and weaved between the numerous blasts the Moogle commanded. Speeding up, one of the carri, carrying a white-haired Hume boy, managed to bypass the Bangaa and Moogle while the second one succumbed to the onslaught of the fire spells. The boy zoomed past them, and strangely enough the Bangaa jerked the reigns and his chariot came to a full stop.

He whispered once again to the Moogle, and the Black Mage began to build up an incredible amount of Mist.

Vaan's water chariot plowed forward, zooming around turns and curves whenever they appeared. Even as other pedestrians waved upon his passing, he kept his focus solely on maintaining his speed, directing his beast of burden, and the various thoughts running through his head.

Eventually, he would reach the end of the canal path; a massive hole at least thirty feet in diameter imbedded into the stone wall. On opposite sides of the whole were the letters 'G' and 'T', signifying the opening of the Galleria de Turchino. The largest tunnel in Grazton was also one of the quickest ways to travel from the high town to the low, specifically designed to travel under the mid town to reduce traffic there. Of course, it was only designed as a one way route, for its steep downward slope at points prevented upward travel.

As Vaan entered, he noticed that despite its size and supposed length, it was extremely well lit, giving him an easier time in navigating its few twists and turns. It was completely circular and covered in metal, more like a pipeline than an actual tunnel.

Following a few more minutes of high speed travel, the boy came upon an extremely odd sight. A number of carri were parked in the water before him, their owners either sitting or sulking in their craft. Perplexed as to why so many of them had simply stopped, the boy looked upward as he jerked on his reigns to signal his own fish to halt. His right eyebrow quirked.

Lying directly in front of him was a wall, a solid, jagged sheet of ice that ran from the water level to the very top of the pipeline.

"What's with all the ice?" The Sky Pirate queried to those gathered, bellowing out an amazed whistle.

"Diez Carnosa and Toretta, dat's what." One of the riders, a chestnut colored Seeq, spoke gruffly and with a slight hint of malice. "Dey only enter once a year, only for da Tour de Grazton, and every time dey pull some stunt like dis and make off with all de prize money. I've got a mind to wring der necks high, I tell ya!"

"Every year, huh?" Vaan pondered aloud. "But the Acqua Alta runs once a month. Why would he only participate once a year?"

"Only he would know." Another rider, this time a large, black haired Hume with tanned skin, responded. "Whatever the reason, it always means a loss for all of us."

"You've given up already?" Vaan raised an eyebrow again.

"You haven't, boy?" The Seeq countered. "Did you not see dis thing? Dis ice's impossibly thick for any of us ta get through without magic or de like. An trying ta pass through da Midtown; dat Bangaa would be long gone by da time we get through dat. Unless ya got at least a Fira spell up yer sleeve, we ain't goin' anywhere."

Vaan huffed a little bit, directing his eyes towards the wall. As much as he hated to admit it, the Seeq actually had a point. Carving their way through with bladed edge wouldn't work; Diez would've already claimed the prize by the time they conquered the wall. He looked down towards the bottom, then the top, noticing the deeper coloration of the former compared to the latter. He was about to speak, when suddenly a noise from back down the pipeline grabbed his and everyone else's attention. Due mostly to the echo provided by the tunnel, the blonde brigand could hear the person's voice, even as far down the tunnel as he was, and he immediately recognized it.

"Luso! Is that you?"

A few seconds passed, and the voice answered louder than it had been before.

"Vaan! There you are! Finally caught up to you now!"

"Luso! No time for that! Just listen carefully to me." He still couldn't see the boy, and only hoped that he'd be able to instruct him properly before he got too close. He waited three more seconds, and after receiving silence, he continued, talking as fast as he could. "One of the other riders made a wall out of ice. You're the only one of us who doesn't have an aquatic animal. You can break past it. I've got an idea, if you're willing to try it."

He waited once more, and soon enough Luso finally came into view, his chocobo dashing at full speed though still far away enough to where he couldn't see his face. The boy's voice carried down the tunnel once more.

"Quick, what do I need to do?"

"I can tell just by looking at it. Since it was created from the bottom up, the top of the wall is the weakest point. Get your chocobo to run as fast as it can and ride up the wall of the tunnel until you can break through it." Vaan called out as the boy drew closer. "If he can get the centrifugal force right, he may be able to pull this off."

"Even if he can make it up there..." The dark haired, tan Hume interjected, yelling as loud as they were. "If he had a red chocobo he could blast a hole through it, but there's no way a yellow can break that wall on speed alone."

"I didn't think about that at all." Vaan realized, beginning to panic. "Luso, forget the plan and slow down. This guy's right; a yellow doesn't have the strength to get through it."

There was a large silence after that, the only sound being the splashing of water as Luso's chocobo increased its speed with every passing second, showing no signs of stopping. The Fighter drew close enough for Vaan to see his face. His Atmos Blade was drawn, gripped tight in the fingers of his right hand, and his visage was nothing but determined.

"Sorry, Vaan. I'm breaking through."

Luso looked over at the raised Atmos Blade in his hand. He directed his eyes towards the very top portion of the all encompassing ice wall that lay before him, and within the second a bright, bluish-white aura began to surround both him and his blade as his chariot charged.

His chocobo, despite the growing amount of energy beginning to radiate from the boy, did not even seem phased in the slightest. The energy was more cool than violent and gave off a feeling of security, which helped the bipedal bird to maintain its focus and even increase its speed. It was like it resonated with him, almost as if sharing their two wills, and the chocobo was empowered by this new feeling.

The riders gathered near the wall and Vaan could only stare as an accumulation of Aura began to gather around the Atmos Blade, and as the boy felt it reaching its full capacity, he let loose the mass of energy in one powerful, horizontal sweep. The condensed, crescent shaped energy blast soared through the air much like it had earlier and collided with the top of the ice wall. The apex of the frozen barricade exploded with shards and splinters of the glass-like ice flying in every direction, even to the assembled race participants below.

As the crash site cleared, Vaan looked up. The ice wall, while severely damaged at that one point, had still not procured a genuine hole. Even from how far away he was, though, there were visible cracks, and they gave hope to the pirate that the boy may just pull it off.

Luso sheathed his Atmos Blade and continued to crack his reigns. The chocobo expended as much energy as it could muster, taking every snap as resolve for their drive. Luso eased the reigns to the left, and in response Gull began moving to the right, gradually veering until he was near contact with the pipeline's curved wall.

At that moment, Luso gave the reins one last powerful crack.

"Let's do it, Gull!"

In the moment directly following it, Gull increased his running speed to his absolute maximum, gradually picking up even more speed the further they went. Still keeping the reins at a slight left, the angle allowed the duo to begin gradually moving up the side of the pipeline. Sparks formed underneath the boy's board carri as it exited the water and scraped against the pipe wall, though Luso paid it no mind. His only objective was breaking through that one spot.

Gravity seemed to decrease the faster they moved, and the chocobo's legs began to give out on him, weary from the strenuous running the race required.

…..

"Whoa! It looks like that chocobo boy is going to try to break through the Diez's ice wall!" The announcer cried out, causing the audience yell and talk incessantly amongst themselves. "Can he make it!"

Kanin and Hurdy, their teeth chattering comically in anticipation, held each other for comfort as they and the rest of Clan Gully watched the screen with unblinking eyes.

"Is that boy crazy?" Penelo asked. "Any faster and he might kill himself on impa-"

"He'll make it." The female Sky Pirate turned to Adelle as she interrupted her. Her eyes were focused solely on the screen with her slender arms crossed. Her eyes full of unwavering faith, and her voice so sure that even the blonde began to mistrust her earlier doubt. Ensei chuckled under his breath, leaning on the bridge's railing with his arms, then reaffirmed his junior's comment. "He absolutely will."

"How can you be sure?" Penelo asked, slightly worried for the boy.

"The yellow chocobo in Jylland are quite unique." Ensei began to explain. "If you've noticed, they're slimmer and more streamlined here than in places like Dalmasca." Penelo nodded her head. "There, the desert heat requires their plumage to be heavy to resist sun overexposure. Here, the mild climate has given them leverage to adapt according to their needs, the ability to outrun their numerous predators. Zoologists over at the Moorabella Academy say that the chocobo in Jylland are capable of obtaining sprinting speeds of over seventy eight miles an hour."

…..

Gull stared across from the campsite, its large brown eyes focused on the scrumptious slabs of meat churning over the fire pit. Cheney slowly sliced off some of the deliciously, roasted morsel and set it on Hurdy's plate, the Moogle returning the gesture with a warm smile and a thank you.

Clan Gully sat around the campfire, merrily enjoying their dinner while the light of the campfire danced across their bodies and their eyes. Luso looked over at the chocobo harnessed to a nearby tree, who only continued to stare at their meal from afar. Smiling to himself, the Hume boy stood from his place, making sure not to draw too much attention to him, and walked over to the fowl. The chocobo eyed him as he approached, but its attention was soon drawn to the slab of meat adorning the boy's plate.

Luso nodded with a brighter smile, and the bird took that as its cue to dig in. It happily gobble up its meal, spewing out joyous 'kwehs' all the while, and as it finished, it nestled itself close to the boy, who only laughed while petting it.

"Luso, what are you doing over there?" He heard Cid call. "You're about to miss out on seconds."

"Nothing. I'm coming." Luso called back, giving a small wave to the bird before jogging back to the campsite. The chocobo only gazed at his retreating form.

"KWEH!"

If any speed was gradually declining before, it was completely recovered in the following moments as Gull erupted in a second, much more powerful burst of speed. The event threw even Luso off guard, though he quickly adjusted to the good fortune. The chocobo powered through all the pain and fatigue attempting to hinder it, and soon enough the two gained enough speed to where they were almost completely upside-down, moving along the 'ceiling' of the large tube.

"Smash through!"

At those words, the bird extended its beak, and it crashed through that top part of the wall with so much speed that no momentum was lost on impact. The ice shattered like a stone crashing through a closed window and without breaking their drive, the duo continued their corkscrew motion, veering until gradually descending on the other side of the pipeline. Luso's board continued to skid along the pipe surface, and his free hand found its way to his hat, keeping it from falling off as the air assaulted him.

He grinned as they once again touched down safely in the water on the opposite side of the wall of ice.

The speed and determination that smashes through everything!


(End Chapter Forty Four)

Character Corner

(Al Cid Margrace)

Job: Agent

Race: Hume

Hair Color: Black

Eye Color: Brown

Skin/Fur Color: Brownish tan

Likes: Women, Fine Wine

Dislikes: Female abuse, Men

(Description)

A member of the ruling family of Rozarria, Al Cid would rather further his acquaintance with women than play at politics. Though, behind his romantic gestures is a man well aware of the world and its workings. Seeking a vacation, Al Cid travels the land of Jylland for a time.

"So bound was I by the enchantment your beauty weaves, I neglected my introductions."

Al Cid, greeting Adelle upon their first meeting.

(Trivia)

-Al Cid will be kept similarly to how he was in the game, though slight changes will be made regarding motives and action.


Whew, that was a lot of typing in one sitting for me. Just in case someone didn't catch it, I'll elaborate on some iffy points.

I based yellow chocobo on cheetahs. The thought came to me while looking at a concept art picture of them from FF12 compared to FFTA2. The FF12 chocobo seemed 'pudgier', at least to me, so I figured I could incorporate this. Plus I found it a good way to further flesh out the world.

Furthermore, the eighty miles an hour thing is for sprinting only, not running. This explains why Luso was passed during the race. Similar to cheetahs, the chocobo can only keep that speed up for a set time before they grow tired.

This speed is only in yellow chocobo, I might add. Every other color has uniqueness to them that provides them with means to protect themselves or at least escape danger (Black: flight, Red: choco meteor, etc), so I thought yellow would be good as being the fastest chocobo. Hopefully it was in the scope of believability.

Of course, none of this information is game canon, only in my story. Take it how you will.

Lastly, that maneuver at the end can be pulled off in real life with the right speed. I got the idea from watching a roller coaster. I believe it's called the corkscrew, though feel free to correct. Anyway, it's been done in some car-chase movies I believe.

Hope you guys enjoyed. Next chapter finishes the race.