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


"Let's try left."

"We've been left twice now. Why not a right for once?"

"Does it really matter? It's not like we know where we're going anyway."

"But wouldn't three lefts just put us right back where we—"

"Will you two quiet down?"

At once, both Kanin and Adelle ceased speaking and directed their eyes at the Parivir standing a couple feet away, back leaned against a wall and eyes closed in concentration. His arms were crossed, head inclined downward with body visible only by the sconce above. Normally the group had kept to the shadows, but had cleared out enough guards in this particular area to have warranted a momentary break while deciding the next course of action.

Kanin, Adelle, and Ensei proceed slowly to their objective!


Barley

Trust

A word for those who do not understand

That this world was built on deception

Chapter Fifty Six: Indenture


After the initial outburst, Ensei said nothing else, prompting the two females to give each other confused looks before the White Mage offered to do what she could on the shallow scars Adelle had accumulated over their push inward. The silver-haired girl nodded and the blonde set about on her right shoulder. Other than the soft hum of the white magic from Kanin's hands and from the candlelight above, the group settled into a complete silence; not uncomfortable in any way, just unsure of what to do while they waited on Ensei to finish…whatever it was he was doing.

After a full minute of sitting, waiting, and watching, Adelle spoke, hoping to get a concrete idea or plan out of the Hume. "So what's the deal, Ensei? Where are we going from here?"

The katana-wielding warrior didn't respond to her at first, but eventually leaned out from the wall, an improved sense of direction in his eyes. "Finally, I think I found it. We'll make a right up here." As he talked, Kanin finished the few remaining touches on Adelle's arms.

With that, he began down his chosen destination with the two females closely in tow. Kanin winked at the cat-themed girl as she passed, delighted to have been in the right from their earlier argument, and Adelle could only roll her eyes in response. The girl couldn't help but wonder, though, where his sudden confidence had come from. "What was the wait for back there?"

"I was trying to smell Cid out." He admitted evenly, causing a raised eyebrow from Adelle which he couldn't see since he was ahead of her. "It's a faint signature, but it's definitely a mixture of blood and body odor. I don't know who else's it could be."

"What are you, a worgen? How long have you been able to do that?" Adelle sniffed at the air herself for a few seconds after that out of pure curiosity, but couldn't pick out anything noticeable.

"Many years. Luso can do it too." His nonchalant answer caught both the girls off guard for a second, though no one lost any speed in their stride throughout the conversation. "He'll have to improve his Channeling control, though."

Adelle opened her mouth to comment on that when suddenly Ensei stopped cold, his body tensing up. His hand flew up in a 'halt' motion, but his original reaction had already ushered a prepared stance out of them, and each of the three moved to hug the wall closest to them tightly.

Footsteps echoed off the hallway walls, and Ensei's head ever so slightly peeked around the corner to see quite the number of significant things at once. Primarily, he witnessed three figures, a massive bronze-scaled Bangaa warrior and a Hume and Moogle Thief, pass by two Hume guards posted on either side of a bolted wooden door. The feint scent of blood he had smelled lingered in the air stronger here than anywhere, but on closer observation their clothes and weapons were clean enough, and none of the men looked any worse for wear.

A spark of hope ran through his mind at that moment. The two girls behind him could see him get visibly excited, and Kanin reached out a hand to calm him, which eventually succeeded. Muttering a small thanks to her, he returned his attention the enemy group, who stood around conversing with each other in low whispers.

Battle plans immediately began running through his head. The primary problem would definitely be that Bangaa, whose body was actually hunched over more than his race's average just to remain within the ceiling's height limit. A number of dried, crusty scars lay over his thick unclothed torso and shoulders, though any below his lower waist were obscured by leather-padded grey trousers. One double bladed axe lay fastened to his back by a holster strap, its two belts crisscrossing over his pectorals. Ensei assumed he was of a higher class than those they'd fought up until this point, and with that would come a lengthier engagement. Time was definitely something the invasion group could not afford this far into the operation.

From their mannerisms and the Bangaa's barking out orders, he guessed that the three not beside the door were part of some patrol group, proven correct as the two Hume soldiers saluted and the three set off towards Ensei's direction. Ensei immediately ducked his head back around the corner and motioned for Adelle and Kanin to be completely silent. It was entirely pivotal that they avoid this fight, or the guards by the door could easily run for reinforcements. The footsteps became louder, step by step, moment by moment. Kanin amidst her nervousness noticed the beads of sweat rolling down the side of her father's face, and his visible uncertainty made her all that more anxious.

The Bangaa came into view around the corner first, then stopped right in the middle of the hallway intersection. Thankfully, none of the sconces were close enough to the Gully trio, and a shroud of pitch black darkness kept the bipedal lizard from noticing them immediately. The Warrior's head, more serpentine than other Bangaa upon closer inspection, scanned around for anything, forked tongue jutting out every so often. Ensei's hand moved ever so slowly to the handle of his katana just in case.

Just as he was prepared to draw it, the Bangaa released a curt snort, then gestured for the two thieves to follow him forward. All three mentally relaxed, but kept their bodies still until they were completely sure he was out of both sight range and earshot. A full thirty seconds passed and when Ensei was convinced of his departure, he and the girls quietly slipped around the corner and into motion.

Before the door guards realized what was happening, Ensei's katana was already coming out. This time there was no steely rasp at all, only the sound of the blade whistling through the air as he charged. Strangely though, Adelle was already ahead of him, something he had not been expecting. She came in low, no higher than the guard's waists even, and just as they turned to combat her she leapt at the first one, a dagger bore in each hand. Midair, upward slashes sliced through the protection and skin right above his collarbone beside his neck, and her foot came out to kick him square in the sternum and into his fellow guard.

The two collided with the ground, not too loudly do to their leather protective wear, and Adelle touched down on the floor soon after, quickly making her way to the guard she'd not slashed. He looked up at her and began to scramble to his feet, but her leg was already coming around in a kick that bashed his temple in, knocking him out cold.

Ensei would have watched the entire scene develop with some reservation if he hadn't immediately set himself to work on the locked wooden door. Kanin, though, could not help but flinch at the manner in which she'd dealt with them. Perhaps she'd not fought around Adelle enough to know her style, but this seemed…ruthless. Efficient, quiet, decisive, but ruthless nonetheless, and the ferocity in her eyes, which had come and gone throughout the operation, didn't help matters either. In fact, it seemed like she was trying to hold back from killing them rather than being careful not to.

The healer steeled herself. This was a battleground, after all; these things were commonplace. Still, the Feol Viera couldn't help but wonder if her friend's current attitude had something to do with the dream she had awoken her from the morning before, or the talk about her father up on the roof later that same day.

Her thoughts were put on hold as Ensei successfully forced the lock and eased the door open, and she and Adelle followed him in, making sure to drag the guards limp bodies inside as well lest the attract unwanted attention. Inside and door shut, the Parivir asked Kanin to give them a little light in the pitch black space and she obliged. White magic enveloped her palm and gave an ivory shine that spread about the room like a powerful flashlight.

All their eyes went wide instantly, as did their mouths.

"Cid!"

The Revgaji, his hulking form a chair-strapped menagerie of blood, sweat, and dirt, didn't move at their unified exclamation. Kanin moved in first, stopping a good two feet away and being cautious of any traps or the like around him. Seeing nothing of note, she moved to shine her makeshift light over his form and set to work on no specific area of his body, just whatever she came across first. Adelle kept watch around the door and periodically on the two downed guardsman while Ensei's katana sawed through ropes at a grudging pace, careful not to slice the Rev himself.

"Cid, come on Cid, wake up. We came for you." Kanin urged, pushing her cure spell at as high an output as she could manage for the time. "We came for you, Cid. We—"

"You guys are pretty loud, you know that?"

Kanin's mouth open wide in pleasant surprise for a moment as the voice rang out, and she knelt down a little to get a better look at Cid's face. Then, she stopped.

Cid was still unconscious.

Her head whipped towards the door just moments after Adelle screamed, which in turn followed a heavy smashing sound which broke the cell door right off its hinges. The huge Bangaa from before stepped through the gap, forked tongue flicking out as his smirk elongated into a toothy grin, and Adelle scrambled backwards to avoid his sweeping axe picking off her outstretched leg.

"Thought you guys could escape my eye, huh?" He jeered, near salivating at the thought of a kill.

Ensei's katana had already forgone Cid's ropes and was in position for whatever the man may send. "How did you know we were here?"

He sneered. "Pit organs. It's a semi-rare trait in Bangaa Faas, but there are quite a few like me who pick up fully developed ones. I knew you three were there from the moment I saw your body heat." A low hiss escaped his maw. "My boys have already gone for reinforcements. Don't think you'll be getting out of he—"

Instantly, a shadow appeared before him, its appendages moving horizontally from center to the left and right in slashing motions. The Bangaa didn't have to look down to know that he had been slashed across the stomach, and instead of backing off to read the situation better, he thrust a fist forward, a blow powerful enough to jar his attacker into falling to the ground. In the same motion, his other hand shot over his shoulder to grab his axe's handle, and the weapon came out, flashing down to crack the floor just beside Adelle's head. She made an attempt to get out of harm's way, but was immediately crushed by his foot, which knocked the wind out of her lungs.

"Trying to catch me off guard?" He dug his foot into her stomach for good measure, pressing all his weight upon it, and the girl gasped for relief. "I'm a high-end squad captain, fool. We don't just fall to—"

Out of nowhere, a blunt force of wind came from before him to crash right into the front of his chest, blowing him back through the open doorway and into the corresponding wall. Upon impact, consciousness left his body, eyes rolled back in his head, and he slumped to the ground.

Eventually, everyone's mind caught up with what had just happened, and Kanin looked down to see Cid's right arm extended, like it had just finished a punch. The few remaining ropes securing his body and chair began to snap at Ensei's previous cuts one by one until they shed off his form and he stood to his feet.

Kanin smiled, Ensei grinned, and Adelle returned to her feet as Cid's head rose, light blue eyes wide and shining while he cracked his knuckles and worked the kinks from his neck.

"Funny. Back in the day, any squad captain would have shaken that off like it was nothing."

A single Hume soldier walked along the dimly lit corridors of the warehouse basement floors. There was silence all around him, except perhaps the shifting of his shoes against the dilapidated floors and the flickering flames contained in unprotected sconces on the rough gray walls around him. If not for these few carefully placed sources of light, he was sure there were quite a few hallways around him that he'd not dare go down. Being afraid of the dark was one thing, but having such obvious blind spots during the middle of an attack was frankly unnerving.

The ambient lack of any noise other than his own was much worse than the occasional scurrying of a rodent along his path or the final giving-way of stonework too far old to bear its own weight. No, those sounds he'd become quite accustomed to through the life of their group's occupation of the warehouse. The silence, however, was knew to him, mostly because a majority of the reserves who would flood the halls down here, drinking and carousing as time allowed, had been sent up to combat the attack. Those left behind, he and a scant few other guards, were to basically roam the hallways for any enemy forces that slipped through.

He'd not imagined what would happen if he'd encounter an enemy during the attack. He was more unsure of surrender's outcome than if he'd just outright failed to stop their advance. Commander Ewen wasn't known for tolerating insubordination or failure. The short sword hanging at his left hip comforted him somewhat, even if just a little, and he—

He spun around behind him just as a noise went off, that same sword coming out in a flash. His eyes scanned the surroundings quickly, body shifting as needed whenever peripheral vision met its end, before his pupils travelled downwards to the noise's source.

Perhaps he wasn't as used to rodents as he had assumed.

Spewing out a relaxing breath, he made a move to resheath his sword when he stopped midway, and redrew it. It was better to have it out if and when an attack ca—

His body jerked, air immediately leaving his body and every muscle tensing at once. Eyes scrolled down to see the bloodied, sharp end of a sword sticking out from his chest cavity, and as he made an effort to crane his head around, the metal was yanked from his body and he crumpled to the ground.

He had fallen in just the right position to see an older Hume soldier not at all dressed unlike him but with much more muscle definition and an uncovered mop of dark brown hair as well as a gray-furred Moogle Fusilier just a few feet behind him. He could not find the strength to move his body, and could only lie there watching them continue down the hall, leaving him to die cold and alone.

"I see you don't mess around, kupo." Barley observed, glancing over his shoulder at the unfortunate man without stopping.

The commander didn't turn around as he answered. "Now that the kid's not with us, I don't have to hold back. It saves time and energy just killing them."

Barley nodded. "Energy we'll need if we have the bad luck to run into a platoon leader or higher."

"Is that some kind of rank?"

"Kupo." A nod confirmed. "Khamja combative forces are divided into five ranks based on skill, intelligence, and power, kupo. We've got the grunts like the one you just took out, squad captains like me, platoon leaders, lieutenants, and finally the division commanders."

"I see." He paused for a moment, subtly uneasy. "What would you place me at?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"Squad, kupo." The Moogle stated evenly. "If we get lucky, you and I together could probably take a mid-to-low end platoon leader. Keyword, lucky."

"Is it that large of a gap between ranks?"

"Like I said, it's more than just straight power, kupo. Usually those that get promoted are pretty well-rounded individuals, but there are the straight inhumanly strong or intelligent here and there."

The commander decided to drop the conversation at that point, not seeing anywhere else he could go with it, or perhaps just not wanting to psyche himself out. Then, an idea flared in his mind, and he couldn't help but wonder about it enough to warrant the question.

"So, what would Luso be?"

Barley's eyes widened. He already saw where he was going with this. "Haven't seen him in action much, but I would say squad like us, kupo."

"…and the Black Mage?"

"…Platoon. Mid-to-high platoon."

Neither of them said anything after that. There was no need for it. They both clearly understood what that entailed, and knew that after coming this far they wouldn't have time to go back for him. The commander let out a regretful sigh, then picked up his pace, Barley having his rifle ready just in case any surprises appeared. The duo continued to work through the hallways, sometimes quickly, other times at a snail's pace, just trying to keep out of any large enemy group's sight range. The attacked only sparingly, in situations where it would be profitable, mostly when they'd have the jump on their opponents from dark corners. The kills were quick, clean, and efficient; no stances, no flourishes. They had kidnapped his benefactor right under his watch, the man who'd given him a chance when no one else would, and for that, they would feel the full force of his fury.

Barley pulled ahead of him just as they came to an intersection and tapped the side of his thigh with his paw. Instantly the Hume stopped, instinctively understanding that the Moogle was thinking of where to go next. After a few seconds, the Fusilier's eyes blinked open, and the Hume followed him down the left path.

Something washed over him immediately as he set foot in that direction. For the tiniest fraction of a second, his whole body froze, then kept walking as if nothing happened. He instinctually knew it was more than just an odd firing of nerves; it was like his entire being screamed at that moment for him to turn around. He had no idea what had set him off; something, or someone he mused, just did, and he unconsciously swallowed dryly at the thought.

Still, he pressed on, even as Barley turned around to check on him, looking confused at his odd behavior before continuing the trek forwards. The Hume noticed that the Moogle had reacted in a similar fashion, from what he could tell of his current demeanor. It slowly dawned on him that the look hadn't been to ascertain what was wrong, but rather…

"Did you feel something too, kupo?"

The commander was surprised by the sudden question, especially because it weirdly finished his train of thought, but managed to formulate an answer quickly. "Yes. What was that?"

This time, the Moogle was the one to freeze, every last hair on his body perking to stand on end, and the absolute lack of sound from him gave the commander more chills than the sensation earlier had. If Barley had been facing his way, the Hume would have noticed the gradual constricting of his pupils and the fear contained in the increasing surface area of his irises. Then, just as subtly and calmly as he had quieted himself, he shifted back into motion and sound, spinning around and moving back the way they had come.

"What's wrong? Where are you going?"

"We have to get out of here."

"Barley! But what about the Baron?"

"We'll come back for him!" The Moogle's unusually frantic call officially brought about in full the graveness of the situation to him. "Right now, we are leaving before—"

"And where are you going?"

Barley paused immediately, not daring to turn around to the voice that came from just behind him. The commander, on account of speaking to the Moogle's retreating form, had already laid eyes on the man swathed in midnight blue. He had just appeared; no gust of wind at his entrance or sound of his boots touching the ground. There was empty space, and then he was there. That alone caused the commander to hesitate as his hand habitually flew to his sword handle, reasoning for only a moment that it would not work on the man before him, an idea Barley himself had long since taken to heart.

Picking up the commander's subtle movement without even having to see it, the dark blue clad ninja spoke softly and methodically without facing him. "If you value your life, your sword won't come farther than that. I'm in no mood for games." The lack of any aggression or passion in his voice made it all the more terrifying. "Now, where…"

His voice trailed off as he felt something cold and metallic press up against a small point on his stomach, he angled his eyes downwards and took sight of Barley, a determined, merciless look on his face, clutching his chaos rifle and overwhelming fear conquering his usual ability to hold it steady. The Moogle caught the man's eyes out of his own's upward peripheral vision. They were blank, not unintelligent but rather nonchalant; as if the small being's current efforts would have absolutely no effect. Finally, after a full five seconds of complete silence, Ewen spoke.

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

The Fusilier couldn't hide his gulp. "Won't you….you'll kill me anyway, right?"

"That was the initial plan." He stated matter-of-factly. The commander couldn't begin to imagine how a man could be so calm with a weapon right against his stomach and another ready to draw behind him. "However, you may still be able to prove your worth here."

"That's why I hate this accursed organization, kupo." Barley's voice was a deadly whisper, and his trigger finger would not stop twitching. "You just throw us away when we've outlived our usefulness."

"I throw you away when you reveal too much information, which I have good reason to believe you have." His tone remained the same, but gained a near indiscernible edge of finality to it. "I am willing to make you an offer." Barley licked his lips, which had become unnoticeably dry, then seemed to debate in his mind for a time before nodding slowly for him to continue. "You are still an effective liaison between Khamja and this clan. If you can convince them to proceed with the trade, I will let you and any remaining clan members escape alive."

The Moogle paused, a flash of hope darting across his eyes, betraying even the doubt in his words. "Escape? Do you really think I'm that naïve, kupo. You would actually let us walk off, just like that?"

"Believe what you wish, but this is the only offer I will tolerate. You may forsake it, of course, and try your hand with that rifle. Perhaps you'll get lucky."

"Don't listen to him, Barley." The commander's voice interjected while the man himself decided to draw his sword fully, against his more protective instincts. "Don't let him get to you."

"But you won't try, will you? Because you know just as well as I do that any resistance you put up against me is futile, and you know that this is your last chance to keep your life."

"Barley, don't believe a word he says. Just shoot him." The Moogle by this point was shaking, gun barrel never leaving the man's stomach but on more than one occasion seeming like it would. "If you can just charm him, I can take him."

"Everything you've worked so hard for will disappear."

"Do it, Barley. You have to shoot him now."

"Yes. Shoot me. Shoot me and seal your fate."

"Barley, shoot him now!"

Bang!

….

There was a perfect silence as the two piercing edges halted, their bloodied forms coming to a stop dozens of inches away from the holes they had created in their respective combatants. The creaking of chains and eternally decomposing machinery ceased. Sturdy ice, crackling fire, and excess gusts of wind all from spells had ceased to move or make any sound. It was as if all of existence in that room had stopped to regard the outcome of this exchange.

Luso and Crow continued to stand in their stabbing positions, bodies consequentially leaned up against each other. So still were they that the rise and fall of a breathing chest was gone from them. A fresh coat of blood began to bubble around the open wounds and dripped down in coherence with sweat beads on the skin hidden beneath their clothes. Each of their various muscles rippled slightly at different times, and it was impossible to tell if they each refused to go down or that their bodies were holding each other up. Perhaps it was both.

They stood like that for a few never ending seconds, unmoving except for those intermittent spasms and tremors. Then, without regard for the blade piercing his stomach, the Black Mage moved suddenly, ripping his icy rod back in a single motion. Luso's unfocused eyes jerked open at that moment, and his knees buckled from his weight, hands slipping gently from the handle of the blade he'd pierced Crow with. He collapsed to his knees and swayed for a moment, near lifeless eyes staring in the spellcaster's direction, which brought a chill colder than the iced rod in his hand.

Finally, gravity tugged on the last of his body, and he fell on his side with a soft thud, to him resounding through the room far louder than any attack they had used throughout the battle. Crow could not find a word or thought to sum up his feelings as he saw the boy drop. That, or he knew there wasn't a word strong enough.

He was so caught up in the rush of emotions that he'd almost forgotten the Flametongue still lodged in his gut, and the pain soon caught up with him. He fought through it well enough though, and after spreading his feet heaved it out, the fiery metal clattering to the floor. Without missing a moment his hand was over the wound, palm covered in the familiar ivory magic of a White Mage. It was nothing elaborate by any stretch of the imagination, just enough to halt the bleeding and repair the top layer of damage. He'd need a more thorough treatment later, but right now he just had get out of here. He had to get away from him.

"Nero."

The even voice was alike to a gunshot ringing through a library, and Crow's feet stopped dead in their tracks. Only his head whipped around, torso adjusting solely to allow the neck's rotation, and saw Luso's body lying chest up with his head cocked to the side where the mage couldn't see his mouth or eyes. Even then, he knew the boy had spoken. His voice was unmistakable to him.

Undaunted, Luso continued, just as passively. "Is that your real name? Nero?"

It took the caster a few seconds to realize exactly what the boy was talking about, and his Black Mage face shroud hid the surprise on his face, but not in his voice. "You…you knew…"

"Yeah, I knew it was you, even before you started casting spells."

"If you knew…you could have easily taken me out or captured me when we teamed up." Crow's voice took on a defensive edge. "Why didn't you take advantage when you had the chance…?"

There was a pregnant pause at his question, with the mage just staring and Luso's body still unmoving, save the return of his slow breathing chest. At length, the boy responded. His tone was the exact same as before, no fluctuations, monotone, but the sadness was all the more apparent now.

"For just one moment, was I not allowed to pretend like we were still friends…?"

Crow didn't have an answer to that. Instead, he simply continued watching the boy in silence. His hand relaxed and his rod fell to the floor, but he hadn't even noticed it. His attention was captured solely by the adolescent and what he had said, and he couldn't find the strength nor will to move. Their stalemate continued on for an indefinite amount of time, longer than any of their pauses had been before, and was shattered only by the deep, bewitching voice of the last person either boy had expected to show up at that moment.

"That's no good, Crow."

Crow was jerked from his stare and a wave of fear enveloped him. He turned to the source, behind him and above on the far balcony, where a figure sat on the metal side railing, legs dangling down. His long lavender-white cloak stretched down behind him, and his SavetheQueen leaned against the railing beside him.

The Paladin flashed a smile at the Mage, who took one terror-filled step backwards. Then, he pushed off after grabbing his Knightsword and leapt to the solid ground beneath, landing in an effortless crouch before standing erect. Step by step, he stalked towards his underling, sword slung over his shoulder while talking.

"I heard just some interesting things. Lying to your superiors about your enemies' intentions. Looking out for their well being, even. You've dug yourself quite deep." He sighed, continuing to amble forward. "But you are my precious subordinate; it'd be quite heartbreaking if they killed you. So I'll make you a deal. In exchange for my silence…"

He kept that smile up at all times as he drew closer, and then as he reached their position, he flipped the sword off his shoulder and swung down hard.

Crow winced, bringing his arms up in a desperate block, but heard the sword hit something and felt that he had been untouched. He looked to find the sword's tip firmly planted in the ground as well the same smile on his superior's face.

This time however, both of Raven's sclera were completely black, and a deep gold had overtaken his irises, and his voice seemed to take on something almost otherworldly as he breathed out the command.

"Finish him off."


(Author's Notes)

You guys know the drill by now. Forever long wait, sorry for making you wait for it, etc. Work was just piling on me, but I managed to crank this out in my two days off. I don't know how, but I did.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback on the Luso and Crow fight. It was one of my favorites to write. Two more chapters left in this arc, so look forward to it, and as always, if someone does something odd, chances are it'll be explained later.

Thanks for reading!