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


"You thought a sneak attack would work!" Again, his voice was on the fringes of mortality. "Too easy, boy!" His upward momentum continued, and the light of hope shone in his eyes again. If he could just catch this boy on the downfall, he could rip off his Flame Robe and take a hostage.

"Isn't over yet." Raven looked down at him as he spoke. If the boy wasn't so tired, he would've managed a small smirk, some victorious gesture, but as it was he just looked up at him, a pitying visage about him. Then, the Paladin caught view of the even more threatening sight developing just below him.

Sparks, hundreds and hundreds of sparks, crackled and popped , rising up at a faster rate than his leap, which had just reached the crown of his upward velocity. They continued rising, growing in number and gobbling up the oxygen in the dust raised and infused by Crow's wind synthesis spell. In that short span, that short one and a half second span, Raven's mind immediately understood what had happened, even as Luso spoke his final words to him.

"We made it pretty hot for you this time."

Everything made sense now. Gathering the dust into clouds around him, the boy's ignited blade…

A dust explosion.

His body was immediately enveloped in flames, but the explosion itself was more of a concussive blast than a rushing of fire. One moment the sparks cut off, just for a fraction of a second, then the blast was spreading at an incredible rate, what fire there was spreading in every conceivable direction above the heads of those watching. It was the largest explosion yet, so bright that everyone had to shield their eyes, regardless of their distance from it, and within the churning flames Raven's final scream echoed off every surface, just as his body was both incinerated and torn apart into pieces from the force.

The long night draws to its climax!


Ewen

Humans are such insignificant creatures, no?

Chapter Fifty Eight: Warning


"Hurry, my friends." Al-Cid called out, keeping his voice no louder than it needed to be. To Vaan, Penelo, and Hurdy, who stood on the ground of an adjacent alleyway, even its marginally hushed sounds still seemed to bounce off the walls of the two buildings forming it, enough for the trio to hear him well enough.

They answered with a near unified nod, not that he could see it from his place atop the building roof, and Vaan leaped up to pull down the rusted fire-escape ladder to a manageable height. Penelo handled it with ease, ascending first, and Vaan was more than willing to give Hurdy a boost before following the musician up soon after. The scaling was slow at times, a combination of their own fatigued state and a pause every time the old iron would creak beyond their comfort level, but they finally reached the top within a few minutes.

Al-Cid greeted them initially, extending an arguably unneeded hand to Penelo and gesturing for the two males to help themselves up. Neither had expected any more. Vaan was the first to speak as the four congregated around, managing a thankful smile. "Thanks for the save back there."

"Think nothing of it." He replied curtly, forsaking the thought to address more pressing matters. "Have you seen any of our other companions?"

"Not one. We've been running distraction in the courtyard, so we haven't gotten much of an opening to look." Penelo answered. Then, her face and tone grew inquisitive. "Where have you been this whole time? You weren't with us in the sewer."

"As much as I would have liked to join you on the front lines, Barley did not like the thought of tensions rising in Rozarria should I acquire significant injury on Jylland soil. He asked Marie and myself to scout ahead and snipe any dangerous elements, if need be."

The three seemed satisfied by the answer, and Vaan opened his mouth to speak. No words came out, though, as at that moment, Marie's voice called out to the huddled group from the other side of the rooftop nearest the warehouse. The quartet turned to look at the royal maid, gazing dutifully out over the expanse of the courtyard and its surrounding areas with her spyglass, then quickly jogged over to her position. Each found a spot at the flat roof's edge, and peered over the entire area, eyes widening in a mix of disbelief and horror.

Numerous shadowy figures, ten in all, each wrapped in midnight black cowls that could only be seen flapping as they passed through patches of moonlight, darted and dashed towards the warehouse building at speeds Viera could be envious of. Only Marie's telescope-enhanced sight could see their finer details; lithe Hume frames, half with large bows slung over their shoulder for easy transport, the others with knife holsters dangling from their sides. Some leaped completely over the solid courtyard walls with graceful, practiced bounds, while the rest opted for longer trips to open entrances.

As the others marveled, Al-Cid acquired his maid's spyglass and appraised them for himself. Hurdy was the first to voice concern. "Who…who are those men, kupo. Their dressed like the four men Vaan just fought."

"It's them." The Rozarrian Prince whispered gravely, and the others turned to him for further explanation. "Barley had me spying a good hour before our attack commenced. He told me to keep an eye out to see if any men were sent out, presumably to check on Cheney's distraction mission at the wharf." He paused, turning to them now. "Those were the men who left, and it seems they've returned."

….

Bursting winds displaced at high speeds, ruffling loose strands of hair and articles of clothing as the fire churned and raged overhead, billowing outward at an unbelievable pace. The scene retained a strange sense of silence about it. The entire room, in fact, was predominantly quiet, save for flames and the remnant of Raven's final scream, it's now hollow echo fading into the far corners of the hangar.

For what he could manage with his close proximity, Luso peered out from behind hand-shielded eyes, his palm gradually moving as the explosion's light became more bearable. He made a quick scan around to confirm everyone's status.

Cid still held Kanin back with outstretched arms, but she was now leaning on them rather than trying to force past. Both seemed calm, the girl particularly as she leveled a smile at him. Crow's body weight leaned on his rod, the one thing keeping him from crumpling to the floor at present. He seemed to be breathing heavier now, more than ever, and his face was drenched with sweat. The continuous stream of spells had clearly taken its toll on him. Glancing quickly to the opposite side, he was relieved to see Ensei back on his feet, clutching at the major wound on his side but powering through any expression of pain or weakness. Lastly, Adelle just stared upwards. Her face and form looked frozen in time, but eventually her eyelids eased shut, and a single, silent tear rolled down the right side of her face.

He managed a reserved smile, figuring out what she was thinking.

Then, all of a sudden, something above him caught his eye. It was barely noticeable amidst the now receding flames overhead, but he could see some sort of object discharging from them, cutting through the air to crash with a large thud and roll to a halt inches away from Ensei's feet. The Parivir didn't move or flinch as it landed, instead carefully turning his head down to it.

There lay Raven's head, or what could be called a head. It was blackened beyond recognition, every last piece of skin torn off, and the few remaining strands of hair he had left were fused into the visible parts of his charred skull. His body below the Adam's apple was gone, his neck ending in a few intertwining ribbons of scorched flesh. One of his eyes had been completely blown off along with the corresponding cheek, but the other had survived and managed to stare up at Ensei, somehow still functional.

The man and the head watched each other for a moment, as did everyone else, then the head's seared, greasy lips parted into some wicked, near toothless grin, and he began chuckling hoarsely. "I bet you're proud now. You think you've won, don't you?"

More chuckling commenced. Throughout this, Luso absentmindedly wondered how he was even still alive, much less speaking without functional vocal chords. At second thought, though, he supposed he'd seen stranger things in his time here.

"Don't get cocky, brats….just cause you took down someone as weak as me." He finally calmed himself of whatever humor he found in the situation, but his voice still held a dark, jeering tone. "Khamja can destroy you at any time. We will be the victors—"

The entire head went silent in a split second, seemed to tense, then every muscle—eyes, tongue, lips—relaxed at once. Luso and Kanin cringed slightly as Ensei gripped his katana's handle, then jerked the blade from the center of Raven's forehead, leaving a thin hole. The head had stopped moving, but the eyes remained open. It was eerie, like he could burst to life again at any time, but after a few moments the Parivir was sure that was the end of him.

Mostly sure.

As the tense moment dispersed, the relaxed aura returned to the room occupants, and fatigue quickly caught up to them. Particularly Luso and Crow, barely managing to stand as it was, allowed their bodies rest and collapsed to the floor, moaning out grunts and panting as needed. Those able to walk trotted over to the two boys, Kanin to her clanmate and Cid to the Black Mage.

The Rev reached down, a relaxed smile across his face as he spoke. "Need a hand?"

"Thanks." He responded reservedly, grateful but not quite sure if he should return the smile. Cid hoisted his near limp body with ease and threw his arm over his shoulder. He chuckled as both of them glanced over to Kanin bear-hugging the life out of Luso, oblivious to his calls for air until he went limp. The two watched the scene for a few seconds, then without moving continued. "You didn't have to help me up though."

"You're right, but I figured you earned this much, at least." Kanin began concentrating her White Magic around her hands while Cid talked and set to work on the slashes around Luso's legs. The Rev chuckled again, recalling their last conversation. "You didn't harm any hairs on his head, did you?"

"More than I can say I'm proud of." Crow knew he was joking, but was still somewhat ashamed to admit it. He leveled his eyes on Luso as he in turn repeatedly assured Kanin that he'd be alright, gazing at the boy as if some grand, distant object. "He returned the sentiment, though. Far deeper than any blade could manage."

Cid nodded at the statement, and his grin grew two fold.

"Well said." Ensei chimed in as he drew within feet of them, using his sheathed katana as a makeshift crutch. Both Crow and Cid now aware of his presence, turned to him, the latter releasing the former to stand on his own feet. The Parivir's face was stern, focused, and it reminded Crow of how much left there was still to do, as did his following words. "We'll need your help again, if you would. We're still not sure how the Baron, Barley, and the commander are doing, and you know these halls better than anyone."

Crow nodded in affirmation, but then his face perked up in an epiphany. "There might not be a need for that." He reached up to his right ear and felt around with his fingers until they touched a strand of Whisperweed. A light came to his eyes. "Good, I didn't lose it after all." He tucked his white hair out of the way so that the man could see. "When the attack began, Ewen gave a few of us these Whisperweed strands to keep in contact. I could try to get a status report out of him." His voice grew slightly quieter. "If Barley already ran into him, though, then he and the commander are dead. No question about it."

Ensei and Cid both silently paused at the thought, then gave the mage an approving nod to initiate with his plan. Crow nodded back, placing his corresponding fingers to the piece, and called out multiple times during which Luso, Kanin, and Adelle moved to join their clan leaders around him.

Crow only caught a few glimpses of the two girls during his attempt to reach Ewen. Kanin only glanced at him a few times, shouldering Luso's weight in the same manner Cid had done to him. Her looks were awkward, but whenever they'd catch each other's sight, she'd manage a weak smile. Adelle, on the other hand, never made eye contact with him once. No fleeting looks, no acknowledgement. She didn't seem angry at all, just…indifferent to his existence, and he could do nothing to find fault in her choice.

Eventually, amidst his musings, the Whisperweed picked up a signal, and the mage gestured for the clan to cease all noise and movement. Ewen's voice soon projected through the ear piece, and Crow cleared his throat as the man spoke. "Crow. I was just about to contact you. What is your status? Have you encountered any from Cid's clan?"

"Only three." He began methodically, keeping in mind to only give details and lies he could be sure were safe. "Barley and one other managed to slip past me on the way to the basement, but I managed to strike down Luso Clemens." The boy in question stuck out his tongue in jest, but the others were too focused to pay it heed. "What about you? Are you still guarding the Baron?"

There was a pause, and Crow wondered if he'd been too forward too soon. Then, to quell his fears, Ewen replied. "About that. Our men have detained Barley and one of the Baron's guardsman. I've decided to keep them alive for now. They may pose some use." The man's small pause allowed the answer to sink in before his continuation grabbed the Hume's attention again. "I've also decided to keep Beltorey at my side for now."

Crow's eyes went wide. He had to capitalize on this. "I see. Should I come to you back you up?"

"No. It'll be easier to come to you." The mage quirked an eyebrow at the answer. Did he know where he was? His query was soon followed up by another one. "By the way, Crow. Do you know what happened to Raven?"

The mage hesitated, but was quick on the uptake.

"No…No I don't. Is something wrong?"

"Not particularly. I just haven't made contact with him since I sent him to follow you, after we split up." The man's voice was innocent, as much as it could be, and for some reason that unnerved the boy. He gulped silently, and the Gully members around him could see the nervousness building upon his face. "The last message he sent me was particularly intriguing. Something about him taking you and a boy out after you turned on him, but now he won't respond. And you're still here. It's quite puzzling."

Crow was at a loss for words at this point. His face was so lifeless that it might as well have been drained of color. Eventually his breathing began to pick up along with the confused and fearful stares of Clan Gully. Ewen's next words were hushed and monotone, and all the more menacing for it.

"We'll be at the hangar shortly—"

The mage burst into life, face absorbing all the anger and rage he could muster while his hand shot up to the Whisperweed. He ripped it from his ear without a shred of delicacy and slammed it down, screaming out loud curses.

Luso was the first to speak up. "Crow, what are you—"

"We have to get out of here." His voice was quiet.

"What? We still have—"

"Ewen knows we're here. He's coming this way." He turned, trying to keep his increasingly frantic state under wraps. "Raven must have contacted him after he fought Luso and me. We have to get out of here. Now!"

Realization settled in moments later, and within five seconds, the entirety of the group was moving towards the opposite end of the hangar, dodging heavy machinery and stray flame left over from their altercation with Raven alike. Ensei, Luso, and Crow did their best to keep up, but their exhaustion and wounds brought them to irregular hobbles, until finally Cid, Kanin, and Adelle each took one of them and assisted their movement. Luso noticed as they moved that other than Crow, Cid looked the most visually disturbed by the revelation. Sweat was forming on his face, but he didn't look out of breath whatsoever.

The sextet finally reached their immediate destination after nearly two minutes of heaving, tottering, or near carrying; a massive wrought iron sliding door easily clearing twenty five feet in stature, corroded over from disuse but still as sturdy as it was imposing. Crow, breaking free from Cid's help, staggered into it, catching his body by his hands before shimmying over to the handle, at least six feet in length. Both he and the Revgaji tugged on it with all their might, receiving only rusty scrapes and screeches for their efforts.

Still panicked but at least trying to keep composed, the mage turned to Ensei. "Let me see your sword. We'll just have to cut our way through the canvas."

"Hold on a second." Kanin intervened in a concerned manner, stepping up between them and turning to the younger. "We can't escape yet. Don't we still have to get the Baron, Barley, and the commander back?"

"That's not an option right now." Crow remarked sternly. "I was wrong before. He said he only captured them. We have to find a way out of here first, and hopefully we can figure something out for them later."

"No, Kanin's right." Adelle added. "There's no guarantee he'll keep them alive if we evacuate. And if Ewen is coming here, why don't we just take him down? With the six of us, we'll—"

"…all die. Ewen will kill every single one of us." Crow spun to her, face more serious than ever, which caused her to step back. He continued, and his desperation rose with every word. "Raven. That guy we just killed was lieutenant-class. He was only a division commander because there was a vacant spot to fill, and the Zombie Powder gave him beyond mortal longevity. The actual division commanders are leagues beyond him, and at the head of them all is—"

"Me."

Everything. Their bodies, the air around them. Even time itself seemed to just freeze at that moment. At the moment the voice resounded throughout the hangar, bouncing off every surface and burrowing its way into their ears. Crow's eyes widened gradually, and his breathing ceased, as if he was afraid his next one would be his last. All six of them slowly turned, some faces more terrified than others, to gaze upon a Hume wrapped in midnight blue ninja garbs, tufts of dirty blonde hair sticking out from under a matching head wrap, facemask obscuring his mouth but not his words.

He was half the distance of the hangar away from them, but for how frightening he was right now, he might as well have been next to them. He step forward, hands placed neatly behind him, strolling with carefully measured steps, the only source of sound left in the area. Cid watched him most intently. His pupils widened with each foot that drew closer, until he was within twenty feet. Then, he came to a halt, and leveled his gaze at him.

There was perfect silence, then Cid breathed out. "You…"

"And you, Cid. Pleasure as always to see you without chains." His eyes focused, then angled slightly downward to see Ensei, Luso, and Adelle ever so subtly drawing their weapons, careful not to scrape them against any respective sheaths. "Oh, and please inform your companions that all resistance will be met with death." Each of the three halted at that, and let each of the weapons drop back into their resting places. They couldn't pinpoint exactly why. Something told them that his words weren't just a bluff. He looked to Crow, and his voice moved to the more jovial side of indifferent. "Ah, Crow. I had meant to chase you down first, but to think you would lead me to all of our intruders. I take it this means you've resigned."

"What are you planning, Ewen?" The spellcaster asked cautiously.

"I only came here to speak with Clan Gully."

"Without backup?" He narrowed his eyes skeptically. "That's pushing it, even for you."

He inclined an eyebrow. "For a group such as yours, I sincerely doubt it. But I suppose if just to live up to your expectations…" His right hand came up to shoulder height and his corresponding fingers gave a sharp snap.

A large number of curt, small sounds erupted. Boots touching down softly metal or stone and ruffling clothing were the first, preceding the appearance of seven, darkly dressed Hume ninja. They bounded in from where the clan had first entered the hangar, spreading out like a wave, bounding and leaping acrobatically off every surface they made contact with. Eventually, they all came to a stop just as quickly as they appeared. Three of the four with bows found vantage upon the outstretched wings of an old airship, while the others with a conglomeration of long knives and curved swords took positions in an outlying circumference around them.

The clan's eyes darted to and fro, trying to take in each of their positions, and hands unconsciously reached to weapons once more. Crow and Cid cursed under their breath, recognizing exactly who they were.

The one nearest Ewen, a few feet behind him, stepped forward. His superior didn't look back at him as he began to speak. "We've returned, Commander Ewen. An attack led by Cheney Galliformes caused Commander Khimari to set off the flare. The ship was marooned, but he instructed us to tell you that he'd dispose of whatever cargo didn't fit in the lifeboats. The rest he said he'll explain later."

Ewen nodded in response, oddly satisfied by the report but perhaps just wanting to attend to the more pressing matters. Then, he brought his full attention back to Crow. "Hopefully, my personal task force is up to your standards." Ensei and Adelle kept an eye on the archers atop the airship. They could hear their bowstrings drawing back as the Hume spoke. "If not, there are…a few more I could introduce you to."

Another snap rang out, more piercing than the last. The next few moments were rather quiet, Clan Gully tensing up for whatever was coming their way. Crow's mind ran through possible ideas of who Ewen was talking about. He was sure there were no more division commanders left in this outpost, not that they could take on the current one in their state. His hearing perked up as footsteps came into earshot, growing louder and more numerous as the seconds past. All the clan's eyes looked to the far doorway again, and as three figures emerged from the hallway shadows, their faces shifted through an untraceable amount of emotions all at once.

The tallest figure was easily recognizable, if not because they had seen him so recently. The second was much more haggard looking, his once pristine looking clothes saturated with dirt and dry blood. He seemed to barely be walking as it was, stumbling almost every few seconds. Both their hands were bound by iron chains, the ends of which rested in the furry paws of the third and shortest.

The room remained quiet as the commander, Baron Beltorey, and Barley came to stand next to Ewen. The ninja managed one sidelong glance at him, the Moogle glaring back, then looked to Gully again, just as Luso spoke up.

"You guys…" He was near breathless. "I'm…I'm sorry. I didn't know he'd capture both of you. I should have been there…"

"You have nothing to apologize for." The commander interrupted sternly, bringing confused faces all around. He cast his own glance at Barley, who avoided his eyes. "Isn't that right, Barley?" The Moogle said nothing at all, and after five seconds the Hume repeated, voice escalating. "Isn't that right, Barley!"

"Silence!" He roared back, his echo silencing the entire hangar. His eyes pierced through the commander's, but the latter retained his composure. Then, the Fusilier's head perked up, and he twisted to stare at Clan Gully, face a continual struggle between shame and anger for dominance. "What are you looking at?"

"Barley, what's going on?" Ensei queried calmly. Barley's mouth opened, but his voice caught in his throat. Then after a pause, Ewen cleared his own throat and stepped forward, beginning a slow pace within a safe vicinity of his reinforcements.

"He's decided to switch sides in this…confrontation of ours." His statement was plain and simple, and more than effective at striking fear and despair into the clan's visages. "He has—"

"You…you betrayed us!" Adelle hissed. Her eyes gained slits as she took a stomp forward. At that moment, though, all of the readied arrows trained on her form, causing her to stop and flinch but not to lose the edge in her voice or face. "We trusted…We trusted you! First you get us into all of this by betraying Cid, and then you turn us over to Ewen after pretending like you actually cared to help us!"

This was news to Luso, but before he could comment on it, Crow stepped forwards to bring her back. "Adelle! Stop—"

"Shut up!" She smacked his hand away as it touched her shoulder. He jumped back in surprise, and the rest of the clan marveled at the girl's fury. A single tear rolled down from her left eye. Her voice was but strained whisper. "Don't you touch me. I don't care if you helped us beat Raven. You stood by and watched as he burned my dad alive. You stood and watched, so don't you dare. Don't you dare pretend to be on our side now. You're just as bad as he is."

Crow lowered his hand, and shrunk back with her every word. Everyone had gone quiet at her outburst: Ensei, Cid, and the Baron not managing to look up, Kanin burying her head and eyes into Luso's shoulder as he tipped his hat over his eyes and faced the ground as well. She whirled back to Barley, alternating sight between him and Ewen, the latter of which stared straight-faced. "All you Khamja people are the same. You'll do whatever or kill whoever to get what you want. You're all scum. Well I won't—"

Finger's snapped, and an arrow whizzed through the air, slashing shallowly across Adelle's left check and bisecting the wet trail left behind by her tear. The girl herself instantly froze as the arrow thudded into the ground behind her, near the feet of Crow. Blood dripped from the cut within seconds, and her eyes turned up to one of the bow-bearing ninja, reaching for a second arrow in his quiver.

"Alright. I believe that's enough of your little tirade." Ewen's voice broke her focus, and he continued his ambling pace. "You call us…scum, but here you and your clan are breaking into our territory and slaughtering our men when we were perfectly content with trading over the hostages." Adelle moved forward in hostility at his accusation, but Crow finally just reached and pulled her back to the clan's vicinity, despite her struggling. "However, despite all this, I will give you all one last chance. One more opportunity for a peaceful solution."

All remained still, until eventually Ensei egged him on. "You mean the trade?"

"Indeed." He strolled over to Beltorey and the commander, inspecting the former. "Barley has informed me that you do indeed carry the Whitesilver Magicite. In exchange for the stone, we will hand over both the Baron and his guardian."

Another pause, then Cid spoke up, skeptical. "No tricks, Ewen. We'll break the stone if it comes down to it."

"No tricks, no deceptions." He replied with an easy scoff. "Each and every one of you will leave this building alive."

The Rev leveled another glance at the Hume and, seeing his face fail to alter at the statement, let out a heavy sigh will giving an approving nod. He craned his neck to Ensei, who was already retrieving the lustrous jewel from a side pouch, holding it up to shoulder level. Even within the bright confines of the hangar, it took all who viewed it a few seconds to adjust to its light.

Ewen gazed upon longer than anyone else, assumedly determining its authenticity from his distance. Eventually, he became satisfied, and nodded briskly to Barley. The Moogle retrieved a small iron key he had in a secluded pocket and unfastened the cuffs around the commander's wrists, the irons clattering to the ground. The Hume massaged his wrists for a moment, and couldn't hold back the glare focused on the Fusilier. Then, he made his way towards Gully's side, making a point not to look back at the Moogle. Ewen allowed him the time to traverse the resulting no man's land between the groups along with allowing them to inspect his condition.

Receiving a second look from Cid, he spoke. "Now, the stone, if you will."

This time, Ensei stepped forward, simultaneously handing his katana to Cid. It was mostly to show he meant no deception, but he knew he could stave off a betrayal barehanded if needed, provided the wound Kanin had just finished sealing would hold. He couldn't help but stare at the stone as he moved. This stone, which this big organization had gone through such lengths to obtain. Sure, it looked valuable, but he knew there had to be something more to it. Neverless, he placed it in Ewen's hand, and the ninja regarded it with a near imperceptible sense of awe in his eyes, the only visible area of his masked face. The Hume made a small gesture to Barley, and the Moogle repeated his unfastening of the cuffs, this time for the Baron.

"You did well to survive, Beltorey." Ensei said, preceding a small grin. "And here I took all you nobles as spineless bigots."

Beltorey, in his own weak way, managed something of a grin back. "If I'm to care for a rough city like Grazton, I'd have to be able to handle a few kidnappings at the least."

With a nod at that, Ensei turned around and asked the Baron to climb upon his back, which he did so without resistance. He caught Barley out of his eye's corner, the Fusilier noticing the momentary glance.

The Moogle looked away, whispering. "Stop it, kupo. Don't you judge me."

He waited a little more, and was surprised by the lack of furious reprimand. When he turned back, he saw not wrath or betrayal, but disappointment on the man's face, and in the words that left his mouth. "That kid discarded the safety of our entire clan because he thought they would execute you. An act you called naïve and foolish, which I did the same. But unlike you and me, at least he didn't throw himself away."

Barley opened his mouth to speak, but ended up saying nothing, rather turning his head away and unconsciously adjusting the rifle slung over his shoulder. Ensei closed the distance back to his clan relatively quickly, then after letting the Baron down, turned suspiciously back to Ewen. The two watched each other carefully, but every so often his eyes wandered around the reinforcements. Most seemed to be on edge, like waiting for some signal, but Ewen's own demeanor was calm and transparent, and suggested nothing of the sort. Was he seriously just going to let the clan walk away?

The Parivir took slow, subtle steps back, not tearing his eyes away. "So that's it then. We can leave, right?"

"Indeed. Feel free to depart."

Another snap of his fingers brought on audible movement, presumably by one of the Hume's ninja reinforcements. Something like a lever being jerked sounded out and the gargantuan airship doors creaked open with some effort, obviously having not been opened in quite a few years. One by one the clan began to make their way to the new opening as the cold salty air of night rushed in, but they were all careful, still unsure of what was going to happen.

Crow was the first to step out of the hangar, taking lead of the evacuating party. He took a moment to scan around. Airship parts from cleaved off wings to nuts and bolts scattered the cracked pavement of what seemed to be some sort of airship landing pad, no more than grassy patches in places. The brick courtyard wall lay at the other side. He looked back periodically, partly to check that everyone was keeping up alright, otherwise to see that Ewen and his troop hadn't moved from their posts.

Against all the mage's doubts, it seemed as if he was really honoring his agreement, but there was one thing the spellcaster was uneasy about. All the bow wielders still had their arrows trained on them. Crow could imagine it as a precaution, in case the group decided to attack, but right now they could barely even move as it was, and he was sure Ewen could tell.

The quandary left his mind as he turned, attention captured by the sound of tightening bowstrings from the front and the three darkly clad archers wielding them.

Crow's face went still, then gradually began to contort into rage as Ewen's voice sounded again.

"Sorry about this."

"Ewen!" Cid practically roared, turning on him.

"Cid, please. Your anger is unsightly."

"You lied to us!" Kanin called out, as both the blonde Hume and his platoon advanced forward to better encircle them. "You were never going to let us go!"

"Lied? Oh no, there was not one point in which I lied to you." His tone was calm and exact as always, and he made a sweeping gesture around him, as if displaying the scenery. "I promised that each and every one of you would leave this building alive, and you have. Both of our ends have been met." His tone grew noticeably darker. "As much as I don't care what any of you do, my superior wouldn't appreciate letting you keep your lives after seeing so…much…"

Ewen began to trail off as the soft sound of a flute began to increase in volume, eventually reaching the same level as his own voice. His eyes darted around carefully searching for the source, as did the bows of every one of the archers.

Then, for seemingly no reason at all, Luso, Ensei, Crow, and Adelle all felt an odd rush of energy jolt their bodies, and a soft red glow enveloped their frames. They were by no means healed, or anything of the sort, but what was once utter fatigue was pushed aside by a renewed vitality. Luso looked himself over in the couple seconds the even had given them, and his eyes shot up in realization.

"Battle Chant? Hurdy! That means he, Penelo, and Vaan are alri—"

Adelle's scream cut his thoughts off, and her hands flew out in blurry arcs. A multitude of marbles bounced from the clan's position in every direction. Then, they exploded into copious piles of heavy smoke, one right after the other, obscuring the space all around them and momentarily catching Ewen and his men off guard. The mask across his mouth blocked out most of the fumes, but he had to cough out the excess.

Amidst this, he heard Ensei's voice yell out for them to escape. His men were already in motion at that, though, rushing into the obscure smokescreen or letting arrows fly. Metal began to ring off metal soon enough, though the relative tight confines of the landing pad kept the smoke dense and together. Ewen decided to stay put though, and keep one of the archer's as well as Barley near him, just in case he spied anyone.

Luso and Kanin immediately sunk to the ground, barely avoiding an arrow whizzing just over them. They were soon moving, making for what they loosely remembered to be the direction of the courtyard wall. Both called out in unison, trying to keep the group together amidst the continuous volleys of arrows, but the blinding effects of the smokescreen kept them from a successful rally.

As Luso gritted his teeth, the dull thump of an explosion sounded northward, just after what he believed to be Crow's voice. Vision was opaque at best, except for the red glows the other two Chant receivers, so he and Kanin followed subsequent shouts of 'This way' and 'Keep moving'. Swords and knives clashed on all sides, spasmodically, like Worgen barking in the night fields, and more than one arrow planted its head into the ground inches away from their feet.

Suddenly, a shadow emerged from the right, and along with the boys fears, a darkly clad henchmen materialized from the smoke, his arms already drawn back to strike. The Hume and Feol Viera pushed off each other without hesitation, just as his long dagger slid through the empty space between them. Without missing a beat, his eyes threw over to Luso, the more armed of the duo, and pivoted to charge at him. The boy's Atmos blade leaped from its sheath, but he instinctively knew he hadn't recovered enough energy from the Battle Chant to do anything substantial with it. Still, he raised it for a block over his head.

Then, as the man swung down, a burst of air slammed into his left temple, shattering his momentum and sending him limp to the ground. Luso had never been more delighted to see Cid emerge from the nearby smoke, the Baron just behind and keeping low.

"Cid—"

"No time." The Rev barked out, his eyes constantly moving around. Even then, the arrows were whizzing past them. He pointed. "Head that way. Crow blew open a hole for us. I'll follow right behind."

Luso didn't bother to even nod, scrambling over to Kanin and dragging her in the right direction. True to his words, Cid nudged the Baron forwards, then stuck within a few feet of him for a few moments, doing his best to intercept any stray arrows. Two shadows approached him from either side, causing him to stop dead as lengthy knives cut through the air before him. Then, he was moving, throwing out strikes and punches.

Luso, Kanin, and Beltorey kept pushing forward for the next minute and a half, gradually, only stopping to hit the ground or check the authenticity of a particular shadow, who turned out to be the commander standing within the hole Crow had made earlier.

"Quickly, this way." He ushered, grabbing his benefactor's hand at the end of the line but stopping at that. Now was no time for a reunion.

"Where's Cid?" Ensei, who also stood around, turned to Luso.

"I have…no idea." The boy admitted, his eyes widening.

"He was right behind me." The Baron stated. "He may have stayed behind to assure our escape."

"That idiot! We're not leaving him here to die! Get out of here. I'm going after him." The Parivir growled, then charged back into the smoke, which was slowly but surely beginning to disperse. Kanin called out to him to stop, as did the other three, but they didn't go after them. They knew they wouldn't be of any help going back in there, so they restrained the White Mage instead, dragging her away by the arms down the path the others had taken.

…..

Cid stood silent, slightly hunched and trying to catch his breath. Seven arrow fletches sprouted out from his body: three in his back, one on each deltoid, one in a calf muscle and the last in his foot. Two of the darkly clad men's bodies lay on the ground, motionless, beneath his feet. Trails of blood from them could be seen in the fabric of his already dirty clothes. Other arrows had stopped whizzing by, and everything was eerily silent. The smoke was now lucid enough for his increasingly hazy vision to see silhouettes, and it was clearing out by the second. He dropped to one knee, exertion finally beginning to take its toll. The arrows weren't helping matters.

One of the silhouettes inched closer, his hollow footsteps echoing, sometimes muffled by the sprouts of grass in concrete cracks. Cid raised his head to meet him, staring up into the eyes of Ewen just as the Hume waved the smoke from in front of his face. It was clear enough now to see the pitch black night sky, and the moon, shielded behind the man's head from the Rev's viewpoint.

A little ways away, perhaps no more than thirty feet, he could make out Barley standing beside one of the ninja archers. The former's paws held a vice grip on the barrel. His eyes were constricted and he seemed to be shaking.

Cid glanced only passively at him, then turned his attention back to Ewen.

"Quite a familiar scene, isn't it." A pause, the shrill calls of seagulls in the distance providing white noise. "They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A fitting lesson for your last." A small pause, then his eyes narrowed. "Let this be a warning to you, Cid. Though you may be strong, rational, influential; one man…one clan cannot stand against an entire organization."

The Rev clenched his fist and his eyes narrowed, but then Ewen just turned around and began walking away. It was at this time that he noticed the archer next to Barley bring his bow to bear, training on his position. He drew his arrow back in anticipation of the man's signal, and during this the Rev figured he had enough time to give Barley one last glance.

The Moogle caught his gaze as soon as he directed it, and they both locked eyes with one another. Just like Ensei's before, there was no semblance of hatred in Cid's. It was hard to pinpoint what it was, but definitely no malice. The Moogle stole a quick look at the archer beside, bow string tension nearing its maximum. He kept glancing back between the two, pupils constricting with each switch.

"This is the end of the line, Cid. It's been…entertaining, I suppose." Ewen moved to the archer's side opposite Barley, then careened his neck to glance at the Rev from his peripheral vision.

"No…" Barley thought.

The archer set his feet.

"Don't do it."

Ewen raised his arm, fingers taking their position.

"Don't take him." He was at a whisper now.

The archer narrowed his gaze at Cid.

"Stop it, kupo." Louder.

Ewen's fingers snapped, and the arrow sprung loose.

In the split second before the archer released his grip, though, the Fusilier's body had moved. Barley didn't know why. If there was one thing he understood, it was that every single action he could have made would have been utterly useless under the height and physical constraints of his race. But he moved anyway, slamming with all his might into the archer's exposed leg.

But it didn't stop the arrow.

The archer crumpled to the ground, falling on top of Barley as the arrow cut through the air towards Cid. The Rev had less than a second to view the projectile hurtling towards him, and even less to react to it. A breathless cry jutted from his maw as its metal head separated skin and slipped into his chest cavity, reverberating long after it had implanted itself.

Cid's body immediately went limp at that, swaying on his knees for a bit before tilting backwards to fall onto the ground.

Just before that, though, Ensei Rou dashed out from a nearby column of smoke that hadn't yet dispersed, rushing to the Revgaji's side. He slid to halt just behind him, catching the Rev inches before his back would have hit the ground. Then, using all his might, he managed to lift his bulky clan mate up throwing him over his shoulder. The slash at his side opened up immediately from the pressure, but he completely ignored it.

By chance, he garnered one glance at the Moogle that had tried to stop that arrow, and amidst being forced to the ground by the archer, that same Moogle returned that short look, and screamed out before his throat was stepped on.

"Get out of here! Now!"

Ensei didn't waste time. He didn't nod. He didn't confirm it. His feet just burst into motion. Now that more of the smoke had cleared, arrows from some of the archers shot towards him, two managing to nick his waist while others just hit the ground. The blood from Cid's wound began to leak down onto his shoulder, far more loosely than he thought was safe, and with that thought he soared through the hole Crow blasted open.

He continued running. He didn't stop to look backwards despite the yells and noise emanating from the courtyard. He didn't stop as he passed over one of the stretches of canal and stole into a nearby alleyway, headed towards the nearest hospital he could find.

And the tears didn't stop freely flowing from his eyes, despite his best efforts to corral them.

….

"Should we chase after him, sir?" One of the archers queried as he came up to stand next to Ewen. The Hume regarded the bowman for a moment, then turned his upward, responding.

"No, let them be." The archer opened his mouth to protest, but Ewen continued, cutting him off. "We have obtained our primary objective, and the majority of them have already escaped." The other men gathered around to listen to their superiors orders, and he raised his voice just enough for all to hear. "The JDP will likely be upon our position once they alert them. Have the remaining men gather everything of importance and dispose of bodies. Don't leave a scrap of evidence and burn anything we can't take."

All nodded at once, then began bounding back towards the hangar.

Ewen watched them disperse, then turned back towards the hole Ensei had escaped from. Clouds wafted in front of the moon, causing the area to grow dim, and the wind ruffled his clothes. Small gurgling sounds and heavy panting captured his attention seconds later. He turned to see two of his men, one restraining Barley's paws with some cloth while the other forced him to his feet. A third, the archer the Moogle had knocked down, stood a little ways away, bow in hand.

Ewen walked forwards, drawing his steps out and seeing the Moogle's growing anxiety with each one. He stopped a couple feet from him, hands calmly placed behind his back while looking down at him. The Fusilier stared back with a quiet ferocity.

"A pity. I really was sincere about letting you live." Ewen calmly asked, raising his arm. The nearby archer's bow rose with it, arrow drawing back. "Last words?"

Barley paused, then in the quiet rasped out, his voice thin. Something akin to a grin crossed his mouth.

"Guess you didn't break me after all."

Ewen's eyes narrowed. His fingers made one last snap.

The arrow thudded into Barley's brain, right through his forehead, with enough force pull a small portion of it off from the neck. The resulting spray of blood signaled his demise, and his body slumped to the ground. He was gone before it did.


(Author's Notes)

Hey. Me again. College work hit like a ton of bricks this time. Papers, presentations, the usual stuff. But I managed to crank this out after sporadic nights at one in the morning. I hope I did this chapter justice.

So yeah, this chapter officially ends the Grazton Arc proper. It's been nearly twenty chapters, and who knows how many months, but we got through it. I thank all of you for sticking with me. The next few chapters will still be in Grazton, but they'll be closure and important set up. After Halloween, all the assignments stop coming until December, so I might be able to squeeze out a ton of writing then.

See ya!