Any beliefs expressed throughout my story are not my own. They are simply unique to the characters and their personalities. Just wish to clarify that.
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy or anything related to it. If I did, FF12 would already be getting a direct PS2 or PS3 sequel. I also don't own any other anime, manga, or game that I take elements or characters from.
"Blah" = talking
"Blah" = thoughts, writing, sound effects, or flashbacks
(Blah)= scene change
The rain fell heavily, soaking the ground and morphing the once clear, dry pathways of the Bisga Greenlands into a maze of mud and grime. Streaks of lightning made their presence known every so often, accompanied by booming thunder which rattled the chocobo drawn carriage trying to make its way through the raging elements.
Micaiah Souer de Pervenche let out a disheartened sigh as she stared out the carriage window. Visibility was no greater now than it was on cool, early mornings in the Galleria Deep when heavy fogs decided to roll into their city. The advent of another thunderclap didn't bring her hope of it clearing up anytime soon.
With another sigh, she leaned back and diverted her eyes to the lap-sized, red velvet covered box sitting in the seat beside her. She couldn't resist the urge to read the letter within again, even after the tenth time. After all, one did not receive a personal message from the Baron of Grazton every day. Rarer still was a personal invitation to his Chateau. An invitation in name, but only a fool would shun the graces of so powerful a figure.
She couldn't help but constantly wonder what this was all about. Had she done something improper during court? Or something she may have forgotten to do? Professor Augustus wasn't able to explain the reason for her summons when he handed her the letter. Only that the Baron considered it imperative that she carry out the instructions within as quickly as possible. The old Nu Mou did quell her fears of danger, but the fraction of concern in his voice at the time was easily sensed.
A third fork of lightning gave birth to more thunder, and a great rattling preceded a strong jolt that titled the entire wagon and threw her from her chair. Loose items dropped to the floor as well, and she could hear the uproarious shrieks of the chocobo outside. She laid there for a few moments, making sure she hadn't damaged herself, then gave the door a swift kick.
"Is everything alright?" She asked, leaping to the muddy ground and falling to the side of the carriage driver who had also been thrown down from his perch. He sat up with some difficulty, soaked to the bone, but by the time he began speaking he seemed fine.
"I apologize, milady. The thunder startled the chocobo." He pointed a finger, and her eyes followed to the left front wheel half submerged in a potpourri of mud and brown water. "Seems we've run afoul a sinkhole. I don't know if I'll be able to pull it out."
"Are you two alright!"
Both their heads turned at the new voice, volume nearly as boisterous as the thunder that had caused the incident. The dark silhouette drew into view in time, revealing a sizeable Bangaa in what seemed like a Master Monk's garb with a few personal touches. A navy blue, decorative sarong hung his waist over the right side of his solid white pants. His red jacket did little to cover the front of his muscular torso. A large sack secured itself to his back by crisscrossing rope, and his entire frame was even more soaked than the carriage driver.
Though perplexed, Micaiah didn't question the good luck. "Yes, we're alright, but our carriage is grounded. Perhaps together, we three can fish it out."
The Bangaa quirked an eyebrow, then turned to see the vehicle. Silence followed, the rain still falling, then he let out a chuckle. "Oh that? That's alright. I can just get it myself."
Without waiting for her reply, he jogged over to the wagon and unfastened the reins on the chocobo. Neither of the birds made a sound of alarm at his approaching, something which both Micaiah and the driver found peculiar. He crept underneath the carriage, and to their complete astonishment, it began moving upwards. Further and further until the wheels weren't even touching the ground. He staggered forwards, somehow keeping the wooden behemoth balanced, and lowered it down before crawling back out once more.
"I…don't believe it." The carriage driver whispered, wiping his eyes in disbelief. Micaiah rose and ran to him just as he came to a stand.
"Thank…Thank you so much."
"Don't mention it." He remarked with a chuckle, then turned to head down the muddy road, throwing a wave back.
"Wait!" She called out, causing him to pause. "We owe you something for this. At least ride with us. I would hate for you to trudge through this storm any longer."
The Bangaa seemed to considered it, and was about to deny her request when he stole a glance of her pleading eyes, somehow clear as day against the furious rainstorm. He sighed. "Very well. Hope you're headed Grazton way."
She nodded enthusiastically in confirmation, again astounded by the turn of good luck. He walked back, and the two exchanged a firm handshake, the Bangaa's grip dialed down so as not to crush her hand. "My name is Micaiah. And yours?"
He managed a small smile, which to her seemed nothing short of a toothy grin. "Grant."
A casual meeting!
There is no distance great enough on this earth
To separate our souls
Chapter 61: Departure
"You have to concentrate. Don't use your eyes this time. Feel her out. Begin!"
The Viera's body only reacted at his very last word, legs bunching before rocketing forward towards her target. Perhaps to his credit, the chocolate haired boy before her didn't flinch at her sudden motion or her fast oncoming claw swipe. Instead, his eyes faced it with a sort of fierce determination. The wooden katana gripped in his fingers rotated, picking off each one of the resulting flurry of strikes and slashes with little more than minimal effort.
The sounds of their clashes eventually managed to draw Kanin Heldig's attention away from her book, which she was enjoying in a fold out beach chair underneath the benevolence of a wide blue striped parasol. She watched her father continuously bark out his student's errors, what he'd need to correct, and what would have been a lethal blow had their sparring match been live combat.
This had been going on for a while now, an entire month since the incident with Khamja. Clan Gully had decided to remain in Grazton as they waited for Cid to reach a more stable state. Not to mention a much needed rest after how much their group had been shaken up. The Rev had regained sufficient function within a few days, though to not take chances he'd been required to keep bed rest and maintain plenty of nutrition. Cheney had his hands full with that, not even counting conjuring up meals for the rest of the clan. Luckily, Baron Beltorey's staff had been more than willing to assist and teach him, given the Hunter's contribution to their superior's current existence.
Apparently, that same fervor and appreciation had swept over the entire city. After moving their supplies from the Baybold Hotel to the Baron's Manse, on his request, they hadn't been able to step foot outside for the first few days without being mobbed by indebted citizens or hounded by reporters clamoring for personal interviews. They hadn't believed Beltorey when he said this was going to make them big. Luckily the majority of the city's zeal had been subdued by week two and they relegated to giving the clan some breathing room, a much appreciated compromise between the mobbing and outright avoidance.
Luso of course didn't take the meaning of their rest too strictly, from day one to now getting a handle on switching from his two trusty blades to his inevitable future weapon, a katana. Even now, while they were trying to enjoy their afternoon on the beach, he and Vili had been sparring nonstop for the past two hours. Kanin didn't understand the rush. Perhaps just an aspect of his determinator nature. Or maybe thoughts of Cid drove home how powerless he'd been. The latter had quite the effect on each of them, both subtle and obvious.
What was obvious, she noticed, was how much more…different his physique seemed of late. She hadn't noticed at first, since he usually wasn't in nothing but swimming trunks, but looking now she could tell Ensei's Spartan-like training regimen was bearing fruit. His mass hadn't really increased at all. There were limits for a fourteen year old boy, but even then, everything just looked so much more defined. What was once flat smooth skin had tightened, revealing obliques and even abdominal muscles. Back muscles were definitely not neglected, and the girl found herself tracing the curves of his arm from shoulder to wrist. Kanin couldn't tell if the wet sheen coating his skin was sweat from the practice or if he'd taken a dip in the sea underneath her notice.
She didn't care. Either way was still just as attracti—
"Kanin!" The Feol Viera flinched at Adelle's voice, letting out the hushed strains of a yell. She looked up, face redder than the popsicle her silver haired companion had brought back from a beachside shop. Adelle quirked an honestly confused eyebrow. "What were you staring at?"
The White Mage blinked.
"Nothing." Adelle shrugged, dropping interest immediately. She joined her clanmate underneath the umbrella's protection, brushing the sand from her bare feet before both directed their attention back towards the sparring match ahead of them.
Luso sidestepped, receiving a bloody scratch on his cheek from Vili's claw, but threw off the pain in favor of bringing his wooden katana around to strike her gut. Somehow from her position, she managed to lower her body, ducking under the weapon's arc. From the past two hours, Luso could tell this would morph into some kind of counter, and he followed through the swing to spin his body around and strike. Vili's other hand tore up at the same time.
"Alright that's enough." Ensei's voice froze their bodies, the result leaving the katana inches away from the Viera's head and her claw in a similar position near his eye. The two combatants watched each other for a moment, then drew back, displaying worthy smiles between the onset of labored breaths. Ensei stepped up to them. "Good effort, you two. We'll pick this up later on. Beltorey said we needed to meet him back at the manse."
The duo nodded in affirmation, calling over Adelle and Kanin before packing up their things and setting off. The blaring sunlight from a cloudless sky wasn't too much to handle, considering being in swimsuits gave the occasional sea wind opportunity to cool them off. Numerous children recognized them during their trek upwards through the midtown, enthusiastically asking about what happened and remarking how cool some of Luso's and Ensei's scars looked. Both males always seemed embarrassed at the praise, and made their escapes whenever they could manage it.
"Palace…Festival?" Luso read aloud sometime throughout their walk, a wall poster pasted on the wall of a passing pub catching his eye.
"Oh, I guess you don't know about all that." Adelle remarked. "It's a festival they hold every five years at Bervenia Palace. It's meant for a number of things: government assemblies, Gift day for the royal family. But what everyone's really into is the Clan Tourney." The mention of a tournament brought lights to Luso's eyes. Adelle took a scrutinizing gaze at the poster. "Weird that they're having it this year, though. It hasn't even been a full three years since the last one."
"The word around Loar is it was bumped up because the prince is coming back from his overseas trip." Ensei commented, but shrugged anyway. "Doesn't concern us either way though." They all nodded, but Luso's curiosity wasn't satiated about it just yet.
After a solid hour of walking and mostly gondola rides, their vessel dropped them off at the Beltorey manse's front gate, and the guards peeled back its iron doors to let them in. They were unsurprised to coincidentally meet Cheney, Hurdy, and even Crow in the foyer, helping a few of the maids and butlers by transporting linens. Since Cid's discharge from the hospital, Beltorey had allowed all of them residence on his estate, and the manse was plenty large enough to accommodate them all. The eldest of the maids—a withered, graying Hume with a hunched back—made sure to keep tabs on the Sky Pirates at all times, lest their thieving hands lose restraint, as she liked to put it.
Everyone gave Crow a standard greeting, which he returned in his usual awkward/embarrassed way. The clan had more or less gotten used to his presence over the month, and any standing animosity had been kept silent, if not forgotten. Luso absentmindedly wondered how Adelle was doing with it. She seemed a bit better. There was tension whenever they talked, for sure, but not of the hostile variety at least.
On mention of attending Beltorey's summons, Cheney and Hurdy decided to join and Crow found himself roped along. They ascended the stairs, moving down the hallway until they came upon the double doors that led to the Baron's main office. However, they found the Commander and two lower ranked guards standing outside, blocking the way. "Sorry, guys. Baron's in a meeting right now."
"He told us to be here at this time." Ensei commented. "With who?"
"Eh, some ambassador from the Bervenia crowd." The man replied with a shrug. "Pretty young for a noble if you ask me though. That white hair of hers is quite the rarity too."
It took a few moments, but Luso, Kanin, Adelle, and Hurdy's eyes all met as they pieced ambassador and white hair together. The name on their tongues left each of their mouths simultaneously as they darted past the trio of guards and pushed the doors open.
Micaiah jolted at the sudden intrusion and subsequent shout of her name, and her eyes widened as she turned in her chair to its source. "Luso? K-Kanin? Adell—" Her bewilderment and excitement overcame her, and she found herself stumbling over her dress's hem before becoming the epicenter of a large group hug. "It's so great to see all of you. How have you been? What are you doing here?...Why are you all in bathing suits?"
The group conversed with each other over the next minute, explaining everything that had happened to them and questioning the white haired girl on how things have been. Meanwhile Baron Beltorey, who sat at a large oaken desk riddled with files, gestured to the commander that it was alright to let them stay. Micaiah was glad to absolve all of the queries, until Ensei asked "How is St. Galleria doing?".
Then, she grew strangely silent, eyes averting first, then whole face angling downward. Their faces grew more concerned as the quiet drew on. "Micaiah, what's wrong? What's happening?" Luso asked, voice hesitant.
"I apologize for the interruption. Is that all?" The Baron intervened hastily, clearly a cue to drop the conversation for now. It wasn't until that moment that the clan noticed the figure sitting in the chair next to Micaiah's, separated by a small round table the height of the chairs' arms. Her appearance wasn't particularly noteworthy, no distinguishing features that weren't commonly found on Moogles his age. Her fur was near completely white, with a tinge of brown at the roots.
She responded after all had settled. "Yes. I have said what was needed." Her voice and poise were full of grace and dignity, finely tuned. She left her chair and glided past the clan members to the door, grabbing the handle as she spoke over her shoulder. "I must return to the Duke with much haste. Have the night to consider the proposal, but I need an answer by morning."
She filed out along with the commander, who closed the door with a click behind him. The room went quiet again, and Luso didn't speak until he saw how distraught the Baron looked. "What's going on here?"
"Don't worry about it." Micaiah pleaded, falsifying a smile. Even she couldn't manage to fake a convincing one. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with—"
"I didn't ask if I needed to concern myself with it." Luso interrupted. "I asked what was going on."
His eyes locked onto the Baron's, almost as if petitioning him for an answer. The man didn't respond for some time, but after looking at Micaiah and granting a hesitant nod of approval, she decided to begin the explanation. "The recent coup of the St. Galleria Church has not gone without its share of scars. Crime has risen, the church is in shambles. Our people as a whole have given their best, but the going is hard for them. While we try to piece it together, Aquila, Maria, and I have deemed it necessary to petition the Loar Republic for assistance."
"I've read that you've thought about being annexed as well?" Cheney queried.
"Yes." She conceded. "That decision has been in the works for a few years now. It was something Aquila felt needed to be reconciled. All the current circumstances have done is provide the motive."
The faces on most of the clan members seemed to portray comprehension. The Baron decided to speak up. "The queen delegates drawing up charters for new territories to Coronet members."He lifted up the largest piece of paper on the desk for all to see: a grayscale map of Loar. He gestured on it as he talked. "The Galleria Deep sits here, between my territories and those of the Grand Duke of Moorabella, Basil von Reighlard."
"Reighlard, huh?" Ensei mused aloud. "The Grand Duke isn't much of the merciful type, for sure."
Micaiah nodded. "I have seen this with my own eyes as well. I…I cannot trust that man to perform in the best interests of my people." She seemed to shiver slightly at some thought unknown to them.
The Baron traced accordingly along the Galleria Deep with his finger. "My initial plan had been to split the territory in half between us and leave the governing bodies of St. Galleria untouched. But from his messenger's words, the Duke has no such reservations." He shifted his eyes to Micaiah, propping his elbows on the table and giving her a grave look. "Without a doubt, he means to assume full control of the region. Your governing family would be reduced to no more than puppet rulers, if he is generous enough not to replace you outright."
Micaiah sunk in her chair at the thought, cupping her face into her hands. Then she breathed for a few moments, trying to compose herself. Everybody watched her, not with any sort of pity, but of genuine concern. A lot seemed to be riding on the decisions she was making, and would soon have to make.
"Is there anything you can do for them, Beltorey?" Crow spoke up evenly. His sudden concern was surprising to the clan, but like a spark on dry tinder, they remembered his connection to the St. Galleria incident. He had more to atone to than just them. "With your power, surely you could help."
The Baron rubbed his temples and spoke with a regretful edge. "Nothing that wouldn't cause a fallout between us. Both conceding to the Duke and confronting him outright will lead to devastating changes in the status quo of the Coronet. Changes he assumes I won't risk creating." Beltorey managed a snide chuckle as he realized. "Something tells me he acted now precisely because of that."
"Will you?" Vili asked carefully after a time, managing to follow so far despite her lack of knowledge about the entire situation.
The Baron didn't have an answer, and only exhaled quietly. "I will see what can be done." Then, as if trying to psych himself out of the dire mood, he adopted a small smile and turned to the clan at large. "The actual reason I called all of you here lies in Cid's quarters. There is someone there who I'd like all of you to meet."
They were perplexed, but gave in to his request soon enough, wishing Micaiah many goodbyes before leaving her and the Baron to their machinations. Most of them felt distraught at the ill luck St. Galleria seemed to be stringing together, but knew there was nothing they could now but see how the situation played out.
As they moved through the hallways and pulled open the door to Cid's room, they were perplexed to find to find a hulking Bangaa in the garbs of a Master Monk, a rare appointment throughout most of Jylland, Ensei noted. His hand lay flat against the pectorals of Cid's supine body, just over the thin sheet that draped the Rev. Eyes closed, breathing even; it was if he were trying to discern something.
Everyone continued to watch him carefully, and then suddenly he rose up, finally having taken notice of the group. "Ah, I apologize. Greetings, my friends."
"Who are you?" Ensei asked. "The Baron's friend?"
The Bangaa nodded. "Yes. My name is Grant. Beltorey has told me of your friend's situation." Cid seemed to stir some at that, body shifting. Luso just noticed that the Rev had been awake when they entered. "I was brought in hopes that I could be of assistance."
"Assistance?" Adelle's voice was skeptical, but honest. She was…wary, also. Both her and Luso, for some reason. They couldn't shake the feeling that they'd heard that name before. "Afraid there's not much help needed. The doctors have been pretty clear. He won't be…"
"Yes, they were. And they were probably correct as well." Grant admitted. Cid sat up in the bed and scooted back with some effort so that his back was against the headboard. "I can feel it from the movements of his heart. He has suffered great damage." The Bangaa looked to Ensei, the oldest one of the group he assumed to be the acting leader. "I understand you are a clan?"
"Yes." The Parivir nodded, trying not to look in Cid's direction. "Cid and I have been joint leaders since the beginning. It will be a massive change for all of us, to say the least."
"I see." His snout held the faintest traces of a smirk. "Then what if I told you I might be able to grant him his vitality back?"
Eyes went wide, breath caught in throats, and for at least five seconds, voices could not overpower the shock from the statement. Kanin was the first to stutter out. "Y-You…you can…h-heal him? But..But…"
"No I can't." He interjected. "The injury is much too deep. I cannot heal it, but there may be a way to bypass it instead." Their confusion spurred him on. "I trust you have heard of the Tri-Bangaa Temple?"
"The famous battle monks of the Rupie Mountains?" Vili asked, somewhat startled. "News of their exploits and dedication has reached even my ears."
"The same ones." He confirmed. "I am one of their fold. At the heart of our infamous martial arts lies an extensive knowledge and respect for not just the soul, but the physical body as well. Our libraries hold centuries of natural cures and treatments, especially for those heavily wounded in battle." His grin widened, and he turned to the Revgaji himself. "I can promise nothing but hope. What do you say?"
Cid stared at him for some time, as if contemplating the offer. His eyes caught sight a few of his clan members. Luso, Kanin, Adelle, and Hurdy stood by, their faces bright with newfound hope he hadn't seen the likes of over the past month.
There was no rejecting the offer after that.
"I would be honored to."
"A toast. To each and every one of you here today." Baron Beltorey's voice rang out over the dining hall. "The greatest group individuals I have been privileged to meet in my lifetime." All those scattered across its floor—the members of Clan Gully, the visitors from afar, the Sky Pirates, and even the hired help allowed to attend their little gathering—raised the polished crystal glasses above their heads and pinged their tips against the nearest partygoer.
Much laughter and cheers followed, and everyone eventually returned to what they'd been doing. Kanin, Hurdy, Cheney, and Vili all joined the dance circle that'd originated at the center of the room, surrounded by the rhythmic claps of workers, most of whom joined in themselves. It was nothing like the practiced waltzes of the party before. Face paced twirling and spinning, furious violins and flutes. Just letting loose. And for Kanin and Vili, just trying to keep up the tempo their respective partners could easily handle. Even Vaan and Penelo, having missed their chance last gathering, couldn't resist showing these Jylland natives how it was done, mixed with a little Dalmascan flair for good measure.
Luso, Grant, and some of the other hardier hands of the manse were too busy competing in matches of masculinity to pay the dancers any mind. Fisticuffs. Arm wrestling. Regular wrestling. The brown haired boy had to miss out on the ale chugging challenges, but Grant seemed able to down enough glasses to excuse his absence.
Crow stood by Beltorey, Micaiah, and Al-Cid, his attention elsewhere as the three discussed governmental matters of some kind. The unmasked mage felt content to watch everyone's merriment from afar, but eventually Kanin and a few of the younger maids found the courage to drag him over to the dance circle, and he soon found himself lost in a sea of swapping dance partners.
Adelle occasionally glanced at all of this from the balcony's entrance at the room's far end, but mostly her attention remained in the sky, looking out at the large black dome dotted with white stars. A cool sea air would blow over her every so often, the last one long enough to mask the footsteps of Ensei Rou as he approached and leaned on the railing beside her.
"You've been out here for a while."
"Just taking a break from dancing." She responded. The slightest sweat sheen on her forehead was enough to convince him.
They fell into a comfortable silence after that, and Ensei was reminded of the conversation the two had after learning of Cid's capture. At length, the Parivir spoke. "You mind if I talk to you about something?"
Adelle just shrugged, but other than that didn't seem fazed by the question. "Sure."
"Cid and I have been talking for the past few weeks, and—"
"Oh that?" She queried with a near disinterested raised eyebrow. "I already know." This time Ensei raised his eyebrow, prompting her to continue. "I've been visiting Cid every day since his hospitalization. We've had a lot of time to talk about it. About a lot of things, actually."
Ensei decided to be more careful. "And what do you think about it?"
"I'll be alright." She said flatly after a time, which honestly surprised the Hume. "Cid told me nobody leaves Khamja with clean hands, not even him. Kill or be killed is the law. I know he it wasn't his fault, and no matter how much I want to, I can't blame him for what happened." She paused for a second, making sure not to face him. Instead she looked out over the city, facing a certain direction, the manse's position in the high town giving an expansive view of the every district. "Besides…someone taught me that everyone has the capacity to change. When given the opportunity."
The Parivir didn't fully comprehend her words until he noticed she seemed to be staring in the warehouse's direction. It didn't take long after for his mind to bring up the image of a certain Moogle, and the smirk Ensei imagined was on his face at the end of it all.
He could only grace a hidden smile at the girl. "Seems you've grown more than I knew, eh?"
"I guess so." She flashed a small one herself, before leaning off the railing and heading back into the party. "I'll let everyone know. He probably won't agree unless I give the approval anyway." Then she disappeared into the room, preparing to join everyone else once more. Ensei remained outside a little longer, just taking in the scenery.
He made a note not to bring up the teardrop stains on the railing she had occupied.
"Come in." Ensei called out after hearing a sharp rapping on the door. Beltorey eased the door to Cid's room open, spying the two Gully co-leaders. His smile diminished some as he spied the full burlap sack lying next to the Parivir's feet. It was hard to believe they were leaving this very morning. He wouldn't admit it, but he'd grown strangely fond of having them in the manor.
"All packed up?" He asked reservedly, eliciting a nod from Ensei.
"Kids are downstairs loading everything onto the gondola. It's about time we shipped out. There's a few things in Camoa we need to pick up." His face grew more serious and calm. "What did you and Micaiah decide about the St. Galleria situation?"
"A gamble." Beltorey admitted with a sigh. "Where whoever emerges the victor assumes full control of the region, without future interference from the other."
"All or nothing? That's pretty risky." Cid warned, levering himself off the bed and working the kinks from his legs. The other two were glad to see that he at least had the strength to walk now. "And what does this gamble involve?"
"It is. But we possess no better option. Not one he would agree to, anyway." He answered. "As for what to bet, we're not sure. My primary concern is him at least agreeing to my terms. Everything else will come later I suppose."
Ensei stood himself, throwing his pack over his shoulder, walking over to the Baron, and extending a hand for a shake. "If you ever need help, we'll be sure to give you a discount." Beltorey just laughed and shook his hand all the same. Then, as if having a thought, the katana-wielding warrior looked back at Cid. "When are you and Grant heading out?"
"Tomorrow or the day after. It depends how I'm feeling." He replied. Ensei nodded, then gave his co-leader a small smile before stepping towards the door. He twisted the handle, tugged it open, and was about to place a foot outside when Cid said "Take care of them, Ensei. This…this business with the rescue has made us known. We have to be careful of everything from now on. I'm counting on you."
"Don't go preaching to me, Cid." A smirk split the Parivir's face, and he was walking out as he finished replying. "You just worry about getting better. I'll hold the fort down while you're gone."
The Baron smiled as Cid did.
"And that should be the last of it." Grant remarked, placing the last sack of potatoes in the back of one of the large, carriage-model gondola rented for the clan to use. He climbed down the boarding ramp, giving everyone assembled a nod, just as Ensei and Baron Beltorey finished passing through the garden to join everyone at the gate.
"Ah, you guys managed to get everything in there?" Ensei said with some disbelief. He joined the assembled crowd, which included everyone but Cid. They'd made sure to extend their farewells to him before they'd even started packing.
"Of course we did." Luso muttered not too under his breath. "We had to learn to do it ourselves. It's not like you ever help." The boy didn't appreciate the subsequent blow to the back of his head, but he recovered within time, and turned to face everyone not in the clan. "I…guess this is goodbye, everyone."
"Not goodbye. See you later." Vaan replied, causing Luso to smirk, eyebrow inclined.
"I didn't know you could pull off cheesy lines like that."
The blonde shrugged. "Let it slide this time and I'll promise not to do it again."
The two approached and shook hands, and this seemed to be the trigger for everyone else to give their goodbye's as well. The going was rather slow. Nobody really wanted to leave, especially not after having that month of recuperation, but they knew it was time. Penelo, Micaiah, Kanin, and Adelle passed enough hugs around for everyone, even dragging Vili in at times. Al-Cid, to no one's surprise, made his rounds on the departing females, and his maid developed a twinge of jealousy with each succeeding one. A twinge she was sure to mask from him. Cheney made sure to thank Anrias for everything he'd done, and the Nu Mou reminded him that there was still work to be done. Neither would be satisfied until they'd finished what they'd started. They were sure now of Hans's innocence; now they just had to prove it.
Throughout the two minutes of goodbyes, Crow remained perfectly silent. He thought it normal when no one approached him at first. They were saying goodbye to others. But as the time drew on, he noticed that some…no, all. All of them were skipping over him. He could admit he was sad at the revelation, but he could not find reason to protest.
Then, the clan began to file into the boat, walking up the boarding ramp, Adelle first and Luso behind her. When they were just before stepping into the watercraft proper, a strange surge of emotion took the Black Mage over, and he shouted while stepping forwards.
"Wait!" Every eye turned to him collectively, and the sudden attention put him off, but did not dissuade him. "I….I….At least….at least say goodbye….please."
A small breeze filled the silence. Luso formed a small grin at it exited, as did every other clan member, one by one. "Why would we say that to you? You're coming with us."
Crow stared dumbstruck for a few moments, only managing out incoherent babble before being able to form "Wha…What are you talking about? I can't go with…"
His eyes shifted to Adelle, to read her expression. Unreadable for a long span, but then as she spoke, the corners of her mouth did something he never thought she'd do for him.
"See. I told you he would resist." She snapped her fingers. Before the mage could process what was happening, Ensei had already snaked an arm around his torso, hoisting him into the air and over his shoulder. His legs and arms flailed around as the Parivir began moving towards the boarding ramp. Adelle looked to the Baron. "Ignore us while we kidnap your guest."
"Feel free." Beltorey laughed. "I've had enough of this freeloader anyway. Maybe you can teach him something."
Crow decided to ignore the conveniently forgotten fact of the Baron blackmailing him to live at the manse. Instead, he listened as Ensei read off something akin to his rights while ascending the ramp and setting him down in the boat. "Since you're a new member, I'll lay down the law for you. Our rates at Clan Gully are pretty high. You have to participate in missions and contribute to the clan funds, but you can keep most of what you make."
"You're required to tell stories around the campfire, kupo." Hurdy added mischievously.
"The good ones, though. Don't hold out on us." Cheney tacked on with a smirk, before thinking of the benefits a Black Mage would bring. "And now you can start all of our fires too."
Ensei's tone gradually grew more solemn, but kinder. "And your most important duty. You're required to love every single one of your clansmen, for better or worse, and die for their sake if need be. Even if it costs you everything. Even your goal."
"Think you can handle that?" Luso and Adelle asked coyly, in unison.
The Parivir set him down, then took a seat. Crow looked up to see them all watching him, eager smiles and playful grins dispersed freely. Then, he sighed in relief, and let out a small laugh. The jerking of the boat into motion played along with his decision to not turn back. There was only moving forward from here, now.
Luso matched the mage's grin. "Welcome to Clan Gully."
(Grazton Arc End)
Alright, sort of late, but hopefully it's good. As far as flow goes, please forgive me. There was much to cover plot and set up wise, and I didn't want to split it up into two separate chapters.
A few things:
We are finally out of the Grazton Arc. It feels good to say that. I sincerely hope you guys liked it. There were times when I'd scrapped an entire chapter out of frustration, so I've greatly appreciated all the positive feedback from you guys. I won't name out of fear of leaving someone out, but you all know who you are.
We brought Crow with us. Some of you really wanted Crow to join the clan, but the funny thing was I'd had that planned since his introduction anyway. I've still got plans for him much later down the line.
Some stuff with St. Galleria. A lot of that ties in with Chp 41, for anyone who can't recall. Cid also has a few new prospects. I'll be giving him some development in a couple of chapters. Kudos to anyone who knows who Grant is without looking at earlier chapters.
Lastly, a big thanks to partner555, who's been kind enough to make Tainted Grimoire its own page on tvtropes. For anyone who wants to edit and add to the page, or even just read it, I'll leave the web address on my profile.
That's it for now. Until next time!