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
The darkness swelled all around him, becoming almost tangible as he swept through lamp-lit streets and alleys. Snow seemed to fall in clumps, or at least enough to attempt to impede his path. He scoffed at its efforts though. This was a furnace compared to the cryonic blasts Icedrakes could push out. Still, flames from his breath warmed his scaly hands.
He eventually happened upon an old storehouse. Rust pervaded its door and the padlock securing the front doors, large enough to accommodate a small airship. A side entrance granted him passage, though, and with a cursory glance around for followers, he moved inward. Within, hundreds of crates stacked in various piles littered the dim interior. Sparse candles revealed shadowy forms atop some, perched, squatting, or standing as they pleased. All eyes gazing upon him as he entered.
"And finally he shows his face."
"You didn't make it easy to find." Kain Khimari spat back, causing the male voice to chuckle at his outrage. The Dragoon growled, but a hand on his plated shoulder stopped him.
"Desist, both of you." Both conceded a nod some time after Ewen's command. The Ninja stepped forward from the shadows, taciturn and watchful, peering out at all assembled around him. A Hume Parivir here, a Moogle there. "It has been a long time since Division Commanders have been assembled like this."
"It must be bad if you had to call this many of us in." Another voice jeered. "Heard what happened in Grazton too. I never thought Raven would last that long anyway."
"Yes, it is unfortunate." Ewen's voice was completely monotone, and betrayed no emotion at the comment. "But we have more pressing matters to attend to." A snap of his fingers coaxed an attendant forwards, a battered cloth in her hands. She spread it out for all to see, two crossing crimson horns emblazoned across its white surface. "Open warfare is upon us."
"Do you believe our enemy stands a chance?" A more controlled, calm voice asked.
The faintest of smirks appeared beneath his mask. "None, whatsoever. But we shall give them no quarter regardless." Another snap brought three of his personal guard out to the middle, faces concealed in the shadows of their hoods. "I have an assignment for you."
The past cannot so easily be erased
Chapter Sixty Seven: The Greenhall
Radiance. Warm and inviting, brushing its soft rays against his skin in the midst of the darkness' unforgiving chill. Her radiance was always peaceful whenever she appeared. Unfamiliarity alone glued him in place, abstaining from her touch, but as she pressed on over the months, he could feel his side of the barrier waning between them. Hers remained wholly in place, never revealing more than she needed to, never answering the one question he repeated over and over.
So he tried another one. "What do you want from me?"
Yellow eyes, bright but as empty as a cavern, gazed upon him. The slight up-curve of her lips unsettled him more than her silence. And when her hand reached out to touch him, everything faded.
"Luso, wake up."
The boy's eyes wrenched open at the sound of her voice, and his body shot forwards. Kanin yelped at the sudden movement, falling back. When she looked up, she watched for a moment. Heaving, covered in cold sweat, eyes flashing back to blue after a blink. As they did, his face seemed to soften, and a hand came up to massage his temples. "Hey, Kanin. What…what are you doing?"
"Father told me to wake you." She offered a hand. "You were the last one."
That surprised Luso, normally because he was usually the first person up in the morning. He didn't know if that dream had something to do with it, but he hoped it was just combined exhaustion from traveling and training with Chita on the road.
The pair stepped from the tent, peering around the camp. Including his, three small tents sat positioned around a makeshift campfire space, all in the middle of a grassy forest glade. Birdsong twittered in the canopy above them, and a small brook trickled a few feet to the left.
All around, legs and hands moved. Ensei, Chita, and Crow worked to secure backpacks with taut ropes, while Anna and Vili picked up scattered trash and poured bowls of stew respectively. Poured only. She wasn't allowed near the stew while Crow offered to make it.
Luso quickly returned to his tent, threw on his gear, finished off his bowl, and began to help out around camp. Everything had been broken down and packed onto Gull within the half hour, and with Ensei leading the way, the group set off once more.
The week's journey from Camoa so far had been an uneventful, but pleasant experience, a much needed diversion from everything that'd happened in the famous town of adventures. Even so, the younger ones had found the trail taxing. If only because Ensei had left the wagon behind and forced them to walk with 'endurance training' as his only excuse. In its place, Sasasha had allowed them to borrow a second chocobo, a pristine white female named Snow, to help in carrying the larger objects. Gull didn't mind her presence in the slightest, and both formed a rotation. One always carrying the non-combatant Anna Gaelic, who deemed she had no need for the conditioning, and the other carrying whoever's legs had given out at the time.
Their journey initially brought them up through the Baptiste region, a hilly land carpeted in lush grasses with the occasional solitary tree every few miles or so. Cool breezes blew in from the coast as the moved through Flutegrass Bluff, and the days were often clear enough to see the slim shadow of Ordalia across the sea, only on the highest of the sub-region's hills. Occasionally they would crest a rise on these same hills, looking out over uneven plains teeming with Cockatrice and small settlements, which they stopped at sometimes to trade for fruits and vegetables. Once, a Worgen paused to watch them atop a boulder, its gaze one of indecision upon sighting Luso's drawn katana. But eventually, it fled, and with that they climbed the coast north, mounds of green underbrush rising along the verge.
The change was gradual, but soon the trees began to appear in closer proximities, and over the miles became routine. By the end of the day, Crow's map let them know they'd just crossed the Zeldei Forest's border, and liking their progress, set up the camp they'd just departed from now.
Luso could also notice a slight charge of Mist growing as the trees continued to climb higher around them, something Vili and Kanin reacted to first. Kanin herself was acting…odd to him, ever since they'd came across Formo Brook, a cold stream of snowmelt from Moorabella that became a popular landmark for caravan's traveling to the frigid city. She'd become much more reserved than normal, not even speaking. But the greatest change Luso noticed was the return of white wizard hat. She hadn't worn that thing since Bisga Greenlands. Not one single time since then, and without warning it was back. Seeing how anxious she was, though, he felt it better not to ask.
Other than the flourishing woodland animal populations, the group's first sight of any living thing since entering the forest came as they happened upon the expansive Silenia river which cut right through the middle of the forest and almost through Loar itself. Their largest quandary came here on its muddy banks. They had no water-walking resin, much less Cid with them to properly coat it. Boats passed through occasionally, though, so they supposed it better to hope for good fortune and a kind spirit to ferry them across.
Chita, who initially suggested the idea, hadn't expected one within two hours of the decision. Thoroughfare wasn't that common. Either way, they were thankful that the large rivercraft managed to spy their contained smoke signal and within the half hour, he was anchoring and laying down a long boarding ramp for them.
"You guys sure are lucky to have caught me when you did." The Seeq stated as the last of them climbed aboard. "Might have been stuck here a few days."
"Thanks for that." Chita affirmed.
He, Ensei, Crow, and Vili stayed behind in the captain's cabin while Luso, Kanin, and Anna set off throughout the ship. The ship cut a diagonal path across the water, maneuvering around sandbars as needed.
"So what brought you out this far?" Crow asked, warily.
The Seeq's head inclined, as if trying to remember, and eventually an epiphany struck his wide mouth. "Just bringing in some raw materials from the Rupies. The boys have been waiting a few days on me already. We've got a lot of work to get done."
"Are you sure it's safe to be out here." Ensei asked at some length, casting his gaze to the tree line on the far side. "This is Viera country, after all."
"It doesn't belong to them." He replied with a belly laugh. "Way I see it, as long as our employer owns the deed for this part of the forest, we can do whatever we want."
"I doubt the Viera will see it that way." Vili said with an accusing tone.
The captain raised an eyebrow. The up-curve of his lips descended. "They can see it however they want. As long as I get my two coins to rub together, I couldn't care less."
Vili took offense to that, but contained herself and lapsed into silence, not willing to risk their one and only method across the river. The rest of the trip passed by in mostly silence, with the occasional spurt of small talk on the clan's destination and the trip so far. Apparently, the clan's recent splash in Camoa had not dimmed their front page status at all. The Seeq had more than his fair share of questions on how so small a clan qualified for the palace tourney, and most were met with shrugs.
The boat anchored on the opposite side just as Luso, Kanin, and Anna returned to the main deck. The boarding ramp descended, and everyone climbed off, returning waves in thanks for the ride, if nothing else. His boat pulled off gradually, and within minutes disappeared around a bend in the river.
The clan remained on the sandy shoal for a few minutes, securing everything before heading off. Ensei watched the boat until it disappeared, narrowing his eyes at the 'JM' logo across the side. A hand on his shoulder, however, brought him back to focus. He put it out of his mind, and the group continued on.
The opposite side of the Silenia was, however possible, littered with more trees. Their procession weaved inward into the climbing canopy line, in and out of tangled roots. Roots which seemed to hurl themselves from the ground like dozens of oaken tentacles frozen at the height of their thrashing, churning the mossy floor from whence they came. Filtering sunlight added that much more of an ethereal tinge to make the trees seem alive.
With all the majesty, Ensei couldn't tear his thoughts from the earlier symbol, and the Seeq's words. As long as his employer had the deed? It was common knowledge that Baron Beltorey owned this area, as was part of the deal the Coronet struck years ago when they divided up Loar between them. Specifically, he'd requested ownership to prevent public pilfering of the forest's resources. It was highly unlikely he'd allow it now. Was ownership somehow taken from him?
"Ensei." Anna, riding atop Snow, pulled on her reigns to lower herself to the Parivir's pace. He inclined his head to her, stepping over an aboveground root. "About that ship. The one we were just on. That was a transport ship, right?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"When Luso, Kanin, and I were wandering around, we saw something…strange." He quirked an eyebrow, prompting her to continue. "Weapons. A huge cache hidden in boxes and under the tarp. And I don't mean the self-defense kind. These looked straight out of an armory." He didn't doubt the trained eye of a blacksmith on that. She paused for some time. "I…Something was definitely strange about that ship. I have a bad feeling—"
Instantly, a dull thump of an explosion rocked the ground, and a bestial echoing roar shook the leaves and branches high up. Everyone's heads flew up, darting around for its source. It sounded some ways off, perhaps no more than a mile.
Ensei quickly spun on Vili, who locked his gaze. "Vili, get above the forest and see what you can find."
She nodded, and with a quick bunch of her legs, she was rocketing up, rustling the grass around her launching point. Branches became nothing more than stepping stones to her dexterous twirls and leaps, often a blur to their eyes. Touching down onto bark but never staying more than a split second, and never making a sound.
Within the minute, she found the highest tree in the area, a good two stories above the others. When she reached the top, her ears pricked up to locate the sound again, and threw her eyes over the sea of green and the river. Searching for something that could make an explosion of that nature.
Like the thick column of smoke billowing from a riverboat.
Even through hazy fire and opaque fumes, there was no doubt in her mind. That was the ship they'd just seen in-tact, less than half an hour ago. The rest of its hull caved in to the flames, and despite her resentment towards the Seeq's behavior, she couldn't help but actively scan for his body, hoping he hadn't been consumed as well.
The thought instantly left her head, as the tip of an arrowhead pressed lightly against the back of her head. She made no motion at the voice. "Your comrades have already been captured. Any movement at all, and I won't promise their safety." She heard a bowstring tighten a little more. "Or yours."
Alright, speeding into our new arc. Kind of short, but I felt it was a fair stopping point. This one should only be three or four chapters. Including this, I'm now writing three different stories (one on another website), so please bear with me on updates for this one.
As always, thanks for reading and until next time!