Purity Amidst Madness
My life had always been one of structure and ritual.
When I was a little girl, my brother and I would play on the family estate. Of course we didn't play with toys, with a father like ours that was never our fate. Instead we played with practice blades, getting used to the weight of a blade in our hand at a time when most children were getting used to the idea of being off their mother's apron strings.
She would have been a moderating influence on that sort of behavior, had our mother survived Izlude's birth. Instead my father's armsmen were left to care for us, when he himself wasn't there. He rarely had kind words for us and his questions upon greeting us were always of what new things we'd learned, and if we'd mastered the forms our various weapons teachers were drilling into us.
My brother Izlude was capable of sparring on even ground with some of the knights training at a nearby Nanten fortress by the time he was fourteen, beating my record of doing the same by the time I was fifteen. We learned tactics and strategy from dozens of teachers, absorbing that knowledge as fast as our tutors could provide it.
It's not arrogance to say that Izlude and I are both prodigies in the art of warfare. It's just fact.
By the time I was seventeen, I'd been selected to be trained by the Shrine Knights. I learned how to channel the magical spark within me to rupture a foe's gear as I struck. It's not an art that lends itself well to fighting beasts, or lightly armed and armoured foes, but I hold the edge over the cruder Holy Swordsmen when facing knights or lancers.
A year ago, I first heard the name Ramza Beoulve. Or, as he was calling himself during those days, Ramza Ruglia. Ramza the Heretic. Ramza the Assassin. The man who'd killed Cardinal Draclau and stolen a holy stone, just like the one I had in my pouch. I studied the drawing and grimaced at the audacity of some milk-chinned boy actually penetrating Lionel to murder a cardinal in his own santum.
I also wondered slightly at his motives. I'd seen enough and learned enough about the world to know that simply being a "religious extremist" didn't prompt the bastard son of a noble family to invade a well guarded castle and commit the murder of a prominent religious figure. After questioning him about it, my father admitted that the Princess Ovelia's departure from Lionel may have played a factor.
Of course, the entire event was a fiasco for the Shrine Knights. We were supposed to prevent things like this from happening, and my father had only been gone from the place for a day when it happened. Cardinals should not have to worry about uppity squires and ragtag bands of Hokuten washouts.
There was little I could do about it, though. Only God knew where this Ramza was: All I could do at the time was keep an eye out. Surely one miserable squire wouldn't pose a problem for a Shrine Knight. Whenever our select group chanced across him, whoever it was, we would bring him to task for his crimes and end it.
Besides, Zalmo and his network of informants would be better suited to the task of tracking this heretic down. That was my thought until I learned that Zalmo had tried and failed. Of course, one doesn't become a nationally-recognized terrorist lightly, but Zalmo was a professional heresy examiner. His people were well-trained and highly disciplined. That this ragtag bunch of Hokuten deserters could annihilate Zalmo's entire squad was insane.
Of course, that was merely the prelude.
A few weeks later, I learned that Ramza had killed Weigraf Folles. That came as a surprise. Certainly he was strong, to have done so. Weigraf, for all his strength, was not someone who'd been inducted into the Shrine Knights. His position was honourary, my father had told me, granted because of favours he'd done and would continue to do for us. He was not truly one of our own.
I said as much to the messenger.
"There's more," he replied, eyes not meeting my own. He'd looked uneasy as stood in the library where he'd found me. "Perhaps you should have a seat, milady."
I'd frowned, but did so.
"Weigraf was not the only Shrine Knight killed during the battle at Riovanes," the messenger told me, as my stomach clenched and my heart had stopped beating. "Your brother, Knight Blade Izlude, was also among the casualties of the fight."
I'd never known true hatred until then. When I heard those words I swore I'd kill this Ramza myself. At any cost.
If he'd killed both Weigraf and Izlude, I knew he would be no common warrior, no matter what the High Priest Funeral promised me when he gave me the order to hunt him down. Anyone who could defeat two Shrine Knights in a single day was a foe to be approached with caution. I tracked down several different man who'd reported fighting him, only to get infuriatingly contradictory stories from them all.
One man, a thief who'd fought him while he was working under the mercenary Gafgarion, swore that Ramza Ruglia fought as a mere squire with the basics of knight training. One of Zalmo's men swore that during the battle, Ramza the Heretic utilized summoning magic, backed by white magic. A survivor of Riovanes castle swore upon his faith that when Ramza and Weigraf clashed in the main hall, the blond boy fought as a samurai wielding two blades instead of one.
So a ninja, priest, summoner, AND samurai. No wonder my brother and Weigraf had been caught unaware. As much as I hated him, I had to admit that Ramza Beoulve was a prodigy in his own right if he'd mastered that many disciplines. The sort of warrior who could blend that many advanced techniques would certainly be a terror on the battlefield.
I tried to imagine it: the heavy armour of a samurai coupled with the dual-wielding of a ninja, backed by the ability to draw out the spirit of a katana. That would give him the ability to be deadly to any foe immediately next to him, and a credible threat to others nearby. And just like his summoning, allies wouldn't be harmed by his attacks, and foes wouldn't be helped by his healing abilities.
It was with those abilities in mind that I made my preparations. I withdrew the Defender blade from the Shrine Knight armoury: It's thick blade would help me turn aside any of the repeated blows he'd no doubt be levelling at me. Chantage was a must: In the event he actually killed me, the mystical perfume would bring me back to life before the magical spark within me faded and I crystalized.
I knew any attack I made would have to be made from the high ground: A ninja named Sachiko, two archers named Alyssa and Ilia, and two summoners named Katarin and Meera comprised my support troops. With the ability to hit our foes hard and prevent them from reaching us quickly in turn, they would be able to counter Ramza's Hokuten classmates. Hopefully I could blast Agrias Oaks' sword from her hand at the outset of the battle. I knew that depriving her of her sword would be key to victory.
I soon learned that Ramza and his party would be journeying through Bervenia. It was there I set my trap. It was there that I learned what it is to face Ramza Beoulve in battle.
I stood proudly atop a roof, facing the small group coming into town. Ramza Beoulve was walking into town, and of all the luck, he wasn't even equipped for battle! A light shirt and breeches were all that protected him from the arrows and spells which would soon attempt to harm him. The only sword not worn by Agrias Oaks was on the pack-chocobo at the rear of the group, buried amidst a pile of katanas and various equipment.
The first thing I noticed was his age. I'm accounted young for my skill, but this boy was younger still. If he'd seen twenty summers, I was a Hokuten general. He was chuckling to himself as he chatted with a ponytailed blond man. Mustadio, if I remembered my reports correctly. A skilled shot with the gun at his hip. Behind them Agrias Oaks chatted with two female knights. Her friends from St. Konoe, likely. And behind that trio a pair of dark-skinned magicians I instantly recognized: Rafa and Malak, Barinten's personal assassins.
At least, they were, before Ramza killed him. I wondered how they could possibly stomach working with him. Didn't they have friends at Riovanes? The reports I'd seen from the aftermath of Ramza's attack numbered at well over five hundred. The disturbed young man hadn't stopped at slaughtering the troops there, he'd killed servants and peasants as they cowered in small rooms.
Not one person had been spared.
As Rafa and Malak split from the group and wandered off, I nearly laughed at my good fortune. With them they took the chocobo with Ramza's equipment. Ramza and his other four allies continued to walk towards me and my forces. I wouldn't even have to move to bait them into the perfect trap as they walked uphill towards me.
They were perhaps thirty feet from the house on which I lay waiting when I and the women with me stood as one. It was no surprise that Ramza's friends immediately drew their weapons, though Ramza himself merely stared at me.
"Who?" The blond boy wondered, shifting his feet to ready himself for attack. Not that it would matter.
"My name is Meliadoul. I'm here to avenge my brother!" I snarled. My rage only grew at the blank look on his face. Even if he didn't know who it was, that this murdering filth could be surprised that someone might seek him out for vengeance was disgusting. He and his band of murderers had killed hundreds at Riovanes alone, nevermind the dozens upon dozens of others he'd battled all across Ivalice.
"Avenge your brother?" He wondered, taking a step forward. "What are you talking about?"
"You're denying it?" I spat, drawing my thick sword. I pointed it at him. "Izlude Tingel was my brother! You killed him at Riovanes! For his sake, not the High Priest, I'll kill you!"
I moved forward and swung my blade, aiming an attack at Ramza's ally Agrias as she charged forward. The sword in her hand exploded spectacularly, knocking her back and putting her out for the fight. Alyssa and Ilia sent arrows at Ramza though he dodged one and the other went wide.
In response, the ponytailed engineer drew his gun from his holster and fired in one smooth shot, Sachiko grunting in pain and dropping one of her daggers as the bullet hit her arm. The two St. Konoe knights advanced, one stopping to adminster a phoenix down to the fallen Holy Knight while the other grimly advanced around the side.
Katarin targeted her with a Ramuh while Meera began to chant Haste on me. I'd need the edge if I was going to win this. I was drawing on the power within me, readying to shatter the sword of the knight by Agrias' side when Ramza did the last thing I expected: Unarmed and unarmored, he jumped right up onto the roof of the house with me as if he were personally exempt from gravity.
I abandoned my attack and changed the swing of my blade, levelling it at Ramza's unprotected neck instead. Both of his hands flashed up, impossibly quick, catching my blade between his palms and turning it aside. Nice trick, for a monk.
"I didn't kill your brother!" The blond boy yelled, instead of taking advantage of my distraction to attack. I raised my sword into a guard position and tried circling around him, though he kept the long drop off the front of the roof at his back. "Don't you know what happened at Riovanes? That wasn't done by anything human! It was the work of Lucavi!"
"Lucavi? Lucavi just appeared and killed my brother?" I sputtered with a dark laugh. What kind of idiot did he take me for? I swung once more at him, and he grunted as he tried to dodge. The tip of my large blade still bit flesh, ripping his shirt and scoring a shallow gash on his flank. "Can't you come up with a better lie than that!?"
Around us, the battle raged on. The advancing St. Konoe knight impressed me by shrugging off the full effects of a Ramuh, advancing on the summoner who'd hit her with deadly grace. Agrias was back up and chanting a spell, following the other knight despite her own lack of a weapon. Their engineer advanced around the other side, using his impressive aim to disrupt Meera right before she completed her spell. Both of my archers loosed arrows at the lead-most knight, who blocked one arrow before another took her high on the arm.
"You're the same as Izlude! You don't know the truth!" Ramza snarled, finally attacking me with a flurry of blows. I raised Defender and absorbed the blows on it's wide blade, wincing at the force behind the attack. He advanced on me, forcing me to step back to maintain my distance or grapple with a monk. "You don't realize you're just a pathetic puppet, dancing for evil men! The stones aren't just objects of faith!
"They have the power to work miracles, but that power depends on the person who uses it and right now those stones are being used for evil! Wake up, Meliadoul! Vormav is decieving you!"
"You expect me to believe that?" I snapped, ducking and bringing Defender into a powerful slash at his legs. He leaped over the attack and me, landing behind me. I used the momentum of my slash to spin into a defensive stance, wincing at the vicious kick which slipped through and nearly left me breathless. "Vormav is my father!"
The statement shocks my foe, and I use his surprise to swing another vicious blow which he partially deflects, opening a deep gash on the outside of his left leg.
Ramza's lead knight was now battling Katarin, and the poor summoner was desperately fending off the knight's sword with her staff. She didn't last long once the second knight joined the fight. Agrias finished her spell and the wounds she still had closed along with the burns Ramuh inflicted on her friend. Another loud crack spelled the end of Meera, dead before she'd done anything but soak up gunshots. Sachiko bravely threw herself at the two knights, Alyssa and Ilia supporting her from the flank.
"My brother really wanted to save this rotten world!" I yelled, fighting down the welling in my throat. I focused my rage on the young man in front of me, swinging again and again. "Our plans are violent, but it's the only way we can change the system! A wretch like you who runs from his own problems could never understand!"
"Please, trust me!" Ramza cried, one more blocking my blade midswing and just holding it there with his bare hands. He steps forward, bringing himself dangerously close. "I didn't kill your brother! I'm not the one you should be fighting! Your father is no longer human! He's a demon, possessed by Lucavi!"
"Cut it out, Ramza!" I snapped, headbutting the Beoulve. He reeled back and I used the opportunity to kick him in the ribs, causing him to stumble back a few steps. Something whizzes by my face an instant before I hear the crack of the engineer's gun and I glance around.
Both my summoners were dead, as was my ninja. Even as I watched, one of the St. Konoe knights hacked down Ilia, leaving only her fellow archer Alyssa alive to support me. Ramza used my distraction to let loose with a vicious slash of his arm, ripping the tiles of the roof and covering me with wounds as he employed his monk arts. I dropped to one knee.
"You're... strong!" I gasped. Very strong. Much stronger than I'd anticipated. "No wonder you killed Weigraf!"
I stood and signalled to my remaining archer. Alyssa ran as if hell itself pursued her.
"Ramza, the next time we meet is the day you die! Remember that!" I told him, then teleported away.
"I'm sorry... but I don't think you'll ever be able to kill that man, milady."
I was sitting at a quiet table in the a rented house in Bervenia. I knew Ramza and his band wouldn't be able to track us down to where we were.
I couldn't find it in my heart to blame Alyssa for the thought. I'd known Ramza was strong before I attacked him, but I now realized I'd badly underestimated him and his people.
"I don't understand how he's so strong!" I growled, slapping my empty wine glass off the table. It hit the wall with a vicious smash. "He beat me without weapons or armour! He fought like a stupid monk and he still beat me!"
"They beat us all," Alyssa agreed. She winced, obviously still sore from the battle. She sipped her wine, staring out the window. "What bothers me is how badly we were outclassed. Meera didn't even have time to get off a single spell before that engineer finished her off. Katarin's Ramuh didn't do much more than piss off the St. Konoe knight before she got killed. Sachiko lasted maybe ten seconds trying to hold off those two knights with her remaining dagger... and Ilia didn't even have time to blink once Sachiko went down."
We sat in silence broken only by the soft clink of Alyssa's glass on the table.
A rattle at the door brought us both to our feet as someone jimmied the lock. Ramza and his people must have found us!
I grasped for Defender only to realize it was across the room, along with my armour. Alyssa dove for her bow, grasping for an arrow as the door opened. I think the last thing we expected was for our dead comrades to walk inside. Sachiko, ever cautious, peered around outside the house before she shut the door.
"We thought you were dead," Alyssa said softly, putting down her bow.
"What happened?" I asked, gesturing for them to sit. They took seats at the table, looking at one another uncomfortably.
"I guess I'll do the honours," Katarin sighed. She gently set her horned circlet on the table before she continued. "Well, it's no news to you two that the battle went poorly. I assume that after the four of us died, you fled before you could join us."
I nodded, waving her on.
"He brought us back," Katarin said simply. I blinked.
"Who brought you back?" I demanded. "Not..."
"Yeah," Ilia confirmed, grabbing Alyssa's wine glass and taking a sip. "When we came to, the only one around was Ramza. He apologized for the confusion and asked us not to attack him again. Warned us that next time, he wouldn't bring us back."
"He showed you four... Mercy?" I choked. That wasn't the sort of thing the man everyone claimed he was would do. It wasn't Ramza the Heretic, Ramza the Murderer. Something about it tickled my memory, somehow.
"He even left us with a few potions before he went on his way," Meera admitted. At the look on my face, she shrugged. "I know, I know. Big bad Ramza and his crew take us out, then patch us up and send us on our way? Doesn't make any more sense to me than it does to you."
"But that's how it happened," Sachiko muttered, rubbing the spot on her arm where she'd had a bullet wound barely an hour before. Her eyes rose to meet mine. "No offense, milady, but I'm beginning to suspect that he and his merry band aren't the ones who slaughtered everyone at Riovanes."
"I'll admit that he's shown some unexpected mercy to us," I finally said, nodding. I took my seat. "That doesn't change the fact we know he killed Wiegraf and Cardinal Draclau. We've got witnesses for both of those. At least enough to place him in the same room as them right before they died."
"True," Katarin nodded. "However, I don't think he's denied killing the cardinal. His claim is that Cardinal Draclau was possessed by an evil spirit, right?"
"That was what he said. He also claims that my father, a Shrine Knight, is possessed by Lucavi," I added drily. That got a chuckle out of everyone there. "For all we know, Ramza Beoulve is a madman who talks to his milk and sees devils in his sweat stains. Saving you four might have been nothing more than a deranged whim."
"That would make it all the more important to take him down, then," Ilia said with a shiver. "Milady, I mean no disrespect when I say this, but that young man fights like no other I've ever seen. Madman or not, I doubt there's more than a hundred in Ivalice who could match him in combat."
"Though if he's insane, why does he have so many friends?" Meera asked, prompting thoughtful looks from everyone at the table. "We know Agrias Oaks and her two knights have been bodyguards to Princess Ovelia for years. Likewise Rafa and Malak are well-known agents of Barinten. Are all five of them mad as well?"
Too many questions and not enough answers. I sighed.
"Look, you all can return to Murond. We've experienced first hand just how strong he is. I can't order you all to attack him again," I told them. They looked visibly relieved, Sachiko slumping in her chair with a small smile. "I will be going after him, however. I will kill that bastard for murdering my brother, no matter how many other lives he's spared. I'd like to request that one of you carry a message for me."
It wasn't long before we'd all left the house behind. Sachiko led the rest back towards Murond, and I journeyed after Ramza.
It was weeks before I found the blond bastard's trail again. He'd been across the world in that time. And he raised still more doubts during the time he was beyond my sight.
He stormed the Bethla Garrison. To repeat that for the peasants who might not understand the full weight of what he accomplished, Ramza Beoulve attacked and took control of Bethla Garrison, the one fortress which has stood the test of a hundred armies in the centuries which it has endured. For thousands of years, Bethla has been the sovereign domain of the Golthana family. Nobody has ever actually usurped that control before.
Yet Druksmald lost control over it for a few hours. During that time, Ramza stormed the south wall, overcame the defenses, then assaulted the Bethla Sluice which held back the largest lake in Ivalice. A dam which protected the largest open area of open plains in Ivalice... A section of the world which promised to be host to the largest bloodbath in our nation's history.
Hundreds of thousands of troops eyed one another across a scarce mile of open ground. Each side knew that this battle would be a meat grinder, with the victor proving to be the faction which managed to save the most troops. The losers would fertilize the ground with their blood.
The worst calamity Ivalice could possibly face: Goltana's forces against Larg's forces. Nearly every fighting man and woman in the country poised to charge across the divide and do their best to inflict casualties on the enemy. A permanent weakening of our nation against the countries keeping a casual eye upon us... Civil war, the like of which would surpass the casualties of the Fifty Year War in it's first major battle.
The night before, I'm not ashamed to admit I wept for my country. I was conscious enough of the political reality of our nation to know that whoever won would face an irresistable invasion from beyond our borders. Goltana and Larg were both complete fools.
Yet as the massive armies prepared to charge, a third, undeniable force invaded the battlefield and made the ground it's own. The lake which had been held in check for decades was loosed, all at once, upon the ground which seperated the two largest armies Ivalice had ever seen gathered in one location. The armies flinched, neither willing to attempt to take advantage of the radical change in their chosen battlefield.
The largest battle in our world was averted. Staring across the beautiful reflection of the sunset provided by the brand new lake, I gave thanks to the nameless entity which had made it happen. I would have hated myself to know I thanked Ramza Beoulve for that wonderful sight, at the time. Yet I know, now, that he is not the man I thought he was.
In the aftermath, I ran into one of Goltana's squires. A young man who told me he'd been allowed to leave after Ramza's troops secured the Bethla Sluice. The squire admitted that although Ramza and his band struck like the hammer of Ajora, once they'd loosed the lake they retreated from even token offenses like the squire's without inflicting loss of life. As if stopping the battle had been Ramza's only goal, and as if the lives of the men remaining were too precious to kill just to ensure that escape was made easier.
The young man finally admitted that the blond young man was bound for Limberry. Confusion thick in my breast, I made my way toward the Marquis Elmdor's palace. As I did, I pondered the questions I'd ask of the monster who killed my brother. I wondered why a man who appeared so determined to prevent the loss of life, any life, would kill someone like Izlude without remorse or regret.
In my musings, I finally asked myself if maybe, just maybe, he'd actually done the horrible thing I thought he had. Some part of me knew that he'd had no reason or obligation to save my subordinates, had no reason to keep them in this world. Yet he'd stayed behind to see to their hurt with as much concern as if they'd been his own.
He was a contradiction. One I knew I had to solve to avenge Izlude.
By the time I arrived at the outskirts of Limberry, I knew Ramza was already within the castle. The entrance was marked by the scorches of high-level black magic and several of the columns were shattered. The entryway had been the site of a great battle. My confusion only grew once I realized that there were no corpses or crystals littering the battleground. This didn't fit the method of operation my foe practiced... He never took the crystals of his foes unless he or his people needed them.
I ran through the battleground, pushing open the loose doorway. I didn't ponder the lack of servants as I rushed through the corridors, making my way toward the main hallway where Marquis Elmdor held his court. I passed dozens of unmolested servants, their still-alive forms in direct opposition to the sort of operation Ramza had supposedly undertaken during his invasion of Riovanes.
Arriving at the Grand Hall, I nearly vomited. Only two bodies littered the floor, but those two bodies were enough. They were covered in arrows and the gashes of blades, poisoning the stones underneath their bodies with their blood. I recognized them.
According to Ajora's Scripture they were the servants of Lucavi, servants not low on the chain of command. These were the sort of demons that needed Lucavi's personal approval to exit their plane of existence. They threw my whole religion into question with their existence: Our faith should have kept them from transcending to our plane. We were the guardians of their prison.
We had not faltered.
The Shrine Knights remained vigilant.
Upon reaching the catacombs of Marquid Elmdor's castle, everything I knew was forever changed. I stormed down the narrow stairs, my sword held at the ready. The moment I leapt through the doorway into the underground, I was ready to attack Ramza's rear with all my strength, just so the marquis would be able to fend off the terrorist persuing him.
I froze, my sword at the ready, as my gaze moved beyond Ramza's hated form. Floating in the air at odds with the man who I thought had killed my brother was one of Lucavi's most famous liuetenants. Zalera the Defiler flapped his wings, glaring at the blond boy leading a ragtag band of troops.
Possession. He still wore the remnants of Marquis Elmdor's infamous Genji armour. The breastplate clattered to the ground as I watched.
"What? The Marquis -- a monster? This...is the power of the Zodiac Stone?" I asked, my blade nearly slipping from my grasp. Zalera merely smirked, though my hated foe turned towards me.
"Now you know what I said was true! Your brother Izlude died because he found the truth and fought them!" Ramza yelled, drawing his own blade and squaring off against a demon. Undead spirits rose all around my foe, surrounding him.
"Oh my God!" I muttered, taking a step forward, towards my enemy. Towards the madness now gathered around him. I remembered Ramza's ridiculous claims from the last time we'd fought. Remembered how ludicrous the very idea of the head of the Shrine Knights being possessed seemed. Now, it was a disturbing, potential truth. "Does Father... does my father know what these stones do?"
Ramza turned to give me a pained look. He fought to keep something from escaping his lips while he viewed me with total pity. Remorse prevented him from putting the final nail into the coffin of my beliefs.
"So, you're Vormav's daughter?" Zalera howled, not trying to hide his amusement. He thrust one wing forward to point rudely at me as he chuckled. "Just like Izlude, you aren't a suitable host for us... Your father, on the other hand..."
A fist more solid than stone struck me, threatening to spill me to my knees. As I watched the demon laughing, I felt the core of my existence ripped from me. The basis of my faith, gone. Everything I knew, everything I believed, ripped from me. My world was a lie.
"Vormav is no longer your father," Zalera crowed, flapping exitedly around the cieling of the cavern. His voice rose, becoming shrill. "Vormav is now a blood member of Darkness. But no matter...For now you and Ramza will die here!"
Ramza's plaintive cries for a peaceful resolution came back to haunt me. Every blow he refused to land on me struck twice as hard as I remembered just how much he'd tried to reason with me. He'd told me everything I'd just learned. He'd tried to keep me out of this fight, tried to keep me from learning it on my own.
He'd tried to soften the knowledge that my father was now a demon controlled by Lucavi.
"What you said was true..." I gasped, my eyes meeting the amber eyes of my former foe across the gloomy cavern. He nodded, turning back to Zalera. Turning back to a foe who he must have been scared of as a child, learned that this demon would come for him if he misbehaved. His very existence was a ghastly reminder of the fables I'd grown up learned. "Ramza... I'm sorry..."
"It's ok, Meliadoul!" My former foe roared, charging at the demonic being before him with no regard for his own safety. His blade bit deeply into the monster's side, eliciting a painful howl which rattled the stones of the crypt in which we fought. He took the time to flash me a shy smile. "Let's avenge Izlude together!"
Before I could respond, the undead spirits closed on me and I lost sight of my newfound ally. I blocked an ethereal blade, thankful the magic could prevent it from rending my flesh. More spirits surrounded me, blocking my view of Zalera and Ramza.
Thus I fought, my beliefs shattered. Surrounded by undead spirits seeking my flesh, I fought a desperate defense. All the while, I wondered if Ramza could actually fight past Zalera's minions. If he could stop this inescapable onslaught. If we could win against one of the demons which had given me nightmares as a child. If he could win against demons capable of killing my brother with ease, demons capable of corrupting a man of devout faith like my father. Forced into a stone corridor, I resigned myself to death at the hands of my undead foes even as I lashed out like a rabid animal. As they closed, I thrust without concern for my defense in the hopes of rending their spirits and dragging them down to Murond with me. I refused to die alone!
Three blades closed on me. I flinched, closing me eyes and resigning myself to my fate.
"Hashmalum!" A voice shrieked. "I'm sorry! I'm leaving the rest to you!"
Moments after a massive boom echoed throughout the champter, I opened my eyes to find my undead foes were gone. As I opened my eyes I saw a precious gem balanced on the tip of Ramza's blade, pausing to defy gravity before falling to the ground with a muted clink on the stones.
"I never imagined that such a powerful force could be hidden by the stones..." I finally admitted, catching Ramza's attention. He flashed me a small smile, noting that I'd sheathed my sword. "The scriptures call these things Holy Stones, but I never thought they'd summon something like that."
"Neither you nor Izlude were informed," Ramza told me firmly, pocketing Zalera's stone. He shrugged, then crossed his arms. "Even Wiegraf didn't know the purpose of the stones until he turned to Lucavi for power, right as he was about to die. The plot you Shrine Knights formed is being used by Vormav, now."
"But... What're they after?" I demanded, my mind searching for answers.
"I don't know," Ramza admitted with a rueful shake of his head. "If they want to, they could destroy an entire brigade. Just like at Riovanes. But they don't use that power outright. There must be a reason why."
"Maybe they can't use their power outright?" I offered, pondering the riddle before me. "The Lucavi of legend was an unbeatable, ferocious monster. I mean no offense to you or your people, but these foes are hardly immortal demons."
"You're right," Ramza admitted, moving towards me. "They don't seem to be the 'immortal evils' the legends say."
"Legends do tend to over exaggerate," I pointed out as he stopped a pace or two away from me. "Maybe Lucavi was just another monster. Maybe they weren't the all-powerful destroyers legends made them out to me."
"I hope so..." Ramza finally said, placing a deceptively gentle hand on my shoulder. I flinched, my eyes snapping to his. His bright, honest gaze met mine without any hatred or fear. Only concern marked the gaze of a man I'd spent the last few months trying to kill. "Are you alright?"
No. I wasn't okay. My father was a god-damned demon bent on twisting my homeland to his evil designs. My brother was dead by my father's hand. Everything I knew, everything I trusted, had been turned on it's head in the last hour. Perhaps, with time, I could come to terms with all of it.
Right now, I considered it a boon that I didn't fall on the young man, sobbing and screaming. For all my problems, for all the shocking revelations I knew I was facing right now, I knew he'd faced worse. I knew, right then, that everything he'd told me was true. Not just that, but that the most outlandish rumours I'd heard were also the most accurate.
That this poor bastard hadn't succumbed to madness was an accomplishment all by itself, let alone all the good he'd done for our poor, beleagured country.
"I'm going to give you this Zodiac Stone," I told him, removing the thing from my belt pouch and laying it in his hand. It seemed to weigh him down, for all that it only weighed a pound or two. "In return, let me go along. I want to know why my father has become what he has. And I've got a few questions..."
"Such as?" Ramza prompted, suspicion in his voice.
"I want to know why my father gave away the 'Capricorn' Stone," I concluded. "Why it was given to Lord Dycedarg... I need to know."
"To my brother?" Ramza wondered, his voice tight. "I don't know why Dycedarg has that stone. But together, we'll find some answers."
The innocent smile he flashed me made me wonder how I ever could have hated him.
I'll be sticking with the script from the Playstation version of Final Fantasy Tactics, though I'll also be taking liberties with the wording of various scenes. For those wondering how I'm going to achieve any character focus... Well, it involves the sidequests, and I'm probably going to work in a few of the more interesting Propositions, too.
I mean, let's face it. If I'm going to do a Meliadoul/Ramza story, I've pretty much GOT to include the optional content if I don't want to rush it into the tiny amount of time between when you get her and the earliest possible point where you can complete the game... Though I'll probably omit the Cloud/Aerith sidequest for obvious reasons.
This is done purely because SerialRavist has done such wonderful work for Ovelia, Agrias, and Rafa. I wasn't about to let him get away with doing EVERYTHING all by himself. And given my love of Ranma, the tsundere might as well be the character I've picked.
P.S. For some reason, didn't like my last scene. I had to go back and edit it into coherency manually.