The Gauntlet: 4) I want to be where your bare foot walks
Character/Pairing: Isaac, Ivan and Garet friendshipping.
Series: Golden Sun
Summary: Maybe fate was turning his way, and maybe this setback was just the currents of something greater, guiding him along.
A/N:. Inspired by replaying the game yet again. Part one of four of a series of loosely connected one-shots I've dubbed "The Elemental Quartet" Zephyr of course, being the 'wind'. (the order slated so far is wind, water, fire and earth) Whether I'll ever finish them all is questionable, but this can completely stand on its own if I don't.
Also, as an explanation, I wanted to write certain scenes of the game, but I didn't want to do a full out novelization. Some scenes were expanded for pacing's sake, some glossed over entirely. There's some minor additions as well. I'll call it artistic license?
As a direct example, in this telling Ivan was in Vault for at least a few days before Isaac and Garet came, and distance between Bilibin and Vault increased for pacing and character development's sake, etc.
Also, happy birthday, Jordan! (Now I just have Lin's & Nia's to get to~)
Ivan didn't think Master Hammet would leave him behind. Perhaps he had hoped that in spite of his failure for the first real responsibility given him, in spite of losing the irreplaceable Shaman's Rod, that he would be forgiven. Master Hammet had always been a very understanding person. Ivan could never remember him raising his voice or a rod to whip him like some of the other servants reported. In the end, Master Hammet would pat his head and say everything was alright and they'd find it yet.
Master Hammet had been calm, and yet rather detached when Ivan told him. His manner was cool and abrupt; that of a perfect businessman. Even the repeated apologies caused no reaction past the businessman's mask.
Responsibility was far heavier, and crueler than he had expected it to be.
He had only turned his gaze for a second, an instant, and then the rod had been stolen.
Right from under him. He'd slept with it night by night, proud to finally be let into the inner circle and accompany Master Hammet in his travels. He'd been waiting for this chance for years, only to have it go awry barely weeks into the journey.
All it had taken was the unexpected gems pouring down from the sky, like falling stars, but in the day. And in the end, Master Hammet left him to his own devices, and went elsewhere.
After this, a determined so of melancholy settled over Ivan. He had always felt separate, apart from everyone, as if he were living in a bubble. Hammet had been his one connection throughout it all and Hammet had left him behind. The days drifted by, so slowly he barely noticed them. The mayor was kind enough to open his home to him, the children of the household seemed especially fond of him. He had no idea where to even begin He sat at the mayor's hearth and accepted his kindness. The flames flickered. He watched them and sunk deeper into himself and his own troubles.
So it went, until they came.
Ivan had only vaguely noticed the travelers, as he was drawn in deep within himself, focusing his mind on the rod, perhaps his powers extended to that reach, perhaps he could pinpoint it. Perhaps...
There were two of them. A brash, red-haired boy who talked loudly and laughed even louder and another; one with hair like summer sunlight and eyes a shade of darker sky. The second boy held his interest, there was a certain air to him, as one set apart. An intelligence, a maturity and an untold sadness.
When Ivan touched his mind, he felt a ripple of power that he'd never felt before, like touching a raw current, but it wasn't a painful feeling. It was a rush of energy, not unlike his own.
The boy had deep thoughts, Ivan felt as if he could immerse himself in them. He saw a horrible storm, a sanctum unlike any he'd witnessed, the vague image of lighthouses. They were quick glances, he didn't look deeper. He saw the travels they had taken from Vale, the burden on his shoulders, a boy barely old than himself.
Soon he had a word for the powers: psyenergy, and others to prove him not a freak. Their powers manifested differently, but still it was people who understood.
"I think I can trust you with this," he said.
The next events went faster than he had dared to hope. Before the day was done, they'd righted everything. They searched the townspeople, most of whom were sympathetic to Ivan's plight. He felt comforted by this, that he was not alone in this.
It had been obvious who the thieves were from the beginning. With Isaac's help, they cornered one long enough for him to read their minds. Later, when they had gone to the hide out, the villains returned and attacked. Ivan's heart had pounded all through the battle. It was his first true, non-training excursion, and somewhere deep inside himself, Ivan had felt as if he'd fail this horribly.
Somehow, he didn't, if only for the help of Isaac and Garet. And then they parted. Ivan knew he'd be going back to Master Hammet with the Shaman's Rod, but he still felt a twinge of regret to leave the travelers and their quest behind.
And then, he was faced with the fact that Lunpa, where Master Hammet had sought shelter was locked away. With no way of entry, Ivan stood at the outskirts and thought.
He remembered the visions he had gleaned from Isaac's mind, and the camaraderie he'd witnessed between them. They were comfortable with their powers; neither of them found the energies freakish.
And all of the sudden, he knew what to do. He was on his feet with only a bit of regret where Master Hammet was concerned. It wasn't as if he'd save his master by sitting around and staring at the walls.
Maybe fate was turning his way, and maybe this setback was just the currents of something greater, guiding him along.
He could only hope they hadn't gone on too far for him to catch up.
He checked at the village first. It took asking one or two villagers until he finally found they were headed for the path to Bilibin, which could only be found through Goma cave, which was about a mile's distance away.
Ivan spent his last gold on a canteen and headed out. Forty-five minutes later, he'd trekked through the meadows and faint path to the cave. A stream with no bridge broke the path, but there was a large rock in the middle placed just close enough to be a stepping stone.
Isaac and Garet stood before the cave, the gap was too far to jump. Near the edge was a stump that was nearly swallowed up by the vines that had stuck about and around the rough sides.
Garet rubbed his head. "Ok, so headbutting it wasn't the smartest idea. If Jenna was here, she'd be calling me an idiot now."
"I'll do the honor. That was an idiotic thing to do, Garet," Isaac said.
"Hey, I don't see you doing anything. I was the one who tried to move the thing in the first place."
"Excuse me," Ivan said. He moved past Garet and looked down at the twisting vines and brush that held the stump down too tightly to budge.
"Ivan! You're back!" Garet said.
Ivan turned, and ducked his head in a shy smile.
"Allow me," Ivan said.
He focused his mind on the stump and a whorl of lavender wind appeared. It enclosed the stump. The wind grew deafening. Leaves and dust blew every which way. Just as soon as it had started, the Psyenergy wind left into nothingness.
"Alright, Ivan! Great going!"
"Did something happen?" Isaac said softly.
"I went to Lunpa, but they wouldn't let me in...and I couldn't forget the things you said about the world..the lighthouses and well..I'm here now. As long as there's a place for me on your team, that is."
"Of course there's a place. We're glad to have you," Isaac said.
Garet threw an arm over Ivan's shoulder. "What is this 'If you'll have me'? We fought together! We're practically related now! You're like, my brother in arms or something."
And it almost felt like coming home for the first time.
While the opening to Goma cave had been narrow; making them stoop to enter. The insides were tall and well lit by torches adhered to the side. A brief check by Ivan noted that they were magic torches, kept alive eternally by sorcery. Vault was a humble town who could hardly afford to pay wizards, so Ivan wondered if it was a work of the other, surrounding towns. It was a damp place, especially with the stream passing through it. Not only that, the true path was blocked, leaning to a lot of backtracking. It did end up in Garet finding a Mars, Djinn. They camped that night, turned-around-but not-lost.
When it got late enough, they camped by the stream. Ivan rolled up his pants and stepped gingerly into the water. It was so cold as to be a jolt to his system. He bent over and washed his face.
"You're never gonna get clean, that way, Ivan. You've got to take it all off, like this—"
Garet peeled off his shirt, but (thankfully) kept his pants on. He bounded into the water, and Ivan made the mistake of turning his head in the other direction for modesty's sake. He let out a shriek as the frigid water hit him.
"Water fightttt!" Garet yelled.
Soon Ivan was throwing revenge water and even Isaac was in on it. This went on until the realization that they were now soaked to the bone, even their spare clothes and campsite due to a little overzealousness on Garet's part. And they still weren't out of the clammy cave.
"It's ok, we'll just use psyenergy to light something and sing campfire songs to help us warm up!" Garet said.
Five minutes later, by a vote of two-to-one, Garet was banned from singing campfire songs ever again.
After eating, there was little more to do than huddle together for heat. Their clothes, and spare clothes, and other blankets were hung on the side of the wall where it inclined enough to serve as a makeshift ledge. Garet had attempted to dry one blanket via flames which in retrospect Was Not The Best Idea, as it became quite charred. Still, it was dry, if not blackened. And it was large enough for all three of them, if they huddled together close enough. Ivan curled up and put his arms around his knees. He tried not to focus on the fact that they were all inaked/I and this proximity made it almost impossible to avoid embarrassing positions.
"T-this would be a lot better i-if everything wasn't isoaked./I," Ivan said through chattering teeth. Garet shifted, Isaac shifted and Ivan buried his head in his knees and blushed.
"Why are you blushing like a girl, Ivan? We're all guys here. There's nothing wrong with three naked guys sharing a blanket in the wilderness, right Isaac? Isn't that like, the definition of camping?"
Isaac let out a longsuffering sigh. "Just go to bed, Garet. They'll be dry enough to wear by morning."
Despite it all, Ivan couldn't extinguish this mote of happiness, burning. He'd never gone on trips or gotten his clothes dirty, he'd never been like with, with friends who didn't care if he was weird because they were weird too. He had a place in Isaac's team. He was wanted, needed. It felt right to be with Isaac and Garet, like he'd found the place he was supposed to be. Even if he wasn't quite like them, it was close enough, wasn't it? He wasn't a freak here among these fellow Adepts.
Ivan found himself smiling into the blanket.
After Goma, they were overjoyed to see the sky again. For a long while, Isaac, Ivan and Garet just lay in the warm sunshine. But that euphoria soon faded to fatigue. Two days proved that at this rate of travel was something Ivan was far from accustomed to. Even with Master Hammet he'd been able to at least ride in the wagon. They'd been walking since dawn, only taking minor breaks. The monsters were relentless, it seemed barely as they had sliced through one group, more appeared. Ivan tried not to think too deeply as they cut through the beasts, for these creatures had once been peaceful creatures, and he could still see traces of them in the outlines of their faces in death.
Ivan wasn't used to this sort of heat. Though it was generally mild for a Spring day, traveling under the sun and cloudless day left him dizzy and lightheaded. His mouth was parched, and ached for water. Ivan knew, however, that it must be rationed and thus he had to deal with it. It was what he lectured himself whenever his fragility came to rear its pale, sickly head.
Ivan had a blister on the bottom of his foot, every step aggravated against the tender flesh. He had blisters on his fingers and splinters from the staff. He had always thought he would spend the rest of his days as a scholar, in the services of Master Hammet. Saving the world had never been on his lists of possible careers, but now Ivan couldn't imagine it any other way.
Still, it felt perhaps, as if they were dawdling; circling around towns but never quite going past the reaches. They'd stopped at a small village called Hinton, which had a lot of cows, some stacks of hay and not a lot else. A few shops and a Sanctum made the trip worthwhile for supplies, at least.
Ivan didn't question Isaac, for he believed that Isaac would do whatever was in his capacity. Perhaps he was preparing up his stores for the journey, or thinking out his plans. Whatever motives they were, Isaac kept them to himself, as he kept most everything. Most campfires were spent with Isaac brooding. He wasn't brooding tonight, however, miles outside Hinton towards the North where there was a better bounty and tougher enemies. His sword was horizontal across his knees, already cleaned and coated in an anti-rust oil.
Garet sidled down and sat by the campfire too, while he leaned against his axe.
"Hey Isaac, aren't we supposed to be, you know, moving on? It's like we've been walking in circles lately. I don't get it."
"...we need to get better armor first. We're collecting money for that," Isaac replied.
"Oh yeah! I always forget the armor part."
"Besides, you could use some training," Isaac said.
"You completely missed that Rat Soldier back there," Isaac said.
"It was tiny," Garet protested.
"Ivan and I managed to hit it just fine. If you're that unpracticed, then you won't mind me beating you in training again," Isaac said. He smiled, a friendly, confident smile and rose from his position. Ivan thought they must have teased each other like this good-naturedly for a long time.
Garet rose too, and swung his large axe over his shoulder.
"Oh yeah? It's been a while since you've tasted my axe. Prepare yourself, Isaac!"
Isaac crouched into a fighting pose, and Garet charged ahead and swung his massive axe. The clash echoed through the forest for a long moment as they struggled. Garet took a step back in preparation of a particularly gargantuan attack. Isaac jumped back, inches away from where the steel plunged into the moist soil.
"Nice try, but this time I won't miss!" Garet said.
But that instant that Garet paused to pull his axe from the ground, Isaac struck. It was an amazing feat, one that sent Garet sprawling back without a scratch on him. Garet was sprawled out, and Isaac pointed his sword at Garet's throat.
Garet laughed it off. "No fair, Isaac! You should've waited!"
"You'd have done the same. Admit it," Isaac replied.
"Erm, shouldn't– Shouldn't practicing be done with wooden swords? You could get injured that way," Ivan interjected.
"Aw, don't worry, Ivan. we've been training like this since we were fourteen – though there was that one time my axe slipped and cut into my arm and man did Kay ever light into me! Worse than the last time I trampled her flowers. Er, the time before last time."
Garet gripped Isaac on the shoulder in a friendly pat, and Isaac grinned at this. His whole face lit up when he smiled, though this had been the first time Ivan had seen him smile during the short time of knowing him. Isaac's face always seemed drawn in a guarded silence
Having finally pulled his axe free from the ground, Garet was ready for another round. Except this time, instead of turning to Isaac, he turned towards Ivan.
"Do you know anything about swordsmanship, Ivan? I thought you mage-types only could wield wooden sticks."
"I can use a sword," Ivan said carefully. His training had been light; a whimsy of the soldiers who thought his clumsy fumblings with his stick in protection amusing.
"Just a little," he amended.
Isaac turned to his gaze towards Garet in a searching look.
"Garet, you have an extra sword , right?"
"Oh yeah, I do," Garet said. He bent to rifle through his bag and produced a small sword. He tossed it towards Ivan in a playful sort of gesture.
Ivan stepped back, and the sword buried itself in the ground beside him.
"Don't worry, I'll go easy on you, Ivan."
Ivan wasn't sure Garet knew what the word meant.
"An axe and a sword that thin is hardly a fair match, Garet," Isaac said.
"Whoops, you're probably right. Sorry, Ivan."
"You'd probably cut him in two. I'll try," Isaac said.
"I won't hold back, but I'm not here to hurt you. Do you understand?"
"I-I understand," Ivan said.
"Are you ready?"
Ivan swallowed back his nervousness. He clung tight to his sword. What would they think of him if he couldn't even hold his own in swordplay?
Their swords came together in a screeching sound, like the gale force winds in the worst storm he'd ever heard. The contact shook him to his bones, but Ivan tightened his grip. It was like dance, like all the dancing he'd seen and never partaken in, like what he thought being on a dance floor, waltzing would be like. Isaac's eyes were so very blue, and revealed nothing of any thoughts he might be having now. But Ivan couldn't be all defensive. As Isaac slashed at him again, Ivan moved back, the sharp edge of the sword coming perilously close to his chest. This was it, now or nothing. He sliced lower, and drew blood across Isaac's arm.
Ivan paled. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to–"
Isaac stared at the wound. He held a hand over the wound, and it dissolved under a shimmering gold light.
"Hey, Nice job, Ivan! You dodged a ton of his shots and Isaac's really accurate. You even managed to draw first blood. I'm sorry I ever underestimated you."
Ivan relaxed, somewhat. He even felt an inkling of something like pride.
Isaac sheathed his sword. "That's enough for now. We don't want to waste too much energy. Besides, you've already proved that you can hit the broad side of a barn, so you're ahead of Garet in that respect."
"I heard that, Isaac!"
The night was very starry, but with only a sliver of a moon. The blankets were dry now, so there was no need to share sleeping space anymore. Garet slept on his back, his arms spread out. He snored. Isaac slept on his side, his back to the dim firelight.
Ivan's muscles hurt too much to sleep, so his mind wandered, from the instant alertness of hearing sounds of creatures, to remember. Back then, Ivan's training had started with a blindfold. While the soldiers of Kaley wouldn't go so far as to be cruel to Ivan, they did manage to find ways to tease him in everything they did.. Whether sending him on tasks that couldn't be completed or telling him to read books that were obscene, they always found ways to embarrass him. Still, Ivan sought them out. (He liked to imagine their pranks were good natured in the end.)
Ya need some meat on yer bones, one had laughed. At first Ivan had ducked his head down and kept to his books, but once he asked. How can I change this? And they had been all too eager to comply. They tied a cloth over his eyes and guided him to the outskirts of town.
"What does this have to do with swordfighting?" Ivan said.
"You can't fight until you raise your perceptions," one said, laughter on the edge of his voice.
The fence had a narrow horizontal plank broken evenly by sharp, spear-like boards that resembled the tines of a comb. If he took a wrong step, he would impale his foot.
Perhaps if Ivan hadn't been so desperate, he would've realized that it had been one elaborate prank. But he was, so he took each furtive step. Each step with the throat of a spike through the bare, tender flesh of his feet.
The next time he was given a pole to balance with, and then one of them actually put a sword in his hands and let him feel the weight and balance of it. The first sword had been too heavy, the next as well. He could only wield a light, thin blade without falling over like a drunk.
All until Lady Laylana found out and put a stop to it. Then he trained alone, and the soldiers didn't even speak to him. She must have given them some tongue-lashing to make them not even notice his presence, as if he was a fly on their shoulder, not worthy of any attention.
Ivan woke up in a sanctum, a bearded acolyte bent over him. As a wave of pain came over him, he tried to put the pieces together.
"That monster left some pretty nasty gashes. The bones aren't broken, though. Still, he should see a healer as I was only able to bring back his spirit..."
Ivan felt embarrassed. He folded his arms over his chest. His tunic was in shreds, pale skin showed through the ripped pieces. The only heavy lifting he'd ever done had been large tomes, all the other servants did the heavier lifting. Because of this, his body had all the muscle tone of a particularly malnourished 12-year old girl.
As they started travelling again, Ivan remembered some details, while Garet and Isaac filled him in on the rest. They'd been ambushed and Ivan had been caught alone by some higher level monsters than they were used to. He'd been knocked unconscious, and Isaac had carried him all the way back to the sanctum. (Or at least that's what Garet had told him. He didn't remember much besides turning to see a blur of some monster, a goblin creature in chains.)
If he focused very hard he could remember the feeling. Weightlessness, a sense of floating. Warmth. Ivan stood back as the rest of the group settled the payment from the priest. A sense of shame hung over him, and it wasn't just because he was still half-naked. He knew how to fix the tunic, one of the maids used to mend things until she got exasperated and taught him how.
It was more the failure. Would they even want someone on their team who wasn't reliable? Ivan kept his head down and didn't speak much.
However, they refused to let him feel inferior for long.
Garet clapped him on the shoulder. "There's no need to mope, Ivan! We practically doomed the whole world iand/I lost Jenna in the process. Also, Kraden too. Losing a rod which you eventually found and getting knocked out is nothing compared to that."
Ivan grinned shyly despite himself. Even Isaac was smiling, in that subtle way of his.
"Everyone makes mistakes. If anything, you should be proud that you held them off for so long.
Obviously this is why we need better armor. I think despite the sanctum fee we've got enough."
"Alright! Back to saving the world it is!" Garet said.
It hadn't been long since then, a week of hard travel, perhaps more. To Ivan, it felt like almost as if years had passed, and yet the time frame seemed mere minutes. He felt closer to Garet and Isaac than he had the entire staff at Master Hamment's, and even Lady Layana and Master Hammet himself. The days had been a whirl of traveling and fighting, practicing and taking meals in cover in hopes to not be caught unaware again by the ever increasing number of beasts.
Garet had already deemed himself Ivan's elder and they fought almost as siblings. And Isaac..Isaac had a certain fascination he couldn't shake. Charisma, gratitude, Ivan couldn't place the exact term, but he knew whatever the danger, wherever the place, if Isaac went, then he'd soon follow. So when it came to put his life on the line, when they reached Bilibin and realized the danger they were in, that they too could become trees from Trey's magic, Ivan didn't even give it a second thought; he already knew his answer.
"If Isaac's going, I guess I'm in too."