Lente's Burden

Disclaimer: all known and recognisable names, places, and characters property of Square Enix. I just like playing with them.

In the beginning there was a beginning:

In a dark place, filled with green, there was a stirring. The leaves whispered. The underbrush shivered and the great trees groaned in their sediment rooting. In the dark place she who had lost her name was listening.

There were words and she heard them; syllables hammered out in the beating heart of the dark wood.

Viera are born from the Wood but that is not the only end they may choose.

In the dark she who had forgotten her name smiled. She had waited a very long time, even though she had long since lost all sense of the passing of the years. All things in a circle; the cycle ever winding through Ivalice's turning with each dusk and every dawn; turning and turning.

She has waited throughout the turning of many a year; she has been forgotten by all; she had all but forgotten herself.

She is Lente; she is mother. She is walker of the Way and keeper of the Word. Her tears from bleeding eyes did fall as crystal. Once the Wood to her will did grow, bend; shift.

She is Lente and today she is listening. She hears the words that will begin the new cycle that is also the old cycle. She hears her daughters weeping; they have lost their way.

She is Lente and when she moved the forest moved with her and the wild blooms blossomed in her hair. She wears lichen girdle and gown of fern; she is as the wood is and shall soon be, and thus she is neither fair nor foul. She is all things that lurk, prowl, or linger under the deep and shadowed boughs of the dark and verdant forests.

Viera are born from the Wood but that is not the only end they may choose.

The echoes in her ears tell her that years had since passed since she had first heard that defiant whisper. It was so hard for her now to tell; she moves in centuries, not seconds. Time has no real meaning in her forest. The sunlight rarely brakes through the canopy, and the humes have long since forgotten this realm.

Once kings would come to kiss her feet; once conquerors would crawl through the filth of her forest to beg her wisdom and men would fight great battles to prove themselves worthy of her bower. That time is not this one, Lente knows this. Ivalice, like Lente herself, is no longer young.

Viera are born from the Wood but that is not the only end they may choose.

Hark but such whispers are like a call to arms to Lente's sense starved ears; there is one among her children who treads a new path, but one that is older than humes can reckon time. Through the forest Lente moves and the forest with Lente moves too.

She is mother and Walker of the Way, that is all ways in one, and she is keeper of the Word that all the forests of the Viera have now forgotten. She is Lente and she hears her children weeping the tears that only she must weep.

Once more to the turning of hume Ivalice she must venture. She must speak the Word and find the one fit to carry her burden in her stead.

Thus it is, that when Lente finally stepped free of the forest's dark embrace for the first time in seven hundred years and the sun, lost to memory long forgotten, fell upon her golden and warm, she screamed and the Wood screamed with her.

It was a beginning - and it began, as it would surely end, in pain and fear.

Imperial City Archades: 708 O.V.

Balthier scribbled another equation onto the parchment before him, using his fingers as a counting aid as he performed the slightly more complex mathematical gymnastics required silently in his head. He had an answer all right; the troubling factor was that he lacked a suitable question.

Rising to his feet Balthier abandoned his calculations and wandered over to the blackboard he had erected on one wall of the huge chamber on the seventieth floor of the Draklor tower. Etched across the slate in white chalk was a design matched in its intricacy only by its enigmatic source. Well, technically, Balthier knew its origin – he had put it there himself – what he did not know was what the bloody blue blazes the thing was supposed to be.

It was disconcerting, especially as he felt certain that this rather fetching design contained within its whorls, spirals, and elegant lines considerable power. Power, no matter its derivation, always made Balthier nervous. He almost moved to wipe away the mark, but did not, because he knew that erasing the sign from the board would not erase it from his mind, where the blasted thing had become indelibly engraved.

Balthier was still standing scrutinising the peculiar design when a woman entered the chamber from the ascending stair. The woman was tall, thin and severe in countenance and wore the lavender and white gown of a fully sanctioned and high ranking senator. She moved noiselessly but the cold shiver and raising of the hackles at the back of Balthier's neck warned him of her approach.

'M'lady Etteran,' Balthier turned to her and smiled crookedly, 'I didn't expect you to grace my humble abode for at least another sennight.'

The Lady Madrigalise Etteran quirked an eyebrow, 'You hide your displeasure well, master Balthier. One might even think you were not most vexed to see me.'

She moved into the chamber taking in the surroundings in one keen glance. Her gaze sweeping over the desk over-flowing with paperwork Balthier refused to do, the table with his notes and abacus, the half-dissected Rook engine with thought-interface control mechanism exposed to further scrutiny, and lastly the board with the chalk design.

'You must tell me how you always know it is I, even when I take pains to obscure my approach.' Etteran said as she settled behind Balthier's more or less unused desk. She settled easily, making herself instantly at home.

Balthier sauntered across the room, examining the ingrained patina of glossair oil coating his palms with mild displeasure as he did so. 'Oh your stealth does you credit, madam.'

He said avoiding the question completely; telling the woman that there were few other people alive who could make a shiver dance up his spine at the mere mention of their name, would give her far too much satisfaction than he had any desire to do. He settled to lean against a clear corner of his desk and crossed his arms over his chest. He made sure to affix to his face his most facetious smirk.

'What can I do for you today, m'lady?' He quirked an eyebrow, 'I am fairly sure Draklor is not due another civil inspection.'

Etteran cupped her sharp chin in the cradle of her palms and rested her pointy elbows on the desk top. In doing so she dislodged a tower of papers and in consequence sent a trapped cog rolling off the desk to the floor. It rolled in a tight circle for a moment before Balthier slapped his foot down over it. Etteran waited to answer until she was sure she had his full attention once more.

'You are always under inspection, Bunansa. Your every move is watched, analysed, considered, weighted and pondered, by a myriad of observers.' She told him seriously even though she smiled.

Balthier shrugged, 'The perils of popularity.' He flapped his hand indifferently and shrugged as he re-crossed his arms over his chest. 'What of it?'

Etteran's teeth flashed smoothly in another perfectly artificial smile, 'You need to be leashed Bunansa; leashed, contained, and ultimately tamed.'

Balthier felt his lips quirk up at the edges, 'My dear madam Senator if I did not know better I might wonder if you are not propositioning me for some strange and lewd act.'

Etteran gave him a look as unbending as granite. Balthier smothered the urge to grin with pleasure for having caught the hateful woman off guard.

Still smiling ever so slightly Balthier let his gaze float easily away to the night sky falling in through the massive open balcony of the chamber. The night air carried a sharp chill, but that might just as easily be attributable to his present company.

'There are many who would say I am already tamed.' He murmured casually not looking at Etteran. 'I am considered a turn coat; the pirate dissident who sold his principles to build airships for the Empire he once despised.'

Etteran's clear grey eyes pierced through his laconic words. 'In all times and places idiots abound. I am not one of them.' Etteran began rifling through the papers on his desk, 'I think that I would have you killed if I could. I dare say it would be the most expedient insurance one could have against another turning of your coat.'

Balthier chuckled, 'I'm quite difficult to kill, madam.' He didn't bother to rise to her bait and grow offended at this most casual of threats against his life. All their prior meetings had proceeded in this vein as well. It had become something of game; a nasty, back-biting game, to be sure, but a game all the same.

'And I feel I should point out,' Balthier added in the same easy tones, 'that my questionable loyalties aside, I am a rather efficient worker, and at the very least, I am not insane or given to overblown ambition as was my father.'

Etteran sighed, 'Ambition can be harnessed; unbridled and fickle free will is a menace to society.'

Balthier coughed against a laugh and tried to smother it with a fist to his mouth, 'M'lady, do not take offence, but one wonders how in the name of all that is holy, you managed to get elected to the senate in the first place.'

Etteran flicked a long fingernail against the creased paper on which one of his discarded drawings stretched out in faded ink. Her regard was mild and chill when she looked up at him again. 'I am very good at putting my point across in any disagreement.'

Her lethal gaze skewered Balthier to the spot. 'House Solidor may have lost its venom but there are still serpents in the capital, Bunansa.'

'Yes,' Balthier drawled, 'I rather think I am looking at one now.'

'I rather think you are too.' The senator smiled. 'And little flighty birds should watch themselves very carefully.' She licked her thin lips with a pale and strangely pointed tongue. 'You are a thorn in my side, Bunansa. I will either find the means to control you, or I will destroy you. Be aware of that.'

Etteran rose from the desk in stately fashion and just like that the unscheduled visitation was at a close. Balthier straightened up from the desk as well. He walked her across the chamber to the stairs once more, partly because he knew his chivalry irritated the woman and partly because he wanted to make sure the harridan actually left before he turned his back.

'Well,' he said cheerfully once they reached the stairs, 'As always m'lady Etteran it has been a scintillating pleasure being threatened by you. We simply must do it again some time.'

Madrigalise Etteran flicked her cold gaze up and then down his body dismissively, bobbed her head in perfunctory sign of feigned respect and farewell, before turning and oozing back down the stairs the way she had come in. She called back to him from the bottom of the stairs.

'Oh we shall, Bunansa, we shall do this again very soon.'

As soon as he was sure she had gone Balthier hurried back across the chamber and out through the wide balcony. He stopped on the edge overlooking the sprawl of the city far below. He looked all the way down and finally allowed free the shiver he had suppressed while in Etteran's thrall.

'Bugger,' he muttered, 'Bugger, bugger, bugger.'

Balthier plucked at the chain he wore around his neck and fished the clear crystal shard pendant that hung from that chain out from the confines of his vest. He curled his fingers around the pendant.

'Well Fran, this is a fine to-do.' He told the pendant that contained a faint hint of green in the centre, like the captured ghost shimmer of a summer woodland. After a few moments the cold started to bite through his clothes and Balthier retired back inside. He went back to the blackboard and picked up the chalk.

He started to sketch out another sigil in a spare corner of the board; fingers dancing across the slate with a mind of their own. Within moments he had a rather fetching pentacle to go along with his strange flights of imagination.

'If the Wood is time and the air is motion, what then is the question they answer?' He murmured to himself and did not know why he did so.

Balfonheim Port 708 O.V.

The scent of salt and brine hung heavy in the night air and distantly the ocean sang her own lullaby as the bells of fishing boats jangled a faint chorus. The hubbub of the port of Balfonheim, now mostly rebuilt and in some areas even improved, formed an inconstant hissing wall of sound that prickled against Fran's ears as she stood in the tiny attic boarding room.

'What was her name?' Fran gazed down at the body sprawled across the narrow bed. She reached out to close the dead woman's eyes.

'Fantl.' Rikken's voice was a deep bass rumble behind her where he lingered in the doorway clearly unwilling to make the commitment of entering the room. 'She and her hume had only been int' port a few weeks; seemed happy enough. Quiet like, but then yer Viera always are.'

Fran arched a brow, 'Not always.' She demurred before crouching down beside the body of the dead Viera. 'What of her hume?'

Rikken shrugged uncomfortably, 'Just a wet eared boy; he was down int' White Cap most of the day scoutin' out marks. Came back t' room about noon an' started such a fuss that t'rest of us came arunning.' Rikken nodded his head towards the body. 'Found her like that.'

'I see.' Fran tucked Fantl's arm, which hung limply over the edge of the bed, back against her side. She pulled the sheet up over the body and observed in a dispassionate way, how the sheet rose in a gentle hump over Fantl's mid-section. Fran's ear twitched; this was a double tragedy.

'Never seen a pregnant Viera before,' Rikken commented with crashing lack of tact. 'Caused a bit of a stir in port – mostly with the other Viera we got here; lot of interest there.' The pirate's look could only have been described as significant. 'Almost like them were jealous.'

Fran rose to her feet and turned to stare at Rikken until the hume dropped his gaze to the bare boards of the attic floor. 'Little cause for envy now.' She pointed out simply. 'The babe is no more, as too goes Fantl.' She reached out for the scrap of paper that had been found by the body. 'Poison, was it?'

'Viper venom mixed with boiling hot wine,' Rikken replied promptly not looking up to meet her gaze. 'Quick death, I reckon.'

'Doubt it, I do, that the death was any less painful for its swiftness.' Fran murmured sadly looking down at the sad sheet swathed form.

'S'pose yer right, at that,' Rikken admitted awkwardly. 'Tis all so strange, we don't have no trouble from Viera usually, that's why we thought to call yer. Thought maybe yer'd know what-all the poor gel was vexed about.'

Fran unfolded the note and read the scant words scratched upon the crumbled parchment, which was water-marked with salt scented tears.

The burden was too great; Lente cries as I fail. May Wood and Word forgive me; I was not strong enough.

Fran blinked, 'Lente? She would be so bold as to write the name of She, but not to carry child to term?'

Fran's hand moved of its own accord to the half crystal shard she wore around her neck, and from within its depths flashed a shimmer of palest sky blue. Her fingers closed around the crystal tear absently. She looked back down at the sheet draped form.

'Lente,' Fran's ears twitched, 'What does the Mother fallen have to do with this sad state?'