More than half a year had passed since the Bloody Angel Altima, and subsequently Bethla Garrison, descended into the abyss. In the two seasons that followed, Ivalice began to recover from the devastation that had racked the southern coast, and the carnage brought on by the Lucavi horde. An era of relative peace, as unstable as the continent was, had replaced one of war and hatred.
Two short weeks after the decisive battle against the Lucavi, Ivalice was home to perhaps the largest wedding ceremony in its long history, held in Lesalia. Thousands arrived to see Queen Ovelia wed to Delita Hyral, and not a soul was turned away from the festivities, be they noble or common of blood. Not long after that, the Treaty of Lions was signed, granting sovereignty to Gallione, Zeltennia, and Limberry, while the kingdom of Fovoham was folded into that of Lesalia. New nobility was established in these kingdoms, with the rule of Gallione falling to the last surviving son of House Beoulve.
Lionel, which had been consumed by the sea, was slowly beginning to reemerge from the depths of the Bugress, and was haven for bandits and thieves seeking to salvage what remained. Despite some small conflicts throughout the land, the people of Ivalice experienced hope for the future, and a mutual respect for those who had also survived the demonic invasion. The citizens, while not always happy, were for the most part content.
Free in name and spirit, Bervenia stood as a beacon of hope, setting the standard for every other city in Ivalice. Within the walls of the city stood an inn, unlike any other within Ivalice, due to the legends that surrounded those that had once called it home. It was at this place, on this particular night, that a handful of men and women had been summoned, gathering to celebrate a holiday that was not recorded anywhere but in their hearts.
Dusting himself off, Olan Durai took a calming breath, as he allowed his gaze to travel to the sign above the inn's door. 'The Lion's Den' was emblazoned above a relief of a golden lion, its craftsmanship superb. The young astrologist hesitated, letting the cool night air settle his nerves, until a nudge urged him out of a silent reverie.
"Lighten up." Val said lightly, taking his hand in hers. "I don't understand why you're so nervous in the first place."
"It's just been awhile since I've seen any of them, and what if they didn't like it? What if they thought I didn't do him justice?"
"Who would think such a thing?" The woman replied, rolling her eyes. "Now get in there, before I force you in."
Olan shot the sorceress a look, before slowly opening the door to the inn. Stepping into the warm light, his gaze wandered over the large pub that served any and all comers. The room looked much as he remembered, when it had served as a dining room, aside from the dozens of patrons scattered throughout. Of all the places to find a cheap drink in Bervenia, none were as sought after, and the Lion's Den always had guests.
Among them, Olan recognized several men at arms, as they had once belonged to the kingdom he had served. Four former Knight Blades glanced at him as he stepped across the threshold, a shallow nod their only acknowledgement of his presence. Returning the gesture, Olan slipped into the room, searching for the owner of the establishment and commander of those men.
Instead, he spotted Alma, and her face brightened the moment he caught her gaze. Slipping out from behind the bar, leaving the serving duties to the real employees of the inn, the blonde woman slipped between her patrons to meet them. Wordlessly, she pulled both Olan and Val into a tight embrace, the smile on her face infectious.
"It's about time you finally came around." She scolded them, taking both of their hands and making her way toward the back of the expansive room. "Everyone else has stopped by for a visit at least once."
"Apologies, I've been rather busy." Olan countered lamely, blushing.
"Oh, don't I know it!" Alma replied, before her gaze jumped to something that required her attention. "You'll have to excuse me for a moment."
As the young Beoulve scurried off to deal with whatever had grabbed her interest, Olan and Val settled down at the large table that had been reserved for them in the back of the tavern. Absently, the astrologist stroked a familiar scar in the wood, recognizing the dining table in an instant.
"They seem to be doing quite well for themselves." Val noted, nodding in appreciation of the business.
"It's all Alma's doing." Izlude said lightly, falling into a seat near them. "I have no skill at managing a budget, let alone employees. She manages to do it without any of them trying to poison her, and I have no idea how."
The knight shook Olan's hand tightly, before leaning back in his seat and smiling. For several minutes, the three of them discussed the Lion's Den, though mostly Olan and Val merely listened to some of the many stories Izlude had about the place. The most popular bar in town had its share of mishaps, which came as no surprise.
"Any word from Beowulf and Reis?" Olan inquired between the knight's tales, having not heard anything from them in some time.
"They weren't able to make it, what with all the work Simon has been doing with the Germonik Scriptures. There are still some members of the Glabados Church who seek to refute his claims against Ajora, but for the most part the people have ignored them. It's hard to keep telling the same lies when all of Ivalice came face to face with Ajora's true nature."
"Simon's not in danger is he?" Val asked, concerned.
"That's where Beowulf comes in. I shouldn't be mentioning this, as official word hasn't been made, but the former Gryphon Knights of Lionel have formed what they're calling the Templars of Germonik. They remain at Orbonne, to protect the scriptures, and Simon, as he continues translating the text."
When Alma arrived and took a seat next to Izlude, with free drinks for Olan and Val, a comfortable silence fell over them. Olan had never been that close with the others, though they all considered him a friend. It was enough for the astrologist that they could fall into such a companionable quiet, though he thought perhaps he shouldn't have arrived so early.
It wasn't long until Izlude's eyes slipped away from them, and the smile that touched his lips instantly gave away the identity of the next arrivals. Olan turned in his seat, following the knight's gaze to the cloaked figures who strode confidently through the room, paying no mind to the eyes that fell on them.
Izlude and Alma had risen before the pair reached them, and immediately embraced Meliadoul. The woman's face was cool and distant; though it was clear she was happy to see them. She hugged them stiffly at first, but the embrace quickly softened, her true nature slowly emerging. Beneath the deep gray cloak, an even darker shade of armor was plainly visible, a message to any drunken brigand who thought to approach her.
Gafgarion was far less shy in his greeting, nearly crushing Izlude's neck in a masculine embrace before clapping Olan on the shoulder. He and the astrologist had developed something of a verbal rivalry during their time together, and Olan was pleased to see that the months since they'd last met hadn't changed his demeanor. Gruff and plainspoken as he may be, the old knight was good company.
"Is the room unlocked?" Mel asked calmly, releasing her hold on her sibling.
"Of course. I opened it up a little while ago."
With that, the woman departed, striding purposefully from the room and toward the stairs that lay beyond. The others settled back into their seats, watching Meliadoul as she slipped down the hall.
"How is she doing?" Alma asked, turning a soft gaze onto the Dark Knight.
"I've only met one other person who was able to learn as quickly as her, and she possesses as much determination as he did."
"You know that's not what I meant." Alma replied, frowning thoughtfully.
"She still blames herself for what came to pass." The aging knight sighed, leaning forward. "And the nightmares plague her yet, though less frequently. It will take some time, but eventually she will come around."
As the others spoke of her condition, Meliadoul slowly climbed the stairs outside of the bar. Every room on the second floor had been furnished for guests of the Lion's Den, save for one, and it was that room the woman sought. As she approached the room, a single guard stepped away from the door, nodding to her.
"Lady Tingel," The former Blade said quietly. "Izlude left the key next to the bed."
The Dark Knight said nothing as she opened the door, though she smiled slightly at him. Dismissing himself, the warrior slipped down the stairs, toward the dormitory he shared with his fellow knights. Closing the door behind her, Meliadoul's gaze wandered over the room, taking it in with one slow sweep.
Nothing had changed inside since the day its original inhabitant had left, and Mel realized she'd been holding her breath. Releasing it slowly, the woman slowly circled the bedroom, dragging her fingers across the familiar armoire along the wall. Standing in the center of the room, she could almost believe he would come walking in the door, though she knew such thoughts were foolish.
Shaking her head to clear it, the knight wandered toward the comfortable bed, and collapsed face down upon it. She lay there for a long moment, stroking the linen that covered it. Meliadoul swore that even after all this time she could still detect his scent in the sheets, even though she knew it was only a faded memory.
While Mel took refuge in her reminiscence, the others who had gathered turned to welcome four more arrivals, who carried the weight of half of Ivalice with them. The first to slip into the room, alone, surveyed the scene for a moment before stepping aside. A heavy cloak concealed one side of his body, and not once did his hand leave the hilt of the blade at his side.
As the group neared the table where Izlude and the others sat, everyone but Gafgarion stood to acknowledge them. Despite how much of his defiance the Dark Knight had left behind, he couldn't resist the temptation to prod their guests, and hope for a reaction.
"I hadn't believed you'd let yourself go in such a way, Agrias." The man said, smiling devilishly. "You assume the title of Duchess of Gallione, and you put on the weight expected of nobility in no time."
"Gaff, do not presume that my current condition might keep me from thrashing you in front of all these men." Agrias shot back, leering at him. "Pregnant or not, I'm still more than capable of handling a relic such as yourself."
Beside her, a woman dressed in the attire of a handmaiden stifled a laugh, as the cloaked knight pulled out a chair for her. Alma and Izlude had no such qualms about hiding their amusement, and it took a moment for them to stop laughing and embrace the woman. Clearing her throat to keep from falling into a fit as they had, Ovelia settled into a seat next to Agrias. Those at the table had the presence of mind not to treat Ovelia as she should be treated, for they knew how embarassed such royal welcomes made her feel. Though she was Queen and ruled all of Ivalice, with Delita at her side, she was still the same woman who had tended to wounded men without concern for her rank. Despite her station, few would recognize the Queen of Ivalice in a crowded room, especially dressed in the garb of a common girl. At least, that was what was expected. In Bervenia, at least, she was safe among friends if the patrons of the inn did happen to realize who was in their midst. Few places, even in this new era of peace, could boast of such things.
"I'm sorry I couldn't make the ceremony." Izlude said sheepishly, taking the Duke of Gallione's hand. "I was otherwise engaged, unfortunately."
"Think nothing of it." Zalbag replied, hugging Alma briefly. "We'll just have to enjoy a drink together when you follow suit."
"You mean marriage?" Izlude said, his voice cracking for a moment.
The young knight's gaze slipped over to Alma, who was watching him intently. The woman smiled coyly, whispering something to Ovelia that made the woman giggle for a moment before clearing her throat. Finally, Alma shrugged, and crossed both arms over her chest.
"What makes you think I'd marry you in the first place?" She replied, raising one eyebrow, which was drowned out by the laughter of the table.
"Speaking of that engagement, rumor has it you've been quite busy." Zalbag noted, draping one arm over Izlude's shoulders.
"Is that so? I thought we were being quite discreet."
"You have been, but I happen to have a spy in your midst." Zalbag shot back, winking sideways at Alma. "Word travels, however, and I hear your Riskbreakers have nearly purged Limberry."
"Perhaps." The knight replied, sitting once more. "Much of the Lucavi's army escaped the purge at Bethla, and though the invasion was primarily centered there, I've been receiving reports of trouble in other parts of Ivalice. The gates may have closed when Altima fell, but it seems some may have escaped in other lands."
"Across the sea?" Olan asked, leaning forward in interest.
"Indeed. I've dispatched several men to distant Valendia, in the hopes of eradicating any demons that may have surfaced there."
Zalbag nodded solemnly, taking a seat as well, before he turned his attention to the fourth member of their party, who stood rigid at Ovelia's back. The Duke sighed in frustration, motioning that the man should sit.
"Wiegraf, please, sit down. You'll call more attention to us like that than if you would relax."
"I'd prefer to stand." The knight said calmly, his gaze travelling across the room.
"The King's one condition for Ovelia's presence here was that Wiegraf accompany her." Agrias explained, rolling her eyes. "He seems to think Zalbag and myself unable to protect her."
"He's just concerned." Ovelia said with a smile. "We argued about it for days before I finally told him I was going, like it or not."
"Not to mention," Alma said lightly. "You shouldn't be swinging a sword, Agrias. You look as though you're about to burst. You must be getting close now."
"A couple months, perhaps. Maybe sooner." Agrias agreed, smiling and touching her stomach.
"At any rate," Izlude said calmly, glancing up at Wiegraf. "You can rest easy. I stationed half a dozen of my best men throughout the room, in anticipation of Ovelia's arrival. In this room, in this city, you'd be hard pressed to find a safer place for her."
Wiegraf glanced sideways at the young commander of the Riskbreakers, his mouth a thin line. There was still a deal of tension between the two men, which was justified by Wiegraf's actions. The former Knight of Death had proven his loyalty time and again to Delita and Ovelia, but that didn't remove the stain of his misdeeds, but he had been rewarded with what he sought during the Fifty Year War: Equality.
Delita had maintained the noble caste, explaining that it was necessary for the governing of the people, but had imposed a new system of justice over Ivalice. Alongside the nobility, the commoners were given the opportunity to elect a representative, who would speak on their behalf. It was not a perfect system, for truly there can be none, but it had demolished much of the enmity between the ruling class and those they ruled.
Finally, conceding defeat to Zalbag and Izlude, Wiegraf removed his cloak, revealing the arm he had lost in defense of the crown. Grudgingly the Queen's White Knight took a seat, though he continued to keep a wary eye on the other patrons of the tavern.
For awhile, the conversation at the table split. The women spoke quietly, mostly of children and marriage, much to Izlude's embarrassment, and the men spoke of conflict and government. The table was bustling with conversation when Meliadoul returned, at which time it fell silent.
The woman stood next to Izlude for a long moment, her initial frigidity warmed by her trip upstairs, but her gaze naturally found itself drawn to the one-armed knight at Ovelia's side. There was a palpable tension at the table as Mel stared at him, her expression cool. She would never forgive the man for what he had been responsible for, but she had grown to accept his folly. Given what darkness she had unleashed, she was in no position to judge him, and understood how easy it was to be swept away by one's own mistakes. Finally, she tore her gaze from the knight, settling it upon Olan as she took a seat.
"I read your book." She said casually.
Olan took a calming breath, smiling shyly at the woman. Of all the people he was terrified of offending with his account of the Lion War, Meliadoul was at the forefront. He'd spent the last half year feverishly logging everything that had happened, finishing the manuscript with Delita's victory at Bethla Garrison. Already the astrologist had begun his work on the second book, and scribes had been busy copying his original work to distribute it to the libraries of Ivalice. Meliadoul, as with several others at the table, had received a copy of their own.
"It was…" She continued, looking somewhat nervous before her tone softened. "It was as he would have liked, without fanfare and exaggeration."
"Oh!" Izlude exclaimed, as Olan let out a quiet sigh of relief. "That reminds me, I heard a new one today!"
"A new what?" Val asked, absently running her fingers through Olan's hair.
"After Olan's book reached Bervenia," Alma explained. "The people here, many of whom had met all of us during the war, began to weave their own tales."
"Yeah," Izlude cut in, unable to keep the boyish exuberance from his tone. "So far, Ramza assaulted Lesalia on the back of a dragon, fought back an Ordallian regiment single handed, and rescued a virgin Countess from a dozen demons who sought to ravage her; but those are nothing, this new one is by far my favorite."
On either side of him, Alma and Mel exchanged a quiet look. Out of all of them, Izlude had taken the events at Bethla the best. While the others had grieved and tried to move on past that horrible day, Izlude continued to insist that Ramza wasn't really gone. He said as much often to Alma, waving off her gentle contradictions, and claimed that his friend would return soon.
"So get this." The knight continued, grinning. "Ramza and his Zodiac Braves fought their way through the bowels of Murond, and went through a portal into hell itself, where they battled the evil Altima in a graveyard of airships. They slew the beast, rescued his helpless sister, and then managed to fight their way back out of the abyss."
Those gathered at the table, knowing Ramza best of all, cocked their heads to the side in amusement as Izlude finished his story. Glancing at each other, the gathered heroes contemplated the tale silently for a moment, uncertain of what to say.
"Preposterous." Meliadoul said, shaking her head. "How can anyone believe something like that?"
"Why am I referred to as the 'helpless sister'?" Alma agreed, glowering at Izlude.
"It does seem a little far-fetched." Val noted, nodding.
"I don't know," Zalbag said, rubbing his chin. "That does kind of sound like him."
"Yup." Gaff replied, taking a swig of ale. "That's the way I'll be telling it from now on. I just need to work myself in there somewhere."
"Actually," Izlude said, turning his gaze onto the Dark Knight and smirking. "In that story, you died at the heroe's hands."
"What a load of rubbish!" The man shot back, spilling his drink.
The resulting mirth from the table drew the gaze of several of the other people who had congregated at the Lion's Den, and it was a full minute before everyone had stopped laughing. No sooner had they calmed down than the final guests entered the pub.
Limping around the scattered tables in the room, a slim form made his way toward the others, a smile touching his lips as his one good eye fell upon them. The other half of his vision was obscured by a snug eye patch, which apparently didn't do much to his peripheral vision, for he navigated the room easily. At his side was a slender woman, her blonde hair cropped shorter than it had been when last she'd been seen.
The pair were dressed lightly, the woman unconcerned with modesty. As she sauntered alongside her companion, the eyes of a dozen men fell on her swaying hips and exposed navel, but she paid them little mind. Finally reaching the table, the pair stopped, and the man waved half-heartedly.
"You know," Agrias said, leaning over to speak loudly to Alma. "An order has gone through to arrest the Sky Pirates who have begun to loot Lionel province, and a large bounty was placed on the Captain of the Ixion."
Laughing nervously, Mustadio rubbed the back of his neck, as Celia took his arm and dragged him around to a pair of open seats. He paused long enough to shake Olan's hand firmly, before letting the woman tow him into his chair.
"I'm afraid I've heard nothing about that." The man said lightly, smiling back at Agrias. "I am simply a humble salvager, seeking to restore the relics of a bygone era. It's not my fault it happens to be very profitable."
"Uh huh." The knight replied, rolling her eyes.
"What's it like down there?" Olan asked, practically at the edge of his seat.
"Well," Mustadio began, shrugging. "When the sea began to recede, we began to notice that it took a lot with it. Goug was washed away, leaving the tunnels beneath it wide open. It wasn't long until the bandits that moved in found the airships that were left behind by the Lucavi, or that had been there all along. Luckily for me, I managed to fix mine up before they even figured out what the hell they were looking at. A few of them actually tried to launch the ships out at sea, which made for a pretty entertaining sight."
"How do they stay in the air without the stones?" Val wondered aloud.
"Because they have stones in them." Mustadio replied quietly, leaning forward. "Not the holy stones, of course, nothing dangerous like that, and not nearly as powerful. It's auracite, similar to the stones the Lucavi used, but not. It's hard to explain. Point is, they let us take to the skies, and see what was left behind when the water fell away."
"I heard there were survivors." Alma claimed, resting her head on one hand intently.
"Some," Mustadio agreed, nodding slightly. "There was time enough for people to get aboard a seafaring vessel, and some even made it to high enough ground to get above the flood. It's not a pretty sight down there, especially with all the uppity pirates flying around now."
"I do hope you didn't bring that flying heap here." Agrias said sternly.
"Of course not! I left Malak and Lede in charge of her in my absence, figured they could use some alone time."
"That's for certain." Celia interjected, rolling her eyes. "They can't keep their paws off of each other when we are around."
"I must say," Mustadio said, laughing. "Traveling by chocobo is far less convenient."
"It's probably safer though." Olan replied. "Last I recall, you managed to crash two airships in a single day."
"Oh course, let's not mention how many I destroyed with my incredible skill. I'll have you know, Olan, more people die in chocobo related accidents every year than die in an airship mishap."
The conversation remained light for the rest of the evening, as each person at the table recounted a fond memory of the man that brought them all together. After everything they had been through, after all the hardship and loss, it was a testament to the nature of man that they were able to come together. Despite their differences, despite their allegiances and conflicting goals, they were able to set aside their differences for the good of the world. It heartened Alma to see everyone smiling and laughing again, and even Wiegraf and Meliadoul couldn't keep but letting some small measure of contentment slip past their guard.
This was what Alma had hoped for when she called them all together to celebrate their victory over both the Lucavi and the darkness of the human heart. This was her gift to the brother she had lost, the one she had loved most, who gave his life for the freedom of all of Ivalice. This was his legacy, to be passed down for generations. Though he would never be there to hold his niece, or sit in the company of his friends as they reminisced of days gone by, it heartened Alma to know that he was still there, in spirit, in the hearts of those he'd been closest to.
Happy Birthday, big brother.
As with all good things, their time together was destined to come to an end. Gradually, those who had made the journey from across Ivalice retired, mostly to a room within the Lion's Den. Mustadio and Celia departed for the Ixion that night, content to spent their night beneath the stars. Zalbag and Agrias left for their room shortly after, with Wiegraf opting to rest in a chair outside of Ovelia's chambers.
Olan and Val remained downstairs longer, speaking at length with Gaff, before all three of them headed upstairs as well. Finally, as the last of the inn's patrons cleared out, only Alma, Izlude, and Meliadoul remained. Though they were not bound by law, the three of them were joined by a bond stronger than anything else; one of love.
Among all the others, only these three knew the true scope of Ramza's sacrifice high above Ivalice. Each of them had been touched by something divine, though none knew for certain what it was. Alma was the closest to an understanding, having been in contact with whatever force had aided her in casting Altima's power away, but even she couldn't be sure what exactly that powerful light had been.
"One thing has always been on my mind." Meliadoul said abruptly, chewing on her lip and looking at her brother. "When Shemhazai was destroyed, and I told you and Ramza that Alma still could be saved, he said he knew."
"He did." Izlude said, smiling. "There was never any other outcome for Ramza. He told me, long before we reached Bethla, that we could free both of you from the Lucavi."
"But how could he know that?" Mel pressed urgently, frowning.
"He never told me, and I never doubted him. I have a theory, however." The youngest Tingel said, absently rubbing his lips. "The light that purged Chaos from me was different than the one that cast Shemhazai out of you, and the one that helped pull Alma from Altima's grasp. Similar, yes, but not the same, and I don't believe it was the stones itself that brought this about, as I once did."
"So, what," Alma asked, frowning thoughtfully. "Do you think there's something other than the Lucavi that can impose their will on the stones?"
"Exactly. Think about it, the stones are just a doorway; A way for the Lucavi to cross the veil. What if it's not just a gateway to the abyss, what if it's also, I don't know, a path to the other side?"
"So for every Lucavi, there's another being, a counterpart, of light?" Mel asked, pondering that.
"It makes sense, doesn't it? What if they were helping us, rending aid without resorting to direct intervention as the Lucavi did?"
"You think this is why Ramza knew he could save me?" Alma asked quietly.
"I do. Ramza understood the nature of the stones better than any of us, and experienced their power, both good and evil, the most. I believe he came to the conclusion that the stones would come to his aid, if his cause was just."
"He told Altima that Virgo didn't serve it," Alma recalled suddenly. "I was still a little out of it, having just been thrown from my body, but I remember that distinctly."
"What of the stones now?" Meliadoul asked, glancing at her brother.
"They're inert. They no longer react to anything at all, and we're keeping a pair of Riskbreakers on watch over them at all times."
"Can they be trusted?"
"Yes," Izlude assured her. "I know these men, fought beside them in the Blades. I trust them without question."
"Once I've discovered a way to destroy the stones, I'll have to decide if I should."
"Of course you should." The woman replied coldly. "You saw what happened when they were placed… in the wrong hands."
"I also saw their potential for good. I'm not saying we should use them, hell no, but there's something to be learned from them. Trust me Mel, I know I'm doing the right thing."
"How can you?"
"I just do."
Meliadoul stared at him for a long moment, her eyes searching his. In her brother's gaze she saw the same determination, confidence, and self assurance that she had once seen in Ramza. In the end, she decided that was enough.
"I should get some rest." She said finally, standing.
"Are you leaving in the morning?" Alma asked, rising to hug her.
"Yes, I'm going to travel a little, see what the world is like now. Gafgarion won't ever admit it, but his old bones don't take well to such journeys."
"Will we see you soon?" Izlude asked worriedly.
"Soon enough." She replied with a small smile. "I'll need to check in to be sure Alma hasn't killed you out of irritation."
"There have been a couple of close calls." The girl conceded, smirking.
Mel left them in the tavern, where no doubt Alma still had a little to do before she could sleep. Instead of heading upstairs, however, the woman slipped back into the brisk night air. Bervenia was sound asleep, as the midnight hour had already passed, and it was calming to see the darkened windows around her.
Making her way to the where her mount was tied to retrieve her things, Meliadoul pondered her brother's musings. She had felt some strange sensation when she was free of Morrigan's influence, but she couldn't bring herself to believe it was some divine being. It was simple magic, not a miracle.
As she approached the alley beside the inn, a familiar chirrup announced Atro's pleasure at her arrival. The chocobo was uncommonly delighted to see her, when normally he was rather reserved. Slipping up beside the bird, she gently stroked its neck as Atro ruffled his feathers at her.
"What's got you all excited?" She asked him, unhitching her pack from the saddle.
The chocobo was one of two things she prized over all others, the only things she had to remember the man she loved. The other was sheathed along Atro's saddled, positioned to be drawn easily should she require it. Reaching around the bird to retrieve the weapon, panic gripped her heart, tugging it into her throat. The sword was gone.
Dropping her pack, Meliadoul stumbled back, her gaze frantically searching the ground by the chocobo. Somebody had stolen the sword, the one thing she treasured above all else, and she had let it happen. She had gone inside, let her guard down, and now it was gone.
Slowly, she calmed some, and began to think more clearly. No, that was impossible. Atro wouldn't allow someone to simply stroll up and take the blade from him. The chocobo would fight to the death to defend that sword, and if he'd been attacked the entire inn would have been aware of his unique magic being unleashed. She could only think of one other person Atro would even allow near the sword.
Gasping, Meliadoul spun on her heel, her breath catching in her chest. Desperately her eyes searched the shadows of the alley, ears straining for any sound of movement. There was nothing before her but darkness, profound and complete, and for a moment she became lost within it. Atro nudged her arm gently, making a content noise in his throat. Touching the chocobo's neck to calm him, a wild thought slipped into her mind, a desire she'd held deep within her heart.
Author's Note: I seem to have gotten something in my eye when writing the 'Happy Birthday' line. Luckily it went away and I was able to finish the chapter.
It has been a long, arduous journey finishing this story, filled with twists and turns, joy and sorrow. Joy, because this was damn fun to write, and I never expected it to turn into the project it has. Sorrow, because it's finally finished, over a year in the making, and I have to leave it behind. I'm gonna miss the way I played with the characters, trying my best to make them my own. Canon? Who the hell needs canon?
Oh, and by long, I mean that upon finishing this, you have just read approximately 550 pages or so, in paperback format. Granted some of those are my Author's Notes, which I told myself when I started I wouldn't put into every chapter. (I'm a damn liar, I am.) Yeah, I didn't expect to break 100k words, let alone close to 200,000. This got a little out of hand, I must say. Even so, looking back, I don't think it could have been shorter than this. There was so much I had to include, and it just spiraled out of my hands.
Okay, let me talk about the epilogue before my mind wanders off again. I hope it lived up to some expectations, and honestly I absolutely loved writing it. After like a dozen chapters devoted to stuff getting killed, it was refreshing to be able to sit back and simply revist the characters one last time, and have some fun with them. I tried to keep it from being serious, and wanted more than anything to elicit a smile from my readers. I was certainly smiling through most of it. I also wanted to have some fun with the other games in the Ivalice universe, such as the Blades becoming something very familiar to Vagrant Story players, and Mustadio picking up the Bunanza mantle of a Sky Pirate.
So, I hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this, the final-final chapter, (For real this time, promise.) and the story in general. I can honestly say I had as much fun reading the reviews and Tropes entries as you all did reading the actual story. No joke, they made my day, and I read through several each time I jumped on to work on the next chapter. I don't know what I'm going to do when I don't have those to help motivate me.
What now? I guess it's time I buckled down and actually started working on my own manuscripts. I'm currently trying to get some articles published on Cracked, and plan to sign up for a small writing contest for the month of December. Outside of that, I suppose I need to decide which manuscript I want to finally flesh out, in the hopes of doing something with it. I honestly have a dozen that have been either started, or at least played out in my head. Ironically, despite my interest in this story, only one of them could be considered 'Fantasy'. Maybe I'll put it up as an E-Book, as actually finding a publisher is a damn pain. Should anyone be interested in what I end up completeting, feel free to send me a Private Message here. If it ends up being published in any medium, I'll see about getting you a copy free of charge.
Again, thanks for all the support and interest in this project. I hope it was as fun and exciting to be read as it was to write.