For Want of a War

Chapter 10: Ramza

oOo

Zaland was not a pleasant city, I reflected.

I was sitting at a table out of doors, the bustle of the pub inside loud despite the fact it was only yet early afternoon. I picked at my roasted chicken, killing time as I waited for my master to return. Tristana had promised me that she'd find her own master's whereabouts soon enough, and that I should just wait for an hour.

That had been two hours ago.

When I first sat down, I'd ordered a watered down ale and spent far more time than my waitress would have chosen for me to spend sipping it. Another had followed and ten minutes after my master was due to return, I'd chanced ordering one of the leftover chickens from the lunch rush. I eyed the dregs left in my tankard and considered ordering a third ale, this time something which hadn't been watered down.

I don't know if it was conscious design or random bad luck, but my master had chosen a pub in the least interesting section of town for me to spend my time waiting. The densely-packed houses along the road offered no shops to peruse within easy sight of the pub, and across from where I sat lay a large wall which stretched for two hundred feet in either direction, quite blocking my view of the no doubt lovely estate on the other side.

Guards patrolled the top of the wall, discouraging any attempts at scaling it. I hadn't been considering the thought seriously yet but given more time and ale, the thought might have become serious later in the day if events continued as they were.

"Sir, can I get you something else?" I glanced towards the dark-haired waitress as she eyed me carefully. My sporadic orders had been accompanied by some decent coin on the side to go along with the price for the ale and chicken, which meant even though I'd only ordered a few items, she was quite eager to make sure she was the one who took them from me, rather than her coworkers.

"Actually, yes, I-" I began, pausing as I heard the frantic panting of a someone running. I glanced up to see a young man run by, a long blond ponytail flapping in the wind as he sprinted. Judging by the desperate keening in his voice, the stiff canvas trousers, and the trio of heavy pouches he had strapped to various parts of his frame, he was not doing so for his health as I had been for the many months previous. "Strange."

I turned my head to find the source of his desperate haste, and was rewarded with what I judged to be a tracking squad. Two women with bows were sprinting ahead of four men, two black mages and two knights, presumably as they followed the young blond who'd just sprinted by. As they flashed passed me I noticed that while they seemed to be wearing a uniform of some kind, they most certainly weren't wearing the livery of the Zaland city guard.

"It would appear I won't, actually," I informed the young waitress, before sprinting after the young man's pursuers, keeping my distance as I jogged at what was, to me, an easy speed.

Intervening before I found out what was going on could be disastrous, and I didn't intend to make that mistake. I would let the events play out until I knew more.

oOo

Twenty minutes later, and the six pursuers had managed to corner their prey near the city walls. In this area of the city the walls were low enough that he could easily climb over them, but the open ground beyond would doom him to the archers.

He appeared to know it, too, because he whirled on the six, his back to the wall. One of the two knights stepped forward.

"You can't escape, Mustadio," the knight growled, holding out his hand. "Give it to us if you value your life!"

With that one phrase, I silently set my feet where I was hiding, peeking around the corner at the ongoing drama. If this group had had something legitimately stolen from them, the lead knight would have asked for the item's return, whatever it was. Instead, this Mustadio must have found something they were searching for and didn't feel the need to pay for it.

"What do you want?" He demanded, though his acting was so bad even I could tell he was faking. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

"Don't play dumb!" The leader of the band snapped, his hand going to his sword. He slowly drew the blade, before pointing it at the young man. "Don't you care about your father? Just give us the holy stone and we'll return him to you!"

Well, I thought. That made it rather obvious just which of these two diverse sides I should be supporting. I quickly breathed in deeply, preparing myself to move and fight.

Mustadio appeared to be considering the offer, no small amount of anguish on his face at the naked threat. That hesitation appeared to be just what the lead knight was waiting for.

"Get him!" The knight roared, charging at the ponytailed youth.

Mustadio's assailants were all focused on him. Only he saw me as I charged around the corner, and in his eyes I only saw confusion, not relief. He quickly focused on the man charging him, dodging at the last second and pointing a strange mechanical device at the knight. A sharp crack not entirely unlike a solid bolt spell resounded as fire gutted forth out of a tube pointed towards the knight, and the man screamed in pain as the device, a weapon of some sort, caused a wound in his side.

"And you can tell Rudvich that if he lays a hand on my father he'll never see the stone!" Mustadio shouted, turning to run again. As an arrow cut in front of him he glanced back, just in time to see my own charge reach the centre of the group attacking him.

Forcing my chakra into my right hand, I ignored the attention of the men and women as they took in the threat I presented, skidding to a stop and planting my feet. This would be the moment my training paid off. This would be the moment I finally used the skills Tristana had forced me to learn in combat for the first time.

I began by executing a spin fist, too far away from any of my foes to make contact. Yet instead of stopping as I completed the first spin, I swung my arm again, this time releasing the built up chakra as I poured more speed into my rotation.

Normally earth slash requires intense concentration to perform. Normally, it's impossible to combine with a high-movement attack like the spin fist.

Normal monks had never been trained to the extent I had, according to my master.

In a near-perfect circle around me, the earth underneath the cobblestones exploded, turning the paved street into a maelstrom of shrapnel aimed at everything around me. The windows of nearby building shattered, and the walls of the same were thoroughly dented.

More impressively than the collateral damage I caused was the casualties I'd inflicted on my enemies. Both black mages were down, as well as one of the archers. The other bow-wielding woman was on her knees, obviously on her last legs. Only the two armour-clad knights were still in the fight, and I could tell with a glance that the one nearest me was more than just annoyed by the blow I'd dealt.

Mustadio's device spoke again, and the remaining archer fell. I nodded toward the knight closest to me and he answered with a grin, already focused on the man he'd already hit once. For all his apparent panic when he'd been chased while alone, I will say that the young man recognized an opportunity when he saw one and seemed quite good at keeping a cool head.

I ran towards my current target and to his credit, the knight blocked my initial kick, holding his ground as his shield rose to block my strike. He was unprepared for me to intercept his counterstrike by clamping down on his forearm, blocking his blade's slash. He was dismayed for the few seconds of consciousness he had remaining when my other hand slapped his shield-arm wide. Unconsciousness came when both hands clamped down on his neck, bringing him forward as I lifted myself up into a rising knee which more than likely broke his jaw and a loosened most of the teeth in his mouth.

I wheeled from my opponent as I heard yet another muted explosion from Mustadio's direction, only to find that he'd dealt with his opponent. The ponytailed young man had not a scratch on him, though I did notice that the final knight, the one foe I hadn't downed myself, was scarcely five feet away.

I let out a breath, relaxing now that the fight was over. Mustadio strode over to me with a grin, nodding his thanks as he slipping the strange contraption he'd used so effectively in the fight into a sheath made to size.

"Are you all right?" I asked, glancing at him. While I hadn't seen any of the ones chasing him do Mustadio any injury, I couldn't be certain, nor could I know whether or not he'd been injured beforehand.

"Yeah, I think so," he admitted, scratching his chin. He glanced around at the unconscious or dying around us before flashing me a grin. "Thanks for helping me."

"I'm happy to have helped," I admitted, responding to his grin with one of my own. I gestured at the defeated with one hand. "So, who were these people?"

"They are..." He began, blinking as the dead around us began to crystalize. I couldn't find it in myself to feel pity for them: Six on one were poor odds, and even with his corded frame I could tell from his movements that Mustadio was not a trained fighter. He continued, "They were troublemakers hired by Bart Company."

"The importer?" I finally asked, economics lessons from nearly a year ago sparking some trace memory.

"The very same," Mustadio confirmed, shaking his head. "It's not just a trading company, though. They're a criminal syndicate into everything from smuggling to slavery."

"So why were they after you?" I questioned, gesturing to the crystals, eerily hovering around us. "What was that holy stone that they mentioned?"

Mustadio paused, and indecision was clear on his face. He finally shook his head.

"Sorry friend, it's probably best that you don't know. I'll admit that you're more than a fair hand in a fight, but right now that's just not enough. I need to take what I know to someone with some sort of political power," Mustadio concluded. He then offered me his hand. "Mustadio Bunanza, at your service. Or I will be if you're ever in Goug and I'm not dead or on the run."

I took his hand.

"Ramza Beoulve," I returned, enjoying the way his eyes widened rather suddenly at my last name. My grin widened. "Are you sure you still want to turn down my help? I hear that people tend to take my family a little bit seriously when we get involved with something."

"I, you..." Mustadio began, before laughing out loud. He released my hand, slapping my back as we began to walk away from the battlefield. "Okay, fine. I'll admit that perhaps, in your case, you might be able to help me in a way which doesn't involve beating someone to death with those big fists of yours."

I glanced at the buildings damaged. Already the residents were perusing the equipment of our foes and the crystals above with greedy eyes, and I concluded that the money they'd gain from looting the dead, distasteful as the practice was, would more than pay for the damage to their homes.

"Sounds fine to me," I agreed, hastening my step and leading Mustadio back towards the pub at which I'd spent hours whittling away the time. "Let me buy you an ale or two, and you can tell me exactly what sort of trouble I'm going to help you sort out in the next week or so."

"Confident, eh?" Mustadio asked slyly, before smiling. "Then again, you are a Beoulve. If it took you more time than that, no doubt Balbanes would have something to say about it, eh?"

"No doubt my father would," I admitted, again enjoying the way Mustadio's eyes twitched at the casual revelation.

"I'm beginning to think that associating with you is going to require those ales you promised," the ponytailed man admitted, now seemingly a bit nervous.

"Mustadio, you have yet to meet my master," I agreed with a smirk.

I'd spent some time away from the pub, after all. If Tristana had returned in my absence, then Bart Company might be the least of Mustadio's problems.

oOo

Author's Notes:

So Ramza can Kaiten now. No, I'm not going to be ripping off Naruto, it's actually just a function of him combining two regular Monk techniques. I didn't even realize it until after I'd finished writing the scene. Though now that I think about it, Secret Fist + Repeating Fist would make for a damned good Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms ripoff.

Anyhoo, Mustadio is one of my favourite characters and despite the fact that mechanically-speaking he's pretty damned weak he always seems to find a place in my party. Plus the fact that he chooses to hit on Agrias means the dude has some balls of steel, so I can't help but like him just for that. So yeah, the people who were worried about him not appearing: He's here. He's here to stay.