For Want of a War
Chapter 12: Ramza
Though yesterday's hangover was long gone, the headache of what to do when Mustadio and I arrived in Goug remained, a headache which only grew as the city drew closer. Mustadio had explained that his father had been kidnapped the previous morning, and I knew enough about Viscount Rudvich Bart to guess that the forces he could bring to bear would be considerable.
No match for a real noble's entourage, of course, but that wasn't something I'd have had normally, let alone right now. Right now what I had was my own considerable skills and a young man who was a very good survivor, but not quite a warrior.
Not yet. Though as I glanced at him, I could admit to myself that were he inclined, he would have a certain knack for it.
When I'd rescued him two days previously, he'd been panicking and frantic. That had not been good for his control, though he'd handled himself well once I'd intervened. Yesterday's battle in the Zigolis swamp had been a far better presentation of his skills.
Even putting aside the trick he'd discovered to use against the undead, he was a remarkable shot with the contraption he had strapped to his side. Better than most of the archers at Gariland, I'd wager, and at a range only a bowman with a considerable height advantage could match.
His weapon and his use of it were good reason for our foes to be wary of him.
The problem was not our skills, but the strategic advantage Rudvich Bart had over us. Mustadio, very obviously, wanted to ensure the safety of his father. However if he were to approach Bart Company on his own to make a trade, he'd be at a great disadvantage in close quarters, and nigh useless if he were disarmed.
Our chances would shrink rapidly from there. With backup, I might be able to do something even without him, but we had none.
Then, a flash of brilliance.
"Mustadio," I began slowly, stopping in my tracks as I spoke. "Has Rudvich, or anyone in his organization ever actually seen you?"
Mustadio frowned as he thought, before shaking his head. "The only ones who saw me face to face are dead. The tracking team lost some members in Zigolis chasing me, before you finished them off in Zaland. They were chosen specifically because they'd seen me before."
"Perfect," I said with a chuckle.
"Stop fidgeting, you'll rip it!" Mustadio growled, tugging on the odd blue canvas leggings he normally wore.
I was, of course, in danger of ripping the garment because it was currently on me, as was Mustadio's shirt. On the table in the inn room were his gauntlets, belt, and weapon sheath, though he'd cobbled together a fake weapon for me rather than disarming himself.
My genius plan of replacing myself with my new companion had already hit a snag and it didn't bode well for the remainder of the execution, I felt. Simply put, I was quite a bit larger than Mustadio thanks to Tristana's training.
"How do you even wear these?" I grunted, tugging the front up. While I was very thankful that Mustadio and I were of a height, the same could not be said for the girth of our legs or torsos. Where the garments were loose and free on him, on me the seams were strained.
"By not being built like a damned ox," the engineer snapped, helping me tug the back of the overalls up. I felt them rip a bit at the side where they refused to budge at my pectoral muscles. "I am not getting these back, am I?"
"That is a likely outcome of this," I admitted bluntly as I twisted to look at him. "Look on the bright side, Mustadio: You're lucky I've got similar hair to yours. Without that, I doubt this plan would work at all."
"I still have my doubts," Mustadio muttered dryly, standing and tugging the shirt I wore into place. Thankfully the sleeves, at least, were loose enough to be somewhat comfortable. He took a step back. "How does it feel?"
I took a few steps, twisting and stretching to and fro as I did.
"Like I'm going to spill out my unmentionables at the outset of any fight," I growled, prompting my new companion to laugh. He had good reason to do so: He was wearing a spare outfit I'd had in my traveling bag, something I'd acquired in Dorter while Tristana and I had been making our way to Zaland.
A simple blue tunic, brown slacks, and a grey hooded cloak for rain. The hood would help conceal his true identity, and given the approaching rain it wouldn't even look too out of place. I tried not to hate him for how loose and comfortable his pants looked in comparison to the trap I now found myself wearing.
"Ramza..." Here, my comrade's voice nearly broke. He shifted uncomfortably as my eyes found his, breaking the contact to look at the ground. "Can we really do this? Two of us against Bart Company's thugs?"
I stepped forward and clapped my hand on his shoulder, causing the maudlin boy to flinch.
"Bart Company won't know what him them," I promised. My eyes met his. "You remember the plan, yes?"
"After you turn yourself in as 'me', you're going to lead Rudvich and his men to the hidden stone in the slums. If my father is reasonably safe, you'll apologize to me for getting caught," Mustadio recited, the act seeming to calm him. "We'll start the ambush on my first shot. You'll stay in close and I'll support you."
"And if we're lucky, if the Viscount wants the stone badly enough, he might just be stupid enough to be on hand for the ambush," I concluded with a smirk. "If he is, that makes taking him captive that much easier."
Mustadio handed me the belt and sheath for his strange weapon, which I donned before pulling on his gloves. The outfit, combined with the light oil in my hair to keep it slicked back, would make me a double for Mustadio, or at least for the description the Viscount had.
It wasn't perfect, but I judged that the deception would hold long enough to be of use to us. In a worst-case scenario, I expected the ruse to be discovered if Besrodio couldn't catch on quickly enough when he was reunited with his 'son'... However, assuming Rudvich Bart wasn't completely paranoid, I judged my odds good that I could extract Mustadio's father from trouble.
I clenched my right hand into a fist.
"I'm ready. Let's begin," I informed my comrade.
We left the inn, Mustadio making his way to the slums to pick out an ideal vantage point for the ambush, and I to turn myself in to Bart Company's tender mercies.
Even if I was confident as I strode through Goug, I knew that this wasn't the best plan I'd ever devised.
The beating Rudvich and his men gave me would have been harsh for a young engineer with no martial training. Even if I hadn't been using my chakra to heal myself, the beating wasn't anything worse than what I used to get sparring with Zal back at Igros. Certainly not enough to break me.
However with no sign of Mustadio's father, I pretended to break and promised to tell Rudvich Bart everything I knew. The poor, fat, simpleton bought it with more ease than I could have hoped for. He didn't even bother to bind my hands, a fact at which it took all of my considerable composure not to laugh.
We made our way to the slums, myself being pushed along by the thug behind me.
He'd jabbed me with his daggers a couple of times already. Not hard, but just enough to break the skin. I planned to hit him first. As he jabbed me once more while my captors and I turned a corner, I reflected that perhaps I would be striking him second, third, and fourth, as well.
Over my shoulder, I could see that a hooded man, his arms bound behind his back, was being pulled along with us. I assumed this to be Mustadio's father, but couldn't be sure. Even with the hood off, I couldn't have been sure, so I suppose it was a good thing he couldn't see me.
It didn't take us long. Fifteen minutes, perhaps.
As we approached the area where I'd told Rudvich I'd stashed the stone, I took careful stock of my foes. Neither of the thugs he'd chosen to come with us posed much of a threat to me... Nor did I think much of the two archers: Neither woman had the sort of bearing I associated with my archery teacher.
The two who were my greatest concern at the moment were the Summoners Rudvich had in his employ. Both men had powerful magic robes pulled tight around them, and I knew anyone who'd earned the power to summon would be a dangerous foe. If this ambush was to work, they would have to die first.
Naturally, as I thought this, the Viscount ordered them to hang back so as not to spoil their presence against any ambush. Of course. I didn't let any reaction show on my face at the newest development, but I really wanted to just punch Rudvich in his fat face right then and there.
Spotting Mustadio's cloaked form sitting on a nearby collapsed church, Rudvich ordered his archers to flank around an abandoned shanty as we approached.
"This is the one who has my stone, Mustadio?" The Viscount demanded, glaring at me.
"Is that my father?" I retorted, jerking my head to the hooded man. The thug holding him ripped off the hood when Rudvich gestured, and in the corner of my eye I saw Mustadio nod once, deliberately. Besrodio's eyes widened a bit at the sight of me, but he didn't say anything or give any other indication that I wasn't his son.
Apparently he was cut from the same cloth as Mustadio. I nodded to him once, and he had time to return it before the man holding him cuffed him in the back of the head and shoved him into the shack on which we stood.
Good. That would make things simple.
"Now give me the stone, or I kill Mustadio and his father!" Rudvich demanded, walking right beside me. Mustadio paused, catching my eye.
"Sorry I got caught," I muttered to my new friend. Mustadio nodded in reply, drawing something from his cloak.
Not the holy stone.
Before the fat bastard could do more than gasp in surprise, I shattered his knee with a kick and hurled him off the roof of the shack, grinning as the loud crack of Mustadio's weapon was followed an instant later by the nearest thug's weapon dropping as his arm was demolished at the elbow.
I followed through with my earlier promise, closing in on him and using the repeated punching technique Tristana taught me. I hit him far more than four times.
"Mustadio, we've got archers flanking us and Rudvich has two summoners bringing up the rear!" I yelled, closing with the other thug the Bart Company leader had seen fit to bring. He was surprisingly quick with his dagger, scoring a line along my flank with a stab.
Pity he'd held his blade perpendicular to the ground instead of parallel. If he were trained properly, that could have been a lung shot. I capitalized on his mistake by disarming him and wrenching his shoulder out of the socket, before punching him three times in the face.
He wasn't dead, but by the time he awoke he might well wish he were.
Another echoing shot from Mustadio prompted me to turn my head. He had a gash in his arm where an arrow must have just missed him. His eyes went from me to something behind me.
"I'm fine! You get those summoners!" He yelled angrily. I noted that one of the archers he was engaging had a hole just above her knee and nodded. He fired another shot, missing the other archer he faced by less than an inch and throwing her hair in disarray.
I spun to find the summoners, glaring at me and chanting.
My only hope was the spin fist. I charged in with a roar, and noted sourly that neither man flinched. This would come down to speed. Was I fast enough to get in close and finish them before they could finish their chant? Or would I be obliterated by the magic they commanded?
I got in close.
No time for the earth slash variant.
I spun, and the first summoner fell as my fist smashed through the staff he tried to block me with and caved in his ribs. He fell with an anguished scream. The second ducked and flinched, but somehow managed to deflect my arm and continue chanting all at the same time.
He stopped chanting as I stopped spinning.
I looked up.
Ramuh glared down at me.
There was a flash of light and then-
Heat like a fire spell flashed through my entire body, muscles locking and twitching as the full might of the esper's magic ripped through me. The borrowed clothing I wore tore to shreds as every muscle in my body flexed at once, and the roof on which we battled was turned to rubble from the might of the spell.
Scarcely a step from me, the remaining living summoner smirked at me as he witnessed the power of his spell.
And then it was over.
And I was still standing.
The man had the time to chant only the first syllable of what I recognized to be a bolt spell before I seized him by the throat and squeezed. He gasped a bit, slapping feebly at my arms, before I decided the process was taking too long and I headbutted him until he stopped moving.
I let the corpse fall, dropping to my knees with a groan.
"Ramza!" Mustadio's voice sounded a little distant, but I raised my head and saw him sprinting towards me. Nearby I could see one of the archers bleeding out, and I assumed the other was either beyond my view or had simply fled the conflict. The blond boy stared at me with wide eyes, grasping at a pouch. "Holy shit...
"Drink these, now!" I fumbled with the three potions in my hand, spilling a bit before chugging them one after the other. The dizziness in my head cleared a bit, and I glanced down at myself.
No wonder Mustadio had been concerned. I could still see where Ramuh's lightning had pierced my skin, based on the bloody streaks. Worse yet was the soot, which covered every inch of my body and the shredded remains of my borrowed outfit. I moved, and still felt the damage the spell had wrought on my body.
I tried to focus on my chakra, to get it working on healing my body, but my mind was still too disoriented and my body still too wracked with pain to reach the clarity I needed to do so.
"Would you happen to have a few more?" I asked, slowly climbing to my feet. I took the remaining two potions my companion offered, slowly drinking them both and sighing in relief as I felt more of my wounds heal.
"I thought you were dead when that spell hit," Mustadio admitted with a bit of a chuckle. He slapped a hand on the pouch at his side. "I thought I might have to use a phoenix down on you."
"I might have preferred death to living through that," I noted with a groan. Then I grinned as a glorious, welcome sound reached my ears: Rudvich's bleating screams. "Well... We've won the battle, but we still don't know why the good Viscount was after you. Should we go ask him?"
"I have a number of questions for him, I'll admit," Mustadio answered with a broad smile.
We began walking before I paused, causing my companion to turn to me.
"Damn," I cursed, one hand flying to my crotch to protect myself from the wind. "I knew that would happen."
Mustadio took one look at the shredded remains of his pants and laughed.
Not much to say, folks. I'll see about banging out another chapter by the end of this weekend.
One thing I'd like to add... I did look it up, and yes, the summons in Ivalice are Espers. Just an FYI.