A/N: I have just one thing to tell you all:

Blahblah blah, blah blah


Chapter 7

Dycedarg wanted to have dinner with me. He's the acting head of house now, so there's nothing I could do about it.

And it's not that I mind meeting with him. He's my brother. Only… I had entertained thoughts of resting up today, having just come home, and meeting either of my brothers was never restful.

"Hello Ramza." He greeted. "Sit."

Dycedarg takes his usual position at one head of the table, and I attempt to take one at the side, so that we may actually talk, but he shakes his head to stop me.

"Now, now, brother. You are almost a man now, and a Holy Knight as well. Sit at the other head of the table," he entreated, "and let us talk as men."

I reluctantly agreed – it was strange to be treated so… well by Dycedarg – and upon seating myself I was struck by the realization that conversation would be no trouble at all.

Our castle was just… eerily quiet like that. Gone were the days of the hustle and bustle of entertaining father's old war buddies.

Now people only came here on the rare case of business, and when they did it was quiet business.

I found I missed the older days.

"Ramza."Dycedarg began. "I expect that you conducted yourself well while away."

"Yes, Brother." I agree.

"It seems a waste to send you to the Academy." Dycedarg mused. "And yet it must be so. Being a Beoulve requires more that power. You must now focus your attention on leadership and political savy. Soon you will go to the Academy not for the teachers there, but for the student environment."

"…Brother." I say. "The food will get cold."

Cheese, bread, wine, and fat foul. It has been a long time since I have partaken of such a hearty dinner.

But my priority, embarrassingly, is to change the subject.

Hello. Welcome back. Here's what you must do next. Don't shame the family.

Such is the perpetual song.

And I never bemoaned it. I was proud, really I was, to help support the noble Beoulve family.

Not just anyone could have a meal like this at their beck and call. Masses of people make do on bread and ale alone for months. And here I was, with so much more. Duty, reciprocity, fidelity… I understood these things.

But deep in the mountains, on that grassy plain and in that dilapidated monastery I had called home for one brief month… it had been so quiet. My ears had grown unused to the song.

"Hold, Ramza." Dycedarg says with a raised hand. "Talk first. It has been so long. Let us not touch our meals until our minds are content."

"Yes, Brother."

… If duty could be performed at one's convenience, it wouldn't be called 'duty'.

"Father is not doing well, Ramza." Dycedarg tells me, hands together before his chin contemplatively. "His condition has deteriorated in your absence."

"Oh." My heart dropped. "And I had wanted to see him…"

Father…

"It's quite impossible." Dycedarg tells me. "He is under strict orders to rest."

"Oh." I repeat.

"And that brings me to my other point, Ramza. We all hope that father recovers soon. All of Ivalace hopes as much. But we must make preperations to the contrary, as matter of course. This will also allow father to rest more easily."

I nod solemnly.

"With the reports of your teacher, Sir Guinevere, I was struck by a sudden thought of us three brothers. Zalbag, who is coming home soon, has proven himself to be a most competent military leader and tactician. I myself have met with some meaningful success in politics and strategy. And you, our dear youngest brother," Dycedarg smiled in a strange manner, "seem to bear the potential of becoming the next generation's Thundergod Cid in your adulthood. Amongst us specialized three, it seems to me that all our father's talents can be found. If we work closely, brother, then we may yet do him justice." And here he smiles in a satisfied manner, I think because he has delivered his speech with aplomb to meet his expectation. "The shadow cast by a man so great as he, is far too expansive for one of us to handle alone." Dycedarg continues. "It's embarrassing to say, but I can't help but feel only human. Wouldn't you say?"

I lean into my plushy chair back and sigh quietly through my nose. The posture's off but I don't think… this is that kind of dinner anymore. It seems almost familiar now.

It seems almost familial now.

"The expectations have… been rather unreasonable." I admit. "Sir Guinevere spoke of cleaving through catapults and castle walls. She spoke as if I could become… some great and terrible thing. She wished for the former, but if I strayed too far to the latter, she seemed ready to hunt me down."

Dycedarg barked a brief laugh. "Yes. That's right. That … a pact?"

I nod slowly. I don't really see the point, exactly.

We've always been of the same house. Isn't it all the same?

"Then, under this pact of brotherhood," Dycedarg said slowly, "have you anything to share with me? Somethng I can help with?"

Briefly, I consider the fell stone I've stashed away. "No." I say, shaking my head. "Nothing."

Dycedarg pauses, his smile cracking. "I had heard of a commotion at your monastery. Reports are hardly to be believed, and I don't. Sir Guivevere, while an excellent knight, is a wandering one. A rogue. Without a lord to speak for her, I can't trust her out of hand. Is what she says true, brother? About an evil, dangerous stone?"

"I was only there to see the aftermath." I evaded. "It was the scene of a horrific battle."

"You've nothing else to say?" My brother's smile was tight now. "Nothing at all?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"I see. Pity. I can tell that you keep something from me, even still."

I'm sorry brother. But just as you feel towards Sir Guinevere, I cannot trust you out of hand. You are my blood, but…

Really, I hardly know you.

"Pity." He said, as if it were a sentence. Some great test I had failed. "Pity indeed. Come, Ramza, let us eat."

I nod in relief, and do so.

The fowl tastes off. I wonder if this is the taste of disappointment.

Maybe… I am too pessimistic.

Surely… my own brother…

But he and I have never spoke like this before. That stone is too… dangerous.

Too… ugh.

That goblet had been filled with Ale. It hit me like… like…

…Ugh.

Spit it out!

What?

Spit it out!

Move! Get away! Through the window, now!

"Pity."Dycedarg said. "You had so much promise. Too much, perhaps.'Great and terrible'? If only, Ramza." My brother sighed. "If only you really did have it in you to be both."

No.

I spit out the food in my mouth.

I kick back, toppling the chair, and roll to a stand.

Or, try to. I tumble and fall, the power leaving me.

Ugh. I can't… even get up.

"Millitary power… even Holy power… is just like any other." He tells me as he walks towards me, outline blurred in my vision now. "It can be applied well, and poorly. It can be made irrelevant, with judicious planning." He shrugged. "Did you think that merchant was really carrying such a ware on a whim? He was my transportation. All that he carried were mine."

Brother… no…

"That really was my best try to end this with talk, Brother. I applaud your staunch resistance. Of course, I could have brought you to me, if I'd time." He tells me as he leans down towards my face. "A year, a month or two. I would have managed it in the same way as Zalbag, tying in to your sense of duty and justice, and the 'greater good'. But the world doesn't wait for us. Events are moving, opportunity knocks, and I must respond."

"It… is evil." I moan out.

"I don't very much care."


I come to in the darkness. Our is a cackling to my left.

"You've done it now, Beoulve! You've done it now!"

Mad Dog for 'biting the hand that fed him'.

"The proletariat show their true colors! You see! I was right! And now, we're all going to rot down here together! Equality at last!"

I drag myself to my knees, shaking my head. The drug is gone. "How long?" I ask.

"Three days since your own blood threw you in here, Beoulve." Richter replied. "Tell me, when blood means so little to you, why does it stratify us?"

I don't know.

I don't….

I sit heavily, and hold my head. "My own brother…"

A small hand rests lightly on my shoulder.

It's the little monk! The little monk, and the Master monk… they're here. The Master has his own cage, and the apprentice shares mine. "Even you two?" I ask, bewildered.

What would brother want with the Lionsguard? How would he even capture them? Brother was also an accomplished Holy Knight, but I the pure commotion of two high level forces clashing would have been prohibitive for his dark doings…

"They came for you." Mad Dog said, speaking on their behalf. Even now, it seemed they would envelop themselves in silence. "Even to break you out, I'd wager. Odd, that. But you never can tell what Monks are thinking. They have their own justice. Or something. But it was all rendered moot. A trap lay in wait, and bravely as the Master Monk fought, he seemed crippled once the apprentice was taken in."

"Did you nurse me back to health?" I ask of the apprentice.

The apprentice nods.

"Thank you." I say. "I don't suppose you could bend these bars?" I ask the senior monk.

To this, the monk shook his head, and gestured toward the ceiling of my cell.

The ceiling holds a steel net, which in turn supports a large amount of heavy rocks. At the first sound of twisted metal, I suppose I and the apprentice will be done for.

Then, there must be someone to trigger it.

Could we win over the guards? But we can't even see them. I presume they're beyond the door.

"It's all too clever, Beoulve." Mad Dog said. "Your brother's one devious bastard. And he's been prepared to cage strong ones... for a long, long time."

"I see."


The passage of time seems both slower and faster, here, where there is no blessed sun to mark the hours.

Even Mad Dog has lost energy for his ire. Now, we talk of little things. "Anyone waiting for you out there, Beoulve?"

"No." I answer. "At least, I hope not."

"Sounds complicated."

"It's really not." I assure. "She was… born to love someone better than I. And that's it."

"Stratification?"

"Yes." I nod.

"Hmph."

I consider her, and here in the pitch black she seems to shine even brighter in my memory.

I suppose I am a little romantic. "If I knew it would all come to this," I saw wryly,"I would have kissed her more. Until she was sick of it, and scorned me forever as a scoundrel and a effect. She'd find someone more fitting, and never burden herself with me or my troubles again. Different path."

"The scenic route?"

"Hah!" I bark in laughter. "Never speak of her in that way again." I then say seriously.

"I understand. I've got a bird too. Wish I didn't." Mad Dog tells me. "She'll be so sad about now. But… I want to see her, one more time."

"Just close your eyes." I offer. "It's what I do."

There is a panting at my side, that I observe briefly, and it is the only warning I receive before I am accosted most ferociously.

Shamefully, I cannot muster a defence in the face of this onslaught. She is too soft. Too smooth. All…

…silk.

An eternity later, pulling back only for air, my assailant seems briefly satisfied with her ruthless pillaging of my lips. "Three." She breathes out. "I love you too."


A/N: Well. Internet's down, and I was doing it from home and uploading at the library. As such, I just used memory for all my stuff. Again.

Unfortunately, a lot of people actually know how to spell these names properly, a fact which boggles my mind, as the game itself is old as sin, and now half of my reviews are typo corrections. Well, thanks, I guess.

And to all those who don't like the story because of pacing/typos? Blah to you all. Go write something better. And then link it to me. Because I ran out of good thigns to read, again. Hence the writing.