A meandering path

A Final Fantasy IX fanfiction in progress, by Shadow66

With thanks to Squaresoft, Lefox and ... you!

The Lindblum Traveler's Companion was a well-known book on the Mist continent. The wisdom and travel advice contained within it was reputed to have saved many an amateur from an untimely fate over the years. Many merchants and adventurers regarded it as an almost essential item for the serious traveler.

Within it there was a chapter and two maps devoted to crossing the Lindblum Plains in summer. According to the guide the best time to leave Lindblum in summer was early in the morning. That way by the time the sun was high in the sky and the land shimmering with heat, a forward thinking traveler would be across the plains and avoid the full brunt of the Lindblum plateau's infamously strong summer heat.

On reflection, Lani considered while wiping another wave of sweat off her face, that was sound advice. Another good idea would have been to not feed her day-hire Chocobo a dead pepper. Or to not blindly storm out-of-town on a mission to collect the largest bounty on the jobs board without bothering to check why it had gone unclaimed for five years. There was more than likely a chapter about this kind of thing.

Not that she'd ever been big on following advice or rules, even from that book which she grudgingly carried around with her. It wasn't that she hated the laws, just how often they got in her way. The one exception however was, learning them so that she knew what rules she was breaking. Ruby had drummed that one into her and while she hated to admit it, it made a lot of sense.

About sixty percent of the time, bending the rules worked every time. For the other forty percent she'd have to spend an hour hiding in a bin until the guards went away or a panic filled ten minutes clutching the top of an airship because she'd messed up a jump. She spat sharply to the side at the memory feeling herself tense up. Not only had she fucked the job up but ruby had torn into her in the stunningly accurate and guilt inducing way only she could manage and she'd spent a week sleeping on someone else's lounge before she was forgiven.

If Ruby was alongside her she would have that eye rolling exasperated look she always did when she felt important advice was being woefully unappreciated. Lani winced remembering her lecture earlier that morning in the lounge, with Ruby smoking in a slightly tense mood. "Plannin' an' preparation will get you a lot further than playing things by ear" she'd drawled. Then a quick inhale and then a ring of smoke to the high rafters of the room, "You have potential darlin' - don't trip over your own feet to beat everyone okay?" Ruby's parting remark seemed almost prophetic as it echoed through her head while she trudged across the plains.

Perhaps, she mused. Collecting small bounties on petty thieves, minor espionage, smugglers and the like wasn't such a bad thing. Sure it wasn't the fastest way to fame and fortune – (even if that was even what she wanted) but it was steady enough work and generally not too many people seemed to want her dead. Which was never a given as a bounty hunter.

A rustling noise in the scrub ahead broke her thoughtful mood and she instinctively halted mid step eyeing off the bush. This kind of humid heat was usually too hot for most monsters to bother with anything past sleeping. Plain monsters however, were well-known for being unpredictable. In the next moment a monster burst out of the bush and hurled itself at her, a furious ball of teeth, and claws.

The bounty hunter leapt backwards in a well-practiced move getting her crossbow off her back and in her hands by the time she landed. "It's too hot for this" she muttered sighting down the crossbow at the slavering monster, her fingers traced out a rune in midair leaving a glowing trail for a moment. "What's this, a level ten?" she grunted in disappointment "That's not even worth my time, I could take you out in a barfigh-" the crossbow bucked slightly against her shoulder as the arrow thudded into the beast mid leap, flinging it back and into the bushes. There was a tense pause for a moment as she reloaded while intently watching the leaves for movement. When there was nothing after a few long seconds she lowered the crossbow and wiped her face again with a grimace. "It's way too hot for this shit".

Everything today was all Ruby's fault really. About six hours ago Lani had no real plans to work, exert herself in the summer heat or even go outside the city walls at all. She'd been lazing around on the lounge reading one of Ruby's many entertainment news magazines when Ruby herself hustled into the room and promptly sat down on her. "What the shit Ruby? Get off me" Lani grunted trying to pull herself out from under her. "Darlin' we need to talk about some things" Ruby said playing with a cigarette. "Can we talk about this face to face instead of ass to back?" Lani wheezed exageratedly clawing at the lounge "Well don't I just wish we could – but you're getting more slippery than an eel lately," Ruby said with a reproachful tone "The matters that we need to discuss are about your work an' where you're goin'." Ah, that subject - the silence stretched on for an awkward moment.

"You want me to stay on small time jobs or to do something less dangerous right? You've seen it all and you know what's best for me right?" she could hear how childish she sounded which annoyed her even as she spat the words out. Ruby leaned over to coolly stare at her for a few seconds more than was comfortable. "Darlin', please stay calm" Ruby said carefully, a tinge of irritation creeping into her voice.

She sighed heavily weighing up her words for a moment as Lani burned with a swirl of emotions "I want you, to take things slower, so you don't wind up in as a footnote in Sybel's news column. And to use a weapon, that doesn't leave you defenseless if you miss your first shot, okay?" "You're cramping my style Ruby" Lani spoke into the armrest "I'll work with what I'm comfortable with and where I'm going at my pace - is that okay with you?" she said her sarcastic tone irritating Ruby straight away. "No it darn well isn't you stubborn mule" she snatched the magazine up and hit her across the back of the head in one smooth movement "You know I'm givin' you advice because I care about you and how you do - don't act like a dang schoolgirl who needs her hand held and I won't lecture you like one."

The silence stretched out between them again. "Yeah okay" Lani mumbled eventually "I'm... yeah, I'm kind of sorry. I was actually just about to head out for a job but, you know you're sitting on me" Ruby patted Lani on the head "Good gal" she said as if to a Chocobo. She stretched lazily before getting to her feet again "I'll do whatever I have to do to get you to listen – hey" she paused hands on hips "Take it easy out there, I want you back alive." Lani rolled her eyes slightly "C'mon Rubes, I've been doing this for a while, I'll be fine" she retorted, grabbing her pack and hotfooting it out the door just in time to avoid the Lindblum weekly which sailed out into the street after her "I told ya! Don't call me that!" Ruby yelled, but Lani was already half way down the street.

The door swung closed again and Ruby watched her jog down the main street from the window with a sigh."I love ya to bits darlin' but by the seven sons of hell you piss me right off sometimes" her last thought lingered unsaid; 'please come back to me alive.'

So after an eight year break, a chapter happens. Then more than a year later it's gutted and re-written. Surely this means it took an eighth of the time?

If you took the time to read this, thank you! Please tell me what you thought!

Also, sorry about the formatting - isn't as easy as I remember it being.