I lost direction that day; not only to where I was going in this road, but also the direction of my cause. My time serving a military company was short, yet so fulfilling, up until our last moments. Our battles had been far along the region of Igros, but our mission was simple; to quell the uprising of the Death Corps' fighters, through peaceful means if possible.
But even then, it felt cruel to strike down able men at the close of the 50 Year War. Their demands were made into vast outcries for their own credit for serving in the war. Although some of my colleagues didn't agree to such lenient loans (most particularly Algus Sadalfas), I would have given them everything and my name in a heartbeat if that was enough to satisfy them. They were stubborn and proud, and didn't believe that I, bastard child of Balbanes Beoulve, would say anything that would reflect what my brothers truly felt.
The feeling was mutual; I didn't believe anything they said either. That is, until Fort Ziekden.
It wasn't so much of a surprise to see Algus pull the trigger; he said before that he was once a high standing member of a noble family akin to ours before falling from grace. Everything he did was to try and get ahead, including stepping over the people he saw below him – like Delita. I refused to put up with his behavior any longer and dismissed him. That decision came back to haunt me it seemed, and as unsurprising as it was, it was still dreadful.
But Zalbag… he was someone I thought to believe held true to the ideals of a knight, as well as our father. It turns out that he wanted to eradicate all of the Death Corps knights from the root, and would willingly kill a foster sister just to save face. What difference did blood make? Teta was a sister to me as she was to Delita, who may have very well been a brother to me in all but blood!
So shocked was I in seeing these action replay in my head that I didn't even notice Delita charging head first to Algus, sword already drawn. In his few days' absence, the blond knight hadn't changed much. He was then downed in silver knight armor over his red squire's cuirass, and still reacted unsure about getting close into a battle himself if he couldn't get a shot of his crossbow. He flinched as Delita's sword struck him, and barked orders to seize and detain him while reaching for a potion. Knowing Delita, he wouldn't stop until everyone in the fort was dead.
That included me; he threatened me as such during the fight.
No… it wasn't a fight. It was a slaughter. It made me ashamed of the fact that our own enemies were fellow Hokuten but there was little to be done about it at the time, as it was nothing but pure chaos at the fort. My own men attacked in response of the knights ganging up on Delita, and managed to divert their attention enough for him to push forward. Hokuten witches were on standby casting ice spell after ice spell, summoning the equivalent of a hailstorm upon us.
Leon was the first to join the fray. He was also the first to die.
I vaguely recalled digging my hands over piles of snow to pull the thief out. I could only get the face out but I knew from his drained color and bloodied head from ice shards that he was dead, already morphing into a crystal. In my hurried haste for Delita's sake, I neglected to think the possibility of bringing along Claire our priest or Monica our chemist, without so much as a phoenix feather to revive him.
I failed him, and I felt that in the end, he thought he deserved this. A thief was not an honest profession as they take money and equipment from their enemies, with questionable results. Leon was considered a hassle by the rest of the company because of his debts and one-too-many-drinks at the pub. I was strict on him for our image's sake, and to try and get the team to work together, but I always had faith in Leon for being a valued team member. He was a true and steadfast man that was always dependable in battle. I never told him that, and as far as I can tell, he probably died thinking he never reached the expectations he displaced me with.
One by one, bodies started to fall; knights of the Hokuten that were overpowered by Delita and Comet, witches exhausting themselves as Aqua shooting at them to stop their concentration, and Algus multitasking between steeping back, giving commands, digging his pouch for potions and firing arrows. I could only sit their dumbly cradling Leon's decomposing head wondering how all of this went wrong.
It wasn't until Algus taunted me directly, along the lines of being too sentimental for my own good, did I break out of my stupor and fought back. I was suddenly clear of my confusion and only wanted to assist Delita, my friend and brother, to end the life that endangers my family and company.
If I had come sooner, I probably could have saved Comet from a similar fate to Teta and Leon. His body had suffered one too many ice spells and his arm, already frosted over, shattered like glass when a knight slammed his sword's flat end like a hammer. His pain wretched scream shook me to the very core, but despite that, he managed to throw one more punch at his offender, which turned into a grapple hold from the incoming blizzard that banked him.
Comet suited well as a monk for his bravery and ingenuity. He was always alongside myself and Delita in skirmishes against monsters and Death Corps, and was one I could call my second-in-command regarding the other cadets. He was also one of the few that shared my opinion in this mission was unnecessarily long. Delita and I shared leadership in the company, and Algus was merely a guest, so I put a lot of my trust on Comet to help keep the team rallied and organized during my absence with the issues of the Death Corps, as a trainer and friend.
He saw me stop and cry his name. Despite the blood and ice, he smiled and said to me "It's been an honor," before he and the knight were frozen over. It has been, Comet. More than you could have ever known.
I focused on attacking the knight that attempted to flank Delita. The last of the witches had fallen to the snowfields dead. Aqua, the daring archer, had slumped to the snow in exhaustion and no little amount of hypothermia. She managed to put on a brave face, all else considering, and after catching her breath, sought after Algus who climbed up to the wooden bridge from a raging Delita. Her shot was well timed and caught the string of his item pouch. Before he knew what happened all the potions spilled and fell over the tall bridge, breaking their contents over the snowfields. Algus did nothing but stare in shock before turning to Aqua and fired. The arrow pierced her skull as it did Teta's heart. Her face froze at her accomplished smile.
I cringed and held back tears to another death. Aqua was such a spirited and friendly young woman, shy amongst social gatherings but focused in her archery. She was especially nervous towards everyone to a point, especially me and the wizard Luke. It turned out she had affections for Luke, but was unable to let him know, let alone take any help in trying to express that fact to him. I believed that a well working troop means that anyone can feel free to trust each other, even love one another, and I was more than welcoming for Aqua's feelings. Yet again, I let things go on unsaid or unexplored, all to my own immaturity and brashness.
I savagely finished off the knight with a renewed rage stirring inside me. All I could think that my sword was soaked in blood and it craved for more. I'd have Algus for this, even if Delita would have to stop me!
My timing couldn't have been any better; Algus had aimed his bow gun point blank at my friend. The two of them were exhausted and tired from their continued bout, the rush of adrenaline long since worn off.
Delita's vengeance for his sister was torn by being so close to the body in question. Algus was fiddling for his last remaining potions but struggled as the pain began to flare up; even though potions can effectively cure wounds and restore the body, they were best not to be used continuously because the body could over-exert itself.
He showed a sign of weakness, and that was my opening. I managed to close the distance between and strike him before he could fire another bolt, and leave a gash from his shoulder to his back. It was a fatal blow, and he knew it.
"Curse… you weaklings…" he choked. "How could I have lost-…?"
That was all he could muster, before staggering and slipping in his step. He fell off the bridge from the side and landed hard in the snow below us. The white that filled the fort was slowly seeping of red blood from not only Algus' body, but everyone else. Delita and I were the only survivors of that fight. Never before had we partaken in such a bloodbath.
Leon… Comet… Aqua… they all put their trust in me, died one by one, and I failed them. I even failed my brother Delita; not in his own demise, but of his sister's. As we confirmed Algus was no more, Delita knelt to Teta's body and embraced her, coping with the loss. I wasn't sure what would happen to us or our troop, now that we attacked our own army's men and lost half of ours, but I felt Delita at the moment needed closure and peace, if nothing else.
Things weren't meant to go that way.
It was faint and subtle, but I could tell right away there was a surge of smoke: bomb powder. The Death Corp knight from before must have ignited it during the battle, willing to take all of us with him. I tried to warn Delita of the fort, but the explosion blew me away and drowned my voice. He didn't seem to notice or care the burning fort before him. Again I tried to call to him, but…
The fire burned everything, and for the longest time all I saw was that light of the towering flame. I know not of what has become of the rest of the Hokuten, my troops, or my family. There were no bodies found after the fire, and from what I heard in later rumors, the Beoulve house simply acknowledged the Death Corps were no more and left it at that, with the reluctant loss of most of their own forces.
I wanted to amend my mistake. I wanted to try and renegotiate to Wiegraf and spare his sister, to give the Death Corps the reward they all deserved for their service. I wanted to confront my brothers on the injustice they committed and demand them to heed to their rights.
But I couldn't do anything… how could I? The past cannot be changed and the Death Corps was most likely disbanded if Zalbag fought off Wiegraf's unit. The thought of seeing my brothers again after that experience filled me with a black dread. It hurt me to not say anything to Alma, but what could have I said? "I'm sorry, but Delita and Teta are dead and there was nothing I could have done otherwise because our brothers preferred status over family."
So I ran… and disappeared without a trace.
The cloaked man sat unmoving in his seat by a fire. The orange-yellow light in front of him flickered to view a red and white buttoned cloak with a pointed plume hat, decorated with a white feather quill. His face was wrinkled with age, but showed a compassionate understanding to the youth that spoke his tale to him. His hands fiddled with the cane positioned in front of him, pondering.
"So that's what happened," the red-clothed man said. "How long ago was this again?"
"I believe a month," the young man answered quietly.
"So you threw away your own title of nobility just like that?" he asked slowly. "Anyone else would stick to their wealth and power, even if disillusioned of their morals."
The young man shook his head, holding the blanket closer over his body to fight the night cold. "And what if I did that as well? Live the rest of my life as a lie? Delita wouldn't want that, and neither would Alma… or father."
"You'd be surprised how many would be willing to turn the other way."
"If I were like them, then I wouldn't be here… or questioning myself about what I did."
The man in red grinned, his lips twitching upward slightly. "Your actions are far nobler than the namesakes of today."
"No, they're not," he shook his head. "I ran away in fear and have no plan of what to do now."
Silence stretched between the two men, watching the campfire. The red-clothed man stroked his chin in thought. "Perhaps I can offer a proposal."
The young man's expression furrowed. "What sort of proposal?"
"From the sound of your story, you're pretty adept in training your body as a knight. Have you considered learning to expand your mind like that of a Summoner?"
"Well, not like the ones you've heard of anyway," the man fiddled his cane as he rambled. "They can certainly bring out astral beings called espers to fight. But only for a standard and precise command like 'attack my enemy' before disappearing as soon as they come. Real Summoners have limitless potential in their magic, able to hammer down familiars or servants into control and continuously fight for them. Along with that, they can practice their own unique style of magic. It was because of that we once went under the name of 'Magus', but the practice and reputation thinned out over time, and people only recall one kind of Summoner."
The young man said nothing for a long time, and got an equally long pause after he asked, "Why offer me this?"
"You just said you are confused as to what to do with your future, and I don't have much to do in my spare time either. That aside, I see a flame in you. You've been born and brought up in the society of nobles, yet you are empathetic towards those of the common class. You have a lot of potential to break down the boundaries, and all you need is a little help."
The red-and-white magician stood up from the ground, towering over the sitting boy before him. "It is a long and difficult road, but it is also an opportunity as rare and revered as that of the holy knight prestige. If you follow my tutelage, you will understand magic most other classes wouldn't even dream of using, let alone understanding. But that's only if you stay true and fast to my word. Knowing this, will you still offer yourself as my pupil?"
The two of them stared at one another as the flames crackled. Green analytic eyes into brown hopeless ones; the latter slowly glinted with resolve that flared to the rest of the body.
"I do," the young man decided, rising up to be closer to the mage's height. "Please teach me, Akamun."
"Glad to hear it," Akamun smiled. "Although we may have to change your name; Beoulve is a rather well known and 'respected' name, as I hear."
"I've been thinking about that as well," he admitted. "And I was considering to use my mother's maiden name; Lugria."
"Is that so? Well then, let us begin our training, Ramza Lugria."
Akamun's grin briefly turned predatory, as he shook hands with the former Beoulve, cementing a partnership that would turn Ivalice upside down in the coming days.