Chapter 1: Sin
Prince Lennard of Ordallia led 50,000 men to the gates of Zeltennia Castle. In it, lay an army that numbered only 20,000, the remainder of the Hokuten and Nanten forces on the frontline. The death of King Denamda IV did little to boost their morale, for his successor was a weak king and an absent ruler. They were tired of this war, weary of the endless strife that had plagued Ivalice for the past 50 years.
Lennard, sensing their insecurity, sent a message to the Lord Commander of the army. He called for the Ivalician army to surrender, for the rulers of Ivalice to return to the negotiating table. Ordallia had the upper hand, and was prepared to press the advantage. Ivalice had no chance of winning; refusal would only delay their imminent defeat.
Balbanes furrowed his brow. Zeltennia Castle was the last bastion of defence against the Ordallian forces. Generals Larg and Goltanna had already driven into him the strategic importance of this castle. If it fell, the entire nation of Ivalice was theirs for the taking. To surrender would be doing his country an injustice. To surrender would be disobeying the orders of his superiors.
He had made up his mind. He approached the balcony overlooking the Zeltennian forces.
"You shall go no further. We have vowed to protect this land, to repel all who would take it from us. We will not accede to your empty threats. We will not bow to the the might of Ordallia. To arms, men, and drive them back from whence they came!"
The horn of battle sounded. The soldiers took up their positions. The archers readied their bows and the wizards their spells. Balbanes slunk back into the castle. Surrendering would not have convinced the lords of the hopelessness of this endeavour; it would instead strengthen their resolve and whet their appetite for battle. Only the pain of defeat could jolt them out of their delusion. It was necessary to end this accursed conflict, to secure a lasting peace for the years to come.
"So be it," he whispered.
The battle was lost.
Supply caravans lay strewn about the floodplain, abandoned by soldiers fleeing the Ordallian advance. A heavy downpour blanketed the area, causing the banks of the Finath River to swell. Bodies were scattered about the plain, their faces contorted in a mixture of pain and fear. Balbanes' mission was simple - leading a squad to scour the river for any survivors, and take down any Ordallian stragglers still wandering about the area. There was a growing sense of unease among the group as they surveyed the area. None of them were thrilled by the prospect of facing their fallen comrades; those whom they had heartlessly abandoned in their frantic retreat.
"The Ordallian forces should have retreated back to Zeltennia Castle to regroup by now. We split up to look for survivors. Blow your horn at the first sign of danger. Move out!"
The knights went to work immediately, each heading in a different direction to search for survivors. Balbanes wandered off alone, keeping a lookout for anything of interest. He felt a tinge of guilt as he surveyed the carnage, painfully aware of the fact that he could have prevented this destruction. "It was for the greater good," he muttered under his breath. Now was no time to get emotional. He had a mission to accomplish, and he had no time to waste on such trifles.
His attention was drawn towards an abandoned caravan to the northwest. He could sense something inside it. As he moved closer, he could hear the thing furiously pounding on the supply crates. Balbanes drew his sword, prepared to put the monster out of its misery. He kicked over the caravan, scattering its contents about the ground.
A young girl tumbled out of the caravan. Her clothes were ragged, her face unwashed. She had evidently tried to pry open a supply crate, but was unsuccessful in this endeavour. She clutched the ground with her blistered hands, trying to regain her footing. Balbanes' froze, caught off-guard by the sudden revelation. He sheathed his sword and frantically rushed to her aid.
"Go no further."
Balbanes felt a blade brush against his throat. A brown-haired boy had come between him and the girl. He regarded Balbanes with a cold expression, seemingly unfazed by his intimidating stature. "Leave my sister alone," he intoned. He spoke in a calm and self-assured manner, displaying no hint of fear towards his opponent. Balbanes was caught off-guard, surprised by his sudden appearance.
In the distance, Balbanes heard the horn sound. Several knights rushed to his aid, pointing their swords at the young boy. The youth gritted his teeth. Hands shaking, he backed away from Balbanes and lowered his sword.
"Fool. How reckless of you, an ill-mannered street urchin, raise arms against a Lord-Commander of the Ivalician Army. How impudent of you to defile the grounds where dead men lie. You lot are just worthless brigands, leeches on the good and honourable. In the name of my lord, I shall strike you down and purge your filth from this land."
The boy flinched. He dropped his sword, realising the consequences of his actions. His face contorted into a grimace. "Run, Teta! Save yourself!" he yelled. The girl rose to her feet. Her eyes widened in fear. She ran towards her brother, grabbing him by the arm. "Delita, no!" she pleaded. The boy tried to shake her off, but she stubbornly clung to him.
The knight sighed. Eyes gleaming with malice, he raised his sword, prepared to kill both of them.
"Stand down!" Balbanes shouted. "Sheathe your swords, men. The Hokuten does not attack innocents, be they noble or commoner." He regarded the knight with a cold expression. "You would do best to recognise honour when you see it, Baldric. All the boy wanted was to protect his sister. He is no common brigand." The knight sheathed his sword, and knelt to the ground, muttering an apology to the children. Balbanes turned around to face them. "And who may you be, if I could ask?"
The boy shuffled unsteadily, visibly shaken by his close brush with death. "Delita. Delita Hyral. This is my sister, Teta. We've been wandering ever since our parents died. We saw the abandoned crates, and thought we could find some food to ease our hunger. We didn't know that..." His voice trailed off. He bowed his head in shame. "I.. I'm the one at fault here. I'm willing to face punishment for my actions. Just.. just don't harm Teta." His sister was on the verge of tears; she could scarcely imagine the consequences of his actions.
Balbanes smiled. "We're not going to harm you. Men, escort them back to camp. Give them food, and a change of clothes if you can find any. I will be taking these two under my wing."
The siblings were taken aback by his declaration. They could hardly believe their luck. Balbanes let out a hearty laugh, and gestured towards the horizon. "The storm doesn't seem to be letting up soon. Best get some shelter lest you fall ill." They nodded, and followed the knights back to the camp. The girl suddenly stopped in her tracks, and turned around. "Thank... you," she uttered. Balbanes smiled again. "It's nothing, really. Now, run along now."
As they left, Balbanes stood and thought about what he had done. He had seen something in the boy. He had all the makings of a knight. Honour, bravery, and a willingness to give his life to protect his friends and family. Balbanes bit his lip. He was a knight once, but he was hardly deserving of it now. That boy did what he could not, throwing away his life to save another. He abandoned his men at Zeltennia, leaving them to die at the hands of the Ordallian troops. His honour was sullied by the magnitude of his sins.
This was to be his atonement.