Chapter 3: Fugitive
It was a cold Saturday evening. The Hammer and Sickle bar was quiet for this time of week; many of the slum-dwellers feared to go out at night, lest they fall prey to the muggers and thieves that roamed the streets. The Fifty Years' War had taken its toll on Ivalice. Brigandry was on the rise, with many citizens turning to crime to avoid starvation. The Death Corps were the among the most powerful and dangerous criminal gangs in Gallione. A former mercenary group, they had fallen from grace after deserting the army in the Battle of Zeltennia. They were discharged without pay, leaving them with nothing but bitterness.
Two strangers walked into the bar. They wore hooded capes, concealing their faces and the armor they wore. They seemed like passing mercenaries, an uncommon sight in a trade city like Dorter. They grabbed barstools and took their places at the counter.
"Would yer like a drink?" drawled the bartender.
"Two, and make it quick," came the reply.
"Here you go," said the bartender. He set the two drinks on the counter, and tried to strike up a conversation with the two. "You two mercs? I bet you got lots of stories 'bout yer adventures. Mind sharing a few?" He was met with silence. They probably didn't feel like talking. It was probably best to leave them in peace, he didn't fancy being stabbed in the gut by a moody mercenary.
The blonde-haired mercenary took the mug of ale. He raised it to his mouth, but dropped it at the last moment. It fell to the floor, shattering into a million pieces. The whole bar fell silent, startled by the sudden noise. Noting the horrified look on the bartender, his companion threw a few more coins on the table to appease him.
Delita shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He couldn't imagine how Ramza's plan might work. Times were hard, and people were desperate. They would not hesitate to kidnap a nobleman as it guaranteed them a small fortune in ransom money. It wouldn't be wise to draw attention to themselves, lest their identity be discovered.
The patrons, recognising that the danger had passed, resumed their normal chatter. Ramza squinted at something in the distance. "Over there," he whispered. A blonde swordsman stood out amongst the crowd, his armor and sword identifying him as a knight of some sort. His hair was short and neat, his cream cape bearing a distinctive but unfamilliar pattern. "He didn't even flinch when I dropped the glass. Quite the seasoned warrior, it seems. Also, that pattern on his back? Death Corps insignia, dates back to their mercenary days. Whoever this guy is, he's a veteran. I'd imagine we can get some useful information out of him."
The knight finished his drink. He stood up and walked out of the bar. "There's our cue," whispered Delita. The two squires lowered their hoods and went after him.
The knight ducked into a back alley. He had sensed something was amiss. Someone was out for his blood. "Let them come," he thought to himself. "Those fools are no match for one of my caliber." He unsheathed his sword. "Show yourself!" he shouted. There was no reply. "Where are you hiding?!" roared the knight. He grew more agitated by the second, swinging his sword around erratically.
"Who... argh!" Turning around was a mistake. An arrow had lodged itself into his left arm, causing him excruciating pain.
"How brazen of you to show your face in Dorter, in your old uniform, no less. You won't escape this time."
A band of archers emerged from the shadows. They were perched on rooftops, their bows trained on the knight.
"Drop your sword, Wiegraf. You're coming with us to see Gustav."
"Never!" exclaimed the knight.
"How disappointing. No matter, your death shall- urk!"
A sword had found its way into the mages' back. Delita withdrew his sword, and the wizard fell to his death from his perch. The remaining archers were barraged with a slew of lightning bolts, felling some and disorienting the rest. The knight drew his blade and brought down a fleeing archer with a carefully aimed Stasis Sword. The remaining archers fled the scene, not wanting to suffer the same fate as their comrades.
Delita hopped down from the roof. "Thanks," muttered the knight. "Your arrival was most fortuituous, but alas, I have some urgent matters to attend to. I'll be taking my leave, good sir."
A lightning bolt arced down from the sky, singing the spot in front of the knight. "Hold it," growled Ramza. "Wiegraf Folles. You're quite infamous around these parts, being the commander of the Death Corps and all. I imagine those mooncalves were after the fat bounty on your head. I mean, you can't just kidnap the Marquis and expect to get away with it, no? Now, tell us where you're holding him, or else."
Wiegraf grimaced. "The Death Corps fight with honour. We are no brigands; we would never stoop to their level. Your quarrel is with Gustav. That vile schemer turned my men against me, besmirching the name of the Death Corps with his treachery, and now he plots to upstage the nobility by kidnapping the Marquis. Gustav is probably holed up somewhere with the Marquis, he wouldn't give such an important job to his subordinates. If you let me go, I'll tell you where he went."
"He seems to be telling the truth, Ramza. There wouldn't be any reason for the commander of the Death Corps to travel alone, nor would he be hunted down by his former men. I think we should trust him, for now," Delita concluded.
Ramza bit his lip. He didn't believe that Wiegraf had severed all ties to the Death Corps, nor did he think that letting him go was a good idea. After all, he was still wanted for his crimes, and releasing him would be reprehensible. "You're not getting away that easily, Wiegraf. In fact, I've got a better idea. You can lead us there, and aid us in bringing down Gustav. We will decide your fate at a later time."
Wiegraf glared at Ramza. "I don't take orders from arrogant miscreants such as you. In fact, I have half a mind to smite you down where you stand."
Ramza pulled out a dagger and pointed it at Wiegraf's throat. "Try me," he snarled.
Delita let out an exasperated sigh. "Stop this charade. We all want to take down Gustav, but fighting over will not quicken his demise. We will rescue the Marquis and bring his kidnappers to justice, that much is certain. You're welcome to come along, Wiegraf. We'll need all the help we can get."
"Get off me," grunted Wiegraf. Ramza withdrew his dagger. "I'll help you two, on the condition that we go our separate ways once we're done. Deal?"
"Deal," muttered Ramza. Delita nodded in agreement.
"Good. We meet at the north gate of Dorter at sunrise. Gustav is holding the Marquis in the Sand Rats' Cellar, an old fort in Zeklaus Desert." Wiegraf glanced over the two squires, sizing them up. "Steel yourselves. Gustav's men are no common thugs. They would not hesitate to strike you down should they get the opportunity to do so. Hard to believe that you two planned to take down Gustav by yourselves. Who might you two be, then?"
"I'm Delita, and this is Ramza," said Delita, gesturing to his blond companion. "We're mercenaries from around here. Our employer wants us to rescue the Marquis to ensure peace between Gallione and Limberry. He judged the Marquis' rescue to be of paramount importance, and as the Hokuten were making no headway, he hired us to resolve the situation."
"Interesting. Very interesting indeed. Your employer believes that the Marquis should be rescued posthaste, yet he sends only two men to do the job. I fail to see what two men can accomplish by their lonesome, where even the mighty Hokuten have failed. I don't see the logic in going up against insurmountable odds."
"It's in the contract," grunted Ramza. "We do what gets us our pay."
"Oh? Well, your loyalty is... admirable, to say the least," remarked Wiegraf, looking slightly amused. "Well, we shouldn't tarry any longer. I'd imagine Gustav's men will probably be out for revenge. We march at dawn tomorrow. It'd be best to lie low until then." With that, Wiegraf turned and walked away.
Delita waited until Wiegraf was out of earshot. "So, what do you plan to do with Wiegraf after this is over? Do we let him take over the Death Corps, or do we make him answer for his crimes?"
Ramza shook his head. "I can't trust him. Wiegraf was commander of the Death Corps, back when they deserted at the Battle of Zeltennia. His actions have cost us the war; his cowardice has caused grief for all the people of Ivalice. Best not to be too trusting, Delita. Wiegraf is a treacherous man, and he would not hesitate to stab us in the back if it were to his advantage."
Delita couldn't understand Ramza's distrust towards Wiegraf. He seemed an honourable enough man, and he found it hard to believe that he would be capable of treason on such as scale as Ramza alleged. "Perhaps time will tell where his true loyalties lie. Right now, all we can do is prepare for the battle that lies ahead. We will decide what to do with Wiegraf then."