That Horrible Moment Chapter 1
That Horrible Moment
Gilliam Saryas came to a stop amid the short grass and eyed the structure ahead glumly. The cadet barracks was a one-story building, built of gray stone that perfectly matched the overcast clouds that enshrouded October sky. Nothing like the housing he was used to, but what had he expected? As the fourth child of a minor nobleman, he had known better than to hope for a life of luxury.
His eyes were a sapphire blue, and his body rose to just under six feet. His frame was moderate, and still gawky from adolescence. His hair, the feature that helped distinguish him from the other cadets, mostly younger children of minor families themselves, was dark brown.
He looked upwards at the slate-colored heavens above, then dropped his head with a sigh. It would be raining soon, and he was out of excuses. With a brief mental prayer to Saint Ajora for guidance, he walked to the barracks' door.
As he stood in the doorway, the cadets' eyes began to turn towards him. He tried to remember the proper greeting for this situation, but his mind drew a blank. Mentally, he cursed his old etiquette instructor. "A dozen proper ways to greet the King's son's mistress's sister," he thought, "but nothing on how to speak to the other trainees I'm going to be living beside for the next few years."
He decided to improvise.
"Greetings," he said evenly, hoping to sound as though he knew what he was doing, "I'm Gilliam."
One of the cadets, wearing the badge of a student leader, stood and walked towards him. He held out his hand and smiled warmly. "Welcome to Gariland, Gilliam," he said. "I am Ramza Beouvle. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, yes I am."
"You arrived just in time for supper. I'm the cadet leader for this barracks, I'll show you around later," Ramza replied, his dictation slipping for a moment. "Come, have a seat."
As they settled down at one of the mess hall's hard wooden tables, Gilliam looked over his fellow diners. Directly ahead of him was Ramza, the one who had greeted him earlier and leader of this unit. Gilliam knew perfectly well that it was the Beouvle name rather than any particular virtues on Ramza's part that had earned him his rank, but that was a reality Gilliam was well accustomed to. Ramza seem to be a decent enough fellow, and so Gilliam decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Seated next to Ramza was a brown-haired youth that Ramza had introduced as Delita. Gilliam, as attuned to rank and class as any noble, immediately recognized him as a peasant. He looked slightly nervous; as if unsure he belonged here. Gilliam felt a flash of empathy.
He knew the feeling.
To Gilliam's left was a scrawny man wearing a stained tunic and vest, coupled with a sash that drooped with a number of odd substances. His head was covered by a brown leather cap, and there was a slightly disturbing gleam in his light blue eyes. His name was Alberto, and for some reason Gilliam found himself edging away from him nervously.
At that point, he bumped into Rosa. He started to apologize, but she grinned and shook her head slightly, an understanding look in her green eyes.
Apparently it was not just his imagination.
As they began to hack away at the tough meat-like substance they had been given as a meal, Gilliam tried to strike up a conversation.
"So, what exactly is this?"
Ramza swallowed the piece he had been chewing, grimaced, and replied.
"That is a widely debated question. Alberto here," Ramza nodded in the chemist's direction, "says that it has the exact consistency as a caulk they use to seal barrels. Rosa, on the other hand, swears she saw the cooks carrying a dead goblin towards the kitchen." Ramza shrugged. "Personally, I think it's both."
Gilliam rolled his eyes. "It can't be that bad. That said, he lifted the piece he had just finished slicing off and popped it into his mouth. The look on his face went from smug, to startled, to curious, to amazed, then to sheer horror within the span of a few seconds. Forcing himself to finish the job, he gulped it down. Fighting to keep his face composed, (and not to choke) he gasped out a response. "It's alright, it just needs the right seasoning."
Rosa leaned back and stretched. "Try saying that in a hour," she commented.
A distinctly queasy look crossed Gilliam's face at that prospect, and the others, who had been suppressing their laughter until that point, exploded into sobs of mirth. Gilliam tried to maintain an indignant expression, but soon joined in.
As the meal progressed, Gilliam became quiet. But though the snow began to pile outside and an icy wind howled, he felt warm for the first time since he was old enough to know what a "noble" was.
Over the next year Gilliam and his fellow cadets dedicated themselves to the training that they hoped would one day make them knights of Ivalice. The results of the exhausting training began to show on Gilliam's body. His muscles toughened, with the softness of a noble's upbringing burned from his lean frame. His height remained the same, but the teenage awkwardness was replaced by calm, controlled pace. Then one day they were called to a surprise briefing.
"Surrender or die in obscurity!"
With those words, the battle began. Delita charged at the head of the group, shouting inarticulately. Gilliam started to follow, eager for his first real fight, but Ramza grabbed his shoulder, stopping him.
"No." Ramza pointed "Go around through those side streets over there and cut them off; otherwise they'll outflank us."
Nodding reluctantly, Gilliam circled around, his cadet issue short sword (not much more than a knife, really) clutched in his hand. Squinting to make out his path in the sudden shade, he scanned the area for an enemy. Sure enough, he saw a man several feet away. He was wearing a stained and threadbare tunic, and his face was covered with bruises. His nose was broken, and he moved with a pained limp. None of those things registered with Gilliam, as his gaze was instantly drawn to the dagger the man brandished.
Gilliam struggled to think of a plan of action. Finally, he shouted. "Drop your weapon and I will spare your life, peasant!" His voice threatened to crack, but he tried to force himself to look imposing. The bandit snarled at him, a look of pure hatred in his eyes. He lunged forward, his dagger slashing for Gilliam's throat. All traces of infirmity vanished; he covered the distance in an instant. Gilliam, shocked by the suddenness of the attack, reacted with the instincts driven into his muscles by endless hours with the weapons instructors, drilling for just this situation. He turned, presenting the left side of his body to the attack. He thrust his arm out into the path of the knife. The blade slashed like fire across the outside of his forearm. Biting back a scream, he lashed out with his own dagger, landing a hit across his opponent's chest. But, the angle was poor; he only inflicted a shallow cut. The bandit, his teeth bared like an animal, slammed his head forwards, catching Gilliam off guard. Gilliam stumbled back, and the bandit wasted no time rushing ahead to finish the job.
As he moved in, his foot hit a slick spot on the pavement. Unbalanced, he lurched forward. Reacting purely on instinct, Gilliam stabbed his dagger into his enemy's throat. Blood gushed out in a torrent, soaking Gilliam's uniform. The bandit's eyes widened with shock, and for one eternal moment their gazes locked in mutual horror. Suddenly, it was over. Like a puppet with its strings cut, the bandit collapsed to the hard stone of the street.
Gilliam stared at the body, horrified by what he had done. The man's eyes, still open even in death, bore into him. Not even bothering to retrieve his dagger, Gilliam sank to the ground against a nearby wall. He had killed a man. He tried to remind himself that the man had been a criminal, that he had only moment ago been trying to kill him. None of that seemed to matter at that moment, as Gilliam's conscience screamed at him that he had killed another human being.
The man had seemed no older than him.
It was his duty that saved Gilliam at that moment, the knowledge that he was not alone, and that his comrades were very likely in combat not far away. He forced himself to stand up, and ran through the alley towards his allies.
By the time he made it back, the fight was over. Ramza stood over another bandit's corpse, a bloodstained sword hanging limply by his side. He looked at the remains with an odd mixture of confusion, sadness, and anger.
"Why?" Ramza asked of no one in particular. "You wouldnt have died if you had just lived an honest life."
He lifted his head and saw Gilliam standing nearby. Ramza started to demand where he had been, and what had taken so long, but then he noticed the blood staining Gilliam's uniform. Closing his eyes, Ramza nodded. Straightening, Ramza turned and called out to the others. "Report your condition," he said calmly, all trace of sorrow or doubt vanished. As the cadets announced their survival one by one, Gilliam marveled at the sudden change in Ramza. Being able to shunt aside tears and doubts as long as his troops need him, is that what being a leader means? Gilliam wondered. He had no answer, but he knew at that moment that he would always in trust Ramza, no matter what the situation.
He busied himself aiding Alberto with their wounded comrades, and replaced his bloody uniform with a fresh one. Soon they marched on to Igros.
But the bandit's eyes would follow him for a long, long time.
They marched quickly from Igros, knowing that every moment counted.
Gilliam had been surprised when Ramza ordered them to prepare to leave for Dorter less than a day after they arrived in Igros. Ramza's manner had been odd ever since, he seemed worried; and about more than finding Marquis Elmdor. It did not take a great deal of imagination on Gilliam's part to realize that Ramza's orders on the subject were shaky at best. He refrained from trying to learn the details. In the fairly short period of time he had known him, Gilliam had come to trust Ramza implicitly. He did not want to explain what was going on, Gilliam was sure there was a good reason. Besides, the last thing Gilliam wanted was to be dragged into some sort of political mess among the major families.
Suddenly, Ramza called them to a halt. Raising his hand to shade his eyes from the glare, he studied the scene ahead.
A group of wagons lay ahead, many of them overturned. Amid the hulks a pitched battle was being fought. A group of humans, presumably the owners of the wagons, were locked in a vicious battle with a group of diminutive creatures.
They were ugly, with squashed, wrinkled faces and slate gray skin the color of an overcast sky. Their short limbs were corded with muscle, and their eyes blazed with a wild blood-lust.
Ramza rapidly analyzed the situation and issued a quick series of orders. "Delita, Algus, you two circle around and try to take them from behind. Rosa, Gilliam, you're with me. Alberto, you hold back." With that, Ramza whipped out his sword. "Charge!"
There were half-a-dozen of them, swarming about the caravan. The merchants and most of the guards lay dead already, but the fight was still going around an over-turned wagon. A young woman wielding a longbow stood atop it and was sending a steady stream of arrows into the goblin mob. A pile of goblin bodies near the wagon gave silent testimony to her accuracy. One particularly quick goblin managed to reach the wagon and began clambering aboard. The woman caught it in the face with a roundhouse kick, sending it sprawling to the ground. As her attention was drawn away, its companions scrambled forward.
The woman had a moderate frame, compact and toughened by a harsh life on the road. Her wheat-colored hair was tied in a simple ponytail reaching her shoulders, and her brown eyes were locked in intense concentration as she struggled to survive.
Distracted by the archer, the goblins failed to notice their new attackers until they were upon them. Two goblins were dead and three more wounded before they regained their wits and focused on Ramza's group.
Gilliam found himself facing the unwounded goblin. He rushed in, thrusting his sword forward, but to his surprise the ugly creature shoved its arm up with a twist, catching the sword on the flat part and shoving it harmlessly over its head. Stepping forward with its left leg, it slammed its fists in a right, left, right combination into Gilliam's mid-section. The breath blasted out of him even through the leather armor he wore, Gilliam reeled back, unable to believe the strength of the scrawny creature.
It started to follow up the attack, but rolled to the side as Rosa rushed in, swinging wildly. Two more closed in behind, when a thunderclap rocked the clear day.
Gilliam looked towards the noise to find two scorched goblins dead on the ground and a dazed third struggling to fend off Ramza. Further off stood Alberto, a triumphant grin on his face. "So that's what he's been working on," Gilliam thought. Alberto with magic. That was a disturbing thought. Dismissing his new worries for the time, Gilliam returned his attention to the fight.
Capitalizing on the confusion, Gilliam charged one of the goblins approaching Rosa from behind, driving his sword through its exposed ribs. As he turned towards the next one he found Ramza standing beside him, a green liquid dripping from his sword. By unspoken agreement they fanned out to either side, trapping the creature between them. It whipped its head back and for the between them, snarling like an animal. Suddenly it dove into a forward somersault, trying to escape the trap. Ramza tried to stab it before it could regain its feet, but the agile creature spun into a leg sweep knocking him to the ground. It leapt at him, only to be impaled by its own momentum on Gilliam's sword. Even then it refused to die, struggling towards Gilliam.
"Will you just lay down and die?!" Gilliam shouted. Pulling his sword out, he swung it in a wide arc, cleaving the thing's head from its body. Gilliam was turning to assist Rosa, knowing she must be in similarly dire straits, when a dark blur whizzed by. The arrow came to a stop in the goblin's throat, dropping it and ending the fight. Gilliam looked up to see the archer drop to the ground, exhausted.
"Whoever you people are," she gasped, "thank you."
After a few short hours of tossing and turning, Gilliam awoke. He looked around the Igros barracks and the slumbering forms of his comrades. Dead-tired after the long march back from Dorter, they looked likely to sleep through a chocobo stampede. "I'm just as tired," he thought, "so why am I not joining them?" Sighing, he climbed out of his bunk and started towards the door. As he passed the lower bunk, a muttered noise drew his attention to Alberto's sleeping form.
"Burning, burning, burn, everything! You are born to burn! Must burn."
Gilliam sighed. Something told him that Alberto's learning magic might be a worse problem than the entire Death Corps. "Daravon," he thought, "I think you may have done a little too well on this one." Shaking his head, he left the barracks. Maybe a walk would clear his head.
He wandered aimlessly, finally settling on the lake near the barracks. It was far enough from the encampment to be alone, but it was still within the limits of the base, so he wouldn't need to worry about the sentries. As he approached it, he heard an odd humming sound. Curious, he moved closer. After rounding an outcropping, he saw Ellis, the archer who had decided to join them after the fight against the goblin raiders, juggling three small stones. Her attention seemed completely focused on the difficult task, and she was quietly humming a soft tune. Gilliam stood frozen for a moment in awe at the sheer dexterity and grace of her moves, at the way she kept the rapid-moving rocks moving in a tight pattern through the air. Suddenly, it dawned on him that Ellis had come here for the same reason he had, and he finally turned to leave and give her some privacy. As he did, a branch cracked under his foot. Startled by the noise, Ellis's eyes jerked towards him. Her concentration lost, the delicate rhythm of her juggling was broken, and the stones scattered around her feet.
"A, ah, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. I was walking, heard a sound, ah, I'm very sorry," he stammered.
She stared at him for a moment, than burst out into laughter at his babbling. "Calm down Gilliam, you'll bite your tongue off at the rate you're going."
Sheepishly, Gilliam clamped his mouth shut before he managed to embarrass himself any further. Ellis gestured at a flat outcropping. "Sit. Now." Nearly tripping over his own feet, Gilliam complied. "Now," she continued as she sat down beside him, "what are you doing out here? Breathe before you talk."
Gilliam did as she said. As he inhaled a deep breath, his momentary flash of anxiety faded, and was replaced by curiosity over his new comrade's activities. Ellis had been a puzzle ever since her impulsive decision to join Ramza after their meeting on the Mandalia Plains. "I'm sorry to have intruded. I had trouble sleeping so I went for a walk. I heard a noise over here and I came to find out what it was. Um, if you don't mind my asking, where did you learn to juggle like that?"
Ellis gave a slightly sad smile. "My parents, they were part of a band of performers. I grew up on the road, and they taught me the tricks of the trade. It's just something I do now and then to remind me of them."
"They're, gone?" Gilliam asked quietly.
Ellis didn't respond immediately. She turned her head towards the lake and stared at the still waters for a long moment. Finally, she spoke. "It was during the War. Our troupe was caught between two groups of soldiers in one of the battles. Apparently their leader decided we were spies. We were attacked during the night; most of us were asleep. When I woke up the tents were burning. I managed to hide under some rubble. When I made my way out, everyone was wiped out." Ellis turned back towards Gilliam, moisture glistening in her eyes. "I can't even tell you which side they were on."
Gilliam, stunned by the story, tried to come up with some sort of reply. Nothing seemed to fit, so he sat there, helpless to respond. Finally, Ellis looked back again, her features cheerful. "But that was a long time ago, ancient history. After that, I found a bow from one of the wagons that hadn't been completely destroyed. I'd learned to use it for our performances, so I knew how to use it. I've been traveling ever since; going along with whoever seemed interesting. I signed up with those merchants as a guard to reach Igros, and you know what happened from there."
"Ellis, I, I." Gilliam groped for some sort of reply. Finally, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Can you teach me to juggle like that?" Mentally, he kicked himself for the idiotic reply, but to his surprise, Ellis laughed.
"Sure, why not. Come, over here." With that, she grabbed his hand and dragged him from his seat. She scooped up two small rocks and tossed one to him. It hit him square in the face before he managed to catch it, but fortunately it wasn't moving that fast. "Now," she said, "The trick is to get the right rhythm. You hold it in one hand," she held it out in her right hand, "and then you move inwards and toss it." She did so, catching it in her left hand. "The trick is to toss inwards and catch outwards. Now you try."
Gilliam did so. Naturally, it went skittering across the ground. Embarrassed, he picked it up and tried again. After a few tries, he caught it. "Good," she said, "Now you just need to toss it a little higher so you have time to position your hands." Uncertainly, Gilliam complied. Surprisingly, it really was easier to catch. "That's it! You're getting the basic motion, those are good throws."
They continued for nearly an hour, before Gilliam finally begged for a break. Ellis smiled again, the moonlight shining off her bright face. "Alright, let's stop for tonight. We'll start on two balls next time. Bye."
"Aren't you going back to the barracks?" Gilliam inquired. Ellis shook her head. "No, I'm going to stay out awhile longer. I'll see you tomorrow." With that, she turned away and sat on an outcropping and stared at the moon's reflection on the lake. Feeling oddly sad, Gilliam left for the barracks, where he promptly fell unconscious in his bunk.
His arms hurt all the next day.
His cloak plastered against him by the wild storm, his ears deafened by the resounding thunderclaps, Gilliam struggled to maintain his footing on the wet ground. He had been separated from the main group in the confusion of the downpour, and fought to regain his bearings. His gut clenched with nervousness. He was no longer an untested novice, but this was the first time they had gone against a prepared military fortress.
One of the Death Corps bandits crept behind him, dagger poised to strike. Alerted by instinct or chance or fate, Gilliam turned just in time to block the attack with his shield. Gilliam feinted right; then, as the rebel dodged to the left he punched out with his other arm, catching the thief in the jaw with the edge of his shield. The man staggered back, and Gilliam rushed forward, hoping to finish him off before he recovered.
A sharp pain lanced through his side as a dagger was thrust through a seam in his armor. He twisted away and regarded his new attacker. He was dressed in the same ordinary, worn clothing as his comrade. A fierce conviction burned in his eyes, and he whipped his blade with an easy grace that spoke of practiced skill. He began to attack again, but as Gilliam raised his shield in a defensive stance he darted to the side, trapping Gilliam between him and his comrade.
Gilliam fought down a wave of panic and tried to think of a way out of this predicament. He was too far from the others to expect support, and with pain lancing through his side every with breath from the sneak attack, he knew he had little chance of winning a fight, outflanked as he was.
The first soldier had risen to his feet by now, and with a murderous look in his eyes began to advance. Slowly, trying to hide the movement with his cloak, Gilliam unbuckled his shield.
As the first soldier came at him, Gilliam flung the heavy buckler at him. He easily dodged the awkward projectile, but in the instant that he was distracted Gilliam dove into a forward roll. His foot lashed out, catching the ankle of the second thief as he tried to take advantage of Gilliam's distraction to stab him in the back. He stumbled, grabbing Gilliam as he fell. Together, they tumbled down the sloped ground of the fort. Gilliam's sword was jolted from his hands by the rapid, bruising descent. Finally, they crashed to a stop. The breath blasted out of their lungs, they rolled apart.
The Death Corps soldier recovered first. Leaping forward, he tried to drive his dagger through the prone Gilliam's heart. His tanned leather armor turned the blow, and Gilliam retaliated with a roundhouse blow to the jaw. The thief fell to the ground beside him, dazed, and Gilliam was on him in a moment, his hands locked around the man's throat. His eyes bulged, he tried to stab Gilliam half a dozen times, but his arm was pinned by Gilliam's body, and there was no force beside the blows.
Gilliam's conscience intervened at that moment, cutting through the adrenaline and rage and forcing him to realize he was about to kill a man with his bare hands.
Gilliam relaxed his grip, and the man inhaled desperately. Gilliam leaned back and tried to decide what to do next. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and cursed his lack of forethought. The first soldier had come, and from the way he grinned as he lifted his dagger to strike Gilliam knew that he would not be shown the same mercy.
The man jerked suddenly, standing perfectly erect. He looked down at Gilliam, a confused expression on his face. Still seeming puzzled, he fell forwards, landing sprawled atop Gilliam. Only then did Gilliam notice the shaft protruding from the man's back. He lifted his gaze, and saw Ellis standing nearby, already notching another arrow to her bow. He raised his hand to wave his thanks, then winced at the pain it cost him. Ellis noticed, and quickly rushed to his side.
"Are you alright?" she asked, concern showing in her soft brown eyes.
"I had better be." He replied through gritted teeth. "Help me up."
"Are you sure it's safe to move with that wound?" Ellis inquired nervously.
"Safer than it would be to lie around on my back here in the middle of a battle!"
Leaning on Ellis's shoulder for support, Gilliam made his way to a breach in the old fortress's wall before collapsing. Ellis quickly scanned the surrounding area, than knelt besides Gilliam. She pulled a cloth bandage and a small vial from a pouch on her belt. "Hold still." Her hands shaking slightly, she peeled the top of his soaked uniform from his body. Then, she poured the contents of the vial onto the bandage and wrapped it around Gilliam's side.
When she was done, she leaned back and sat down beside him. "The potion will disinfect the wound and speed up the healing process." Ellis explained, trying to distract him while she worked. "It should also help kill the pain. You need to rest for awhile to give it a chance to work though."
Gilliam's voice was low, and trembled with exhaustion. "How is the fight going?"
Ellis shook her head, her blond ponytail flapping wetly against her shoulders. "It's hard to say. Ramza and Delita were leading the fight head- on, but then there was a thunder strike nearby, I don't know if it was natural or magic. Things got confused, and both sides were scattered."
Gilliam thought on that for awhile, than nodded. "Ramza will have everyone back together soon. He'll probably head for the gate while they're still off-balance."
"That sounds like what he would do," Ellis agreed. "So, what do we do from here? You aren't in any condition to fight, and I'm not leaving you here!" The last part was spoken in a firm tone that told Gilliam right away that there was no chance of changing her mind. He tried a compromise.
"We should look around. Most of the bandits are probably outside or at the walls, this is a great chance to catch them off-guard."
Ellis thought about it, then grinned. "Well, I didn't join Ramza to sit around watching you bleed!"
Gilliam pulled his wet shirt back on and stood carefully. Forcing a cocky expression, he shot back, "What are you waiting for, let's go!"
From an empty second floor room, Gilliam and Ellis watched the scene in the courtyard below. Ramza, Algus and Delita were locked in a vicious combat with three Death Corps soldiers and a woman in patched white robes. The last one finished reciting a low chant, than pointed her hand at them as she raised her voice in a climax. "Swirling bolts, shatter the earth with your power!"
A blast of azure blue energy lashed out from her out-stretched hand, blasting Ramza and Delita to the ground. Algus, just ahead of the attack, charged forwards, sword raised. The woman started to cast another spell, then, as he drew closer, lifted her staff in a futile attempt to block. Algus's furious chop snapped the wooden staff apart and drove into her chest. With a feral grin, he pulled it out and started for the nearest soldier, a blond haired woman.
Ramza and Delita pulled themselves to their feet and tried to follow Algus, but the woman's two remaining comrades blocked their path. With a screech of tortured metal, the melee was complete.
Algus tried to finish the woman as quickly as his last victim, but she turned out to be surprisingly skilled. She sidestepped his swing, and then followed up by shield rushing forward. Algus, unprepared for such a skillful maneuver from a peasant bandit, slipped on the wet stone. He rolled desperately, barely evading her downward stab. The woman shouted something Gilliam couldn't make out as she pursued him. He spat back at her as he managed to rise to her feet. "It's divine providence!"
The woman shouted back angrily "What do you mean? God would never say such a thing! Before him we are all equal!"
Algus, his face twisted with hatred, shouted back. "Animals have no God!"
Ellis took careful aim and released the shaft, taking one of the soldiers facing Ramza in the neck. Reacting quickly, Ramza caught the man's comrade off-guard, running him through. They hurried towards Algus.
Miluda began to lash out at Algus again, but then she noticed Algus's comrades rushing towards her. Cursing, she turned to flee towards the gate. From the window, Ellis drew a bead on Miluda, aiming right for her heart.
Miluda would never even see it coming.
Gilliam's hand shot forward, forcing Ellis's bow down. He shook his head. "Let her go." Ellis started to argue, but than nodded in agreement. They had both heard Algus' words.
And the only one she truly wanted to kill was him.
Teta's murder sent a shock through the group gathered around Fort Zeakden. Most of them had not known the girl; they knew nothing of her past, of how she had been taken in by the Beouvle family along with Delita. All they had known was that the Death Corps officer had held her as a hostage.
And that she was fellow human being.
Delita broke the silence with a low whisper. "Te Teta."
A Hotuken knight rushed forward, waving wildly. "General Zalbag, about fifty Death Corps soldiers have been sighted on the mountain path. I'm told one of them resembles Weigraf!"
Zalbag, always the dutiful soldier, nodded rapidly. "Very well. Algus, I leave the matter in your hands!" With that, he sprinted off along with his retinue.
Ramza, still stunned, looked to his former comrade. "Algus, why?"
The wind stole Algus's reply from Gilliam's ears, but whatever he said seemed to awaken Delita from his trance. He whipped out his sword, and, with scream of rage that no human throat should have been able to produce, charged Algus. Algus whistled, and his bodyguard closed ranks around him. One of the wizards among them started a guttural chant. Ramza, stunned, continued to stand frozen, seeming not to notice the sudden peril.
Ellis looked to her equally frozen companions. "What are you waiting for?! Fight!" With that, she unslung her bow and launched an arrow at Algus. The hard, icy wind prevented the slender shaft from hitting its distant target, but it had the effect of rousing her comrades. Fittingly, Alberto responded first.
"I finally get to test my new Thunder Rod!"
Naturally, Alberto was actually happy about this.
Ellis's actions shocked Gilliam out of his reverie as well. His instinctive loyalty to Ramza obliterating his reserves against attacking fellow Hokuten soldiers, he rapidly scanned the developing fray. Noticing one of Algus's soldiers approaching Ramza from behind, he broke into a charge, drawing his sword with smooth movement as he went. The knight, a seasoned veteran, shifted his attention towards the new threat, falling into a low defensive crouch. Gilliam, sword gripped in both hands, rushed forward, than, just as the soldier thrust his sword forwards, Gilliam hurled himself into a roll to the side. The Hokuten soldier started to stumble, but recovered his balance rapidly and spun to the side just in time to meet Gilliam's counterattack. His blade caught Gilliam's in a desperate parry, inches from his face. Matching Gilliam's stare with his own, the experienced soldier slammed his head forward, catching Gilliam in the nose across the locked blades. Gilliam staggered back, than rolled to the ground in a desperate attempt to dodge the knight's stabbing sword.
A blur zipped in, hurtling towards the man's heart. With lightning quick reflexes, he hurled himself to the side. Ellis started to notch another arrow, but a burst of fire blazed into existence around her, the searing flames hungrily seeking to incinerate her. She automatically hurled herself to the ground, her bow falling from her hands as she fought frantically to put out the flames.
As the fire-wielding wizard smirked to herself, a crackling energy filled the air around her. With the stench of ozone in filling the air, she looked up curiously for a moment, her eyes widening in horror as she realized what that foretold. Realizing that it was too late to escape, she stood calmly and nodded respectfully towards Ramza's wizard.
She wondered impassively, after all the people she had struck down with her own magic over the years, how much it would hurt.
Alberto squealed happily as the amplified blast of lightning blasted the wizard, hurling her broken body to the ground like a rag doll. Laughing wildly, he spun around in a little circle, as joyful as a child with a new toy.
The impromptu jig saved his life, as a bolt from Algus's crossbow caught him in the shoulder, whereas seconds ago it would have driven straight into his heart. The shock and force of the arrow hurled him to the ground. An unnatural darkness filled Alberto's vision, swirling into being like a dark mist before his eyes. At first he thought that the fading light meant his death, but as the pain of the crossbow bolt embedded in his arm began to lance through him he realized that the weapon that had struck him must have carried some sort of enchantment. Once again rewarded for his own utter lack of morality or conscience, he gritted his teeth helplessly and hoped no one would finish him off.
Gilliam tumbled rapidly, using all of his agility in a desperate attempt to avoid the man lethally sharp sword point. The Hokuten knight, no novice to battle, pursued him closely, thrusting with deadly accuracy and giving him no chance to recover his feet. The knight's foot caught on a small dip in the snow, tripping him for a moment before he managed to recover. In the split-second it took him, Gilliam gathered his feet under him and leapt forward, sword pointed downward. The knight raised his sword in a skillful parry, but Gilliam, with a strength born of sheer terror, snapped the blade at the hilt. A long crack ran down his own blade as it rang with the sheer force of the blow, but Gilliam pressed the advantage. Drawing back to gain room to maneuver the heavy iron weapon, he rushed forwards, his sword driving through the man's armor and into his chest. The tip of the sword drove upward, slipping past the rib cage into the knight's lungs. His face contorted in horror, the knight stared into Gilliam's enraged face, looking for an answer. Closing his eyes, he slid off blade, darkness blotting out the pain.
His anger fading with the immediate threat gone, Gilliam let his sword arm fall limply to his side as he panted for breath. As the roar of blood left his ears, he heard a quiet chuckle over the din of battle. He turned to see Algus's other wizard, her outstretched hand crackling with barely contained energy. She smiled coldly as she spoke. "All that, and for what? Swirling bolts, gather and "
Somehow, by sheer, desperate fighting skill, coupled with the creature of raw, frenzied rage that was Delita, they had survived.
Their strength, which had begun to slip away the moment Algus's corpse had hit the ground, vanished entirely as they numbly watched Delita and Teta consumed by the exploding powder. They collapsed, exhausted, the snowy, frozen dirt. Gilliam watched, shivering in the icy wind, as Rosa, who had by some miracle escaped injury, examined Ellis's burns and Alberto's wounded arm. Finally, she stood, and turned to Ramza, who still seemed stunned.
"They'll live, but they need treatment, and bed rest. It'll be dark soon, and the temperature will be dropping. Also , sir, what do we do next? We've killed Hokuten soldiers, w. we could be executed!"
As she spoke, all eyes fixed on Ramza. Even Alberto, his sight finally returned, seemed to be listening intently. They all instinctively trusted, needed, Ramza's guidance.
His duty as a leader forcing him out of his reverie, Ramza closed his eyes, and for a moment the world seemed to stand still. When he opened them, all traces of doubt and indecision were gone, replaced by the calm, purposeful demeanor that they all trusted so much. He spoke rapidly, each word sounding with the clear, perfect dictation of a true nobleman.
"Rosa, can Alberto and Ellis travel?"
She shrugged. "They can, but they will have to be carried. I had to drug them to keep them from screaming from their wounds. They'll be dropping any moment now. I also need to apply some ointment to Ellis's burns, luckily Alberto had some on him."
"Of course he does." Gilliam chimed in slightly sarcastically, trying to distract himself from his exhaustion. "I'm almost afraid to ask, but what else is he carrying around on him?"
Rosa forced a grin, and Ramza shot him a grateful look for the attempt to lighten the move as he nodded. "Good. Gilliam, you carry Ellis, I have Alberto. Rosa, do whatever else you can to make them comfortable, but treatment will have to wait until we are out of danger. We will travel as far as the plateau for tonight, find a cave in the cliff to take cover in and try to decide what do tomorrow from there. Any questions?" No one spoke. "Then move out!"
As they prepared to depart, Gilliam looked back to the still-burning Fort Zeakden. For the first time, the full weight of the night's events struck him. He had killed Hokuten troops. Within a week, there would be patrols searching for him, for all of them.
He would be hung as a traitor and a murderer.
He could still survive. He could run off, rejoin the rest of the army, and confess all to the first officer he found. He had been following his superior officer's orders, he couldn't be punished for that.
Yes, he probably could do all that, but somehow, he didn't want to. Algus's murder of Teta, at Zalbag's own orders, had driven Gilliam's conscience to its limits. The doubts raised by Algus's words to Miluda had exploded into a horrible certainty. They, the nobles, the Hokuten, the nobility, they were the murderers, the bandits.
In that horrible moment of realization, Gilliam Saryas realized that his whole life had been built on nothing left then the lives of innocent commoners.
That knowledge, that truth, nearly broke him. Trembling with horror at just what he had been fighting to uphold, Gilliam raised his right hand before his face. He stared at the bejeweled signet ring on his finger, the emblem that marked him as a member of one of Ivalice's noble families. Slowly, he pulled it off, turning it over before his eyes. Placing it numbly into his palm, he closed his hand into a fist and held it over his heart.
"I will have no more part in this evil," he whispered.
With that, he drew his arm back and hurled it with all his strength. The glittering ring flew away from him with the speed of a sling bullet, coming to a halt in a snowdrift. The force of the throw buried it deep within the snow, along with the remains of Gilliam's former life.
As he turned back, he saw Ramza watching him, an understanding look on his face. Gilliam started towards his, walking through the building snow towards the one man who seemed to stand for something more.
The snow covered his footprints within minutes.