Silence filled the room save for the soft roaring of the fire in the hearth and the occasional wind rattling the windows as Beoulves and Hyrals ate dinner. It was a meal of simple fare consisting of only bread and stew.
Normally, dinners were quite animated in the Beoulve home but as of late, it had become quite dull. Ramza had noticed the change in the Hyrals eating patterns earlier in the week. Raizen, who usually ate with a healthy appetite, now ate slowly, pausing every so often while his father seemed to move like Worker 8, unconsciously tearing a piece of his bread and dipping it into his stew, his mind wandering somewhere else.
Ramza couldnt take the silence any longer. Enough, he said gently as he placed his spoon down. His voice seemed to bring back father and son from wherever they had thrust their minds into when they blinked and looked at him dazedly.
Is there something you two want to discuss? Ramza asked in concern. These past nights, you both have been acting unlike yourselves. This...worries me.
Thank you for your concern, Ramza, Delita said kindly, but you have nothing to worry about. Ive just been...doing a lot of thinking lately. It does not concern you or Alma so please dont worry.
It may not concern us, Alma inserted, wiping her mouth with a napkin before continuing, but you do not have to carry the burden alone. Please, speak with us. What is it that troubles you?
Delita thought for a moment, deciding on whether to tell his decision or not to the Beoulve siblings. Its true that it did not concern them but it did concern their home. On that note, he decided to tell them, willing to have their support in this matter.
Ive thought about going home, he began softly. I believe its time Raizen takes his rightful place as Crown Prince of Ivalice and for me to resume my position as King. The wind of change is blowing and Im willing to let it carry us off into a bright future.
Ramza and Alma sat silently as they absorbed the news. They knew that one day, Delita and Raizen would return to their homeland. Its been seven years since they had come to live with them and during those years they had seen them change remarkably.
Raizen had grown into a fine young man, tall, slender, with hair the color of honey that flowed to his shoulders in soft waves. He was well-built yet lacked the heavy muscles of his father. His eyes were penetrating, dazzling with intelligence, always seeming to read the others mind. Ramza had certainly stated the obvious when he had first seen Raizen during that stormy night for the boy had grown to look like his mother.
As Raizen had grown physically over the years, Delita had grown spiritually. When he had first arrived, he had been a broken man, trying to make amends of his past mistakes by raising a son who had no clue about his past. Only when had he arrived here and told them of those mistakes did he start to change. He had accepted his past and now stood to face the future bravely with his son by his side.
Ramza nodded in acceptance. When will you leave?
Perhaps tomorrow, Delita replied then shrugged. Perhaps the day after. But know this, it shall be soon. He then leaned back against his chair as he added casually, You are welcomed to join us, Ramza, and you too, Alma.
I told you before, Im not going back, Ramza said sharply, glancing briefly at Alma for her to keep silent before resuming his dinner.
Wont you reconsider? Delita asked almost pleadingly.
No, was Ramzas only answer.
Few more days passed before Delita deemed it time to leave. Chocobos saddled and bags packed, it was time to say farewell to the Beoulves.
I hate good-byes, Alma sniffed as she hugged Raizen then Delita. I want you two to take good care of yourselves. Make Ivalice into a proud land once more.
Delita nodded. You can be sure of it. He then turned to Ramza, who shook his head, and said, No matter how many times you ask, the answer remains the same. Farewell, Delita, and if you see the others, give them my regards.
I had hoped you would tell them yourself, Delita began then nodded as he finished, but I shall tell them nonetheless. He then turned to Alma and said with a smirk, I dont know how you could live with your stubborn brother, but I take it that you shall continue to watch over him. You were always a good sister to him. Maybe someday you could convince him to come home.
I will try, Alma conceded. But as you said, she glanced at her brothers direction where he was talking to Raizen, he is stubborn.
Delita chuckled softly. That he is! he exclaimed jovially before hugging her once more. Thank you for everything, Alma. Take care.
No hug for me?
The group turned to see Kyshon with a wide smile across his face, entering the yard. And I came here hoping to have a card game with the lot of you. He then gazed at the chocobos. Going on a trip?
Delita and Raizen are returning home, Ramza replied, to Ivalice.
Kyshon blinked in surprise. Ivalice?! he exclaimed incredulously. Few travel to Ivalice nowadays but of course, you wouldnt know that being that you live in seclusion.
What do you mean by that? Delita demanded of the gambler. Ivalice depends on Ordallia for trade. Did King Valowa reduce all trade? If so, then Ill
No, its not that, Kyshon interrupted with a shake of his head. Somethings been happening in Ivalice, he looked at them gravely, his smile now gone, and its not pretty. Care for me to explain?
Out in the plains of Ordallia, hawks screeched as they circled the sky and deer bellowed as they grazed the grass. The trees of a nearby forest rustled softly as a breeze passed between their branches while a small creek trickled through the forest and into the plains where foxes stood on the banks and drank. It was another day full of the sounds of life.
But it was silent as death at the Beoulve home.
The group sat silently, each delved into their own thoughts as they absorbed Kyshons tale of the happenings in Ivalice. The gambler studied each of their faces as he poured himself a cup of tea, seeing the worry in their eyes and the disbelief especially on Ramzas face.
Delita also looked at Ramza glaringly as he asked sternly, Now would you reconsider? Ramza did not reply, only gazed down at the table, which further angered the monarch. Ramza! he shouted as he pounded the table in frustration of his friends stubbornness. Do you think your friends are still safe despite what Kyshon had told us? When will you
Now listen here! Ramza yelled fiercely as he abruptly rose from his chair and glowered at Delita. This is all your fault! He pointed an accusing finger at the monarch. If you hadnt left Ivalice, none of this would have happened!
But it has and I intend to remedy it, Delita countered calmly. The question still remains, Ramza. What will you do?
Ramza did not answer immediately as he stared at each of their expectant faces before shifting his gaze to the window. Silently, he turned and left the cottage.
Ramza! Delita shouted as he quickly followed, the others no far behind. I cant believe it! he gasped after as he saw Ramza ride away on his chocobo, not towards Ivalice, but away from it. Running away? he shouted as he tried to run after him but Ramza had an early start and the monarch was unable to catch him. Coward! he cried after as Ramza disappeared into the horizon.
Dont judge him.
Delita turned to see Alma staring off into the distance before turning to him adding, Yet...
Ramza raced through the plains, having no clear destination in mind. Birds on the wayside took flight as he approached while bison snorted a challenge when he neared. Foxes watched curiously from the brush as deer galloped away in search of safer grazing grounds.
He continued to ride blindly through the plains, paying no heed to his surroundings, only to the grim news of Kyshon and the harsh words of Delita echoing in his mind...
And in his heart.
Am I...a coward?, Ramza mused then shook his head adamantly. No! I left Ivalice so they would be safe! This is all Delitas fault! He shouldnt have left...shouldnt have...
...I intend to remedy it. The question still remains, Ramza. What will you do?
What will I do?, Ramza repeated to himself.
Do you think your friends are still safe despite what Kyshon had told us?
But if I do return, wouldnt they be in more danger?, Ramza asked himself. Wouldnt it be best if I remained here?
He wished it to be so but knew in his heart that it was not to be. His friends lives were in danger and he was not one to ignore those in need.
And his friends need him now, more than ever.
He then chuckled as he brought his chocobo to a halt under the branches of a lone tree atop a hill where it afforded them a good view of the countryside. He dismounted and gazed at the beautiful scenery for it may be his last time to view peaceful Ordallia.
Suddenly, a pang of guilt gripped his heart for while he was enjoying the peace this country offered, his friends had been fraught with peril that denied them that peace. Ramza knew without a doubt in his mind that he must return to Ivalice to deliver them that peace.
Well Boco, he spoke to his mount as he rubbed his feathers, were called back into battle once more. So much for a peaceful life. He then smirked as he jumped into the saddle and steered Boco back home adding, But a little excitement couldnt hurt.
Boco warked in agreement as he carried Ramza home, the sun setting before them...
Hes not coming back, Delita muttered darkly as he paced around the common room, every so often looking out the window, hoping to see any sign of Ramza.
The day had passed quickly and now it was twilight. The others had passed the day doing mundane tasks around the cottage, trying to occupy themselves, doing anything to get Kyshons haunting tale off their minds.
Now night approached and as Alma prepared supper, Delita continued his pacing. At the table, Raizen and Kyshonwho had decided to stay, curious to know what path Ramza would takeidly played a game of cards. Besides Delitas occasional grumbling, none were in the mood to talk.
Not really in the culinary mood, Alma stirred the pot of simple stew that was brewing in the fireplace, and when she found it ready, began ladling soup into four bowls. Night was already upon them, the hearths soft glow effectively giving light throughout the cottage as does the sun during the day.
Everyone ate their meal in silence, none having much of an appetite save for Kyshon who heartily devoured his meal. He knew it was rude, given the circumstances, but he could not stand the silence and was willing to make as much noise as possible for he was a rowdy person by nature. Rarely did he experience such solemn affairsin truth, he tried to avoid such eventsbut this...
This was grave indeed.
Again, he studied each of their faces and saw the turmoil there. He wished he could give any words of comfort but he was not the sentimental type and was afraid that whatever comfort he could give would end up turning into a bad joke. So, he just sighed as he ate the rest of his food.
Delita thought he would burst into another tirade as each minute passed by. It was enough that Ramza had gone away into the plains but to remain there for the whole day...
Coward, he muttered softly, holding his spoon tightly between his fingers. The others looked at him; denial on Almas face, puzzlement on Raizens, and curiosity on Kyshons.
A fool and a coward! Delita slammed his spoon down on the table. Let the deaths of his friends be on his head!
Theres no reason to shout.
As one, everyone turned towards the voice. Ramza stood at the doorway wearing a placid smile on his face. He entered, closing the door softly behind, and helped himself with a bowl of Almas stew before joining the others at the table, sitting at his usual chair. He began to eat with a healthy appetite, quite aware of the others questioning stares, or in the case of Delitas, glare.
Ramza knew that they awaited his answer, awaited his decision; whether to go back or not. Again, the lives of his friends weighed on this decision as much as all the other decisions he had made during the Lion War.
As soon as he emptied his bowl, he sighed in satisfaction. A good meal, he remarked as he sat back against his chair, as a last meal should be.
The others were taken aback by that comment, even Delita whose scowl softened into a slight frown of confusion. Tomorrow we shall leave for the village of Locar and from there, make our way to Ivalice, Ramza informed them. The journey should take at least two weeks, certainly no more than three.
Silence followed the pronouncement. It was later broken by Alma who said: So were finally going home.
Yes, Ramza nodded with a sigh. Home. With a bounty on my head. He then shook his head. Despite that, I cannot ignore those in need.
And it took you all this time to figure that out? Delita snorted. Stubborn fool...
Ramza silently accepted the remark for it certainly rang with a bit of truth. He was indeed a fool for thinking that his friends would be safe if he left them, more of a fool for sticking to that belief. He wondered then of what his friends would say if he did return. Would they welcome him as a friend or reject him for leaving them behind?
There was more to this decision than he had thought, but he had already decided and so, can only go forward, hoping for the best.
Kyshon looked thoughtfully at Ramza, seeing his friends apprehension. It seemed that Ramza not only gambled for gil, but also risked his own life for the sake of others. The stakes are piled high against his friend, yet he admired his courage to face such odds.
That was the spirit of a true gambler.
Though the odds are against you, you still wish to go? the gambler asked curiously and when Ramza nodded, he grinned. You are truly the best gambler in all Ordallia to face such odds. I would be honored to travel with the likes of you.
Delita was about to protest against Kyshons wish, but frowned when his son exclaimed, That would be great! Ive always wanted to see you in action especially with your cards.
Yes, Ramza agreed. There is safety in numbers and I wouldnt mind the extra help.
Alma expressed her thanks to the gambler while Delita scowled in disapproval, choosing to remain silent.
Then its settled! Kyshon exclaimed cheerfully. So, when do we leave?
In the morning, Ramza replied.
The cottage stood empty, the light of the rising sun slowly bathing it in its yellow glow, as its occupants stood outside, the light wind rustling through the yard.
So, this is it. After I throw this torch, Im never coming back. My life as an Ordallian ends here. The fires that will consume this cottage will be the flames of my rebirth as an Ivalician. Such is fate. Such is life.
Ramza gazed at his home, a torch burning in his hand. The others stood behind him, waiting, hoping.
The cottage door stood open, inviting those outside to enter. It would be easy to abandon the journey and continue living undisturbed. All Ramza need do is enter...
No!, he thought angrily, his hold tightening on the torch. My friends need me! I will go to their aid despite the danger! I will not abandon them!
With that thought burning in his mind, he let fly the torch towards the opened portal. It landed and rolled on the floor before its fire started to consume the wooden planks. All watched as that small flame slowly became a raging inferno that consumed all...
But their memories.
Ramza silently turned away from the burning cottage and mounted his chocobo, the others following suit. Only having three chocobos for the journey, Alma rode with her brother while Kyshon took his place with Raizen. Seeing everyone ready, Ramza took the lead, heeling his chocobo forward.
As they rode down the dirt path that would lead them to the main road, Alma turned back to see what had become of her home for the past twenty years. Flames soared high towards the sky as timber blackened and groaned as they fell. Nothing was to remain of the place once the fires would die.
Such as it should be.
There was no turning back.
There was only one path to take.
Alma quickly dashed her tears away as she turned to look forward once more. She had to be strong as her brother and her friends. Determined to show no fear for it was natural for humans to fear the unknown, she stared ahead, her jaw set, her eyes glaring.
Father, watch over us, she prayed as they turned onto the main road and headed west towards Locar...
...and inevitably to Ivalice.
The plain stretched out before them, given over to grass and small farms, the only obstacles seeming to be the trees that sheltered the holdings from the wind.
It had been this way for the next three days, the land rising and falling somewhat but never dramatically, the gently rolling terrain stretching out on all sides until they came to the village Locar. It was a small rural community, the houses built small and far apart to accommodate the various storehouses used to hold the harvest and to raise the livestock. They halted there, sleeping under roofs for the first time since leaving the cottage.
The next morning a cheerful sun climbed its way through the sky, painting the village with golden light as they continued their westward progress cheered afresh by the warmth of Locars hospitality.
By mid-afternoon the plains gave way to a less even landscape, and on the horizon bulked a vast mountain range dark with timber. Delita and Raizen found the mountains intimidating especially when they caught sight of one of the peaks glowing a blood red in the light of the setting sun. They soon learned the mount was named Red Hill not only because of its color, but because of its grisly history.
As they sat around the campfire that evening, Kyshon explained the significance of the distant peak and the vale that surrounded it. Just like Ivalice before it was united, Ordallia was divided into three kingdoms. One night when a star shot across the sky, a prince was born to the Kingdom of Nerk. This princes name would forever echo in the land of Ordallia:
It was Prince Kamu who had the courage to unite the three kingdoms of Ordallia. It was a bloody campaign, Red Hill being the final battle...and the bloodiest.
After defeating the kingdom of Murat, Kamu marched to the vale named Newan to meet with the waiting warriors of King Kale of Roshic. Several running engagements took place between the opposing forces commencing at the opening of the vale and gradually, the army of Prince Kamu gained the advantage, forcing Kales forces further and further up the vale.
They tried to make a stand at the crest, but were defeated by the superior forces under Kamu, and fleeing up the mount, thousands were pursued and driven over the steep ridge to their deaths. The victory was so complete that none of the Roshic army that got into the upper part of the vale escaped.
It was said that the soldiers blood painted the rocks red, giving the mount its name. Even now, centuries after that battle, the stones were still covered in blood, the light of the setting sun showing its grisly radiance.
For years the path crossing Red Hill was no more than a chocobo trail twisting around the base of the notched ridge. Then a century after that fateful battle, a town was built at the foot of the mount. During construction, workers found an estimated eight-hundred skulls and other assorted human bonesthe one hundred-year-old remains of Kales defeated warriors. They buried these warriors under hundreds of tons of earth far away from the town, finally uniting them with the land they died defending.
Despite the location, the town was still built and was now a thriving community, commanding the trail that ran through the hill. They reached the townRamil, it was calledat the end of their third day out of Locar, the lights shining through the gloom, filling them all with welcomed anticipation of hot baths and wine, food and soft beds.
Ramil was a settlement of some size, commanding the approach to Red Hill. A few citizens greeted them as they entered the citys walls, always welcoming travelers to their humble town. They stabled their chocobos and went to the inn where they reserved their rooms. As in Locar, they ate and rested, quitting the town early the next day.
The innkeeper warned them that he expected to see rain fall before they crested Red Hill. Nonetheless it was a cheerful party that rode out through the western gate.
Almost immediately the road began to climb, gently at first, but then steeper, as high timber clustered ever closer on all sides until they moved along an avenue of trees and rocks. As the gradient steepened, the trail began to meander, following ridges, traversing the rising terrain in sweeping curves, the dense woodland denying sight of the way ahead so that their journeying assumed a timeless quality, confined within the walls of the forest. Ash and pine rendered the air sweet, preferable, despite the increasing chill.
Rain comes, Ramza announced. Tonight.
How do you know? Raizen looked to the expanse of sky visible between the treetops and saw only a bluish gray silvered by the sun.
Smell it, Ramza grunted and fell back into silence.
He was right for when they halted that night, pulling off the trail into a clearing ringed by looming ash, a soft drizzle began to fall, lending the campsite a misty air, waterproof cloaks appearing from saddlebags. They constructed makeshift shelters from the numerous branches lying on the ground and settled down. Building a fire was of no use so they settled with eating dried meat.
Theres another town at the crest of this rise, Ramza stated as he bit into his dried meat, then only woodland until we reach the central Ordallian plateau, at the heart of which stands the capital, Bura. From there, Zarghidas Trade City and Ivalice, is just a few days travel.
Mention of their home seemed to produce conflicting feelings in Delita, and Raizen sensed that he was torn between his desire to rule his kingdom peacefully and his disappointment that he should return at a time of strife.
Were close, Alma commented wistfully, her eyes gazing distantly to the west as if her sight could pierce through the trees to look upon her homeland. How I longed to return home!
Ramza was troubled by his sisters words. He wished he could share her happiness, watching her now as she spoke cheerfully about her home to Kyshon, who had never traveled beyond the borders of Ordallia. Nor did Raizen, as he too joined Alma and Kyshon, eager to hear more about the kingdom he would one day rule.
Its best we get some sleep.
Ramza turned, recognizing Delitas voice, and smiled thinly. This is not easy for you.
Delita snorted. Nor for you. Face it, Ramza. Were both afraid, afraid for our friends, afraid for our people, afraid
Of the unknown, Ramza finished softly then sighed. Who knows what awaits us beyond the border.
No use thinking about it. Delita stretched out as he composed himself for sleep. Lets just worry about the present. He then turned away, his back facing Ramza.
Ramza watched a moment longer before turning to regard the others. They were already asleep, prone beneath their lean-tos as the soft rain began to pour heavily. He sighed again as he listened to the rain pound endlessly on the roof of his shelter, watched as it ran down rivulets along the trees trunks, the branches sagging down heavily as if the rain placed a burden on them.
It seemed to place a burden on his heart.
The journey, for all the good he knew it did, was not easy.
The next day they traversed increasingly broken terrain, the trail dropping steeply into gullies and crossing streams beginning to swell with the threat of flooding. The timber gave way to sheer peaks that loomed about them. The rain seemed to have held off only to gain strength, for it began to lash their camp at dawn and by the time they set out it had become a downpour that masked the way ahead behind a pall of gray, driving into faces and eyes so that they rode slump-shouldered, as though driven down by the weight of liquid cascading from the sky.
Their camp that night was wet and less cheerful than usual, cold with the wind that clattered the branches of the surrounding trees. Soon after dawn they started out again, clothing clammy beneath the waterproof cloaks, the chocobos fretful at the ceaseless downpour, as the group continued their seemingly unending ascent of the heights.
It went on throughout that day and all of the next and they did not reach Falken until the middle of the third day.
The town sat precarious as an eagles nest on the very edge of the cliff, its walls seeming an extension of the rock, the trail emptying on a shelf before the gates, which stood open on a large staging area flanked by wooden buildings. Their approach had been watched and as they entered the eastern plaza, they were greeted warmly, both from the citizens of the town and the travelers who were making their way out the gates.
Once again, they ate and restedand asked townsfolk about the trading situation with Ivalice, none of the news promising than what Kyshon had already told them. However, they learned that rain had been falling for several days on the uplands, but that as best the town knew the road ahead was dry enough for safe travel, the going relatively easy after the climb.
They left Falken with the sun rising like a disk of polished silver against a sky of sparkling pure blue, the road ahead glistening in the brilliant light. The chocobos clawed feet scraped against mud and pine needles, setting a brisk pace as they drove into the great mass of trees. There was an air of mounting anticipation as they rode into the forest that spread dense all around. They were closer to the completion of their journey, Falken being the halfway point.
For two days they traversed the woodlands, encountering only two small villages akin to Locar, the villagers eager to provide what hospitality they might. At night they heard wolves howl, but the wild predators stayed clear of them, not yet driven by hunger to attack the chocobos.
On the third day the forest thinned along the banks of a river sufficiently shallow they were able to ford the stream without difficulty, the timber steadily declining thereafter in both size and density until they rode across country mostly open. Low hills bulked to the north, rising into the distance, but the road they followed ran due west, scoured by the wind that began to blow once they reached the flatlands. There were occasional falls of rain, but never enough to impede their progress and they made good time. The sun shone bright for most of the way, a welcome from the bone-numbing chill of the wind.
A day from the forest they came upon a town, walled, it now seemed, as much for defense against the elements as against invasion, and found beds for the night.
Four days later, they reached Bura.
Bura, Royal Capital of Ordallia.
It stood in defense of Ordallia, built during the time of Kamu of Nerk, after the unification of the three kingdoms. To the surprise of the vanquished, Kamu had proven as generous in victory as he was merciless in war, and Bura had grown steadily. Murat and Roshic alike had sent trusted men to participate in the councils the prince of Nerk established, their words heard and acted upon until Bura became the legitimate seat of trilateral government, a city regarded as an entity in itself, belonging to no faction, but whole in itself, the very heart of Ordallia, solid symbol of their unity.
Somewhat smaller than Lesalia, Bura was as magnificent as the Ivalician capital with its sheer stone walls that seemed to touch the sky. It was impossible to gauge the height of those walls for the stone merged, gray, with the heavens.
Unlike Lesalia where the city walls surrounded the city, a town stood outside the walls of Bura, foregoing tall wooden fences in their confidence of the capitals strength and consequent ability to protect the inhabitants from any danger.
Seeing the capital very close, Ramza and the others hurried for the open city, as rain began to pound out of a leaden sky. They headed for the tavern which doubly served as an inn.
As Kyshon booked their rooms for the nightsaying that he could get a good price for them, having connections from all over Burathe rest went into the tavern, taking a seat in the farthest corner.
The tavernfilling steadily with new patronswas alive with gossip. Since Bura was the first major city to reach from Ivaliceand it being so close to the western bordertravelers from that part of Ordallia brought news and rumors that they heard regarding their neighbor.
Ramza and Delita heard the news with a keen ear, taking each one seriously: the economy decreasing drastically from lack of trade; travelers too afraid to travel the roads; the Church having assassinated the king and placed a weak prince in his stead so that they could rule Ivalice; civil unrest. The one thing no one mentionedpresumably because it had nothing to do with themwas the Heretical Hunt. It made them wonder how Kyshon had obtained such information.
Delita was disconcerted by these rumors especially about the Church assassinating him to gain the power of the throne. If the Church was in control of Ivalice, that didnt bode well for his subjects. A lack of trade and travelers meant a stricter regime was being imposed and that probably most of the resources were going to the Heretical Hunt. Such news chafed him as he shifted in his seat restlessly.
Patience, Ramza advised him calmly, toying with a near helmet-size flagon of mulled red wine. Rushing into it would not help our people. More harm may come out of it than good.
Delita sighed, agreeing grudgingly to Ramzas logic. Again, you speak with the voice of reason. A true warrior never rushes headlong into a battle for doing so, his life would be wasted. He took a sip of his ale then asked, So, how many days is it from here to Ivalice?
Before Ramza could reply, the tavern door opened to admit a gust of wind and a band of four strangers, their identities unknown because of the dark cloaks they wore.
Refreshing weather, one of them announced cheerfully, as they removed their cloak, revealing a young woman dressed in woolen clothes. She shook dense droplets of moisture from her shoulder-length black hair and her mantle as she added, After so warm a summer.
Her comrades followed her example, shedding their cloaks, exposing their identities one by one: a hunter, a savage, and a mage. The savage then surveyed the tavern, nudging the mage when he caught sight of Ramza and the others sitting at the corner. The mage looked towards where the savage was gesturing and smiled. She called to the others and soon all four marched purposefully to where Ramzas group sat.
Ramza! Rae exclaimed, raising a hand in greeting. What a surprise to see you here! May we join your table?
Ramza nodded, motioning to some empty chairs and the four sat down onto the wood, greeting the others of Ramzas group with smiles and cheers, friends reunited in the unlikeliest of all places.
So, what brings you here to Bura, Ramza? Rae questioned. Supplies running low at the cottage? Youve gone out of your way just for supplies when you could have gotten them at Locar.
A dark cloud seemed to descend upon the group as Ramzas cheerful expression suddenly turned grim. Were not here on a pleasure trip, he replied softly and was about to explain further when Delita decided to apprise the situation himself.
We have business to take care of in Ivalice, elaborated the monarch. And after listening to all these rumors, it seems were returning at a bad time.
And youre still going? Jovet inquired mildly and Ramza and Delita nodded gravely. What sort of business do you have there? It must be very important for you to have traveled this far.
It is serious business, Ramza agreed gravely. He took a long draft of his wine before continuing: Business that concerns my ties with my homeland. Ive chosen to ignore it these past twenty years but now it has caught up with me and I must remedy it. He then repeated the news Kyshon had told them two and a half weeks ago in explanation.
Rae nodded after the telling. Weve heard of this, but Ramza, how would you save your friends? Are you not also a heretic? And with the king dead
He is not dead! Delita suddenly exclaimed, angered at the fact that such a fabrication was accepted as true.
Rae stared at him in surprise. But the rumors...
Are not true. Delita sighed, lifting his mug to finish his drink. He then bellowed over his shoulder for a refill, waiting until a serving wench arrived with a pewter jug. You should know better than to believe in rumors, he continued as the wench filled his cup, nodding thanks as she departed. The king is alive and plans on regaining his throne and fix any damage done by the Church.
Rae was amused. And how, pray tell, does he plan on regaining the throne? she asked, her tone mocking. With an army of skeletal warriors? Or perhaps zombies? She then began to laugh. Or maybe scare them to death when he arrives at the palace? Come now, Delita! The king has not been seen for at least twenty years! What makes you think that hes still alive after all the time has passed?
By that time, Raes group was chuckling with the exception of Draven at their leaders quick tongue. But Ramza and the others werent laughing, only frowning in disapproval at their friends amusement.
Because he is sitting right in front of you, Delita muttered through clenched teeth as he tried to control his anger.
That small statement caught the groups attention, ceasing all laughter. The merriment left their faces as they looked at Delita curiously. What did you say? Jovel queried, voicing the question on everyones mind.
I said he is sitting right in front of you, repeated Delita, his gaze piercing as he studied each of their faces. Seeing the doubt that were clearly writ on there, he took off one of his leather gloves and tugged free a golden band on his finger, placing it firmly in the middle of the table, motioning afterwards for the four to study it.
Rae obliged, taking the ring in her slender hands, her friends gathering around her as she turned it in her fingers. It looked to be an ordinary ring until they saw the insignia engraved on its surface: a design consisting of a central disk with seven radiating spires projecting in the manner of sunbeams.
The sunburst of Ivalice.
The royal emblem of Ivalice! Jovet gasped softly so that the other patrons would not hear. Then that means!
Delita...is the king?! her brother exclaimed as shocked as his sister.
Yes, Ramza nodded. Delita Hyral...is the missing king of Ivalice.
Interesting... Rae murmured intriguingly as she calmly returned the ring to Delita. Who would have thought that the king of Ivalice was here in Ordallia, right in front of our very eyes!
Delita placed the ring back on his finger as he stared at the four as though judging them. Finally he said, I should prefer you did not make my name public.
Very well, smiled Rae, her companions echoing their agreement. She then leaned back against her chair, folding her hands within the sleeves of her robe, her expression thoughtful. What an interesting turn of events. And dont worry, your identity is safe with usboth your identities. She smiled at Raizen knowingly before turning to Ramza.
It seems you have quite a task before you, my friend, she remarked, with only the four of you.
Five, Raizen corrected then grinned when he saw their fifth member approaching. And here he comes now.
Kyshon looked to be in good spirits, pulling a chair to the table and, like Delita before him, hollered for a drink.
So, how did the bargaining go? Alma asked a bit apprehensively. When the gambler was in such high spirits, it meant only one thing...
Kyshon smirked mischievously, waiting until a serving wenchthe same that had served Delitaarrived with a foaming mug, patting her buxom behind as she departed, before answering. I challenged the landlord to a game of dice, the stakes being that if I win, our rooms would be free.
Alma clenched her fists beneath the table. She should have seen this sooner, preferably before they had left the cottage. If there was a risk in this venture, it was bringing the gambler along. And if you lose? she asked harshly. If it werent for her clerical training, she would have throttled Kyshon a long time ago.
The dark man pantomimed surprise that such a question should be addressed him. Lose?! Kyshon exclaimed. Im hurt that you would ask such a thing, Alma. Need I remind you that I am the best gambler in Ordallia?
Best gambler? Alma growled.
Second to Ramza, of course, quickly amended the gambler. Now would you introduce me to our guests? he asked, trying to change the subject. I believe weve never met before.
Alma remained grudgingly silent as her brother made the introductions. You have powerful friends, Kyshon commented after, friends that would certainly be of help to you on your quest.
Ramza was caught off guard with that statement. I-I couldnt possibly trouble them with my problems, he stammered, unsure of how his friends would react. Besides, they probably have a task to do.
Actually, were free for the moment, Jovel replied. I wouldnt mind coming along. Im sure it would be a grand adventure! What say you, Rae? He turned towards the blue mage who had her head down in thought.
Theres only one thing I can say, she finally said as she raised her head slightly to look at Ramza.
When do we depart?
Preparations were made that very night, imperative that they set out as early as possible in the morning for their number had increased from five to nine and would make traveling a little more difficult, perhaps delaying their arrival to Zarghidas by a day or two. Securing new mountsKyshon and Alma included among themwas not hard, but establishing a reason to tell the guards at the gates of why they were entering Ivalice proved otherwise.
There were many suggestions made ranging from the purely imaginable to the more sensible. After a couple hours of debating, they finally agreed on one: they would pose as mercenaries, who have heard about a hunt for certain individuals and have decided to take part, feeling sympathy for the Ivalicians who had not succeeded for the past two decades. It wasnt so far from the truth.
After all the necessary preparations were made, they retired for the night with the intention of leaving soon after first light. Everyone slept soundly and in the morning, woke refresh, eager to set out on the last leg of their journey.
Ramza yawned and stretched as he went down to the tavern, where the party was already assembling, his appearance bringing a cheerful barrage of greetings. He joined them and they ate a hearty breakfast before adjourning to the stables where their mounts were waiting.
It was a bright morning, the sky a hard blue-gray with no hint of cloud, the early sun reflecting in the puddles dotting the cobbled yard. They drew on their cloaks and checked their animals before mounting.
They rode onto the damp plains beyond, Ramza flanked by Delita and Alma. Let us ride! he exclaimed when they had passed out of the city, urging Boco to a faster pace. The chocobo warked in reply as he obeyed, the others trying to match his pace.
Ramza grinned as he felt the wind-rush of their passage strike his face, pushing his fears behind as the excitement of the ride drove them out, filling him with a fine, wild optimism.
The road to Ivalice was marked with villages and crossroad inns that were able to accommodate the travelers, as those along the road from the cottage had been able to do so. There were no more nights spent under the stars or the trees, the weather holding good, the party able to keep pace Ramza set. Five days out from Bura, they arrived in sight of Zarghidas.
From their vantage point on a ridge overlooking the trade city, Zarghidas was spread out before them in its simplistic grandeur. The walls stood twenty feet high, massive logs settled deep in the ground beneath, carved and fire-hardened to points at their tips, walkways spanning the upper levels of the walls, connecting the watchtowers. Then there were buildingsall stone, the only wood used in construction of roofs, doors, and window shutters.
The gates were open, letting in the few merchants that had the will to continue their trade; their wagons slowly rolling through the arch as the knights on duty let them enter into the city and the land beyond.
A land full of uncertainty and fear.
A land under the tyrannical rule of the Church.
The land known as Ivalice.