Zarghidas Trade City.
A city of trade, it used to be the central trading point with Sea Gulla prominent company stationed in Ordallia whose wares were specifically sought out by the people of both countries. They sold fine silks and rare spices, expensive jewelry and excellent wines, finely honed blades and armor of superior craftsmanship that was the envy of smiths everywhere. And the best thing of all, it was affordable to all classes of people whether they be noble or commoner, mercenary or knight, there was something for everybody.
And it could all be found only in Zarghidas.
That is, until the Fifty Year War broke all ties with the city as diplomatic relations ended. Sea Gull withdrew from the market of Ivalice to become enemies with the people they once bargained with, their blades clashing against the blades they sold, their armor glinting as brightly as the armor they sold. Who would have thought that the wares they vended would one day be used against them, their makers?
Life was full of such ironies.
Such a paradox walked along the streets of Zarghidas dressed in a dark hooded cloak, his face covered in shadow so that only two strangely glowing blue eyes showed. Such eyes marked him as a member of SOLDIER in his world, but in Ivalice, he was deemed as a cursed being. None dared approach him including the Shrine Knights who had demanded his arrest several years ago in his connection with the heretic Ramza Beoulve. He had refused and the last thing the Shrine Knights saw before his gigantic sword cleaved them in two was his glowing eyes. They never expected him to wield his sword with such speed and efficiency.
The Materia Blade was strapped to his back in full view. The weapon was huge, the tip reaching to his heels and the blade wide enough to cover his back. The hilt was made of reinforced steel to handle the weight of the blade, jutting out of his right shoulder where he could easily reach it if needed. To the observer, such a burdensome weapon seemed impossible to wield. Such thoughts, however, proved fatal as he had demonstrated on those Shrine Knights.
His life was a paradox.
In his world, he had lost someone dear to him
...only to find that someone alive and well in this world.
He remembered his first encounter with the flower girl. It was when he had first come to Zarghidas, searching for the Promised Land. The voice in his head told him that it was near. He had been so intent in his search that he didnt notice the flower girl until she spoke to him, asking if he would like to buy a flower for one gil.
The resemblance was uncanny! He had been so shocked that he had been rendered speechless, only staring wide-eyed at the girl before him. Aeris! his heart had cried out but when the flower girl asked what was wrong and if she resembled someone, he knew that this wasnt his Aeris. His heart fell, reverting back to his cold self, answering curtly to her questions before walking away.
He did not go far for he heard the sounds of jeering men and the flower girls pleading voice. He turned to see a group of thugs surrounded the flower girl, laughing as their leader held her by the collar of her dress.
Something snapped in Cloud then. He ran to her rescue, knocking the leader to the ground, ordering the flower girl to run afterwards. She quickly fled the scene, leaving the stranger alone to fight the gang of ruffians. Cloud was eager for a fight but he was unarmed in a strange world. Ramza, however, had arrived in time to save him. He was not used to being rescued, but it was his arrival that turned the odds in his favor. After the battle, Ramza had offered to return him to his world. Before replying, he had looked around to see if the flower girl was around, wanting to speak with her, but she was gone. He then had accepteded Ramzas offer, thinking that there was nothing for him here.
But during his journey with the blonde-haired youth, his thoughts kept going back to Zarghidas and to the flower girl. She consumed his thoughts like the fire that had burned his hometown. He had wondered if fate had brought him here to meet this worlds Aeris, to give him a second chance to make things right where everything in the old world had gone wrong.
After the battle with Altima, Ramza had again offered to return him home in gratitude for his help, but this time, Cloud had refused saying that he would rather stay here than return to a world where he had nothing. In Ivalice, he had found what he had been searching for all this time, and it wasnt the Promised Land.
He had been looking for Aeris.
You are perfect for each other! Aeris's star and Cloud's star! They show a great future!
A prediction a friend in his world had made echoed in his mind. It had truly come to pass for the future had been bright. The years following the Lion War were ones of profound peace and happiness he never thought was possible in his life. He had always been a fighter, a proud member of SOLDIER, elite warriors in his world. The notion of peace was quite foreign to him, as he was a stranger in a foreign land, but he learned to adapt to both things and life in Ivalice was goodbetter than what his life used to be.
That is, until the Church came hunting for him along with the others who had followed Ramza during the war.
To keep Aeris safe from the Church, he had to disappear from her life, but he had promised that he would return when everything was back to normal. It had been fifteen years since he had made that promise and yet there was no change in sight. He did not go into hiding like the others, but stayed within the shadows of the trade city, drifting from place to place, visiting the flower girl once in a while to check up on her and to give her a pouch of gil that he had obtained by chance before disappearing again.
Cloud continued to wander the streets, the shadows lengthening as the sun sank to the west. The evening was chill, the wind sweeping from the north, as stars began to dot the twilight sky. Shops closed for the day as taverns began to fill with patrons eager for some drink after the long day, the streets emptying as night fell upon them.
He emerged from an alley, some nearby people scurrying at his sudden appearance, to continue on to the next street but paused when he heard an interesting conversation taking place at the nearby eastern gate.
Mercenaries, huh? Thats a first. Im assuming that youre here for the Heretical Hunt then.
Of course. Why wouldnt we be?
That caught Clouds attention. He knew of merchants and travelers visiting from Ordallia, but mercenaries? He found that strange and amusing at the same time. It showed how pathetic Ivalicians were to attract Ordallian mercenaries to do their hunt for them. Intrigued, he stepped back into the alley, eavesdropping on the rest of the conversation.
You know, if we still had our pride, we wouldnt let you in, but any help is greatly appreciated to end this hunt quickly so we can go back to our old lives instead of being stuck on guard duty all year round. Its beneath our dignity!
Cloud snickered, Its beneath your dignity to allow Ordallians to do your dirty work.
Rest assure, you will return to your normal lives soon, within a year perhaps. We dont plan on staying here long.
Cloud didnt like the way the mercenary spoke. His voice was full of confidence with no hint of doubt, as if he believed he and his band would capture them. Such faith could prove dangerous to Cloud and the others for he learned that through faith, all things are possible. Having heard enough, Cloud quickly left the alley, as the guard at the gate said:
Then enter and welcome, friends.
Little did Cloud know, fate was about to throw him another twist
For a moment there, I thought they wouldnt let us through. Ramza savored the Ivalician cider they had been served, reminiscing in its bittersweet taste. He thought he would never taste such drink again, realizing that he had truly missed home. Im glad weve entered with no trouble.
The group of nine sat in the farthest corner of the tavern, alone, as if some invisible perimeter separated them from the taverns other patrons. Delita knew that they were unwanted, seeing their wary stares as they talked quietly to themselves. He supposed they looked a suspicious lot especially when traveling with a grizzled old man clothed in wolfs fur.
Delita said, Yes, and I must thank you for bringing us this far. My son and I will depart for Lesalia on the morrow. I wish you luck on your quest and perhaps we shall meet again.
Youre crazy. Kyshon shuffled a deck of cards as was his habit. Do you think they will accept a king who has been considered dead for twenty years? Despite the fact that you have the royal signet, they may blame you for killing the king, stealing the ring from him before dumping the body. Such stories are possible.
He has a point, Delita. Alma whispered his name softly, careful of the other patrons prying eyes and ears. The Church may be looking for a scapegoat to pacify the peoples hostility towards them.
And Ill be perfect for the role, Delita admitted grudgingly as he rubbed his beard in thought. Then what do you suggest we do?
Alma shrugged and said, I dont know. Why dont you ask my brother? Isnt he the presumed leader of this group?
Delita acknowledged Ramzas leadership with a nod. Yes, of course. He has led us this far, right? He then turned to their leader, who was clearly enjoying his cup of cider, shouting for a refill when he was done. What do you suggest we do, leader?
Ramza waited until the serving wench who brought his cider was gone before replying, I would like us to gather information first of what is truly happening here in Ivalice and plan accordingly. As I have told you, Delita, we must exercise patience if we are to help our people.
True, Delita had agreed to Ramzas advice back in Bura, but now that they were in Ivalice, he could not help but feel as if any further delay would bring more suffering to his people. He opened his mouth to protest but then felt a hand on his shoulder.
Listen to Ramza, father, Raizen advised as Delita turned to him. I believe he knows whats best.
Delita stared at his son for a moment, seeing the resolve reflected in his eyes. He was so much like Ovelia that he wondered if his dead wife spoke to him through their son. Very well, he whispered in reluctance as he again turned back to Ramza. So, we are free to explore the city tomorrow, I take it.
Yes, nodded Ramza. Hopefully, we can get a pretty good picture of what has been taking place during our absence. Agreed?
Agreed! the others echoed, a bit too loudly it seems as it attracted annoyed stares from some of the patrons, but they did not seem to notice as they called for food and drink to be brought, cheered by the fact that they had finally reached Ivalice, the first step of their quest taken...
and on the morrow, they shall take another.
A cool breeze blew over the slums of Zarghidas as the sun began to rise, marking the start of a new day. The breeze blew through the open windows of any houses it passed, awakening those within before moving on as an ethereal being with a mission. However, it seemed to linger long in one particular house.
It wafted over the neat flowerbed at the side of the home, colorful petals gently swaying in its wake as it made its way to a curtained window, the drapes gently caressing the face of the woman asleep on the bed. She groaned as she turned away from the drapes and the breeze, clutching her blanket tighter about her. The breeze blew again, stronger, determined to awaken the woman before moving on to the next house. After another groan, she turned on her back, her eyes blinking open.
It took her only a moment to get back her orientation. Morning sunlight filtered through the lone curtained window, warming her face, dispelling the cold brought in by the breeze. With a sigh, the woman pushed back the covers and rose from her bed. She threw the curtains open, allowing the sunlight to fully enter her room, as she greeted the new day with a smile.
With that done, she went to her wardrobe and withdrew a long pink dress and a short red jacket. In the past, she had worn a green and white dressthe only clothing she owed. She couldnt afford to buy new dresses for all the money she earned went to paying debts. But all that had changed twenty years ago.
Her knight in shining armor that she had always prayed for had finally come to her rescue. It was then that things started to get better. Her knight had rescued her and her mother from poverty by providing them the gil he earned as a mercenary at the local soldier office. They were now able to buy better food, new clothes, and furnishings for their otherwise dull home. The pink dress and red jacket were one of the things she first bought with the gil. Her rescuer seemed pleased with the choice of clothing when she showed it to him, remembering his comment on how the dress brought out the color of her eyes.
Happily humming to herself, she donned her dress, finishing her outfit with a pair of brown bootsones she bought to replace her shoes whose soles were worn down. After dressing, she busied herself with the task of brushing her long hair of chestnut brown, tying it back with a pink ribbon.
Finished dressing, she left her room still happily humming to herself.
A slightly plump middle-aged woman moved about the common room, setting up plates on the table as she got breakfast ready. Good morning, Aeris! she greeted merrily as she saw her daughter step out of her room.
Good morning! Aeris returned with as much good cheer as she took a seat at the table.
Going out today? Aeris mother asked as she brought a plate of toast and a pitcher of hot tea, placing them on the table before joining her daughter for breakfast.
Aeris nodded as she poured herself a cup of tea, taking a slice of bread afterwards and spreading it with jam. Im going to sell some flowers, she replied before taking a bite. Why? Do you have any errands for me, mom?
Her mother shook her head, her gray-streaked brown curls quivering somewhat at the movement. No. I just want you to be careful. People become desperate in times of despair. They may try to take advantage of you to get to Cloud.
Dont worry, mom, Aeris whispered comfortingly as she took her mothers hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Ill be careful. Im still here, right?
Yes, her mother whispered then stronger with conviction, Yes, youre right. She then patted her daughters hand. You were always a headstrong girl. Thats whats special about you. Done, dear? she asked afterwards when Aeris stood up from the table.
Yes. Im going to water the flowers before I go, Aeris replied then added with a smile, Ill be back before sunset. You can be sure of it, before taking her leave of the house.
A figure sat on a nearby rooftop, leaning casually on one leg that was propped up while the other dangled over the edge, watching as Aeris exited her home and happily watered her flowers. Afterwards, she began picking those in full bloom, arranging them neatly in a woven basket. After a final farewell to her mother, Aeris left for the streets.
The figure followed the young woman, ensuring her safety, making sure she would hold to the promise she had made to her mother.
Ramza and his companions enjoyed a light breakfast before breaking off into pairs to explore the city and gather any information pertaining to their own hunt. I want everyone to be back here before sunset, Ramza had instructed them as they had left the inn. And try to keep yourselves out of trouble. We dont want to attract attention to ourselves.
Now he walked along the streets located in the slums of Zarghidas accompanied by his sister. Stay close to me Alma, he told her as they turned into a dark alley. The slums is an unkind place for the likes of us.
Then what are we doing here then? his sister questioned as she looked about apprehensively, expecting a thief to jump out from the shadows, demanding their purses at knife point.
I have a friend here, Ramza replied as they left the alley and turned into another street. I plan on seeking him out and ask for his aid.
Do you know where to find this friend of yours? Alma asked as they passed an alley mouth where she caught sight of an unkempt man sitting on a barrel, toying with a knife as he leered at her, exposing several missing teeth. Alma shuddered as she ran to catch up with her brother who had walked on, into a street corner where a woman dressed in red and pink was selling flowers.
Would you like a flower? It's only one gil, she called to passersby, holding said item in one hand while the other held her basket. Buy a flower? Only one gil.
Alma felt sorry for the poor woman as people walked by with not so much as a glance. Her earlier question to her brother was quickly forgotten as she wondered if they could make a brief stop to buy a flower or two from the woman. She was about to make the suggestion to her brother but was suddenly shocked into silence when she saw him pull out a couple of gil from his pocket.
Ill buy the lot, Ramza offered to the flower girl, his generosity surprising his sister.
The flower girls face lit up. Youre too kind, sir! she exclaimed. Lets see here her voice trailed off as she began counting the flowers in her basket.
Unbeknownst to the trio, a dark figure lurked within a nearby passage, watching them carefully. Upon hearing the buyers voice, he immediately became alert, recognizing the voice as belonging to the mercenary that had spoken with the guards last night. Cloud studied the mercenary and his female companion closely as they waited patiently for Aeris to finish counting her flowers.
The mercenarys female companion wore a leather vest over a knee-length tunic sashed at the waist followed by loose fitting black pants that disappeared into tall boots. Her golden hair was drawn back from a beautiful face, fastened with a twist of green ribbonthe same color as her eyesso that it hung in a thick tail at the nape of her slender neck. For some unknown reason, Cloud felt that she looked out of place in such clothing, thinking she would look better in a dress or a robe.
The mercenary, on the other hand, looked the part. He was of average height with light blonde hair that cascaded slightly past his broad shoulders which were defined by the white cape he wore. His stance stretched the fine linen shirt he wore tight across a hard-muscled chest. Trousers of soft brown fit loose on his legs followed by the high boots upon his feet. He then studied his face, seeing wide-set eyes, a firm nose, and a short beard surrounding a mouth parted in a smile that revealed even white teeth in a powerful jaw. He radiated confidence, the hint of benevolence in his eyes oddly familiar.
That would be twenty-five gil, sir, Cloud heard Aeris inform the mercenary when she was done counting the flowers.
Cloud watched as the mercenary counted the gil in his hand. Heres fifty gil, miss, he said as he handed her double the price, which surprised the flower girl.
No, sir! she gasped. I could not accept such a generous fee!
The mercenary smiled reassuringly. Then take it as payment for the flowers and for some information.
I-Information? the flower girl queried a bit cautiously.
Yes, the mercenary nodded. You see, I am looking for a friend of mine that lives in these slums. Perhaps you have seen him. Hes a bit taller than me with spiky yellow hair, carrying a huge sword whose blade is as wide as his back where he keeps it strapped
The description filled the flower girl with renewed terror that she found difficult to conceal. She thought that the Church and the mercenaries had given up on capturing Cloud, who she had no doubt that this person was describing. Who else carried a sword whose blade matched the description the stranger gave?
Miss? Miss, are you all right? she heard the stranger ask. Youre gone all pale.
The flower girl forced her mouth to parody a weak smile and mumbled, Youre too kind, sir. I just fear for your safety for the man you have described is a criminal of the Church. Its best that you break your ties of friendship with him unless you also want to be hunted.
The stranger shook his head. Then I cannot truly call myself a friend if I abandon him. I owe him a debt of gratitude for his help in past affairs that I intend to repay. He then gave the flower girl the fifty gil and said, Please, take the payment as a sign of thanks. Well be on our way now.
The flower girl reluctantly took the payment, giving her flowers in exchange. She watched as the stranger and his female companion left and could not help but wonder why the stranger had called Cloud a friend. She doubt that it was a lie for the man sounded genuine and there was an air about him that she found comforting.
Who was he?
Thats what Cloud wanted to find out as he followed the couple through the streets of the slums, and soon, the city proper, which were beginning to crowd as the day progressed, making it harder for him to keep a close eye on his quarry. He began to shove individuals out of the way, watching as the couple turned into a side alley, where he soon confronted them.
Using a pile of crates stacked up against a house, he jumped onto the roof, planning on following the strangers from above. He ran ahead of them and when they were about to leave the passageway, he jumped down, blocking their path.
The mercenary, out of habit, quickly drew his sword as he pushed his female companion protectively behind him. Who are you? he demanded the dark cloaked figure that stood in their path.
Funny, the figure began in a somewhat mocking tone, I was about to ask the same of you. I heard you were looking for me. He then removed the cowl of his cloak, revealing a crown full of spiky yellow hair and blue eyes that glowed strangely.
Cloud! the mercenary gasped in recognition.
Cloud nodded. That is my name. And who are you, you who call me friend for Ive never seen you before in my life, yet there is something about you I find familiar.
That is good to know, the mercenary smiled as he sheathed his sword. It is not safe to say my name here. Is there a place where we can talk privately?
This is as private as any, Cloud replied, turning his head to glower at some folks passing by, who shuffled away quickly. He then turned back to the mercenary adding, The people are afraid of me and avoid me whenever possible. Whatever you say here will not be heard by the townsfolk. Now quit stalling and tell me who you are!
The mercenary closed his eyes as he sighed. Very well, he conceded, his eyes opening to gaze at Cloud. Before we parted twenty years ago, I gave you four orbs called materia as a gift and a sign of our friendship. Do you still have those orbs, Cloud?
Cloud remained silent as he stared at the mercenaryOrdallian mercenaryin confusion. How could an Ordallian know of such details? Only those he had journeyed with know that he possessed the magic orbs of Salonia. So, how could an Ordallian know unless
A smirk graced his lips. A friend who owes me a debt of gratitude for my help in past affairs, he mumbled, repeating what he had heard in the conversation between Aeris and the mercenary. Id never thought to see you again Ramza.
And I you, Ramza agreed, returning Clouds smirk with a grin of his own before motioning to his female companion to come forward. You know my sister, Alma?
Cloud nodded as he politely greeted Alma, knowing now why he felt that she looked out of place. After their brief reunion, Cloud again looked at Ramza, his smile gone now as he stared at his friend gravely. I have a guess as to why you were looking for me, he began. There is a lot to tell, Ramzaand a lot to do. And we need to discuss this in a more subtle environment.
Yes, Ramza concurred. Name the time and place and I shall be there.
Tonight in the slums, at the street where I joined you in your quest. Its better that you come alone. Cloud smiled apologetically at Alma then turned to Ramza when he said, I do not plan on taking Alma with me, but another in my group. He would like to know what has been happening during his absence from Ivalice.
Cloud looked questioningly at Ramza. How many of you are there? he asked curiously.
Nine, including myself. Most of them are friends I made while living in Ordallia.
And this friend of yours youre bringing ? The spiky-haired foreigner looked at the Ordallian mercenary in askance.
Youll meet him soon enough, Ramza replied reassuringly.
Seeing that he wont receive a clear answer, Cloud reluctantly nodded. All right then, he said as he raised the cowl of his cloak over his head, covering his face in shadow. I think its time we part before people start getting suspicious and I dont want them to start hunting after you. It will defeat the purpose of you coming here.
Ramza knew that Cloud was right. If hetheywere caught now, then therell be no hope for his friends, for the people of Ivalice. They would perish and the people subjected under Church rule as was their goal during the Lion War. I wont let that happen, he thought determinedly, nodding at Cloud saying, All right. Then well see you tonight.
Cloud returned the nod before walking away, leaving the siblings alone in the alley. They watched as the SOLDIER from another world disappeared into the crowd, his huge blade glinting in the afternoon sun, before setting out for the inn.
A waning moon hung like a crescent of ice over Zarghidas as two figures gradually made their way into the citys slums, honoring their appointment with Cloud. A lonely wind moaned through empty streets, as if mourning for the two figures who were about to learn some dreadful news from their friend. After a few more turns traversing the streets, both individuals finally reached the assigned location.
Ramza looked around apprehensively. The place was empty. Were they early or did Cloud lie to him?
So, wheres this friend of yours? his companion questioned him, gazing at the shadows uneasily, his hand automatically touching the hilt of his sword, wary of a possible trap. It felt like they were being watched.
Indeed, they were.
Two eerily glowing eyes watched the two men from the darkness of a nearby passage, observing their apprehension as they searched for him. Cloud did not allow himself to be seen as he studied the companion Ramza brought with him. He trusted Ramza, there was no doubt about that, but he could not find himself to trust the other.
Ramzas companion was of the same height as his friend, but slightly bulkier, dressed more ruggedly in leathers, armed with a sheathed longsword. Long dark hair flowed down to his shoulders, but unlike Ramza, his was tied up to a tail. And unlike Ramza, the stranger sported a thick beard that seemed to cover the bottom half of his face, making it difficult for Cloud to read his expression.
I dont know, he heard Ramza reply, who felt no less uneasy as his friend. I think were early.
Cloud heard the doubt in his voice, watching as the stranger clutched his sword in response. It seemed that the stranger feared that they had been led to a trap. He allayed such fear as he made his presence known, walking out of the shadows.
The stranger immediately drew his sword when he saw Cloud step into the dim-lit street and nearly pierced him through if it werent for Ramzas shout then: Halt, Delita!
Though his hood covered his features, Cloud stared at the stranger in disbelief. Did he hear Ramza right? Was this bushy bearded man the King of Ivalice himself?!
Delita halted his charge, staring incredulously at Ramza, prompting him to explain. Hes the friend Ive told you about, he informed Delita.
Youre sure? questioned Delita doubtingly. You cant even see his face.
As Ramza was about to reply, Cloud answered for him: Ramza speaks the truth. My name is Cloud and are, too, a heretic though the Church gave up on the hunt for me a long time ago. He patted the hilt of his sword, as if that explained the reason. Ramza has told me that he wishes to know what has been happening in Ivalice during his absence. He has also told me that he has a friend that would like to know what has been happening during his absence. I see now who and why. Ill explain everything, but not out here.
Then where? Delita asked suspiciously, his sword still brandished. For all the things Cloud has said, he still could not bring himself to trust the cloaked man.
If Cloud gave notice to Delitas slight hostility towards him, he did not show it as he replied calmly, An abandoned hospital near here. Follow me. He turned and walked away, not looking back, assuming that the two men would follow.
Ramza placed a hand on Delitas shoulder, staring briefly at his friend before walking pass to follow Cloud. In that silent gesture, Ramza was saying that everything will turn out right, that they could trust Cloud. Having nothing to loseexcept perhaps his lifeDelita sighed, sheathing his sword as he trotted after the two men.
They reached an intersectionone leading to a church and the other leading to what seemed to be a dead end. Again, Delita became wary as they turned, not towards the church, but towards the dead end. It was a perfect place for an ambush, the darkness providing the necessary cover needed to hide their assailants, the place isolated that their dying screams would go unheard. He fingered the hilt of his sword, his eyes darting about as they made their way through the street...
that ended at a decrepit building.
Delita stared pensively at the decaying building, its stone walls riddled with cracks, its glass windows shattered. A wooden plank that hung above the door creaked, swaying in a cold breeze, the sign faded to obscurity.
The door groaned as Cloud pushed it open and entered, followed by his two guests. The place was more akin to an abandoned warehouse than a hospital. The floor was compact stone, its only covering the blankets strewn carelessly about. Along two walls there were windows cut and set high. In the middle of the room was a table surrounded by small crates that served as chairs. Delita wrinkled his nose in disgust at such terrible living conditions.
I know its a bit rundown, but its home, Cloud stated as he lit a small lamp sitting on the table. After, he threw back his hood, letting Delita have a good look at him for the first time. Youll take brandy? their host asked them as they sat on the crates, rummaging through a small cabinet that used to hold medical supplies.
Delita shook his head, fingers drumming impatiently on the hilt of his sword. Ramza said, A cup sounds fine. He smiled his thanks as Cloud passed him the cup.
Now that we are here, Cloud, Delitas voice was soft, almost threatening. Despite the fact that they had arrived at their location safely, he still could not bring himself to trust the spiky-haired, blue-eyed man. Do you tell us of the situation?
Where do you want me to start? Cloud asked before taking a measure of his brandy.
From the beginning, Delita replied gruffly. What happened in Ivalice after my disappearance?
Well... Cloud began as he went into a full account of the past twenty years starting with the riots that occurred throughout the continent with Delitas disappearance. He studied their faces as he continued on with the trial that started Ivalices downfall to its current state, seeing lamplight pooling shadow beneath eyes hooded with worry and grief. Unlike the reports they heard in Ordallia, Clouds account was much more detailedand much more unsettling.
So much has happened murmured Ramza when Cloud was finished recounting recent events. Olan and Meliadoul murdered, Agrias imprisoned, and the others
Alive, Delita said, and thats what matters.
Ramza nodded. But what of Agrias?
The question was aimed at Cloud who shrugged and said, We dont know where she is. After the others found Fort Zeakden empty, they lost track of her. She could be anywhere in Ivalice or He shook his head, afraid to voice the other possibility lest it came true.
He knew Agrias to be a seasoned warrior and a spirited woman who would not so easily succumb to pain and defeat. She was as strong as the tree her family was named for, but just as a tree could fall to the blow of an axe, so too could a persons spirit. She had been a prisoner of the Church for a while now. How many more blows would it take to make her fall or had she fallen already?
She is alive, Ramza declared, as if in answer to Clouds question. We will find her and rescue her, but first we must reunite with the others.
If that is your decision, Cloud said, then I shall take you to them.
Ramza smiled. Thank you, Cloud.
But Cloud did not return the smile. This is not an easy thing for me, he said grimly, taking a sip of his brandy before continuing. I need to ask you a favor, Ramza, if I am to travel with you.
Name it, granted Ramza, sensing the gravity of this favor.
When I joined you on your journey those years ago, Cloud began, I joined because you offered to return me home. Since I had nothing in this world then, I accepted. Later, I realized that I did have something.
The flower girl. Ramza had a feeling he knew where this was leading.
Yes, Cloud nodded, the flower girl. I think its time that you learn a bit about my past, Ramzahe turned to look at Delitaand you too, your highness. Delita frowned at the title, uncomfortable of being addressed in such manner.
If Cloud saw his discomfiture, he showed no sign of it as he continued: You see, in my world there was a flower girl named Aeris, who I deeply cared for, but she died before I could say anything to her. Ramza saw the pain in his eyes as he relived his past. I could only watch helplessly as she was pierced through with a sword...
Delita sympathized with Cloud, having experienced that same feeling before as he watched his sister get shot by an arrow.
The memory must have been too much for Cloud, taking a long draft of his drink as he tried to recompose himself. After a few moments, he was able to continue: When I came to this world, I was shocked to meet a flower girl who looked exactly like Aeris. Ironically, this flower girl is also called Aeris. During my journey with you, Ramza, I wondered if I had come to this world by chance or by fate. I found the answer shortly after our victory over Altima. I may have failed the Aeris in my world, but I promised myself that I would not fail the Aeris in this one.
Thats why you stayed, Ramza said finally understanding. He had always been puzzled on why Cloud had refused to return home.
Cloud nodded. Now comes my request. I want Aeris and her mother to come along with us. Please, hear me out, he said when Ramza was about to reply. The people know their connection with me and I do not feel it safe if they are to remain here without me looking after them. The townsfolk may take advantage of my absence. Cloud sighed. I can never forgive myself if anything happens to them.
Before Ramza could give the request any thought, Delita spoke: Of course, they may come.
Are you sure about this, Delita? Ramza looked at him in uncertainty. It will be a difficult journey and I cannot ensure their safety.
Dont you think that their life has been a difficult journey, Ramza? argued the monarch. They work hard to earn a living while nobles, he didnt say you nobles, detaching Ramza from that particular class, live easily. That itself is difficult. If they endured that much hardship, then they can endure the hardship on the road.
And I do not wish Cloud to experience that same feeling of helplessness again, he thought sadly to himself.
Ramza saw the thought clearly in Delitas eyes and could not argue against it. Teta was like a sister to him as Delita was a brother and he too felt as helpless as him when he saw that arrow struck her in the heart. He didnt want that for Cloud or for anyone. No one should suffer on their behalf.
Ramza came to a decision then. Your request is granted, Cloud. They are welcomed to join us.
Now it was Clouds turn to smile. Thank you, Ramza. You dont know how much this means to me.
Im glad thats over, Delita put in. So, how do we go about this? Does this flower girl and her mother need any time to prepare for the journey? And what about you? How can you get out of the city without being caught by the guards at the gate?
Cloud smirked, his eyes flashing mischievously. Leave everything to me. Theres a cluster of boulders at the base of a lone tree just a few yards from the citys walls. Meet us there three days from now. From there Ill lead you to the others.
True to his word, Ramza and the others found Cloud and the two women waiting for them at the designated place three days later.
It was a blustery morning, the wind gusting steadily over the plain. To the south, it was clear, the peaks of the oldest mountains on the continent, which included Germinas Peak, could be seen like giant sentinels guarding the way to Limberry. To the north, towards Zeltennia Castletheir next stopdark clouds gathered promising rain before nightfall. Hopefully theyll reach the city before then, warm and dry, enjoying a hot meal with a roof above their heads.
After a heartfelt greeting and a quick introduction, the group began to head out and as the rising sun promised a new day to the world, so too did their journey promise a new beginning to Ivalice.