Legacy of Honor Chapter 8
It was once a small village that had welcomed travelers on their way to Riovanes Castle. There were many feasts as the villagers happily entertained their guests with song and dance...
The Galthanas family, the head of the village, dazzled their visitors with their amazing tricks of manipulating nature. They would make fire dance, the wind blow, the sky glow with lightning, and water to flow from absolutely anywhere. But seldom did their guests know that it was part of their special skills that their family knows...
During the Fifty Year War, the village saw fewer travelers but they did not deny shelter to those who were brave enough to traverse the roads. Despite the grim circumstances surrounding the war, they happily served their visitors.
One of these visitors was Grand Duke Gelkanis Barinten.
The grand duke had watched in fascination as the Galthanas family performed one of their many shows captivating the crowd with their tricks. Barinten was amazed and wished to know more about the family and the magic they performed. He soon found out that there was more to their magic than what it seems...
Barinten craved their power, their skill. He went to the family elder, offering a huge amount of gil for their services, deeming their skills to be a valuable asset in his army. However, the family elder refused.
Furious, Barinten felt that if he could not possessed them, then no one will. Two days after his fated meeting with the elder, Riovanes soldiers invaded the peaceful village. Men and women screamed and children wailed as knights struck them down like animals. Archers set fire to the buildings with their flaming arrows, intent on burning down the village.
The Galthanas tried everything in their power to stop the burning of their village but they were doomed to die along with their home...
Those who managed to escape ran to the nearby mountains for safety. Those who were left behind were either killed by sword or burned to death. The soldiers were very thorough in their work, leaving no survivors.
After they were done with their terrible deed, they left taking any spoils they could find in the poor village. Only the burnt skeletal remains of houses and the numerous dead bodies that littered the paths were all that was left of the once joyful village.
Years passed since that fateful day...
Soon after the Lion War was over, two survivors returned to the ruined village in hopes of rebuilding it for it was their home. But they would not rebuild it at the same site as the old. It was the greed of their skills that brought ruin to their village and yet it was their fault for displaying such skills to strangers.
They would not make the same mistake. The village would be rebuilt but hidden deep within the Fovoham Province where they could live in seclusion to safeguard their special skills that their family had honed for many generations: the Heaven and Hell skills.
Rafa and Malak, the last practitioners of these skills, decided to look towards the mountains for refuge, to look for those they had seen escaping on that day. Perhaps they were still alive scattered throughout the foothills. Or perhaps they had banded together and were now living under the shadow of the mountains. Whatever the case may be, their village will prosper once again.
And it had prospered for the past five years.
The siblings had discovered their people living together spread out along a shallow valley that cradled a wide, slow-running river, the water clear between the grassy banks. Lush meadows lay all around, and the valley walls heavily timbered, the woods and the grass rich with game.
They had also discovered that the lifestyle of their people had drastically changed.
As they had first come down the valleys eastern entrance, they had seen the lodges of their people spread before them. These lodges, however, were not made of stone and wood as in the previous village, but of poles and behemoth hides.
At first, they had thought that they had stumbled upon a hidden village but as they entered, they knew that they were home. One of the villagers that guarded the entrance to the valley immediately recognized the siblings. He took a bugle of bull demon horn that he held and blew a clarion call that had the entire village thundering to greet them.
Rafa and Malak were overwhelmed by the welcome but glad to be among their people once again. Later, they had learned of how one of the refugees from the attack had stumbled upon the valley. Seeing that it was a perfect place to live, he had gathered the survivors he could find and brought them to the valley where they had been living since.
A good place, an elderly man, the assumed chief of the village, stated. Far from curious eyes and sharp swords. A place where we can live in harmony with nature, to the rhythm of the seasons, as our ancestors.
A year later, the old man died and Malak took the mantle of leadership, the village continuing to thrive under his guidance through the years...
Malak pushed aside the flap of his lodge, bow in hand, a quiver of arrows slung behind his back, and a small knife at his hip. He stepped out into the morning sunlight ready to begin the days hunt for game. Rafa emerged from the lodge a minute later carrying a woven basket.
Be careful, brother, the Heaven Knight advised worriedly as Malak was about to join the others that had gathered in the middle of the camp. I dont want to see you arrive on a stretcher like the last time.
Malak shrugged as he said nonchalantly, I was being careless. This time, however, Ill be ready. He then turned his head towards his sister and grinned. Dont worry, he added comfortingly. Just be prepared to cook a big feast when we return.
Im looking forward to it, Rafa smiled as she nodded then added sarcastically under her breath as her brother left, I just hope that whatever you catch is big enough for the both of us...
She shook her head at the thought before joining some women that were moving industriously amidst thickets heavy with red berries, plucking the fruit to deposit in woven baskets similar to hers.
Several eyes watched from the trunks of the surrounding trees as a pride of red panthers feasted on two yellow chocobos and one red chocobo they had caught on their hunt. They seemed oblivious to the men hidden in the foliage intent on devouring their meal in huge bites.
Malak silently nocked an arrow to the string of his bow. He then raised the weapon, pulling the string back, sighting down the shaft, aiming towards the nearest panther. He waited patiently for the right moment, unawares of the others readying their weapons as well. His breathing slowed sensing that the right time approached.
The Hell Knight was about to release the arrow with his next breath but the mountains suddenly echoed with the low baying of a behemoth horn. A flock of birds that were crooning on the branches of nearby trees took to the skies as the pride of panthers quickly abandoned their meal dashing for the safety of the mountains.
Malak cursed as he lowered his bow, angry that someone would blow their horn. But anger became concern as several others answered the first horn. That only meant one thing...
He hurried through the brush, intent on reaching the village as soon as possible. Branches snatched at his tunic, twigs slapped his face, sticks snapped beneath his feet. Despite these obstacles, he pushed onward. He was not the only one, however, focused on reaching the village.
The rest of the hunting party also rushed through the forest upon hearing the calls of the horns for it meant danger was approaching.
But what sort of danger?, Malak wondered as he urged his body to move faster. One thing is for certain; he would try to prevent another tragedy from happening again.
Rafa stood in the middle of the village where everyone gathered to listen to the runner, who came down from the mountains to relay what he and the others saw while patrolling. The news of a group of people wandering through the forests and rocks set the villagers on edge.
We have to scare them away before they get any closer to this valley! one suggested loudly. What if theyre scouts sent from Riovanes?! The rest of the villagers shouted their agreement.
Rafa remained calm as the shouting rose to a crescendo. She knew they were right about scaring these strangers away but whom would she send? She then realized that it had become quiet and looked up to see that the villagers were waiting upon her word. There were times she wished her brother were present to handle these sorts of decisions.
These were one of these times.
What should we do? someone urged her from deep within the crowd. Shouts rose again, demanding the Heaven Knight to take some form of action before it was too late.
Rafa sighed as she raised her hands to quell the impatient crowd. The hubbub soon died, the villagers becoming attentive. She was about to say something in response to their demand but was suddenly interrupted by another shout.
Rafa! someone called out to her.
She turned to see her brother running towards her with a worried expression across his tired features followed by those who accompanied him. Malak! she returned in relief, glad to see him safe.
Whats happened? her brother asked urgently. We heard the horns blaring warning us of danger.
Rafa turned towards the runner and said, I think its best you explain it to them. The runner agreed repeating everything he had told Rafa and the villagers.
After everything was explained, Malak nodded. Rafa could see that he was deep in thought. All right, he said softly after a moment. This is what we should do...
The Hell Knight instructed that he and the hunters would go out and confront the approaching party since they were already armed. The rest he urged to be prepared to defend the camp if worse comes to worst.
Rafa was proud of him, for the constraint he showed as he organized both the assault and the running of the camp in his absence, which he charged her for that task. Her brother counseled her, entrusting her with holding the villagers in order and to prepare against the probability to defend themselves.
Im depending on you, Rafa, Malak said as his group prepared to leave. He leaned against his Octagon Rod, the weapon he favored, abandoning his bow and arrows but keeping the small knife still belted to his hip.
I know, her sister nodded. Be safe!
Malak nodded and they were gone, the runner quickly leading the group.
Orlandu, stop! Mustadio shouted in protest. Father needs to rest.
Besrodio leaned heavily on his son grimacing, his sore legs throbbing dully. Im fine, Mustadio, he objected stubbornly. I dont want to hold the group behind on my behalf.
Then you should at least ride one of the chocobos if you dont want to hold the group back, the Engineer argued. Why must you be so stubborn at times?
You know how I feel about those birds, Besrodio reasoned.
Mustadio was about to argue his fathers reason but was suddenly interrupted by Orlandu announcing that they should rest.
So the two of you would stop bickering, the old knight added simply. Your voices could have attracted the attention of a small army.
However, as soon as he spoke, they found themselves suddenly surrounded by tan-skinned men aiming their arrows at them. The group stood absolutely still, not wanting to provoke them to fire.
What you said, Orlandu, is quite true! a loud voice boomed. The group looked towards the sound of the voice to see it belonged to none other than Malak Galthana.
The Hell Knight was squatting on a huge boulder holding his Octagon Rod horizontally in front of him in both hands, wearing a huge grin on his face. Their voices did attract a small army, he continued. My army. He then motioned his men to lower their weapons before jumping down the boulder to approach the group.
Malak, Orlandu smiled in return, do you always greet your guests at arrow point? The old knight meant it as a joke but saw that it elicited a frown from the Hell Knight.
Im sorry, he apologized. Ever since Barinten attacked our village all those years ago, we have been wary of visitors. Thats why we have moved deeper into the mountains, to avoid having guests. It was visitors that brought ruin to our village after all.
He then smiled. But friends are always welcomed! he exclaimed as he clapped Orlandu on the back. Come! he beckoned the group with a wave of his rod. Let us return to the village and celebrate our reunion with a huge feast! What do you say, my brothers? he asked his men.
The answer was a great shrill shout of agreement; a waving of hands and bows; an answering yelling that set birds to flocking in alarm from the timber; to wolves howling. The mountains resounded with their heartened cheer as they began their journey home.
As Malak led his friends through the lush forest, Beowulf sidled towards Orlandu. Orlandu, Ive been thinking, he began when he was besides the old knight, why didnt the chocobos warn us of their approach? He motioned towards the men that were escorting them. We should have known that they were coming.
Orlandu nodded in agreement. Ive been asking myself the same question, he said broodingly. It was as if something blinded their senses...
Magic? Beowulf asked uncertainly.
Perhaps, the old knight allowed. You must ask Lavian that question being that she is the magically talented one of the group.
Ill do just that, Beowulf stated. He gave the old knight his thanks before sidling up to Lavian, who was atop her chocobo, and explained what he had spoken at length with Orlandu.
Magic? Lavian inquired thoughtfully. No, I didnt sense any magic. But youre right about the chocobos. Strange...
Beowulf was no expert on chocobos nor was he an expert on magic, but his knightly senses told him that something was amiss. He just needed to figure out what. As the thought crossed his mind, he caught sight of one of their escorts talking to the only riderless chocobo. He observed their conversation taking note that the chocobo seemed to respond to the man in sad warks. The man nodded in sympathy while stroking the chocobos neck. He then saw Beowulf looking at him and smiled as he waved to him in a friendly fashion.
The former Temple Knight nodded in return. He then returned to Reis side as he pondered at what hed just seen. What did he see? Simple. A man conversing with a chocobo. Thats very common to anyone especially if riding alone but it was the fact that the chocobo responded to the hunter that unnerved him. Did Malaks people have the skill to talk with chocobos, or in general, to animals?
Beowulf kept a mental note to remind himself to ask Malak when the opportunity arose. With that thought in mind, he looked forward and saw that they were nearing their destination, a valley where all the lodges of Malaks people spread out in glorious array, and set his mind to thoughts of a welcoming.
And when the group came down the long, wide slope of the valleys ingress, Malak motioned to one of his men, who took out a bull demon horn from his bag and blew a loud and clear call telling their kinsmen that they have returned.
Welcome, my friends, to our village, Malak declared proudly, Tenaktwa!
Rafa was in her lodge when she heard the horn. She immediately ran outside to see that the villagers were gathering near the village entrance where she caught a glimpse of her brother leading a group of strangers. She soon joined the villagers wondering who her brother brought to them.
My God! she gasped when she recognized the strangers, running towards them in greeting. This is quite a surprise!
A surprise indeed, Malak agreed. He was about to say more but folk milled around, staring, all speaking at once. Silence, please! he urged his people with a raised hand. And all will be explained!
Why have you brought these strangers to us?! one demanded angrily. Have you not learned anything from that tragic day years ago?!
Yes, I have, Malak replied gravely. But these strangers are my friends, he argued, and I trust them with my life. Strangers are not welcomed here but friends are always found wanting. Does any challenge their acceptance into the village?
None objected. If their chief trusted them with his life, then they must trust them with theirs.
Malak beamed in approval seeing that no one protested. Good! he exclaimed. I plan to hold a feast tonight in their honor. Who shall join me?
There came a great cheer from the villagers as they dispersed to prepare for the festivities that were to come. Women chatted enthusiastically as they returned to picking fruit and vegetables while the men boasted of the vast quantities of meat that they were to bring from their hunt in the surrounding lands. It was going to be a feast of epic proportions, one that the people of Tenaktwa had not seen since the burning of their village.
Malak looked out across the camp, proud of his people. They had survived the War, but so many had been lost. He then looked to where Rafa was speaking with their friends and wondered what caused them to come here in the wilds of Fovoham searching for them. He feared that it was something of great import but pushed such fears aside. It was a time of celebration and if they did bring news from the outside world, they would tell in due time...
Night soon fell and a huge bonfire blazed in the middle of the camp. There were shouts of laughter as the sounds of drums and reed pipes filled the festive air. The youth danced to the beat of the drums in front of the flames, their moves graceful as an eagle in flight.
Orlandu and the others were crowded round with cheerful faces, most of them children who were curious to learn more about their guests. They were seated by a small fire on which meat roasted, the little ones bombarding the guests with questions, their eyes glowing with enthusiasm.
The group ate and drank, as they answered their questions to the best of their ability, especially Orlandu who was quite kind to the children. He answered most of their questions with a smile and sometimes a laugh to amuse them.
Soon the children grew tired of their guests and went to dance with their brethren near the bonfire. The old knight was a bit disappointed to see them go having enjoyed his conversation with them, but remembered that a childs attention span is relatively short. He then felt someone tap him on the shoulder and turned to see Mustadio holding out a container of beaten metal towards him.
Here, the Engineer offered the flask with his usual grin, drink this. Itll help you regain some of that youthful vigor youve lost over the years.
Hah! Orlandu guffawed as he snatched the flask from Mustadios hand. Im not that old yet! He then tilted the pot and swallowed deep and long. And began sputtering as the fierce liquor went down his throat. Ach! he exclaimed when he finally caught his breath. Ive drank a lot of liquor in my days but this is the strongest one Ive encountered thus far! What is it?
Its a brew that these people make, Mustadio replied taking the flask as Orlandu passed it back to him. Its called paqwan. Its somewhat like gin but pleasantly smoother. The Engineer then took a drink from the flask, smacking his lips afterwards in satisfaction, before passing it back to Orlandu who gladly accepted it.
He felt the paqwan warming him as he drank, relaxing his muscles, smiling at the dancing youth. He chuckled as the flask returned to his hands once again, and drank eagerly. The moon seemed brighter, the stars more brilliant, the sky even wider than over his home in Zeltennia. He had camped many times before but only now noticed these things. He beamed at Mustadio and said, We have come to a good place.
Mustadio nodded and said, Yes. Both men watched as a few young men and women eagerly joined the youths in their dance, their slightly larger forms as graceful as their youthful counterparts.
How did you know about this place? the Engineer asked curiously after a few moments.
I didnt, Orlandu replied. I was only aware of the old village that I had visited once on a campaign during the Fifty Year War, which I later discovered was burned down. Then after meeting with Rafa and Malak, I soon learned that they were survivors from that very same village and hearing that they would return to rebuild it, I assumed it would be the burned down village. I never knew that they would move further deeper into the mountains. A wise move. The Church will not find us here. We are safe, truly safe.
Mustadio quickly swallowed a mouthful of paqwan, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. Thats true, he agreed afterwards. But you sound as if well be staying here for a very long time.
The old knight sighed taking the flask from Mustadios proffered hands. He took a long draft hoping that the drink would cloud his mind and wash away his doubts and fears. But those feelings remained as the paqwan went down. He glared at the flask as if it had betrayed him, happy to be rid of it when Mustadio relieved it from his hand.
I have a feeling, the old knight began softly, we will be staying here for a while after we fulfill Meliadouls dying wish. And to do that we must have Agrias. She knows Lesalia better than any one of us save perhaps Lavian and Alicia.
Mustadio nodded in understanding. So well be rescuing Agrias then, he stated thoughtfully. Where is she held?
According to Lavian and Alicia, she is being held in nearby Fort Zeakden, answered the old knight. He then stood up and stretched wincing as old bones cracked at the movement. I guess Im not as young as I thought, he groaned.
Where are you going? Mustadio asked surprised to see Orlandu leaving.
To my lodge, the old knight grunted over his shoulder. Im weary from the journey and I would very much like to find my bed. He then left muttering under his breath, Youth!
Mustadio watched him leave, the thought of accompanying him flitting across his mind. He noted with worry that the old knight walked slowly, his shoulders hunched as if he carried a great burden. Perhaps he did for they looked up to him as their leader in this time of struggle, bearing the mantle that Ramza had worn during the Lion War.
Orlandu, the great T.G. Cid, had led vast armies across numerous battlefields but none were as difficult as leading this small rabble across a different kind of battlefielda battlefield full of lies, deception, and hate.
Mustadio could see that this battle was taking its toll on the grizzled warrior. It was only a matter of time before he would be crushed under the burden. He sighed as he finished up the flask, looking up at the stars as he wondered where the Beoulve siblings had gone especially Ramza whose leadership skills were sorely needed.
Where are you, Ramza?, he pondered. We all could use your help right about now...
The next few days after the celebration, Orlandu spoke with Malak about the happenings in Ivalice. As both men sat in the shade of Malaks lodgeflap, Rafa sat with Reis, Lavian, and Alicia, teaching them how to work a behemoth hide smooth. She was quite at home here in the middle of the wilderness and would help her friends adapt to their lifestyle, which was very different from the civilized world called Ivalice.
Our ancestors lived this way, Rafa explained as she worked the scraper firmly over the tough skin. They lived far closer to the world they inhabited, living with nature rather than imposing their will on absolute forces. It had always been their way but they lost their way when foreigners began arriving from both the east and west. They quickly conformed to the foreigners ways, their ways lost for a long period of time until now...
That story sounds familiar, Lavian mused, tapping her chin in thought. I think Ive read it somewhere before... Wait! she suddenly exclaimed, her eyes lighting up in remembrance. I read it in a history text. Long before Ivalice, long before even the seven kingdoms existed, there lived a race that was native to this land. They were called Tao. According to the text, they lived a similar life like your ancestors. Are they one and the same?
The name is forgotten but I would assume so, Rafa guessed still working the scraper.
Well, Id say its better to live here than in a town, Reis stated happily. It reminds me of the time we lived in Mount Randoria. I feel entirely at home here.
It seems youre not the only one, Alicia added as she glanced at the child playing busily with the wooden spinning top one of the children had gifted him during the celebration. Dressed in jacket and breeches of soft panther fur, he resembled a small cat.
Draco was a sturdy child, whose customary expression was a broad smile. He favored his father in looks, and if he inherited any of his fighting skills still yet remained to be seen. If he did, however, he would give new meaning to the term dragon knight. She had heard the story soon enough, of how Draco had healed a wounded dragon when he was only two years old. Fortunately, it was a baby dragon but still it showed that he possessed the talent of handling these fearsome beasts. And did he possess his fathers skills as well, he would become a formidable knight indeed.
Reis saw the direction of her glance and called out to her son, who came trotting to her, holding up his toy as if for inspection. Reis planted a kiss atop his head and he abruptly sat down, cooing with delight. Alicia caught the mothers eye and Reis offered her a smile happy as her sons. It painfully reminded Alicia of the times Agrias had spent with Ramia.
Well get her back, Lavian stated knowingly, placing a comforting hand on the redheads shoulder.
I know, Alicia sighed, but when? Fort Zeakden is probably only a couple days journey from here and yet we stay here and do nothing but sit around and talk!
This is no easy task for Orlandu, Reis said calmly. Being quite the observer, she had taken note of the subtle changes in the old knights appearance. Orlandu appeared to have aged ahead of his time as if the role of leadership sapped him of his vigor. The type of battle they fought now was very foreign to the wise and experienced knight and perhaps thats the reason why he was struggling.
The object of her thoughts appeared then, his wizened face set solemn, as Malaks smile of greeting was somewhat strained. Orlandu squatted, opening his arms to Draco, who ran smiling toward him. He picked up the child and held him high, Draco laughing all the while as Orlandu studied his round face as if seeking answers there.
He set Draco down and said, We have come to a decision.
On what? Alicia was suddenly hopeful.
To help you, Malak simply replied. Orlandu has explained the circumstances surrounding the Church and I would very much aid you in any way I can.
And since most of us are gathered, Orlandu added, we can penetrate Fort Zeakden and rescue Agrias. Afterwards, we would go to Lesalia and fulfill Meliadouls last wish. He then looked around seeing some of their number was missing. Where are the others?
Beowulf and Rad went hunting, Rafa told them. Mustadio is with his father in their lodge.
Can you fetch Mustadio, Rafa? Malak instructed kindly to his sister. And afterwards, I would like to speak with you.
Rafa nodded, setting the scraper and behemoth hide down, before running off to the Bunanzas lodge. She later returned with the young Engineer, who met with Orlandus group, as Rafa was pulled to the side by her brother.
Rafa, he spoke gravely, I need you to take care of the village while Im away.
Youre going with them? his sister questioned in earnest.
Yes, Malak nodded. Theres a trail through the mountains that would take us closer to Fort Zeakden, cutting our journey by a day. I must lead them or risk them being lost in the mountains forever. So, would you take care of the village for me?
Rafa sighed. In truth, she really wanted to join her friends but knew that as a Galthana, she has a duty to their people. She then nodded and said, As you will. And then could not resist adding, But be careful.
Malak chuckled and said, What harm can come me when Im surrounded by friends who would protect me as I would protect them? He turned to see Orlandu and the others had dispersed, with the exception of Reis and Draco, to prepare for the journey. I must be going, he told Rafa as he walked to their lodge.
Youre leaving? Rafa asked in shock as she ran to catch up with her brother. This soon?
This is not a thing that can wait according to Orlandu, her brother replied solemnly. No matter. Just tell the others, when they return, where we have gone. With that being his last instruction to his sister, Malak entered the lodge to gather up those things hed need for the trip; a couple of potions, some rations, his gear, and his Octagon Rod for protection against the wild beasts that roamed in the mountains. Water was plentiful; there were springs in some of the mountain caves where they would camp when night fell.
Seeing that everything was packed, he left the lodge. The group had gathered, ready for the journey ahead. He soon realized that they waited on him and so he nodded, leading them away from the camp, following the river that flowed from the nearby mountains but first they would have to cross the forest before them...
Malak walked ahead of the group, always scouting the area for hidden predators. He discerned the signs the forest gave him; the faint paw prints on the forest floor, the rustle of leaves as a roosting hawk flew from one branch to another, and the smell of dead uribos indicating that a band of goblins was close by. He also discerned the true from the false as Mustadio soon learned when he was about to lean on a tree to rest.
No! Malak shouted in alarm. Thats a
But it was too late. The tree suddenly animated, thwacking Mustadio on the head with a branch. Malak quickly disposed of the woodman with a few choice hits from his rod. You all right? he asked afterwards as he helped Mustadio up.
I guess, the Engineer grumbled still rubbing his sore head. Why didnt you warn me about those things?
I tried, the Hell Knight said. You must be very careful here in the forest. There are many hidden dangers that an ordinary traveler will usually fall victim to. He then gazed at the others and added, That goes for all of you as well. Stay close, do as I say, and youll be fine. He then smiled at Mustadio, patting his shoulder lightly, before resuming point.
From that moment on, there were no more incidents, the group arriving safely at the foot of the trail a few hours later. They rested awhile, stretching weary muscles and rubbing sore feet. Malak disappeared saying that he would scout ahead to see what was the best course to take through the mountains. He later returned and suggested that they travel now when there is still light.
You dont want to be caught up in the mountains at night, he explained. There are more fearsome creatures than goblins and panthers that walk the night. He then beckoned them to start climbing as he led the group once more.
Peaks thrust ever upward towards the sky from both sides of the narrow trail, their tops glistening white in the afternoon rays of the sun. Malak scouted ahead, his form quickly lost amid all the rocks only to reappear again at a higher ledge where he looked ahead shouting to the group below him whenever there was danger ahead in the path. He would then divert them to another route he had seen, avoiding the danger, quickly continuing their journey.
Soon the light began to fade and with it the day. Malak, ever the pioneer, searched for a cave they could rest in, where they could safely build a fire and escape the chill winds that were beginning to blow. He found such a place just ahead on the path.
The group climbed until the path gave out on a wide ledge like a shelf between the peaks. They bulked overhead, the sun lighting them like fire, all orange and red, with a cold wind blowing from between them as if in protestation. Malak then led them to an opening in the rocks where they could build a fire from the gnarly shrubs that grew there. They ate a little then, Malak and Mustadio going to a small creek to gather some water that they passed out among the group at their return.
They soon settled down to sleep, each agreeing to take a turn in the night watch with Orlandu being the first, who doused the fire and stood at the mouth of the cave vigilantly.
The night passed without incident and the group resumed their journey along the trail with Malak leading them once again. Lavian realized that they were traveling downslope now. Hawks wheeled overhead; behind them, wild wolves watched from ledges as if marveling at the bravado of the group, and once as they continued downward, a cuar snarled protestingly from the shelter of a nook.
Malak did not hesitate. It was as if he read the land easily as Lavian might read a book. She was amazed that the Hell Knight had mastered the trackers art, a valuable art to possess when one scouts. She had learned somewhat of the artAlicia as wellfor they would sometimes go on reconnaissance trips, but the signs Malak spotted were invisible to her.
Were close, Malak suddenly announced when they reached a ridge overlooking the land below them. See? He pointed to a hint of a tall structure shrouded by the snow that constantly fell around the region.
Orlandu studied the area pulling the hood of his cloak closer around his face. The winds were becoming colder than those they had encountered on the trail, reminding that they were to soon enter a region of perpetual snow. He did not want to stay very long, lest risk losing someone in the freezing climate. How long will it take us to reach the fort? he asked Malak.
If we travel swiftly, well reach the fort by nightfall, the Hell Knight replied.
Then lets make haste, the old knight instructed motioning to Malak to continue leading them.
They wound their way down the steep and slippery path of the ridge to the base. The winds blew harsher as they descended, threatening to knock them over the edge. After an hour, they had reached the bottom and were forced to pave their path across the snow as the sun set slowly behind the mountains that they had just crossed.
As Malak had predicted, it took them the rest of the day to traverse the snow-covered plain. Pale moonlight illuminated their surroundings, the snow softly glowing beneath its light, the fortress standing in dark contrast to its surroundings. The group could hear the waves of Larner Channel crash against the cliffs on which the fortress stood as the winds howled around them.
They approached the structure warily, careful as not to raise an alarm among the people that could be residing within. Orlandu looked at the fortress suspiciously as they got closer, not from fear of detection but from fear that the building was empty. From what he gathered from Lavian and Alicia, Fort Zeakden was being rebuilt, therefore, the structure incomplete. But the building looked complete, its walls standing twenty feet high, its smooth surface interrupted by embrasures cut at intervals from which the mouths of cannons and archers could fire their projectiles at invading enemies. No standard hung on the walls, which means that the fortress wasnt manned with soldiers.
But was it occupied by someone else? There was only one way to find out.
Split up and search the fortress quickly and silently, Orlandu ordered softly. They agreed, splitting into teams of two. Lavian and Alicia went to search the stables and the storehouses as Malak and Mustadio went to search the barracks. Orlandu went alone to search the dungeons that were beneath the fortress.
Alicia carefully opened the door to the stables while Lavian prepared a sleep spell that would render the great birds unconscious but they found the building empty save for a few pieces of greens. A bit shocked, they left the stables for the storehouses and found them to be devoid of anything except for some snow that somewhat had entered through the gap between door and ground.
They left their area of investigation puzzled by the results. They headed towards the front of the fortress where they found Orlandu, his face a mask of worry. Whats wrong? Lavian asked the old knight. Found anything?
Nothing, Orlandu replied as he shook his head, but some empty chains. He tapped his chin in thought as he muttered darkly, Perhaps its as I feared...
Lavian was about to question what he meant by that comment but was suddenly interrupted by a yell.
Gone! Malak shouted as he and Mustadio returned from their search of the barracks. Theyre gone!
What do you mean theyre gone?! Alicia demanded of the Hell Knight.
Its as I feared, Orlandu stated calmly and the knight maiden turned towards him and demanded that he explain what he meant. The fortress is complete, he clarified. They must have moved on to another ruin.
Then that means... Lavian whispered dismally, her voice trailing off, unable to voice the rest of her thought.
Yes, Orlandu nodded sadly. That were too late...
Final Fantasy Tactics Fanfic