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by Blademaster Lee
Opening Notes: I should actually tell you a little something about this story, folks, since it is relatively old. Yes, you heard me right. This is an older fanfic I wrote, that I had originally scrapped, but for reasons that I canot describe, I have "renovated" it, dusted it off, and now prepare to post it up for your reading pleasure. Originally, this fanfic starred Locke Cole, as the helpful young thief that continually appears and disappears, talking to Sabin every now and then. Unfortunately, my good friend Stephen Sibley (AKA Second Impact), let me know in no uncertain terms that I was an idiot for sticking him in there. Why, you ask? Well, as it would turn out, if Locke were truly going to exist in the time period that this is set, he would have to be in the range of 12 years old. So, I needed a replacement.
The answer came to me surprisingly late, long after I had basically just tossed this on the scrap heap. Arvis. I mean, why not? Who knows what that "small part" character was doing during this time anyway? I assume that, since he seems so acquainted with the Returners, that he was doing his part to help them out, and there is nobody that can prove to me that that does not include doing what we all know Locke was famous for in the game. Spying.
So, basically, the way I have Arvis interpreted here, he is Locke ... before Locke shows up. Minus the thieving part, of course. I always assumed that this thievery business was something Locke picked up in order to survive on his own, which, to me, is something that Arvis really does not need, given his easy ability (later in life) to make friends with people. I hope this lets all of your readers know where I'm coming from with this. In the end, it appears to have turned out A-OK, after all.
But enough of my idiotic talk. I'll let the story speak for itself.
Only a few days ago, Figaro was one of the most content kingdoms in the world. Everything was set in it's rightful place, the people were not over-taxed, and food was plentiful. The citizens of Figaro had no complaints, and had not been able to think of any for years on end. Just a few short days ago ... the gossip of the town had been the concern of who would take over the kingdom of Figaro ... which of the two brothers would claim the throne when King Figaro died, they wondered. Not too long ago, the people thought that Edgar and Sabin would have years to go before that decision came.
Time, however, never did play fair, and neither did Nature, for that matter. After those few short days, in which peace and good favor was plentiful, and worries were forgotten as quickly as they formed ... King Figaro passed away, and the decision of who to rule had to be made ...
Only weeks ago did he leave, and it still burns me, Sabin thought, sitting in quiet contemplation. The nights in the desert were always cold, but the large man payed the temperature no heed, merely wanting to be alone with his thoughts. He had left, it was true, but then, what choice had there been? It was stay and do what was expected of him, or run away.
I'm always running away, Sabin mused. Ever since I was young. This one thought derailed his entire train, and the Sabin sat up, shaking his head. Another reminder that his days of childhood were gone. No longer could he leave the castle to play with the children of their servants. No longer would he chastise his older brother for pinching every pretty woman that passed him, regardless of what her age might be compared to his. No longer would he sit in the lap of his nurse, and tell her of his troubles.
You're a grown man, now, Sabin. That voice. The same voice which constantly reminded him of why he was out here, instead of home.
Home? I'm not sure if I really have one, anymore, father. With my age comes responsibility, but it is responsibility that I am not ready for, yet. I cannot be king. I cannot do what you expect of me. I am your failure, and a disgrace. Sabin clenched his eyes shut, willing the tears to stay inside. He would prove himself to his father yet. Adults did not cry. That was an act of children, and Sabin needed to act his own age. Why was so much expected of me? Edgar was the elder son, dammit! He was to be king ...
On top of the tallest tower in Figaro castle stood Sabin. This was his favorite place, when he wanted to be alone, to think, and make his most important decisions. He certainly had much to think about now, and his decision could not be more critical. To be king. What did it take to be a king?
"Whatever it is, father must have had it in spades," Sabin whispered to himself, managing a small grin, which quickly dissipated at the thought of the now dead king. Indeed, Sabin's father was the most ideal king, according to the villagers of Figaro, as well as the Empire. King Figaro received praise on a regular basis. Sabin hung his head, feeling insignificant. To him, being able to live up to his father was a lost cause. To be truthful, he didn't even want to try.
I thought Edgar was supposed to be king. He was the elder, wasn't he? Sabin gazed out at the vast stretches of sand that surrounded Figaro castle. It didn't make sense to him. What is it that made father decide that the kingdom should be divided. That Sabin would make the more appropriate king? He called me in before he died. I thought he looked fairly good, given his conditions. Father knew, damn him. He knew he was going to die. He knew he would leave us just like mother did ...
Sabin's reflection was cut short as his older sibling, Edgar, cleared his throat. One had to wonder how long he had been standing there, watching Sabin, before he finally decided to make his presence known. As the older prince stepped forward, Sabin could see that their matron had followed the both of them up here. Angry at this intrusion, Sabin slammed his meaty fist down on the stone of the tower.
"Go back downstairs, brother. You too, Nana. I know what comes next, and I do not want to talk about it right now. So please, just leave me alone." With this, Sabin turned his back to both of them, and sighed, closing his eyes. They wouldn't leave. Though both of them said nothing, Sabin knew exactly what they were doing. Standing there, staring at him .... feeling sorry for him ... because he could not deal with this moment. It was only a matter of time before one of them spoke. Before one of them told him that everything was going to be all right .... that he had nothing to worry about ... and that the Empire sends it's respects.
Damn the Empire, Sabin suddenly thought fiercely. This is their fault! He could not fully understand where that thought came from. Hadn't the Empire always been their friends? That was what everyone had said. All the villagers, the servant's children, even his father, had told him that Figaro and the Empire were allies. Yet, the Empire's troops still treated the villagers poorly, and their newest official .... Kefka was his name, always had a haughty aura about him, and he often told their father he was rather old to be in his position.
"Sabin, we need to discuss how we will divide the kingdom," Edgar said, his voice trying not to leak out any of the sorrow he was feeling at the moment. The younger prince stiffened, and turned around slowly. How to divide the kingdom? This was the last thing he had expected Edgar to say, but he was far too surprised to even speak. Seeing his brother's silence, Edgar leapt on the opportunity and continued. "It was father's last wish that we divide the kingdom between us ... you know that. He and I both wanted you to have a larger portion of the kingdom. We both thought ... that you would make a better king. Please, Sabin."
The young prince could not believe this was happening. How could this be happening? How could anybody be so incredibly uncaring? And, without thinking at all, Sabin spoke. "Our father is dead, Edgar. He's dead! Do you mean to tell me that the only thing on your minds right now is who will rule in his place? You are an uncaring bastard, Edgar. Where were you when mother died? Where the hell were you? I was the only one who stayed by her side until the end. Do you know what that is like, Edgar? Do you even have the slightest clue what it was like to sit by her bed, and have her praise you for your caring and sensitive nature, while the whole time I knew you were in town, at a pub!"
"Dammit, don't you say anything, do you hear me? Just don't say anything! I want you to listen for once, god dammit! Father's death was not normal! It was ... dammit, it was murder! And the Empire is the murderer!" Sabin stared defiantly at his older brother, whose eyes had a look of complete surprise. Of all the things the young prince could have said, this was the least expected. Edgar was at a loss for words for but a mere moment before his eyes narrowed.
"You're mad, Sabin!" Such a simple phrase, but it spoke volumes. Sabin was mad, and not just mildly, either. The man felt as though he would explode at any moment ... and possibly hurt somebody, very badly ... maybe even harm his own brother ...
Sabin was breathing heavily. He had to get out of this place. There was nothing left for him here anymore, anyway, and he could only be a danger to those around him. Grimacing, the man dashed towards the steps, pushing Nana to the side heavily as he went. Nana stared wide-eyed after the young prince from her new position on the floor. As soon as he was gone, she heard his older brother release a sigh.
"What have they done to you, Sabin?" Nana whispered, pushing herself into a sitting position. Edgar did not have to ask who the "they" was that Nana spoke of. It was obvious the way Nana felt about the Empire from the very beginning, and Edgar had no doubt that she fully sympathized with his brother. Nana had always cared for the both of them, and Edgar knew exactly what she was going to say next. "You can still stop him, Edgar."
Right on cue. Edgar sighed. "I couldn't stop him when mother died, Nana. Lord knows I tried. I'm beginning to wonder if he'll always run away. I think ... maybe he likes being alone."
"Nobody likes to be alone dear. Least of all your brother. He's just ... upset. A few kind words from you might change that. You are adults now, you know. Surely by now you've realized that you have the ability for rational thought. Talk to him, Edgar. Please." Nana looked expectantly up at the older prince, knowing that she had hit the mark on him.
Edgar turned, saying nothing, and began walking towards the stairs. Pausing on the first step, with his back to his matron, Edgar asked, "Nana, do you feel that the Empire truly carries such a strong influence on the people?"
Nana watched Edgar's back for a moment, contemplating exactly what to tell him. "Edgar, if I openly said that I hate the Empire, then there is little chance I would still be alive and talking the next day."
Edgar's form slouched slightly, and he sighed again. "I see." With that, he began to slowly make his way down the stairs and toward the only place he knew Sabin could be ... the only place Sabin ever wished he could fill with absolute joy ...
Sabin was sitting in a small wooden chair by his mother's bed. The strong lad's eyes were still brimming with tears at the thought of his mother ... even now, when there were bigger things he should have to worry about. The thoughts in Sabin's mind were jumbled, and he knew what he really needed was sleep, but the man was too ... scared ... to sleep. Scared? Yes ... I suppose that's what I am right now. Scared of what will happen to me if I sit on that throne ... of everything I could do wrong ... scared that she wouldn't approve of me ...
"God, is it real?" Sabin whispered, his eyes closing for a moment.
"You don't know how many times I asked that question, brother." Sabin jumped at Edgar's voice. The young prince knew he should be angry at this intrusion, but he could find no strength left for real anger, and especially none for anger toward his own brother. So instead of speaking, the man opted to merely shrug his shoulders, and resume his thinking.
Edgar, however, was in a more talkative mood. "I swear, I was constantly wondering if any of this was real .... if I wouldn't just wake up from this bad dream, have her give me a hug, and I could just go back to sleep knowing that everything was going to be okay. The naivety of my thoughts is startling, to say the least. And it still continues to hurt."
"It's a pain I wish would go away," Sabin mumbled. He often wondered how to accomplish this feat; to make the pain go away. He discovered not too long after his mother died, that if he never talked about her death, that the pain would not continue to haunt him as badly. Yet, for every year after his mother died, he still lit a candle, and set it on the night stand beside her bed, taking a seat ... this seat ... and spending the day remembering her.
"Small chance of that, I'm afraid," Edgar declared, making Sabin flinch openly. Those words were exactly what he had expected, and did little to make him feel better. What came next, however, was not something Edgar had ever mentioned to him before. "Although, there is a way, that I discovered, and discarded. I found, after she died, that if I just stopped thinking about it ... just pushed her out of my thoughts entirely ... to forget her, you see, and go about my daily business as usual ... made the pain subside a great deal. But ... forgetting her just replaced the pain with a feeling of emptiness. A great Nothing inside me, Sabin. A Nothing. Better to have the pain, brother."
Sabin looked up at his older brother. There was nothing he could say to that, and feel right about it. At any rate, he realized, this room was certainly not the proper place to discuss anything.
"Edgar, can we go back up to my tower to talk. I've made a decision, and I think you should be the first to know. Will you meet me there, please? And make sure nobody else will disturb us?" His tower. Yes, that was the right place for this. The only place it could be done.
After Edgar had nodded his agreement, and departed, Sabin reached into the pocket of his trousers, pulling out one small candle, which he placed on his mother's night stand, but left unlit. Goodbye, mother ...
Edgar could see why this was Sabin's favorite place. The moon's light glinted off the sands of the desert surrounding Figaro castle, creating one of the most beautiful sights the older brother had seen in a long time. It's been a long time since I've taken joy from the simple pleasures of life, he thought. I wonder why that is. Because I've been too busy ... or just neglectful.
Sabin paused at the top of the stairs, staring at his older brother's back. Should he go on? Could it be the right decision. The young prince shook his head. No hesitations this time. This was his destiny ... his reason to continue. There was no choice to be made. He was just following the course of his life as it was dictated to him by the heavens.
"You're going to run away again, aren't you, Sabin?" Edgar said, his back still to Sabin. The younger sibling was hardly surprised. Edgar had always possessed a keen sense of hearing, and generally seemed to know when his brother was near him. Sabin smiled slightly, remembering how Edgar would always win at hide-and-seek that way.
"You can't keep doing that, you know. You have responsibilities towards this kingdom and it's people that you must fulfill. You are a Figaro, Sabin. You are destined to be king." Edgar nodded at his own words, feeling that they captured what he was trying to say fairly well. Sabin, on the other hand, did not share his brother's opinion.
"My responsibility? My destiny? What do you know of either, Edgar? My destiny is what I make of it, and I have no responsibility. I'm not ready to be an adult, dammit!" Sabin sighed, then turned away from his older brother. It was true. He just wasn't ready for any of this. Sabin wanted things to be the way they were, back when he was just a young boy. If growing up means having to deal with this ... well, then I just can't take it ...
Steeling himself, Sabin turned back to face his brother. "The kingdom is yours, Edgar. I suppose that's what you always wanted, anyway. I'm leaving this kingdom. I'm not fit to be any kind of king. I'm leaving, and that's that. I only wish there was some way I could do this and not look like a coward in our parent's eyes." With this, Sabin turned his back to his older brother once more, and looked like he was about to leave the room, when Edgar stopped him.
What Edgar was about to do was wrong, or at least it was in his mind. Yet, he could not stand to see his usually chipper brother looking so incredibly forlorn. The lad has gotten me out of trouble more times than I can count. This is ... the least I can do for him. Mother ... Father ... forgive me for sending him away ...
"The Game of Chance, Sabin!" Edgar suddenly shouted, making his younger brother turn and stare at him quizzically. The Game of Chance was something they had not played in years, and that was because Edgar almost always won. Countless allowances had been lost by Sabin thanks to that silly game, yet, for some reason, playing it now made perfect sense to Sabin. A childhood memory making his departure all the easier.
"It's ... simple, you see. Heads, you leave this place and go out on your own ... Tails, and you will stay here, and we will rule Figaro together." The idea was, to Sabin, so obvious that he had to wonder why he hadn't thought of it earlier. To any other person, tossing a coin to decide such an important matter would be absurd, at best, but to these two brothers, it was the only way to go. Sabin nodded, and Edgar flipped the coin.
It moved so slowly, that coin. Flipping around and around, with moonlight glinting off of it's metallic surface, the coin appeared to be telling a story of times to come. A story involving beautiful women, kings and nobility, thieves and rogues, and madmen bent on destroying all that exists. And in the middle of this story were two brothers, awaiting the slow descent of a small round object that would decide both of their futures.
In actuality, the coin toss was over in but a split second, but to the two siblings, the moment spread out onwards into eternity and back, until finally, the coin landed in Edgar's outstretched palm ...
All the allowances he ever won from me were worth that moment, Sabin thought. Our last time together was spent doing what we so loved to do in our younger days. I could ask for nothing better than that, and I don't think he could, either.
With those thoughts in his mind, Sabin stood. The sun was just beginning to make it's break, and soon the desert would become the barren and desolate place it was really known for. The young prince-turned-run-away had to find a town to stay, and this time it couldn't just be South Figaro. They had found him far too easily when he did that, and he had learned from the mistake. No, this had to be a bit further from home.
Why don't you head north?
Sabin spun around, searching for a sign of the voice he had just heard, but to his utter surprise, there was not a soul to be seen. Wonderful. I suppose now I'm down to hearing voices in my head. Nonetheless ... north is about as good a direction as any. It would certainly take me out of this godforsaken desert.
Sabin shook his head. Thinking made no sense when he realized he had already made up his mind. He was only delaying his inevitable action. He turned, facing a northeast, and began his long trek. It would be awhile before he saw any sign of civilization.
The mining town of Narshe was cold. Well, to be precise, it was very cold. Freezing winds bit into the skin of even the most well-covered man, and few people stayed outdoors for more than five hours or so, as the icy air had claimed the lives of too many for the people to forget. As a matter of fact, when Sabin stopped to think about it, not that many people inhabited this town to begin with, and to his knowledge, it had been that way since the town was built. It had taken the young prince three days to travel all the way up to here. Technically, the sun was rising on the fourth day since he left the Figaro deserts, so his travel time was one more than that, but numbers never meant much to Sabin. Weather, however, mattered a great deal to him, and Narshe's freezing temperatures were only worsened in the early hours of the day, before the sun could fully warm up the lands.
The first thing I need to do is find a place to stay, before I freeze to death. Where's the bloody inn in this frozen burg, anyway? Sabin thought, his bloodshot eyes taking in the surrounding area. He was definitely not dressed accordingly, having lived in the desert his whole life, and his teeth were chattering audibly.
He remembered how cold it had gotten so quickly on his way up here, and he shivered. Was there nobody in this town to see that he was freezing? Could nobody see him standing there in the open roads of Narshe?
Like a sparrow awaiting it's fate, Sabin thought. That's not for me. Sabin shuffled uncomfortably, his boots filling with snow, freezing him all the more. How could it be so cold, though? It was always so warm back in Figaro, and that's not TOO far south of this place. It doesn't make any sense. It's as though something unnatural makes this place this way. Sabin felt his lips crack, and blood ran down his chin. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying not to think of how much that hurt. There's no time to stand around here and ponder.
Deciding that nobody was going to come out and greet him, Sabin shook his head, surprised at all the snow that had collected in his hair. The only solution was to go searching for somebody. Yet, his legs felt like lead, and his arms as though they were frozen at his sides ... surely it couldn't be that cold?
Sabin took a few faltering steps into the town, hesitating when he realized that he really couldn't feel his legs anymore. Though this should have alarmed him, the young man instead felt only a sense of natural, sleepy calm. Yes ... sleep ... that would be best wouldn't it? he thought, his eyes watering to the point that he could barely see out of them. Who needs an inn? This snow can be my blanket tonight. It's so soft ...
Nobody heard Sabin's contented sigh when he fell, or saw his peaceful body lying on a smooth road of snow, sleeping peacefully as the freezing winds continued to sweep down on him, now little more than a numbing feeling of relaxation on Sabin's back. And nobody saw the shadow that fell over him, making the cold air turn warm ...
Mother .... Father ....
Dead Edgar Living
Brother Responsibility ....
Why ... why did you go away? Why did you leave me?
The question is why did you leave, Sabin?
You aren't my parents .... Who are you?
I am one who believes you should stay
I am the one who runs away .... Halt, flee, it is all the same
You make no sense ....
You make no sense ... why did you run away?
Dammit, I don't have to answer any of your questions! Who are you?
I am ...
Sabin opened his eyes slowly, taking in his surroundings with a sigh. He appeared to be lying on a bed, covered with linen sheets, and several warm quilts. For the moment, the warmth he felt was enough of a comfort to him that the rest of the room didn't matter a great deal. Where had he been before this? He could remember the cold ... the gates of Narshe ... and then nothing.
"You newcomers are all the same," a mysterious voice said. Sabin didn't feel like opening his eyes to see who it was, and made that known with a wave of his hand. "You're a bunch of fools, that's what you are. Damned idiots think they're invincible. Mother Nature knocks your folk down one by one just to prove that you're not."
At this Sabin finally did open his eyes. His vision was finally clear, and he was able to see that he was in a small, square room. The walls were devoid of any decoration, be it framed pictures, or even wallpaper. They were a plain, almost sickening brown, and looking at them made Sabin want to shut his eyes again and go back to sleep. He managed to keep his eyes open, however, long enough to see that there was a new set of clothes laid on top of a dresser next to his bed, one of the few pieces of furniture in the room.
Eventually his eyes settled on the man who spoke to him earlier. He was difficult to see, even though Sabin's eyes were much better, because of the way he kept in the shadows. The fact that he seemed to mostly wear black didn't help much, either.
"You know, Arvis, you might want to try expressing a little more kindness to the men you rescue. They might actually stick around to thank you, then." Sabin's head turned, painfully, to the source of this new voice. An older man walked through the door, carrying a tray upon which rested a steaming bowl of some substance. What this substance was mattered little to Sabin, as he was ravenous, and this bowl was warm. As soon as the tray was put before him, he downed the watery meal in but a few seconds, laying back with a contented sigh. By this time, the mysterious "Arvis" fellow had stepped out of the shadows, and Sabin got a good look at the two men who apparently saved him.
The first of the two was fairly old; at least fifty, by Sabin's guess, yet still had the majority of the brown color to his hair, and few wrinkles to his skin. He seemed to be the friendlier one, as his eyes seemed to constantly say to Sabin, "You're all right now. Just rest and relax."
The second one, who Sabin had easily figured out was named "Arvis", was about the opposite. Everything from his clothes to his face just seemed to give off an aura of loneliness that Sabin was all too familiar with. Seeing that he was being stared at, the young rogue pulled his black jacket more tightly around himself, and stepped over to the window.
What to do now? Sabin wondered. The voice had told him to go north, but it seemed he had just arrived at his destination when he had already gotten into trouble. Getting into trouble isn't exactly something I'm used to. I always left that up to Edgar. Sabin shifted his glance from Arvis to the old man and back. This is an odd couple, to say the least. I'm not sure how much I should trust them.
Outwardly the strong young man said, "I ... thank you ... for saving me. I'm afraid I have nothing to repay you for your kindness ... I could work off the debt, if you wish. Actually, I'd prefer that, if you would allow it." Yes, that seemed best. Odds were, neither of these men would be interested in his helping hand, and he could be on his way. Unfortunately, luck was rarely with Sabin.
"If that is the way you want it, stranger. To tell the truth, we could use some more help in the mines down yonder. If you wouldn't mind stayin' for about a week or so ...." Here the old man trailed off, and Sabin tried to hide his surprise. So much for my being a judge of character, he thought. Well, a promise is a promise ...
"Oh, yes, of course," Sabin said, trying to put "feeling" into his words. "I can start whenever you wish, sir." Sabin struggled to sit up, but quickly discovered about thirty brand new forms of pain in the process, and ended up on his back again.
The old man chuckled. "I think your best bet for right now is just to rest, for at least a day or two. The mines will still be there, lad. You just get some sleep." With this the old man tossed a glance back at Arvis. It seemed obvious that Sabin's "savior" wasn't going anywhere for awhile, so the old man (Sabin later found out his name was Gregor) announced that he was going to retire for the evening, and stepped out.
Evening? Sabin thought to himself. Didn't I just arrive here in the morning? How long have I been out? And how long has that man been watching over me ....
"You're a long way from home, Sabin Figaro," Arvis said, shattering the uncomfortable silence that Sabin was beginning to hate. Compared to what he had just heard, however, Sabin had to admit that he would have rather had the uncomfortable silence. The idea that such a ruffian knew his name was next to appalling.
Then again, I am royalty, Sabin thought. He often forgot that little tidbit of information, due to the fact that he had never been treated specially by anyone, whether it be his father or the castle maids, and especially not by Nana. It shouldn't come as any surprise that he was known in this place, which was but a three to four day journey from home ... or at least, what used to be his home.
Sabin's silence seemed to spur Arvis on to a more talkative state. "What inspired you to travel so far north, I wonder? Last time you only went to South Figaro ... barely a day's walk, I'd wager. Perhaps this time the loss was greater, I suppose, and warranted more thinking time. Or maybe you thought your older brother would look for you there first, since it's been a run-away spot for you in the past. No, wait ... now I see ... maybe ... just maybe ... you don't plan on going back this time."
Sabin shook his head. He knew that at this moment he should be seething with rage, but oddly enough, he found that it was next to impossible to be even remotely angry with this man. Instead of yelling, he merely whispered, "Who are you, really?"
Arvis turned his gaze from the window to stare Sabin full in the face. Sabin met the man's eyes head on, and the two mentally locked horns, each one refusing to be the first one to turn away. "Let's just say that I'm an observer of sorts ... and maybe even a friend of your brother's ..."
At this Sabin flinched, looking down, giving Arvis one small victory as he continued to try and meet Sabin's eyes once more. Always was so weak ....
"So you're with the Empire ...."
Now it was Arvis's turn to look surprised, but only for a moment. The young rogue was speechless for a few seconds, before he finally threw his head back and laughed, long and hard, until tears nearly came to his eyes. By the time he finally settled himself, he was gasping for air, and couldn't seem to wipe the grin off of his face no matter what he tried. Who does this man think he's talking to? Arvis, old boy, if you can make people think you're in the Empire, then you really need to work on your image ...
" 'Fraid not, Sabin. I'm about as far from them as you can get, if you know what I'm saying." Arvis extended his hand, the smile never leaving his face, to the young Figaro, and Sabin took it hesitantly, upon which his new "friend" proceeded to pump his arm up and down until his brains shook in his skull. "In case you missed it before, the name is Arvis, and just Arvis, if you don't mind. I never was one for last names.." The man hesitated a moment before speaking again. For a little while he seemed lost in thought, his eyes staring blankly at the wall above Sabin's head, until he finally regained his composure, and furthered his introduction. "I suppose you could say I'm a bit of a rogue, as in, a slight rebel. Don't let that bother you, though. Your brother never payed it any mind ..."
Sabin slowly withdrew his hand and closed his eyes. Only a few hours ago he had been confident that he knew everything about his older brother, but now ... new questions and doubts arose to shatter the illusions he had once possessed. He suddenly found that there were so many things he didn't know about his own brother. Where did he go that nobody could find him? And, more importantly, who was he going away with ... Right now, however, there was this "rogue" to deal with.
"You know, Mister ... errr, Arvis ... I think I would like for you to tell me exactly what your affiliation is with my brother, if you don't mind." Sabin waited a while, expecting an answer, but was surprised when there was none. The moment he opened his eyes, he found out why. Arvis was gone.
It was at least three hours past noon before Sabin finally awoke, and when he did, it felt as though he hadn't slept at all. The young Figaro sat up wearily, half hoping to see that Arvis fellow he had met the day before, but instead was greeted merely by his empty room. An empty room ... not much different from myself ...
Sabin wrapped the topmost quilt about himself, and stood, trying to ignore the hundred sharp pinpricks he felt as feeling slowly crept back into his arms and legs, as well as how incredibly sore his back and neck were. "This place," he whispered. "I thought it was only desolate on the outside ... but the inside is equally lonely."
Sabin paused. Yes, he supposed that was what he really was, in the end. The only problem was, he didn't much like the feeling. He needed a friend ... he needed a home ...
Edgar ... Figaro ...
The young prince shook his head. No, Figaro wasn't his home anymore, no matter how much he would like it to be. He threw the castle away, and everything that came with it, when he won the Game of Chance with his brother. And his brother still called that place home.
Sabin shuffled his way out of his room, determined to get out of bed for good. Settling his weight against the doorframe, he got a good long look at the house he was in. The rest of this Narshe house was not much different from the single room he had been cooped up in until now, in that it was small. Directly in front of him was the largest room in the house, since the room he had been in was the only walled in space in the house. Before him was a fireplace, which held a flame that had burned out long ago, leaving nothing but ashes and dust that still glowed red. In front of said fireplace were two chairs, and nothing more.
This man either cannot afford furniture, or prefers open space, Sabin thought to himself. Although, I suppose it's really none of my business. Few things are, really. What is my business, however, is the matter of food. Sabin's stomach growled, further emphasizing his point.
Turning to his left, Sabin found what he was searching for. This was obviously intended to be a kitchen/dining area, built for two people, though Sabin suspected the old man ate by himself most of the time. The young prince began what couldn't be more than a walk of four feet, but to him was a long hike of two miles, after which he found himself staring at the man's cupboards. Licking his lips, he opened up one, displaying a treasure trove of food to his eyes. Almost instinctively Sabin's hand reached for a loaf of bread, before he stopped himself, realizing what he was doing.
I can't just take this man's food after what he did for me ... but Lord, am I hungry ...
Sabin let his eyes linger on the mountain of nourishment for a little while longer before he finally closed the cupboard with a sigh. It was wrong, he wasn't going to do it, and that was that. He could still be chivalrous, even if he was no longer a real prince. Instead of dwelling on food any longer, he resigned himself to what he had deemed the "sitting room", where he plopped himself down on one of the two comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace.
"I wonder," he said to himself. "I wonder if the old man slept here. There are no other beds except the one I slept in, so I suppose he must have ..."
Sabin's eyes wandered the walls. Even outside his room, when he should be feeling better, those plain brown walls sickened him. He couldn't understand how the old man found it possible to live here without constantly throwing up. The young Figaro closed his eyes, willing his stomach to stop doing flips. After a while, he felt far better, and began to relax in the chair.
The bookshelf ...
Sabin's head snapped to attention. That voice again ... it wasn't his own, but it sounded just like him ... the same voice that told him to come here ... to go north ... and now it spoke of a bookshelf ...
The young Figaro looked to his left. Was that there before? he thought. He had been positive that these walls were bare, but he now noticed a bookshelf built into the structure of the house, as tall as the ceiling, and every square inch of it was covered in literature.
Just as before, Sabin decided to heed the advice of this mysterious voice without question, for the same reason. He had nothing to lose. Standing, this time with less pain, the burly man stood and walked over to what was apparently his new destination. At least I can receive no surprises this time. I know exactly what you'll find on a bookshelf ... books.
Sabin began thumbing through the titles, finding a few he remembered, and a few which were new. To be honest, he had never been one to read very much, possibly because nobody else thought he was the type that would. He had grown up being large, thanks to the constant hours he put in with his father's trainers. They were supposed to be for the soldiers, but Sabin had little to do as a child, and fanciful dreams of being a brave fighter in battle always appealed to him at that age.
Suddenly, a light flashed in Sabin's face, blinding him for a moment. After a few blinks, he looked down for the source of the brightness, and found that it was merely a silver mark that had fallen to the ground and reflected the sunlight. Reaching down to pick it up, Sabin found yet another surprise, that being a copy of one of his favorite books as a child. A short fairy tale by the name of "Chocobo de Halborn".
I remember when Nana would read me this book after I had scraped a knee, or skinned an elbow, in order to calm me. I haven't heard it in ages. I don't think the old man will mind if I read this.
Sabin reached out for the short story, coin already forgotten, and tried to pull it out, only to receive a shock. Those few books were merely a disguise. They were part of a small trap door made to look like a bunch of books, and it popped open at Sabin's touch. The young Figaro gazed upon his new findings with interest. This was obviously a small storage space for the man's personal possessions, and although Sabin knew it was none of his business, he could not help but finger a few of the items kept in there.
The first was a small bag made of burlap, apparently sewn by the old man himself, which contained quite a bit of gold. Sabin expected that this must be the old man's savings. Next came a small framed portrait of a beautiful young girl. Flipping it around, he could see that somebody had written, quite messily, the words "Dearest Lydia" on the back of the frame. A few other items came after that, but they were mere trinkets that Sabin imagined held more worth to their owners than anything else. The last two, however, were far from being "trinkets".
Sabin had to gape at the small book he held in his hand. It was tiny enough that it almost fit in the palm of his hand, and bound in red leather. On it's cover were engraved, in gold letters, the title ... "Scorn the Empire". Underneath this, in even smaller letters, was the name of the author, and his title: Banon, Leader of the Returners.
The prince had to hug himself to keep from shivering. He was accepting hospitality from a man who hated the Empire. A man who rebelled against one of the most powerful forces ever known to these lands. A man who feels the way I do ...
Figaro had always been allies with the Empire. His father was said to be one of the most loyal of all the Empire's nobles. "Loyal up until his death" had been exactly what Kefka had said that night, before leaving. Leaving with his Imperial troops ... leaving with an air of death ...
"The Empire killed him, dammit! He knew ... he knew all along! The bastard ..." Sabin could feel the tears again. Those tears that he always kept so well hidden from everyone ... Nana, Edgar, his father ... Mother ...
"Who the hell are you?" Sabin whispered, looking down at his book, and the final item found in that secret compartment in the old man's bookshelf. It was old, tattered, and quite faded, but that didn't change what it was in any way, shape or fashion. It was an Imperial uniform.
Sabin brought his pickaxe down once again on a seemingly unbreakable rock. How long had he been at this now? It seemed like years, though he knew he had only been working here for four days. After all, a promise is a promise, and he was going to finish up a week of this if it killed him.
It very well might kill me, he thought, wiping some sweat from his brow. It still amazed him that he could be in a place so cold, and still sweat. The inside of these mines were so incredibly stuffy and warm, that he could understand why most of the men shed their shirts after only an hour's worth of work. Even he had ended up doing such, though he swore that he would only become cold and pass out again if he did.
As it was, Sabin felt fine, if just a bit warm, and slightly bored, although he hadn't exactly been expecting this job to be the most exciting he had ever undertaken. Sabin sighed, seeing how much work he had ahead of him, and raised his pickaxe again, prepared to bring it down for a crushing blow on the rock in front of him. Unfortunately, his strength was not as great as he expected, and all he achieved were more sparks.
"You put too much weight into it, lad. If you'd relax a little, and stop gripping that tool fit to throttle it, maybe you'd cut into the rock better." Sabin glanced over at Gregor, who gave him a sharp grin as he tore a rock nearly twice as big as the one before the young Figaro in two. Leaning against the side of the mine they were in, Gregor remarked, "You look a bit flushed. You gonna call it quits for today?"
"I've hardly begun," Sabin remarked, once again returning to the steady rhythm his pickaxe set for him. Bring the tool up, slash down ... up, down ... up, down ... over and over until the job is done, and then he will have earned some rest. If only it wasn't so exceedingly dull, he might have been able to stay on task. As it was, however, his mind ended up wandering, and before he knew it the hour had come for them to quit, with him having barely accomplished anything.
"I don't know about you, but I'm going back," Gregor said, donning his shirt and putting his hat on his head. "I'd suggest you do the same, but I doubt that would have any affect on ya. I'll come back to check on you later. Try not to work yourself into a stupor." With that the old man headed out with other miners. A few stayed with Sabin, but after a while even they turned to walk away, and eventually he found he was alone, or so he thought.
"I see you've settled into this place," a voice called from behind Sabin. He turned, and found Arvis relaxing with his back against the wall of the mines. "Although I expected you would. How's life been treating you?"
Sabin returned to striking the stone with his pickaxe. "About as well as could be expected, I suppose. And you?" Light conversation. Maybe he would stay this time if they didn't turn things too heavy like before.
Arvis put his hands behind his head, signaling to Sabin that he wasn't going anywhere. "The usual rebel's life, you know. A little information here, a little information there ... it adds up to something I can use after a while."
The young Figaro shook his head. "You know, you really should consider an occupation change. The last I checked, a rogue wasn't exactly the most respected person in the world." He swung the pickaxe down loosely, surprised at how much damage it did to the rock. Perhaps there was something to the old man's words after all.
Arvis chuckled. "I enjoy my occupation, thank you very much. Besides, I don't know any other way, to be totally honest."
Sabin set his pickaxe down, and turned to face the rogue. "Well, perhaps you should just change the name of your job, then. You could call yourself a ... oh, a 'Guardian of the Innocent', or some such nonsense. It would certainly make you sound more respectable, if nothing else." Unfortunately, Sabin could see that his words were going to naught on Arvis, as he merely grinned in return, waving his hand as if to say "How ridiculous".
Settling himself down into a sitting position, the well-muscled man faced off with the rebel. "Arvis, tell me ... who owns the house I've been staying in?"
Arvis's eyes narrowed slightly, and his head turned to look out the mouth of the mine. "You don't know by now? The old man, Gregor. It's his house." The young rogue cut off each of his words at the end, which made Sabin all the more suspicious of him. Arvis was excellent at telling half-truths, he suspected, meaning that everything he said was technically true, but with just enough information left out to change one's perspective.
"Was it always his house, Arvis?"
The rogue closed his eyes. Why did this one have to pry so much? Every time Arvis thought he might have found a decent person, he had to go and ask questions. That was what he always liked about Gregor. The man never asked, and never told.
The question now is whether or not I can trust this one. His brother has already told me how he feels about the Empire, but a great deal can change in a person in a relatively short amount of time. How much can I tell him without giving myself away ...
"Yes, Sabin. The house has always belonged to him." And me. "As I recall, he built it himself not more than two years ago." With my help. Arvis opened his eyes again, and fixed them on the Figaro before him. That should be enough to satisfy him.
The reality was that Arvis and Gregor had owned the house together, and still did, to some extent, although Arvis tended to go out more often, for longer periods of time. I saved the old man from being executed. The Empire has high prices for failure. I only hope he never has to see them again. With the cold up here, I doubt he will.
Sabin nodded. It was the answer he had expected, and was probably true, or at least close to being true, which was good enough for his purposes. Unfortunately, Arvis looked as though he was either growing bored or weary of this conversation, or perhaps a mixture of both, so the young Figaro knew he had better say what was on his mind before he left again.
"Arvis, how do you know my brother?" Short and sweet. Just like that. Sabin waited expectantly, knowing full well that Arvis was not going anywhere, and if he tried ... well, he would just deal with that when it came up.
The rebel stood, but didn't leave. Instead he walked towards Sabin, until he stood over him. Their eyes met, but this time Sabin did not turn away. Yet, he realized, there was no need to. Unlike before, this was not a staring contest of any kind. They were both looking upon each other with neutral standpoints, and that was all there was to it.
After a moment of this, Arvis sighed. Sabin stood, in case he decided to run again, but it appeared there was no need. "The most I can tell you, Sabin, is that your brother and I are ... well, business associates of sorts ... and friends as well ... at least until I can find somebody to replace my current ... career? I suppose you could call it that. I wish I could tell you more ... I really do, Sabin ... but that is all I will reveal to you. I swore an oath, and I'll not break it so easily. I hope you understand. My job here is finished. You'll be safe from now on, if you stay here. As for me ... I'm leaving Narshe. There's nothing left for me here anymore. We won't see each other again, Sabin."
The young Figaro regarded Arvis for a moment, then turned his head away. There seemed little for him to say, other than to correct one point of his new "friend's". "I'm afraid you're wrong about one thing, Arvis. We will meet again someday. Of that I'm sure. Until that day, however ..." And Sabin extended his hand to empty air.
Once again Arvis had disappeared.
"Sabin, could you come here for a moment?"
Gregor was sitting in one of the comfortable old chairs in front of the fireplace, a pipe firmly clenched between his teeth. As Sabin stepped out of his room, he saw the old man point, with a rather shaky finger, at his bookshelf, which was opened up to reveal all the items Figaro had unearthed before. On any other day, this might have surprised Sabin, but he was so far beyond surprises anymore that he just shrugged.
"I just received word that the Empire has taken full control of our mining activities as of this evening. They should be here, searching our houses and looting us for all we're worth by the morning. I want you to take all that gold there ... and go. I know you know who I am, and I know a bit of who you are. I won't talk if you won't, so let's part here as friends."
Sabin stepped up to the pile of trinkets before him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he noticed that the picture of the "Lydia" girl was missing from the pile, but other than that, it seemed undisturbed. He would do as the man asked. Although he knew he should stay behind to see the Empire, he knew that he could not face them. Not yet, anyway.
The young Figaro picked up the gold, slipping it into a leather pouch he had made for himself which he tied around his belt, and stood. "One last thing, Gregor ... I must know who all these items belong to."
Gregor pulled the pipe from between his teeth and breathed a long steady trail of smoke. "I'll not lie to ya. Arvis used to live here too. What you're looking at is our little treasure trove, where we keep all the things we hold as valuable. To tell the truth, nearly all of it is mine. All memories from my past. The only thing Arvis ever held valuable to him was that picture. Don't know the girl, but if she's valuable to a renegade like him ... then she must be something else. You'd better go now, and put all the rest of that away, while you're at it."
Sabin could tell that the conversation was over, so he began gathering together all the little trinkets and stuffing them into the hideaway. He stopped at the book written by Banon, and ran his fingers over that red leather cover one last time. I doubt I'll ever see another book like this with the Empire around. Makes me wish I could read it.
Before Sabin could put the book away, however, there came a loud rap at the door, followed by a deep voice shouting, "Miner! Open this door and make quarters for Imperial troops! You are held under oath by our Emperor Gestahl to serve your Empire! Come now, and be quick about it!"
"Damn!" Gregor whispered. He jumped out of his chair, and slammed the hideaway shut, not noticing that Sabin still held the book in his hands. "Go into the bedroom ... behind the dresser there is a trap door ... follow the path into the mines ... get out of here, now!" he hissed, giving Sabin a shove.
The young Figaro didn't need to think now. The book was quickly pocketed, and in but a few moments, he was scurrying through dark mine shafts, hoping to escape the "Imperial threat". Sabin found he couldn't blame himself. He did the only thing he could do at the time ... the only thing he had ever known how to do ...
He ran away.
Questions and comments welcome, naturally.
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