THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

Betrayal of Hope
Benjamin Davis
bendavis@voicenet.com



Ovelia is dead.

I truly am alone now.

You can't define simply define company as the number of warm bodies nearby. Even though we were separated by miles of forest, river, mountains, I've never felt alone before. Others knew the truth, you see. Some still do, I suppose. Alma knows, but she met someone in Bervenia, an up-and-coming young merchant. They love each other, he's rich and handsome. They'll make each other happy. I wish for that with all my heart. It's no life for a young girl--no, a young woman--wandering around the wilderness and taking shelter from the storms in the shattered ruins of a bygone age.

I was happy drinking from cool, clear streams swollen in their beds from melting snow. I was happy walking through the green hills on the edge of Ivalice while we allowed our chocobos time to graze, feeling grass between our toes that was still unstained by human blood. I think Alma was happy too, but in the end her happiness lay in Bervenia under an assumed name soon to be exchanged for her husband's. She can never reveal that people once called her 'Alma Beoulve' instead of 'Alma Ruglia,' never reveal the truth. Even if I can never go back, it would be wrong to deny her the chance. And so I wish for her happiness. I truly do. But on my first night without her--spent on a forested knoll overlooking the city--when I realized I had set out two sleeping bags, I broke down crying.

If I killed a god, why do I feel so weak?

Olan knows the truth, and maybe that female spy accompanying him, Balmaflua. I think he's too vocal though. Right now, the church is struggling to recover from the gaping wounds inflicted on it, and people dismiss him as a madman. Someday though, the Glabados church will recover and recognize the threat. Then he'll be silenced, the truth suppressed. Maybe Balmaflua will do the deed; I don't trust her. Be careful, Olan. The truth will make you wiser but it won't make you happy. Instead it will hold you rapt and you'll never see the knives in the darkness. Take care, my friend.

How important is the truth? How many of our cherished beliefs are founded on lies? St. Ajora was a demon, yet he's the foundation of the religion that dominates Ivalice. We say kings rule with divine right; I learned how wrong that is. Kings rule with fire, war, politics, steel, blood, fear.

My companions knew the truth, those damned souls who chose to side with me as I led them through a dead city. They followed me still, when I shrieked defiance in the face of a fallen god and fought him for the life of my sister. Dead now, all of them. Buried when Altima cast his final spell and the Graveyard of Airships exploded. To this day I don't how Alma and I survived. I remember opening my eyes with the afterimages of the light and Altima's snarling face still dancing before them. I saw a beautiful, deep blue sky with a flock of pure white clouds drifting across it in what seemed to my dazed mind, a most perfect pattern. A few tree branches framed the masterpiece nicely. Gradually, I grew aware of other sensations: the grass underneath, the sound of a shallow brook. Overriding all of it though, was the sound of soft breathing beside me. No symphony ever moved a heart so much as that simple sound. I turned my head to the side and saw Alma's face relaxed in sleep.

We were lying on our backs, the two of us beside a brook where a couple of wild chocobos had come to drink. They looked at us curiously. Their beaks, just withdrawn from the water, were still dripping. Alma opened her eyes then and clasped my hand reassuringly, a weary smile on her face. I gripped back. The two of us, and no one else.

There's a litany I made for my fallen companions. I repeat it once a day so I'll never forget them as History will, the doddering, senile old fool. Agrias, calling down the lightning through her sword, searching for the princess she would never find. Mustadio, striving to uncover the past so that he might save the present. Rafa and Malak, brother and sister remaining devoted through all the battles. Orlandu, called Thunder God Cid, could have taken the leader's mantle from me but he preferred to fight injustice as an equal. Meliadoul, one of the Knights Templar, looking for a confrontation with her father. By the time we found him the human had been eaten by the darkness inside; I doubt he recognized her. Beowulf and Reis, who knew each other's souls no matter how the body was twisted. Worker 8, mechanical relic of the past allied with us for reasons inscrutable as his iron face. Cloud, a strange traveler with his strange sword, and those sad, glowing eyes.

What did I get?

I got to watch the other Gariland graduates, my friends since I first entered the academy, die one by one. The memories are seared in my mind, writ with lines of fire.

Voltaire died outside the gates of Lionel Castle. I crossed swords with Gafgarion in the rain, wet hair plastered to the sides of my face, framing my grimace of hate. It was met in the middle by his arrogant sneer. As we swayed back in forth in the mud, blades ringing, I could hear the sounds of battle beyond the castle wall. I heard Agrias shout an oath I never expected to hear from a Holy Knight. I could hear the earth split, heaving boulders into the air while jagged bolts of lightning passed them, striking down. Destruction on such a scale could have been borne of Shield's spells; this was the work of Summoners calling the elemental avatars onto the field. Gafgarion's sword bit deep into my shoulder, shining red as it slurped up my blood to knit his wounds shut. I cried out at the violation and broke his shield with an overhead smash that drove him back, earned me a brief respite. I splashed through the sea of churning red mud and pulled on the gate mechanism. The castle gates clanked upwards. In stumbled Voltaire, arrow shafts protruding from his body at a dozen angles, yet he lived. Too much the predator to ignore an easy kill, Gafgarion swung his sword in both hands, flinging a scarlet wedge of energy in his direction. I shielded my eyes against the blood-colored light refracting among the raindrops. Opening them, I saw Voltaire hovering inches off the ground, impaled by the energy. Then it ends. He is flung backwards to lie sprawled on his back in the mud, staring at the sky with unseeing eyes rolled back in his head.

None of them survived to reach the final battle.

In the great hall of Riovanes castle Julia darted around me, flying up the stairs with eyes intent on the demon at the top. Without pausing in her run, she flicks her wrists and her knives are in her hands stabbing the demon with the quick one-two strike practiced by the ninja. Mortally wounded, the demon clutches a paw to its chest and roars as it collapses on itself, reverting to a grotesque stone icon. In her elation, she didn't see the shadow bearing down on her. I call out a warning; too late. Velius grips her above and below the elbow with two of his four massive hands. Seconds ago, when I looked at her I saw an inviolate wind, fierce as any tempest. Now I can only see how thin and fragile that arm looks enclosed in a steel grip that wraps completely around it. Working in tandem, the hands snap her arm in two places. She bites her lip, doesn't cry out. Velius cocks his two other arms back, still holding her in the air, and swings them in, burying twin crushing uppercuts in her gut, jerking her like a doll in the hands of a spiteful child. I heard the ribs snap with that blow, but it doesn't stop her; she buries a knife in his shoulder. When he drops her, she stabs again with her broken arm this time. I hear the bones grind together and wince. Velius quakes, holds all his arms close to his chest and I can see that the ram's head stuck on that massive, wide-shouldered body is chanting, racing over the syllables with malicious glee. I try to climb the stairs; she must not die like this! A blast of night energy drives me to my knees, a Dark Holy from one of the lesser demons. Julia makes a final exhausted leap backwards, not realizing this spell tracks with pinpoint accuracy. Velius screams in triumph as he completes the spell, drowning out my cry of anguish. I don't see the spell as it leaves his hands and strikes her body. I can imagine it though, the strands of magic intertwining with her organs, turning living flesh into dead rock. The statue is a perfect likeness. Courageous ninja, sealed forever in stone.

These are the deaths that hurt the most.

Deep beneath the world cradled and blessed by the sun is the kingdom of blackness, the Deep Dungeon, where rumor placed a 13th Zodiac Stone. An army of behemoths and feral red chocobos engaged us on an underground plateau. Malcolm was a typhoon of spinning fists and kicks, his limbs striking the beasts surrounding him on the jaw as they darted in to bite. Somehow, his blows were enough to ward off even those snapping jaws. The rest of the hideous menagerie separated us however, and I never saw him again. Never even found the body. In that grim underground wasteland, no part of the meal goes to waste. Malcolm, lost to the darkness.

They didn't need to come with me when I abandoned my old life.

Ambushed at Bariaus Hill, outnumbered at least 2-1 by hydras and dragons of every description. Shields was still inexperienced as a Calculator, those mages who see the world as a grouping of numbers. In theory she could send her spells along common denominators, striking multiple enemies instantaneously across great distances. She saved us by cutting their numbers in half with a death spell that erupted all among their ranks. It turns out she fell under the common denominator too, and her life was ripped out of her along with that of the dragons and hydras. Did she know it would happen? I'll never know. The others kept us busy fighting, and by the time we reached the body it was too late to revive her.

Didn't need to follow me to their deaths out of some misplaced notion of loyalty.

Zeltennia Church, where Zalmo stood upon the bell tower, silhouetted against the sun. With his hood pulled back and piled on his shoulders he looked for all the world like the mad hunchback they say once lived here. Two Oracles clung to the buttresses while manipulating Yin & Yang to cause flesh-wracking ailments like angry gods passing judgment from on high. Their target was Roland. He stood just a bit below them, tossing much needed healing potions to us where we crossed swords with the Holy Inquisitors. They froze his legs first, so he couldn't retreat. He could have used one of the potions on himself, but he chose to heal us instead. So they blinded him, poisoned his mind and body and finally paralyzed him completely. He couldn't even flinch as one of the oracles brought his staff around and snapped his neck.

All they got was a stone cross planted in the woods, carved as well as my meager skill could make it.

On the roof of Riovanes Castle Rafa stood over her fallen brother's body, swinging her sword wildly, not letting anyone near. Marion ran lightly over the blue roof tiles struggling to reach the pair and try her medicines. Out of the shadow cast by the chimney in the afternoon sun, one of Elmdoor's assassins--Celia, I think, but I'm not sure which--flowed across the roof with liquid, deadly grace and caught her by the scruff of the neck, hoisting her into the air single-handedly. Celia turned her around, jerked her within an inch of that ivory mask of a face-and it might as well have been a mask for all the emotion it showed-and stared. Stared as if wondering who this human was that thought she was so special that she would be spared. All the while, Marion was kicking her feet in the air, shaking her head and begging wit h her eyes. She was still fumbling around in her pouch for a Phoenix Down when the assassin hurled her off the roof to break in the courtyard below. Both of us had a crush on Marion at one point. Just a hopeless little schoolboy crush over a pair of sparkling brown eyes. Do you even remember, Delita?

So many lives cut short. For what?

What did I get?

I got a knee that aches when the weather turns damp, a reminder to make sure that the behemoth you just charmed will stay charmed when you turn your back. Not even the minor curative magic I picked up can stop the pain. My hands ache the worst though, as if they weep that I used to them to kill so many. Not just monsters, but humans too. Some were worse than the 'monsters' but most were just following orders. Like our friends were when I sent them to their deaths.

'What did we get?' After the funeral--Alma's funeral, for they thought her dead--we were riding through the Mandalia plain when I noticed Alma was no longer riding at my side. She had halted her chocobo a few yards back and buried her face in it's neck, crying silently into the mass of soft yellow feathers. That's the question she asked me when I put my arm around her and asked what was wrong. She wanted to know why so many people had died or killed over her. I said 'freedom.' We were free of everyone's plots and machinations. I was wrong. We're not dancing on puppet strings anymore, but the strings of the heart endure.

Ovelia.

For me, it always come back to her and the way she died, the way she lived. Passed from one player to another like the winning card in a game where everyone cheats. For a time, I held that card and it was the only happy time I can remember in this god-awful war. Did I love her? I think so, but all I know for sure is that when we stood side by side playing those reed flutes I knew we were alike. Two people, used by everyone, trying to the do the right thing but forced by circumstances into choices they were never sure about. At the very least, she was a friend. A friend you killed after you used her up, Delita. I thought you loved her too. Maybe you did, a little but that only makes it worse. Did you kill her because she was tired of playing the game? Because she couldn't fill the void left in the wake of Teta's death? While you were setting yourself up to be king, I was making sure you would have a world left to rule, but you ended with the winning card anyway and you threw it away! Threw away Ovelia! Why? That just isn't right, dammit!

My whole family, every friend, every comrade-in-arms I've ever known was destroyed in this thrice-damned game! Delita, after the dust kicked up by the massacre settled, I looked up and saw you as you really are. The master player, as fine a manipulator as ever lived! I've never felt so betrayed. Under the reign of King Delita Hyral, all man shall be treated as equals. Under King Delita we shall have peace. It's all a lie! Just like the one your claim to the throne is founded on! The farmers are still used by the manor lords and they're used by the nobility, and you use the nobility and Ovelia's dead and it's all your fault! God damn you! What god, ha ha? I killed him, remember!

I spend a lot of time these days staring into the sack where I keep the Zodiac Stones, watching them glitter. Oh yes, I did get those, didn't I? They survived the cataclysm when nothing else did. I'll take one out now and then turning it about at eye level, knowing it paints my face in garish colors as the setting sun shines behind it. I got so caught up trying to stop those who would use their power , I never realized how beautiful the stones themselves are.

Holder of the Holy Stone, promise me...

Beautiful.

Promise.

They call devils. I kill devils. Thought I killed them all, but maybe some remain. I know the stones can be used for good or evil, but I don't need the power to bring someone back from the brink of death. I need the other kind. I can end the using of people by using a stone. What did I get, Delita? I get you.

Promise me...

I'm coming for you Delita. If there is a God, may you know his wrath.

Holder of the Holy Stone...

All right then.

I promise.

I PROMISE!


Author's Note: Questions and comments welcome. I may write a full story with this as the prolouge if people like this. If, on the other hand, my e-mail turns into a river of flame, then'll I think I'll let the idea drop.


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