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The mud ground seemed to whack against against Ramza's chin without warning from below as he toppled forward, spiraling faint colors over his vision for a moment. He saw Delita grinning wryly at him upside down, then frowning when he didn't react instantly.
"Woah, s-sorry, brother... um, are you ok?"
"Aw, stop bluffing! If I'd really marked you, you wouldn't be conscious now."
"Y-yeah... so, that's what you've been doing all these nights."
"That's right. You know how Uncle's descended from the Eblanese..."
Ramza squinted as the dust began settling under his eyelids. "But... why'd you learn how to fight? Father wanted at least one of us to be--"
"WHY? Can't you even see for yourself, Ramza?" "S-sure, j-just help me up, huh?"
"What? Come on! Are we thirteen, or thirty-nine?"
"I was already sleepy! I was falling asleep looking for that shooting star...besides, I'M almost fourteen."
"The one that has something to do with mother? Hmm... aw, you're hopeless brother. Here!" Delita takes Ramza's hand firmly and pulls, but Ramza suddenly snaps up with ease and twists his startled blood brother into a sleeper hold, giving hum a noogie.
"Ack! Let go!"
"Ha! Are you forgetting I've been training longer than you? And I'm four months older than you. You shouldn't be spending all your time trying to beat people up, Delita!"
"Urk... not everyone has it as easy as you! You're a heck of a lot more popular than me... but I guess most people are. Don't you get it? Remember what Clyde and Dillon DID to me two years ago?! And all the others...we just shouldn't be going to the same school!"
"But... uh, you still owe me eight lunches."
"I'm not kidding. Everyone's been beating up on me since nursery school..."
Delita suddenly broke Ramza's grip and wrestled him to the ground, holding his arm in a mercy position. "But not anymore! You're pinned! Hah!"
Ramza grunted and clenched his teeth and eyes, trying to cough out his breath as Delita nearly stood on his back.
"A-kkk... De-l-i-t-a... c-c-cut it out!"
"Say mercy! Say mercy!!"
Delita pushed him down harder. "Come on, let's hear it! You know I can mop the garden up with you! I won't take crap from anyone now, I won't be stepped on anymore by the other kids, or anyone! I'll--I'll send you all to Hell someday! I swear it!!"
Tears of pain squirted down Ramza's cheeks. "P-p-lease... D-Delita..."
Delita's eyes went wide when he was what he was doing, and he let go of Ramza, backing away. "Oh God... I'm sorry, Ramza..."
Ramza remained on his stomach, head buried in his arms, breathing heavily.
"I-I lost control. Please, I didn't mean the things I just said..I know none of it's your fault, you're my best friend... okay, my ONLY friend. Ramza! Say something!!"
Ramza lie still for a moment longer, then scrambled up and brushed himself off.
"Jeez, don't get so hyper next time!" Ramza walked over, still panting slightly, and put his hand on Delita's shoulder. "Of course I forgive you. But... sheesh... are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah, I'm better now. I guess I was just looking back, thinking of that time three years ago... that's what drove me so crazy..."
"You mean on the old bridge?"
"Yeah, at least I'm growing this year. I was even more of a shrimp then..."
* * * * *
An old, creaking bridge sways gently over a wide frothing river, buckling under the weight of three boys; two of them, around thirteen or fourteen, are bullying the third, a younger and much smaller boy of ten. Crude bows hang from the older boys' belts.
"Well, come on pipsqueak, don't you have lunch money for us today?"
"NO! Stop, please, I don't have any! I gave it to my sister cause my Dad forgot to give her some--uk!"
The larger boy dragging him by the collar began to squeeze. "Aw, well next time your dumb little sister can starve, or maybe you oughtta eat her if you're hungry enough. Who'd care? You're just animals anyway... and we don't let animals by here like the y own the place." The small boy struggled and kicked, his legs flailing.
"Say Dillon... how's about we hunt the little animal here, have some fun?"
"Heh, yeah! Alright runt, you heard him. Let's see how fast you can run!" He dropped the small boy, who began to scramble to his feet as the older boys drew their makeshift bows.
"How about some squealing, runt? Come on!" They fired, barely missing the boy's ankles, laughing deeply at his yelps. A defiant splinter, nearly twisted off of a rotting limb of wood by the side of the bridge, fluttered in the wind but refused to break.
"Delita!" Another small boy appeared on the clearing from the other side of the bridge. "There you are! What-?!"
* * * * *
"So... can you tell me what happened after that, Ramza? You DID come..."
"You mean... you really don't remember?? I thought--"
"Nope. I never did, really... I blacked out, or something. I saw you scrambling out of the bushes, then everything just broke into pieces and spun around my head... I remember a string of blood flopping up somewhere. And... and... aggh! What happened? Co me on, tell me!"
Ramza shook his head, closing his eyes. "If you really don't remember... you won't wanna know."
"Ramza...? What happened?!"
"I told you... you don't wanna know. I don't want you to get crazy again, little brother..."
"I'm NOT your little brother, and I said, TELL ME! I WILL go crazy if I just have this hole in my memory forever! Please?!"
* * * * *
The older boy was crouched over, clutching his stomach and shivering as if made of ice, eyes swelling in shock. A few more drops of blood plunged from his hands to join the trail spreading outward, ending on a hand-sized splinter, dropped from Delita's tiny hand. His companion stood beside him staring at his wound, face drained of blood. He seemed completely unaware of the two small boys he and his mauled friend had almost forced off the bridge moments earlier.
Ramza's grip on his blood-brother was faltering. "Let me go!! Let me go!!"
"NO! Delita, Stop!! You hurt him! Let's go!!"
Finally, Ramza fell backwards and Delita sprung forward, his foot lashing out and connecting with the wounded older boy's face. Ramza tore his face away just in time, squeezing his eyes and mouth shut. He forced them open at the sound of a thick splash.
Delita was standing where the boy had been kneeling, breathing heavily and looking over the side.
His thoughts suddenly coming together in one direction, Ramza dashed forward as fast as he could, ignoring the rocks and thorned bushes tearing at his ankles. He grabbed Delita under the arms and dragged him backwards, off the bridge, not stopping. The other boy remained staring where his friend had been, unmoving as a vampire under the sun; an image that only touched the corner of Ramza's vision as he rushed his best friend into the woods, tears streaming down his cheeks, far away, far away...
He wasn't sure how much time had passed or where he was when he finally dropped Delita, and sat down against the back of a thick tree. He stared at the ground for a little while, catching his breath, waiting for Delita to snap out of it. Finally, he heard mumbling.
"H... huh? Delita! It's ok..."
"Ramza... Ramza... Ramza..."
"Calm down! I'm here!!"
"Uh... Ramza... I didn't... I did... did I? Ramza? Did I kill 'im?"
"I dunno... you just knocked 'im in the water, but it looked like you scratched 'im bad..."
"Ramza... Did I? Did I? Did--"
"I dunno! But it wasn't your fault! I saw what they were doing!"
Delita wiped away a tear with his sleeve. "Can... can we go home now?"
* * * * *
"Can we go home now?"
Ramza blinked. It was the first thing Delita had said since he finished telling him the story of his lost memory, maybe ten minutes ago. They had sat there quietly, listening to the burgeoning roar of the crickets as evening leaked over the sky and seeped through their senses.
"Can we, Ramza? I-I don't want to think about it anymore."
"Yeah... I'm sorry, I didn't really think of that time until you brought it up... but you know it wasn't your fault. I know it wasn't, and father knows it wasn't..."
"Thanks... Ramza. Well come on, I'm hungry. Dinner's probably rotted by now and Father's probably going crazy."
They slowly stood up and walked off, disappearing into the night's horizon. In the distance, the faint cry of a reed pipe could be heard, just below the quiet gossip of the wind.
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