Life and Loss
*Note: This fanfic is not consistent with my other fanfic, "Mercenary Soul" so most facts/events will be different.
The stillness of December fell over Ivalice. A fitting day for a death. The deepness of the air, the silence, seemed to surround and revolve around us. It wasn't snowing softly, the gentle flakes drifting down, like a pretty picture should have been. Instead, the cold, indifferent hardness of the ice, covering the sharp snow beneath, covered the streets and our farm.
"Father..." I couldn't help repeating it. To see if he would respond, to see if he was all right, to see if he was still alive. Ruglia Hyral lifted his withered head.
"Delita... I'm... going. I can... feel it. Listen carefully. Take care of your sister... when I'm gone. Protect her. You're her older brother and when I'm... gone... it will be your... responsibility." He took a laborious breath. "Ask... someone for help when you really need it... you're just children... find someone..." he drew a sharp breath. "I know Balbanes will listen... ask him for help... Delita."
"Father..." I took the cold hand in his own. I knew that feel... my mother's hand when she had closed her eyes and never opened them again.
"Father! No... don't go!" I begged. "Father!" I shook him vigorously. He moved under my hands like a rag doll. I edged away from the bed slowly. This couldn’t happen. Teta and I... were all alone. No one... with no one... even father was gone... A scream, a scream I'd wanted to release long ago ripped itself from my throat and tore at my trachea. I kept screaming till I felt hands, smaller than mine, grab my hands and hold them tightly.
"Delita..." I'm coming, Teta... as soon as these freezing hands squeezing my heart will let go...
"Delita, please..." a salty drop falls on my face. I finally allow myself to see what is there, what is real. My little sister. She's crying. I don't do anything. I just lie there with my eyes open.
"Delita... was it father?" I am silent. The words of my mind float through the air. She knows.
"Delita... we're all alone now..."
"I know, Teta." Her sobbing grows louder.
"Mother... and father... how could this happen? Oh, God..." She dropped to her knees, her arms on the bed. Dark hair covers the face, the face with the agony that I cannot feel... the agony I have replaced with emptiness.
"Should we put him in the same room as mother?" She lifted her dirty, streaked face.
The smell of rotting flesh hits me again. Father was too sick and weak to bury mother, and we were too weak from hunger and too small. We lay her in an isolated room, the old storage shack at the corner of our farm, but I can't help remember the smell, the look on her face when I opened the door. The body we had dragged in there was turning black, the skin falling off and falling to the ground in dark globby masses. Worms and bugs covered her body, eating away at the wasting flesh. Hollow eye sockets in her face, the eyes long eaten away or perhaps decomposed. Bones showed through the wasted mass. I'd backed away, shutting the door. I never went back to look at my mother after that.
My dark brown hair, lighter than Teta's, whipped around my head as I shook it vigorously.
"No! Not that room! I'm not going in there, never, ever..." I stopped as I saw her face, part hurt, part afraid. Afraid of me? I became conscious of my voice. "Sorry... I just meant... let's put him in a different room." I spoke firmly, not in the anguished wail I'd used before. I pushed the image of mother out of my mind. Attempted to. The picture of her face, the skin dropping to the ground in—
"We'll bury father." I said loudly. "We'll—we'll get someone to help—or we'll do it ourselves. We have the time—we don't have to—take care of anyone this time." Teta turned away. I wanted to comfort her, take care of her... but what could I do now? I believed he was dead. I didn't want to believe it, I desperately wanted to live in a fake world where I could think he was not dead—
He was dead. He was dead, and I was conscious of it. Mother was dead. I'd never really gotten over that either. We'd had to take care of father immediately, but I knew it was too late. He looked like hell. Like mother, a few weeks before she'd died. And now he was dead too. Still, I'd held onto that thin sheet of hope, the thin sheet I hadn't wanted to rip but still grabbed at desperately...
If I had a knife with me, I would have ripped my heart out. It was choking, burning inside me, a hot ball of fire enclosed in icy claws, ripping at it. I was vaguely aware that if I ripped it out, it would stop the pain. Teta's eyes were closed, her breathing even and deep. I slipped down on the bed and tore a piece out of the pillow with my teeth. I kept tearing pieces out until it became a tattered mess with piles of cloth at my feet. I snatched up those and shredded them to bits. I'm not sure when I stopped, but I remember dropping it all and placing my head on the bed, my arms encircling it.
And then I cried.
Waking up was a laborious task. I wished I could just lie there, allow the darkness to swallow me again and let me forget the world I had to live in. Teta was still asleep. I seized the moment to go back and look at father. But the fear was still there. Regardless, I couldn't help being pushed along. He still looked like father. I had the fear that I'd wake up, and see him, and he would look like mother... the way she was now. I touched his face. It was dry, hard, as though it was callused, and it felt like touching a piece of cold, dry fruit. I was shaking now, but I kept my hand there, touching it, his skin, his face—I had to see for sure, feel his skin, to see if he was really dead.
Finally I ripped my hand away and fled from the room. Teta had just woken up and watched me wordlessly. I placed my hand over my eyes and stayed that way for a long time. She waited patiently.
"Let's leave father where he is." I finally said. She nodded. She was only seven, but understood a lot more than I expected her to.
In the next few days, more changes occurred than I'd ever gone through. Although the land belonged to Balbanes Beoulve, there were a few managers working under him and dealing with all of the land and rent distributed to the commoners working the land for him. As soon as they came for the crops to pay for the land, I knew we were damned. I tried to negotiate out of it as well as I could, but nobles never listened to our needs. His face was hard as I explained the situation from him.
"If you can't pay the rent, I'm afraid you simply can't keep this land."
"Sir, please, could we just keep it for a little while? I'm sure we could find some way to pay it—these recent months have been difficult, caring for our parents, and we're just children, we can't—"
"If you can't pay for the land, you cannot stay." He stated again as though I were an idiot. I gave another try.
"Sir, if you let us keep the land we would pay for it later, after we find a way to pay, and we wouldn't take too much land, you can take half the land but please, just not the house—"
"If you don't leave I'm going to have to get some Hokuten guards to remove you," his voice sounded strained with impatience.
"Please, we won't live on the streets, it's still winter and we're only children, please, please, just let us—"
"Get off this land! It's not yours if you can't pay for it!"
"Get out! This isn't your house anymore!" He grabbed at my arm roughly and tried to drag me out. I stumbled out and he threw me to the ground. "Get off Lord Balbanes' land, commoner." He spat. I stared at him for a moment, then lowered my eyes.
"I'll notify my sister and collect our belongings."
Teta had expected this, but apparently not so soon. She looked around the room wildly as though it would give her an answer she could not find, then gave it one last, pained look. Immediately after she dashed to her room and collected everything she could—clothes, her money—and stuffed it into a backpack. I did the same, then we filled the remaining space with food that we still had left, our parents' money, and whatever we could find valuable and portable. On our way out I stopped by the man.
"Sir, could you please pay us for the remaining furniture in our house? We've got quite a lot—three beds, a table, and—" He pushed me aside and went into our house. He stared at the bare room, with a table and four chairs, Teta's room with her bed and a shelf, and mine with a bed, and finally opened the door to our parent's room. I shut my eyes. The smell still hit me, of the rotting corpse of our father. He stared past the body wordlessly and looked at the bed. I was glad Teta was waiting outside. Finally he handed me 10,000 gil. I nodded gratefully and took it, and met Teta waiting outside.
I learned quickly the hell of living on the streets. And even if it looks like you've got money to last, you're probably wrong. We had to buy sleeping bags and a tent to make a small camp at the edges of Igros, just near Mandalia plains, but in the aftermath of the war and the difficulties of the plague, prices were high. We found odd jobs when we could, and as commoners, farmers, we'd learned many skills useful to hire out. But our hopes were shattered when most people took one look at our small, scrawny, eight-and-seven year old bodies, and turned us away. Even when people hired us, our wages were low because of the little work we could do as young children. Often they fired us, finding the work of an adult far more useful.
But our real problems didn't begin until a group of thieves, which began with small gangs, stole over half of our money. The Death Corps.
I should have known children were easy targets and it was stupid to be out late. But it was our second week living on the streets and I was inexperienced. I was coming back from town after buying a two loaves of bread with our money. I tore a hunk off and began to chew on it, thinking wistfully of Teta waiting at the campsite. She must be hungry. We tried to stretch our budget after seeing our contempt-filled employers, and she'd only eaten once today—this morning. I turned at an alleyway to take a shortcut home, when a tall, lanky Death Corps thief with bushy brown hair and a beaver-like face stopped me. I put my hand on my hip immediately to stop the clink of the metal in the bag at my side, but it was too late.
"Let's see what you have there," he swaggered. I saw a dark silhouette of the rest of the thieves behind him. I backed away, thinking of running to the campsite. But the thought of leading the thieves to Teta, and more money we'd had safely stashed away there, was unbearable.
Instead, I turned and dashed towards the darker, more twisting streets of the alley, but the others caught me and threw me down. I struggled while they searched me, but one held a knife to my throat. I froze immediately. Triumphantly, the beaver-like one held my gil bag up. Five hundred gil, down the drain.
"Guys, kill him." He threw his hand towards me in a careless gesture.
"No!" I screeched before any of them moved. "No, please, just let me live. I won't bother you ever again—and I'll never tell anyone or anything—just leave me alone, please."
"I'll tell you what. You tell me where the rest of your money is, and I'll let you live. How's that?"
"I—" We had no source of income, except a few odd jobs. How would we live without our money. I cleared my throat. "I don’t have any more money. Couldn't we have a different... deal?"
"You're lying. No one carries all their money in one place. You want to live or not?" His dagger slid out of its sheath menacingly. I made another frantic run for it. I couldn't let them take our money, I just couldn't. We'd starve, and die, and Teta... I was supposed to take care of Teta.
One of them, I don't know which one, threw his dagger at me. It ripped off some skin and muscle, cutting through it, and slammed into a stop at my shoulderblade. I gasped and flinched but kept running, pulling it out and throwing it away as I turned at a corner. I turned two more corners, hoping to lose them. But they were adults, adult thieves, at that, running after a little eight-year-old farmer boy. The shoulder hurt unbearably. I wanted to wipe the blood off, too, but didn't, afraid it would slow me down. I turned another corner and realized I had just gone in a full circle. I glanced behind be as I ran. Perhaps they were close enough behind to—
A dirty blond one with hair ruffled by the wind slammed into me. He unexpectedly punched me in the gut. I fell to my knees and the rest caught up to us. One grabbed me by the hair and slammed his fist into my face. Coppery, salty-flavored blood flowed into my mouth and over my face. He kicked me in the gut. I coughed and blood sprayed up into my mouth. I wanted to beg him to stop but couldn't speak. He kicked me in the gut again. Hazily I wondered if they would kill me. The beaver-faced ringleader kicked me in the face. I fell on my back and skidded on the street.
"That'll teach you not to mess with the Death Corps, kid." Now tell us where your money is." I coughed and rolled over, gagging, and threw up. When I got my breath back, I replied as soon as I could in fear of getting kicked again.
"D—ditch." I gasped.
"The one by Igros castle? Near the rich houses of the town?" He lifted my face roughly by my hair. I nodded.
"Rock—a hole... under a rock... near Igros..." I named a hiding place where most of our money was stashed. The rest was at our camp, but Teta was there, and our tent and sleeping bags, so I had no intention of leading them there. They rushed off and I lay there, grateful to be left alone, among the dirt and blood. My face and shoulder was bleeding but I was too tired to wipe it off.
Shortly after, I saw them walk by, talking, laughing, and jangling my bag, filled with 6,000 gil. I stared helplessly as they walked over me as though I were not there. One smirked and gave me a kick as he walked by. I waited while they walked away into the distance, and released bitter tears of remorse and shame. How helpless I was, lying among the grime and my own blood, watching as a group of thieves walk off with the only money my sister and I had to survive.
My shaking and sobs grew more violent as I thought of what father had told me—to look after Teta—and without money, I could never do that. We would both starve and die on the streets of Igros. No one would care. We'd die, and our corpses would lie in an unmarked mass grave, of the hundreds of commoners that died from the plague or hunger or cold. I was useless—a nobody—a commoner—I remembered the words of the Beoulve land manager. I had no power to fulfill father's last request—take care of Teta. And I would die with her. I was too young. Only eight.
My one last resort—to go ask for the Beoulve residence for help. After they'd kicked us off the little land we had because two children couldn't pay the rent? And left us to the cruelest, the cruelest streets of all—the cruel streets of Igros, Ivalice. Left us to be robbed by Death Corps. Left us to starve and freeze and die. No, never. They would never help us. I would never go to beg them for help. Never. They had to ask us first. And that would never happen. I would die before crawling back to him for help... and undoubtedly he would reject us, or perhaps use us to do their labor, like servants...
And we were only children. The same age as Balbanes Beoulve's own son, Ramza Beoulve. Living in a castle, attending the best schools, eating glamorous meals, never exposed to pain or helplessness or violence, never seeing the real streets of Igros... never knowing cold, hunger, pain, remorse... no doubt he had countless amounts of power at his hands. He would never know the sheer agony of watching another walk off with your money, your food, your life, your sister's life...
Finally I quieted. With my bloodied sleeve I wiped away the tears and blood, mixed into one salty swirl of pale red. The blood came down on my face again but I didn't care. Wearily I picked myself up off the ground and walked towards our camp, not bothering to wipe any more of the blood off. Even just walking back to our camp was a strenuous task. My shoulder throbbed with a blazing numbness. Blood was spilling over my upper arm but I was too tired to do anything about it.
By the time I'd reached it Teta was dressed to go out. She seemed to have just come back, because her ears and nose, poking out from the scarf, were red with cold. She noticed me and immediately saw my face.
"Oh Delita, you're bleeding—! And your shoulder..." I stumbled into the tent and fell on my sleeping bag.
"Teta, 'm sorry..." I slurred thickly. "So tired... explain tomorrow." Finally I got the sleep I'd wanted so desperately.
When I woke up, the first thing I was aware of was an itchiness on my face. I tried to scratch it, I felt a cut and remembered last night. My hand flew to my shoulder. Someone—Teta—had cleaned it and wrapped it neatly in a thin strip of cotton, and removed my shirt. I tried to get up and lay back again. Strangely, I felt too heavy to get up, too tired. I stared at the top of the tent, the sun showing through.
Teta came in, lifting the tent flap carefully, carrying two small pieces of bread. She nearly dropped it as she saw I was awake.
"Delita! Are you okay?"
"Teta... what happened?"
"You came in covered in blood... so I took care of your injuries... Delita, what happened?"
"Teta!" I cried suddenly. "Oh, Teta..." I moaned, "Our money..."
"A bunch of thieves, of the Death Corps... I'm sorry, Teta, I told them where our money was... in the ditch..."
"They took it all?"
"Yes... and the bread I bought yesterday, and the 300 gil left over..."
"Oh, god..." She covered her face with her hands, then lowered them, and gave me a look. "But don't feel bad because you told them where it was... I'd rather that you're... all right..."
"I know... but it was stupid. How much do we have here?" She bit her lip.
"Two thousand gil... plus a little we've earned from our jobs... Four thousand, three hundred." I shook my head.
"We need to find a way to get money..."
"Oh, and Delita..."
"You've... lost a lot of blood." She cast a worried, concerned look over me. I had a flash of our mother. "I looked back over the trail you took... when I went to the town this morning to buy food... and..." she paused again. "It was really easy to follow your route. It was this line of blood, and I found a place in the alleys with a big pool of blood." I remained silent. I recalled the sluggish weariness, the heaviness this morning... "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" she finished. I paused.
"Sort of... I feel kind of heavy... and tired. But I'll be fine." I reassured her.
"Right." She stood. "I'll stay here for all of today... you should rest a little. Tell me if you need anything." She left the bread by my side and left the tent. I caught her voice, her stride, her hair ... I saw a glimpse of mother.
I must have slept somewhere among my thoughts, because I remember waking up a few times... but I kept falling asleep again. The last time I woke up, it was evening, late evening. Dusk was floating over the land, threatening to fall. I sat up weakly, with a struggle. I tried to use my left arm to push myself up but my shoulder throbbed with agony and I switched to my right arm instead. Teta had washed the blood and dirt from my shirt and neatly folded it next to my sleeping bag. I picked it up and pulled it over my head. Then I saw the bread. It was still there, from the morning. I was hungry but I remembered being kicked in the gut twice and started feeling sick again. Still, it was mostly mental. I picked it up and nibbled at it cautiously.
By the time I'd finished it I was ravenously hungry and reached for the other piece, demolishing it in a few bites. I collected the crumbs and dropped them into my mouth, then dusted off the bit of remaining flour that was on the crust of the bread. Feeling slightly encouraged, I pulled my legs out of my sleeping bag and bent my knees, trying to stand up. I crawled onto my knees and used my right arm to brace myself against a tent pole. My knees shook slightly from the weight, and I needed my arm to support myself, but I was still able to stand.
When I tried to walk, though, my legs couldn’t stand the weight and I was reduced down to my knees. I crawled back to my sleeping bag with an angry grunt. I had to recover soon, and find a way to support us, before our money ran out. I took the rest of the time trying to get stronger—I tried standing for a while, and when I got too tired, standing on my knees, doing small, effortless exercises. By the end I was able to walk a few steps but I went to sleep again, exhausted.
The next time I woke up, it was morning. I felt unusually refreshed and tried to stand again. It was much easier than last time. I was able to walk a lot more, but I tired easily and was not quite steady. But the fast recovery was encouraging and I waited for Teta to come in. While waiting, I paced back and forth in the tent, practicing walking. She came in just while I turned, and smiled widely.
"Oh, you're awake? And walking. I heard people who lose a lot of blood, get, you know, weak..."
"I know. I still am, a little, but I'm doing better."
"I came in a few times yesterday but you were asleep." She inclined her head towards outside of the tent. "Do you want to eat something? You only had those two pieces of bread yesterday..." I stood and came out. The morning glow was brilliant to the glowing patches of snow still left, and the green tufts peeking out from the holes in the pure whiteness. We still had two and a half loaves of bread and a few apples and meager vegetables. We saved the vegetables for later, to make a soup which would hopefully last a while, but I took some of the bread. The apples we saved for later. As we chewed on the cheap, dry crusts, we sat on the plains and watched the sunset.
"Beautiful. Somewhere mother and father are watching this sunset... from up there..." She nodded towards the sky. I watched, wordless.
"Don't worry, Delita. I'm sure we'll be fine."
"I've been afraid of this for a long time."
"Are you thinking about the money? We'll get through..."
"I'm not sure. I guess there are some things you can't change, no matter what."
"Don’t say that. If we put some effort into it..."
"I want to look after you like I promised father..." I closed my eyes. "But I can't do a thing. I'm 'useless'..." She looked away.
Eventually I recovered and we went job hunting again. Teta had already found a job helping a seamstress in her shop. I finally found a farmer who would take me as an assistant for money. I helped in every way that I could, and it wasn't too bad. Often I had watched my father do the same work. But the pay was low, very low. I asked him about a raise once but he glared at me and snarled,
"Times are hard. Don't you think I need to feed my own family?" Afraid I would lose my job, I didn't ask him again. But the price of food was gradually rising, and soon a loaf of bread was 50 gil. Teta and I together made about that much money every week. Our remaining 2,000 gil was already starting to run out, and we were began eating three slices of bread a day. Everything else was too expensive, but I managed to find a store that would sell two loaves of bread, standard size, for 50 gil. So we lived solely on bread.
First Teta lost her job. She cried and begged for me to forgive her and that because of the hunger she just couldn't concentrate. I was desperately scared but reassured her and she looked for a job again. Soon enough, I lost my job too. We both looked for work but no one would take two starving kids to work for them.
The first thing I did was begin to look in garbage cans for food. But the rats, and other beggars always fought for the food and I could seldom find anything there. Still, once in a while, I'd be able to find a hunk of bread, a fruit or vegetable, and sometimes even some meat. I never let Teta go with me, though, and handed her the food wordlessly when I came back.
Another thing we tried, although humiliating, was begging. We tried going door-to-door, asking for food. Teta was better at it, but we still had quite an effect. Most turned us away with disgust, but many of the kinder-looking people, the rich, and even the poor, handed us food. But we usually only had the food equivalent to half a meal per day compared to our old life.
I remembered my last resort: to ask the Beoulves for help. I coldly turned the idea away. Never. Too humiliating, even compared to digging in the trash, or begging others for food. And the thought of the rejection was unbearable. So we decided to sell one tent, and later, our sleeping bags. We even sold our cooking utensils, and some of our clothes. Finally we slept in the streets, with nothing except some food and the clothes we wore. We sold everything we could, but got little money for it. Still, the cold was a small price for the food we began thinking of constantly. Food was usually three slices or so of bread, maybe even half fruit each if we were lucky on some days. If we were not, sometimes nothing.
Everyone seemed to be as pitiful as us on the streets. Huddled in faded, tattered blankets, nibbling despairingly at food, hunting wildly in the garbage cans for food. Mostly, I noticed their eyes. Our eyes. So wide, sometimes causing them to look fearful, sometimes crazy, and sometimes sorrowful. There were few other children on the streets. Most were dead. I suppose we were lucky to be alive, although sometimes I didn't care. But at those times I remembered Teta.
Then a sudden change occurred. It was again because of the Death Corps. Teta and I were invited into the house to share a meal with a kind old lady. For once, we were not hungry. Not full, but not that hungry either. Not the gnawing pain that had clawed desperately at me. I had grown so thin in the last months, I don't know how they recognized me. Perhaps because we were children, and there were fewer children on the streets. Or maybe it was my hair. Blondes were more common in Ivalice.
"Yo! Kid! You're that kid who we beat the shit out of and stole money from a couple months ago! I wonder if you've got anything left?" He laughed sarcastically. Recognizing them immediately, I gripped Teta's hand tightly and ran. They were fast, but we had a clear head start. I constantly checked to see if Teta was next to me, all right. She was gasping, choking in fear. I was strongly conscious of the wind around us, of the feet thudding rhythmically on the pavement, of the expression the their faces, and Teta's face, as we fled.
More than that, there was the fear. The fear that had been clawing up at me since the time father died, since we were kicked off our farm, since the thieves attacked me for the first time. It seemed to break and explode. There was nothing I could do now. Nothing. We were starving, and running from a bunch of thieves who would not hesitate to kill, and who hated me. Any hope for either of us to live was barely there.
I tripped on a rock and stumbled. I tried to keep running, keep my balance, but one leg had thrown me off balance and I fell. I shoved my sister hard.
"Keep running!" I gasped. She stumbled slowly, afraid to leave me, reluctantly running off but constantly looking back. I shook my head and the group of Death Corps skidded to a halt when they saw me on the ground. I recognized most of them—the tall beaver-like one, the dirty blonde, the stocky, auburn one, and another blond with a passive face. There were others I didn't remember. He laughed and lifted my head by my hair. I shifted my eyes to look at the rocky pavement instead.
"Pitiful. I see your sister got away. That's fine. At least we've got you." His face curled into a scornful smirk. "She'll die anyway, without 'big brother' to take care of her. You'll both die. You're nobodies." In a vicious lash I kicked him in the leg. He slipped and fell next to me. I clambered onto him and hit him in the face. The others all grabbed me and pulled me off. I gave him a kick in the face as they dragged me away.
"Not gonna die—we're not gonna die—not gonna—not gonna die—" I kept sobbing the words over and over again.
"Damn you." His voice shook in a low, furious whisper. He wiped blood off his face. "You've gonna pay for that—so damn bad—" He hit me in the face. I struggled, but another Death Corps thief was holding my wrists tightly behind my back. The other one kept hitting me in the face. I could feel my head snapping back and forth with every blow but was helpless to do anything against it. They threw me to the ground and I felt my bloody face scraping against the pavement. He kicked me again, in the gut. He kept kicking me, and I couldn't feel any of it separately anymore—it was just one huge mass of pain—
"Damn! The Hokuten!" Then voices... but it's too hard to tell what they're saying. The clanging of steel—weapons—a fight? I was too tired to move or care and the pain made it hard to think.
I felt movement and heard a lighter, higher voice—Teta's? But it was loud and scared—what was wrong? Where am I? I can't remember what I was thinking about... but I'm so tired...
"Yes... on my fief, the... Hyrals, Ruglia Hyral, correct? I'll look into it..." The voices woke me, but I wanted to pretend I was asleep, afraid waking up would end the half-conscious bliss. I made my breathing heavy again, waiting, hoping someone would speak in indicating where I was before I gave away that I was awake.
"Thank you, my lord... it was almost a year ago... I'm not sure you would remember..."
"I can look at the records. I'll investigate and you can wait here till then."
"I thank you for your kindness, lord Balbanes..." Those two voices... Teta and... Lord Balbanes? Lord Balbanes... was it possible? I opened my eyes.
"Oh, Delita! You're awake. I've got so much to tell you..." she shuffled over to the side of the bed, and I noticed it was the kind of bed... nobles used. This room... it looked like a noble's house... "Lord Balbanes... he's offered to take us in..."
"What?" I coughed, my voice coming out strangled. She nodded.
"His managers weren't supposed to do that... only when there's a guardian left, he kicks them off the land, but if there's only children..." she turned a palm up in an excited gesture. "Then he finds a person to take them in... if there's no one... he said he'll look into it, but you know we're right, Delita! We have been kicked off our land, we haven't lied... so you know what's going to happen!"
"Isn't he lying?" I didn't let my sudden exhilaration override my common sense.
"I don't think so... we'll just have to wait and see." But we were excited at this sudden, new spark of hope we began speaking of possibilities in rapid voices, interrupting each other in the eagerness to discuss the possibilities. The conversation had slowed a bit when Lord Balbanes came in, looking over a few papers in his hand.
"I've discovered that one of my land managers took your land against my rules. Because..." he paused thoughtfully. "Probably because sometimes I raise their pay relative to the income coming from land worked by farmers... and two children can make much less than an adult, or a family." He lowered the papers. Sound throbbed in my ears, filling my mind with the realization that he hadn't abandoned us, he wasn't the cruel noble I'd imagined him to be— "Hmm... Because of the war, no one takes in children anymore. I guess that means..."
"My lord, if I may ask a question—"
"Will this be temporary, or are you taking us as apprentices, or—"
"No, no." He laughed. "I know, you're afraid I'm one of those people who take in commoners as children as servants or slaves, correct? Don't worry about it. And no, this will not be temporary. I've got the money to support it."
"Oh..." I stopped, unsure of what to say.
"I've got four children. Don't worry, I'll get them to treat you like family. Two of the children are only half-siblings of the other two, and they tolerate each other."
"Who are your children?" I couldn't believe Teta was interested. She was usually more mellow, more quiet.
"Dycedarg is the oldest, twenty-nine years old. Then the second brother, Zalbag, is twenty years old. Ramza, their half brother, is the same age as your brother, eight. Then Alma, Ramza's full sister, is the same age as you, seven."
"You should sleep some more," he added. "The Death Corps seem to get more and more ambitious... I'll get the Hokuten to keep a sharp eye out..."
"Thank you, lord." I leaned back and lazily closed my eyes again.
The life of the nobility shocked me at first—probably because we had been living in poverty so long—but it was easy to get used to. Something I wanted to get used to, for once, not had to get used to. The physical aspects of the lifestyle, at least, was enjoyable. The more mental aspects were painful. I always felt the... not tension exactly, but the feeling of not belonging, the feeling of being on the outside, as I was among the others. Zalbag and Dycedarg ignored me altogether. Ramza and Alma were kind to us to an extent, but we were second place. If they saw another friend, they rushed off, leaving us behind.
I felt a desperate longing to be one of them, but I knew that would never happen. When I was among them, there was always a wall between us, a wall of awkwardness and tension, a wall of indifference and coldness. I was pained to feel this wall, but it was something I had to live with and I knew it. But the reality was sharply painful to accept.
Teta and Alma seemed to eventually get along quite well, and over time I began to see them together, talking, laughing, playing. Ramza was more difficult, swayed by the opinions of his noble friends, more stiff and concerned about the opinions of others. Alma was much more easygoing.
Sometimes I felt a longing to join the two girls but I turned the idea away. I would look like a tag-along brother, only an older one. Just from imagining such a thing, the humiliation stabbed at me. The real companionship I wanted was Ramza's. He was the same age and gender as me. He was supposed to treat me like a brother. It wasn't as though he was unkind.... Just... he was Ramza.
When I was walking down the street another day, a group of kids came up to me. I don't know how they knew I was a commoner. I guess everyone hears everything. After all, the Beoulve was one of the most respected noble families in Ivalice. One of them laughed.
"Look, it's Delita. He's living with the Beoulves. He thinks now that he gets to be a servant for a noble, he is a noble." The group closed around me, many of them older and bigger than me. I backed away.
"Let's see what you have there..."
"S—stop! Go away! I didn't do anything—!" I stumbled as memories filled my mind.
"Yes you did. You acted like a noble. You'll never be like us."
"Listen to him, commoner."
"You'll never rise higher than milking the cows!"
"And shining my shoes." He kicked me, and stooped down to inspect his shoe. "Dirty with commoner dirt. Clean it!"
A kick—and I can't breathe...
"That'll teach you not to mess with the Death Corps, kid."
"Go away! I didn't do anything to you!"
"Didn't we tell you already? Stop acting like a noble." He kicked me. I fell, pushed off balance. "First lesson: never order a noble to do anything."
"Second: never contradict a noble." Suddenly their voices changed and they called over to someone else.
"Come on, Ramza! Let's beat the shit out of him!"
"Ramza! It'll be fun!" Ramza... would he... oh god, I can't go through it again, like with the Death Corps...
"Ramza! Help!" I screamed. He just stared. Stared, stared, without doing a thing. The other children suddenly ran in and grabbed me.
"Damn you! Just because I'm a commoner—" I began, knowing it wouldn't make a difference to say it anymore.
"Shut up!" Several children started kicking me, stomping on my hands, punching me in the face
"Damn you." He wiped the blood off. "You're gonna pay for that—so damn bad—" He hit me and I fell... then I didn't know exactly what they did—it was everywhere—and the fear—the fear—
I screamed shrilly, and father—I'd gotten used to calling him that now—rushed into the street.
"Stop! What are you doing? Let go of him, now! Leave, all of you!" He scattered all of the children. I lay there silently, too afraid to move or speak. The Death Corps... the memories killed me with the fear— "Are you all right, Delita?" He asked. I didn't answer. Father picked me up and carried me into the house.
I remember having a broken wrist, but I was too distracted by two things: Ramza and the Death Corps. Somehow I couldn't shake off the Death Corps. I was so used to living in constant fear of something like that, and this was so similar, I couldn't help agonize over it. And Ramza kept coming into my mind. The way he stood and watched, stared, didn't join the others but didn't even try to help me. Was I that different from him, in his mind?
Later he came to my room to apologize, but I turned his words coldly away. Father made him apologize and I knew it. His touching words of sentiment were nothing, a fake little dialogue made up on a script. I finally told him I forgave him to get rid of him.
The second time it happened, though, he joined and fought them. Father had to save both of us. And he passed out. I took the opportunity to think it over. He hadn't helped me the first time, so why did he change his mind now? What was it about Ramza? What had happened to his old indifference? Father couldn't have influenced him that much, could he? Or had he come to his own conclusions? I played idly with the handle on the window. Was it possible that he cared? But to what extent?
It was also difficult to control my other feelings. Even any small hope that Ramza really considered me a brother, a friend, was encouraging. After all, getting knocked out by a bunch of kids was a price to pay simply to prove that he was on my side, and he had paid it. It was an easy thing to avoid, and he hadn't avoided it.
If I accepted Ramza now, I would have the opportunity I'd wanted so long. If I didn't... I would lose it. If I accepted it and he rejected me... what did I have to lose? My other peers already despised me for being a commoner. Besides... if he was pretending, and I treated him with the cold indifference I had just recently... it wouldn't make a difference to just stop that for a while, just to see if he honestly felt this way.
I tiptoed into his room. He seemed to be asleep. I sat next to him and watched for just a moment, afraid to move, afraid to do it. I forced myself to say it.
"Ramza..." I swallowed and began again. "Ramza... Thank you." He opened his eyes and tried to sit up unsteadily.
"They beat the shit out of us. Father got rid of them, but..." I shrugged casually. "They already knocked you out. Father's trying to find out who they are but they run away fast, so..."
"How'd you do?" He asked. I forced a laugh. As long as I could pretend I was relaxed, casual, around him, maybe he would...
"No breaks. No fractures. I didn't even pass out. I was lucky."
"How about me?"
"You've got a broken arm... and you had a pretty bad cut on your head, and a really big scrape on your back. You were out while the doctor took care of stuff. You've got a lot of... minor injuries too." I added. To fill the awkward silence and close the conversation, I added a hasty sentence
"Ramza... you should sleep now. You had a concussion."
"All right." He lay back down.
"...Thank you, brother." This time I allowed the words to come freely.
~ I hate the end. It's so cheesy and corny. But I wanted this to be about him... y'know.... Ramza accepting him and crap, and I wanted another POV for "Mercenary Soul" so yeah... If anyone wants to email me, constructive criticism, flame, acknowledgement, whatever, feel free.