Seeking Out The Truth
"Sorry, old friend," he whispered, thinking how brave was the ninja, Nancy's cousin, before he fell to Altima's unmerciful beating. The fiend kept teleporting itself from one extremity of the battlefield to the other, but Ramza finally caught up with it and thrust his javelin deep, snapping several bones with a sickening crunch. Before he could utter a cry of satisfaction, he heard Orlandu shout behind him:
"Master of all swords, cut energy! Night Sword!"
Before Altima even knew it, the beam of red light drained the last wisp of energy from it and sent it tumbling back, bellowing in pain and flapping its bat-like wings in an incoherent frenzy. Ramza gained confidence; his enemy was dying! Slowly, yes, but it was about to be vanquished! He looked around and froze in horror as his gaze locked on a silhouette he hadn't seen earlier; a statue of the odd young fellow he had rescued, Cloud. Damn the 'Grand Cross' attack! he cried in silent outrage, remembering how it had messed up his whole party after noticing how Mustadio had been turned into a frog. He tried searching for a Soft or a Maiden's Kiss before it was too late, but his foe's last breath sent a chill down his spine:
"No.." he whispered hoarsely, but it was too late. The archangel would not die without a Last Ultima. Ramza didn't even have the time to check on his sister or his friends; the explosion engulfed him first, then Orlandu, whose eyes were moist as he realized his journey with the young Beoulve came to such a brutal end; then it increased both speed and might exponentially to reach the others. The searing pain didn't last long, and finally Ramza only felt blackness.
* * * * *
"So milord, you are starting this Crusade against the evil Ramza Beoulve?" the cleric called Jisameh, who shall probably become the next High Priest, asked with genuine respect.
"Yes... I guess I shall do it," Delita said with enthusiasm and determination he did not feel. "And I'll return just in time," he added.
"Good luck to you, then. May St. Ajora's divine protection guides you in your quest against the heretic, and please return to us victorious, for Lady Ovelia!"
Delita winced, but masked his uneasiness with the skill of a true liar and con man. He bowed to the priest, left the castle entrance, jumped on a chocobo and motioned for his waiting Black Sheeps and a veiled female magic-user to follow. He then rode hard from Zeltennia to Orbonne Monastery, where the heroes were last seen, and where they had actually perished less than twenty four hours ago.
A few days later, the shade of the old monastery appeared on the horizon, and under two hours, the whole building had been inspected, all the basements included. They did find several bodies, mainly in the old library downstairs, and the mage noted some of the burns were typical of a Holy Knight's technique, such as Lightning Stab.
"Agrias' handiwork... or maybe Orlandu's, for that matter," Delita said absently. "They were here. With Ramza."
"Indeed," the magician woman, Balmafula, agreed. "I found Rofel's sword, broken probably by Vormav's daughter, on the lower floor with runes and symbols carved on the ground. I'm willing to bet all my gils that these runes represent the pattern of a dimensional gate leading to God only knows where. But Rofel, or his corpse, is nowhere to be found. Same for the companions."
Delita rubbed in chin thoughtfully as he listened to the report, then he spat a colorful oath. Balmafula lazily arched an eyebrow at the profanity.
"Bloody hell..." he cursed, shaking his head. "I can't return to Zeltennia empty-handed. Everyone's expecting me to return with Ramza's head..."
"Would you bring it, were you to find him?" she asked with a feigned casual tone, and Delita scowled.
"Of course not... I'd tell him to hide until things get easier, and would find a way around the truth... as I always do," he added smugly. Then he snapped his fingers. "I see your point. I can use that tactic here... but we still don't know what happened, though. That irritates me."
The mage stared at her friend and said matter-of-factly: "They're dead."
"What?" the future king frowned.
Balmafula nodded slowly, and her gaze fell to the floor. "Yes... I'm pretty sure. If they aren't dead, they are buried alive. According to the runes, the portal lead to another plane of existence of some sort, although I'm not certain where exactly. But, it's been destroyed. I tried using it, but the other way is completely sealed."
Delita narrowed his eyes and thought for a moment, then quickly said: "You have to be mistaken. How can you be sure those runes are the key to such a portal? It seems to me only logical someone would have known before you and tried using it... yet this is not likely, or else we would have heard of it. How came you by such knowledge?"
"I... I'm not sure I understand you," she hesitated, then went on with: "But I may be very well one of the few to know. When Ramza showed me the Germonik Scriptures, even for a few seconds, I..."
"Oh!" Delita gasped, his eyes widening in understanding. "I see... So..."
"Yes... Unless I'm missing something, I doubt we'll see them again."
"Ramza..." Ovelia's fiancé whispered. "No, he always found a way out somehow... He can't be dead! I won't accept it... Unless I see his dead body."
"What are you going to do, anyway?" Balmafula asked, wondering if his concern was genuine.
"I... I'll make up a story, that Ramza and his friends assassinated the Shrine Knights and that I... we," he corrected himself, "punished them by death for their crimes."
"And that we burnt the bodies, not even allowing them a shallow grave," Balmafula completed, somewhat disgusted by the whole plot.
"Yes, I suppose that would be right. Then the Church will get off our backs for a while. Oh and... you'll have to make sure no one hears the truth about this. I'm counting on your discretion, woman. Don't forget I spared you after you tried to draw steel on me, so don't try anything funny."
"Very well," the young woman said, not wanting to be reminded of her defeat, and went to call back the troops. Delita looked at his trusted ally, wondering what she might be thinking about all of this. Balmafula was officially dead, according to false reports Delita gave to the Church, but he had let her go and still contacted her occasionally since she was so useful. She had to hide her identity though, so she had changed her name and often wore a veil to hide her features from people who might recognize her.
Delita absently muttered Ramza's name under his breath, and he felt a knot in his heart somehow. Then he shook his head, and told himself he couldn't afford weak emotions such as grief and pain if he were to be the next leader of Ivalice. And, he concluded, Ramza's naiveté and rash bravery cost him his -and his friends'- life. If he hadn't tried to rescue Alma and accepted her fate, he'd still be alive, not buried with her. Of course, Delita never knew anything about Vormav's true intentions, i.e. St. Ajora's resurrection, but only of his rewards and the convenience of the Shrine Knight's actions for his own personal gains.
* * * * *
Zeltennia Castle Hall
As Ovelia's future husband concluded his tale to the group of persons beholding him, which included Queen Ovelia, the highest clerics of the Glabados Church, a few knights and aristocrats, and his allies Olan and Balmafula, he received nods of approval from the Church's spokespersons and all the nobles. The young anonymous mage remained as stoic as ever, but at her sides, the adopted son of T.G. Cid had balled his hands into fists. Olan already knew of Delita's usually treacherous acts, but he couldn't believe he'd sink as low as assassinating his own friends! He checked on Balmafula, and whispered in her ears: "You were there... Why did you allow this?!"
"What do you mean?" she muttered, not even casting a glance at him. Olan rolled his eyes, and resisted the urge to shout his outrage.
"Why did you let him slay Ramza?"
"Shh... The meeting is over," she told him after a brief hesitation. "Follow me, I'll explain."
"Explain what?" Olan insisted, fighting his rage. But the magic-user simply sneaked around the crowd and walked toward Delita, who saw the duo approach and joined them. She made sure no one would hear the conversation, and apparently Delita had already guessed what Balmafula had in mind.
"What is it?" he asked, seeing urgency in her eyes.
"Should we let Olan know...?" she asked.
"Why? I told you it was a confidential affair. Only we and the Black Sheeps that were with us at Orbonne ought to know anything."
"What?!" Olan snapped, then lowered his voice. "What's going on?"
"Don't worry, I'll make sure he won't talk... Olan deserves to know, after all. We can trust him," she concluded firmly, crossing her arms.
"Fine," Delita reluctantly agreed. "If you'll excuse me, I must attend something. Since Alma was well liked by the public and she was not considered a heretic, we must arrange her symbolic funerals for her 'accidental' death anyway. So you can tell him," he told her, "I see he doesn't seem happy." Then Delita darted away, and Olan brought his gaze back on the magic-user. "Well? What was that bastard plotting?"
"Delita didn't do a thing to the siblings," she explained softly. "He just made everyone believe it so that he gains the people and the Church's support by pretending to have eliminated a dangerous heretic."
"Oh." Olan's handsome face softened, and his relief was apparent. Then he stiffened, grabbed her wrist and asked: "But... What about Alma and Ramza? Are they..."
Balmafula looked at him sadly, and walked away with him as she told Olan everything she knew.
* * * * *
Ovelia's bedroom, Zeltennia Castle
Ovelia withdrew in her chambers, too shocked by Delita's story. She slammed the door hard behind her, bolted to the window and gazed at the scenery outside. All her respect and trust for him was gone, because she wasn't aware that this was just a cover-up. She heard someone knocking at her door, but paid no heed to the noise.
The large wooden door swung open, and a young man in golden armor typical of a Holy Knight walked in, then slowly closed it shut behind him and called his fiancé's name softly.
"Go away," she spat, stifling a sob.
"Ovelia, is anything wrong?" Delita asked innocently.
"Go away!" she repeated, this time spinning to glare at him. "You've got guts to come and see me after your treachery! Ramza and Alma were some of my only friends, and you murder them?! I've got nothing to say to you."
"Have you forgotten you're going to be my bride?" he asked, almost cringing at his own cruel tone. "Besides, you know I had to do this. I had no choice, and..."
"Shut up! I'm not marrying you. Never."
"You'll have to, or else you'll lose your face in front of everyone. They're all expecting the wedding, you know..."
"...Argh..." she grunted, and turned her back.
"Ovelia..." he simply said, and exited her room to leave her alone, deciding it was not the time yet to tell her of his recent activities at Orbonne. Eventually, she'd learn the truth, but not now. Not while the Church was so strong and the truth wasn't all good to hear. But Delita would have known of this mistake soon enough if he'd seen the fires of violent anger burning in Ovelia's eyes.
* * * * *
Shortly after the mourners withdrew from the cemetery, Olan wiped the sweat off his brow and slowly approached the Beoulve's grave, the silent young woman close behind. Balmafula, usually cold and emotionless, had an unusual saddened look on her face. She deposited the flowers she was carrying onto the grave and glanced back at her friend. Olan was talking to the grave -Balmafula thought it was a trifle odd, but did not comment- about various recent occurrences, such as the Beoulve fall and Ovelia's marriage.
Not wanting to stay in there any longer, Balmafula motioned to Olan that she was leaving and walked her way to the exit, waiting for him. Soon after, she saw him walking away, then suddenly spin and asking the grave if his friends were really dead. Poor guy, she thought, he's becoming delusional. Yet despite many unfortunate circumstances, Balmafula had grown quite fond of the man. He was honest, intelligent, brave, handsome, and had an honor that Delita certainly lacked. Since the day Delita became King, the magician didn't know what to think of him. He had spared her even though she was supposed to murder him, yet he could assassinate people like Goltana -or one of his minister- in cold blood. She was more or less sure his love for Ovelia was genuine, yet she understood he was hardly to be trusted. Her thread of thoughts was broken by something nearby that suddenly excited Olan. She joined him and glanced towards the direction he was pointing.
"They're alive!..." Olan whispered, blinking in delight. Balmafula indeed saw the pair of mounted chocobos trotting across the cemetery, and instantly recognized the riders. But she did not gasp in awe, neither did she jumped in anticipation. It could have been an illusion or a ghost... Or it could really be that somehow, Ramza and his sister had returned from the depths of Murond Death City unscathed. If the possibility frightened her, she didn't show it. Yet, she could not hide her enigmatic smile.
* * * * *
Ruins of Zeltennia Castle Church
Ovelia's jaw was clenched so firmly, she thought her teeth would break under the pressure. A single tear rolled one her left cheek, and her knuckles whitened as she kept a strong grasp on a small yet sharp dagger. She made no move to turn around when she heard her husband approaching in the dusty ruins of Zeltennia Church. Still determined to carry on her will, she reminded herself there was no turning back. That's for Ramza, Alma, Agrias and all the others, she thought grimly.
"There you are. Everyone's been waiting for you," she heard Delita say, and she winced at his silk tongue which she knew was fake, even with her. She wondered how he could be such a great actor. "Today's your birthday, right?" he went on. "These flowers..."
Ovelia, feeling his breath on her back through her thin silk robe, knew he was close enough. Or at least she thought he was. Before the king even finished his sentence -or before she lost her courage-, she spun and threw all her body on him, thrusting the knife deep into his chest, piercing his shining paladin armor. She read pure shock in Delita's eyes, and her vision blurred with tears.
"Ovelia...?" he gasped, his eyes widening in bewilderment.
"You use everybody like that!" she breathed both angrily and sadly. "Now you'll kill me just like Ramza!"
Still holding the frail lady in his arms, a blade's hilt protruding from his golden armor, Delita yanked the weapon off his burning torso and stared in sheer amazement at his bride. Without thinking, he retaliated with a quick stab, his gaze still locked into his beloved's moist eyes. Ovelia gurgled, and fell limply to the ground. Clutching at his burning wound, Delita dropped the dagger, slowly walked away and looked at the horizon, beyond the ruined wall. Confident that his injury would heal, he tried to ignore the pain and breathed in several quick gasps. He felt his throat drying. What happened? Ovelia... Why? His thoughts were clouded, and wondered if the queen had done this simply in a form of vengeance, because unlike honest, loyal and heroic Ramza, Delita had used, backstabbed and betrayed people to achieve his goal. The death of his wife ruined a great part of his glory. But still, he got what he wanted. What about Ramza? he thought. Was he still alive somewhere, or forever dwelling the lands of death?
"Ramza... what did you get?" He paused for a moment, then added. "I..." as he tried to suppress the burning pain not only in his gaping wound, but in his heart. Then he shook his head and again dismissed his grief and shock. Ovelia had her reasons to hate and attack him, but he couldn't afford to worry about it. He knew that to become the ruler, he must sacrifice the gentle emotions of fairness and love.
* * * * *
The same morning, Olan's residence
"You're serious about this aren't you..." the magic-user asked, her face expressionless. Olan nodded.
"Indeed. Since my friends died without me, I want to do something for them. I want to find the whole truth." Balmafula cast a questioning glance at him. Olan stared for a second, then read what she meant in her eyes. "I'm not sure how I'll start, but my report will be complete, no matter how much time and effort I put into it. I... I don't want the next generations of Ivalice live in the shadow of Delita's lies. Whatever his motives is, he is not the hero." Balmafula nodded, and oddly enough, grinned.
"I think I'll help you... if you'll allow me," she said.
"Wha...? Uh, of course I will, b-but..." he stammered.
"No, not at all," he replied, then smiled. "I'm just surprised, that's all. I appreciate this. But... why?"
"I'm curious, I hate the Church, and I hate lies. Plus, I'm starting to like you," she said with the ghost of a smile.
"Thank you," Olan simply said. Balmafula bowed, told him she had a faint idea of where to search, and went to exit his house. "Where are you heading?"
"Orbonne Monastery, again," she answered cryptically, then left without any more words.
* * * * *
The Black Sheeps did a good job of cleaning up the mess in the underground library. However, Balmafula did an even greater job at concealing some facts about the shimmering rune on the floor to Delita. She had secretly recovered the Germonik Scriptures, which had been laying near Rofel's shattered sword. Balmafula regretted lying to Delita, but she didn't trust him enough to let him know the gate spell could be cast again. After browsing in the book, she found the spell she sought and went to work. Shortly after, the rune started to glow, and as the spell whisked Balmafula away from the present dimension, she prayed to whatever gods might be listening that she would be able to return to Ivalice afterwards.
Rofel had previously destroyed the exit, but he had neglected the neighbor gate, barely farther from the pits of Hell than the other one. After exploring a little of the abyssal place, she found traces of battle. She recognized the body of the war wizard Kletian, burnt by a Holy Knight's technique - Sir Orlandu or Lady Agrias again, she mused. She kept her progression and discovered ample evidences of yet another battle. This time, the victims were charred beyond recognition. Hydra's fire? She could not even tell if the human carcasses she saw belonged to Ramza's allies or his enemies. But one of them was killed by a bladed weapon, and she breathed a startled oath: the grim-faced, brown haired engineer could only be Balk! Didn't he perish in Bed Desert? Puzzled, she tried dismissing her shudders at all the deaths surrounding her. After all, this was Hell, what else could be expected? she mused grimly.
Beyond this silent battlefield lay something even worse. Balmafula couldn't help but gasp: a former airship had been shattered beyond recognition, and the only traces of life that could have treaded it were ashes, bones, and dust. The place stank with the stench of charred corpses and foul magic. Black magic that the magician guessed could only be an abnormally strong Holy, Flare or Ultima spell. No, wait... Holy spells are usually concentrated in one single point, she remembered. Flare or Ultima, then. What manner of a magic-user could have created such a powerful blast? Among the eerie and silent rubbles in the graveyard of airships, a gray shadow caught her attention.
She darted to it and rose an eyebrow. She did not recognize the silhouette, but it was certainly a man turned into stone. The spell that caused this transformation was mighty indeed to have the stone resist the explosion, and Balmafula assumed it was the same mysterious creature that had caused it. She examined the statue a little more carefully. The young man's hair sprouted off his head like barbed spikes, fashioned in a strange haircut. Even dulled by the grayness of the stone, she could see his large eyes were unusual. He was of average size and build, with the magician's age, and the when she fingered the statue the icy touch sent a shiver down Balmafula's spine. It was lying across the ruins in an odd position, poised to attack and fallen on its back, but it was intact. Excited with the possibilities of finding some answers, Balmafula fumbled with her satchel and found a curious oblong-shaped medicine. She tried to move the stone statue in a less awkward position, and carefully dissolved the medicine into fine silky powder. The stone glowed for a second, and became insubstantial. Much to her relief, the young man's body was preserved and he fell on his knees, coughing. Then he jerked his head upright, held his strangely large blade firmly and cast worried looks all around him with a pair of unusually glowing blue eyes -it seemed everything was strange about this man- until his piercing gaze stopped on the magician.
"Uh... hey? What's goin' on? What the hell happened?" He narrowed his eyes at the woman and pointed his sword accusingly at her.
"So you're all right," she said simply. "Lower your weapon, I mean no harm. Can you tell me what is the last thing you remember?"
"Uh... well, some bizarre lights engulfed me and my buds, and then... nothing. I... I probably fainted, but..." The lad sheathed his sword and scratched his chin thoughtfully, as if his last statement made no sense.
Seeing his puzzled look, Balmafula offered: "You were turned into stone by that spell. I just cured you with a Soft. Can you tell me what you were doing before this occurred?"
"Well, we were fighting that angel thing, and... wait a minute. Just who are you? How d'you get there?"
"My name is Balmafula Lanando, I was an ally of Ramza Beoulve and Delita Hyral. Who are you?" she returned evenly. While the young fellow was completely unknown to her, his strange behavior and even stranger accent perked up her curiosity. She muttered a quick cantrip under her breath without him noticing.
He shrugged and said, "Name's Cloud. I was with Ramza, and that guy... Vormav, I think his name was... he had transformed into a lion-like monster and then killed itself to revive some angel or something. Then Ramza's sister appeared and she said we had to kill the angel. So we went to do just that, but... crap!" he cried out after surveying the damage around himself. He breathed a curse and resumed his tale: "It seems things went awry..."
Balmafula's eyes widened, for this was much more information she would have expected to find in the deserted place. But now that this odd fellow had survived, she could barely hide her excitement. Vormav, allied with demons?... She thought her words carefully and asked:
"What angel are you talking about, exactly?"
"Well, it seemed to call itself 'Altima', but Ramza's sis called it 'Ajora'. I believe it was some character of local legends, right?"
This time Balmafula couldn't hide her gasp of surprise. "Yes he is... Ajora? A monster?" Could the Germonik Scriptures be right about Saint Ajora's not-so-divine nature? she mused.
"Yeah, it tried to kill us, saying we shouldn't interfere with its plans of resurrection or whatever. I bet it was Ajora who, well, destroyed pretty much everything here..."
"The battlefield wasn't like that before you were caught by the spell?"
"Heh, nope. I think that spell actually saved me... Where are the others, by the way? Don't tell me they're all dead...!"
"I know not. But if Ramza and the others escaped before the blast, we haven't seen them around," she lied willingly, thinking the apparitions at the cemetery to be ghostly in nature.
"Crap!! You must be right, since there are so many skeletons around," Cloud said, his eyes wide in shock.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the only people around during the fights were Ramza, Alma, those three holy knights and perhaps two or three other of our pals. If they escaped, then who are the owners of... those bones?"
"I see," Balmafula muttered, realizing her assumptions had been correct. "It seems you are the only fortunate survivor."
"Thanks to you..." he said with a dull voice, vainly masking his shock and sorrow for the lost of all his friends. Then he frowned and asked: "But how did you get here? I thought the blue-cloaked knight destroyed the only way out... or in!"
Surmising he was referring to Rofel Wodring, she explained her method and told him they should be able to escape. "Hmmm... well that's all nice, but my situation hasn't noticeably improved," he said dryly through clenched teeth. Balmafula rose an inquiring eyebrow.
"What do you... who are you anyway? You're not from these lands, am I right?"
"Well... yeah. I'm a stranger. And unless I find a Zodiac Stone, I'm stuck here."
"Where are you from exactly? You don't look like any denizen of the fallen Yudora Empire, and you're not from Ivalice neither..."
"I'm... ha, forget it, you wouldn't believe me. Now I must find the stone, it may have survived in the explosion."
But the spellcaster insisted, and inquired him about his needs of a stone. He then sheepishly told her of his origins and of how Mustadio's father, with his machine, summoned him into their world. Balmafula nodded slowly, for it answered many questions about his accent, clothing and ignorance of the way of Ivalice.
"Wow, I didn't think you'd believe me," he said wryly.
The mage merely smiled and said, "What other choice did I have? You couldn't lie since I had previously cast a truth spell on you."
"Ahh..." he replied, looking somewhat dazed.
Then, seeing as she was resourceful, he asked her if she'd know of any way to get back to his home world, now that his deed was done here. Knowledgeable in the ways of sorcery and traveling through different planes of existence, she nodded, saying he should be able to return with a Zodiac Stone and Besrodio's machine. After a search of the debris of the airships -which was accelerated thanks to a Detect Magic spell Balmafula cast-, they found the intact Leo stone. Its natural magic had seemingly protected it from the Ultima spell. Shortly after, both of them returned to the entrance Balmafula had found and much to Cloud's relief, they reappeared on Ivalice. Cloud asked her what she'd do about his fallen friends, and she merely said not to worry, she'd take care of the proper 'burial'. Before they parted ways, she asked him more questions about the Shrine Knights and Ajora, so that she could give a full report to Olan. After she had noted the important details, she went to the chocobo she had left waiting near the monastery and mounted it.
"So you know the way to Goug?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'll just find a wild chocobo and tame it to accelerate the trip. It's okay, I'll be fine."
"Be careful. Good luck with the stone, and you have my thanks for giving me all this information."
"Sorry I didn't know that much," he said with a nonchalant shrug.
"It's more than enough. You have my gratitude, and Olan's, sir Cloud," she insisted as Cloud made a face at the title. "Thanks to you, the truth may yet prevail."
"Well good luck to you too then. C'ya!"
The mage bid her farewells to the young man, and stirred her mount back to Zeltennia. She and Olan had much work to do.
* * * * *
Back in Zeltennia, Balmafula couldn't hide her surprise when Olan announced the death of Queen Ovelia during her absence. Frowning at the report of a suicide, she wondered if she had done well not to entrust Delita with the Germonik Scriptures after all.
"Her death was announced by a town crier shortly after you left, so I assume it had happened earlier that day," Olan explained. "You just missed the funerals." Balmafula nodded slowly, absorbing the news. She didn't miss much after all, but she would have liked to see Delita's face during the royal funerals. Had Ovelia really given up all hope living, or was this another of Delita's deception? Her friend noted her thoughtful expression, and went directly to the point.
"So what did you find at Orbonne?" he pressed her. She smiled thinly, opened her wizard's satchel and handed over the book. Olan rose both eyebrows and cast an incredulous glance at his resourceful friend.
"I thought it had been lost! Delita's men didn't find it, how did you..." he went to ask but she silenced him by pressing a finger against his lips.
"There's more. I found a survivor, and let me tell you, the truth can be dangerous to us both..."
The magic-user then bid Olan to get a quill and a scroll, and gave him the as detailed an account of her discoveries as she could. The astrologist never once interrupted. After she was done, Olan finally deigned talking and let out a sigh.
"Ajora, a demon... who would have known? This contradicts all the doctrines our society has lived with for so many centuries..."
"And the Zodiac stones. Let's not forget the Zodiac Brave Story," she added wryly.
"No doubt, Ramza died as a true hero... and this Cloud fellow, wonder where he's really from?" The mage merely shrugged. Olan gathered all his papers and started sorting them out. "Thank you for everything," he said earnestly. "Your insight will be essential for my report. I couldn't possibly have done it without you." The woman gave a short bow, but remained silent as she left Olan's house so that he could pursue his work.
* * * * *
10 years later, the Durai residence
Olan lay down his quill, and sighed in satisfaction. Then, as an afterthought, glanced at his wife and insisted that she signed the final report. When she slightly shook her head, he claimed, "You should, really. You deserve the credits."
"It's your work, love, not mine," she said with an amused grin. "Besides, I'm supposed to be dead. If my name appears..."
"Oh, of course," he said, rolling his eyes at his forgetfulness. He'll just have to put her name in the dedication, then. "Well... I guess I have to try my chance."
"You sure you want to do this?" Balmafula asked tentatively. "You know what'll happen if..."
"I know," replied Olan, his wise eyes holding some sadness. "But the Church has lost much power since the last few years, and things have started to cool off. I'm willing to bet it's now or never." He then retrieved his syllabus and gave his wife a kiss. "If anything happens to me... they'll be after you too. Please leave Zeltennia," he bade her. "And protect Luke."
"Of course," she simply said, biting her lower lip as she feared the worst. She returned the kiss and wished him good luck. Then Olan scribbled a few more words in the foreword, set back the quill in place, and left the house. He hopped onto a chocobo and rode to the castle of the new prince, Sire Clemence.
Olan knew Delita hated him. So he took the opportunity of the king's absence (he was supposedly away in Lesalia, where he now used most of his powers) to present his work at prince Clemence's court, while they were debating the official replacement of Delita to the Zeltennia Throne. He knew he was quite possibly forfeiting his life, but he trusted in the bit of justice that remained in Ivalice, in the Church's loss of power, in own luck... and in the copies he had written of the Durai Papers that Balmafula kept safely should luck desert him. After he'd married Balmafula later that year when Queen Ovelia died, he used five years to write the report, and waited five others before the opportunity arrived. He just prayed to whatever gods might be listening that this wasn't going to be all in vain. After the sour looks he received from the prince's advisers in the council room, though, he was wondering just that.
"It... is a most interesting account you are offering, sir Durai," prince Clemence said evenly. "Rest assured that every words of it shall be carefully considered by myself and the Council. You may leave for now, we shall call you back when the need arises. Thank you."
Olan expected the formal tones, and despise the prince's apparent total lack of interest, he knew he was curious and would do as he just said. Prince Clemence was open-minded in Olan's opinion (for a member of the royalty anyway), and always eager to study new theories. He grudgingly admitted to himself that Delita had made a good decision by appointing his trusted general to Zeltennia before the successor was officially selected. However, the council was composed of several religious men and that's where Olan's doubts came from. Nodding to the prince while avoiding the glares from many spokesmen, he left the dimly lit room.
"Father, I wonder if I'm being delusional or merely hopeful?..." he wondered, thinking of all his late friends as he paced back home.
Back in the room, the advisors all started speaking at once. Prince Clemence silenced everyone with a fist slammed against the table and a loud bark.
"One at the time, please. Inquisitor Jisameh, what say you of all this?" he asked a grim-faced, clean shaven man with a thick white mane and a sneering expression.
"I wonder why you even ask, Highness. Wasn't he an old rival of his Majesty Delita Hyral?"
"Forget Lord Hyral, I am in command now, and I must confess I do not know about this young man's past, nor do I care," he said bluntly. "General Kerianov, your opinion? Should this controversial matter be examined?"
"By all means," a dark-skinned man with a black beard and eyes that revealed years of experience and wisdom. "It could mean much to our history, and our rich history is certainly one of our greatest treasure. Should sir Durai's report prove true..."
"Nonsense!" another man interrupted. Every head spun to meet Minister Victor, one of the prince's closest advisor. "My good General, do you realize the implications of what you just said? If the public knows about this, it will lose its faith in us! We cannot afford to risk our power for the sake of the past. The current history works well now."
" 'Works well now'? Is this all of you care about?" Kerianov asked with narrowed eyes. "The evidence from the Scriptures and..."
"Never!" Jisameh interrupted sharply. "Even if this story is true, we cannot allow the people to know!"
"Agreed," another religious figure muttered. Several heads bobbed in agreement.
"Is the truth so meaningless to you, my lords?" Kerianov sneered. "I would expect otherwise from seekers of the true faith-"
"Seekers? But we have found it, and we know all this Durai says are foul lies!" Dernaught, the youngest figure around the table with his twenty-eight years and a zealous cleric, snapped at the general. "I say we ignore this mass of ignorance and profane blasphemy, burn it and be rid of this Olan character with Ajora's divine-"
"Enough!!" an irritated voice barked in an equally aggressive voice. All heads turned to face prince Clemence. "My young friend, I understand your great loyalty to the Church here, but without an open mind, nothing can progress."
"Progress?" he scoffed. "What's the need? The statu quo suits us fine."
Kerianov resisted the temptation to rise from his seat and punch the insolent young fool in the face. His voice bubbling with barely controlled rage, he retorted, "What about the people, my dear young friend?" he asked, emphasizing the sarcasm on the dear young friend. "Besides, this isn't the issue here. We have to decide whether or not to study a credible report, not to debate about the author's fate."
"It seems to me, General, that your concern for the people is abnormally strong," the Inquisitor remarked. "And your lack of concern for the Church equally disturbing." A murmur of agreement followed, and the general's face reddened, matching the velvet of his tunic.
"That's enough, gentlesirs. I say we read the full report, then we shall make a decision regarding the author or his work. Am I understood?" the prince declared. The finality of his tone brought an end to the argument, and Kerianov wondered why the prince bothered asking his advisors' opinions in the first place. Again, the General risked his position by countering the views of the religious figures, but he couldn't help it. Unfortunately, he knew prince Clemence would follow the majority for the sake of the stability of his place of power with the Church's support. Before he even read the contents of the Durai Report, both Kerianov and Clemence knew that Olan Durai's fate was sealed.
* * * * *
A week later
It was barely morning when the soldier knocked to the Durai's residence a few days later, and both Olan and Balmafula knew he would either be acknowledged or rejected. Most likely the latter, the astrologist thought with a slight edge of bitterness, but having little choice, he decided to follow the Nanten envoy to the castle nonetheless. As they rode away, the young lad grasped his mother's hand more firmly.
"Will dad be okay?" Luke Durai asked.
"I don't know, but let's just hope he will," his mother answered softly. "Whatever occurs though, know that he loves you... and I'll be here for you, always," she promised. Luke nodded solemnly and closes his eyes, for even at the young age of ten he was wise beyond his years and knowledgeable enough about the ways of the world, thanks to a strong tutelage from both his parents.
What awaited Olan wasn't that surprising. As soon as the portcullis rose at the castle gate, a pair of burly guards hauled him and guided him to a dungeon. Soon after, a tall, lean man with thick full hair streaked with gray and equally gray eyes arrived. The prisoner recognized prince Clemence from his confident demeanor.
"What is the meaning of all this?" Olan asked calmly, even though he had a good idea.
"Leave us, guards," he told the soldiers accompanying him. After he said: "I am sorry about this. Truthfully, I know the historical implications of your papers and I also know them to be credible and truthful. The Germonik Scriptures and occurrences in the past prove it. But..." he paused, shaking his head sadly. "The Church fears public disclosure of the truth. Your report will be added to the archives in the library. I cannot help you."
This did not surprise Olan. However, one thing mildly irritated him.
"Why am I imprisoned? If you won't make the truth public, just conceal the papers, but there's no need to imprison me."
"I cannot ignore the verdict of the Inquisitors," the prince said bluntly. "They pronounced you a heretic."
"What!" Olan protested. "Must they go this far?"
"I'm afraid so. They are afraid of you, you know."
"But you have the power to change that," insisted Olan. "Why don't you use your power?"
"Oh, I see," he sneered. "You value your position and don't want the Church to stand against you, even if it's weakened. You aristocratic bastards never change." Clemence recoiled, and eyed the younger man with distaste.
"If you were in my position, you'd act the same. Please don't pretend to not understand."
"Never," he breathed. "If I had the power to change this like you... I'd use it. But... I'm powerless." Wiegraf was right, Olan added mentally. Without power, nothing can be accomplished. Clemence narrowed his eyes in anger at the thought that his power might be faint compared to a weakened Church.
"Things aren't as easy as you make them appear. Anyway, I'm sorry, but you know the fate of heretics?"
"Aye," Olan grunted. He was not scared of death, but was all his life for vain ideals? No, he thought. His legacy will be carried on, he knew it. He had to keep hope. Without another word, the prince spun and left Olan brooding in his cell. The astrologist then went to work. He tore off a piece of his brown tunic, and went to the bars of the window. A black bird was perched in a branch of a tree a few meters down in the courtyard. Using his Mediator's skills, he called to it. The raven immediately went to Olan. It gracefully slid between the bars and sat on the bench in Olan's cell. The astrologist charmed the animal, then prickled his right finger with the bird's peak. Smoothly removing a feather from the raven, he dipped it into his bleeding finger and used his own blood as ink and the feather as a quill to write a message to his wife on the improvised parchment. Then he rolled it, attached it to the mesmerized bird, and bade him to see his wife. The raven, under the charm spell, obeyed mindlessly and flew off with the grim note to warn Balmafula.
* * * * *
Night would soon cloak the streets with its inky sky, so Balmafula decided to end the dealings now. After arguing for a few minutes, the merchant conceded his defeat and accepted the price the cloaked mage offered for the piece of amber, a rare spell component. As she went to stalk away from the market place, a commotion to her left caught her attention. Ever so curious, Balmafula approached the small crowd cluttered around a small man with a wide-brimmed indigo hat and a powerful voice. She immediately knew him to be a town crier, and a knot formed itself in her stomach. She already knew what the announcement would be before she even heard it.
"Hear ye, hear ye, good citizens of the Zeltennia kingdom. A heretic was secretly plotting against the Holy Glabados Church, without us even realizing a thing . As a traitor of the Nanten Knighthood and son of the late traitor to the Goltana throne, he was acquitted of his war plots over ten years ago by his Highness Hyral. But the Holy Church recently uncovered another of his plots and this time, the verdict found against him. Heretic Olan Durai, blasphemer and enemy of the Royalty and the People, shall be put to death, by the will of Saint Ajora, with the use of the Holy Fires of Purification tomorrow at the first light of dawn. The militia shall proceed to investigations around his family to make sure none of them knew, or took part in his foul deeds and..."
Balmafula had heard enough. She quietly slipped away from the curious populace and then bolted back to her residence. Once there, she packed her belongings and briefly explained the events to her son in the best way she could. Then she tucked the copy of the Durai Report deep into her bag and both left the house in haste, not even talking to the female servant. "Lady Luck has failed us," she whispered to herself. Or perhaps we were delusional, she added mentally. Perhaps. Then, as they strode outside the house, a raven bird unexpectedly went to land on her left shoulder. Puzzled, she removed the piece of clothing strung to its neck. The next second, the bird flew away in the darkness, its mission done. Balmafula unrolled the improvised parchment, and the note from her husband confirmed the town crier's message:
Love, I am sorry. The Church decided I knew too much and will be rid of me next morn. Please escape with Luke so that they don't catch you, too. The truth has failed for now, but I am confident it shall not always be so. I love you both. Farewell.
Balmafula kept her eyes dry, as always, but they could not hide her sadness. Her fist clung to the message as if it were a precious relic, and she tucked it deep into her pocket. Her son assailed her with questions, but she merely grabbed his wrist, gently but firmly, and sought refuge to a place she knew until morning before the Nanten arrived.
* * * * *
Before the first rays of sunshine even spread across the city of Zeltennia, Balmafula was roused from her rest. She wasn't really sleeping; no woman with the knowledge of her beloved's imminent death could sleep well over it. Last night, she had explained everything to her son, knowing it would disturb him, but Luke was toughened under his strong-willed parents, and did not even cry out at the knowledge of his father's dead. Still, he couldn't avoid the tears in his eyes.
Balmafula glanced around and smiled at the sympathizing glance of the man who had offered her his hospitality last night. "It'll start in but a few minutes," he announced grimly. "I am truly sorry. Know that I did my best."
"I don't doubt your words, General Kerianov. You've always been a close friend to us both since over 7 years when Delita assigned you here. Thank you for all your help." The man smiled thinly, and shook his mage friend's hand.
"Sir Olan Durai shall be remembered with honor despise the Church's... refusal to cooperate, lady Brianna," he said after a short pause, for only Delita, Olan and Luke knew of the mage's real name. Balmafula bowed in thanks and took her hand's son. Then both hopped onto a chocobo and headed for the castle courtyard, recently named Hyral's Square after Delita's ascension to the throne, where the execution would begin. Kerianov would soon follow her anyway, along with the other members of the Council.
Hyral's Square was tremendously crowded. There had been few executions since Delita seized the throne, the mage knew, and once again the ignorant masses would delight in the punishment. The magician dismounted and making sure her cowl was smoothly hiding her face, she never let go of her son's hand. She tied her mount to a tree close by, slipped practically unnoticed among the cheering populace and studied the area. The execution, she remembered, would be done by fire. The 'Holy Fires of Purification' the crier mentioned were referring to the flames bursting in the air after the stake was set afire. The smoke would then choke the victim before the burning stake incinerated the unfortunate. It was always a slow, painful death.
Balmafula felt her son squeezing her hand more tightly, and she promised herself she would not weep. Her sadness was overrun by her anger at the whole system, and Balmafula learned long ago to not let emotions, no matter how dire the situation, to overwhelm her. Lost in thoughts, she snapped back to attention when a group of soldiers escorted a disgruntled prisoner in chains on the stake, accompanied by a masked man; the executioner, probably a bishop or another 'holy' man. Olan let himself be tied on the stake, for he knew struggling was a vain course. He kept his face stoic as best as he could, but Balmafula saw in his eyes, even from the short distance, the anger fueled by his resentment of the Church - and not by his own doom. A white-haired man, dressed in equally white robes and holding a religious symbol, strode forward to address the audience. He gave a brief speech regarding the upcoming events, and after the cheers died, he walked away and motioned to the executioner to bring forth the 'blessed' torch.
"This flame shall purify the Heretic!" he declared as the cheers resumed. Balmafula bit her lower lip and clutched Olan's last message firmly. Then the masked man asked Olan if he had any last words, and the mage saw the gleam in her husband's eyes that told her he would not be defeated so easily.
"You are all wrong!" Olan shouted, and the aggressive tone surprised many people and they leaned forward to listen. "The truth shall not be hidden forever," he went on. "One day, it will prevail! And Ramza's legacy shall live forever in us, no matter what the Church does! And then..."
"Enough, silence the Heretic!" Inquisitor Jisameh, who had given the speech earlier, barked. The crowd hissed and booed at the doomed astrologist, but they were nonetheless weaker than the earlier cheers, Balmafula noted with a bit of satisfaction. The executioner then backhanded the heretic violently, and brought forth the torch onto the wood planks. Then he withdrew, but even a bruised Olan would not be silenced.
"Ramza Beoulve is the true hero!" he yelled, as the smoke wisps rose and the wooden logs crackled. "You've all been deceived by the Church's and Delita's lies!" He coughed and wheezed, and for moment he seemed as if he were about to faint. But he rose his head as high as he could and caught sight of a cloaked woman holding a familiar boy's hand. Even with her cowl pulled up, he could see his wife's blue eye sparkling with silent anger and sadness. He froze for a moment, and Balmafula knew he'd spotted her. She gave a faint smile, and Olan responded in kind. His gaze swept over to Luke, and his heart sank and leapt at the same time. He gave him the warmest smile he could in his condition, for he knew hope resided in his beloved son for the future. Luke's face remained impassive all along, and the boy never blinked, never flinched. His strong will was what lifted Olan's spirit, which wouldn't die along with his body. The flames suddenly grew hotter, and the noise around him was unbearable. Olan firmed his jaw and gritted his teeth, for the pain was too much for him, but he didn't break, didn't yell out his pain. Never would he give his enemies this satisfaction.
The mage cast a quick glance at her son, and gave a slight squeeze to reassure him. For a second she wanted to cover his young eyes with her hand, but as she went to do so, the boy removed it and whispered that he wanted to see his father's death with his eyes, that he wanted to see what the Church had done to him even if it's harsh reality. Balmafula understood he was right, for toughening him at so young an age was forging a new hope to fight in the future.
She saw her son already had all the comfort he needed, and she brought back her attention to the burning stake. The sizzling and crackling flames leapt higher, burying her husband deeper in the charred wood. Olan hacked and coughed again, and hissed a long lament between clenched teeth, but did not yell once. Somehow, this seemed very important to his wife.
It was not too long before the crowd had departed a short while after and only a few members of the military personnel surveyed Hyral Square to chase the remaining onlookers. Even shortly after the execution, General Kerianov closed his eyes again to pray for the rest of Olan's soul and to ask his God -not Ajora- to forgive him for his powerlessness. He buried his face with his face, then turned around and walked back to his quarters, knowing he should not bear the mantle of guilt but still feeling a pain in his heart.
* * * * *
After her husband's demise, the former royal magician Balmafula Lanando-Durai and her son Luke fled to a more peaceful city, Goug Machine City, and paid regular visits to the only remaining survivor -except Delita, of course- who was involved in the Zodiac Brave saga, Besrodio Bunanza. To her surprise, she realized that the young Cloud wasn't gone yet; he had first journeyed to the trading city of Zarghidas to meet a lass who, he says, painfully reminded him of someone he once new. But he eventually left and using the Leo stone's power, returned to his home world and never returned.
Balmafula lived there quietly with her son, and she never met Delita again, much to her satisfaction. Her son grew into a fine man over the years, and followed his parents' footsteps to become a scholar and a mage. His mother died peacefully, and her will stated that Luke Durai carried on his father's legacy to his children. However, she never knew what the apparitions at the cemetery that day were all about.
* * * * *
"I read the Durai Papers over and over again. My ancestor reminisces in such a manner...
But even though he and his family suffered much at the hands of the Glabados Church, his
death was not a failure. It was a reminder that the truth is often more dangerous than lies,
and his was a testament of his own courage, and the courage of all those heroes who fought in
the Lion War.
I read the first page of the report yet again, and like each time, I smiled. It said:
I would like to offer my special thanks to Balmafula Lanando, and the mysterious stranger named Cloud, for all their insights and support. I dedicate this work to two of the greatest heroes who walked the land of Ivalice: Ramza Beoulve and Cidolfas Orlandu, a.k.a. T.G. Cid, as well as many others who fought bravely to discover the truth.
-Olan Durai, astrologist and writer-
I remembered how my great-grandmother Alyssa, Luke's own great-granddaughter, used to
tell me the tale of Ramza Beoulve over and over again when I was but a boy. I wish I could
have been such a hero like him, but now things have changed. At least, by making the Durai
Papers public for good now that the Church's power is completely obsolete -except maybe for
some symbolic power, but it's no longer involved in political affairs-, I have revived his honor.
Let his way of life be absorbed by the next generation."
Author of the Zodiac Brave Story,