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A note from Faenon

Party for this chapter:

Ryn, Nuthea, Sagar, Elrann, Cid, Vish?

The chocobo could only move at a brisk trot with three people on its back, but that didn’t matter as they’d left their assailants in total disarray. After his battle with the soldiers Ryn could barely run to keep up alongside it anyway.

The old man didn’t move very fast either. Sagar sat upright on the chocobo next to Nuthea and the bounty hunter, clutching his wounded arm. The only person who seemed to have much strength left among them was Elrann, though she was still shaken from the sudden invasion of Imfis by the Empire, as far as Ryn could tell.

When they’d made it a good way back into the woods outside Nonts and Ryn was satisfied that they hadn’t been pursued, he stopped them in a small clearing of beech trees. He, Elrann and the old man carefully lifted Nuthea down from the chocobo and lay her on the ground, then did the same with the gagged and bound bounty hunter, then helped Sagar down.

Nuthea was the priority. Although Ryn’s heart had stopped palpatating when the old man had pronounced that she was going to live, she still hadn’t woken up and his heart was still beating faster than usual.

They all knelt down next to the princess. The old man had applied a fresh bandage from his bag to her abdomen and, mercifully, this one was not drenched in blood. Blood still stained her dishevelled dress around it, though. Her face was still very pale--though Ryn fancied he could see a faint pinkness returning to her proud cheeks already--and frozen in a disapproving pout.

Even unconscious she looked like she was about to deliver a lecture.

“Is she going to be alright?” Ryn asked.

“Yes,” the old man said plainly. “She should wake up soon.”

He gently placed a hand on Nuthea’s forehead, closed his eyes and whispered something. He withdrew his hand.

First, nothing. Then a flicker of consciousness passed across Nuthea’s face and she began to stir, wrinkling up her nose and frowning even more deeply. The pinkness in her cheeks grew warmer. She blinked, then opened her cool blue eyes and looked into Ryn’s.

“Oh,” she said. “Why do you look so afraid, Ryn?”

It was an unusual first question but Ryn supposed that it made sense.

“I was afraid,” he said to her. “I thought...I thought you might have died...”

Nuthea’s mouth pushed up into a smile underneath her heavy eyelids. “There’s no need to be afraid of death,” she said quietly, taking the opportunity to teach him something.

“What happens to us after we die?” Ryn heard himself ask her. He didn’t know why she would know or why he was asking, but he asked her all the same.

“If we have believed on the One, we go to be with Him forever.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I don’t know. I’m not always. But right now, I am. I’m all the more sure from having just almost died.”

“Well, I didn’t want you to go to be with the One just yet…”

“What happened to me?”

“You were attacked by a bounty hunter, but I found a healer for you. I’m… I’m glad your alive…”

His words ran out, and for a moment no more passed between them, and he hovered above the cool blue pools of her eyes.

“Well, this is all very touching, pup, princess, but do you think I could get some attention from the old man, now, too? You’re not the only one who’s been hurt. I got injured rescuing you as well.”

Ryn had forgotten that there was anyone else with them for a moment. They had all faded into the background temporarily.

He coughed and let go of Nuthea’s hand, realising at the same time that he had been holding it.

“Ah, I apologise, young man,” said the old man to Sagar. “Of course, you are injured too. Now that the young lady is alright, I can attend to you. Let me take a look.”

Ryn helped Nuthea to sit up and they sat on the grass with Elrann and watched as the old man took out a small knife from the leather bag that he carried slung over one shoulder. Delicately, he cut the torn sleeve of Sagar’s shirt away to reveal the part of his upper arm where the bounty hunter had nicked it with his sword.

Ryn winced. Underneath the shirt was a horizontal gash. It wasn’t too deep--the man in black had only sliced through the top layer of skin this time--and it had already started to scab up. But in amongst the red and brown of the scab was something else: a putirifying black colour.

“Poison,” the old man, muttered. “Of course, the same as used on the young lady. Ajanga, as the other young man told me. I am sorry I did not get to you sooner. But now that I have, I can heal you. You did very well to last this long, young man--you must be feeling very weak.”

“Just heal me, old timer,” said Sagar, eyeing Ryn.

“Of course.”

The old man rummaged around in his bag, then produced a small glass phial of some sort of silvery liquid.

“Here, drink this antidote.” He pressed the bottle to Sagar’s lips and the skypirate drank a gulp. The old man shut his eyes and gently laid a hand on Sagar’s arm, over the cut. Sagar clenched his jaw.

Cure,” Ryn heard the old man whisper this time.

Sagar’s eyes went wide and his head rocked back. He took the man’s hand off him.

The black discolouring disappeared from the cut on his arm. Not only that, but now the cut closed before their very eyes, the skin sealing itself up and returning to a pinky-white hue, as if nothing had ever happened.

“Woah…” said Elrann.

“It’s a miracle...” said Nuthea.

“I…” said Sagar.

He leapt at Ryn.

Before Ryn knew what was happening he was lying flat on his back on the ground, Sagar pinning his chest down with one of his knees. The pirate had drawn his sword, and he pressed the blade into Ryn’s neck so that just the very tip of it pierced his skin, like a wasp sting sticking into him. What the hell is he doing? thought Ryn, not in a position to voice his question aloud.

Ryn remembered why Sagar had cause to be angry.

“Sagar!” called Nuthea from somewhere above. “Get off him!”

“Just a moment, princess, we’ve got some business to settle.” Sagar leaned in close so that Ryn could see his stubble. His breath stank of stale tobbaco leaf. Is he going to kill me? No--if Ryn knew Sagar at all, he would just threaten him. Or maybe slightly maim him?

The pirate captain dropped his voice to a low growl. “Listen, pup, and listen good. If you ever pull something like that--unseating me from my mount by surprise--again, especially in front of the ladies, I will slit your throat quickier than you can say ‘naive little greenhorn pussywillow farm boy’. You got that?”

Ryn wanted to gulp, but he thought just now that would be a bad idea. He also thought that that phrase took quite a long time to say, actually, but he thought it would be a bad idea to say that too.

“Y-yes,” he said instead out of self-preservation.

“Good,” said Sagar, keeping his voice low. “I’m going to let you up now, and you’re going to support me in my suggestion that we keep traveling to Manolia so I can collect the reward for the princess. Clear?”

“Clear,” croaked Ryn, though he hated himself for acquiescing so easily. He didn’t really have any other choice, though.

“Sagar!” said Nuthea again.

“Al-right!” said Sagar like a henpecked husband, and got up off Ryn.

Ryn stood up, rubbing his throat. His hand came away with a small smear of blood on it, but it wasn’t much--Sagar had only pricked him.

“Silly boys,” said Nuthea with a roll of her eyes, as if Ryn had been just as complicit as Sagar in what had just happened.

“How did you do that?” said Elrann. She addressed the old man, but she was looking at the still-exposed flesh of Sagar’s arm where his cut had been healed.

“Yes, that was truly remarkable!” said Nuthea. “A miracle!”

Ryn hadn’t heard this word before. “What’s a miracle?”

“The way that he healed Sagar’s wound. And mine. Mine even more so!” Nuthea placed her hand over the fresh bandage on her abdomen. “I can barely feel any pain any more. And my wound has closed up too. That man”--her eyes flicked over to where the bounty hunter in black lay tied up on the floor--“gave me quite a cut.”

“No,” said Ryn, “I mean, what is a ‘miracle’? What does you mean?”

“A miracle is a wondrous sign that points to the One,” Nuthea recited, closing her eyes for a moment and holding up a finger. “It’s when the One works in the world to show His power.”

“It’s not a miracle, princess,” said Sagar, shaking his head. “There are no such things. Don’t be fools. This healer just used his arts to heal Nuthea’s wound, is all—didn’t you, old timer?”

They all looked at the old man. He smiled, deep lines forming around his white-bearded mouth and under his bushy white eyebrows. “I did do that,” he said happily. “Whether you want to call it a miracle or not is up to you.”

“But you made the wound close up by itself!” said Elrann. “How did you do that?”

“The medicine he gave me,” said Sagar. “Obviously.”

“But you did something else to him as well, didn’t you?” said Elrann.

The old man’s smile grew wider. “I couldn’t possibly say.”

Ryn rememberd the man whispering the word ‘Cure’.

“I am telling you, it’s a miracle,” said Nuthea.

“I still don’t get what you mean by ‘miracle’,” said Ryn.

“A miracle, Ryn, is when the One acts out of the normal course of things to show his power. Look at it like this:” (Ryn was amazed again at how easily, having been so recently near the edge of death, Nuthea was able to resume her usual teacherly manner.) “In the course of life, and death, things normally happen a certain way: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, heavy things sink and light things float, and wounds do not close up by themselves. All these things have been arranged by the One, the God of gods. But sometimes the One intervenes in the normal course of things and changes something, to show that he is there and that he has the power to do so. It’s a bit like the writer of a story putting something into the story to show that they wrote it.” She pointed to Sagar’s arm. “This was clearly a miracle. My healing too is clearly a miracle, performed through this healer by the One, to show us that He endorses our quest.”

Sagar snorted loudly.

“If you have something to say, dear Captain, please say it,” said Nuthea.

I’m telling you, it’s not a miracle!” said the pirate. “There is no ‘One’, or any god at all! This healer simply used his skill and medicines to heal you, princess. You’d be surprised at what bodies are capable of doing to heal themselves, with a little help. I’ve seen a man whose belly was torn open by a cutlass have it close up and heal itself before. I’ve seen a man ghostly pale with the pox spring up right as rain when a sailor’s blessing was spoken over him. I’ve seen a man who had lost his eye in a fight screaming and wailing on the floor one moment leap up and kill his five assailants the next.” He patted his eye patch. “It happens. They weren’t miracles. They were just the ‘normal course of things’.”

“You’re wrong,” said Nuthea, eyes flashing.

Ryn could detect an argument brewing so he decided to interrupt before she could say any more. “Look, why don’t we just ask the healer himself?”

“There’s an idea,” said Sagar, clearly of the opinion that the old man was going to agree with his side of the argument. “Did you do a miracle or not, old timer? Tell us straight.”

The old man sniffed and wiped his nose. “I think it is best at this point if I keep my methods to myself,” he said in his kindly, aged voice. “I put my healer’s arts to use in service of the pair of you and I did everything I knew to do in your situations, and happily you have both recovered...that is all I will say on the matter.”

“There you go,” said Sagar, folding his arms, interpreting the old man as agreeing with his own opinion. “Healer’s arts. Not a miracle.”

“I will just add, however,” the old man spoke up, “that I too am a follower of the One. It is good to meet a granddaughter in the faith, young lady.”

Nuthea’s face lit up, and she positively beamed. Ryn found himself hoping he would be able to make her beam like that one day. “Oh! A father!” she exclaimed. “I’m so pleased to meet you!”

She stepped up to the old man and they each gave one another a light kiss on either cheek.

“Urgh…” said Sagar, slapping his hand over his face. “Not another one…”

“Please,” said the old man to Nuthea, “I am old in years. ‘Grandfather’ will do.”

“Huh?” said Ryn, his brow knotting. “‘Grandfather’? What are you talking about?”

“It’s part of their religion, farmboy,” Elrann explained to him. “The Cult of the One are a worldwide religion, not just limited to a particular place. You do meet them sometimes. I’ve come across a few on my travels. They all see themselves as this big sort of family, with the One as their Supreme Father. So they call their younger women ‘daughters’, older women ‘mothers’, then there’s ‘sisters’, ‘brothers’, ‘fathers’, an’ stuff. I’ve never heard of no ‘grandfather’ before though.”

“Yes,” said Nuthea, smiling, “that honorific is reserved for the eldest and wisest of men. There aren’t many of them in Manolia, where I am from. What is your name, Grandfather?”

“I am called Cid,” said the old man, smiling in return.

“Well, this is all very touching; old timer, princess,” said Sagar, “but now that you’re healed we need to be getting back on our way. Do I need to remind you that you’ve got a war to prevent, and I’ve got a reward to collect?”

The old man’s eyes widened.

“Hey numb-nuts, give her a moment,” said Elrann. “She’s just barely avoided dying from a mortal wound. Give her a bit of time to recover!”

“She’s fine now!” said Sagar, flinging out his hand to indicate Nuthea’s bandaged abdomen. “The medicine-man worked his magic, or whatever you want to call it. Let’s get this show back on the road!”

Ryn’s blood began to boil, but the old man called Cid spoke first.

“Actually, there is some wisdom in your companion’s suggestion,” the healer said diplomatically, stroking his bushy white beard with one hand. “It would make much sense for the young lady to rest awhile. Although my arts are powerful, her wound was almost mortal, and she could do with at least a night here to recover fully before you go on your way. What’s more, that will give me time to pack my things.”

“Pack your things?” said Ryn. “Why?”

“I’m coming with you.”

“What?!” said Sagar.

“PUUUUU--UUUUUY!”

They all looked round, startled by the sudden muffled shout.

The bounty hunter in black had begun to writhe around on the ground, violently throwing his head this way and that, and shouting something so loudly that they could hear it through his gag, although it was still impossible to make out what he was saying. In their heated conversation they had completely forgotten about him.

“PUU--UUY!” cried the man as he twisted on the ground, contorting his body where it lay bound. “PUU--UUY!”

“What’s wrong with him?” said Cid, concern raising the normally deep pitch of his voice.

“He’s a damned poppy addict,” Sagar said with a dismissive wave. “I promised him I would give him some if he told us the way to Nonts. Now the fool’s having a tantrum.”

“No,” said Cid, his bushy brows pushing together, “don’t you understand? Poppy addicts experience terrible withdrawl symptoms if they don’t ingest again within seven days. They have fits, and it feels like utter agony. Their whole body can flare with terrible pain and convulsions. Sometimes it can be so bad that it kills them. If they come off it, they have to cut down gradually. He needs some poppy seed.” He reached into his leather satchel and began to rummage around.

“So what?” said Sagar. “Who’s going to give it to him? I don’t have any. Let the bastard die. He’s served his purpose. I don’t know why he is still alive, anyway. I don’t even know why the pup wanted to keep him alive in the first place.”

Ryn bristled and his pulse quickened. “He did tell us the way to Nonts,” he said defensively. “And he told us about the poison he used on his sword.”

“If you hadn’t kept him alive for that, this young lady would be dead,” said Cid, glancing at Nuthea as he knelt down on the ground next to the squirming bounty hunter. He carefully held the man’s head in place with one hand, and with the other untied his gag.

The cloth of material fell away from the man’s face, and Cid tugged the bottom of the man’s headscarf down too, exposing his blackened mouth.

“POPPY!” the bounty hunter shouted in an inhumanly shrill voice, like he was being tortured. “GIVE ME POPPY!”

Shhhh,” soothed Cid.

“What are you doing, old man?” said Sagar.

“I carry poppy with me in my healer’s bag,” said Cid. “It’s not just used for pleasure--in smaller doses it’s useful as an anaesthetic--to numb pain. In fact, I gave a very small amount to the young lady earlier.”

“That explains a lot…” Sagar mumbled. Nuthea didn’t respond.

Cid produced a small glass phial of many round, black objects--seeds-- unstoppered it, and tipped a few into the bounty hunter’s mouth.

“GIVE ME POP--” the bounty hunter shrieked again when he had swallowed, but then stopped mid-word. Immediately his grey eyes went glassy, his pupils grew bigger, and his body went still, no longer convusling and wriggling. He lay his head back on the ground and stared up above him, though his eyes had lost focus.

Ahhhhh…” A long, blissful sigh escaped the bounty hunter’s lips.

“What’s happened to him?” asked Nuthea.

“He’s gone into a poppy trance,” Sagar said scornfully.

“What’s that?” asked Ryn.

“Ain’t you seen these either?” said Elrann. “You really do need to get out more, farmboy.”

“It’s good that he is tied up for the moment,” said Cid as he watched the bounty hunter enjoying his reverie. “A poppy trance, when you injest a large amount of poppy all at once, is a state of euphoria--bliss--unlike any other. It is supposed to be the most wonderful and amazing sensation on Mid, though I have my doubts about that. And it comes at a terrible cost. Once a person has experienced a poppy trance, they almost without fail become enslaved to it. Once the trance wears off, it is only a matter of time before the person’s body, mind and spirit desire to experience the trance again, and so they become addicted to it, trapped in a never-ending cycle of craving and acting more and more desperately to obtain their next ‘hit’ of poppy seed. If you say this man is a bounty hunter, I would not be surprised if he became one in order to feed his poppy habit.”

“Why is it good that he’s tied up, then?” asked Ryn.

“Some people can actually do things while they are in a poppy trance--get up, walk around, and so on--and they can last quite a long time, depending on how much the person takes. Peculiarly, you also have heightened senses, and are actually slightly stronger and faster during a poppy trance. So it’s very good that he is tied up. Though you better make sure he is properly tied up.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about poppy trances, old timer...” said Sagar as he bent over the bounty hunter and pulled on his cords to check they were tight enough. The bounty hunter moaned merrily.

“It’s my job to know,” said Cid. “I’ve treated many a poppy addict in my time.”

“What, get a lot of them in small town Nonts, do you?”

“I have not always lived in Nonts,” said Cid with a wry smile.

“Hey,” said Ryn, remembering what they had been talking about before they had been interrupted by the poppy-addict bounty hunter. “What did you mean you’re ‘coming with us’, anyway?”

“Yeah, old timer,” said Sagar, “who said you were tagging along?”

“Well,” said Cid, “just now I heard you say that you’re journeying to prevent a war and to do something for this young lady here. That sounds like a noble cause to me. It’s been a while since I’ve been adventuring and I’m itching to have one more adventure before I pass into the next life. I have no living relatives left alive in Nonts and my apprentice is ready to take over at the Healing House. Now that Imfis has been invaded I have little desire to work as a healer in the service of the Morekemian Empire. So I would like to come with you on your journey.”

The four of them--Ryn, Nuthea, Sagar, Elrann--all looked at each other, silently conferring over the possibility of adding this fifth member to their party (sixth, if you counted the captive bounty hunter).

Sagar ran his tongue along his upper lip. “I’m not buying this,” he said. “You’ve only just met us, old timer. You did us a favour healing me and Nuthea, I’ll grant you that, but you’ve no good reason to suddenly join us on the turn of a bronze piece. You don’t even know what we’re doing, really. What gives?”

Cid’s smile grew even deeper, and he closed his eyes as he spoke. “Ah, you have me there, mister ‘captain’. I have my own personal reasons for joining you. But I would rather keep them to myself, for now. Suffice to say, my intentions are purely noble.”

“Oh, do come with us!” said Nuthea, clapping her hands together. “Do come with us, grandfather!”

Sagar slapped his hand to his forehead. “Not this again…”

“I will say,” said Cid, opening his eyes, and now they seemed to shine, though Ryn saw no colour in them except white light, “that from the way that this young man threw fire, and you, young man, commanded the wind, I assume that each of you is jewel-touched. Therefore I also deduce that your journey has something to do with the Primeval Jewels, whether or not you know it yet. I discern here the Will of the One. Therefore, I would come with you to assist you.”

“Look,” said Sagar, “that’s all well and good, old timer, but not all of us buy into your religious mumbo-jumbo. Some of us may be ‘jewel-touched’, or whatever you want to call it, but that’s got nothing to do with what we’re doing. I’m escorting the princess here back to her home country after I rescued her from the Empire, so that I can be handsomely rewarded.”

“Yeah,” said Ryn, feeling the need to speak up too, “and I’m trying to get revenge on the Imperial Officer who killed my parents and burned down my hometown, who’s probably headed in the same direction. I’m just tagging along with these guys until I can find him.” As he said it, he knew that it was no longer the whole of the truth. But he wasn’t about to admit that to everyone.

“S’right,” said Elrann, “and I’m just sticking around with these guys ‘cause they’re the last contract I took before the invasion, until something better comes up.” Ryn wondered if that wasn’t the whole truth, as well.

Ahhhhhhh…” said the bounty hunter from somewhere in his poppy trance.

“Be that as it may,” said Cid, “two of you are jewel-touched--”

“Three, actually!” said Nuthea perkily. “I am lightning-diamond-touched.”

Cid’s bushy eyebrows nearly jumped off his face.

“Why would you volunteer that information, princess?” Sagar said, shaking his head at her. “You need to be a lot more careful who you go around telling that too. You’re far too trusting.”

Nuthea bit her lip, but then she said “It’s alright. He’s a grandfather in the faith. I trust him.”

Three of you are jewel-touched!” said Cid. “Well, that settles it even further. I would come with you and serve as your healer. And what of this ‘war’ you are seeking to prevent that I heard you mention?”

“I’m trying to get back to Manolia as soon as possible,” said Nuthea in her refined, feminine tones, “to warn them that the Morekemian Emperor has gained knowledge of the Jewels, and is seeking them. I hope that this may prepare them for whatever he is planning.”

“What could be a more noble cause?” said Cid. “Truly, I discern the Will of the One in this. Again I tell you, I would come with you and serve as your healer.”

“Ok, team huddle,” said Sagar, and beckoned for Ryn, Nuthea and Elrann to come close. Ryn wasn’t sure when they had become a ‘team’ but he supposed they were one. They had by now, after all, fought off and escaped from a group of Imperial soldiers not once, but twice, together. Ryn felt a little twinge of irritation that Sagar seemed to have made himself the ‘leader’ of the team. But he left that alone for now.

“Just wait over there for a bit while we talk this over, old timer,” said Sagar, gesturing for Cid to move away.

The four of them linked arms and put their heads close together. Ryn had never been so close to Nuthea’s face. But he was also close to Sagar’s face again on the other side. Urgh. Elrann faced him on the opposite side of the huddle.

“I don’t like this one bit,” said Sagar quietly. “The old timer’s hiding something, I know it. Our traveling party’s getting big enough as it is. I say we rob him of his stuff and leave him here.”

“Sagar!” said Nuthea. “Even for a pirate that is despicable! He is perfectly trustworthy. He is a follower of the One, and he has already healed both of us.”

“He is good at healing,” said Elrann.

Sagar frowned at her from his place in the huddle. “You’re on board with this guy too, woman?”

“He just seems like a kind old man to me. You’re right, I don’t believe in any of this ‘One’ stuff, but I’m prepared to believe he believes it. What has he done for us so far? Healed two of us, and helped calm down that batshit crazy bounty hunter.”

Sagar’s frown grew more pronounced, like milk curdling.

“That’s two against one,” said Nuthea, seizing the opportunity. “Ryn--you have the deciding vote: either we are locked two against two in conflict, or Grandfather Cid can come with us. What’s your answer?”

Ryn considered his opinion of the old man. He thought back over what he knew about him so far. “Well, when he found out I knew someone who was hurt he came with me straight away. Then, Elrann’s right, he healed you, Nuthea, while we were fighting off the soldiers. Then he healed Sagar’s arm. Then he helped us out with the screaming bounty hunter, who could have attracted the soldiers to our position. I…”

“Yes?” said Nuthea.

“...trust him,” finished Ryn.

“Rrrr, fine,” said Sagar exasperatedly, his face turning red. He broke the huddle and turned toward the old man. “Alright old timer, apparently you can come with us for some reason.”

“I know,” said Cid, with a smile.

“You can come with us on the condition that you don’t try to pull anything funny or slow down our trip. The minute that happens--” Sagar drew a finger across his throat to indicate a decapitating action.

“Of course,” said Cid, still smiling. “You have nothing to worry about.”

“We still have a problem, though” said Ryn, seeing a chance to make himself more of the leader. “Where are we going to go now, and how are we going to get there?”

“Now that I am healed,” said Nuthea, “I still need to get to Manolia as quickly as possible.”

“The plan is the same,” said Sagar. “We make for Sirra, the Imfisi capital, and try to board a train to Manolia.” He looked over at the chocobo, which had crouched down and rested its head on the ground plaintively. It cawed. “Actually, now that we have the bird, I could simply ride there with the princess to get the train. The rest of you coming on foot would only slow us down. I say we part ways here.”

Heat rose in Ryn’s chest. “Hey! There’s no way you’re ditching us here. I’m still heading that way to look for General Vorr, remember?”

“Yeah, and there’s no way I’m walking all the way to Sirra, now that we have a chocobo” said Elrann.

“And it does somewhat defeat my joining you to be your healer if I don’t actually join you to be your healer,” said Cid.

Ahhhhhhhhh…” said the bounty hunter from his place on the ground.

Sagar merely pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes malevolently.

“Yes,” said Nuthea, “we travel together. As grandfather said, the One clearly has a purpose in bringing us all together. Especially you, Ryn, with your fire gift.” Ryn stood a little taller. The heat in his chest was replaced by a light, dreamlike sensation that moved up into his head. “But Sagar is right…” The lightness disappeared as quickly as it had come. “...we’re going too slowly on foot. And no doubt the Imperial troops in the area will all be searching for us now. We all need a way of traveling more quickly to get to Sirra.”

“I may be able to help there,” said Cid.

The four of them turned to look at him.

Cid nodded towards the bounty hunter’s steed. “Your man in black must have rented or stolen that bird from the chocobo stable in Nonts. None of you will be able to show your face there--especially you, granddaughter--but I can. As far as the Empire know, I’m a nobody. I handed over my healing house to my apprentice before they arrived. They have no idea who I am.”

“Won’t they have seen you escaping with us?” asked Ryn.

“I doubt it,” said Cid. “You killed all of the soldiers in Eda’s house, didn’t you?” Eda must be the old woman who had betrayed Ryn.

“Yes,” said Sagar.

“And I doubt they would have had time to get a good look at me in the chaos that followed, especially what with you throwing wind spells all over the place. Even if they did, I can just say that I’m a retired old man with some healing skills who you forced to heal someone for you and then abandoned in the forest. They won’t look at me twice. I will go and find a couple more chocobos for us.”

“Oh, you’d do that for us, grandfather?” said Nuthea. Even Ryn thought she was laying it on a bit thick.

“Of course,” said Cid. “I have plenty of coin. This is good--this way I can go home before we leave and pick up some supplies--gold, food, some sleeping rolls, that sort of thing.”

“Food?” said Elrann.

“Naturally,” said Cid. “Are you hungry, young lady?”

“We haven’t eaten since last night.”

“Well of course, then! You must be famished. I will bring as much as I can carry, and gold to buy more. I best be off. I will meet you back here in a few hours, with the chocobos.”

“Not here,” said Sagar. “We need to keep moving while you’re getting your supplies, old timer. The Imperials will be looking for us.”

“You’re quite right,” said Cid. “Tell you what: meet me at the crest of the hill a few miles due east of Nonts. It’s wooded there too, so you’ll be sheltered.”

“Good idea, grandfather,” said Nuthea.

“Let’s go,” said Elrann.

“Hmph,” said Sagar.

“Wait,” said Ryn, realising something.

“What?” The others turned to him.

Ahhhhhh…” said the bounty hunter, still in his poppy trance.

Him,” said Ryn. “We still haven’t decided what to do about him.”

“He’s served his purpose,” said Sagar. “I say we slit his throat and leave him to die here.”

“Sagar!” said Nuthea. “No! Who is this man, anyway?”

“Who do you think, princess? This is the bounty hunter that jumped us and put that cut in your belly before the old timer healed you. Pup here kept him alive out of ‘pity’ or some such nonsense. I suppose he did tell us the way to get to Nonts. But there’s no reason to keep him alive any longer.”

“Well done, Ryn,” said Nuthea, completely unexpectedly.

Sagar put his head in his hands.

“Why?” said Ryn.

“Oneism teaches to love one’s enemies, and that it is wrong to kill any living thing. Forgiveness and restoration are always possible.”

“But I’ve seen you cook Imperial soldiers in their armour with lightning bolts!”

“That was different…” said Nuthea sheepishly, rubbing her arm and looking sidelong at Cid. “That was self-defense…”

“Be that as it may, granddaughter is right,” said Cid. “It would be wrong to kill and abandon this pitiful soul. It would only add more evil to the world.”

Sagar had turned red. “Rrrr. Not this again! You two are completely crazy!”

“You know,” said Elrann, “for once, I agree with the jackass. I’m not saying we have to kill him, but there’s no sense in keeping this guy around. He’s clearly dangerous. I don’t see what good can come of it.”

Thank you, woman. At least one of you is seeing sense.”

“Well that’s two against two again,” said Nuthea. “If we’re going to go with the majority vote in this team, a concept which while vulgar I am not entirely unfamiliar with, then you get the deciding vote again, Ryn.”

Ryn looked down at the entranced bounty hunter laying face up on the ground. Right now the man’s dark eyes were glassy and unfocused, staring off into the leaves and sky above them while he occasionally emitted moans of pleasure. But Ryn remembered the look in the man’s eyes the first time Sagar had been about to kill him. Somewhere in that gray Ryn had seen terror, and desperation, and trauma. Somewhere in that gray Ryn had seen--humanity. And he had known in that instant that really, despite the man’s appearance and current choice of occupation, he and Ryn weren’t all that different. This man had seen horrible things in his life too, which maybe had driven him to what he was doing now. He was a human too.

“He stays with us,” said Ryn. “He knew the way to Nonts. He told us what poison he had used. He may know his way around the rest of Imfis. He might be able to give us information about the Empire.” Like where Vorr is. “He might prove helpful yet.”

Sagar threw up his hands in exasperation. “This is insane!” He sighed aggressively, like an angry horse whinnying. “Fine, you better load him onto the chocobo then, pup, seeing as you’re so deseprate not to part from him--he’s not going anywhere by himself any time soon. You go get your supplies, old timer--we’ll meet you at the top of the hill east of Nonts in a few hours.”

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About the author

Faenon

Bio: Hi, I’m Faenon, from Oxford, UK.

I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve even been lucky enough to complete a paid creative writing course and get some short stories published (PM me if you are interested in reading them as it involves telling you my real name).

I’ve written four novels so far but haven’t been able to get any of them house-published--though I came close to getting an agent with one.

So although I’m going to keep trying, I’m also getting fed up with the traditional publishing industry.

That’s where the internet comes in!

I’m going to be posting my novels online one by one, anonymously, in the order I wrote them. And then I'll start posting my latest project as I write it.

If you enjoy my novels, please support me on patreon to get chapters ahead of time and access to early drafts, and then I can devote more time to writing!

(I have a wife, a kid, and a non-writing job.)

One more note. I've studied Theology and Philosophy to postgraduate level, and you may see these things turning up in my stories sometimes. You have been warned.

To support my writing and get access to early chapters go to https://www.patreon.com/faenon

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