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A note from Faenon

Party for this chapter:

Ryn, Nuthea, Sagar, Elrann, Cid, Vish

Ryn’s house was burning again.

This time he was inside it. Hellish red leapt from the walls, licking the ceiling, belching black smoke.

He reached out with his hands and tried to manipulate the flames with his new powers, willing them to recede.

“Go back!”

Nothing happened, except that his arms ached; his powers had deserted him.

And now before him stood his mother, cowering, holding up her hands. The black-armoured, flame-haired Imperial officer Vorr standing in front of her with his huge sword drawn.

His mother looked at him, chestnut eyes pleading.

Do something, Ryn!” she begged him. “Please, help me! This is all your fault!”

“No!” Ryn whimpered. “I..I can’t!”

And then Vorr’s sword went into her. It ran her right through the chest, making a slippery, slithery sound like a hissing snake. When it came out so did a gushing flow of red. He had seen this image so many times. But here he was, seeing it again.

Ryn’s mother hit the floor.

“NO!”

This time Ryn ran at Vorr.

This time Ryn had a sword in his hand, which he swung at Vorr with all that remained of his feeble strength as he screamed with rage.

The Imperial General batted away his strike easily with his own blade, laughing as he did so; a deep, mocking, mirthful laugh.

“The boy from Cleasor!” Vorr laughed. “How did you manage to survive the crash? How did you even get here?”

“You murdered my parents!” Ryn screamed back. “You destroyed my hometown!”

“Did I?” Vorr laughed even harder. “Oh yes, I suppose I must have…”

As those casual words echoed through Ryn’s mind, Vorr’s sword plunged through Ryn’s chest just as it had through his mother’s.

The shock of it sliding through his flesh.

It’s all my fault. I should have saved her. It’s my fault. I killed my mother.

Did I? Oh yes, I suppose I must have…

The scene shifted, and now Ryn was running through the burning buildings of Cleasor, his hometown, looking for someone, but he couldn’t remember who.

Damn the Imperials! They destroy everything… They burn everything… They gave me no warning. There’s no joy in this world. I’ll never be happy again. I’m going to die burned and broken and alone.

A man lay on the grass in front of him; a tall, middle-aged man with red-grey hair and one of his legs missing, lying in a pool of his own lifeblood.

“Dad!” Ryn cried.

He ran to his father and knelt at his side, cradled his face with his hand.

The flames leapt high all around them.

“You’re hurt...let me help you…”

“No!” his father said, insistent though his voice was still weak. “Leave it, son… I am past help… I will be gone soon…”

“I don’t want you to die, Dad…”

Take it now.”

“Take what?”

“The ruby.”

“I already did, Dad, but I lost it!”

“That’s right,” said his father. His voice was getting quieter, and harder to hear over the crackle of the flames; his eyes were glazing over. “You took it and you lost it. You’re a failure, Ryn. You’ve failed. You lost us because you failed.”

Hot tears ran down Ryn’s cheeks. “No! I’m sorry! Please, Dad, give me another chance! Come back!”

His father’s eyes lost focus completely.

“COME BACK!” Ryn yelled…

...and resurfaced from the nightmare, sitting up violently and shouting.

“Argggh--!”

When he realised he had been dreaming he stopped shouting abruptly and took in a sharp breath.

“Easy, lad!”

An old man was holding him by the shoulders where he sat. The man had bushy white eyebrows and a white beard with the hair between his nose and mouth shaved off.

“You’ve just had a brush with the void. Best if you take things slowly.”

Beyond the old man’s head was the face of a beautiful blonde woman in a tattered cream dress, her brow crinkled up in concern.

“Are you alright, Ryn?” she asked. “We thought you had died.”

Memory returned to Ryn, seeping into his mind along and mingling with the aftertaste of the nightmare.

Cid released him and he took in another few gulps of air. They were still in the woods, it was cold, and it was getting dark. It must be early evening.

“I guess it was your turn to be worried about me,” Ryn croaked to Nuthea when he had calmed down a little, surprised at his own boldness, but disappointed that it came out in a croak. “I’m fine now...I was just having a nightmare before I came to…...I remember… I remember being stabbed. What happened to me?”

“I healed you,” said Cid.

“I thought you had ridden on...” said Ryn. “I thought you had left me and Vish behind…” He looked around. The bodies of dead Imperial soldiers littered the forest floor. Sagar, Elrann and Vish were a little way away with thechocobos. Hearing that Ryn was awake, they wandered over and sat down on the grass. Nuthea joined them, and they all sat in a circle together.

“Of course we wouldn’t leave you and Shadowfinger Vish behind,” said Nuthea.

“S’right,” said Sagar. “Soon as we realised that the Imperials had caught up to you and the scumsucker, I turned around immediately and led the charge to come back and rescue you.”

“Actually,” said Elrann, “way I remember it, you did want to leave him behind. Princess-girl was the one who wanted to turn around. You took quite a lot of convincing.”

“Whatever,” said Sagar.

“Anyway,” went on Nuthea, “once we eventually got back you did fight very valiantly, Captain Sagar. Shadowfinger Vish here had succeeded in dispatching most of the soldiers, but even he couldn’t cope with all of them at once--”

At that, Vish made a disapproving noise inside his head covering. “Humph. Please. I had them all taken care of. I think I deserve some poppy for what I did.”

“In time, in time…” said Cid. “I’ve told you, you need to space the hits out, or they’ll diminish in intensity.”

“If I don’t get a hit soon everything will diminish in intensity.”

“Hang on,” said Ryn, “you can’t have done that good a job at fighting them ‘all’ off because one of them stabbed me through the chest.

Vish went quiet at that, narrowing his eyes to slits as he looked at Ryn.

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Elrann. “When we got here you’d already been run through by that fat soldier.”

Ryn thought to look down at his tunic for the first time. It had torn where the sword had gone through and blood stained it. But there was no wound on his chest. It ached awfully, yet there was no visible sign of the sword’s piercing it. He couldn’t even work out exactly where the blade had gone in.

“He did...” Ryn said. “He ran me right through. Just like…” Mother. Father. Hometown. He swallowed. Every time he remembered them a jolt of pain went through his mind, even now. No wonder he dreamed about them every time he was unconscious. He hadn’t had time to feel sad about them properly before he had been caught up in this crazy whirlwind adventure. An adventure on which he had just been stabbed through the chest. “How the hell am I still alive?” he asked of Mid in general.

“Well, to be honest, we did think you were a goner, pup,” said Sagar. Was that disappointment in his voice? Disappointment that Ryn hadn’t died? Bastard. “But then the old timer here got to you and worked his magic. I don’t care what you say about your healing skills any more, old timer, that was magic and I know it was.”

Ryn’s eyes grew wide as he stared at Cid. The old man’s face was solemn, his jaw set behind his white beard. He seemed tired, the crow’s feet at the edges of his eyes more pronounced.

“I was basically dead...” Ryn said to him. “How powerful are you?”

“Yeah, come on,” said Sagar. “Spill the beans, old timer. Pup here was basically dead when you got to him. What did you do?”

They sat and waited for Cid to speak.

It took him a while, staring at the ground, but eventually he said “I brought you back to consciousness with a ‘Life’ spell. I am Jewel-touched as well, like the three of you are.”

“I knew it!” said Sagar triumphantly. “You have healing powers as well as healers’ training! I knew all that stuff about ‘miracles’ was garbage!”

“It’s still a miracle!” protested Nuthea at once. “The One can also work through the magic of the Jewels.” For some reason, she didn’t seem all that surprised at the revelation that Cid was Jewel-touched.

“Whatever,” said Sagar.

“Indeed,” said Cid, “whatever we call it, I’m afraid this young man is right. I have healing abilities from my contact with the Light Crystal. I think of these as being miraculous too, Granddaughter, but it is also true that I received them from my contact with that Jewel.”

“So you can bring people back from death?” said Ryn.

“No,” said Cid.

“Huh?” the rest of them all said together (except Vish).

“Let me be very clear on this,” Cid went on. “The Life spell can resuscitate a person who is dying or who has been brought near death. If someone loses consciousness from injury, or is so injured that they are slipping away into death, I can bring them back. But once they have fully passed away into it, once they have died, I cannot bring them back. I cannot people back from the dead. Only the One could do that.”

Sagar snorted. “Yeah, if ‘He’ existed.”

“Hold on, hold on,” said Elrann, motioning with her hand for the rest of them to listen, then massaging her forehead underneath her short purple hair. “Let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that these magical jewel-thingamys--”

“The Primeval Jewels,” interrupted Nuthea.

Elrann blinked at her. “Right, yeah. What you’re saying is that these magical primeval jewel-thingamys that we’re trying to get princess-girl back to her homeland to tell her parents about can also give people healing powers, and that pops here has come into contact with one before, and that it’s because of that that he was able to bring farmboy here back from near-death after he got stabbed by that fat Imperial soldier?”

A pause.

“Yes,” said Nuthea, Sagar, Ryn and Cid all at the same time.

“You’re all completely nuts…” mumbled Elrann, shaking her head and pinching her nose. “Ok--let’s assume for a moment that I believe you: How did you ever get ya hands one one of these jewel-thingamys then, pops?”

“Primeval Jewels,” Nuthea felt obliged to correct her again.

They all looked at Cid. Even Vish stared at him intently.

“Hey, I led a rich and full life before I settled down in Nonts…” Cid said defensively, shrugging his shoulders and holding out his hands in protest. “I did many things and went on many adventures. Is it so surprising that I would have come across one of the Primeval Jewels?”

“You’re right,” said Nuthea, “it’s not. And followers of the One are all the more likely to come across such things. It must have been your destiny.”

“No, I’m not buying this,” said Sagar, shaking his head. “This ischocobo-shit. Tell us how you really came by it, old timer. I’m not traveling around with someone who has elemental manipulation powers when I don’t know where he got them from.”

“Hey,” said Elrann, “you have elemental manipulation powers and we don’t know where you got them from!”

“I inherited a fragment of the Wind Shell from my father, alright!” said Sagar heatedly. At the same time, he took out a necklace from inside his shirt and showed them the shard of translucent shell that its silver chain ran through.

Elrann’s eyes stretched.

“Oh my,” said Nuthea.

Ryn wasn’t so surprised--he had come to suspect something like this might be behind Sagar’s powers. Cid’s face was unmoved too.

“And the princess here has her powers,” Sagar continued, putting the necklace back down his shirt, “‘cause she’s from the royal family of Magnolia.”

“Manolia,” said Nuthea.

“Whatever. And pup has them because the Fire Ruby was hidden in his village for years without him knowing or some shit like that, yadda yadda yadda. And as far as we know the woman and the scumsucker don’t have elemental powers, but if we find out later they’ll do I’m sure they’ll tell us how they got them. So...what’s your deal, old timer?”

The group fell silent, waiting for another answer from Cid, who for a moment only stroked the side of his beard and scrunched up his face.

Ryn chewed the side of his mouth. On the one hand, he could perhaps believe Cid and Nuthea that Cid had just stumbled upon one of the Jewels somewhere, and even that it was made more likely because it was his ‘destiny’ from this ‘One’ god, the ‘God of gods’. On the other hand, what Sagar was saying made an awful lot more sense. Once again Ryn found that while he would prefer to believe what Nuthea and Cid were saying, what Sagar was saying seemed more likely. These Jewels didn’t seem like the sort of objects that you just chanced upon, or that ‘destiny’ brought you to. They seemed like the sort of things that you had to know about, and go looking for, in order to find. After all, there had been one hidden right under Ryn’s nose for apparently as long as he had been alive, and he hadn’t found out about it till recently. And now he had lost it to someone who had been looking for it… Find Vorr. Get Vorr. Kill Vorr.

“Come on, Cid,” Ryn said, choosing to lend his support to Sagar. “Even if you did just chance upon the Light Crystal somewhere, we want to know how it happened. The true version of how it happened.”

At length, Cid sighed. “I suppose it was foolish of me to think that I could keep this from you for long. The One must have purposed for me to tell you through this turn of events.”

“Sure He did,” said Sagar, “or maybe you just discovered you couldn’t keep lying to us for very long.”

“Sagar!” objected Nuthea. “Don’t be so rude to Grandfather!”

“That’s what he was doing, princess. Call it what you like, but that’s what it was. We know that now. Come on, old timer, out with it.”

“Well, if you must know,” said Cid, his eyes not looking at any of them but off into the vague distance of memory, “I was once the healer in an adventuring party that set out to find all of the Primeval Jewels long ago. And with some of them, we succeeded.”

“What?!” said everyone else (including Vish).

“It’s true. We stole the Light Crystal from a Citadel in Erm. I was already trained as a healer, so since the Crystal grants manipulation of the element of life, I was chosen to be its bearer.”

“Do you still have it?” said Ryn.

“In this case...no.”

“Why not?”

“Er, I put it back.”

“WHAT?! said everyone.”

“Why would you do that?” said Sagar.

“That will require some further explanation--”

“What happened to the other adventurers in your party?” butted in Ryn. He had begun to wonder about certain things.

Cid closed his eyes. “That I am not ready to tell you about yet.”

They died, then, Ryn surmised. And he couldn’t bring them back from death. Because he can’t do that. Because no one can do that.

Cid opened his eyes. “But what I am saying to you is true.”

“How did you find out about the Jewels in the first place?” Nuthea jumped in. Clearly everyone had their own question they wanted to ask. “In Manolia the knowledge of the Jewels is a closely-guarded secret…”

“That’s the least interesting part of the story,” said Cid. He glanced at Sagar for a moment. Why did he do that? thought Ryn. “It really doesn’t matter. What matters is why we went after them. Once we found out about their existence, we decided it would be terrible if the Jewels ever fell into the wrong hands. So we set out to find them ourselves, to keep them safe, should anyone with malicious intentions or ambitions ever learn of them. And as I say, we succeeded in finding some of them.”

“How many did you find, then?” asked Elrann.

“Four,” said Cid.

“Which ones?” asked Nuthea.

Ryn answered for him. He had begun to work things out. “The Light Crystal, the Lightning Diamond, the Wind Shell, and the Fire Ruby.”

Cid nodded. “Correct.”

“You knew my father,” Ryn realised. And he probably knew Sagar’s too.

“Yes.”

“He was part of the adventuring party. Along with others.”

“What happened to you? Why did you abandon searching for the Jewels?”

Cid swallowed. His next words came out with some difficulty, and he kept pausing as he said them, like he was holding back tears. “When we went after the fifth jewel, two...two of our number were killed. That was when we realised the folly of what we were doing. It turned out we had only got to the Jewels that were relatively easy to find--the ones that were nearby, and not so well guarded. The others were going to be much harder. So we decided to return or hide the ones we had found. They really were safer in their original hiding places all along, anyway.”

Ryn had never heard of any of this. He knew that his father had had a life before he had met his mother and settled in Cleasor, that he had been a traveler himself and worked in a variety of professions, but he had never heard about any of this. Perhaps with good reason, he saw, but he still couldn’t help from feeling betrayed. Mother. Father. Hometown.

“But now,” Cid went on, “now that a malicious power has learned of the existence of the Jewels, and one with enough strength perhaps to take them for himself, now those who guard and keep them must be warned.”

“What are you saying, Grandfather?” asked Nuthea.

“What I’m saying is that I must help you to get to Manolia as soon as possible in order to warn your people of what the Emperor has learned as soon as possible. I owe at least that much to the memory of your grandmother.”

“What?” said Nuthea, forgetting her usual polite terms of address. “You knew grandmother Effi?”

“No,” said Cid. “I knew your grandmother on your mother’s side.”

Lissa?”

“That’s right.”

“How?”

“She was a part of our adventuring party too. Quite a firecracker. She was the one to find the Lightning Diamond, deep in an underground dungeon.”

“But my mother taught me that the Lightning Diamond has been in our family for generations!”

“Nope. Well, I suppose three generations is still ‘generations’. Lissa found it. Maybe it used to belong to the Manolians before, but if it did, they lost it, and Lissa found it again.”

Nuthea’s face looked like she had just eaten something that disagreed with her. She seemed horrified at the idea that her parents might have taught her anything that was factually incorrect, unintentionally or not.

“Grandmother Lissa… She always was very peculiar… And she always did seem to want to encourage me to break the rules and go out on adventures… In fact, it’s probably her fault that I… Never mind. I can barely believe it,” she finished, running out of steam. What had she been about to say?

“I don’t believe it,” said Sagar. “This is getting completely ridiculous. The old timer is clearly making all of this up.”

“If he’s making it up,” said Nuthea, “how did he know the name of my maternal grandmother? I’ve never said it or told it to you any of this time.”

“I...er…” for once Sagar ran out of steam for a moment too. “I suppose you might be right there. But this is ridiculous. Next you’ll be telling me that my father was part of your little ‘adventuring party’ too.”

Here we go...

Cid looked at him, and smiled.

“You have got to be shitting me.”

“Captain Figaro was an invaluable member of our party. He was the one to find the--”

“--Wind Shell,” said Ryn. He had seen where that was going easily enough.

“But my…” said Sagar. “I always thought my father was a famous plundering skypirate…”

“He was, for most of his career. But when he ran into our party who were also going after the Wind Shell, and beat us to it, we managed to convince him to come with us to try to find the other Jewels.”

“My father would never have done that.”

“Well, he did.”

“If you’re not lying, that is.”

“I have no reason to lie.”

“Look,” said Ryn, whatever happened in the past, this is getting pretty weird.” His doubt about ‘destiny’ was starting to erode. “Four of us now who have been thrown together are all ‘Jewel-touched’, or whatever you call it, Nuthea.”

“Yes,” said Cid, “the Jewels have a way of doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Bringing together those who have been touched by them. It is the purpose of the One at work, seeking to find a group of people who will serve him by gathering the Jewels together to protect the world from evil. It’s no coincidence either that I knew three of your parents, or ancestors at least.”

Rrrr.” Sagar looked about to explode. “Enough of this already!” he yelled, going red in the face, little flecks of spittle flying from his mouth. “I’ve had enough of all this Oneist garbage! It’s not purpose, or destiny, or whatever that we’ve all come together! The Empire are going after the Jewels. That’s how the pup and the princess ended up in the same place--because they came from places that have Jewels, so the Empire captured them. Then I attacked the ship they were on because being Jewel-touched I’m the only pirate crazy enough to go after an Imperial warship. Then we got grounded and the princess got hurt and… and… we made for the nearest healer, who was obviously well known for being a healer because he’s Jewel-touched too…”

Even Sagar did not sound so convinced any more.

Ryn, Nuthea and Cid all looked at Elrann and Vish, who were standing next to each other.

“Don’t look at me,” said Elrann, a hand on her hip. “I don’t have any crazy jewel powers. Least not that I’m aware of.”

“Nor me,” said Vish, scowling at them from behind his face covering. “If I had powers of elemental projection I would have used them to kill you all and hand you over to the Empire for poppy seed by now.”

“But you will gain elemental powers,” said Cid. “You both will. I am sure of it. If the One’s purpose is done, both of you will become Jewel-touched, even Jewel-bearers, before the journey of this group is done.”

Jewel-bearers… thought Ryn. Like my Dad must have been. Wait a second... “Hang on,” he said, “how did the Empire know that we had the Fire Ruby?” That was something he had wondered many times, but he had not thought to voice the question until now.

“That I cannot tell you,” said Cid. “Ornos did not reveal his secret ownership of the Fire Ruby to anyone else, as far as I know. The only people who knew about him having it were the members of our party. But when we parted ways, we didn’t even tell each other where we were going or where we planned on settling or hiding our Jewels. Even that was deemed too dangerous, in case someone got captured and tortured for the information.”

The Empire were going to torture me, Ryn realised.

“Never mind that now,” said Sagar. He had become interested in something else. “Old timer, are you telling me you think we’re all going to end up with Jewel-powers?”

“If this party is successful in its quest, yes. Look: Four of us have them already. We’ve been brought together by the One’s Purpose. It’s as though He is writing a story, and we are characters inside it. We may have free choice, but He is guiding us in towards the outcome He desires.”

Sagar went quiet again, and tapped his mouth in thought. Even he now seemed to be contemplating the possibility that they had all been brought together by something more than dumb, blind luck.

It seemed a little more convincing to Ryn too, now that they had discovered another of their group was Jewel-touched. But why would this ‘One’ add Elrann and Vish to their traveling group as well? Unless they really were going to find more Jewels and develop elemental projection powers of their own like Cid predicted…

And it was still bugging him: How had the Emperor learned of the location of the Fire Ruby in his hometown if none of Cid’s original adventuring party had told him about it. Or maybe they--

Nuthea interrupted his train of thought. “Look, fellows.” Fellows? Who talks like that? “I agree with Grandfather here that the One must have brought as all together for a Purpose, but whatever that Purpose turns out to be, we still need to get to Manolia as soon as possible to warn my people of the Emperor’s knowledge and plans. If I don’t warn them in time, more of the Jewels could fall into the Emperor’s hands, which would be catastrophic for the whole of Mid, let alone Manolia. That was what we were doing before this revelation that Grandfather is Jewel-touched too. And now that thanks to him Ryn is awake and back to good health, we need to be on our way again. Are you all still coming with us to Sirra, Grandfather?”

“Of course I’m coming with you, Granddaughter,” said Cid. “It is the One’s Purpose.”

“What about the rest of you?”

“I’m coming with you too,” said Vish. “So long as the old man eventually gives me some more poppy seed and can keep supplying me with it.”

“In time, in time”, said Cid. “I told you, you need to wait a little longer or the hit won’t be as strong.”

“I’m happy to keep tagging along with ya,” said Elrann. “I’ve got nothing better to do, since Imfis has been invaded by the Empire. And if I’m going to develop elemental projection powers by staying with you guys, I think I’ll stick around.” It wasn’t clear to Ryn whether or not that last sentence was a joke.

“Captain Sagar?” said Nuthea.

“You know I’m coming. I’m escorting you. Rewards. Gold. Precious gems. Beautiful women. We’ve been over this.”

They all looked at Ryn.

“What?” said Ryn. Mother. Father. Hometown. Find Vorr. Kill Vorr. Stay with Nuthea? “General Vorr was heading towards Sirra. If there’s a chance that I’m going to find him there, then I’m still coming with you. And nearly dying isn’t going to stop me.”

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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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