Weapon of ChoiceFandom:
Final Fantasy X-2Character:
Minor, for Paine's backstory and the gameWordcount:
Characters, places, and themes from FFX-2 are copyright Square Enix.Notes:
This story has been over two years in the making. It was one of the first ideas I thought of when I made this claim, and I started working on it when parron
challenged me to write a Paine/sword story. It stalled out several times, but I made sure to keep it on the back burner, and with a recent burst of activity, it's finally finished.
"Dad?" I sat up, blinking the sleep from my eyes as they adjusted to the dawn light, then registered the tall, lean figure standing in the doorway to my room.
"Good morning," my father replied as he stepped into the room and took a seat at the foot of the bed. " Sleep well?" I nodded, my answering yawn nearly cracking my jaw in half. "Good. Now come with me, I have a surprise for you."
I obediently swung my legs over the side of the bed and stretched as I stood, yawning again, and then followed him out of the room and into the small common room of our cottage. He led me onward and outward until we reached the porch. I took a minute to look around, scanning the square of our small village, just coming to life as friends and neighbors began to prepare for the day, drawing water from the well and gathering with nets and poles, talking of their hopes for the day's catch.
"Over here," Dad said, taking me by the shoulders and turning me around to face the house. I looked again, and there it was: a sword, resting against the wall, tucked in a leather scabbard, a red ribbon tied into a bow around the hilt.
"Oh." I stepped forward and picked it up, my hand curling around the hilt, and I lifted it, the other hand supporting the length of the blade. I pulled it gingerly out of its sheath, and the blade gleamed in the sunshine. Looking up from it and into Dad's face, he beamed back at me, his smile as bright as the metal shining in my hands. "Is this..."
"Happy birthday, Paine," he replied. "Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful." I freed it from the scabbard, which I set down so that I could grasp the hilt with both hands. Once I had a better grip, I slashed downward, feeling the edge whistle through the air. "Much better than that beat-up hand-me-down I've been using." I sheathed the blade, and grinned up at my father. "Where did you get this? It must have cost a fortune."
"I sent the specifications to my cousin in Luca, who had it made and shipped back," he replied. "As for the cost, well. If you're going to run off to join the Crusaders, you'll need a real sword to make it home in one piece. That's worth everything I have, and more."
I set the sword aside with a swallow. We had been discussing -- well, arguing about -- my desire to enlist off and on for over a year, and he had always been firm in his opposition. "Dad..."
His eyes softened. "You're fifteen now. Old enough to enlist, and to know your own mind. You've been talking about being a Crusader ever since you could pick up a wooden sword, and I'm well aware that you'll join with or without my blessing." He shrugged with a smile. "So I might as well give it to you, along with a sword to keep you safe. It's the least I can do for my favorite daughter."
The world started to spin as I digested his words. "Dad," I breathed, stepping forward into his arms as I threw my own around him. "Thank you."
I heard the smile in his voice as he embraced me in return. "I love you too," he murmured in my ear. Then he set me back a pace and I saw the sadness in his face, and I felt a pang. Mom had been gone for so many years, and my brother... I was all he had left of that life. And now he was letting me go.
"Don't worry." I stepped back to look him in the eye. "I'll learn how to fight with this sword, and then I'll come back to set up a Crusader lodge, to protect you and the village. I promise."
He bumped me lightly under the chin with his index finger, a gesture familiar to me from my very early childhood. "I expect nothing less," he said. "Now let's get some breakfast and start packing. You'll want to leave with the dawn tomorrow to make Mushroom Rock by dinnertime."-x-
The new crop of Crusaders gathered on the training ground, swinging swords issued by the armory or inherited from parents and older siblings. The instructor stood at the front, shouting out commands as the green recruits did their best to keep up with the drill pattern. It was a familiar sight to any Crusader stationed at Mushroom Rock, and Nooj had seen it a hundred times since the day that he had first stood among their number, wielding his sword with ease, impressing the officers with his strength and instincts. Now he took a turn as the drill sergeant from time to time, although less often since he'd been granted leadership of his own patrol. He much preferred the field; teaching required more patience than he felt like cultivating.
Every so often, though, he liked to spend a few moments watching, looking for anyone with natural talent. Such prodigies were rare, but he kept his eye out anyway, always hoping to cherry-pick the best new recruits for his own squad. Unfortunately, none of this group qualified -- most of them flailed about, tired shoulders already drooping. Only one caught his eye: a girl, her spiked hair already tipped with silver despite her youth, carrying a two handed sword. It was a tad too long for her and had to be quite heavy, and yet she stood firm, the blade held parallel to the ground, only the slightest wobble of her arms betraying her fatigue. Not an expert yet, but perhaps there was something...
"Never knew you liked them that young." A sharp elbow nudged Nooj in the side, and he turned his head to see Luzzu standing there, looking up at him, eyebrow quirked in amusement. "Don't try to deny it. I saw you looking at her, the one with the gray hair. Not bad, I suppose, for a kid. But I prefer a woman with more meat on her bones."
"I have no idea what you're blathering about," Nooj retorted. "I was evaluating the new recruits for swordsmanship, that's all."
"Sure you were." Luzzu watched with him for a few more minutes, then shook his head. "I'd say they're nothing special. Let's go get some dinner."
Nooj paused, his eyes once again drawn to the young woman with the heavy blade. Thin, he decided, but no so much skinny as wiry, her slight build likely hiding real muscle. Her form needed some work, though; her footwork was clumsy, her slashes and turns not particularly graceful... no, he decided, it would be too much trouble to bring her up to snuff. Maybe he'd look her up in a couple of years, see if the training took. "All right," he said, dismissing her and the rest of the newcomers with a toss of his head. "I am getting hungry." And he left, following Luzzu to the mess tent, the girl and her sword already fading from his immediate memory even as she turned her head to watch him go.-x-
"I'm not leaving it behind." I crossed my arms and glared at the Yevonite who had just told me that, although I'd be issued a weapon for self-defense, recorders were not to be involved in fighting and I would have no need for my sword.
The sounds of a busy Luca dock swirled around us, sailors shouting as they prepared the ship for its journey, other recruits clomping around on deck, gulls crying in the sky. "You'll be hauling it around to no purpose," the acolyte repeated, raising his voice to be heard over the din, "and this mission involves a great deal of walking through harsh conditions. You will be required to carry all of your own personal items as well as your camera and recording spheres; why burden yourself unnecessarily?"
"I say it's not unnecessary," I said, not budging. No way was I letting this soft-handed idiot push me around. "And if your regulations say otherwise, then you can--"
"Is something wrong?" The acolyte and I both looked up to see Commander Ohta, the warrior monk who had led the preliminary tryouts for the Crimson Squad, walking down the ship's ramp. I had spoken to him only once before, on the day I was informed that I had been selected as a recorder and would be shipping out in a week. He seemed capable, and intelligent enough, but if he were a stickler for regs, I might be in trouble.
Before I could say anything, the acolyte jumped in. "This recorder is refusing the order to travel light. She has a sword that she won't need, and she won't leave it behind."
Commander Ohta raised an eyebrow at me. "Is this true?"
I decided to go for broke, and met his eye as I shifted my posture slightly -- respectful, not too aggressive, but not backing down, either. "Yes sir. I understand that I won't be using it during the training, but I want to be able to drill during off-time, keep my skills sharp. I'm sure you can understand, sir, how easy it is to lose your edge if you don't get to practice regularly." I held my breath and hoped my reasoning would go over.
Without even pausing for thought, the commander nodded. "Of course. As long as you understand that the weapon will add to your carrying weight, and that you aren't eligible for a replacement from the armory if you need to leave it behind."
I saluted. "Aye sir. I understand, sir."
"Good." He tipped his head to the acolyte. "Is everything else in order?"
The acolyte made a show of running his finger down the sheet of paper on his clipboard, frowning as though there might be some other rule I'd be in danger of breaking. Then he looked up with a bright, fake smile. "It would seem so."
"Very well." Ohta turned his attention back to me. "Welcome aboard."
I hefted my rucksack to my shoulder and, after a triumphant glare at the clerk, walked up the ramp alongside Ohta. "Thank you, sir." I saluted him again when we reached the top. "I appreciate the opportunity."
"At ease, and you're welcome." He cast an appraising eye over me and my weapon as I dropped my salute and relaxed slightly from parade ground stance, although I still kept my chin up and my shoulders back. "You did well in the trials, so I trust you to know your limits. Still, you may end up leaving the sword behind at some point, so I hope you're prepared for the possibility."
I did my best to hide my surprise that he remembered my performance. "Yes, sir. But I won't be leaving it behind."
Ohta studied my expression, with so much scrutiny that I started to find it somewhat unnerving. "Ah," he finally said. "You're attached to it. An heirloom. Or was it a gift?"
"A gift. From my father." He didn't need to say anything; I could tell from his look of sympathy that he understood. It had been nearly a year since my village had been completely destroyed by Sin, my father and almost everyone else who lived there killed. I hadn't been to visit the ruins, and my mind's eye shied away from imagining them. Instead I focused on Commander Ohta and nodded.
"I can appreciate that," he said. "But I assume you are sensible enough to know when your own survival, and that of your team, outweighs sentimentality."
Would it really come to that on a training mission? But I schooled my face again and replied with another nod. "Aye sir."
"Very well. All right, carry on. You'll be bunking with the other recorders in the cabin to your right. Ship sails in an hour; be ready for a two-day journey by sea."
I saluted him again as he walked off, then headed in the direction he had indicated, ready to meet my fellow recorders and, hopefully, learn a little more about the people who would be my teammates for the next few months.-x-
"It's not a knife," I said, irritation creeping into my voice as I corrected Gippal's grip on the sword hilt for the half-dozenth time. "Hold it that way and it'll fly out of your hands as soon as you meet any real resistance."
"Sorry, Doctor P." Gippal flashed a grin that was probably meant to be disarming; fortunately, I had figured out that I was immune. For the most part. "Don't know why you're making me learn how to use this thing anyway; I'd much rather-- look out!"
I turned around just in time to see an alcyone flying at my face. Raising my own sword, I swatted it down only to find another replacing it, and another. I swung hard, but the bird dodged out of my way and jabbed its beak into my arm. I yelped, striking it away with the flat of my blade, then cried out as I felt another stabbing pain in my back. I whirled around and swung at this new attacker, first wide but then true, slicing its head off. Part of me was aware of Gippal at my side; he'd dropped the sword and pulled out his gun, picking off the fiends with uncanny accuracy. The field of enemies thinned, and then I noticed the last two creatures hit by bullets from behind, exploding into pyreflies before they hit the ground. I lowered my chin to see Baralai hustling toward us, Nooj lowering his rifle a few paces behind him.
"Nice shooting," I said.
Nooj nodded. "You did pretty well yourself."
I allowed myself a quick smile. "Thanks," I said, then was distracted by Baralai, who laid his hands on my arm. He prodded the wound in my bicep, and I gasped.
"Sorry." He gave me a cool, professional glance. "Hurts? How's the one on your back? You should get them both treated; let me get my medical kit." He dropped to the ground on one knee and began rummaging through his pack.
By the time Baralai produced a salve from his bag, Nooj had reached us. "I meant what I said," he told me. "It's not easy to knock down an alcyone with a heavy broadsword, much less decapitate one in mid-air. I'm impressed. You could pivot more efficiently, though. Maybe the next time you drill I can watch, give you some suggestions."
I fought back a blush. Nooj rarely commended anyone, and I found myself more pleased by his praise than I wanted to admit. "I'd like that," I said.
"All right, it's a deal. Baralai, should I send a medic?"
Baralai shook his head without looking up from rubbing the salve into my wound; I tried not to flinch as he hit a tender spot. "I can take care of these. You might want to warn the sentries, though."
"Very good." Nooj turned away and headed back to the main camp, but not before I saw a strange expression pass through his eyes. It wasn't until several minutes later that I realized what it was: envy.-x-
They hadn't let us take any weapons into the cave, and I was halfway down the Mi'ihen Highroad before I remembered that I'd left my sword back at camp. I pulled up short and then bent down, head resting on my knees, panting.
"Dammit!" I couldn't go back for it. I couldn't go back at all -- they'd kill me, or take me prisoner and use me as a hostage. There was no way around it: My last link with my father was gone. Not to mention that I was alone and unarmed.
I straightened, slowly, and grabbed my canteen for a quick splash of water. "All right, don't panic," I muttered. After a few deep breaths, I composed myself, put the water away, and started running again. Catching the guys as soon as possible, that was my best bet. Once I found them again, I'd be safe.-x-
Renna sat by the bedside of the Spiran girl and watched her sleep. The patient's breathing was shallow but even, with only the barest hint of discomfort in the lines of her face. Between breaths, Renna sneaked glances at the clock; infirmary duty was one of her least favorite tasks. But Rin's policy was firm: any Travel Agency customer who arrived at his establishment unconscious would be supervised until they awoke. Fortunately, the Mi'ihen location didn't get too many injured patrons, so she didn't have to play nurse very often.
Still, seemed likely that this one would sleep through the night, at least, and she didn't seem to be in any danger. Renna started to let herself drift off -- would it hurt anything to take a quick nap? -- when she was startled awake by a soft moan. She sat up and leaned forward, staring intently at the patient's face. The girl's lashes fluttered, then opened to reveal a pair of dark red eyes, wild with confusion and fear; she gasped, then tried to sit up.
"Relax." Renna put her hands on the girl's shoulders and pushed her back down on the bed. "It's okay, you're safe in the Mi'ihen Travel Agency. You've been wounded, but you'll be okay if you rest and relax."
The girl allowed herself to be guided back to the pillows even as she shook her head in protest. "I can't, I have to warn them--
"It's okay," Renna repeated. "You don't have to warn anyone. You're safe here. No one will come after you."
The girl shook her head again and struggled weakly against Renna's hands. "My friends--"
"They'll be fine. We've found other hiding places for them, where they also received medical help. I'm afraid I can't tell you where just now, but once it's safe we can help put you in touch with them."
Finally she relaxed back into the bed. She closed her eyes and turned her head to the side. "What happened?" she muttered.
Renna moved away, turning to the bedside table to pour a glass of water. "You were shot, along with two of your friends. The machina guy wasn't hurt; he said he just stepped behind the building for a second. When he got back, the three of you were lying in the dirt and a couple of bandits were running away."
The girl opened her eyes again, met Renna's gaze, and this time her face was filled with disbelief. "Bandits? Is that what--" She sighed, then let her head fall against the pillow. "All right."
"They got away, unfortunately; he said he thought about chasing them but he had to get help instead." She thought back to the frightening scene that had greeted her outside the Agency -- three bodies sprawled on the ground, their blood seeping into the dust, the medics bustling around them. "You're lucky to be alive."
The girl made a strangled noise that might have been a laugh. "If you say so."
Renna ignored the comment despite her growing curiosity. "Would you like some water? Are you strong enough to take the glass?" The girl nodded, and Renna leaned in again, propping her against the pillows and then handing her the water glass. The girl took a few small sips before letting her hands drift into her lap, still clutching the glass.
"Well." Renna stood from the chair. "I was just waiting for you to wake up; the medic says you'll be fine with some rest. So unless you want company, I'll leave you now, and we can check on your wound in the morning." She turned and headed for the door, then stopped and turned back to look at her charge. "Look. Your friend told us that you're on the run from Yevon. And you're safe from them here, no matter what happened. I don't know any details and I don't want to; it's probably safer if you don't even tell me your name."
"I agree," the girl replied, her voice low.
"Okay." Renna smiled. "And if there's anything you need, let us know."
"A sword," she said, without hesitation. "And enough provisions to reach Luca. As soon as your medic pronounces me fit to travel. I don't have any gil on me, but I'm good for it."
Renna's hand curled around the doorframe. "Of course. Arrangements can be made in the morning. Sleep well."
The girl nodded again and, taking another drink of water, let her eyes fall to the bedspread. And Renna took her leave, leaving the injured girl alone to recover.-x-
"Ma'am, could you hold up a second?"
I turned around to see the three travelers gathering around a small white flower at the side of the path. It looked exactly like every other flower on the Highroad. "Here we go again," I muttered as I crossed my arms and blew a tendril of hair out of my face. Bodyguard duty was often dull, but rarely was it this irritating at the same time. But these botanists had paid good money for a sword to escort them from Luca to Guadosalam, and I wasn't in a position to be picky right now. Even if this next week was shaping up to be an exquisite mix of boredom and torture. To pass the time, I pulled my sword from its scabbard and checked the edge. It was just as true as it had been the last time I checked, twenty minutes ago, at the last plant-inspection stop. Fortunate that the Al Bhed had such a good weapon in stock when I'd needed one; I'd had ample opportunity to replace it since, but I had yet to find another I liked so well.
After what seemed like an eternity of standing around, my charges straightened. Their leader, a heavy-set man named Jenson whom I suspected of being a former priest of Yevon, smiled at me.
"Apologies, ma'am. I know this must be a slow trip compared to what you're used to. I promise, you'll be well compensated for your time."
I stared at him, not bothering to hide my disdain, then nodded. "Fine," I said. "Are you ready?"
Before he could respond, the air was cut by a high-pitched scream from one of his companions. I turned to see a small barbut charging us from behind a ruin. Gripping my sword with both hands and raising it above my head, I raced forward, reaching the group just in time to cut off the fiend. The botanists shrank behind me as I swung my blade down on the creature's shell. It shuddered back under the force of the blow, and before it had time to come at me again, I lowered the sword and thrust it forward, piercing the weak spot between its eyes with the point. With a shudder, it fell over and began to disintegrate into pyreflies.
A sigh of relief came from behind, and I heard Jenson approach me. "Oh, thank you. We were afraid..."
I jerked my sword free of the half-dissolved fiend and held up my hand for silence. "Don't thank me yet. Barbuts usually travel in groups -- there'll be more." I slowly pivoted, scanning the horizon until I saw the rest of the pack: three of them, approaching at a decent clip. I turned around and lowered a stern look at Jenson. "You might want to take cover." He backed off with a nod, and I crouched into a defensive position, sword ready, tensing for the attack.
In moments they were on me, and I jumped in, knocking one down with a blow to the head, then catching another on the backswing. It was only stunned, though, and as I pulled my arm back for the killing blow, the third crashed into me from behind. I grunted, more from surprise than pain, then swiveled around, decapitating it with a single stroke. But then the stunned one was up and on me, barreling forward, knocking me to the ground. I took just enough time to catch my breath, then jumped back to my feet and brought the sword straight down. I heard the metal creak against the hard shell, but somehow I jammed the point through. The barbut fell over with a roar and, like its fellows, melted away, its pyreflies drifting past my face as they dissipated.
I staggered back with a sigh, then turned back to the group. "Should be okay for now." I took a step forward, then winced -- the second blow had gotten me in the ribs, and seemed to have at least bruised them.
"Here, let me get that." Jenson closed the distance to me, then laid a hand on my side. He's one of them, all right, I thought as I felt the cool healing magic flow into me and smooth the cracks and bruises. But a healer would be useful on the trip, and I decided not to say anything. A lone hired sword had no business turning down any help.-x-
"So what do I do?"
Shinra pushed me forward two inches, then pulled me back an inch and a half; I rolled my eyes but said nothing. He had warned me that creating a dressphere was a tricky process, but not that he would spend fifteen minutes positioning me in just the right spot on the floor. He stepped back and looked me up and down, then finally gave a nod of satisfaction. "Run through all your moves, starting with the most basic and then going to more advanced skills. Like a drill."
I glanced around the bridge. "You sure about that? I wouldn't want to damage anything."
He shrugged. "We're Al Bhed. If you break something, I'll just make one of the others fix it later. If you hold back, the sphere won't record right and then no one else will be able to use it."
"Fine." I drew my sword and held it up, perpendicular to the floor.
"Okay." He hopped into his seat and placed a sphere in the recorder. "You ready?"
I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and centered myself, just as I would to prepare for any drill routine. "Ready."
"When I say go, you start. Make sure to pause between skills so the recorder knows where one starts and another ends. Got it?" He didn't wait for a response; I could hear him pressing buttons on the console and muttering under his breath in Al Bhed, but I did my best to put the distracting noises out of my mind. "Go."
I opened my eyes, let out the breath, and began. Down stroke, upstroke, parry, thrust. Down stroke, upstroke, parry, thrust -- motions as natural to me as breathing. Not so natural was forcing myself to stop; I was so used to flowing between forms, keeping the transition as seamless as possible, that the pause felt wrong, but I forced myself to do it, lifting the sword straight up and holding it there for a second before continuing. I ran through every move I knew, murmuring the spells for fire, ice, weakening an enemy, strengthening myself.
Time stretched, then became meaningless. The blade was an extension of my arms, or perhaps I had become a part of the weapon. When I reached the final form, I held the sword straight out one last time, then let my eyes focus, startled to be surrounded by the bridge of the Celsius again, to hear the beeping of Shinra's console. I lowered my arms and realized that they were trembling with fatigue and that sweat was dripping into my eyes. Pushing back the hair that had somehow become plastered to my forehead, I turned to Shinra. "Did you get it?"
He nodded. "Think so. I'll have to test it with Rikku, though." Without looking at me, still intent on his readouts, he waved me toward the door. "Thanks, you can go."
Not needing to be told twice, I headed for the lift, for the cabin and a shower. I was probably going to need a nap, too. Running through a basic drill shouldn't have exhausted me like this; maybe it had something to do with the recording process. I paused at the entrance to the lift and considered asking Shinra, then thought better of it. I was probably to tired to understand the answer, if he would even give me one.-x-
Yuna stepped off the lift, the breeze ruffling her hair. She had awakened with the dawn, much earlier than usual, and after a quick breakfast, she'd made her way here, to the deck, for some air. To her surprise, Rikku was already here; she looked over her shoulder at Yuna and raised a hand in warning, then lifted a finger to her lips.
"What?" Yuna mouthed the word and glanced around for the reason that Rikku, of all people, would request silence.
Rikku inclined her head toward the center of the deck. It was Paine, sword in hand, engaged in a drill. Rikku had turned to watch, and Yuna joined her at the rail, soon mesmerized by Paine's fluid motions as she moved from one form to the next, her sword flashing golden in the early morning light. It was very different her fighting style, fueled by anger and her drive to win; she seemed calmer, the muscles in her back relaxed even as they rippled with the strain. Somehow, it reminded Yuna of the dance of sending -- each sweep of the blade controlled and deliberate, Paine's posture one of reverence. But when Yuna finally spoke, leaning her head close to Rikku's so that she could whisper, it was another comparison that came to mind.
"It's like Sir Auron doing his morning exercises."
"Yeah." Rikku shifted her weight, still watching Paine glide over the deck. "She does it every morning, too. And I think she takes it real seriously, because I interrupted her once, and she almost bit my head off. So now I just sneak up to watch sometimes." She glanced at Yuna. "She doesn't need to do it, y'know. The dressphere would keep her sharp without practice. But she does it anyway."
"Mmm." Yuna took another look at Paine's face, saw how peaceful it was, how her eyes focused on the distant sky. "I think I can see why."
"Yeah." They watched for a moment longer, and then Rikku caught Yuna's eye. "She's almost done; c'mon, lets get out of here before she notices." Rikku slipped back toward the lift, and Yuna followed.-x-
Bonfires littered the bluffs, the Youth League headquarters lit up with torches in the background, banners snapping in the breeze. I accepted a mug from a League member and raised it to acknowledge his salute, then took a sip. He grinned at me before returning to his serving duties. As I walked away from the tables of food and drink, I scanned the celebrating crowd, half-looking for Lucil or anyone else I might need to speak with before I was safe to blend in with the masses. Then I heard a throat clear behind me.
I turned around and looked up to meet his eyes. "Nooj." We hadn't spoken since the battle with Vegnagun, two weeks ago -- I had managed to avoid him on the airship, and the assorted ceremonies and parties following our Besaid homecoming had kept me busy since.
"Paine." He cleared his throat again. "Do you have a minute? I have something for you."
This was about the last thing I'd expected to hear, and I'm sure the surprise showed on my face. I took a quick look around, hoping that Yuna or Rikku could provide an easy excuse to demur, but Rikku was deep in animated conversation with Elma, and Yuna was surrounded by her usual crowd of admirers. No help there; I composed my face and looked back at him. "Sure."
He turned on his heel and walked toward the headquarters building, and I followed. Once inside, I had expected him to head for the lift that would take us to the offices upstairs; instead he stopped in front of a locked door, produced a key, and opened it. He pushed the door open and ushered me into the room. It was a small armory, filled with rifles, pistols, and swords, rows of metal gleaming in the torchlight. I stepped into the center of the room and slowly turned around, taking it all in. "Where are we?"
Nooj stepped through the doorway and shut the door behind him. "The private armory for high-ranking officers of the Youth League. My weapons, Lucil's, a few others." He waved to a cabinet in the corner of the room. "When the Youth League established its headquarters here, one of the first things I did was return to the Den of Woe. Of course, it was sealed, the bodies of the Crimson Squad fallen long gone -- buried elsewhere, perhaps, or burned, or disposed of in the sea. But some of the candidates' personal effects were still there, likely left behind by the priests in their haste to cover up what had happened. I retrieved what I could and locked it all in that cabinet." He opened his hand, a small, ornate iron key lying in his palm. "I haven't opened it since."
I raised an eyebrow, but he shook his head; he would say nothing more until I saw for myself. Taking a deep breath, I took the key from him and placed it into the lock. The lock was stiff from disuse, but after some gentle pressure, I felt the bolt slide free and opened the cabinet doors.
Half a dozen guns, a helmet, a pair of boots. And resting on a set of pegs in the back, slightly tarnished and worn, a sword. My sword. The one my father had given me, left behind in my haste to escape the maesters of Yevon.
Swallowing hard, twice, three times, I reached for it, my hand closing over the hilt, both familiar and strange. I pulled it free and tested the edge -- it was dull, but not impossibly so, and I was certain I could clean the tarnish from it as well. I turned around, eyes wide. "I thought this was gone forever."
Nooj shook his head. "I recognized it, of course, and knew I had to save it for you. I only wish I could have returned it earlier. But--" He spread his hands wide, a gesture of supplication. "Well. Keeping it safe for you was the best I could do, until now. Perhaps one of our smiths can help you restore it, while you're here."
"Yes." I looked back at the sword and saw my face reflected in the steel, looking into the eyes I had shared with my father. For a moment I closed them, squeezed my fingers tight against the hilt, and remembered. Then I opened my eyes again and met Nooj's with a smile. "Thank you." Before I could talk myself out of it, I crossed the room to him and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. Then I backed away -- one reunion was enough for me to deal with right now. "Shall we?"
He opened the door with a nod of understanding followed by a small bow. "After you." And I walked through the hallway and out in the night, one sword in my hand and another on my back, feeling more right with the world than I had in a long time.