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fic - the faithful and the brave : 8 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - the faithful and the brave : 8 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  8



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 8


"Our thanks for the fine dinner, Master Howard," Quatre said sincerely.  The meal had been simple, but hearty and filling, as befit food for the hardworking men and women responsible for sweeping through the ruins, sorting the relics from the rust.  This was their headquarters, and Howard, as it would turn out, was their leader.

"Least we could do," Howard answered gruffly, still not quite pleased with the intervention of outsiders, but not so completely lacking in social graces as to deny them gratitude for their assistance.

"That, and lodgings for the night," Hilde reminded them.  "Better than anything you'd find in the city, I guarantee you that.  We've got all the best tech here.  You'll see when you hit the baths.  Glorious!"

Wufei frowned faintly.  "If this technology is as glorious as you say, why is it not shared with the rest of the city?  Or Ivalice, for that matter."

She took no offense.  "It's not trivial, adding these kinds of improvements to a building already well-established.  Aside from the time and money, there aren't very many people with the training to install or retrofit, either.  And, well, it's not without the occasional hiccup.  I think of it as we engineers just testing the tech out before sharing it.  It would be irresponsible otherwise, don't you think?"

"I suppose that does sound wise, not sharing your discoveries indiscriminately with the world.  Particularly in light of recent ones.  What do you suppose he wanted with the Stone?  Kurt, or whoever it was that hired him.  I can only imagine trying to sell it on the black market."

"Kurt would be expensive to hire for mere resale," Trowa noted.  "Unless they already had some collector lined up, I can't imagine they'd put out the money to hire Kurt without guarantee of return.  Or the collector hired Kurt personally.  That's a possibility."

"Who would even know what you'd found?" Duo asked Hilde quietly.  There were no others in the mess hall at present, and Hilde seemed to have no reservations about speaking openly within the heart of the Sweepers' headquarters, but Duo habitually undertook sensitive matters with discretion.  "You've been pretty hush-hush about this whole thing.  Could it have been an inside job?"

"I think you're wrong," she answered.  "About it being a collector.  I mean, we didn't even know for sure what we had our hands on at first.  I still wasn't one-hundred percent sure until Cardinal Tsuberov showed us his.  But we knew it was important.  It... Some of the machines in the city below react to its presence.  We worried that someone might want to use it to... well, irresponsibly unleash some relic upon the world, if you know what I mean."

Duo pursed his lips thoughtfully.  "Hmm.  I could see Kurt wanting that for himself."

"And he'd have the information networks to find out about it, I'm sure," Trowa added.

"Oh, that reminds me..."  Duo dug into his pocket for the purse he had cut earlier.  "Let's see what kind of loot I managed."

Hilde eyed him incredulously.  "You still haven't looked?"

He shrugged.  It wasn't as if he was in immediate need of the coins.  He hadn't needed to perform an unauthorized transfer of ownership direct to his own name for several years now.  Now that he was gainfully employed, he earned an honest wage transferring ownership on behalf of others.  Or at least he had, up until turning his back on his most recent employer, but even so.  "You can have half.  I think you deserve it for your troubles."

He upended the pouch on the tabletop and sorted through its contents with an experienced eye.  The pile he pushed over to Hilde was quite modest, but she cooed over it anyway as he unfolded a paper that emerged with the rest of it.  He frowned over it for half a minute before folding it back into quarters and tossing it over to Quatre.  "Does this mean what I think it means?"

With a curious expression, Quatre unfolded the note and read it, echoing Duo's frown within moments.  "It means we need to get back to Lionel."

"Uh, okay, not quite what I was thinking, but close enough."

"What is it, Quatre?" Heero asked with some concern.

"'The girl is on her way to Goug,'" Quatre read.  "'She is in the company of five mercenaries.  Get it done this time.'"

Hilde made an indignant sound.  "I did wonder why they had such good timing!"

"A spy within the castle?" Wufei mused.

"A spy for Kurt's employer."  Quatre absently passed the note on to Heero, who read it with narrowed eyes.  "An employer who would dare to speak in such a tone to Ralph Kurt.  Or is the note from Ralph himself?"

Duo shook his head, reclaiming the note from Heero to confirm his earlier impressions.  "No, this note hails from the palace itself.  You don't find paper of this quality on the streets.  The ink, too.  This isn't the runny, watery stuff."

"Why do you want to return to Lionel?" Trowa asked Quatre.  "Do you want to track down whoever's behind this?"

"That would be good to know," Quatre conceded.  "But it's not my main concern.  I fear for the princess' safety.  The Cardinal's house is not in order.  He may not be able to protect her if the danger comes from within."

"Uh, guys...," Duo interrupted.  "The Cardinal may well be the danger from within.  Sheesh, if I'd known I was going to say something like that, I wouldn't have said anything earlier and let you all know I'm biased against him.  But I'm telling you... this handwriting looks pretty similar to that writ of payment he gave us."  He finally lowered the page from his close scrutiny to gauge their reaction.  "Damn, I wish we still had it for comparison."  The writ had been cashed with Lionel's exchequer and the funds distributed amongst themselves.

"I didn't think forgery was one of your skills," Wufei mentioned mildly.

"I have many skills." Duo retorted.  "And handwriting analysis is a completely legitimate field of study.  With legitimate uses.  Case in point."  He waved the note.

"It's plausible," Trowa said helpfully.

"Why would the Cardinal go to such great lengths to seize the Stone?" Wufei challenged him.  "He could have taken it while Hilde was there.  He could have just asked for it, as would have been his right to claim a holy relic for the church."

"But then we'd know he had it.  If he wants it for some shady purpose, best that it be acquired through shady means.  He knew who had it, where she was, and where she was going.  There was no reason for him to seize the Stone in his office.  Not when he already had Kurt on hire for the job."

"He already has one.  Legitimately, I must assume, for him to reveal it to us so casually.  What would a second gain him?"

"Could even be his third or fourth for all we know.  Could be a collector himself.  Could be he thinks he can conjure up some Zodiac Braves and seize power for himself."

"That's all speculation."

"I wouldn't assume legitimacy," Duo interjected.  "I mean, the guy was carrying around an oh-most-holy-relic in his pocket.  Kinda sounds like it ought to have been something locked up in a Church vault or something, don't you think?"

"Howard," Heero cut in, startling the old man.  "When you were being held, did they say anything that might hint at who their employer was?"

The guildmaster put his tankard down and squinted thoughtfully at the ceiling.  "Aside from Kurt, you mean?  Hmmm.  Now that you mention it, no, it wasn't Kurt.  I mean, there was some fellow that hired the Company.  Kurt didn't seem too impressed by him."

"Kurt showed up in person?"

"Yeah, briefly.  Lessee, what did he say...?  He said, uh, uncomplimentary things about their client.  Uppity, obnoxious, that sort of thing.  Thought he was getting a bit petty once he mentioned the guy's big nose, though."

Duo snapped triumphantly.  "Tsuberov's got a pretty damn big nose."

"It's not inconsistent with your theory," Wufei responded levelly.  "But it's hardly proof.  If you truly wish to pursue this, you will need stronger evidence than that."

"Regardless," Quatre broke in smoothly.  "We should return to Lionel.  We should assume they know we know.  And we should not trust anyone on the Cardinal's staff, up to and including the Cardinal."

"We should --"  Heero stopped suddenly and reconsidered.  "...retire to our rooms and discuss this further.  Master Howard, Mistress Hilde, our thanks for your hospitality."

"What?" Hilde protested at the clear dismissal.  "You can trust us!  And we've got an interest in this, too!"

"They will not be happy when they find out the Stone is a fake.  We will keep an eye out for possible reprisal in this direction, but should we fail, you must be prepared.  And should you manage to deflect their ire, they will likely next seek us out as their target, and you will be safer if you can honestly say that you know nothing of our plans."

"Maybe it'd be even safer for me to travel with you, then."

"And Master Howard?  And your entire guildhall?  If the stakes are high enough -- as they seem they might very well be, given the players so far -- then they will not hesitate to terrorize you all if they believe there is something to be gained by it."  Heero frowned in thought for a moment.  "You should hide the Stone.  Somewhere in the ruins, perhaps, where no one will be able to find it.  Tell them that you gave the Stone to us for safekeeping.  Or that we took it from you, demanded it as pay."

"That would be painting a target on your backs!"

"That happened the moment Duo cut that purse."  He blinked, then glanced apologetically in Duo's direction.

Duo tugged on his braid ruefully.  "Oops?"

"No.  The information you gained is valuable."

"Lucky accident," Trowa murmured.

Duo threw him a withering look.

"Master Howard?"  Heero addressed the old man deferentially.

Howard considered him gravely over the top of his spectacles, then put his hand over Hilde's on the table top.  "Show them to their rooms, Hilde."

She made as if to protest, but subsided with a disgruntled sigh and led the way.



"We should sail to Warjilis," Quatre proposed once they confirmed they were alone.

"Come from behind?" Wufei mused.  Goug itself was situated by the sea, a convenience the manufacturers of the city could not live without, and the duchy of Lionel was a peninsula that spread its curving shores into that sea.  The port city of Warjilis sat on Lionel's opposite coast, and between them lay Lionel Castle.

"We should assume they know.  We can guess that they might look for us to return the same way we left.  We shouldn't lose too much time going by way of Warjilis instead."

"I was thinking along the same lines," Heero mentioned, signaling his agreement with the plan.

"What?" Duo said in response to Quatre's expectant look.  "When are you going to stop asking us if we're coming along?"

"When you give us a solid answer, perhaps?" Wufei answered dryly.

Trowa made a small sound of amusement.  "That's fair," he murmured.  He glanced at Duo, then nodded.  "Of course we'll come.  We said we would go where the wind takes us, and right now, you're our wind."

"I don't consider that to be a solid answer in the slightest."

Duo snorted.  "That's fair, too."  He pursed his lips thoughtfully.  "Look.  We're friends, aren't we?  I think we are.  We're not gonna leave you guys in the lurch at some point.  We wouldn't do that.  We're a team.  As long as we're with you, we're solid.  How long are we gonna be with you?  Who can say?  Not us.  I gather you and us've got different goals in life.  But if we do decide to go our separate ways, it's not gonna be in the middle of something, I promise you that."

"And you?" Trowa asked of them.  "When will you decide you no longer want our company?"

"Oh, we wouldn't do that," Quatre said automatically.  The words were unusually hasty for him, and he blinked twice at Trowa before recovering his aplomb.  "We are glad to have you with us, especially as it seems we are undertaking no small task.  But even had this matter not come up... Well, I believe we make a good team, and I think we shall succeed whatever our goals, if we continue to work together."

Trowa's bland look was eloquent.

Quatre hmpfed defiantly and stood by his statement.  "Well, I do.  Come now, will you leave Heero alone with only two mages to support him?"  He glanced meaningfully at Duo, then Trowa.

Heero took a moment to be certain he had heard this rather unexpected argument correctly before addressing his friend.  "You're perfectly competent at wielding that staff of yours, Quatre.  And Wufei has proven himself skillful in the ways of the monks."

"A fragile arrangement at best."

"Do not underestimate yourself, Quatre.  We would be quite alright on our own, if --"  He cut himself off awkwardly and turned to their two compatriots.  "Not that... That is not to say... that your company would not be enjoyed or appreciated."  He nodded stiffly at them and turned back to Quatre to finish softly.  "Simply... it would be no burden, Quatre."

Quatre smiled at Heero to let him know he appreciated the earnest sentiment, and then he smiled a bit more saucily as he returned his attention to the others.  "Very well, then.  You two couldn't possibly leave us two fine mages alone with only a single Heero to support us."

Duo snorted in amusement.  "Well.  If you're going to enjoy our company, I'd hardly want to take it away from you."  His eyes pinned Heero in place for a moment before moving on to take in the entire group.  "What say you, Trowa?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," he drawled amiably.

"Well," Wufei announced wryly.  "Now that we've all pulled through this with our egos intact, I think it's time for a bath."

Duo chuckled.  "Alas, Wufei.  Hilde mentioned they're even fancy enough to have private baths here, so it might not be as fun as you think."

"I think perhaps you meant to say that to your friend there."  He kept the acid in his tone to a minimum while gesturing at Trowa.

"Come now, Wufei," Quatre said, patting him genially on the shoulder.  "We're all friends here now."

He hurrumphed with mock-disdain and turned toward his pack.

Trowa caught Quatre's attention with a twinkle in his eye.  "Some of us better than others."

Quatre declined to answer with anything other than a demure tilt of the head.





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Comments
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: June 14th, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
"unauthorized transfer of ownership", ahem, yes, that. *snerk*

Every step seems to be getting the crew in deeper and deeper waters! Watch out for sharks!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 15th, 2014 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)
'Thief' is a totally legit job class in this game, so Duo gets to be a totally legit, uh, sub-legal operator. ^^'
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: June 14th, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am intrigued by the notion of relics that react to the stone. What sort, I wonder. Even a kaleidoscope shouldn't be allowed to fall into the Cardinal's grabby paws. >.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 15th, 2014 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)
It did cross my mind to have Gundams hiding in those ruins. =) But that would take the story in a whole different direction.
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: June 16th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Can I admit to hoping for that just a tiny bit? ^__^ It's apparently my nature. I hope the sensitive relics are cool. Gotta have cool. ^_~
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 16th, 2014 05:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Uh.  Well.  Now that you mention it, that mention of the relics actually doesn't make sense in the larger context of things here and it'd probably be better if it weren't actually there... ^^''
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: June 18th, 2014 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Oooooh! Flirting! :D *ahem* There could be little Gundams in the ruins. *nod nod* Poor Hilde... kicked to the curb! :D
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 18th, 2014 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay, flirting!  Lot easier to write than a fight scene, I tell ya. =p

There were actually robots in the ruins in the game that did respond to the Stones... but it was an optional side quest and I cut them. ^^'

Meh, you didn't like Hilde anyway. =)
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: June 24th, 2014 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Someone needs to work on his ability to be subtle. I'm looking at you, Quatre!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 25th, 2014 04:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Ha, I think they were all subtly dancing around the issue for long enough that Quatre declared the heck with it. =D
babyshanryu From: babyshanryu Date: August 3rd, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oooh..Baths..

*giggles like a school girl* I can't wait for the next chapter!!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 5th, 2014 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oooh..Baths..

Alas, I had the perfect setup for an onsen scene, but I decided to just let it slide on by.
babyshanryu From: babyshanryu Date: August 5th, 2014 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oooh..Baths..

...o.o..

But but..Nekki boys! Happy hentai fangirl!! *Bribes!*
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: August 18th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
*chortle*
I love the banter!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 19th, 2014 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Pity they can't just banter their enemies to death.  That'd make my life a whole lot easier.
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