The Fourth

          The fires on Mt. Koltz burned brightly that night between the timber, lighting up the island fortress with a reddish haze and columns of smoke. The castle of Saint Lacan stood firm, its walls and ramparts beaten and battered by the onslaught of the Centra forces. Soldiers lay dead or dying in magical scars gouged in the land, some of which would never heal. But they had repelled their enemy with the help of the human army. The races of men had won this battle, for now, and as the Ronso picked over the corpses of the Centra foot soldiers, a meeting was taking place inside the hall of the Ronso king.
          A boy, no older than nineteen, stood up and slammed his fist into the table. Tall and strong in his silver armor stood Doga, his long blond hair curving down his face. His expression carried a silent anger that few could manage. “You can’t do that.” He spoke quietly, seriously, his eyes locked on the face of the Ronso king.
          Their king, Drugan Gon, a massive, mountainous, scar-covered behemoth of a Ronso, sat in a chair on the far end of the table. War paint covered his face and fur, and his blue hair ran wild like a bestial mane across his back. “It has already been decided,” he said, slowly, reticently.
          “I won’t accept that!” Doga shouted, his face growing red with anger. Une, small and frail beside him, took his hand with hers and whispered his name to calm him. Realizing his anger, he shrunk down into his seat.
          Garland spoke now, his aged and gravelled voice muffled by his dark knight regalia. Equally as large and broad as the Ronso king, adorned in midnight black armor, it was obvious why he showed no fear. Trinkets and rings running from the ends and buckles of his equipment clinked as he gestured to speak. “The boy means to say that it begs the question of what ‘never retreat, never surrender’ truly means. I’d never heard of a Ronso choosing to falter and escape in the face of combat. Are you sure you’re the warrior king? I had thought he would be braver.” Garland stung at the motto of the Ronso dragoons with his knifelike tongue. Behind his helmet, the old man must have been smiling.
          Beside the Ronso king, a young Ronso rose, one of the generals of the king’s army and a Ronso they knew as Byron. He growled, his lips pulled back in a snarl to reveal his teeth. “Enough! You speak words deserving of an execution. Say anything more and you shall be cut down where you stand.”
          Garland, taken aback, suddenly laughed throatily through the gaps in his armor and stepped forward, touching his black gauntlet to his sword hilt. “I’d consider ending your life for you, but I have a strict policy against shedding the blood of children. If you’d return in a hundred years, maybe we’d have a reason to speak.”
          Gilgamesh, awakened from his boredom by the sudden hostility in the room, stepped forward from where he had been resting against the wall. Red hair ran rampant over his shoulders, his body a mess of wraps and sheathes and swords. He touched his hands to his weapons, seeming to place a finger on each one he would use as if making a silent promise to it to draw it in the combat. He waited, eying both combatants, waiting for the first move to be made.
          Ipsen rose fast, arms outstretched and palms upraised. “Calm down. Let’s take a step back here,” he suggested. They listened, Garland begrudgingly turning away from his challenger, his wit likely having readied any number of scathing remarks he wouldn’t be able to use. Gilgamesh sunk back into the wall, muttering. Ipsen strode to the front of the room to stand before the Ronso king.
          He was broad yet small, a short crop of messy black hair growing across his head like weeds in a garden. He wore a tall brown steepled hat along with his traveling outfit, a garish brown and grey peasant’s outfit, his sleeves a seperate article of clothing from his tightly worn undershirt. A saber hung on his hip, gathering dust. “Please, if I may be so bold, I implore you to consider, king.”
          The king, massive in his war regalia, his eyes glowing yellow like embers in the flames of the hall, opened his mouth and spoke, a deep and powerful baritone that seemed to shake the room. He spoke slowly and quietly and everyone in the room strained to listen. “The Ronso say never retreat. Death before dishonor. There is no honor in death. Your cause will fail. There is no way you can win. You are overestimating your own ability.”
          Ipsen considered it. “But we did win, outside today. We fought them off. We protected the libraries and the halls of your kingdom. We won and drove them away.”
          “No.” The king shook his head. “They will return. You have angered a sleeping monster, when you are just a tiny insect. You think the blood you drain will kill your enemy dead. You would be wise to remember that the scratch always comes before the slap.”
          Ipsen listened and considered it again. “We aren’t a tiny insect. We’re a raging demon put long to sleep. To fight again, we must first awaken our parts. The armies of the west, the armies of the south, the armies of the north and the armies of the east are our limbs and heart, sleeping now but soon to stir. We may be six people, but we are just a part of the whole. Out there there are even more people. We number in the hundreds. When we visit the west, we will be even more, until we number in the thousands. The south will bring us even more, and the east, even more. We will stand as a united army.”
          “You will all be crushed,” said the king.
          “No.” Ipsen shook his head. “Even if we are, we will fight. We will show them that we cannot be put down. We will show them that even when it was darkest that we still stood to fight, and that they cannot control us anymore. The demon sleeps but I want to show them that to awaken it is to invite death. That once upon a time, the men and the Ronso stood together and they did something that had never been done before— they pushed back, and the Centra were forced to falter.”
          The king rubbed a gigantic, gnarled hand against his braided beard as Ipsen spoke, nodding and considering. The room ran silent.
          “What is your plan?” asked the king, his eyes now glimmering with what Ipsen could see as hope.
          “We’re going to use their power against them,” Ipsen spoke. He stepped back and pointed his finger to the girl in the rear of the room, dressed in black, her violet hair cut short. “We’re going to crush them with the awakened power of the summoner.”
          The king smirked. “And what shall you awaken? What gives you this confidence? The creatures under her command are no more than childish play things.”
          Ipsen grinned. His confidence infused his voice with the strength he needed, and he spoke. “We’re going to find him. The king of all dragons. We’re going to defeat Bahamut.”
          The king’s eyes rose and it seemed for a moment that the assembled Ronso felt a shudder of terror throughout them. Many shot glances at eachother that transmitted fear, doubt, amazement. The king rose from his chair, his thunderous steps loud and powerful, echoing through the room.
          “You know where he lays? You know where the god of creation sleeps, chained away?”
          Ipsen nodded. He had to strain his neck to keep his eyes locked onto the king’s, but felt no cowardice in the face of a beast that could tear him asunder with a mild flick of his wrist. “Yes. And we need your help to get there.”
          The king stared at him. “You speak with confidence. But can you provide for us what is necessary? Is your word worth as much as your deed?”
          “No,” Ipsen said. “My word is worthless. My deed is all that matters. Let us return to you in one month. If we do not have the king of the dragons as our thrall, you can judge us then on our deeds, and we will end the rebellion before it becomes too much. But if we have him under our control, would you pledge aid to the races of men, and help us end the war these Centra started so long ago?”
          The eyes in the room were wide. Not just the Ronso, but Ipsen’s traveling group. Garland barked a stiff laugh into his helmet, and Gilgamesh couldn’t do much but blink. But the widest eyes came from Ultima standing in the rear of the room. Ipsen had just promised something she knew he couldn’t deliver.
          “Yes. I will help you then, if you can show us that your deed is what defines you.”
          Moments later, Ipsen found himself on the steps of the castle. “What the hell were you thinking!” shouted Doga. “We needed their help! Now we’re never going to get it!” He was quick to anger and his passion was fiery. Ipsen couldn’t help but laugh, low at first but shrill at the end. His laugh quieted Doga for a moment— he could sense Ipsen’s confidence.
          “They wouldn’t have before. But don’t worry. I know exactly what I’m doing.” He chose to save face— Byron had been ordered to accompany them to find Bahamut’s Egg since he had a much more complete and powerful memory of the scriptures of Elos than any human there did. Byron stood in the back, quietly seething over Garland’s dismissal of his challenge.
          Garland laughed again in his helmet, tinny and flippant. “I’m glad you do. I was worried there for a moment that you were improvising some kind of inane plan again. I swear by the moon of Fenris that you all are so much more interesting than I had originally planned for you to be.”
          Ultima spoke, quiet and annoyed. “You spoke too much. You made me out like I was the messiah. I’m not! I’m just… I’m just a girl. I can’t live up to the expectations you’re putting on my shoulders.”
          Ipsen turned to Ultima and smirked. “I know you can do it. That’s why I said those things, and that’s why I’m saying them now. I believe in you.”
          Ultima frowned, but he could see her blush. “You’re such a liar,” she sighed. “I can’t believe that I agreed to come with you. This has been nothing but trouble.”

The Fourth

Final Fantasy Magi Secretaryseven Secretaryseven