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Ties of Blood by scott baird




Chapter 1 - The calm before the storm

Prelude

This story begins during the Lion War.

A few months previous a new story was being told around Ivalice, Lord Draclau had been killed, a messanger for peace and the people had been slain in cold blood by the heretic Ramza Beoulve, one who betrayed his family and his kingdom to serve an evil power, as proof of his malice and of the influence of evil he had turned a holy knight to his cause, the once bodyguard of Princess Ovelia, Agrias Oaks.

When the news finally came to the temple in Murond it came to High Preist Funeral to denounce the two heretics and their band of terrorists, in front of his flock and fellow clergymen he talked of the evil commited and the consquences if they were left unpunished.

One person held out hope that the news was false, he stood behind Funeral dressed in armour bearing the symbol of Ajora, soon his training would be complete soon he would be a Holy Knight.

He was Candon Oaks, younger brother of Agrias Oaks, he believed with all his heart that his sister did not commit such evil, in a weeks time he would be given his title and sent to fight in the war.

Yet when the time came he would confront his sister, he could not go to war without finding the truth.

This is his story.

*************

Part 1 - A righteous quest

The time came for him to recieve his title, amongst the clergy and his peers he would be given his sword and a duty to perform before he would be sent to battle, a test that all were given to prove their worth.

The great hall was decorated with murals and tapestries, multi-coloured light streamed through stained glass windows detailing the life, work and death of Ajora.

The hall was lined with White Mages who stood awaiting the knight, at the end of the procession stood High Preist Funeral bearing a sword that shone blue in the light, at his side stood two Oracles, they would give Candon his sacred duties.

Candon Oaks was in his room being dressed by two servants, they were helping him put on his ceremonial armour (full plate mail coloured light blue), the last few weeks of his life had been the hardest he had experienced, due to his sisters actions he was being treated like an anarchist, people talking behind his back and avoiding him when he approached.

He knew it would pass, everyone was upset about Draclau and they needed to vent their frustrations on someone, the brother of one of the heretics was an easy target.

With the passing of his final trials he had silenced most of his critics, yet a few remained to poison the ears of strangers who would listen, he would have to prove them wrong with deed, by passing his final duty.

He was an impressive figure, a tall strong man with dark blond shoulder length hair and piercing blue eyes, he was indeed popular with the ladies yet his vow of celibacy prevented him from acting on his desires, his purity and the work of Ajora was satisfaction enough.

When they were finished he knelt in prayer and waited to be called.

A servant approached him and told him to go to the main hall, the ceremony was about to begin.

He walked to the hall, all preists who saw him bowed and gave him blessing, he came to the large stone doors outside and waited for the call.

"Enter the house of the lord and be blessed for the honour you shall recieve" the voice of Funeral came from inside.

The doors were opened and Candon Oaks walked along the red carpet that led to the altar, the preists who lined the hall bowed their heads as he passed them.

As he walked past he could hear silent muttering from the side.

"Brother of a traitor...."

"Will bring the downfall of the church"

"Should have been thrown out of the temple"

"Silence, i will not tolerate any misconduct at this most holy of ceremonies, anyone who speaks out of turn will be cast out without exception!" High Preist Funeral's stern voice rang around the hall.

Candon finished his approach and knelt before the High Preist.

"Candon Oaks, you have completed your trials and are ready to fight for the word of god and for the law of the church...do you accept the responsibility of your title and fight the world of sin" the Preist held the sword by its handle.

"I do your holiness" Candon spoke with deep respect.

"Then take the sword and stand before me as a man, if god accepts then you will walk among us no longer as an acolyte but as Holy Knight" Funeral offered him the sword.

Candon took the sword and stood in front of the old man who had taught him so much, the sword shone brighter in his grasp.

"You have been accepted and you will be a champion of the faith, i welcome you Sir Candon Oaks" the Preist spoke with pride.

A cheer (slightly half hearted coming from his detractors) rang out in the hall in celebration, yet most of the assembly remembered the same ceremony several years previous for Agrias Oaks, this meant nothing as far as they were concerned.

"Now we will hear the word of the lord spoken through his messanger Oracles, they have spent the past week in meditation and have been given the quests to give to you, no man except they know this, so prepare to face your future Sir Oaks" the Preist spoke as he turned first to the preist on the left.

This oracle dressed in white, a sign that his mission would be one of peace.

"In my vision i saw you and your faithful squire Gilita searching the countryside for something or someone, i saw you meet an old freind and together you would relive the past, finally i saw you meet a member of your family, a young women who i take to be your sister, your beliefs would conflict and lead to blades being drawn, yet my earlier visions lead me to believe you can end the situation peacefully" the Oracle spoke.

"So i say to you, your first duty is to find your sister, if you can you must bring her back to the light, if not then you must bring her to justice" the Oracle bowed and waited for the second to finish.

The second Oracle was dressed in black, a sign of chaos.

"My vision was very different, i saw many enemies bloking your path, creatures of great power and intelligence will stand against you, it will take all of your courage and faith to defeat them, at the end of your journey you will meet the heretic knight who slew one our brothers, he will strike you first in vengance and you must strike back or you will die" the second Oracle bowed and waited for the High Preist to end the ceremony.

The High Preist took a moment to dwell on the words, after what seemed like an eternity he spoke.

"The visions were unusually clear on this one, you must take your squire and search for your sister amongst the heretic group and convert her back to the light or bring her to justice, yet one thing is also very clear" The Preist waited a moment before he finished.

"Ramza Beoulve must die for his crimes.

**********************

Candon had half expected this vision, he had intended on searching for his sister during his duty, yet this gave him the backing of the church, he had been told to say his goodbyes and leave as soon as he was ready.

He was given supplies and gold for his journey, he was congratulated by the few freinds he made at the temple and his squire went to get them some Chocobos for the journey.

He was finally ready to leave, he met his squire Gilita outside, although he was a warrior of sorts Gilita's main focus was on alchemy and first aid skills, he and Candon had trained alongside each other and had become freinds over the years (because of Candons noble background he was permitted to train as a holy knight, yet Gilita was an orphan taken in by the temple, he was taught as a Chemist and esquired to his freind).

Two yellow chocobos with saddles awaited them at the edge of the city, they would travel north first to his destination of Igros Castle, he hoped to learn more of Ramza Beoulve from his brothers who denounced his actions.

They left the city and didnt look back, Gilita was excited, he had not known much life outside the city, he wanted some excitement.

Yet Candon was grim, his goal of becoming a Holy Knight was done, with his sword at his side he would search for his wayward sister, he did this with a heavy heart as he left the place that had been his home for most of his life.

He knew he could convince his sister, he wanted her to return to the church, together they could fight evil united.

Yet the Beoulve meant nothing, he was a poisoner of minds and a slayer of the innocent, Candon drew his sword and looked at his reflection in the blade.

"With you i will deal retribution, your light will shine the way, i name you Light Bringer" he held the sword to the sky as it caught the light and shone like a star.

The two young men rode off into the distance, their story began.

*******************

Part 2 - The night holds many surprises.....

The journey north to Igros was quiet, not wanting to get into a pitched battle with just the two of them, Candon and Gilita kept to themselves and avoided some of the areas more commonly known for battles.

The fifth day of their journey proceeded like any other, the open fields and sprawling countryside made for more interesting scenery than the grim walls of a temple, with little said between them they rode on into the dusk, they finally stopped to camp for the night.

Candon gathered fire wood as his squire pitched a small tent, he wanted to have a fire going and the camp in a defendable position should trouble arise before nightfall, they found some trees and set themselves for the night.

The night was unusually quiet, after a small meal Candon took the first watch as Gilita slept, the fire eventually died down as the lonely darkness washed over them, Candon merely sat and looked into the darkness.

He drew his blade which no longer held its original shine, their appeared to be words carved into the blade but he could not understand the language, he sighed as he thought of his naming it being a little premature.

Then the blade burst into a bright blue light, Candon sheiled his eyes and quickly put the blade back in its scabbard lest it give away the two soldiers positions.

He did not expect the strange reaction, after a short while he checked again and it still shone, this time he noticed two words on the surface of the blade, words he could understand.

Darkness Near

Candon wondered why such words would be carved on a holy blade, then he suddenly heard a yelp of pain in the distance, in the human tongue.

He quickly shook Gilita awake " Their is something out there, i just heard it, get your weapon ready.

Gilita nodded and pulled his mythril made gun from under his bedroll, although the ancient weapon lacked the strength of a sword blow it could fire from a great distance.

Candon waited a few moments and no more sounds came, he stood up and said "someone may need our help.

"Sir are you mad, what if its bandits or an undead, we cant go out into the dark looking for trouble" Gilita said desperatly.

"We have avoided conlict because it has been unnecessary, if someone needs my help then it is my duty to the people,to Ajora and to myself to help them, i will understand if you wish to stay but it would not be befitting of the squire of a Holy Knight" Candon said as he pulled his sheild from his pack.

"No Sire, i will go as long as we dont rush headlong into battle, we will be no use to the people, Ajora or ourselves if we die needlessly at the hands of a goblin" Gilita said jokingly as he donned his adepts robes, he was a less intimidating figure than Candon, with a slim figure and short cut black hair, he donned a hat that marked him as a medic in battle.

The two moved stealthly through the dark (as quiet as one could in full plate anyway), the noise of their footsteps was soon drowned out by voices, those speaking the tongue of Ivalice.

"You should be more careful Sylwith, those briars can cut your legs to bits if you aint careful" one voice spoke with the common accent.

The two finally came to a rocky area of land, they hid behind a group of boulders as they watched the mysterious scene beneath them.

There were three man-like shapes, although it was hard to tell in the dark, one of them appeared to be sitting on the floor rubbing its leg, two others were gathering a pile of wood.

"Our little info buyer should be here soon, light the fire so he can find us" one of the shapes spoke.

A fire was soon lit and the three figures were revealed in the light, all wore dark green clothes and wore studded leather shirts as armour, they all wore muddy brown cloaks with the hoods pulled back, all appeared to be men and all wore swords openly.

One however had removed his boot and was pulling long brairs out of his foot, his winces of pain could be heard all around.

"Stop whining, when we get to Gariland we'll sort you with a top chemist, you will be right as rain as long as you stop making noise" one of the three said.

"I cant help it Loki, it hurts so much" the wounded one said, they identified him as Sylwith.

The third one suddenly turned to the left "I heard something, who is there.

A dark form dressed in a black cloak with a tightly pulled hood completly obscuring who or what he was entered the light.

"What does the knight who never dies fear?" Loki spoke to the figure.

"Why a dragon from the sky" the figure spoke with a noblemans accent.

"Password accepted, welcome stranger, do you have the money" Loki approached the man.

The figure pulled a bag from within its robes and threw it at the feet of Loki "500 Gil as promised, all in 10 gil coins bearing the royal seal.

The three men quickly emptied the money from the bag and counted it, they nodded at each other and turned to the stranger.

"All here, so i guess you wish to know about the stones then" Loki said with excitement in his voice.

"Indeed" the cloaked figure said.

"Well me and me lads arent your usual cut purses, our bounty is information and theirs plenty of drunk nobleman and greasy handed guards willing to give it up, we have been hearing a lot about your so called Zodiac stones" Loki said.

"From what we know, Draclau had one of these stones and apparntly learned how to harness its energy to make himself powerful, we also know he was killed by Ramza Beoulve and he took the stone from him, he still has it by all accounts" Sylwith spoke.

Candon clenched his fists in anger, he had heard tales of the Zodiac stones, although they were part of the church's legends he believed them to be just that, the idea that they could be real seemed strange, yet his anger at Beoulve doubled as he realised that he killed for possesion of a holy stone.

Gilita was also equally troubled, yet both knew well enough to keep quiet and continue listening.

"Their was talk of someone finding a holy stone in one of the industrial cities, this also turned out be true, but the Bart Company also hunt this and no one is 100% on who currently has it" the third figure spoke.

"The temple knights have a few and seem to be still collecting them, if your interested in procuring one for yourself then you better hurry, by all acounts that Gustav fella is a thorough guy" Loki finished as he dragged the gold back into its bag.

"Thats all we know, more info is bound to turn up though, if you want to speak to us again then speak to Barnalby in Gariland, he'll twig you onto us" Sylwith put his boot back on and stood up.

"You pitiful fools know nothing, i had hoped that you could provide me with something useful, you have failed in that regard, yet you know one thing, if you tell people of me then you could try and claim the bounty upon my head" the figure spoke with a calm in its voice.

Loki smiled at this development "So the question is, how much can we squeeze out of you for our silence.

"The price is simple, your lives and the lives of those foolish archers of yours who i slew whilst that fool cut his foot" the figure spoke as it threw back its cloak.

It was a man with pale white skin and long white hair, he wore black plate mail and carried a long silver sword at his side, the most interesting thing about this man was his eyes, they were blood red.

"You will rue the day that you threatend the great Lugien, die theives" the man said.

Loki let out a shrill whistle as he expected the archers he placed at the perimeter to respond, silence answered as he realised that the man had not lied.

The three men drew their blades and charged the lone enemy, thinking to overpower him with number.

With an almost casual ease Lugien drew his long silver sword and with one sweeping motion took the heads of Sylwith and the third man, he moved with a speed that was clearly unnatural.

By this time Candon and Gilita had shaken themselves from their viewing and began to run down to help Loki, they knew however it would be too late.

Lugiens hand shot out and snapped Loki's wrist with inhuman strength, seeing two figures entering the field of battle made him raise his sword and pointed it at them, a wave of black energy shot from its tip and knocked them from their feet.

Loki's screams echoed throughout the land, Lugien placed the tip of his sword on Loki's neck and smiled.

"You theiving scum are not worthy from me to drink from, instead you will feed my sword, take his blood my blade, let Life Stealer become strong from his weakness" with that he plunged the blade into Loki.

Candon had managed to get back up, he drew his blade and noticed that Lugien's sword had turned bright red, he also noticed that the poor man held by its tip had stopped screaming, his skin began to shrivel like a raisen, he quickly degraded into a pile of ash and clothes, the swords silver colour returned.

"Are you happy my weapon, let us head for Gariland and find a Zodiac stone" Lugien said as he licked blood from the blades edge.

"Hold yourself creature, i am a Holy Knight of Ajora and i know you for what you are, a vampire who kills without remorse to feed itself, even if it means my death i will kill you" Candon swung his sword and shouted.

"Stasis blade!

"You foolish child, no knight can harm me, Holy or Temple, i will take the stones and the bodies that lay in my path mean nothing, your little attack did nothing" Lugien said with a smile as he pointed his sword at Candon.

"My attack has only just began monster" Candon looked to the skies and hoped that his prayers had been heard.

Lugien prepared to leap at the insolent fool, then he suddenly felt the air grow cold around him, large shards of ice began to rain from the sky and strike the vampire, the holy magic within the frozen water burning his skin, he leapt back and could feel his body slowly regenerating.

"Damn, i am too close to Igros, beware knight, their are few Holy Knights in this world, i will hunt you down when my quest is done, tell your freinds at Igros that i will return to make them pay, Lugien of Carosen promises" he said with anger.

Lugien then leapt into the darkness outside the flame light and dissapeared into the night, his unnatural speed carrying him far, to put ground between himself and the warrior who could hurt him.

"I cannot risk bringing the wrath of the knights on me by killing one of their own, i will do the job later when their eyes are not so attentive" the vampire thought as he hurried to a safe place to heal his wounds.

Candon was not interested in chasing however, Gilita had been knocked unconscious by the fall, he had to make sure his freind was safe.

Their was nothing he could do for three foolish young men who tried to play with powers they didnt understand, their remains were testament to this.

*********************

Part 3 - Old friends and older enemies

It was the next morning that Gilita was fit to travel, when he had been knocked back he banged his head on the ground and was slightly concussed, Candon looked after him through the night, he knew he could not sleep knowing that creature was still out there.

The next few days of travel were hurried and uneventful, they talked of what they heard and not all of it made sense, the Zodiac stones were real and people were hunting them, including the church, they hoped to recieve some answers from Igros.

Eventually the rolling fields gave way to outlaying farms and homes, in the distance the great stone fortress sat, the home of Duke Larg it served as the main base of the Hokuten knights, guarded by hundreds of proffesional soldiers and many more recruits, with walls several feet thick wrought of pure rock (many of which were fortified with magic) it was believed to be impenetrable.

This had turned out to be untrue however as a small group of assasins (members of the group 'Death Corps') had managed to infiltrate the castle and attack Dycedarg Beoulve and kidnap Teta Hyral, leading to a major incident at Fort Zeakden which was the end of the Death Corps, it also cost the lives of many knights and the death of Teta.

Dycedarg was going to make sure that was never to happen again, defence had been a became more important and not a place was left unwatched, it would take an army to even get close to Igros these days.

It was because of such enhanced security that the two approaching warriors were spotted before they were even near the outer wall, a group of Chocobo mounted knights were sent to meet them.

************

Candon stopped his chocobo as the knights approached, the riders flanked the two travellers and one of them detatched from the group and approached.

This man who wore silver plate with a golden tabard (bearing many insignia and stripes), he wore a great helm that covered his face completly except for twin eye slits and small air holes, he pointed his sword at Candon.

"What is your business at Igros Castle, state your name" the man said.

Candon climbed off his mount and bowed before the lead rider, he then stood straight and pulled a scroll from his pack, he handed it to the knight.

"I am Candon Oaks, heir to the Oaks estate and Holy Knight of Ajora, this is Gilita Paragos, my squire and acolyte of the church, i am on a most holy quest in the name of our lord and bear a message signed by High Preist Funeral, i am to seek an audience with Zalbag Beoulve" Candon said with a knights salute.

The knights began to whisper to each other, they knew the name of Oaks and what it implied, they awaited for word from their leader.

"The crest and signet match, you are indeed who you say you are, we will take you to the gate then give you to a guide who will take care of you, follow us" the knight said with respect in his voice, it was near impossible to forge papers bearing the seal of the High Preist, this man was indeed a noble.

Candon mounted and the group departed for the castle, the lead knight rode alongside him and leaned in to talk to him.

"You are lucky Sir, our general Zalbag is soon departing for Lesalia, perhaps you will be given permission to travel with him" the knight said.

"I am lucky to have survived the journey here, their is more afoot in these lands than you may realise" Candon said with a frown, he did not want to say too much about the encounter with Lugien until he had spoken with Zalbag.

They rode on towards the gate.

*****************

Inside the castle itself, a man stood in a room reserved for the noblemen of the realm, a short man who made up for his lack in height with his sturdy frame and strong body, he had short blond hair and dark brown eyes, he was a Knight of the realm and a noble.

He was Kevin Excuri, third son of the Excuri dutchy and he was bored with castle life.

Being the middle child he was given the least attention, with two older brothers (one who was a great wizard and another a high ranking Knight) and two younger sisters (both one day to be part of arranged marriages to increase the family standing), he was left to his own devices and at a young age he wanted to be a Knight.

Trained in combat at the Gariland military academy and taught of tactics and decorum at Igros he was soon to be sent to war, an idea which didnt exactly thrill him, he wanted adventure and excitment, to make a name for himself.

He looked out the window of his room at the approaching riders, a sight he had seen many times before, with a wave of his hand he dismissed his squire Deis (who was as bored as he was with castle life) and he pulled out a map of Ivalice, he looked vainly for a place of refuge from the war.

Once again he looked out of the window and noticed that two strangers were being allowed into the castle, one looked like a chemist and yet the other seemed strangly familiar.

"Long blond hair, baretta helm, could be anyone... yet his face seems familiar, like i have met him before" he said to himself, then the figure pulled his sword from its scabbard and performed a knight salute to an approaching soldier.

"Could it be, that sword, only Holy Knights are given them, it couldnt be him though, they would have thrown him out because of his sister, or maybe..." Kevin's mind raced with possibilites.

He stood up quickly as an idea hit him, he put on his good tabard and raced to catch up with his squire.

"What is it sire?" Deis asked.

"I think i have a way of getting us out of the castle and on the road Deis, put on some good clothes and meet me in the main hall as quickly as you can" Kevin said excitedly.

Deis smiled at his masters happiness, maybe he would live to see this war through after all.

********

"Sir Zalbag is finishing the preparations for his journey, we understand that you are weary from your trip but ask that you wait a short while longer" a well dressed servant told Candon and Gilita as they entered the castle proper.

They were taken to a small guest room where food and drink was waiting, there was a wash basin and a set of spare clothes for them to change into before meeting with the general, a short while later they were both fed and changed, a knock came from the door.

"Come in" Candon called, expecting it to be a servant.

The door opened and there stood a familiar figure, a short man with short blond hair, he recognised him from somewhere but couldnt quite place his finger on it.

"Candon, is that you, its me Kevin?" the man said, the voice immediatly jogged his memory.

"Kevin...Excuri" he said as it all came back to him, he stood up and shook the mans hand.

"It has been the longest time since i last saw you at Gariland, how are you freind, why are you here?" Kevin said, glad that he had been recognised.

"I cannot say why until i have spoken with the general, if my meeting was not so important then i would speak longer" Candon said with regret.

A servant appeared behind Kevin "Sir Oaks, master Beoulve will see you now, follow me.

"Listen, i will be in the main hall at dinner, find me there and we can talk more, perhaps we can travel together again, just like the old days" Kevin said with a wave as Candon and Gilita followed the servant.

When he was alone in the doorway Kevin waited a moment, then he went to a nearby wall with a portrait of Balbanes Beoulve (recently made to commemerate his death), Kevin knew the real reason why it was there, Dycedarg wanted it to cover a switch that would open a hidden cubby behind the meeting hall.

Kevin knew of the this already however, he had discovered it one night when he stumbled against the wall in a drunken stupor returning to his bed, he also knew that no one would dare check this portrait for secrets when only a short time had passed since the Beoulves death.

His hand gently lifted the portrait aside, a small discoloured stone sat beneath the heart of Balbanes, Kevin pressed it in and a section of the wall parted like a curtain (magic of course), he entered and pressed a similar stone inside the tunnel to close the wall behind him.

He walked through the ancient secret passageway to a covered hole in the wall, he moved the cover and placed his eye against the gap and saw (and heard) Zalbag and Candon speaking in the meeting room, he wished to know of the Knight's quest and how he could convince him to join.

The people in the room however did not notice that a portrait of the great Knight Telwan had two different coloured eyes, one blue and the dark brown eye of Kevin behind it.

************

"So you have been assigned by the church to hunt my brother and save your sister?" Zalbag Beoulve asked the young knight in his presence.

He stood facing a large map of Ivalice on his wall, it was covered with coloured pins that depicted troop positions and ribbons that showed supply routes, he was a tall well built man with short brown hair who wore a suit of fine black leather armour, with a weapon always at his side he was ready for battle.

Candon was alone with the general (Gilita waited outside), he had shown him his papers from the High Preist Funeral and explained the twin Oracles visions, he knelt down on one knee and made his humble request.

"I ask your assistance in the matter of your brother and my sister, if it is no more than information of his location then i will consider myself blessed, if however you could loan me some troops...?" Candon asked.

"No, i need all the men i can get for the war, my brother is not high on my list of priorities right now, if you wish to hunt him then you have my permission, i can tell you nothing that has been confirmed, the last place he was supposedly seen was Gariland Magic City" Zalbag said with disdain, not even looking at the man behind him.

"Thank you Sir, then i request that i join you on your trip to Lesalia, you stop at Gariland do you not?" Candon asked.

"You are welcome to join us but you will be quicker with only your squire, i am bringing supplies for the soldiers which will slow my trip considerably" Zalbag spoke with minimal interest.

"Then may i stay the night at the castle and leave in the morning, i will begin my journey to Gariland at first light?" Candon asked with great reservation.

"Indeed, you can join me and my brother for dinner this evening, it is a strictly noble affair you must understand, i am sure my elder brother would like to speak with you of matters of the church, i will have a servant call you, is their anything else? Zalbag turned now to face Candon.

"One more thing, in the wilderness my squire and i encountered a vampiric like creature, it spoke with noble manners and called itself Lugien, it killed three men who gave it information, they were talking about the Zodiac stones sire" Candon said the last part with a humorous tone.

Zalbag appeared visibly shaken "What did they say, tell me exactly.

Candon told him of what he heard and when he struck the creature.

Zalbag seemed locked in thought, after a few minutes he finally spoke.

"What you have said does not leave this room, if you find my brother and he does bear one of these stones then bring it immediatly to me or Dycedarg, if they are in our grasp then they could be the crux of the war" Zalbag said excitedly.

Candon merely nodded, amazed that the general even believed that they were real, he stood up and waited to be dismissed.

"You may leave Sir Oaks, i am sorry i could not be of more help, i will see you at dinner" Zalbag said drawing his sword, giving Candon the knight salute.

Candon returned the gesture and left, trying to make sense of what was going on, he found Gilita waiting for him.

"Gilita, i am to attend a dinner tonight, it is a noble only affair, i want you to question the staff and soldiers in the castle, find out what you can about the Zodiac stones.

Gilita nodded at this strange command and left immediatly, Candon was determined to find out what was going on.

***********

Kevin replaced the eye in the portrait and barely contained his excitement, he quickly left the tunnel and went to find Deis, he was waiting for him in the main hall as instructed.

"Deis their is to be a dinner tonight, i want you to pull some strings and get yourself on the serving staff, listen out for people talking about Zodiac stones, it is very important" Kevin whispered to his squire.

He had to ask "Sir do you think we will be out of the war soon, will we be like adventurers?.

Kevin only smiled and motioned for him to go, he clapped his hands together with joy, he would be at that dinner tonight, with what he knew he was certain that his idea would work.

He smiled, one thing he loved more than anything else was when a plan came together.

***********

Part 4 - A party to start a party

The assembled nobles took their place at the long table in the dining hall of Igros, Candon felt out of place amongst the more refined diners, he felt more comfortable with a sword in his hand, it did not help that Zalbag sat only a few spaces away, he could feel his eyes watching him, trying to discern more about him.

Kevin had tried his best to be seated next to the Holy Knight, yet the two daughters of a higher ranked noble had outdone him, both wished to try their hand at seducing the handsome, chivalrous stranger and Kevin was left five seats down, he would have to have to corner Candon by himself.

Deis was rushed off his feet waiting on the ungrateful spoilt men and women who ruled the country, he did however catch a few snippets of conversation mentioning the Zodiacs, he knew once the drink had began to flow that lips would loosen, he would have plenty to report it would it seem.

Gilita was having less luck, people were less willing to talk to a stranger (especially linked to the church), he was having to resort to greasing palms with Gil to get some answers, he had began to get somewhere however when a serving girl admitted to hearing Dycedarg talking to mysterious strangers.

At the dinner Zalbag whispered something to his brother at the end of the table, Dycedarg Beoulve was the eldest child of Balbanes Beoulve and advisor to Duke Larg, he was a tall thin man who wore black and silver robes of state, he had short brown hair and beard kept well trimmed, the likeness to his brother Zalbag was obvious.

Dycedarg tapped his glass with a spoon to get everyones attention, he stood up and raised his drink.

"Ladies and gentleman, Knights of the realm and honoured guests, i would like to propose a toast to my brother Zalbag, tommorow he departs for Lesalia to fight on the most difficult front, to this end i grant him three hundred newly graduated troops to add to the two hundred already going with him, i wish him the best of luck in his journey and will pray to Ajora for his safe return" Dycedarg raised his glass high.

"I also wish to give recognition to our guest Candon Oaks, he is leaving soon on a most holy quest and on the recommendation of my brother i offer him a fine black chocobo from our stables, as a sign of good faith between the church and the Hokuten, good luck to you sire.

"A toast then, to those who will leave us for the good of the kingdom, to fight for the true heir of the throne" all glasses at the table were raised in unison.

Candon was uncomfortable that so much attention had been placed on him, after a short while he excused himself politly and left the table.

Kevin cursed silently, as quickly as decorum allowed without insulting the host he left the table, Deis pointed him in the right direction and he followed onto a small balcony, Candon was watching the guards patrolling the outer walls.

"Candon you left so suddenly, is anything the matter?" Kevin asked, closing the door behind him.

They both stood on the small stone balcony, the cool night air blowing around them, the moon sitting solitary amongst the darkness of the night sky.

"Things just seem to be happening so fast, last week i was in a place of peace and serenity, now i am suddenly fending off evil at all corners, within and without, i did not realise that the upper class was like this, all trying to get the upper hand and backstabbing anyone who stands in their way" Candon said as he looked at the few stars that were visible.

"How did you think it was going to be, you remember what we learnt at Gariland, the whole point of nobles is power, so they will do anything to get it, maybe all that holy talk has dulled your senses" Kevin said half joking.

"I just thought that it would be different with the war, that for one minute they could stop thinking of themselves enough to realise the death and suffering that exists, i had hoped to meet true nobles" Candon looked at his old friend.

"Fat chance, the whole war is about who is to gain power, if a hundrerd or a million men die then it means nothing to them, as long as they can keep their lands and titles then they can sleep at night without guilt" Kevin said with a frown.

Candon was shocked at such traitorous words coming from a Knight, he was about to reprimand him when he realised that it was not his place to.

"I dont want to go out and kill young men like myself, i dont want to have to tell people to fight for what they do not believe in, i want to uncover the real people in power, to end the war and travel Ivalice, like we said we would when we were cadets" Kevin looked now at the moon, it all depended on what he was about to say.

"I know about the Zodiac stones" Kevin said, looking Candon in the eyes.

Candon was shocked, had he been betrayed or spyed upon.

"Do not worry, i am close friend of Zalbag, he told me everything of your journey, about Lugien the vampire and such, their is something i wanted to ask you" Kevin said, he put his hand on Candon's shoulder.

"Take me with you, i know what you are going to say but face it, what chance do you and Gilita have in a fight by yourselves, you need strong men and someone with connections if you are to find Ramza Beoulve, did you really think you could find someone that has eluded the inquisitors without help?" Kevin spoke frankly.

Candon shook his head, he hadnt really though of it that way.

"If i go with you then with your power and connetions with the church and my strength and allies in the Hokuten, then we will bring that Beoulve and your sister to justice, what do you say?" Kevin smiled.

Candon admitted tbat he had made a lot of sense "I will have to clear it with Zalbag.

"No need, i will do it right now, it will be good to travel Ivalice together, just think of what we will see and do together" Kevin clapped his friend on the back and rushed off to complete the second stage of the plan.

Candon was left with his thoughts, perhaps he and Kevin could complete the mission, the white Oracle did mention that he would join with an old friend, maybe it would be like the adventures of old.

*************

Zalbag had already left the table and was about to retire to his chamber when Kevin caught up with him.

"Master Beoulve, i need to speak with you urgently" Kevin said, out of breath.

"Then speak Sir Excuri" Zalbag said.

"In private sir, it concerns a certain Holy Knight and certain Holy stones, if you catch my drift" Kevin smiled as the color drained from Zalbag's face.

They went into the meeting chamber that Zalbag and Candon had spoken in earlier, Kevin noticed that the eyes of the portrait he looked through matched.

"What do you know then of the Zodiac stones, did Oaks talk to you, is he a traitor!" Zalbag seemed unusually angry.

"No sire, well he did actually tell me but it was in the strictest confidence, we are both old friends from Gariland academy, i questioned him enough to learn the facts sir. I suppose he wanted answers, you cannot expect him to not learn more of the holy stones, he is a man of the church after all" Kevin said pleadingly, he didnt want Candon to be executed.

Zalbag pondered the situation, thinking long and hard, then an obvious solution came to him, he pulled a ring from his pocket and threw it to Kevin.

"If you are such good friends with him, then you will have no trouble tagging along with him, he already asked for help so say that i changed my mind, travel with him and keep me informed of his actions, that ring i gave you is a signet that belongs to my informants" Zalbag turned to face him.

"I know of your desire to escape the front line so i am offering you this, you are to travel with him and learn what you can about the Zodiac stones, whenever you learn something new then send me a letter from an allied city, my signet should stop prying eyes from reading, i will write the papers for your dismissal. Zalbag pulled a sheet of parchment from his table.

"My squire as well sire?" Kevin asked.

"Naturally" Zalbag said as he finished the papers and signed them.

"Keep one thing in mind Excuri, if you betray me then not only will i have you branded as a traitor, hunted down and executed, your families wealth will be taken and your lands given to the crown, are we clear on this" Zalbag said in a chilling tone, he was not bluffing.

"Crystal sire, i will do my best" Kevin took the papers and left quickly.

Zalbag smiled to himself, he had gained an ally, he knew Kevin well as he had trained him, with a sigh the general left to retire for the evening.

When he was far enough away Kevin whooped in delight, it had worked, soon he would be on the road, he caught up with Deis.

"Pack your bags Deis, we leave tommorow" Kevin said as showed his squire the papers.

"Thats good news sir, i havent had much luck though, no ones been talking much about the Zodiacs" Deis said, it was hard to sound defeated when he was so happy however.

"Who cares, we will see the stones for ourselves" Kevin said with cheer.

They both rushed off to prepare for the morning, to get ready for the world ahead.

*********

Kevin met up with Candon as he was about to go to his room "Ii is arranged, me and my squire will travel with you.

He didnt wait for an answer as he raced to his room, he would have to pack his clothes and weapons.

Candon looked perplexed at this, he shrugged and went into his room, Gilita was waiting for him.

"Sir i spoken to the staff and most of the soldiers, i have information regarding the Zodiac stones" Gilita sat down and pulled a book from within his robes.

"Good job Gilita, what have you found" Candon said as he checked that no one was listening.

"I have been keeping a diary since we left Murond, in this i have written all i have learned, from what i can gather all 12 of the stones have been unearthed, although whether they are real or not is unknown, what is known however are some of the people who have them" Gilita began to flick through the pages.

"It is thought that Count Draclau had one of them, however Ramza and your sister killed him for it, that is the only definate clue on who has a stone, their is another group that havent been mentioned much however, have you ever heard of the Temple Knights?" Gilita said, sad that he had to mention his masters sister.

"Only fearful mutterings, no one is even sure if they exist, if they do then they are a true power of the church, what do they have to do with this?" Candon asked.

"They are lead by a man named Vormav and his son Izlude or so the stories say, both have been attributed to having strange powers and inspiring fear in their enemies, they are suspected of owning two stones" Gilita said as he poured over his notes.

"I have no doubt you have heard of T.G Cid, he is unnaturally strong yet his son Olan is not, perhaps he has a stone?" Gilita mentioned.

"No Olan Orlandu is adopted, he is a powerful warrior but nowhere near the power of the Thunder God Cid, if he has a stone however then we should hope to never face him in battle" Candon told him.

Gilita adjusted his notes "Next is the Bart Company, they were hunting a young man who was said to bearing a magical stone, a man who is know said to be travelling with Ramza Beoulve" Gilita looked to Candon for any thoughts.

"If Ramza has two then he may be trying to assemble them all, what would happen if he were to suceed...what is next?" Candon mused.

"The last suspect is Delita Hyral, member of the Nanten and an enemy to the Hokuten, in a short space of time he became a powerful enemy, standing and winning against whole bands of Hokuten, his power may be attributed to a stone" Gilita said as he closed his book.

Candon stood thinking, what if all this was true, if all these groups were fighting against each other for the Zodiacs, if it was true then a lot of blood will be spilled in the conflict, perhaps this was what Kevin meant when he spoke of the war.

"I have not yet told you have i, Kevin and his squire Deis are to travel with us, perhaps we stand a chance of winning a fight in the wilderness, we will also have a better chance of destroying the vampire if it looks for vengance against us" Candon said as he layed his sword down and prepared to sleep for the night.

Gilita did not question the decision, he put his book away and left for his room "Goodnight sire.

"Goodnight, do not breath a word of what we know to anyone" Candon said as disrobed and went to bed.

Gilita nodded and went to his room, he finished his writing for the night and slept.

Epilogue

The next day they rode to they edge of Igros and looked back at the grand castle.

Candon was dressed in his blue/silver plate mail, he now kept commoner clothes for when he was in a city (on Kevins suggestion), he now rode a large Black Chocobo, a fine creature with dark purple feathers, some said that they could fight better than some humans.

Kevin rode his normal yellow mount, he know wore a suit of Iron plate mail with his family symbol engraved on the front, he wore a long red cloak as protection against the strong winds that rushed past as the chocbos ran, he also carried a fine sword made of Mythral, a powerful lightweight metal.

Gilita and Deis rode behind them, Deis was a small man with long black hair who was strong like his master, on his back he carried a large steel axe with a magic rune carved into the head, he wore a suit of chainmail that was given by the castle armory.

The group was not the most grand or the most powerful, yet at that time they felt they could have taken on anything, Candon and Gilita wishing to know more about the intrigue in which they had locked themselves in, Kevin and Deis seeking adventure and excitement, without words they turned and raced towards the east.

Towards Gariland Magic City, where the true adventure would begin.

Chapter 2


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