The Sage and The Saint
Summary: Faye thought it was just luck that she could be a Cleric. Kliff knew she had a gift to do so much more. Maybe with a little support he could convince her of that?
I didn’t think Ram was so far from the castle, Faye mused silently as a heavy breath escaped her mouth. Now that night had fallen and her training had come to an end, she had a moment to herself. Time to think.
Being a village girl by heart, Faye hadn’t left Ram before. She didn’t really grasp just how great the distance between her home and the castle was until now. Still, she couldn’t say that she was upset since Celica had agreed to let Faye join her group as they headed there.
The village had felt lonely when Alm, Tobin, and Gray left her behind. She was honestly hurt that they left without so much as telling her goodbye. But Faye didn’t have the courage to chase after them.
Not on her own, anyway.
The fact that there were Bandits and Terrors outside the village walls had stopped her more than anything. Even though Ser Mycen had taught her a little of how to use a sword after the… incident, she could never say she took to it like Alm or Gray.
She was better than Tobin when it came to using a bow, as far as hitting a target went. Though, given how often he struggled to hit the broad side of a fence back then she wasn’t sure that meant much now. Besides, the strain it put on her arms meant she’d never be able to repeatedly shoot a longbow with enough force to be useful on a battlefield.
And she was fine with that at the time. Because she never thought she’d need to take up a weapon or hurt someone else. Not when Alm and Ser Mycen were there. Besides, life in the village was peaceful.
She looked down to the staff in her hands. The young Cleric that Celica had been traveling with, Genny, lent it to her for practice. It was a focus that was useful when it came to the life-granting magic that they had been practicing until a few minutes ago. Apparently, Faye had a knack for it with how quickly she managed to grasp the basic Recover spell, much to both of their surprise.
Not Celica though. She stated that to be selfless was essential as Clerics offered their own vitality in order to mend wounds and soothe pain. From what she remembered, Faye was the most selfless person she knew before leaving Ram—and so she was suited for succor over steel.
It made Faye happy to hear that, though she wished Celica would tell her why she had to leave in the first place.
Either way, they were on their way to the castle now that Celica was sure that Alm was the leader of the Deliverance. He’d be fighting more, and so would the others. Faye was sure that she could be helpful to them, as much as she hated the necessity. She still remembered all the times the boys got nicked and bruised training themselves, but that wasn’t during a war when people were trying to kill them.
What if they had been seriously hurt already?
The grim thought left her feeling restless, so she stood up and looked around the camp for someone to talk to or something to do that would soothe her nerves. Celica and Genny were talking to the mages from the Priory while the other men were sharing tales over a drink. She wasn’t familiar with the latter and didn’t want to bother the former, so she looked around for the only person who she knew would be apart from the rest and was familiar with her—Kliff.
He’d been left behind as well. Not surprising since he was a few years younger and wasn’t as active as the other boys when it came to training. They probably didn’t want to drag him into danger, though he seemed more annoyed that he’d been denied the chance to do something new. That was why he jumped on the chance to come with Celica as well.
Faye found him on just out of sight, near the woodlands bordering the camp. Just far enough away that you’d have to go out of your way to find and speak to him. And it seemed like he was busy as well with practicing magic.
Standing away from a piece of firewood he’d taken, he seemed almost in a trance as he concentrated on his casting. Even the other two mages who were with Celica thought he was well-practiced when it came to magic, despite being largely self-taught. Though Faye suspected they’d think otherwise if they saw how many times he’d bungled learning his Fire spell.
She watched as he muttered under his breath before making the casting motions, the spell circle coming into formation as motes of lightning crackled above the firewood like how she’d seen with the other mages. But rather than come down like a bound coil of electricity lancing from above, it came loose and practically unraveled halfway down. The streaking tendrils scattered and scorched whatever they lashed out against—including Kliff’s arm, as one serpentine bolt caught him there.
“Kliff!” Faye hurried over as he fell to a knee and drew in a sharp breath, clutching the spot. She kneeled and forced his hand away to see that the lightning bolt had caught him after all. His arm had been burned, scorched and blackened cloth framed around the wound. “How bad does it hurt?”
“It’s nothing serious,” he said. “I just underestimated how much effort it would take to hold it together, so it got a little out of my control.”
“The last time a spell got a little out of your control you nearly ended up burning your hands off and setting fire to Ser Mycen’s place,” she retorted. “You remember the warning he gave you, right?”
“You know it wasn’t that bad,” he shot back. “Don’t start acting like my mother now that we’ve left the village.”
Faye frowned, catching the undertone of his blunt words. Sure, she might have been exaggerating a little about how bad it really had been—minor burns and scorching the outer wall of the house. But she’d listened while wrapping his hands up as Ser Mycen told them how he’d gotten off lucky compared others who misfired magic. It was usually fatal compared to a misaimed swing of a weapon, and not just for the user.
Regardless of how offended she felt, she reached down and called upon her own magic. Soothing light escaped her hands as she laid them over his arm. It sank into the flesh, encouraging his body to mend what would take perhaps half a month to heal naturally in less than a minute.
“How’s that?” she asked once the divine magic had done its work. He moved his arm, looking over where the injury had been before meeting her gaze. “Well?”
He looked away pointedly and mumbled, “Thanks.”
It wasn’t the answer she was looking for. But knowing how stubborn and prideful he had been since he got older, she just let it go. “I know I’m nowhere near as good at healing people as the others just yet. If it feels off when morning comes then we’ll have Genny or Celica look at it.”
“It’s fine, Faye,” he insisted, scratching his hair for a moment in frustration. Then he sighed. “Anyway, if you came looking for me, I assume you wanted something?”
“I wanted to see how you were doing since we left the village,” she answered. “You normally avoid crowds and strangers like the plague, so I was a little concern how you’d handle traveling together. But so far it seems like you’ve been getting along with Celica’s friends.”
“They’re practicing mages and have access to far more knowledge of magic than I could get my hands on in the village,” Kliff pointed out. “I’m not going to pass up the chance to get some firsthand advice and learn from them just because I don’t know them well.”
Faye supposed that made sense. Magic was one of the things he seemed to enjoy, and he always had his head in the books back in the village. “Does that mean you’ll be staying with them when we reach the castle then?”
“I plan to. But I suspect you’ll be sticking around with Alm’s group, right?” He sighed when she nodded her head as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Why am I not surprised?”
She looked at him with one brow quirked up in annoyance and crossed her arms. “Is there a problem with that?”
Kliff shook his head. “Faye, have you even considered what everyone will do after the war is over?”
Her response was almost immediate. “Return to the village, of course. Once the war is over there won’t be a reason for us to fight anymore, so it’s natural that we’d all go back home.”
She couldn’t guess what Celica would do since her goal was to speak to Mila. Even though she seemed happy to visit the village and it would be great to have her there, she seemed happy at the Priory as well from the girl-talk they had. Faye didn’t want to deny her that by trying to convince her to stay.
“I figured you’d say as much.” Kliff almost sounded disappointed. “Such a waste.”
“Okay, what’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded.
He only walked off, leaving her frustrated and without an answer.
She chased after him. “Get back here and answer me, Kliff!”
Faye found herself staring at the stars late that night from the roof of the Desert Citadel.
Set on the coast, the sea breeze washed over her. It wasn’t unfamiliar scent, given Ram wasn’t too far away from the other side of a coast. But it did little to soothe her frayed nerves and she couldn’t sleep, despite feeling as exhausted as everyone else now that they’d made sure there were no stragglers and checked up on all of the prisoners that had been taken by that man…
No, not a man. A monster. That monster named Grieth.
Her heartbeat quickened when she recalled that battle. Deceptively fast, skilled with a blade, and somehow able to ward off the worst of the spells flung at him, Grieth fended them off while backed by Terrors, Duma Faithfuls, and those Witches. And then he nearly…
She clutched her arms and held herself, shuddering at the thought of how lucky they had been.
It was then a familiar voice called out to her from behind. “If you’re cold then you should probably head back inside.”
“You’re the one who shouldn’t be out here, Kliff,” Faye said in response, her voice stern as she turned to face him. “I managed to heal you, but you’re still not exactly fit enough to be walking around.”
“I know, I know…” He sighed, sheepishly brushing the back of his head. “Look, I know we haven’t been on the best of terms since that night at the camp. And the fact that you really hadn’t planned on following us out here.”
“You were avoiding me outside of combat,” Faye pointed out. She had trouble pinning him down after that Thunder fiasco, and by the time they reached the castle she wasn’t sure if they would exchange words before they split apart. However, seeing Celica run out of the castle led to her following to ask what happened and ended with her cut off from the castle by a landslide of all thing.
True, it had served to make her upset as well. But she heard that Alm and the others from the village were fine from Celica and that had been enough for the moment. So, she kept to her own training and decided to focus on keeping their group safe as their duties expanded to include rescuing the Pegasus Sisters and Atlas’ family, who had been kidnapped by Grieth’s Army.
During that time, Kliff kept trying to learn more advanced spells compared to the others that he knew. He saw Boey practicing Excalibur, but the mage hadn’t quite gotten it down since it apparently required a lot of finesse. Yet, Kliff took to it quickly and got overconfident with how it seemed to devastate nearly everything that stood in his way, despite the toll it took on him to cast.
So, Faye made sure to keep an eye on him as they went through the desert and fought. Making sure he didn’t cast too many times since magic drew from one’s life. Making sure he didn’t cut his own limbs off with it or one of their allies because of a misfire. And it all seemed to go smoothly, right up until they met with Grieth himself.
Kliff thought he saw an opening to finish things right then and there, so he fired the spell off with the intent to kill. Grieth somehow weathered the cutting winds as the spell practically broke against his body and he closed in faster than anyone expected, rewarding Kliff’s effort with a slash that left him with a pretty nasty wound across his chest. If not for that Leather Shield eating the worst of it, he probably would have died then and there.
But Faye, who had been readying to send her magic to heal him over a distance like Genny taught her, saw the man’s blade getting ready to come down a second time. It would cut Kliff’s head clean off, which was something Faye couldn’t heal. Knowing that, she desperately wanted to save him despite the distance and pull him away from the danger he was in.
No matter what it took from her.
The magic responded to her desperation to save one of her childhood friends from losing his head at edge of a blade. To her desire to grant him succor as he laid on death’s door. It burst from the ground and transitioned him to her side in the blink of an eye—rescued him from danger as others better suited for close-combat moved in.
Faye hadn’t meant to do it, or even knew that it was possible to use magic in such a way. Sure, Celica had given her some inkling on how it would be theoretically possible to teleport after those Witches managed to get the drop on them. But she never imagined that she would have been able to do anything like that and it honestly didn’t matter at that moment.
Her attention had been fixed solely on healing Kliff before he succumbed to the wounds. She didn’t even see when they’d managed to deliver the deathblow, an arrow to the knee to cripple the so-called king by Leon allowing Saber, Kamui, and Jesse to run their blades through him. Even then he still managed to live long enough to mutter something that seemed to strike a chord with those three.
“I miscalculated,” Kliff admitted. “I thought he was just a thug with a sword. I didn’t think he’d capable of mitigating my spell so easily. The others mentioned he did the same with theirs as well, that it was probably an ability he developed through some kind of training or—”
“I don’t care how he did it,” Faye told him, shaking her head. The specifics of how the monster hampered their spells weren’t important to her. Only that Grieth had done so, and it nearly cost them dearly. “What I care about is the fact that you would have gotten yourself killed if we hadn’t gotten lucky.”
“I know…” He looked down to his arm where the shield had been, and where the blade cut deepest. It would scar despite her best efforts, but at least he wouldn’t lose the limb entirely. “I won’t be so reckless in the future. I promise.”
“Then you can start by not casting any unnecessary spells for the next few days.” Faye huffed, crossing her arms. “I won’t be able to look after you while we work on helping the hostages recover enough to get them back home. After that its straight to Mila’s Temple.”
It went without saying that the monster hadn’t treated his prisoners too well. Thankfully the citadel was well-stocked with supplies, albeit it was all stolen. Feeding them and treating the worst of their wounds would take a few days but then they’d be on the road again.
Celica intended to reach the Temple of Mila to speak with the Mother about the famine plaguing the land. Everything they’d gone through was for that purpose. Including facing a small army‘s worth of men and monsters, despite being so few in numbers themselves.
Most of that was due to the skill of the mercenaries they had and the versatility of their mages. But if they were at the point where they couldn’t just plow through enemies in the final stretch, it would be rough. Even with her, Genny, and Celica covering healing to keep everyone in fighting shape, they’d barely managed to keep up this time.
“And what then?” Kliff asked, pulling her thoughts back to him. “What’ll you do then?”
“Once Celica has appealed to the Mother, she’ll probably head back to the Priory,” Faye guessed. “She’ll be safe with the others escorting her, but I’m worried about Alm and our other friends. If they really are planning on marching into Rigel like we heard, they’ll probably be in more danger. So, I’ll head to where they are to help however I can.”
“And after that?” he inquired again. “What comes after the war?”
“We’ll go back to the village,” she said, repeating what she said the last time. “Our homeland will be safe. There won’t be a reason to fight anymore. We go back to those peaceful days and put all of this behind us.”
No more fighting. No more killing. No more danger.
Kliff shook his head. “It wasn’t just luck that you could use that spell, Faye. You’ve got some real talent. You must’ve realized that by now. Despite that, you’d still settle for life in the village. That’s such a waste.”
“Not everyone wants everything to be exciting, Kliff,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Was life in the village really that bad?”
“Not exactly,” he admitted. “But if we were all really fine with staying in the village, I don’t think any of us would have taken off like we did. The others couldn’t just sit back and we both jumped at the chance to leave when Celica came. I’m not saying this to be cruel, but I don’t think things will go back to how they used to be once the war is over.”
Faye found herself feeling tight in the chest and the ghost of a frown started to form on her face. Would things really not be able to go back to how they used to be, even if they all made it through this? What would she do if things didn’t go back to the way they were?
She didn’t want to think about it right now. “Just… go inside and rest already…”
“I’m just saying… think about your future, Faye.”
That said, he left her alone with only the stars and sea breeze for company.
The night air in the Sage’s Hamlet was as refreshing as it was welcomed.
Traversing the harsh terrains of Rigel after finding Mila’s Temple devoid of the Goddess was something Faye hadn’t enjoyed. Not when it meant crossing swamps that were tainted by magics so dark that they sapped the life out of any living thing that waded through them. Not when members of Duma Faithful were hounding them all the way.
Especially not when hordes of Necrodragons descended upon them.
But she had made it to this idyllic little village, hidden beyond the mystifying mists that threaded the thick treescape, and it was practically a slice of heaven. They all had. Now they had a final reprieve to steel their hearts and minds before they marched into the lair of Duma himself to retrieve Mila. To face one god and save another.
“…This is not how I saw things going when I left Ram,” Faye said to herself, sitting on a bench in the clearing. Night had fallen so there was no one to hear her. Or so she thought.
“I’ll say. It certainly turned out to be grander adventure than I expected.”
Faye didn’t even bother to turn her head when the words that were meant for her ears alone were responded to in such a manner. There was only one person she knew who would find the thought of fighting a god and his most faithful servants exciting. “Not the answer I was looking for, Kliff.”
The boy from Ram who had accompanied her this far came to a stop next to her, wearing a boyish smile that better suited him than his normal expression did. Then again, this place was practically a paradise of knowledge saved from being lost with the shift of power among the Duma Faithful. The sight of books piled so high they reached the ceiling of the Meeting Hall had nearly been enough to bring him to tears.
The sight of the Sage’s Home and his personal collection of tomes on magic and history actually did.
“Besides, I figured you’d be trying to spend every possible second we were here reading as many books as you could get your hands.”
“Oh, I plan to,” he admitted shamelessly while taking a seat next to her. “But I don’t think you of all people should be discounting the value of our journey. After all, not many women back in the village could say they were given the blessing of both the former High Priest of the Duma and the current High Priest of Mila to be officially considered a Saint.”
Faye looked down at the vestments she was adorned in at that. They were those of what would be considered a Saint. They had been spare garments provided by Halcyon, as there were few women of the cloth who could adorn them even before the majority of the Clerics and Saints of the Duma Faithful had been turned into Witches or sacrificed to some person called Nuibaba.
Given the trials ahead, both Nomah and Halcyon offered their wisdom to their little band to see things through to the end. Nomah took over teaching the casters the aspects of magic they lacked in order to cross their last hurdles as Priestesses and Sages. He also unlocked the natural affinity of the Pegasus Sisters’ mounts, so they weakened Terrors with their mere presence and made it easier to kill them.
Halcyon knew of the technique that Grieth had used to hinder their magic and soon their mercenaries would be able to do the same, making it easier to fend off the casters that awaited them. He provided Valbar with better armor and a Blessed Shield, gave Leon and Atlas mounts to go along with Blessed Bows to make their job easier as well—much as he had done with Celica’s long-lost brother.
He also knew of a method to aid Genny and Faye. He could attune their bodies to be able to channel the divine magics passively with a little coaxing from his own magic. To make them Saints, as they were known among both sects of the faiths.
It was supposed to be done by conditioning the body through prayer and meditation until it became a vessel for the divine magics to flow through as easily as breathing. In doing so they became capable of traveling without being impeded and naturally exuded a soothing aura that could alleviate the pain of those around them by simply being in their presence. It would have been immensely helpful with the swamps, to say the least.
Halcyon admitted there was a chance it wouldn’t work, given both were rather young. It was something not usually attempted for at least another decade or so for a dedicated practitioner like Genny. To say nothing of Faye, who wasn’t a devotee of Mila or Duma and only learned a short time ago how to heal. But with everyone else doing what they could before the impending challenge, the two were willing to give it a shot.
Even now Faye could feel the radiance coming off her body in gentle waves. It felt like she was being constantly swaddled in blanket of the softest wool imaginable. It was still a foreign sensation to her, but not an unwelcomed one.
“It’s just a coincidence,” Faye said. “You heard Celica’s mentor. He guessed that the fighting and healing we’d done simply made it so that our bodies were already so used to channeling divine magics that a little coaxing was all they needed.”
The man sounded a little sad and happy about it at the same time when he told them that. Since Faye had time to herself to think about it, she understood why. He’d helped raised Celica, Genny, Boey, and Mae. The fact that it was only possible for them to reach that point because they had been constantly refining their skills and bodies through battle wasn’t something to be happy about.
Not when most of them hadn’t even reached a third of his age.
“He also stated that such a thing wouldn’t have been possible for you unless you had a knack for it,” Kliff counterargued. “You’ve reached a point most Clerics could only dream of without the formal training or devotion to a faith needed for their more complicated spells. Halcyon himself believed that you had the potential to be something greater. That’s why he gave you that book, isn’t it?”
All of a sudden Faye felt the weight of the small book that was in her lap. It apparently housed the knowledge of a spell that had been rarely used among the clergy even before the power struggle and the degradation of the practice. The reason for it was simple—few had the ability to cast it as the sacrifice it entailed was a heavy one.
Halcyon thought her potential would be enough, so it had been a gift. Faye honestly felt that Genny or Celica should be the ones to receive it. They were faithful to the Mother and devoted to their mission. She just happened to pick up what they managed to teach her in the short time they could.
“You have the talent, Faye.” Kliff’s tone shifted as he continued. “All of us have pointed it out to you. So why do you keep trying and deny it?”
She opened her mouth to tell him that he was being ridiculous and insist once more it was just luck. But she saw his expression. It was… concerned? Sad? Pitying? She wasn’t sure how to word it, but it was so unlike him that it stopped her from responding off-hand and left her to think about her answer.
“…I didn’t expect any of this when we left the village,” Faye admitted. “I just wanted to go with Celica and catch up with the Alm and the others, so I wasn’t left alone. Even though I knew I really couldn’t help with all of the fighting.”
Alm, Tobin, Gray, and even Kliff had spent years training themselves after what happened when they were younger. Faye hadn’t since she didn’t plan on leaving the village. She had convinced herself that the incident was a one-time thing to be put behind her, and that things would just remain slow and peaceful after that once-in-a-lifetime circumstance in Ram.
It was just a whim that she asked if she could learn to heal. She didn’t expect to make progress considering she knew how long it took for Kliff to first use magic. Yet she took to it well enough to reach this point. She should be happy about that since it meant she wasn’t a burden to anyone now, but she wasn’t.
“Life in the village never changes,” Faye continued, looking down at her own hands. “But when I think of everything now, I already feel that I’m slipping away from that. Like I’ve changed too much to go back to the way things were. I mean, could you imagine how our parents would look at us if they knew how much we went through and what we’ve become?”
“That’s not much of a problem for me since I didn’t intend to go back,” Kliff told her. “But… you’re afraid that if you embrace that you’re talented, you won’t be able to pretend you’re a simple village girl anymore. You think won’t be able to go back to the life you left behind?”
She nodded. “Leaving the village has already changed me in ways I didn’t even think possible and it scares me to think that I won’t have a home to go back to when everything is over. I… I don’t want that. I don’t want to be alone like that.”
Kliff scratched his head in thought for a moment before he put his thoughts into words. “Personally, I think you’re worrying over nothing. To me, at least, you’re still the same Faye who frets over every little injury. You can just use magic instead of bandages. Still, if it turns out that is the case then you could always stick with me until we find a new place you can call home.”
His answer left her surprised. “…Huh?”.
“I’m the one pushing you to embrace your gift, aren’t I?” he continued. “It’d be wrong for me to just leave you with no place to go after all of that. So, while I doubt it’ll come to you being unwelcomed in the village, I’ll take responsibility for anything that happens when the time comes.”
Silence permeated the air for a moment as Faye sat there, processing his words. Then her shoulders started trembling. Her lips followed. Then, unable to hold it in anymore, she started giggling.
Kliff crossed his arms and frowned. “Maybe you could enlighten me to what’s so funny?”
“It’s just that… I didn’t expect to hear those words coming from you,” Faye said after she took a moment to catch her breath. She could still remember how often he’d cry when he was younger and how timid he’d been. So hearing Kliff saying that he’d take responsibility for her hadn’t been something she could register as being serious.
“Why do I even bother sometimes?” he muttered, rising up from his seat next to her, only to be stopped by a tug on his sleeve. He found Faye’s slim fingers holding to it.
“You’re being considerate to me, but I know how much you hate it when people crowd you all the time,” she told him, flashing him a soft smile as she released her hold. “I wouldn’t want you to burden yourself by going out of your way to keep me company, even if I’m glad you offered. You’re a good friend to have, Kliff.”
He only turned his back to her, hiding his face while sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. “It… wouldn’t be a burden, Faye. Not with you.”
And with that said he hurried off without looking back, leaving Faye to wonder in idle curiosity what it would be like to travel with him after the end. Just the two of them, going to far off places together. Experiencing new things and new people…
It was strangely soothing as she brushed the cover of the book in her lap.
It was too lively that night in Rigel Castle.
Celebrations were in order for those who fought for the sake of peace now that their respective gods, both trapped within the throes of madness, had finally been laid to rest. No longer would the forces of Zofia and Rigel fight against one another now that their respective leaders called for peace. The war was officially over.
Frankly, it was too loud and lively for Faye to process everything she learned. Too loud for her to think, which was something she desperately needed at the moment. So, she stepped outside into the cold winter lands and drifted away from the stone walls until the music and merriment were all muted.
Until she was alone with her thoughts of Alm.
It had been months since last she saw him and yet so much had changed about him. He was the new Emperor of Rigel. He was the leader of the very nation he had been fighting against until now by right of birth. Alm was royalty, just like Celica.
And they were going to marry one another to unite their countries into a single kingdom.
“I’m happy for you both,” Faye had told them when they announced their plan in the midst of the celebration. And she sincerely meant it, even if it was said through a smile that was strained and she had to excuse herself afterwards.
Alm had always been the man of her dreams. Alm was kind to her. He was strong and brave. He even rescued her when she was in trouble. How could she not have fallen in love with him?
So often she thought about what she could do to win his heart while they were growing up in the village. What it would take to have him confess his love to her? What would it take so that they could spend their lives together in the village, living peacefully and happily with all of their friends?
But the moment she saw the way Alm and Celica looked and spoke to each other after being reunited, Faye played out the countless times she had spoken with him in her head. And she realized that he never once looked at her the way that he did with Celica. He never once spoke to her the way he did to Celica.
She knew that Celica and Alm were close as children. Part of her even expected that Celica liked Alm as much as she did. But she pushed that thought down because Celica was her friend and had brought her along with them, despite Faye having nothing to offer her at the time. When she was lonely Celica had extended her hand and given her a chance to catch up with the others. It would have been ungrateful of her to fight with Celica over who deserved Alm more, so she just never brought it up.
But, in the end, Alm chose Celica.
Faye knew that they would make one another happy. The man she loved would be happy and her dear friend would be as well. So, she was happy for them… even if she didn’t want to remain in the same room as people cheered about the impending wedding.
A prince and a princess in hiding, both branded by fate. Separated by secrets and war, reunited and their destinies entwined. It’s like something out of a romance book with a happy ending just waiting to happen. Looking back, I… never really did have a chance, did I?
The soft crunching of snow underfoot came to a stop when that thought crossed her mind. Every single dream she had of a future with him had been rendered something that would be forever out of her reach. Bittersweet wishes that curdled around her heart like cruel fingers and began to crush it.
“Alm…” She couldn’t stop the stinging tears running down her cheeks as the cold slowly bit into her until she felt something warm and heavy drape her shoulders. The smooth, yet warm texture of a cloak. She opened her eyes and turned her head to see that Kliff was standing right behind her, keeping himself warm through the small, flickering flames that hovered around him.
Of all the people who could have found her, of course it would be him.
“I know what it’s like to want to get away from the crowd, so I thought I’d just make sure that you didn’t go too far from the castle,” he explained, rubbing the back of his neck. “Do you… want to talk about it?”
“…I know I should just be happy that we all made it out alive,” Faye told him through the tears. “After hearing everything that Gray, Tobin, and Alm went through, it was a miracle that they managed to survive for so long. For Alm to be willing to settle for a simple life with me after all of that would have been too much to hope for.”
“You’re probably right,” he told her bluntly, if not unkindly. It wasn’t in his nature to tell her otherwise when it would solve nothing. “But, even so, that hope carried you this far and you came out of it with something more than what you had going in. So the journey itself was rewarding, even if the conclusion wasn’t what you expected.”
He was right. Even if she hadn’t liked how much she had changed, she did come out of it with more than she had before. New friendships forged and old ones rekindled. The knowledge of magic and ability to mend wounds. If not for the love of her life choosing another, maybe she would see it as the silver lining for all the danger they faced.
Brushing her hair over her shoulders, Faye sniffed before asking, “Are… are you still going to leave now that the war is over?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I figured I’d go visit the Sage’s Hamlet for a little while to finish up learning what I can before heading out to the continent the Pegasus Sisters came from. From what they’ve told me there’s an interesting place that I want to check out since its right across the sea.”
Faye bit her lower lip as she looked down to the ground and then asked, “Do you… mind if I come along with you?”
“You mean you’re willing to take my offer?”
She nodded. “At least for a little while. If Ram really is still my home after everything we went through until now, then it won’t change even if I’m away for a little longer. Just long enough to see what it’ll be like, and if it… helps.”
“I can’t guarantee it’ll ease the pain you’re feeling,” he warned her. “And the path I’m taking, pursuing knowledge, isn’t going to be an easy one all the time. Are you really okay with that?”
“I am.” She brought her hand over her chest and closed her eyes before she answered him. “If I’m going to move on with my life and try to push past this pain… what better way to start than to go on a journey with the friend who always pushed me to accept change as a good thing and try to see where it leads?”
Kliff held his chin in thought before nodding. “If that’s what you want, then we’ll prepare as soon as morning comes. I’ll look forward to seeing how far we can take that talent of yours by the end.”
She sighed in relief. Maybe if she went along with him, time and distance would bury the dreams of first love that now taunted her. Maybe if she pushed herself into seeing what she was capable of, she’d find something she could cling to with pride. Maybe she’d be able to move on someday.
She had no guarantees. But she had to at least try.
“Thank you, Kliff,” Faye told him, a sincere smile on her face that was framed by the trail of her tears as she brought her arms around him and hugged him. “For everything.”
His response was to slowly, gently wrap his arms around her in turn as dancing flames wreathed them. “I’m the one who should thank you. You kept me safe even when I made mistakes and didn’t ask for anything in return. So, I won’t leave you alone, Faye. No matter what.”
The sky above the ocean at night was beautiful, as if looking upon thousands of glimmering diamonds scoured across a vast, ebony cloak.
As the ship chopped through the waves while guided by a gentle wind, Faye smiled as she raised her head and felt the breeze brush over her face. It wouldn’t be long now before they arrived in Zofia Harbor. Arrived back in Valentia.
Back in Ram Village.
It had been a little over two years now since she had left Ram, including the war. Two years spent away from the fields, sheep, and vineyards where their famous wine was brewed. Two years spent longing for that life once more, even though she had learned so much in her time away.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the village is like when we get back,” she said aloud, soft voice carried on the wind. “What about you?”
The question was directed to only other person on the deck of the ship, standing next to her against the wooden rail. “From what the others told us not much has changed, despite the fact that the King, Queen, and Chancellor of the kingdom all hailed from it. It sounds as boring as always.”
Kliff held the same opinion that he did when he set out. Even after two years he held no real desire to return, not out of malice but the fact that there was simply nothing to tie him down to the place. Ram was just too small for him. No place suited for a mind like his, brimming with curiosity and wanderlust.
“Well, I think boring sounds pretty good right about now,” Faye told him. “I think I’ve had enough excitement to last a lifetime after what happened in Thabes.”
The two of them had caught the boat from Zofia Harbor to Furia Harbor, whereupon they crossed the mountains and entered the Mamorthod Desert. It was there Kliff wanted to explore the ruins of the ancient capital of Thabes, much of its splendor long-lost to the sands of time. It was supposedly a grand kingdom at one time in the past, built by people who possessed great magical prowess.
Kliff wanted to explore the depths of the labyrinth inch-by-inch, in order to find anything left behind that wasn’t plundered by the Bandits, despite the powerful Terrors that occupied its halls. It was no wonder that many who sought to dive into it for treasures to sell didn’t come back up, and more than once Faye had to stop him from going too deeply into the depths. They took what they could, inspected it, and sold anything that wasn’t of magical or historical value to make ends meet.
From their time spent surveying the labyrinth, they discovered relics and knowledge of that ancient civilization, the remains of the soldiers wielding weapons that seemed almost beyond what could be found outside of those cursed halls. It was from these that they stumbled across a discovery about the spellcasters who ventured in along with the soldiers, that they possessed similar roles that the Clerics and Mages of their homeland did—including their methods of casting using their own vitality rather than the tomes that seemed commonplace on the foreign continent.
It was odd, Faye had to admit. The mystery only deepened when she and Kliff attempted to utilize these spells used by the ancient spellcasters and found they worked in unison with magics of their homeland—a spell to conjure illusionary Terrors for Kliff, one that could make magic near harmless against an ally and another to purge foreign substances from a body for Faye. Yet, it all became clear soon enough when the unexpected happened.
Alm arrived in Furia with a few others in tow—Tobin, Gray, Genny, Saber, Kamui, and a few other traveling companions among them. Apparently, Mila’s Turnwheel had a little of Mila’s power left and showed Celica a vision of the past, as well as a premonition of a future where a great dragon would emerge from the Thabes Labyrinth and lay waste to the world. As the wielder of the Kingsfang, Alm came end the threat before that came to pass, while Celica remained behind to run the country.
“To think that Duma was responsible for that place ending up that way,” Kliff muttered. “When I think back to that day, he seemed almost happy that man had grown strong enough to challenge him. So, it’s strange that he destroyed Thabes because he feared they had gotten so powerful.”
“He probably just changed,” Faye told her companion, earning his attention. “Just like we changed over the course of the war, he changed after fighting the other dragons and ending up in a new land. Living as long as dragons do, I think at some point he might have even looked back on what happened and wondered why he was being punished, so he decided to advised the people of his land to be strong in order to reach that point once more to find out. Then, somewhere along the way, he might have even started growing proud of them for adapting and surviving by their own merits, at least until his madness took root in the end.”
“…I suppose that’s possible,” Kliff conceded. “There’s no way to know for certain now that Duma’s gone. All that’s left is what we can find and rediscover. Hopefully that Luthier fellow won’t end up disturbing the labyrinth too much until I get back. There’s still a lot to discover there and I want to puzzle it all out before I move on.”
“I just hope they’ll be careful,” Faye said. She wasn’t familiar with the Sage who had accompanied Alm, but Kamui had opted to remain there as well under contract until Kliff returned. He was friendly enough when they traveled together. “Even though we defeated that thing at the bottom, Alm said he wasn’t sure if it was really dead.”
They had broken through the seal and discovered just how twisted the experiments of the demon alchemist had been. Those stone-masked corpses were strong enough to challenge them every step of the way down, forcing them to repurpose some of the equipment and techniques they found wielded by the soldiers sent to subdue Forneus along the way. Then they came face-to-face with his Creation and it proved to be as difficult a battle as a maddened Duma, if not more so. For good measure they made sure to re-seal the entrance, but the magic used to create it was something old and lost to the ages, meaning they might have made a mistake.
“Well, that’s part of why I’m heading back now,” Kliff said, sighing. “I couldn’t exactly refuse a friend’s request, more so when he’s technically my King.”
Given that they had done most of the research into the labyrinth so far, Alm wanted them to come back to the kingdom and help compile it. In the future they would dedicate an entire team to go overseas and look into dealing with the potential threat it posed for the future, but for now their options were limited. He had also requested that Faye teach the spells she learned to suitable members of the combined Mila and Duma faithful, given how useful they could be.
Kliff clearly intended to do his part before heading back. He’d explore and obtain as much information as he could on the ancient civilization until he had his fill. Then he’d move on to travel more of the world and learn more—which left Faye conflicted.
Despite everything, she really had enjoyed the time they spent together since the war ended. The nights they spent in a tent in the quiet desert, a fire some distance away while they sat close to one another for warmth and light as they saw the stars of a different sky. The times they spent at the harbor town haggling for a decent price on the treasures they sold, the taste of cultures and lands unknown on their tongues as exotic foods flowed through the port.
It had actually been enjoyable. More so because he was with her. But she also missed her home, even if the fears and pain born from the end of the war still lingered in the back of her mind. Subdued, but not gone entirely.
Lost in the thought of choosing one or the other, she didn’t even notice when his hands slipped around her from behind. Not until he pulled her close to him. He had gotten taller than her in the time they’d spent away, so she ended up nestled against him while draped in the robes he wore.
“H-Hey, what are you doing?” she asked, surprised and blushing. “It’s not that cold!”
“You had that look on your face that said you were thinking about something difficult,” he said, his tone soft and kind. “You can’t decide on whether you’ll stay with me or stay in the village, right?”
Faye turned her body and found his eyes close to her own. Staring. His breath washing against her skin, warm and pleasant like mint. She let go of the tension threading her body and answered. “I’m not going to ask you to stay with me. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”
She would like for him to stay with her in the village to have the best of both worlds, but she knew that his desire for knowledge was too strong and his wanderlust too great. Even if he didn’t somehow resent her for making him choose, she’d resent herself for trying to force him to do so since she actually found that part of him to be the catalyst for so many good things that happened to her since leaving the village. She didn’t want to smother that side of him to keep him with her all the time, just to ease her loneliness and heart.
“I appreciate the thought, but I have different proposal,” he said wryly before he guided his hands down to hers, weaving something cool and metallic into her palms. “Tell me what you think of it.”
She raised her hands and peered down to see that it was a simple wedding band. Not extravagant, like the outfit he had tailored for her based off the pictographs found in the labyrinth after her Saint vestments had suffered too many rips and tears from the constant ventures into the place. Her mind froze and she began fumbling over her words, trying to string them together while her heart began pounding in her chest with a mixture of confusion and excitement. “…This is… me and you?”
“I can’t see myself giving up traveling and learning to settle down for good,” he confessed, still holding her close. “But that doesn’t mean I want to deny you your own happiness, Faye. Let this be a promise between us that you will never be alone, because no matter how far away I go, I’ll always come back to you with something new to share.”
So rather than forcing her to choose between a home and a husband, it was his way of offering both. It was a promise that though they would be parted at times, they would always be reunited.
Faye felt her eyes stinging before she realized she had begun to shed tears once more. Just like on that snowy night, being comforted in this same manner—only this time they were tears of joy.
She tried to speak but found that her voice was too hoarse to put words to the swelling in her heart. So instead she brought her lips to his while in the embrace of his arms, to seal her own vow of devotion where words failed her. If he would always return to her side, then she would always have a home for him to return to.
So that he could rest between his travels and know the comforts of a place where he belonged, with a family who would be waiting for him.
Faye returned to Ram Village after her obligations were fulfilled and, to her great joy, found that her fears were unfounded as she was greeted by the gates with warm welcomes all around. There she settled into a modest life, acting as the village’s healer when needed despite being bestowed the title of an Exemplar by the combined faithful church for her contributions to their practices. The villagers who knew her best would note that she was always happiest when her husband returned from a long journey and shared with their family his adventurous tales.
Kliff continued to travel and broaden his horizons, seeking to attain as much knowledge as he could. A seeker of truth who became known as a Guru of great renown, it was said that no matter how far he travelled he always returned to a small village hidden at the edge of the Kingdom of Valentia. Sometime later his son would serve the crown on behalf of his father, boasting a tremendous gift for magic that would contribute to the greatness of the One Kingdom for generations to come.
Well, this was a fun little side-project. I was partly inspired by one of the best Faye-centric fanfics called A Road Less Travelled by Pureauthor and a picture of Kliff and Faye hugging on Tumblr.
In this particular AU, Celica recruited Kliff and Faye so the two of them had an exclusive support line with one another given that they are familiar with one another. Kliff is attentive enough to piece together Faye’s insecurities and her talent, but its only after she rescues him that he opens up and tries to get her to see that the future she has in mind might not come around so she doesn’t end up crushed learning it later. Since Faye is familiar with Kliff, she wouldn’t brush him off like a stranger and would be a lot more honest and comfortable around him, helping her cope with her heartbreak faster.
I tried to take into account that both of them rivaled the other spellcasters who are formerly trained as due to both of them being naturally suited to their magic and their Overclasses are also tied into coming from recreating the magic of ancient Thabes based on what they find.