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Traitor's Price

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The moon hangs low in Baron, pale and sober and true. It is early nightfall when Ramza passes through the castle gate, his sister twelve steps behind. Baron's towers are spired as they are in Ivalice, but their points seem to scratch at something higher.

A simple-dressed squire leads him into the antechamber with slender hands. Their shadows come alive in the firelight, the torches whispering in strange, uncertain tongues.

Standing by the fireside is a man with hair spun like moonlight and worry carved deep into his face. He is very young, young as Delita. "Hail traveler," he says without moving, eyes following the embroidered lines on Ramza's tunic. "Have you either purpose or name?"

"I am called Ramza, a squire. I can offer my sword, humble though it may be, in exchange for home and hearth, and peace for my sister." He does not bow.

"Baron is always in need of knights." The king considers. "Are you willing to swear loyalty to our cause?"

"Beg pardon, milord," Ramza replies, "but I've had enough of causes. I'll protect men and women, their homes and livelihood. People—I'll swear to that."

Cecil laughs. "You're a wiser man than I, then. Fetch your sister, bring her in from the cold—I'm sure we can come to some arrangement in the morning. Welcome to Baron."

"My thanks." The two shake hands as equals before Ramza moves towards the door.

The king stares into the fire, strange green eyes picking up something unearthly in the sparks.

"Ah, Lord Cecil? Is there something wrong?" Ramza asks.

"Oh no, it's nothing." He pauses. "I am glad to have you, truly." Cecil presses a gloved hand close to his chest and sighs. "It's just that I have been waiting for someone else."

***

Delita appears without armor or crown, his eyes grown used to the darkness. The tome in his is hands leather-bound, sacred— written in that High Tongue Kain has never tried to understand. "Take this, hide it. I wish ne'er to see it again, but it must not be lost." The king speaks quickly. "The church would burn it with its author, but I— the devil take me— I cannot bear to see it destroyed."

"You would have me play the heretic, milord?"

"No. I'd have you guard the truth. Thou hast ever served me faithful. There is no one in this wretched kingdom I'd trust with more."

"Then I shall obey you in this as well." Kain takes the book and kneels, long and low and silent.

Ten years ago he appeared at the gate of Lesalia, the midnight blue of his armor pressed deep to the stone castle-steps. Come from a nameless land to give his oath anew, Kain Highwind pledged his fealty to the hero king. His banner was tattered beyond recognition, the streams of crimson rising like old prayers through the sky.

"I do not know what I have done to earn the loyalty of such a man as yourself," Delita muses, common words from a common mouth. "You, Kain, are neither blind nor fool. You must see me for what I am."

"I serve because of what I am. Because once, long ago, I did not."

Delita sees through him then, the way he sees through dukes and demons, past blood and bone to the hungers underneath. All the king's own ghosts come to him like fireworks—his wife, his sister, every cause he planned to die for, each unquiet glory that stains his still-calloused hands. And Ramza, always Ramza, like light shining through glass.

"Just think of all that you have won," Delita says. "Just think of that."

Kain makes no response. Fiends still whisper in his ears, almost louder than his loss.