Ch 11, part 1
"Dark Skies over Palamecia" – a Final Fantasy II retelling
Disclaimer: Square Enix owns Final Fantasy II and all FFII characters featured within. Original characters and interpretations are owned by the co-writers of this fan fiction. There is no profit being made from this story.
CHAPTER ELEVEN BEGINS
Minwu was worried after two days passed and he hadn't heard anything from his student. He could sense that her spirit was still alive, though he did hope that she would appear before him and allow him to know that she was all right in her own words, in her own voice. He missed her terribly as he studied all of the books that Lady Airu had brought him when she had the chance.
Eventually, when Minwu had finished eating a loaf of bread Airu gave him, the one he found standing before him wasn't either of the ladies. It was Mateus.
"…I didn't expect to see you," Minwu said, making the page in the book he was reading so he could put it down. "Do you need to speak with me?"
"I do," the Emperor replied coldly. "I thought perhaps keeping you alive would temper your student's anger into something a bit more useful, but, alas, the poor girl has done nothing but resist me since she came with me two days ago." He walked closer to the mage, giving off a very imposing aura. "Cantirena loves you so much that she refused my gifts and affection. She loves you so much she decided the best thing would be for her to die instead of betray what she believes to be a promise she made to you."
"…she isn't dead. Don't lie to me," Minwu snapped. "I've had enough of your manipulation."
"I'm not manipulating you," Mateus lied. "I'm telling you the truth. Cantirena is not dead, however, she will die if something is not done."
"And what is it that you expect me to do?" Minwu asked. "You want me to die in her place, or perhaps you'd have me convince her that she needs to give you what you want? Your mother tried that approach, and it's very clear that while she left with you, her heart was not going to give up. Cantirena is a stubborn girl. She always has been since I met her." He shook his head. He had to concentrate on figuring out how to make a crystal. All Mateus was doing was distracting him. He believed Cantirena was just fine, and that the Emperor was trying to fool him into doing some stupid errand or some other not-important thing.
"You do not believe me that she is willing to kill herself to preserve her promise to you? Does this not make you feel somewhat… guilty?"
"I don't believe word that comes out of your pretty purple mouth," Minwu said, standing up. "Your silken tongue will not deceive me, Mateus." He shook his head. "If… if my student truly believes the only way to carry on is to take her own life, then so be it. It is her choice. I love her more than the world, the sky, the stars, or anything else, but she has the right to do as she wishes. I will not interfere in her will."
"She is the progeny of the Goddess, after all," Mateus said quietly, nodding in agreement. "But look at the expression of worry on your face. Your heart aches for her, does it not? You do love her. Help me save her."
"…so you can kill me at the last moment and take her for yourself."
"No. It's not like that."
"But it is."
"Do you honestly think I would beseech you like this if I did not care for Cantirena's safety and wellbeing?" Mateus asked. "I can have any bride in the world!"
"…except the one you want, of course."
Mateus glared at Minwu. How dare he speak so candidly to the One True Emperor! "I would be more careful in how you speak to me, mage. Cantirena is not here to save you with her Mighty Guard."
"I figure if you wanted me dead, you would have struck me down all ready," Minwu said, looking back down at his book. He was so tired of putting on airs.
"I do not wish anyone dead," Mateus said, "Though I will not tolerate insolence. I am the Emperor of Palamecia. You stand within my palace, which was built in my lands, lest you forget. You may speak candidly, but not disrespectfully."
"…fair enough," Minwu muttered. "So, what's the real reason you came to see me, Your Majesty?"
"I have come to tell you that Cantirena is indeed in danger, and because of Palamecian law, I cannot do anything to stop it," the Emperor explained.
Minwu almost laughed. "Not like following your country's constitution has ever been your strong point…"
Mateus gave him another death glare.
"…Your Majesty," the mage coughed.
"Cantirena has decided to compete in the tournament which shall take place in five days to celebrate my mother's birthday. Based on the laws established for previous tournaments in the past, once she's decided to take part, I cannot remove her from it," Mateus said. "I do not wish her to die."
"Why did she decide to compete?" Minwu asked. "…did you tell her something?"
"No," Mateus lied again. "She was asking why there was a shipment of weapons coming into the castle since I declared the war over, and… I told her about the upcoming tournament. She decided right then that she wanted to take part in it. I could not persuade her otherwise."
Minwu frowned. "The tournament?" he asked suspiciously. "What… are the rules? Why would she even want to fight? She… she is a healer first and foremost, and even Cantirena is aware of this, as we've spoken of it. This does not make any sense at all!" He put the book down. "You told her something. You tricked her into wanting to join that tournament, didn't you?"
"Cantirena stands no chance," Mateus said. "It's not just humans who fight in this tournament."
"There are monsters, brought from the caves under the castle," Mateus continued. "If she wants to make it out alive, she will have to win. To win, she will have to defeat a Behemoth on her own. I do not believe her powers are focused enough to fight such a beast. She does not have the experience for it, I am quite positive."
Minwu sighed. "Do you want me to train her? Do you want me to take her place, perhaps?"
"The rules of this tournament forbid either of those options."
"How is it a tournament if not all involved are actually contestants? A Behemoth cannot compete, as it is not sentient enough to make the decision to fight! It fights because that is all it knows how to do. That is a monster's nature… It's what separates us from the monsters. You've thrown her into a gladiatorial arena, haven't you? You wish to make her fight for your amusement! This is no tournament!" Minwu said angrily. "You've wanted to get me emotionally riled up since you stepped in here. Well now you've done it. Tell me the truth. What did Cantirena join the tournament for? What reason did she give you?!"
"…she wants to make her dream come true, and as per the rules of the tournament, if she wins, then I must grant her any prize she asks for," Mateus said quietly. "She told me straight to my face that she would compete to win freedom for the both of you, because if she wins, I would have no choice but to set the two of you free and no longer be allowed to come between the two of you. I tried to convince her that it wasn't the safest idea, but… Minwu, she loves you, but that love is going to get her killed."
"And what am I supposed to do about it?!" Minwu yelled. "You won't let me train her, you won't let me take her place, and I'm guessing I'm not even allowed to see her right now. You said she wanted to die. I knew you were a lying sack of bones."
"No, I'm quite sure she wants to die," Mateus continued. "She doesn't have the will to fight back. Her eyes were empty when I took her away. She didn't pose any sort of resistance, and it wasn't until the conversation about the tournament even came up that she even had any emotional reaction to anything. Minwu, she'd rather die than break her promise to be with you. She'd rather die than be with me instead of you."
"…I told her to wait it out…" Minwu said. "I told her to give me time…"
"I suppose if you wanted a loophole out of this problem… you'd take it, wouldn't you?"
"…I knew it. You're after something."
"Minwu. If you wish to buy your student's freedom from this terrible despair, now would be the time to make a barter, wouldn't you agree? I will not be here once the official training begins for the tournament. I won't be near the castle. You can suffer in silence alone, or you can try to fix this and save the woman who loves you more than she's ever loved anything – the way you love her, if I'm not mistaken," Mateus smiled.
"…what do you want? What does it take? When will you stop playing with us like we're your dolls?!"
"Why don't you double your odds of survival?" Mateus asked gently. "You should also enter."
"That doesn't make any sense. We could be pit against each other to fight to the death! That would be incredibly counterproductive, don't you think?!"
"…I take it that means 'no'. Very well, my lovely royal mage. Just know that I will be leaving this evening, and by then, it will be too late to do anything about this," Mateus said, shrugging. He started to leave.
"If Cantirena wants to fight to free us both…" Minwu said, "Then… I have to believe in her. It would do no good to anyone to doubt her. Cantirena is my student, and the one my heart treasures most. She can defeat anything you pit her against, Mateus." He picked the book back up and smiled. "She won't die in the arena. She's too stubborn for that. Cantirena knows what she's doing. I have to believe in that."
"Amusing. Still. When it starts, you will have front row seats to the action, if you'd like."
"I wouldn't pass it up," Minwu said proudly. "It'll be the most spectacular graduation ceremony ever arranged, Your Majesty. What kind of teacher would I be if I did not attend such an occasion?"