By the time they had returned to Gridania, the city was in full celebration. All across Eorzea Operation Archon had been a success. Incredibly, the Black Wolf, Gaius van Belsar had been killed! The most powerful person in the Empire next to the Emperor himself! This was a blow that would throw the Imperial forces in Eorzea into disarray. It was a boost the whole land had needed.
There was music and dancing in the streets. People cheered and thanked those who gone off to fight. Drinks flowed freely. For a short time it was easy to join in the festivities and enjoy being treated like heroes.
Though not everyone had been celebrating. Many had lost loved ones and found it difficult to feel any sort of elation. Even among those who were celebrating, there wakes and toasts to ones who had been lost. The Tregardes had been passing through MMM when they heard one such toast to The Mighty Buffalo.
Moire let out a hmph. “It’s not fair. They celebrate a stupid jerk who got himself killed, and nobody acknowledges the hero who brought us victory.”
Katarina looked at the group. “Nope, not fair at all. Hells, I don’t recognize a single one of them, I doubt any of them were there to see how his ‘glorious’ charge ended.”
Luludja turned to the table and rose her voice harshly, “hey, dimwits, if you’re going to worship a ‘hero’, find one who wasn’t a total arse who threatens to ra-”
Kat had grabbed Ludja by the shoulders and pulled her away. Moire flashed an innocent smile and waved at the people were staring at them as they exited MM’s. “Bloody hells, Lu,” Kat said, “what is this grudge you have against him?”
Ludja pulled her shoulders free and glowered, “don’t want to talk about it now.”
“If not now, when?”
Ludja looked away.
Moire placed her hand on Ludja’s shoulder, “something’s bothering you. Maybe we can help if-”
Ludja rounded on Moire with hatred in her eyes, “You want to know? Because what he said was the same thing the man who-” Ludja stopped herself and shut her eyes tightly.
The twins were at first taken aback by Ludja’s outburst, but the meaning behind her unfinished sentence hit them like a blow to the gut. “Twelve...” Kat muttered under her breath.
Moire stammered, “Lu... I... we had no idea... is there anything we...”
A pair of tears slid down Ludja’s face. She spun around, then walked off at a brisk pace towards the Badger Bridge.
“Lu, wait,” Moire called out and started to chase after, but Kat held her back and shook her head when Mo looked at her. Moire relented and let out a deep sigh.
After a minute they followed Ludja’s path and before long found her sitting on the edge of the lake. Kat indicated Mo should stay put then walked over and sat beside Ludja.
“Trina, I’m really not up to talking right now.”
“That’s fine. Didn’t come here to talk,” Kat said as she wrapped her arm around Ludja’s shoulder.
“Shut up. No talking.”
Ludja was unsure what to do. But Kat wasn’t demanding anything, just... holding her. She soon let out a deep sigh and allowed herself to slump into the embrace.
Moire watched and quickly caught on to what was going on. It was sometimes hard for the bard to realize when silence was the best option. She moved over to the other side of Ludja and silently placed her arm around her cousin. The three sat there like that for several minutes while Ludja shed tears and let her emotions run their course. Eventually she raised her head up and wiped her face.
“Feel better?” Moire asked.
“Enough that I’m not going to bite someone’s head off.”
“Want to tell us what this is all about?” Katarina asked. “It’s alright if you don’t.”
“Want to? No,” Ludja shook her head. “But I think it’s about time I did.”
Moire asked, “you sure?”
Luludja nodded. “Yeah. I don’t think I can keep it pent up anymore.” Ludja had spent much of the past several minutes thinking about whether she wanted to say anything, and then what to say once she was sure she had to speak. She took a deep breath while the twins waited for her to start. After steadying herself, she began.
“First, I’d like to say I do not hate either of you. Honestly, I’m glad you had each other to watch out for the other. But as you know, those first moons after the Calamity were rough, especially for someone who had no home, no money, nothing but the clothes she was wearing. I didn’t have someone to look after me. And when you’re just one more refugee, alone, tired, and hungry, and ‘oh so pretty’-”
There was a slight pause, long enough for the twins to realize what they heard. Someone who didn’t know Ludja might have thought she had done a bad impression of Buffalo. But they knew Ludja, they knew she could have imitated him a lot better. No, this was someone else, someone whose voice was was seared into her memory. But there was just enough similarity to Buffalo that it must have brought back things she’d rather forget when he said it.
“- well, you do what you must to survive.”
Katarina shook her head, “no one should be forced to do that just to survive.”
“How...” Moire was at a loss for words, “how long did it go on?”
Ludja shrugged. “If you were to mark the days on a calendar, not long. But...”
Kat muttered, “even one moment is one moment too many.”
Ludja nodded and wiped under her eyes. Moire tilted her head to rest the side against Ludja’s shoulder, “then what happened?”
“It didn’t take long to notice that he liked to drink himself senseless at night. A little encouragement and he would pass out before...” Ludja didn’t need to finish the sentence, the twins understood what she meant. “Actually, I was surprised none of the other girls had tried that. Oh yeah, there were three other girls. Anyroad, it wasn’t difficult to figure out his habits and to use them to my advantage. Before long I learned where he kept the money and valuables. All I had to do then was get the combination, which proved surprisingly easy. Once I had that I made sure that night to get him just drunk enough to tie him down without a struggle. Then I went to the kitchen and got the sharpest knife. Then I waited for the booze to wear off enough that he was aware what was happening, I wanted him to know. Then I slit his throat. It was almost funny watching him try to yell while his life bled out.”
Moire and Katarina were no strangers to killing, defending one self or others in the heat of battle is one thing, but what Ludja described was cold blooded murder. They both felt a little shock that their cousin could be capable of such. But at the same time, were either of them in her position, would they have acted any different?
“So after making sure I was the last thing he ever saw, I went to the safe and emptied it. Then I gave a share to each of the other girls. Of course they were shocked to learn what I had done, but they weren’t going to turn down a chance at freedom. Except one,” Ludja let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. “Stupid twit actually ran to his room and tried to save him. Why? He treated her the worst of all of us, and she tried to save him. I just don’t get it.”
Moire said quietly, “some people are so afraid of loss they will latch on to any sense of stability, even if it’s a false one.”
“It’s bloody stupid.” Ludja wiped at her eyes and composed herself before continuing. “Had to drag the idiot out before the flames took her with him. Gods, it felt good watching that place burn.”
“I can only imagine,” Kat half whispered.
“So, after that, I had enough to survive in comfort for a while. Traveled a bit, looking for a place to fit in, then lo and behold I did,” Ludja patted a knee of each sister. “You know the rest.”
There was a moment of silence before Moire said quietly, “I knew there was something different about you, but I never guessed...”
“You weren’t supposed to,” Ludja replied plainly.
“That you actually kept your wits about you like that...” Kat shook her head, “that’s damn impressive. Don’t know if I could have.”
Moire lifted her head. “You’d have broken the jaw of the jerk for just soliciting you then looked at a few nights in prison as worth it.”
Luludja let out a faint chuckle. “I just hope neither of you are ever in a position of such desperation to test that.”
Katarina give Ludja a quick hug then asked, “do you know what happened to any of the other girls?”
“One found new employment doing, well, much the same. But under much better work conditions. She’s actually doing pretty good now. The others, no idea. I imagine the twit found some new arse to abuse her and confuse it for love.”
Moire sighed. “It can be difficult to help someone who doesn’t even realize she needs help.”
There was another moment of silence, then Ludja planted her feet and stood up. “Alright, enough moping. There’s a celebration over there,” she pointed at Gridania, “and we’re bloody war heroes! So lets get back in there and act like it!”
The two were stunned by this sudden shift for a second, then Moire hopped up, “I like this plan!”
Katarina stood up. “You sure you’re up to this?”
Ludja planted her hands on her hips and glared at Kat, “you think I would have suggested it if I wasn’t?”
“I think you might be trying to forget about it.”
“Of course I am,” Ludja said bluntly. “But one night of fun isn’t going to make it go away. Nothing will. But right now I want to celebrate kicking the Empire’s ass. And if tomorrow I feel like crying my eyes out, then I’m not going to hold it in any longer.”
Kat blinked a couple times, then nodded, “deal.”
Moire pulled the other two into a group hug, “and if you need a shoulder, you got us.”
“Counting on it,” Ludja said over Moire’s head.
“Buuuut first, mind if we make a little detour first?”
“You just said ‘first’ twice,” Kat pointed out.
“Did I? Heh, I guess I did,” Moire chuckled.
Ludja humphed. “Fine, detour first. But better be worth it.”
A short walk later the trio found themselves in a graveyard. The most notable feature was the number of freshly dug graves. The three were not the only ones there, but one visitor in particular stood out. “Jalaxio,” Moire chimed up cheerfully and sped up to greet the sylph.
“You all came!” Jalaxio did a pirouette. “This one is so happy to see you all again.”
“What in blazes are you doing here?” Kat asked as she approached. “I thought you went home because it was too noisy here.”
“This one did go home. But this one came back to say goodbye,” the sylph looked down at a gravestone with the name Seseparu engraved on it. “And it’s not too too noisy here here, but a lot of people keep staring at this one.”
“Well, sylphs are kinda rare near the city.”
Luludja glanced sidelong at Moire, “you knew he’d be here, didn’t you?”
Moire turned her eyes skyward, “I miiiight have sent word to Little Solace.”
Ludja looked to Jalaxio, “Good to see you again, cabbage.”
The group let out a quiet chuckle, then by some silent signal they gathered around Seseparu’s resting place. Katarina knelt down and placed her hand on the tombstone. “Well, friend, brief though we knew you, you made an impact on us all. Thanks to you many lives came back that would have been lost; not least of all, my own.”
“If he’s watching, I know he’d be glad to know his friends made it back.” The group turned to see the Master Sergeant. He was dressed in regular clothes, an arm in a sling, but they had no trouble recognizing his presence.
“Yay! More came,” exclaimed Jalaxio.
Moire stood straight and saluted, “Good afternoon, Master Sergeant sir!”
The Master Sergeant waved her down, “at ease, we’re not on duty.”
“What brings you out this way? Besides the obvious,” Ludja waved a hand around the graveyard.
“The same as you, to say goodbye to a friend.”
Katarina stood up. “You seem to have known him for some time, what was his story?”
The Sergeant paused for a moment. “How much did he tell you?”
Moire shrugged, “nothing, really.”
Ludja nodded, “the best we got when asked was he said he might feel like telling his story, someday. Got the feeling that ‘someday’ would be a long way off.”
The Sergeant let out a sigh, “then it’s not my story to tell, sorry.”
“Awww...” Jalaxio was saddened.
Katarina crossed her arms. “We can make some educated guesses. First, there was the fact that he knew exactly how to sabotage a warmachina.”
Moire nodded, “he knew a lot about Garlean tactics.”
“And then there was his accent,” said Ludja. “It was faint, but you could hear it if you paid attention.”
“He was a Garlean defector, wasn’t he,” Kat said, more as a statement than a question.
Jalaxio did a double-take, “what? He was?”
The Master Sergeant narrowed his eyes and looked at the Tregardes while he thought. In the end he relented, “fine, but I’m only saying this to stop you from digging for answers where you shouldn’t. It goes no further, understood?”
The Sergeant waited for everyone to agree before continuing. “You are half right, he was an Imperial defector, not Garlean,” he stressed the words to make sure they understood the difference. “He originated from one of their outer provinces. He came here as a spy, but over time saw we weren’t the ‘savages’ the Empire likes to portray us as. He saw that we wanted to stop the Primals too, and that an alliance would have been more productive. When he learned about the Meteor Project and its goal of slamming a moon on Eorzea to wipe out the whole continent, he couldn’t abide such senseless destruction. So he came to our side to try and stop it. After Carteneau, there was no way he could return.”
He gave a moment for what he said to sink in. “Of course ‘Seseparu’ wasn’t his real name, but it’s the only name you’ll get from me. Ask around and you may learn about a mercenary who specialized in covert operations. If you’re smart, you won’t ask around.”
“Understood loud and clear, Sarge,” Kat said with a nod.
“Wow,” Moire half whispered with astonishment. “To give up his home, maybe even family, and fight against his former countrymen... and this is all he gets,” she looked down at the tombstone.
Ludja sighed, “It’s more than some get.”
“It’s sad,” said Jalaxio. “He saved so many, he deserves better.”
Katarina thought of the moment when she was sure her life was over. ‘No unnecessary heroics,’ the lalafell had said, not long before she had raised her shield to protect others. She wasn’t trying to be heroic, the thought wasn’t anywhere near her mind, only the necessity of what she was doing. “He didn’t do it for recognition, he didn’t want fame or any of that; he did it because it had to be done. The ones who wanted to be heroes got themselves killed before the fighting even started.”
“Still, maybe I’ll write a song,” Moire said, then looked to the Master Sergeant. “I’ll omit certain details! Maybe... just make him the ‘mysterious lalafell’ who saves the day.”
Jalaxio brightened up, “I want to hear it!”
“Give me time to write it first!”
The Sergeant rubbed the bridge of his nose, “Gods give me strength.”
“Welcome to life with Moire,” said Ludja.
Katarina shook her head, then looked to elezen. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure if I’ve even heard your name. It’s always been ‘sergeant’ or ‘master sergeant.’”
“That’s a mouth full,” exclaimed Moire.
“Vandoo... Vamda...” Jalaxio stammered, then lowered his head in defeat.
Katarina chimed, “Sarge it is.”
“Well,” Ludja said, “as enjoyable as these pleasantries are, I do believe we have a celebration to return to. Let us wish our friend here well as he returns to the Lifestream, as I am certain he wouldn’t want us mourning over him for long.”
“Quite true,” the Sergeant agreed.
After paying their respects, the group made their way to exit the graveyard. They said farewells to Jalaxio as he went east to return to his village, Moire promising to visit soon. Then the rest made their way to Gridania. The Sergeant asked, “any of you planning to joining the Adders formally?”
The Tregardes glanced at each other before Katarina replied, “that’s... not an easy answer. It’s something each of us will have to think about.”
“We have tasted victory, and it is both bitter and sweet,” said Moire poetically, “and it takes someone with a strong stomach to take a sip a second time.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, then Katarina elbowed her sister, “Hey! Was that a dig at me?”
Moire snickered then rubbed her side, “ow.”
Ludja glanced at the Sergeant, “you sure you want these two in the Adders?”
“The Empire won’t stay away for long,” he said. “And when they come, we’ll need every hand we can get.”
“Well, they are not coming tonight. So for now, we celebrate!” Katarina raised her voice, as if leading a charge.
“Come on,” Ludja waved at the Sergeant, “first round’s on us.”