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Win Some Lose Some

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The screaming was so loud it rattled the walls of the tiny one room cottage. A shadow intermittently darkened one of the windows as the expectant father paced outside. The space was too small to have his nervous energy ruining the atmosphere, thus Garalona had barred him from the entirety of the proceedings. The lavender incense burning on the mantle helped very little as it was.


"Just a little more, luv," Garalona said. "Yer doin' great."


She wished she could remember the young Elezen woman's name. Odds were even that it ended in -ette or -elle, but she didn't care to gamble on a guess. It hardly mattered now that she could see the baby's head crowning. Luv would suffice.


"C'mon now," Garalona urged. "Give me one last big push, luv!"


The young mother-to-be shrieked like a banshee, her fists balled around the bedsheets. The tiny baby slid easily into Garalona's waiting hands, and with it came far, far too much blood. Garalona stood up just as the young mother, her face ashen, whimpered and collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut.


"Oh no you don't," Garalona hissed. Cradling the newborn infant in one arm, she reached a blood stained hand out to the woman. Focusing on the smell of the incense, she said the words that beseeched the Elementals of the Twelveswood to hear and answer.


The cramped cottage faded away. The smell of blood faded away.

Everything that did not matter faded away. All that remained was Garalona, her bloodied hand on the woman's forehead, and the forest.


Sun shone through the tree branches surrounding them. The leaves rustled in a faint breeze. The same breeze gently stirred Garalona's greying hair.


The wind said, "No."


There could be no arguing, nor any appeal. The answer was simply no.


In another instant, Garalona was back in the cottage, her hand on a dead woman's forehead. She muttered a curse under her breath and turned her attention to the baby. It—no, he—was too quiet.


The entreaty and refusal had taken a matter of moments. One was lost, but she still had time to save the other. Grabbing a bulb syringe off the nearby table, she suctioned fluid from the baby's mouth and flipped him over. She gave the child a firm pat, eliciting a tiny cough, followed by a shrill cry of outrage.


Sighing with relief, Garalona sat back in her chair. She was drenched in blood. The baby's father, thankfully, had obeyed her instructions to not enter under any circumstances, which gave her time to clean up a bit.


She started by covering the mother's body.




After the worst of the blood was scrubbed away and the baby was soundly asleep, Garalona—in fresh clothes, naturally—stepped outside. The light of day was fading, making the woods look as though they had been set ablaze.


She handed the tightly swaddled infant to his father, who uttered a choked sound caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob.


"It's a boy," Garalona said. Her hands free, she was finally able to withdraw the flask from the pocket of her work apron.


"And Colette?"


Caught in the middle of unscrewing the flask cap, Garalona's brows raised. Colette wouldn't have been her first guess. She took a large pull off the flask and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I did all I could, but the Elementals..."


She trailed off, expecting rage, denial, or worse. She didn't expect the widower to sniffle and nod while stroking the thin wisps of hair on the baby's head.


"Red hair," he muttered. The baby opened his eyes, looking mildly annoyed at the disturbance. "Fitting, I suppose." He sniffed hard and reached a hand up to wipe his eyes.


Garalona said nothing. She offered her flask out to the widower. He accepted, took a modest sip, and handed it back. She gently pushed it away. The widower nodded his thanks, took a much larger drink, and sighed.


"You're a Conjurer," he said. "Even if you didn't grow up here, you know how it is in these woods."


"Aye." Garalona stepped closer and gently took the baby back, leaving the widower with the flask, his grief, and his story.


"Colette had... issues when she was younger. She liked fire. Like starting it, I should say. She never meant to hurt people, she just liked to watch things burn. Parchment, leaves, harmless things, mostly. But... well, one time it got out of control."


Garalona focused on the baby's sleeping, blameless face. "Fire tends to do that, given the chance."


"It was bad," the widower said. "Quite bad." He rubbed the back of his head. "But that was a long time ago. The forest healed. And the people healed, too. Only three died, you see. Ah, and eight chocobos."


Garalona said nothing. She looked at the small clearing the cottage was nestled within. They were a long way from the nearest village, and she was a midwife summoned from outside of the Shroud entirely. The people had not forgotten—nor, of course, had the Elementals.


The widower took another drink. He did not hold his liquor well, and Garalona had good whiskey in the flask. Good, expensive whiskey. His face was already red. "Y'know," he said. "I read somewhere that forest fires are actually a good thing every now and then. Indeed! They... They help things along... Encourage new growth..."


The baby fussed a little. Garalona murmured and rocked him until he dozed again.


"But anyway," the widower turned back to Garalona, looking embarrassed. "After all that happened, Colette learned her lesson. Truly, she did! Gods' sakes, she even made me light the stove, just to be safe! I thought maybe... I thought... I... She... We..." He pressed the flask to his face and began to cry.


Garalona stepped forward again. She reached a hand out as if to pat the widower's back, hesitated, and then pried the flask from his hand instead.


She pressed the infant into the man's chest, then wrenched his unresisting arms into the correct position for holding the tiny package. The child looked just as confused as his father about the transfer.


"I need to send for a wet nurse," Garalona said, brandishing the flask at the widower like a weapon. "And you need to name the boy."


"Flambeaux," the widower said without thinking, tears still glistening on his cheeks.


"A bit perverse, all things considered," Garalona sighed. "But who am I to judge?"


"No," the widower said, his face set. "Colette would like it."


Garalona just nodded and turned away to tend to business. What happened before she came into these people's lives was none of her business, nor was what happened after, but she would see to it that they were well taken care of in the meantime.


And life would go on.

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