runiclore: (Suikoden - Destroyer (Sarah))
[personal profile] runiclore
Title: Turn Back Time
Author: Myaru
Game: Suikoden III
Characters: Sarah, a bunch of OCs
Word count: 5036
Theme/Inspiration: my own guilt. >_>

Notes: I'm so sorry your lazy friend is writing this, Rey. She doesn't edit, she doesn't even bother to read over the entire thing when she's done... and she sure as hell didn't check her canon facts! I mean. Seriously.



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"Your consonants need to be softer," Sarah's tutor said, twisting an ebonwood pen in her fingers. The cap was on; they didn't need to write anything down for these diction lessons, but the two days they'd been together had proven Belinda always needed something to do with her hands. Paper to rifle, pens to twist or spin, a spoon to stir with. She was restless as the wind.

Maybe that accounted for why Sarah liked her: a misfortune waiting to happen, a complication neither of them needed. What if circumstances forced them into opposing roles? What if one of them got caught in Party business and snitched on the others? Or what if she didn't snitch, and Sarah had to hold herself back, not save her, though she knew the fate of traitors in Harmonia? Her sponsor back west had spoken of that. There is a reason we know so few of our allies; if the chain breaks, if you break, only a few agents will be sacrificed, and the remaining links will heal themselves, put the chain back together, continue the Party's work. That was Adelinda. Calm, unfeeling, she saw the big picture and ignored the smaller pieces like Belinda, knowing their destruction was inevitable.

Sarah tried to soften her consonants. When she concentrated on her speech it worked just fine. Real dialogue was where she stumbled. Belinda told her to use fewer contractions too; bad for the image, not very formal, and bishops liked to be formal. You're meeting Lovelle in three hours, she said. Try to hang on to your progress at least that long.

And then, muttered: I don't know what Justine expects after two days. Who can change their mode of speech in two days? Draconian bitch.

Belinda didn't obey her own rules. Not in private. Maybe she reveled in the opportunity to be herself with like company. Everyone else seemed, in her words, to have rods shoved up their arses. Even the maids.

"Try the poem again," she said, pointing. On the table between them was a child's rhyme, a tongue-twister. Sarah already hated the obnoxious little thing. So like Harmonian children, she commented, and Belinda replied, "Just wait until you meet the grandchildren. That'll give you a new meaning for 'obnoxious.' And," she added with a grin, "a better pronunciation, too."

Sarah scowled, and started reciting.


*


It was easier to be formal with Luc there in front, her shield. Sarah was never required to speak when he met with Harmonian officials unless he asked a question. She stood behind his chair and looked clean and precise, like a typical Harmonian aide in a typical Harmonian uniform, her hair in typical style, and became invisible again. That girl, that gem of the Masked Bishop's, the one who can cast so quickly-- what was her name again? Serena, Selena, something with an 'S.' Something. Something that can blast the barbarians before they even get close, like one of those mythic rune cannons they used to have down south, before some Island native idiot decided to destroy them. Such potential lost! they would say, and shake their heads. Harmonia knew how to take advantage of potential.

Something. That girl sure is something-- did you see the way she shattered that helmet? It was rune-forged steel!

Why are they keeping her away from the front lines? We don't need a bloody true rune, she can freeze their balls before they charge five feet!

Sarah supposed they had liked her. Their salutes were heartfelt, their hands stayed where they belonged-- away. Luc used to be worried the soldiers would harass her, but it became clear after a few weeks they knew better. Because they liked her, or perhaps, more likely, because they wanted to stay unfrozen. Yuber commended their sense of self-preservation with a sneer. But there was nothing wrong with liking victory, and for a little while Sarah looked like victory to them: a secret weapon, a Something which would destroy all resistance to Harmonia.

They exaggerated, of course. Sarah couldn't stop an entire army, not by herself. But she could do things that helped, things nobody else could do.

If Luc had not been so focused on dying, they might have foregone Yuber's help and done the more sensible thing: joined the People's Party and brought Harmonia down from within. The war, in retrospect, was their biggest mistake. Such potential, Sarah thought, in simply widening the existing cracks in Harmonia's facade, letting it fall down under its own weight.

Such potential. Lost. Ignored.


*


Sarah was lost, though she didn't want to admit it. The Temple wasn't one building, but a complex of them - at least twenty, maybe more if the towers counted, and the underground laboratories. Belinda had accompanied her in the carriage and promised to be there later to take Sarah home, but she had her own appointment at the Library and couldn't go in. The other girl's directions got Sarah through the first building, directed her across the large courtyard to another, but from there, nothing. I've never been to a bishop's office, Belinda said, and I hope I'll never get the chance.

There were two different archways with the filigree moulding Sarah was told to watch for. She paused under a cherry tree to look at the plaques by the doors from a distance. This way, if anybody was watching, her pause would look like a moment snatched to enjoy the breeze, the shade. The blooms had long since faded, but the trees were green like little domes, sixteen by sixteen across the massive space. Grey brick paved around them, between them, so their little patches of dirt and dead leaves were small squares on a larger board, a go board with so many lines criss-crossing each other, and the entire territory empty of stone pieces except for her. To her left, if she ducked to look under the edge of the branches, the glass dome of the library was visible. To her right, the spire atop the Guild's tower, where they stockpiled firearm technology and terrified children. At least, she imagined them terrified. What child wouldn't be?

Sarah chose the building on the left, because she would want to be next to the library, were it her office. Quicker for her to walk over there, quicker for her aides to scurry back and forth on errands. The foyer was paneled with rich brown wood and lit by a completely unnecessary chandelier. It was also empty. Her footsteps echoed on the tile floor. Of the three openings, she chose the center hall and found a long stretch of identical doors with numbers on them; no names. She sighed, kept walking - up a flight of stairs, into a pleasant open space lit by too many windows (so much glass, so much money), occupied by ferns and wide-leafed plants she didn't know. A young man near her age - the age she seemed to be - was striding toward her from the direction of the library. The west, that was it.

He paused when he saw her, beside a fern in a porcelain pot. "Who are you looking for?"

She stopped, almost took a step back-- but that wouldn't look confident. "Bishop Lovelle." Sarah wondered why he didn't demand she state her business, because she was clearly an intruder. "How did you know?" she asked, glad her voice wasn't too high or too low, or unsteady.

He smiled. Perfect white teeth, of course, to go with his perfect shade of blond, and perfect blue eyes. "You looked lost, and I haven't seen you before." He tucked the his leather folder under an arm and tilted his head, smile fading but not disappearing. "Everyone is new once in a while."

An aide. She knew the uniform, now that she took a good look. He was handsome in an obnoxious way, held his head high, had his hair cropped close at the sides and longer at the top, a style she saw several times on her way in. There was something familiar about him, a feeling she'd seen him before, but there were no other identifying features: no house crest anywhere in sight, no hint as to which bishop he served. She must have looked too long, because his brow started to tilt up, and she said, "I'm sorry, but can you tell me where his office is?"

"This way," he said, turning. "I'll show you." And once they had started walking down the columns of displaced, potted palm trees and other plants, Sarah a reluctant two steps behind him, he said over his shoulder, "I'm Vincent, Bishop Gabriev's second-in-command."

A common enough name, 'Vincent,' but the bishop association pricked her memory. "A Hecht?" They'd met one such at a party once, ten years ago.

"It's sometimes worse to be a Hecht than a Dowaine, according to your family." His glance back was unreadable, but he paused to let her catch up when he reached the corridor - which was a relief with its plain wooden walls, stone tile, no plants or crystal lamps. Just small ones, lit by rune fragments, like tiny glass moons suspended from the ceiling at short intervals. Vincent was tall, like Albert, and towered over her the same way. Sarah was glad he didn't offer his arm.

"Only sometimes." Sarah had no idea why; her histories hadn't mentioned any bad blood between the Mercade family and the Hecht, but ten years-- it was long enough for things to happen, but not long enough for details to get back to the colonies. "The Temple is supposed to erase all such prejudices, is it not? We must all work together for Harmonia's interests, we who hold power."

The corridor ended at a T-intersection, and doors stretched to her left and right, this time with names on gold plates set precisely top-middle, at eye-level. Sasarai's name, on the one in front of them, at the intersection of power. Vincent gestured - aristocrats here didn't point, she had been told again and again - down the right, indicated the correct door. "A beautiful ideal," Vincent said in reply to her comment, but did not indicate whether he agreed or not. "I'm afraid I didn't catch your name," he said, still informal.

Sarah almost supplied the real one and corrected herself just in time. "Elsa Mercade."

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Elsa." Vincent inclined his head, though his rank made the courtesy unnecessary. He didn't appear to be mocking, though she'd slipped, there, and let her provincial accent color the surname. "We'll meet again."

She bowed at the proper angle and turned on her heel. The corridor felt like it stretched for leagues; it took hours to arrive at Lovelle's door, knowing eyes were on her back watching, waiting to catch a mistake. Not because he sensed Sarah was an intruder (which was a possibility, but she'd done almost everything correctly), but because they did that here-- aristocrats, officials, priests, they all watched for missteps and seized upon them for their own advantage. She could only hope her supposed colonial heritage would distract them from the real differences.

Her knock was weak, and a voice answered, weak only because of the door, which was heavy when Sarah pushed it open. An entire dwelling could have fit into the room she entered; the ceiling was high and rounded, the back wall all glass and velvet curtains (house colors, gold and green), the dark wooden desk large and heavy enough to withstand a runic blast-- or so it seemed. Plush woven rugs made her footsteps silent, invisible. She recognized patterns native to Chisha in the Grasslands, but the colors were faded, the threads worn, still beautiful. Maybe the last bishop had acquired it during the first Firebringer War. He was probably a Lovelle; the positions were all but hereditary when one of the major families held them. Everything in the office must be antique.

The man behind the desk was her exception; she remembered his face well, though they'd only met twice, and she had been in the background. Bishop Lovelle hadn't aged visibly since their last meeting. No gray streaks in his hair, only a few lines creasing the skin at the corners of his eyes, his forehead. His hair was longer, clasped back, and he still wore no wedding ring, no jewelry, nothing but the uniform and its decorations to imply rank and power. Two aides stood behind his chair: young, younger than she used to be, really just a boy and a girl dressing up as the bishop's staff.

They waited stiffly at attention while introductions were gotten out of the way. Sarah introduced herself and her credentials, as she had to Justine two days earlier, and tried to moderate her consonants and contractions. It didn't work, of course, she was too nervous. Her hands would have trembled if she hadn't clasped them so tightly, properly, in her lap, and she canted her gaze at the floor with the silly idea that he couldn't possibly recognize her if she didn't meet his gaze. How could he not? How? So few Northerners came down this far. So few bothered themselves with politics, even the important ones. Was she so interchangeable with others from her home region that a man renowned for his perceptions would miss the subtle clues to her identity?

"Your family shows a keen interest in my affairs," he said, and was there a slight smile - the sardonic sort? "I'm told you hope to enter the command track by way of my own staff."

Sarah looked at him. She had to. An aide who couldn't look at her own commander was weak. "I would be honored," she said, and then because she knew he expected more, "Yours is the only opening I felt was worth consideration. My petition has nothing to do with House interests, and in fact... Lady Justine disapproves."

As if the head of any House would object to planting an agent amidst the business of another. The bishop steepled his fingers, but a smile definitely touched his face before it became serious again, and she wished her chair had arms, so she could grip the wood and dig her nails into it. She was only a colonial - not a great sacrifice, should she become attached to the interests of a man whose loyalties were in question. His association with Luc couldn't have been good for the Lovelle name, after.

He didn't say any of that, of course. He didn't say anything. Sarah tried to relax her posture. "I understand my services would not be-- politically beneficial, exactly." What was she supposed to say, and how was she supposed to say it? This was presented to her as a test of her casting skill, not a formal interview. "Although I would like to stress that the Mercade family's friendship is never a disadvantage..." There, that was suitably loyal and patriotic. "What I hope to prove is the value of my skill in casting and, perhaps, also a working understanding of your subjects."

Lovelle was in trouble. Not the man - bishops were never in trouble - but the house, the holdings. Their expanded territory bordered the Grasslands, the Nameless, and she had traveled through them on her way to the capitol. Crops were bad, citizens were dissatisfied, and the garrison was having none of it. A week-long delay in Westfire had allowed her to see three executions and the outrage that followed. Unjust, the people said; all they wanted was to feed their families with the grain they'd grown by their own hard labor!

"I understand Westfire and Westbough are temporary acquisitions, pending the replacement of the traitor, but I believe it is well within your interests to calm and improve the area. If you transferred ownership of a peaceful, productive region, rather than a destitute, you can only benefit in the eyes of the High Priest and your new colleague." Sarah moistened her lips. His expression gave no sign as to his thoughts, and he was backlit by the obscenely large window, obscure to her. "My own homeland wasn't far from there; I am familiar with the culture and the lay of the land. After traveling through the area, I'm positive I can effect improvements with the trust of the citizens."

Bishop Lovelle let the silence after her speech linger for a long few seconds. He liked his silences, apparently, and sat very still, a hunter waiting for a sign. "I notice," he said then, sitting up straighter, his hands going back to the arms of his chair, "you did not mention the other highlight of your recommendation as an aide: your runic research is impressive. Not so?"

"I cannot say." Sarah hated interviews. Hated them. "That field is my best, sir, and I favor it to diplomacy, but it is not immediately relevant when there are no wars or other armed conflicts at present. To my knowledge, that is."

"There are always armed conflicts." Lovelle wasn't smiling anymore, but he wasn't frowning either. His eyes glinted, probably clear blue like all the others, a tiring color. What animal did he remind her of? Not a fox, that was Corell; not a snake-- that was Gabriev, the way his chin pointed, the shadows his nostrils cast in her memory, which was admittedly imperfect. No, Lovelle reminded her most of a marble sculpture she'd seen in Highland. One of their kings, she didn't know which. He had a bold nose, when he turned to speak to one of his aides; a fine, chiseled shape, but too large to lend beauty to his face. A long scar cut his cheek, she saw when he turned back. The female aide left. "How would you apply this power of yours to peaceful resolution in Westfire, since that seems to be your interest?"

Westfire was an ugly territory, a long, dusty finger of land alongside the border, with Caleria at its tip. Sarah hated Caleria. "Runic knowledge isn't required to restructure the tax bureau in that area. Their wells are drying up, but any caster with a year of training should be able to open them again given the proper equipment. The townsfolk would stop revolting if the garrison would stop arresting their workers. Westfire doesn't need to be an armed conflict, and they don't need magic. An even-handed magistrate would do wonders."

The bishop's eyes had narrowed during her speech, and for a moment she thought he'd snap at her. Instead, he said, "And if it does become an armed conflict? If I were to send you to subdue them?"

Harmonians. "They would be subdued."

"How?"

Sarah tried not to sigh. "Do you have a location in mind?"

His fingers tapped quickly on the edge of the desk. "Mayfare. Do you know where it is?"

The northern end. She nodded, and tried to recall the area. Their party - Luc, Yuber, herself - had crossed that territory many times, criss-crossed it, until she knew every animal trail on every mountain, although she hadn't visited the town, or taken a close look at the farms. "I would drain their wells and wait. Regular troops could do the rest."

Still, his eyes were narrow, reluctant. "And you would do this without the aid of the True Water Rune?"

"The strategic placement of minor runes in each well would do just fine. If I were to enter the town early, as a sympathizer, I would wait for the siege to begin, block the wells, and conceal the blockage with an earth rune. Then I would leave."

He rose from his chair. Like everyone else she had met, he was more than a head taller than she. But his expression was motionless again, neutral, and that was an improvement. "Come. Show me your technique."


*


The trick required precision, not power, and Sarah managed to simulate her plan using a fountain basin and one of their second-tier earth runes. Earth was a weakness of hers; it took longer to cast the spell than she thought, and tired her more. Under the circumstances she'd described - a town under siege, herself an undercover agent, as she had been so many times in the past - she would have used an illusion to conceal the spell and have done with it, but that wasn't an option here. Lovelle knew of "Sarah" and her peculiar power. To show it now would be to reveal herself too soon. But she could use the same principles with the earth rune.

Lucky Sarah. Lucky that was enough. What if she had not been able to create such a spell on the fly?

"I have not experimented with this, of course," she said, standing up. Her back protested, her legs burned, and she hoped the bishop couldn't see them tremble beneath her skirt.

Lovelle was intent on the concealment spell, staring at the drain where she had hidden an active water rune. "That you've met with success at all on your first try is impressive."

The yard they occupied lay bare, dusty, the planters and flowerbeds empty of their former occupants. To Sarah's left the flagstones were scorched black and cracked. To her right stood the bishop's servants, one holding the empty rune spheres in each hand, and the other staring at the fountain just as intently as her master did, before he turned fully to look down at her. "I should unravel it," she said softly, red in her cheeks, but not because he made her uncomfortable - though he did. "The spell may rupture, and the fountain will be damaged." That would look bad, and he did just imply he understood that it was a first draft of the spell-- so to speak.

He nodded, and she cut the spell short. A plume of dust leapt from the drain, accompanied by a minor tremor beneath her feet. Cool wind tickled her neck. Sarah clenched her fist before the wind rune could react, but it only tingled, cold and cutting like a metal edge pressed too long against the skin.

"Now," Lovelle said, pacing backward several steps, the sun bright on his golden hair, "we will see how clever you are on your feet."

She knew he was going to cast, but he didn't gesture or give any sign; the lightning came out of the blue and slammed down like a spear driven into the ground. Sarah's body jerked back before her rational mind caught up and she landed ungracefully, stumbling. But her muscles remembered what to do in a fight. Her hand flew out and her own rune flashed: fire leaped across the barren earth and she danced to the side, threw out her other hand, and sent knives of wind cutting through her first spell to take him unawares.

Lovelle blocked both with a sweep of his hand. Electricity charged the air between them.

Interesting. She had thought, after contemplating her first conversation with him, in the office, that he would prefer water or earth. There was stillness in his posture, his voice. Calm. He was calm when he cast his next spell, only his fingers moving, slashing the air, three pillars of lightning broke the ground, four, the fifth nearly hit her. Sarah smelled singed hair. Her clip dropped and broke.

She wasn't working hard enough. Even Sarah knew it, felt it, her heart slamming in her chest, though she wasn't that tired, and the spells she'd cast weren't a strain. They should have been. She should have been throwing everything she had at the bastard, but she kept looking at her hands, flinching from them. By rights they should be blotched with red and brown, the blood of thousands. Not just grasslanders and Zexens, not just Harmonians, but the innocents she'd hurt as a child-- by accident, not that it mattered to her parents. A bad dream, that's all it was, something she woke from in a cold sweat with her forehead on fire, only to wake up and find a real nightmare spread across the bed: the maid speared with a shard of ice.

Maybe she had meant to wake Sarah from that awful dream before she could scream and wake the whole house. Maybe she was just turning the lamp down.

Sarah couldn't remember the woman's name. She tried so hard, sometimes, but it never came back to her.

"Who taught you?" The arc of lightning Lovelle threw missed.

Luc. Luc taught me everything I care to remember. Sarah replied by summoning a pillar of fire beneath his feet, pulling it up with all her strength. It broke the flagstones. The bishop dove to the side, executed a perfect roll that put out the fire on his sleeve. She cast again immediately, water this time, a thousand tiny bits of ice like a shattered window, whipped into a whirlwind. Lovelle flinched. He broke the wall of ice with an unfocused blast that sent it flying in a messy circle, and she saw blood on his cheek, his hands. She had him, if they kept going. Not many people could cast two spells at once-- not many at all, maybe nobody. Sarah hadn't encountered it yet. Double-casting made her feel heavy and light at the same time, almost dizzy, but she could do it again, and maybe again after that, before--

He lifted his uninjured hand to signal the end of the battle, and after two heaving breaths she let the icicles tinkle to the ground. Her runes dimmed and faded.

True Wind throbbed on her hand in time to the ringing in her ears. Sarah tried to slow her breathing and looked around, crouched to retrieve the pieces of her clip. Through the messy fall of her hair and the too-loud beat of her own heart, she heard someone approach the bishop and speak. She used the opportunity to feel about her face, make sure she hadn't gotten cut, hadn't lost her earrings - on loan from Belinda, because they were in house colors - and her spectacles, which she often forgot about even when they were on.

At least she hadn't lost those in the fight. The lenses were common glass, but trying to replace them might cause trouble. There would be questions. Who, after all, bothered with spectacles unless they were necessary? No one up to any good, as a matter of fact.

"You did not answer my question, Miss Elsa."

Sarah straightened immediately at the sound of his voice. "I apologize, Bishop..."

It was not the bishop's aide that stood beside him, perhaps to heal, as she had assumed. She trailed off, licked her lips to moisten them, swallowed.

Sasarai stood there, watching: a portrait cut out of her memory with an exact blade.

Sarah wished the jolt of it would stop her heart, as violent surprises did in bedtime stories. The scary ones, if any of Luc's tales could match the terror of this apparition. Bishop Lovelle repeated his question: Who was your teacher?, unmindful of the paralysis creeping along her arms, legs, making her spine soft. A spoiled noblewoman would have fainted. She had always wanted to be one.

"Ansel," she said, after a pause that lasted a beat too long, "of House Amaranth." Bloody Lady Amaranth and her bloody alliteration.

"Ansel died in the war," Sasarai said, finally speaking. Mercifully, Sarah was long past feelings of any kind, so she only noted that his voice was subdued and lacking the energy she remembered. Perhaps it had all been anger. She'd helped steal his rune, after all.

"Not before he taught me how to cast," she said.

Lovelle's frown was faint, like all of his expressions. Not a hair of his ponytail was out of place. Only his sleeve told of their recent battle, scorched, where her spell set it on fire, and blood stained his collar, just a bit, on the fold. "You can't be more than eighteen summers," he said.

Sarah was quite a bit older. She had to remind herself often, when she curled up in bed and felt more like ten summers, maybe only eight on the bad nights. "Twenty," she said, "but my parents noted my aptitude early. I was five when I started." That wasn't even a lie. The Harmonians hadn't bothered to teach her how to control the rune; that was Luc. The priests merely sealed her ability to cast, much as a man might muzzle a dog that barked too much.

"I worked closely with Ansel," Sasarai said. She wished he'd stop talking, stop looking at her. "He did not know how to double-cast, of that I am certain."

Sarah made herself smile and hoped it didn't look like she was baring her teeth. "Necessity is the best teacher, my mentor always told me."


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I had a lot of trouble with the Lovelle scene, to be honest. I never was sure what I wanted him to be, even when I was including him in SPPM scenes, way back in the day, and that hasn't really changed. :/ I guess I'll figure it out as I go along? It worked with the Summer Chronicle.

... which doesn't say good things for what's going to happen, now that I think about it.

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