Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Fleeing Dragons

Princes and Thieves

by Myshu 0 reviews

A renegade neiphiti dragon sets her eyes on the Dragon Tear.

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Crossover, Fantasy - Characters: Beatrix, Doctor Tot, Garnet Til Alexandros, Zidane Tribal - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2005-07-11 - Updated: 2005-07-12 - 7619 words

Nobody ever asks to save the world.

...Nobody in their right mind, anyway. The ones who do don't know what they're asking for.

It's not just about playing the hero. Well, I mean, saving people's the important part (that's what got me into this whole mess), but it's not the whole package. Everybody has their reasons--their own load to bear, you could say.

It's about long, hard roads; slim rations; cold nights in the mud, or on the rocks with nothing but your pack for a pillow and the clothes on your back for a blanket, maybe even less; it's about monsters in your path, left and right, day and night; the greedy and self-interested trying to swindle you; bandits trying to flat-out rob you; bad guys thinking they know what's better for everyone, and you and your friends and a prayer against a whole army.

And there's no thanks for it--if you're lucky enough to come back alive, that is. The universe doesn't go up and give you a pat on the back, or tell you, "Job well done, kiddo." Maybe you'll pick up some loot, if you're in it for the money. Maybe if you're lucky you'll get the girl, and spend the rest of your days together in peace and anticlimax. You might as well, 'cause nothing will ever be the same afterwards. When you've spent so much time living on the edge, the easy, simple life is hard to come down to. The fruits of victory only taste sweet on the first bite; everything after that is leftovers.

And in the end, even if you wanted to talk about it--even if you wanted to relive the adventure, even if only in a dream, the only people who would believe you are the ones who were there. And sometimes a hero's work is lonely, lonely business.

Everybody has their reasons. Me? I like helping out people in trouble. I don't need an excuse.
I can't just walk away. It goes against my nature.

I'll never forget the day she asked me if it was all worth it.

1. Princes and Thieves

The pyreflies never lied.

Mewtwo had found this cave by following the pyreflies, florescent ribbons of memories that peeled off the dead and congregated where spirits sought passage into the planet's core. Though they weren't always visible to everyone, the pyreflies' whispers never slipped his hypersensitive mind. They had lured him into a natural tomb where the lifestream itself percolated through the rocks as mako and gathered in a shallow basin, just enough to let him sit over the edge and dip his legs into the ethereal fountain.

At the farthest pit of the cavern, the bowl of mako was like a bubble of sunset. Its walls shimmered with light that cycled through the spectrum like a dizzy rainbow, burning at the bottom of the pond and licking its surface with tongues of green, blue, red and yellow. The mako bath was a gentle pool teeming with life's potential, both soothing and exhilarating. To the touch, it was like a boggy cloud or airy water. When he kicked there was no splash; a wispy, glowing tuft skipped off the surface, fleetingly hung in the air like mist and then settled back to the commune.

It was by immersing a piece of himself in the lifestream that he was able to tap into the fabric of the spirit world. He was throwing a psychic line out into the perpetually birthing and dying universe and fishing for spirits--stories. Life, time, memories--all sifting through his toes and saturating the soles of his soul. He languidly combed his feet through the cool, liquid mako, purring with deep meditation.

"Mew?" reached his ears from the opposite end of the cavern, where a genuine sunset lit the exit. He opened his eyes and withdrew from the bath, thoughts crawling out of the way of spectres and back into mortal traffic. A quick shake of his large, kangaroo-esque legs dissipated the excess mako from his fur and into pyrefly steam. Mewtwo gathered his wits with a sigh and stood up on the dry rock. Sleuthing through a thousand years had only turned up more of what he already knew.

"The third Dragon War is coming."

His cat-like companion floated to him, upside-down and caring less for gravity, mewing by way of greeting. Mew was such a simple creature to wield such awesome psychic power. He employed telekinesis with the carefree ease one would use to pick up a glass of water or walk; actually, Mewtwo couldn't remember the last time he saw the sprite actually use his legs to that end.

"Meeeew." Mew waved one of his quaint little arms and blinked his large blue eyes. In the shade the pink tinge to his pearly fur was more prominent. "Mew?"

"Yes, I'm finished," Mewtwo projected his thoughts out loud. It had taken a few years to master the ability to think loudly enough to simulate human speech, but the effort was worth sounding a little more... normal. It was not as much for his sake (Mewtwo did not especially care for human company, much less approval) as it was to better communicate with the sentient blockheads--to "talk on their level," so-to-speak.

"Mew? Mew?"

"Yes, I found her, but no, she didn't know." Mewtwo started towards the fading daylight. "...Barnath and Bairith might, though."


"That's what we're going to find out first. Let us go, Mew."

"Mew?" Mew righted himself and sailed after the heavier-set psychic.

"We'll start on C'tarot."

He wasn't in the garden. He could usually be caught dozing with the flowers, but probability didn't deal her a full deck today. She sighed and planted her wrists on her round hips, a little nonplussed. The castle grounds were expansive, full of nooks; alleys, bridges, towers, canals, halls and secret hideaways, and he could be skulking in any one of them.

She walked back to the front courtyard, sat down on the steps spilling into the moat and stared with consternation into the muddy green water. A ferry ride away was the town of Alexandria. She could still, if faintly now, or only in her imagination, hear the knocking of hammers and banter of construction workers scratching at rubble and building homes out of memories. It was almost three years since the city had been brought to its knees in a battle with the supernatural, and the people had recovered and restored their livelihoods with amazing speed and grace. Hardly a chipped brick or splintered board could attest to the devastation anymore.

She was pleased and proud of her people, though it was often difficult to feel related to them, as if the citizens could all see her for the foreigner she was, her title and status convenient pretense. Sometimes she didn't feel like their queen at all.
These doubts were rare and fleeting, however, usually snuffed out by gentle and firm counseling from her loyal knights.

"Something troubling you, Your Majesty?"

"Oh," Queen Garnet started to her feet and spun around, her plain summer dress billowing around her ankles in the morning breeze. "Beatrix." She threaded a wild lock of black hair behind her ear and out of her eyes, which turned to the ground. "It was... nothing."

Her senior knight likewise flicked a heavy chocolate curl from her vision. "I see. Have a good day then, Your Majesty."

"Actually, Beatrix," Garnet hooked the white knight in her tracks, just as Beatrix had a foot on her way. "I was wondering where I could find Zidane."

"Ah." She looked down and touched a contemplative finger to her lips. A recollective spark lit her features; she met her liege's questing expression and spoke again. "I thought I saw him in the silver banquet hall." Her brow furrowed queerly into a sidelong glance at nothing as she added, "...Sleeping on the piano."

"What?" Garnet dismissed the odd aside, shaking her head. "Never mind, I have to catch him. Thank you, Beatrix."

"Are you going to talk to him about...?" Beatrix began to ask as Garnet brushed past her, heading inside the castle.

"Yes," the queen tersely threw the answer behind her quickly moving back.

Beatrix frowned sardonically after her. "...Good luck."

He was drifting. A long-dead part of him didn't even care if he found what he was looking for anymore; the search was all he had left. There was no more home, no more wars, no more land on the earth to explore and no more revenge. Life after Lavos had become a very empty, fruitless quest to find /her/... and he didn't even know what he would do once he did.

It was easier to have a clear objective in front of him. Then, the only introspection he had to bother with was mechanisms to cope with his less-than-desirable comrades and subordinates. Everything else was strategy, dictating the terms of his survival and means of his vengeance since he was four years old.

But now, without a concrete goal? Without armies to manage or enemies to destroy? Without a mission? He had to face hopeless boredom, a war he didn't know how to wage without bloodshed. He had to walk endlessly through the streets of cities his fathers couldn't have possibly had the foresight to imagine, in a time their children were never supposed to know: 2002 AD, fourteen thousand years after the fall of Zeal, home sweet home to everyone except him, the wizard from another age.

His latest exploits had brought him to this era. He thought he'd been close to his ultimate goal, a sense not kindled in him since his fortune-telling days at Queen Zeal's throne.
He'd followed the clues, pursued devious mystics through time, once again teamed with the boy Crono and his misfit friends... And after all the adventuring, his raised expectations were exchanged for little more than a wild chase and a mad hoax, orchestrated by power-hungry zoras.

After all goodbyes were said he ventured back to Traven, the end of his trail of hope. He'd paced circuits through the city, from its skyscrapers to its slums, magic fingers grasping for the signature of that one soul like his out of the millions. He'd stopped at the sage's shack, whence he'd exchanged premonitions and pendants, the one Schala gave him for the one she once called her own. The hut had since burned to the ground; its resident vanished with it.

He then left Traven, all its avenues exhausted with his footprints. He'd begun to roam the open countryside. He followed only the wind, each color of it, every way, day and night.

Magus would never admit it, even to himself, but he was feeling... lost.

Eventually he arrived at the ruins of an orchard. His boots waded through the ruts of a dust-packed road flowing through a sea of overgrown, lush green grass. Peach trees flanked both sides of the trail, not quite conforming to their planted arrays and not quite breaking them, and either way disguising their subterfuge with a downpour of blossoms.

Magus was carried along the unpaved driveway to the front steps of a dilapidated manor. Ivy claimed its southern wall, water damage killed the roof, and ashes claimed the rest. For all the ravages of a long-ago fire, the estate was impressively intact, yet uninhabitable. With all the enthusiastic curiosity of a camel the wizard passed through the shattered threshold into the abandoned home, deciding to explore.

Its interior was expectedly void of anything valuable. The only things not riddled with scorch marks were the occasional floorboard, dust and sunlight. A grand piano stood on charcoal legs in a library stripped of books. More midday light trickled in through the ceiling than through the windows.

Empty after empty after empty room, stairs escalating into open sky, and then a hallway falling into a cellar. Magus descended on smooth cement steps into the homely dungeon. A deviant nail tried to snag his cloak, but its enchanted fibers unraveled to give the wily stub passage and then knitted themselves together again in its wake.

Wine racks and cobwebs, both broken and neglected, occupied the basement. He walked down the dark aisle through the middle of the room, arriving at a peculiar piece at the end. On a stand built of the same large, grey bricks as the walls was a domed glass cover, as round, clear and delicate as a dewdrop. A gaping tear in the floor above vented sunlight directly onto the display, which wasn't tall enough to reach the wizard's chest.

Suspended perfectly in thin air within the crystal container was a single red feather.

Magus stopped over this and stared blankly into the glass cell at its lonely prisoner. The only movement in the room was the subtle glimmer of dust streaming through the shafts of daylight.

The wizard then examined the display with each of his senses. The pinion was bloody crimson at its roots, with gold streaks flaring out from the stem, giving it a fiery gradient. It was eerily still and precisely preserved as if entombed in solid crystal rather than a thin-shelled vacuum. There were no marks or engravings on the stand to label this unique find. The magic residue on the glass, however, was noticeably intense, suggesting that it contained a powerful relic.

Leaving the feather for later, Magus thoroughly inspected the rough stone supporting it. His gloved fingers dug about a suspicious fissure in the mortar, fishing for purchase. With a little effort he was able to drag out a hollow brick slab like a dresser drawer. He pulled the weighty, detached shelf into plain light and lifted it of its only content: a leather-bound book.

It was not especially large or small, about a hundred pages, and specifically embalmed in magic that does not age or burn except under powers of the same ilk. That was the only enchantment on it, Magus discovered as he easily flipped the impossibly old volume open.

It was all hand-written in the common language, a little less than modern but recent enough. The text's style and notations were indicative of a journal, entries separated by the day. Dates were plotted in ambiguous slash code, the first entry excepted, which explicitly read:

January 5th, 1006 AD

Between that, the chicken-scratch handwriting and the signature initials at the bottom of each entry--/LEA/--Magus didn't have to read the opening letter to know exactly whom this diary belonged to.
The only question was why it was here, in this day and age, hidden under this mysterious relic as if they belonged together.

Magus the wizard, lost prince of Zeal, former commander of the greatest mystic army in history--once snobby brat, then warrior, then warlock, then prophet, then wandering magician--not always in that order--forever questing for that which must elude him--had nothing better to do.

He sat down on the cracked pavement, propped open the book in his lap, and started reading.

Garnet blazed through the castle, her course straight and brisk, not more than nodding at soldiers who saluted in greeting and were left perplexed in her wake.

"I think she's gonna yell at Sir Zidane again," Pluto Knight Blutzen commented, to which his comrade Kohel nodded. This was immediately before their hopping mad captain shouted them back to their posts.

She hated when he pulled stunts like this, yet it was always a relief when he did. She couldn't explain that paradox to Beatrix.

Zidane wasn't the same person since he returned from the Iifa Tree... Not exactly the person she met, at any rate, though they were introduced to each other under... extenuating circumstances and... Oh, she hated how convoluted their relationship wasn't supposed to be.
When Zidane spoke to her, he always made things sound so simple.

At first he was the same as always, if not without a few additional, inexplicable quirks. He avoided small spaces with a strict claustrophobia, was especially enamored of plants, almost to the point of fetishizing them-and not just flowers; all flora, even the lowly weeds that crept into the dungeons--and, for a reason no one could truly fathom, he could recite the Fibonacci series up to the fiftieth number. This was quite a marvel, especially to those who knew him better to be horrible at math.

The greater, more troubling changes manifested later. To hear from Beatrix that he was snoozing in some exotic location really didn't surprise her. He had become quite eccentric, in the most lethargic sense, since moving into the castle. He took naps at all odd places and times, lounging around the library, gazing out a sunny window for hours or disappearing for long walks through the gardens. At a dinner party, when asked why she didn't acquire a pet cat, Garnet remarked that she already had the biggest one in the world.

Garnet encouraged him to become more active in castle life, perhaps following her soldiers' regimen and working to protect the keep, but he was an impeccable sloth and sneaky about it, to boot--he once passed over a day of chores by taking a "nap" down the laundry chute--though it was impressive how the cleaning maid didn't notice, and that evening her boyfriend turned up amid her fresh bedclothes, clean as a sheet. His eating habits were duly lazy and erratic; she couldn't remember the last time he sat down for dinner. He usually waved her invitation away with a lackadaisical, "Not hungry, thanks."

At least when he acted out like this it was a refreshing glimpse of that daring, energetic, carefree thief who kidnapped her. It simply wouldn't do if she didn't chastise him for breaking the law, though.

She found him just as her senior knight described, in the silver banquet hall--the one with too many orphaned curtains and empty tables huddling against the walls lest they get sucked into the dizzy checkerboard floor--curled up in a catnap atop the grand piano. She would've chuckled at the scene if she weren't feigning anger.

He was soundly asleep, not even a tell-tale tail twitch giving consciousness away. Garnet smirked with a delicious idea. She delicately approached the piano, footfalls careful not to clack in the cavernous acoustics. She stopped at the instrument's side, traced her fingertips along the glossy ebony and as quietly as possible flipped open the cover box. Leaning over the keys, she considered them for a moment before settling on the bench...

...and hammering out the most dramatic chord she knew. The abrupt din was enough to wake dust, not to mention the oblivious oaf who slid to the floor in a fit of comically delirious thrashing. "Ah, ah, ah!" Thud.

"...oooow," rounded off the fading notes. Garnet put on her business mask again and walked around the piano to face down the struggling boy on the floor. Zidane floundered for a short bit as if he were drowning, and then blinked slowly at the young woman hovering over him, the dream washing out and his bearings gradually restored.

"Um... hi Dagger," he croaked.

She crossed her arms peevishly. "Don't 'hi Dagger' me! You're in trouble."

He took hold of a piano leg and climbed to his feet. "Oh no, I am?" He gasped melodramatically.

She stepped in closer, trying to be intimidating, though it didn't help that he was taller and tactically backpedaling towards a wall of shelves. "Whatever do you mean?" he continued in that saccharine voice that pulled the strings on all his best pranks.

"You know what I mean." Garnet poked an accusatory finger in his direction, which he hopped away to avoid, his back landing against the racks loaded with antique books and vintage porcelain. She walked into his personal space before he dared slip out of her reach, though with a slick grin his motives against escape became obvious.

"I like where this is going."

Once again, she was muddled regarding him. That was the kind of line the old Zidane tossed at her, trying and failing pathetically to flirt with her, and it was irritating back then, but now it was only a little frustrating yet cute and--again, relieving, because it was something familiar. Garnet's vexation couldn't hold out, no matter how well she acted. She cracked a smile, thoroughly amused, pinned his arms to the shelves and leaned forward, entertaining his dirty fantasy of the day with a deep kiss.

She supposed that, despite his game, that was the last move he expected her to make, which only made the moment sweeter. She felt his shoulders tense at the first taste of her lips, and then the boy melted under her hold, savoring this turn of play.

"Mmm..." He pulled back. "Well, this is a surprise. Usually the kiss and make-up comes after the fight."

"Beatrix says we lost a gold scepter from the vault."

"That sounds like a personal problem to me."

"Where is it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he responded with exaggerated innocence.

"Don't be coy; I know you have it."

"Now what gave you that funny little idea?"

She teasingly brushed her lips over his nose, holding back another kiss. It seemed to work; his breathing picked up, hot and flustered. "...I'll never talk. Never."

"Really? Maybe this can convince you to talk..." She sprinkled soft kisses up his neck and along his jaw. He moaned comfortably and slid a hand through the ruffles of her light dress, groping for a piece of thigh.

"Mmm... Cinna did it."

With an exasperated flourish she pushed herself off him, meeting his eyes in a "get serious" pout. "Zidane!"

"What?" He shrugged defensively. "It's true," he asserted, his gaze straying from her locked glare and wandering about the room. "He walked right in there and took it. I saw it with my own two eyes."

"I bet you helped with your own two hands as well."

"There you go again, accusing me of things..."

It took one more long kiss to pry loose a confession. "...Okay. I give." A blunt metal object tapped her side. Garnet looked down and found the treasure in question snake-wrapped in Zidane's tail, apparently procured from the shelf behind him.

She stepped back, reclaimed it with a miffed huff and thumped the heavy end of the rod against the thief's chest, evoking a slight wince. "Now why in the world do you keep stealing from our own treasury?! You know you could have anything in there if you just asked."

Zidane gave a roundabout shrug. "What's the challenge in that? I like giving the Rust Brigade a run for their money."

"You should be more considerate. Steiner and his men work hard so that--"

"--thugs like me don't go rooting around the castle vaults?" He clicked his tongue disparagingly. "I gotta tell ya, I don't have a lot of faith in the security around here. It's like taking candy from babies."

"I guess that's why we keep you around, don't we?" Garnet saucily responded. "You're not good for much else."

"Ouch. That hurts."

She kissed his cheek in parting and turned to leave, mission accomplished.

"...You know you love me," he called after her.

Garnet suppressed a chuckle. "That's besides the point," she countered over her shoulder. "Quit robbing the castle. You live here."

"You know," she heard her impudent companion say off-handedly from across the hall, "I keep waiting for you to quit being nice and start being naughty with me."

To this the queen whirled around mid-step, blushing furiously at him. "Zidane!"

So embarrassed was she by the insinuations that she blindly bumped into a third party entering the hall. "Oh!" each tripped over the other, a handbag, black top hat and gold scepter piling on the floor. "Sorry, sorry! That was very careless of me," Garnet tried to mollify her victim, who was apologizing profusely, himself. "Oh no no, quite all right."

Queen Garnet returned the displaced bag and hat to the portly little man, recognizing him with an astonished yelp that very moment. "Oh! Doctor Tot!"

"Oh, Your Majesty!" Tot returned the sentiment, the burgundy cheek feathers at the base of his large beak bunching together with an amiable grin. "So it is you! I had heard you were this way, so I came to say hello."

Garnet curtsied warmly, as composed once again as a, well, queen. "It's so nice to see you, Doctor Tot! I didn't know you were visiting the castle."

"Indeed. I just arrived. I'll be staying a couple of weeks in my old room. I hope you don't mind."

"Oh no, of course not. You're always welcome."

Zidane jogged up to the pair. "Hey, Tot. What's up?"

"Why hello, Sir Zidane. How are you? You and the queen are getting along well, I hope."

"He's a handful sometimes," Garnet interjected before Zidane could answer for himself. He frowned sourly at her answer while she stooped to retrieve the lost scepter from the floor. "You'll have to excuse me, Doctor Tot, but I have a few more errands to attend to this morning. Shall we meet for lunch?"

"Of course. I have a lot of unpacking to do, anyway."

"Oh, do you need help? Zidane's never busy."

"Oh-hoho, don't worry about it, my dear. One of Captain Steiner's knights already offered to assist me. I shall see you for lunch."

Garnet nodded and strolled away. Once she was out of earshot, Zidane hopped to Tot's side, keeping him a minute longer. "Hey," he asked in a confidential whisper, "Did you bring some more juice?"

"Hmm?" Tot mulled over the question, adjusting the thick, round spectacles on the bridge of his beak. "Ah! Sir Zidane, your medicine... Will you see me in my study this afternoon? I'd like to talk to you about that."

"Agh." The boy wilted, disappointed. "This afternoon? That's hours from now! You're killin' me, doc!"

"Hahaha," Tot chortled. "I'm sure you'll live, Sir Zidane," the elderly bird said as he hobbled away, leaving Zidane to his sulking.

It was a clear night. Though the moon was on leave, the planet's rings painted a golden band across the firmament, from black mountain to blue horizon.

From her perch just within the gates of the Griffin Estate she could oversee the cobblestone terrace looping towards the mansion in broad arcs. The castle-esque house was pinned to the earth by six grand spires and covered enough ground to accommodate a hundred families... and their cars. Polygonal hedges trimmed the expansive walkway, and in the middle was a magnificent fountain, its aquamarine jets lapping at the feet of a larger-than-life sculpture of a man on the back of a leaping--wait for it--griffin.

Griffin House was one of the ruling families of C'tarot, and as-that-happened one of the wealthiest. She would have scoffed at the opulence, were she not busy fastening her old uniform together. Though she was long AWOL without any intentions of returning to the Peacekeeper ranks, she was glad to have saved the accoutrements, if for nothing better than an occasion such as this.

She never stopped to ask herself why she was doing this. Self-questioning wasn't her game. She had been raised and trained to always act, act, act, and thank the heavens for that, else she'd have enough doubts to turn back tenfold.
She didn't have to ask, really. She was doing this because nobody else seemed to care to. She was doing this because it seemed like the right thing to do, with all the flavors of the wrong thing to do.
She was doing this on a faint clue--on a whimsy hope--just for the sake of /doing something/.

Most of all, she was doing this for that squirrelly little bastard who said she couldn't.

She finished tying belts around her thick tail and wound the straps of fluffy shoulder pads through the bare space between her wings. She hated all the feathers that dressed these outfits; they made her old regiment look like half-shaved turkeys, and tickled, besides. She'd damn near blown her cover with a sneeze before finally securing all her accessories on her person.

She slung an empty pack over her shoulder, checked another pouch at her waist, waited for the next guard to pass beneath the shade and then dropped out of the tree she was taking cover in. She advanced onto the open lawn, clearing the tangly branches overhead before unfurling her slight dragon wings and taking flight with a puff of wind.

She'd memorized the lay of the estate the night before, and knew just where to fly and where to go. The wind mage guided her course high across the lot, over the inner wall and into the private sky dock, five stories up and bright as a lighthouse.

She tried to maintain a soldier's grace and composure as she settled down on flat gravel and dropped her lifting magic, keenly aware of the eyes fixed on her from the post at the back of the dock. The attentive guard stood up from his flimsy folding chair and moved to bar the door leading into the mansion proper.

She was lucky enough. The guard recognized her stripes, belts and colors, though the stupid feathers should've been enough to give it away. "...A Peacekeeper?" he croaked, visibly surprised. "What do the Peacekeepers want here?"

She strode boldly off the circular landing pad and onto tiled floor, approaching the speaker. "Grant me entrance," she demanded coolly.

"I'm afraid I can't do that until you state your purpose... m'am," he stated hesitantly. He'd obviously never been confronted by a high-class soldier, much less a female one. He wasn't sure how to take her demands against his orders.

Time to play with protocol. "I have an urgent message for Lord Griffin. It must be delivered personally."

"Sorry, but you'll have to leave it with me. Lord Griffin has retired for the night and is not to be disturbed."

"That sounds like Lord Griffin's problem, not His Exalted's."

There was a nigh-imperceptible twitch beneath the guard's helmet. "The Archmage's brother??" he begged clarification, naturally incredulous.

"You're sharp. Now are you going to let me through or am I going to have to report back to His Exalted that Lord Griffin refused to hear him?"

"I..." His wits returned with a blink. "I'm going to have to demand proof that you're an envoy of Lord Neferkara's."

"Of course." She reached into her pouch, duly noting that the guard had pulled back a hand to rest on his sidearm. She withdrew a folded piece of parchment with a thick wax stamp gluing it shut.

The guard took it and turned it over twice. "...The Archmage's seal..." he noted the insignia of the highest house. "Okay," he relented and passed the document, intact, back for her to pocket. "You may proceed. I'll escort you inside."

It paid to know special people. It paid even better to know how to please special people--or pleasure, rather.
In this case, it paid to be able to pleasure someone who could procure and reseal documents signed by the Exalted Neferkara. Her paper was authentic--an authentic warrant for her arrest, but the guard would never know better, and irony was sweet.

He turned and keyed the pass code into the security panel behind him. With that and a swipe of his keycard the adjacent door slid open with a hydraulic whoosh. The guard shifted to one side and waved her through with a fluid bow. She could have laughed at the gentlemanly posturing. "After you."

She responded the best way she knew how: she kicked him in the jugular, the talons on her toes sticking his Adam's apple and tearing through to his chin as his head knocked backwards. A splash of blood flew off her foot as it followed through the sharp upswing, painting the doorframe a fresh red.
The guard clutched his open throat and gargled something pathetic before flopping over, dead enough. She snapped his neck for assurance.

She proceeded to strip off the gaudy Peacekeeper wear and exchange it for the fallen man's gear. He was a demibat, an avian neiphiti (conveniently for a sky dock), and thus his vest and slacks fit around her wings and tail, to her relief. The garb was a little bloody now, but she was only counting on giving the impression of a guard in the dim halls ahead. Nobody should notice the ruse until it was too late.

"Ooo." She passed over his small sidearm for the laser rifle strapped to his back, a much more appealing weapon. She stuffed the discarded bundle of leather and feathers into her empty pack, shouldered both the pack and the rifle, donned her new helmet (an ornamental thing sharpened to a beak's point in the front, surely to keep with the griffin motif), snatched up the demibat's keycard and slipped into the mansion's interior.

She spiraled down the dock's gloomy stone tower, starlight from slitted apertures illuminating the way. Three floors lower, her path leveled and streamed into more modern architecture.
Her claws clicked softly against the rusty marble tiles. Licks of flame off gilded candelabra were foggily mirrored in the freshly waxed floor like distant swamp gas. There was more fabric on the walls than on the floor--dark silk curtains and swirled tapestries fitted every space that was not a window.

The occasional candlestick was the only source of light until she reached the foyer, which had a swimming pool sized skylight fringed with stained glass vines and blooms. Midnight blue with hints of purple and green poured in through the hole in the ceiling and saturated the foot of a grand staircase, where a strip of red carpet stepped up to greet her from the front doors.

She slid a hand over the dark wood guardrail as she crossed the extravagant hall, peering down onto the ground level at its pink marble columns and stern-featured busts. Fluttering doves captured in pearly rock topped the banisters, perpetually fighting to escape still motion.

Her heart froze when she spied a pair of guards across the room, at the foyer's entrance. One of them returned her look. She wondered how well the night concealed her identity, standing as she was at the head of the stairway, otherwise in plain sight.
He amicably waved at her. She exhaled and moved on.

The next hall hosted the brightest ambiance since the sky dock. It was a gallery, she supposed. Portrait lights cast dramatic shadows around ivory statuettes arrayed precisely along each side of the walkway.

She ambled through the showroom, her gaze lingering on each piece. It was a curious collection, one little white monster after the other.
A cat...ish figure with huge paws and full, spiky jets of hair slicked away from its quaint, slitted face. A fairy. Something that reminded her of a zora, male. A pot-bellied dragon. A leonine man with a sharp horn on his head. A squat dog with a bushy tail and young mane. Something that couldn't decide if it was a lion or a wolf. A llama. A bipedal dinosaur with a distended nose, bulbous eyes and a vestigal shell saddled between its hips. A rat man. A man on his knees, bent towards the ground, his angel wings flared out and upward.

A window, and across from it another hall running into her destination. She turned down the corridor and encountered a ruby crystal shield at its mouth, closing off the next room. 'No problem,' she thought as she found the nearby control panel and slid the pilfered keycard into it. It beeped acceptingly and the glowing red blockade dissolved.

Everything was so far, too good.

The dragon lady walked right into the treasure trove. An instinctual compulsion lured her to the shelves encircling the room, all stocked with shinies--shiny gold, silver and platinum jewelry, doubloons, large-cut sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, shiny pearls--shiny shiny shiny, shinies for the taking. She roughly smashed the first glass case she met and shoveled goodies into her pouch until she could hardly tie it shut.

For all the hoarding, she nearly missed the central attraction, nested upon a stand in the middle of the room. She cautiously--almost reverently--approached the crown jewel of the Griffin House, a priceless crystal ball with immeasurable magical properties: the Dragon Tear. The orb was seated in a bed of shapely blue quartz, a pyre of immaculate frozen flame.

"Crap." It was, she ruefully admitted, larger than the dinky replicas sold in souvenir shops. As it was about the size of her head, her pouch wouldn't be able to hold it (well, especially not after glutting it with booty); she'd have to carry it in her arms.

She reached for the artifact, claw tips gingerly folding around its slender grooves, and then the trap sprung. Her legs were up the moment the high-pitched squeak sounded at her feet, narrowly jumping above the criss-crossing net of lasers that instantaneously scoured the floor. The hot red grid danced from floorboard-to-floorboard and corner-to-corner, mere inches off the ground. Not seeing any safe spot to touch down upon, she held herself in the air, gripping the Dragon Tear's base in a tenuous handstand.
She was sure that, ass over heels, toes clinging to the air vent and wings sprawled every seven ways in the name of balance, she looked like the most retarded ceiling fan ever.

"Fuck me," she breathed.

She studied the net for an aching while, the blood rushing to her head and letting her wonder against the drumbeat in her ears whether the lasers were motion sensors rigged to set off the alarms or a cutting snare. When her steel helmet carelessly slipped off her head, fell into the trap and was cleanly shredded into cubes like a melon, she figured it out.

Testing her hold on the stand, she eased into a crouch, planting all fours on the pinpoint support. She sighed for the relief on her muscles and considered her options for escape.
She had the Dragon Tear in her grasp, but would this room let her leave with it? She wagered that if she could conjure a stiff gust against her wings she could glide to safety. She didn't hesitate to try this, but the magic... didn't appear.

'...what.' She tried again, pulling on the lavender winds, beseeching their lift...

Nothing. The room was still and dry. 'Damnit, what gives?' Magic was everywhere, even in space, albeit in trace amounts. The only way a room could be warded of its presence was if--

That's when she espied the suspicious paper tag nailed above the doorway, its yellow grain impressed with thick black runes: a magic seal.

"Damnit all, stupid seal. Eat this," she grumbled as she shifted the rifle off her back and into her itchy clutches. Precariously balanced with the Dragon Tear between her ankles, she took quick aim and spit a blast of searing plasma at the obstruction. The seal vaporized, to her mild satisfaction.

That, finally, set the alarms off. A drawling klaxon resounded throughout the manor, drowning out her curses. To make good times roll better, the magic ban was still in effect. She wildly scanned the room, looking for extra seals, and had to twist in circles to put shots in three more before the block dissipated. Liberated at last, she gathered her loot and summoned a draft strong enough to knock out windows, riding it out of the room.

Of course, this was just in time to face a line of guards that had accumulated at the end of the corridor. 'Again, no problem,' she assured herself as she reached for the rifle that... wasn't at her side anymore. Jerking a look back to the room of lasery death, she found the missing article on the floor in about fifty useless pieces.


"Freeze!" the part-time task force was demanding behind the business ends of their own happily intact laser rifles and pistols. She heeded them not, rushing the suitably armed group of four, the Dragon Tear held haphazardly out in front of her like a shield she didn't want to get scuffed.

A couple of shots ricocheted off the walls and screamed through the thin membrane of her wings before someone resembling a leader cried out, "He's got the Dragon Tear! Hold your fire!"

'He?!' her mind railed against the mistaken gender, though appreciated the courtesy all-the-same. She was headfirst into the melee before the guards could finish drawing their backup weapons. She bet the rent-a-cops didn't know shit on how to use their swords, either, and she proved that much right within the first two bumbling swings. One flailing sword was kicked out of reach and the other deftly deposited in her free hand. She twirled around, ducking beneath the third slash and rising up to hack some fingers off the fourth attacker, who stumbled backwards out of the brawl, cradling his stumpy knuckles.

Incompetent guard #1 lunged at her backside in an oafish tackle, which she skated beneath and turned into a messy, impromptu somersault. #3 took another stab at her. She followed her evasive sidestep into a roundhouse kick, sending sword flying away and #3 crashing down upon floored #1. She impaled both at once with a growling hiss and #2's weapon. Speaking of, he ran away in the midst of the carnage, at the behest of wailing #4, whom she shut up with sword #2 to the throat like an axe. She left it there because, well, it suited him better.
"This security fucking sucks," she shouted after the last man running.

The dragon lady secured the Dragon Tear in the crook of her arm and retraced her route through the halls, racing to get back to the sky dock before she had to bother with more of the Legion of Bumblefucks.

She skidded to a halt upon witnessing a wall drifting steadily forward to meet her, entirely obscuring her path. "What the fu--" she started before her expletive was muffled with a violent crack. An electric whip kicked her high and far through the air, throwing her to her back. She heard a crunching in her wings as a scratchy rug broke her fall, guaranteeing broken bones to match the carpet burn.

She groaned miserably in a mound of rumpled wool and scattered beads. The latter helped her uncover the rent in her pouch that was leaking precious trinkets. She rather didn't waste time collecting the missing shinies and instead checked the Dragon Tear wrapped tightly in her arms, realizing that both she and it were relatively unharmed, despite the noise and flashiness of the blast.

A glance down the hall confirmed that the damn WALL was still encroaching, some freakish floating monolith that had decidedly flunked out of becoming a painting and instead invested itself in home security. It was braided with gold leaf and silk, and shot lightning bolts from its crowning antennae. Another one lapped at her tail, compelling her to tumble backwards to avoid it.

She leapt to her feet, hopped around another firecracker whip and shrank behind the dragon statue. 'Shit, how am I going to fight it? I can't even get close!' She peered around an ivory wing in time to watch it explode in her face, a cloud of white powder dusting the impact. She shriveled back into her corner and pawed a speck of shrapnel out of one of her eyes. 'But it's getting closer to ME!'

She eyed the pile of dead at the intersection she just left behind, noting the night's glow draping over their corpses with a half-assed epiphany. She sprang out of hiding, barely out-skipped the chain of lightning that "magically" set the carpet aflame, dove behind the pancake stack of bodies and fumbled for a gun. The rank of burning hair permeated the hall as #1's hair combusted under the onslaught.

Scrambling to let the human shields take the fall without getting caught along with them, she plucked forth a handgun and loosed several rounds directly across the way, into the window. The glass shattered with a crash of thunder that was the most inviting sound she'd heard all night. She rolled forward, dashed for the opening and careened through jagged flakes in time for the monolith to not quite catch up with her. At the peak of her fall she reflexively called on the wind, which rustled her battered wings and picked her up and away from a nasty landing in rose bushes.

She began to soar high and far from the scene of the crime, sirens still blazing and fresh smoke billowing after her, too many guards too late for all their scrambling and outraged yelling to stop her, much less quell her sense of victory.

"Ha!" she panted, the adrenaline rush beginning to wane. She turned a look back on the Griffin Estate, which was rapidly diminishing below cloud cover, their precious Dragon Tear soundly in her possession.

Stealing it was a piece of cake.

Keeping it was going to be the hard part.

Got a little Pokémon, Chrono Trigger, FF9 and a splash of originality this round.
After "Tree of Life"s sequel I worried I wouldn't be able to write Zidane as well ever again, or at the very least have as much fun writing him as before.
But then I started, and all the fun came back. You can tell I like him, can't you?
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