Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

10. The Company Secret

by Myshu 0 reviews

The Company Secret

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2007-10-11 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 9007 words - Complete

10. The Company Secret

He woke up to the tidal lull of an oscillating fan and a dainty rapping sound, like creaking plastic. He flexed his hands and feet, which felt sore and supple with disuse, and savored the cool, soft caress of the bed sheets. It would be perfect to just relax and drift back into oblivion, but something pressing about reality--particularly that funny clicking noise--rustled him up.

Boss opened his eyes to an old friend, his bedroom ceiling. None of the lamps were on, but the curtains were slightly parted, letting in a bar of late afternoon gold over the scorch-marks and cracks in the tiles--and even without that, sunlight perforated the red cloth, bathing the room in flesh-warm hues.

He turned his head--his neck creaked, too, disconcertingly like plastic--and glimpsed the alarm clock: 5:33 PM.

He blinked and turned the other way, trying to orient himself--trying to remember when and how he got home, and why his head felt like a water balloon, about to pop--when he spotted Luth at the foot of his bed, jamming away on a GamePocket.

It was the quaintest thing he'd ever seen. Luth didn't seem to notice he was being watched, instead staring into the handheld screen and crunching its buttons with utmost focus. Boss rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat, slowly building up the nerve to wreck Luth's high score.

"I thought you didn't play video games."

Luth jumped like a rabbit shot in the rump, dropping his game to the floor--the batteries popped across the room like shrapnel. He gaped at Boss like at the undead, and then illuminated in the next heartbeat, throwing himself around the Genome's shoulders. "Sir!!"

"Ack," Boss coughed, startled by the hug.

"Oh sir, you're okay!" Luth held on for a steadfast minute, the tip of his tail twitching gleefully. His whiskers tickled Boss's neck as he mumbled observantly, "...You smell like you need a bath, sir."

"That's great, Lu. Um... you can get offa me now."

"Oh--sorr--um." Luth carefully pushed himself up and wiped his eyes. They looked red and puffy, and the fur beneath sunken and smeared with brine--it seemed like he hadn't rightly slept in days. "It's just, we were so worried."

Boss shuffled to sit up as well, leaning against a pile of pillows. "We?" he croaked, his throat nauseatingly scratchy.

Luth reconsidered. "I was, at least."

"What happened? How did I get here?"

His protégé promptly recited, "You collapsed, sir, back in the palace at Burmecia. You took a serious wound. It looked really bad at first, I have to say, sir, but it didn't turn out so bad in the end. You didn't even need stitches. We brought you back here as fast as we could--me, Arpy and Griffin, that is. I wanted to take you to a hospital, but I remembered how you felt about doctors, so Arpy called in a private physician. At least, I think he was a legal doctor--he was a little unorthodox--he was a Qu, sir. He bandaged you up and figured out what was wrong very quickly. He said it was chimera venom."

"Chimera venom?"

"Yes sir, we think it was on the weapon that cut you. It's a very rare and potent toxin. The doctor said you had a big enough dose to kill ten grown men and you were sick for days sir but I'm really glad you're alive I was so worried I wished I could've done something besides sit here--"

Boss reached out and petted Luth's wrist, trying to tranquilize his poor partner before he wibbled out of control. "Whoa whoa whoa, calm down, Lu. It's all right."

Luth sniffed and bit his lip, easing into a cool shiver. "Sorr--um. How do you feel, sir? Can I get you something to drink or anything? The doctor also said 'eat many greens,' by the way."

"No, it's okay, I'm..." Boss shook his head slowly, still dazed. "Did you say I was out for days?"

Luth nodded and added in a mewl, "I thought you were a goner, sir."

"Were you here the whole time?"

Another nod.

Boss smiled with a faint, ashamed twinge. "Aww. You didn't have to do that, Lu."

Luth hiccupped, nearly laughing. "I think it's my job, sir."

Boss opened his mouth, straining to say something to that, but he lost the heart for it and settled for another tired smile. "So, uh... Griffin and Arpy are here?"

"No, sir, they left a while ago, after they were finished with our prisoner."


"We caught one of them, the Red Angels, I mean. We were right, sir; they were Genomes. They were hiding their tails. Griffin killed two of them, and one got away, but we got one alive. Griffin and Arpy questioned him when he regained consciousness."

"Griffin?" Boss tipped a skeptical brow. "Questioned?"

"Well," Luth bluntly admitted, "Arpy questioned while Griffin broke his fingers."

Boss rolled his eyes. "Oh boy, I bet that went well."

"He didn't tell us much, that's true. All he would say is that their mission is to 'complete the restoration of Terra.' It didn't make a lot of sense."

Boss's gaze turned nebulous. "Terra..." he murmured at his hands.

"Yes, sir."

He blinked, snapping back to reality. "That's it?"

Luth scratched the side of his nose as he tried to recall. "No. We also learned that Maroon was his father."

Boss's countenance sank, distress filling the whites of his eyes. "Oh God. Not... literally, right? I mean, not his father father...?" he stressed.

Luth recoiled a notch, baffled by his reaction. "Um, yes, we're rather certain. What else do you think he could have meant?"

"I dunno, I was hoping maybe he meant like a priest, like 'Father Blaine,' or maybe he was adopted or... I dunno. You sure that's his kid?" he tried again, almost pleading.

"Yes sir, he definitely was, from what he told us."

"/Was/?" Boss's voice raised an alarmed octave.

"Ahm, well..." Luth nervously steeped his fingers, their claws chittering against each other. "When we were done, I wanted to turn him over to the police, but Arpy and Griffin didn't agree with me."

Boss slapped his hands over his face. "Please don't tell me they killed him."

Luth grimaced. "...His body's in the East River, sir."

"Oh, /Christ/," he bemoaned, "I'm going to hell at top-mach. I'm afraid to ask, but what about the Jewel?"

Luth ruefully shook his head. "The Desert Star is gone. The last one got away with it, presumably with Maroon. I'm so sorry, sir. We failed."

Boss wilted into the bedspread. "Is there any good news?"

He received a lame shrug. "We're still alive, sir."

That remark festered along the floorboards for a minute before Boss cracked. "...Heh, eheh, hahaha. Oh... so we are. We do have /that/," he slurred, peculiarly sarcastic, and tumbled out of bed with a groan.

Luth caught him halfway to the ground. "Oh, oh oh no, sir, I don't think you should be getting up so soon. You need rest."

"I'm /fine/, Lu," he growled, pushing off Luth's barring arm and wobbling to his feet. "And from the sounds of it I've rested long enough."

"Are you sure?" Luth persisted, concern scrawled over his face.

"Yeah, yeah. Ah..." He scratched his head, and then yanked his hand back after encountering a fistful of slimy, unwashed hair. "I could actually go for that drink, now that I think about it. Don't suppose you have any tonic on you?"

Boss relented under Luth's priggish glare. "Okay, okay, a soda is fine." He reeled over his foul temper, a guilty pang forcing out a polite afterthought. "Please?"

Luth sighed some relieved noise and stood. "Of course, sir. I'll be right back."

"Thanks," he responded on his way into the shower. "I'll be in the office in a little bit."


It was really a perfunctory setting, the office. Boss more often took to it for the change of scenery than anything else (especially actual business), and that was exactly what both of them needed after the stressful (for Luth, anyway) marathon of bed-sitting.

Boss, yet damp and smelling of strawberry shampoo, was stretched on his back over the sofa, twirling a lock of his own hair like some idle teenager.

Luth languidly paced around the rug, feeling sticky in the same shirt he had worn in the rain nights before. A shower was smelling more like a good idea for himself, too. "What are we going to do now, sir?" he eventually broke the silence.

"I don't know, I don't know... It hurts to think." Boss draped an arm across his eyes, defeated. "Ugh, I feel like ass. I haven't felt this bad since the turn of the last century."

"What happened then, sir?"

He replied through a distantly sated grin, "The best New Years party ever."

Luth plodded through the poor humor, his mind throwing down the brakes a delayed minute later. "...Wait a second, you mean the Millennial?"


Luth shook himself awake. "But that was well over thirty years ago. I wasn't even born yet! There's no way you could have been old enough to have been there, sir," he pruned, positive he caught his boss in a tall tale.

Rather than shooting off one of his typical, inane quibbles, Boss painstakingly rolled forward, dull fingers digging for purchase in the sofa's myriad creases and cigarette burns, and leveled a glare at Luth--too cloudy, blindingly deep, incredibly ancient. He then rubbed a broad hand down his face, wiping the specter off, crystal shallows returning.

"Ah, right, well... Lu." He drew a heavy, foreboding breath. "I think you're ready for the company secret."


Luth didn't know what to think. He followed Boss back to his room. He could have thought, 'This is it. This is what I've wanted to know since I started here,' but he wasn't sure what it was he really wanted to hear--or if, by this point, too far down the road of organized crime, burglary, ninjas and murder, he really wanted to hear it.

"I wanted to tell you, Lu," Boss started his case, his voice suspiciously frail, stumbling on every little gust of thought. "I wanted to tell you from the start. I... Sometimes I want to scream it, just, in front of everyone, just get it out--but I couldn't. I can't. I never know how to say it, and even if I did... It's not that I never trusted you, Lu. You gotta understand that. It's just that... I was really waiting and... hoping to see if you were ready to... trust me."

Hurt disbelief echoed, "I trust you, sir..."

A light hand fell on Luth's shoulder. "I know. I know you do. I'm really grateful, don't get me wrong. It's just, what I'm about to tell you isn't going to be easily to believe. You're going to think I'm a lunatic--I mean, if you don't already. That's what people say about us Genomes, right? That we all belong in padded rooms? Maybe I do, but what I'm saying here is true. I swear it. I don't have any proof--I wish I did, but..."

Luth returned the gesture, firmly reassuring, "You're not crazy, sir. You can tell me. I'll believe you."

His earnestness was accepted with a dim smile. "I know, Lu. You're a good friend. That's why... You're going to be the only man alive who knows about this. Well, you and..." He gulped, as if the words were salt. "Maroon, I guess. But we'll... deal with that in good time."

Boss tossed open the doors to his wardrobe, not even flinching like Luth did at the blazing graffiti across them, and began to dig along the baseboards. "It's painful to think about the past. I try to forget it as much as I can. But I knew from day one--I knew from the moment you told me you had that diary that we'd be having this talk. I just didn't know when, or how..." He sighed a thwarted note. "This would be easier if you had finished reading it."

Luth watched Boss pick through shadows clogged with coats and shoes. "Lady Freya's diary? Why? What's in it?"

"How far did you get, anyway?" Boss warily queried.

"Ah, I'm not sure, sir. It's not easy to tell, I mean, it's not exactly written like that..." he floundered.

"Before or after the Mist War?"

"Oh. After."

Boss wet his lips anxiously. "Did you find out... Did you read about what happened to the--to the King of Thieves?" He almost choked on the title.

These were the things he was forbidden to speak of--the questions he wasn't allowed to ask. Now Boss was asking for them, and that was how Luth knew he was truly at the bottom of some kind of grave, ineffable /truth/.

"You mean how he died?"

Boss nodded, and then finally procured a fat, leather-dusted book.

Luth knelt for a closer look. "No sir, I don't believe I got that far."

Boss seated himself on the floor and deflated with a stout sigh, collecting himself. "...Okay. Okay. Listen, this probably goes without saying, but what I'm gonna try to show you is between you, me and your great-grandma. You understand?"

"Your secret is mine, sir." 'Please, just be out with it.'

"Right, right..." he quickly submitted, as if reading Luth's mind. Boss opened the book, revealing an album of photographs. He flipped to the middle and then passed it to Luth's open lap.

"These are all pictures from when the company got started. Go ahead and take a look."

Luth honed in on the first snapshot, noting the delicately penned date below it: 1925. In tawny pastels it depicted a small storefront on a crowded, cobbled street--a very old picture, indeed. The old-town style shop was bannered with antique letters, "EXPRESS DELIVERY," and on the street facing the camera was a boy suavely leaning on a bicycle--a flaxen-mopped boy with a tail. Standing a little off-center in a very stiff, dull pose was a bulky demi-beast (/'A tapir?'/) in denim suspenders.

Beside it, the next photo: 1941. A crisper shot and a larger building, one with some trees behind it. The headcount tripled, and the Genome-boy sported a moped now. A paunch little tapir stood next to the bigger version.

1970. A color photo, greyed on the fringes, the same Genome if Luth didn't know better, lots of trucks and an old minibus-class ship, which the group of twelve was waving towards enthusiastically.

1989. Newer still, lookalike Genome shaking hands with a silver-bearded man in a black suit, on familiar front steps to a familiar, nine-storied edifice, the familiar skyline behind it trimmed down just a tad.

Luth turned the page.

1982. A lush park, a plume of roses along a white-washed wicker archway, a wide-set man of the cloth, the look-same Genome and a woman in white, two blonde tails twined around each other--a wedding.

1983. A frazzled woman, white again, same again, only in hospital gown this time, a freshly-born child swaddled in her arms.

He backtracked to the previous page, out of intimate territory. "These are interesting photos, sir. Ultima Express is a very old company, isn't it?"

"Yep. We celebrated our centenary 'bout ten years back. Isn't there something a little off about those photos, though?" Boss nudged him towards the pictures again.

"Hmm..." Luth tried his best, but came up addled. "I don't know, sir. I see what looks like the same man in all of them--looks just like you. Your predecessors, right?"

"They do look just like me, don't they? Same age and everything, huh?"

'Not a day out of their teens.' "They certainly do. A funny coincidence, isn't it, sir?"

"Yeah... funny," he agreed, his voice solemn as he reached over and flipped back to the lady in white.

"This woman, is that Meridia?" Luth had to guess.

"Yeah..." Boss nodded, fixed trance-like on her portrait across the page. "Beautiful, isn't she?"

"She is, sir. So that baby is you, right?"

Boss was lost, silent, disquieting.

"...Right?" Luth pressed, louder.

"That's Althier," Boss said abruptly, nothing light in his tone. "But I'm not in that shot."

"What?" Thrown off, Luth glanced from the album, to Boss, and back. "But I thought you told me that was your name. Meridia is your mother, right?"

"...No. No, Lu, I... lied. A bit. That's what I've been trying to say."

Luth met his gaze for a moment--a shady, deep, portentous moment, the point of it all careening towards him like a diving plane. "What exactly are you saying, sir?"

Boss was looking at a shoebox in the back of the wardrobe as he said it. "Meridia wasn't my mother. She was my wife. And Althier is... our son."

Luth's mind went utterly blank. "...What? What? No, you... You were married, sir?"

"Twice, actually."

"Wait, that's... not possible," he logic flew into gear. "This picture's dated 1983, and it's 2031 now, and, for you to be the father here you'd have to be..." His ears tilted, making him look dizzy with math. "Fifty... sixty years old, at least. There's no way."

"Keep going," he said flatly.

"What?" Keep going where? Farther? /Older/? "Wait, that's... no, sir. That's not funny."

"I know."

"...How old, sir...?" Luth asked timorously, about to die where he sat, crushed under the suspense of the impossible.

"Ahm..." Boss wiggled in place and leaned against the closet door, appearing somehow shy as he tried to brush it all off with casual uncertainty. "Two-hundred and eight, this year. Give or take a... year or two. I never knew my birthday, exactly."

".../That's not funny/, sir," Luth reiterated.

"I know."

"Dear gods..." The photo album slipped to the floor, out of Luth's capacity to notice or care. "This is crazy."

"I know."

A spark of outrage flared to the surface. "How do you expect me--what exactly are you trying to get me to believe, sir? What are you taking me for?" Luth challenged him, daring him to concoct another innocent lie or affable ruse.

"Look at those photos again, Lu," Boss insisted, staring him down and meeting the bluff. "Am I lying?"

Luth nearly didn't--nearly afraid, but he picked the book up and checked a final time. He was afraid he was going to see what Boss wanted him to see. He was afraid he would see...

Old photos, new photos. Same childlike, easygoing grin. Same spindly tail. Same bleached streaks in his hair.

"...If you're not Althier," Luth gravely wondered, "Then who are you?"

"You're smart, Lu. You can do math. Why would your great-great-great grandmother know about what I'm trying to tell you? Why would it be in her diary?"

It was Lady Freya, venerated late Dragon Knight, highest in fame, one of the saviors of the world--it was her epiphany, through him. There were no more lies.

He was looking at a kid. He was looking at an old man.

".../Oh my God/."

"Where?" Boss quipped, ruining it.

"No," he snapped back, to the present, to madness. "I mean--you!"

He forced a chuckle. "Flattering guess, but I'm not."

"No! I mean..." It wasn't funny. "Oh my holy dragon gods... /You're the King of Thieves/."

"Oh, no," Boss groaned, thumping his head against the cedar door. "Don't start talking like that."

"You are!" It wasn't funny. It made terrible sense. He was afraid he was going to believe it. "You were there two hundred years ago! You fought in the Mist War! You knew my great-great-great-grandmother." The implications hit him like cold water, his features dissolving in awe as the air leaked out of his chest. "That means... your real name is--"

"No!" Like a mousetrap, Boss clamped his muzzle shut with one tense hand, something feral and piercing in his usually open visage. Luth held still, his heart bottled up in his throat, thoroughly cowed.

Boss eased off, hesitantly apologetic, but then followed through his sentiment with a calmer, "No. You cannot ever, ever, ever call me that. Never. Never ever. Just, please."

Once freed, Luth clicked his jaw back into place and stammered softly, "I'm... I'm s... yes, sir, but... why?"

Boss wagged his head at the floor like an overburdened mule. "Because, because... God, Lu, do you have any idea how long it's been since anyone's called me that? I don't think I could stand to hear it again. Too many... too many memories. It's really... unpleasant."

"Oh. I see. I'm sor... my condolences, sir. But, this is... this is incredible! I mean, it's no joke, right, sir? Please don't be kidding--I'd have to kill you, no offense, sir," Luth entreated, desperate to believe against all his good sense.

"I'd wish you luck with that, Lu, but it's no joke. I swear it."

Luth rocked in place, at once giddy, astounded and disturbed. "Oh, my gods, oh, my gods... How? How did you do it?"

Boss was completely removed from his partner's excitement. "Do what, exactly?"

"Do--do everything! This company, all the press, all the--the names, the Mist War, your son--"

Boss quirked an eyebrow. "You don't need me to tell you about the birds and the bees, Lu."

"No, sir!" He threw down his fists in a tantrum. "I'm trying to be serious. You have to tell me everything, right now." He then leaned close and reverently whispered, as if the gods should not overhear, "/How have you lived this long/?"

Boss moved off, slinked into a chair and switched on a lamp, preempting the fading daylight. "Relax, Lu. I'll tell you everything. It's just going to take a while. One thing at a time, alright?"

Luth nodded eagerly and crowded Boss's feet like a child around a campfire. Boss swallowed a mean laugh and gave his best shot at being "serious." "Where should I begin...?"

Luth led him to the first hurdle. "How could you have run this company by yourself for a hundred years without anyone realizing you're the same man?"

"Well, /there/." He flashed a coy grin, relishing the dramatic suspense. "You really want to know?"

"I think it's a little late to ask me that, sir," Luth said testily.

"Haha, I suppose you're right. ...I guess it all started way after I'd put everything behind me."

He closed his eyes, gathered his thoughts and then grimaced, simple reminiscence already souring his mood. It took an aching minute before he sobered enough to resume, "After my first wife died, I made myself pretty scarce. I went to the old Black Mage Village and stayed with some of my own kind for a while, just trying to blend in and forget everything. I couldn't really sit in one place for long, though. Couldn't do that hermit shit, either." He inflated with mock airs, performing as if from a play, "I am a social creature, after all, my dear Maurice."

At Luth's bemused reaction, he dropped the act with a shrug. "...Uh. So I eventually went back to Lindblum, where I grew up, and got a little delivery business going. It was just something to keep me busy. I had a dinky little bicycle and everything, just like you saw in that photo, there. By that time, everyone assumed I was dead and forgot about me, so it was easy to get a fresh start. I learned pretty quick that being a Genome in this part of the world isn't a cool thing, though. If I wanted to get around the bad rap, I needed a little street cred. So I started telling people I was the bastard grandson of the King of Thieves."

Luth blinked, piecing together the alibi. "You... impersonated your own non-existent illegitimate grandson."

Boss folded his arms behind his head and beamed with perverse pride. "Heheheheheh."

"How did you possibly expect that to work??" Luth criticized.

"Heh, I didn't, really. Nobody could prove shit either way, and all Genomes look alike, right? The Royals in Alexandria were pissed to all hell--wanted to shut me up so bad."

"Wait, so, your wife--I mean, your first wife, she was Queen Garnet, yes?"

Boss nodded.

"So, her son...?"

"Adopted," he cut to the quick, callous enough to shock Luth again. Everything about the conversation was too surreal to perch upon and pick apart, though, so Luth had to run with it.

"Really? .../Oh/. I didn't know that. Why didn't you and Queen Garnet have children? Er, if you don't mind my asking, sir."

Boss shrugged, hardly bruised. "It was a technical thing, I guess. Hell knows we tried. Just doesn't work between Genomes and humans, apparently--just like between Burmecians and humans, right?"

"Ah. And the crown prince was supposed to be legitimate. Now I see why Alexandrian royalty wanted to keep you quiet so badly."

"Exactly. But you know what, rookie? You can hide people--you can even hide facts, but you can't stop gossip. I don't see what their big deal was, anyway; it was my good name on the chopping block, not theirs. So, thanks to the gossip I stirred up, my new business got a lot of press. Suddenly it was really taking off. In a few years I had an office, my own staff, our first airship and everything. After a while, I realized that I couldn't keep it up forever, because..." He rolled his wrist, a heady silence filling the blank. "You know. So I disappeared again."


"I left my assistant in charge of the company and 'retired' to another Genome colony. I can't even remember which one. I stayed there long enough for everyone to forget me, dead and gone. I tell ya, Lu, those colonies are great for getting away from it all. Nobody wants to look for you there. Anyway, after a long time down the road, I returned to Lindblum and took the company back. Guess who I said I was?"

"The son of the founder..." Luth was catching on.

"Bingo. And you know what? People bought it, just because the alternative was believing that I was the old man himself, and I looked way too young to be him, right? A long time ago I figured out that it is just as easy to manipulate skeptical people as it is gullible people. I got to use the fact that I'm one of the biggest racial pariahs since the Black Mages to my advantage."

"Dear gods..."

"You see where this is going. Rinse and repeat, and that is how I have become the great-great-grandson of the King of Thieves," he concluded jauntily.

"That's incredible. You know, what I heard is that your father died in an air crash."

"Yeah..." Boss flippantly dismissed the rumor, "Those are easy to fake. Well, if you're rich and have an airboat to spare."

"But there's something I don't understand: Why hide your name? If you wanted to perpetuate the myth that you're an heir to the King of Thieves, wouldn't you want to hold on to the name?"

"Oh. Well..." He shrugged shiftily. "All that business wasn't intentional. Not at first, anyway. Actually, the mob had more of a hand in it than I did. I think a lot of that prejudice against Genomes helped, too. Let's just say, Lu," he explained in sage hindsight, "That if you're someone as powerful as me, and you want to forget something, the whole world will forget with you."

Luth considered that for a pensive stretch. The power to make people forget...

Boss briskly clapped. "Any questions, my ever-curious rookie?"

"Is that what you hired me for, sir?"

Taken off guard, Boss yelped something unintelligible, probably in the vein of, "/What/?"

"To keep your identify a secret?" Luth pursued, increasingly indignant. "If I'm working for you, I won't leak it, right? That's all I'm worth to you, isn't it?"

Boss was floored. "Lu, I...!"

"You don't have to say it, sir," the Burmecian moodily interjected. "I understand."

"No, no." Boss refused to let Luth understand it like /that/. "Look, I'll admit it. That's one of the things I had in mind when I hired you."

Luth's scowl fell on a dust bunny near the bedpost. "I see."

Boss slid out of his chair and crawled around Luth, carefully peering up into his partner's disdain. "...Are you mad?"

Luth didn't budge. "I feel a little betrayed, sir. /Again/."

"Heh," Boss could only snort, his trademark light humor betraying him. "That's it? You don't feel like yelling or hitting me?"

"Do you want me to lash out at you?" Luth retorted, striving to sound bitter despite Boss's pacifying gestures.

"If it'll help."

"...What was the other reason you hired me?"


"You said that was one of the things. What are the others?"

"Well..." Boss flopped onto his back, like a submissive puppy. "To be honest, you remind me a bit of... her."

This at last won eye contact: a small sideways glance. "Lady Freya...?"

"Yeah. I mean, not... that much, but." His tail batted the air and his fingers laced in the springs beneath the bed, as if all his parts could never pay attention at once. "You have some things in common. And you don't have to believe this, but I really do trust you, Lu. I could see what kind of person you were from the moment you set foot in my office. You're headstrong, polite, dedicated, a little naive, but really... honest. I love how honest you always are. You don't have a lot of passion, though. I was hoping, maybe once you got comfortable around here... and, uh, around me, I'd get to see some fire out of you."

Luth clenched his fists and eyes, fighting himself. 'It's not that easy to...'

"You know," Boss continued, gently sincere, "You don't have to stay. I never expected you to, especially now that I've dragged you into all this trouble. You can still get out. You're always free to quit."

Luth couldn't stand it. 'He always makes it sound so simple. It can't be this easy to let it all slide. It's just like when he told me about him and the mob, and Julia. And I just keep taking it. Am I that simple, or is it him? Why must he be so, so...?'

"Oh, sir..." His hands trembled, and his eyes opened to misty slits. "Why are you always so difficult?"

Boss shot him a lopsided grin, the one that made everything look plain and silly despite... /everything/. "I try."

Impossible. Luth broke down, coiling into a tight ball, laughing and sobbing in funny little fits. Totally disarmed, Boss could have laughed until he cried. "And who thinks I'm crazy? Look at you!" He gingerly patted Luth's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"I was trying to be mad at you," Luth sulked at the floor.

"I know," Boss chuckled. "You were pretty convincing!"

Luth eventually managed to peel himself off the ground, his snout burning and damp from all the ridiculous sniveling. "...I won't leave you, sir. I swear I won't."

"Aw, Lu..." Boss pulled him into another hug, embracing ridiculous. "I don't deserve you."

"No more secrets, right, sir?"

"No more."

"Good. Now tell me about Meridia and Althier."

"...Sheesh." He clicked his tongue and let Luth up. "You never pull your punches, do you?"

Luth reoriented himself and tossed back a sappy smile. "Never, sir."

"Fire away, then."

"How did you two meet?"

"Ouch." Boss climbed onto the bed and nested on a pillow. "It's been... fifty years now, I guess. I'd just come out of a rough spot, probably drinking too much, trying to make myself retarded. See, a good friend of mine had died--"

Luth claimed a pillow for himself, getting comfortable for story time. "Who?"

"Scrabber, Arron. Helped me a lot with the company, way back when. Really cool guy. You don't know him."


"But anyway, I'd got out of the funeral--I hate funerals, you have no idea--and started thinking about ol' Scrabber, and the more I thought about him, the more I thought about other people I used to know who're dead now, and it just snowballed. I got depressed to all hell, real fast. You ever see those stories on TV about guys who try to off themselves, but then for whatever reason don't go through with it, or they screw it up, and suddenly they're all better and love their live? That's such a load of crap. I always felt worse."

"Uh...?" Luth drawled warily between the lines.

"But anyway, I was just flirting around some club, trying to pick up a cheap date. I figured maybe getting back into some of my old tricks would perk me up. Heh, it's just funny, how you never get what you expect. Just when you say, 'That's it. I'm done. Never again,' someone like her... Someone just... amazes you. She was a real free spirit. Kind, strong, funny... no one could tame her. I'd never met anyone like her, especially not another Genome. I mean, you know how... eh, whatever.

"Point is, she was... We were doing good. I didn't think I could love anyone like my first wife again, but she changed everything. It was good until... well. Reality caught up with us. Our son was growing up and she was getting older and I, y'know, wasn't. It was the same bullshit all over again. I had to leave, before things got too complicated."

"Was it hard to leave behind your wife and only son?"

"It was the hardest thing I'd ever done--or pretty close, but those are older stories. It feels like a whole 'nother life, way back when."

"The Mist War?"

"Yeah." He rubbed his nose diffidently. "But, back to Mery. She wanted to go with me, to hell with the company and everything--and God, Lu, I would've taken her, but Althier... We wanted what was best for him. We thought Lindblum was going to be the best place for him to grow up, and then when he was ready, the company would be waiting for him. We wanted him to have every opportunity in the world.

"So she stayed in Lindblum with our son, and I stayed out of sight. I mean, we still saw each other every now and then--wrote letters, birthday cards, the works. Heck, when Alfy got breaks from school, he'd spend some of them with me. Mery would say he's gone to see his 'Uncle Z,' heh. Those were great times--well, as good as they were gonna... Well. I don't know what happened. As Althier got older, I saw less and less of him. Eventually he quit writing me back. He was always really... bitter, about me. I don't think he ever understood why I left him and his mother. I can't really blame him, there."

"Didn't you ever tell him? About your real name?"

"No. His mother could have, but I don't know. I know I should've, but... damn, Lu. How do you talk to your kid about that?"

Luth didn't know, so he didn't say.

"So, he kept getting more and more rebellious as he grew up--cut class, stirred shit up with Mery, fell in once or twice with the cops--until one day he just disappeared. ...He hated me."

"Oh, I'm sure that's not true, sir."

"Oh no," Boss said with bright certainty, "He said so. It was the last thing he said to me. He hated me and didn't want anything to do with me, so he was leaving. It was on a note on the refrigerator, in big red marker. We never saw him again. Poor Mery, she was crushed. She wasn't the same after that. After a while, she quit speaking to me, too. I think she blamed me for what happened to Althier."

Boss drifted off, a boggy film crossing his eyes. "I wasn't even there when she died. I didn't know... Heh." He rubbed his nose again, masking a sniffle. "I didn't think it would hurt as much the second time. She was always good at proving me wrong."

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to open a wound."

He didn't even correct his apology. "It's okay. I'll be okay. I'll always be okay. It's my curse."

'But that's so sad, sir.' He couldn't even say it. It would have sounded cheap, and what could he say, really, to someone who had lost two lovers to the ages?

"Well." Boss straightened, back to business. "I didn't have a lot of time to feel sorry. I had to come back and reclaim the company, playing the part of my own son." He glanced to the photo album left on the floor and shrank with a depreciating shrug. "This company, you know, it's not really much, but... it's something that won't die on me unless I let it, y'know?"

"Sir..." Luth offered plaintively.

Boss shook off the pity, struggling to keep mellow. "I never quit wondering what happened to him, though. I didn't know if he was okay, or alive or what. ...Until the other day."

"What do you mean? What happened the other day?"

"He was right there, Lu. I didn't even recognize him. He'd changed his name to Maroon and everything."

Luth's eyes bulged with alarm. "Maroon?! Oh /gods/. What? No. Maroon is...?! Oh no, sir. Oh, oh no. This is terrible."

"I know."

"Oh no no no, this is really terrible! If Althier is your son, and he's Maroon, and that man we caught was Maroon's son, then we--ohmygodI'm so sorry, sir. I'm sorry, I'm sorry--" Luth was pitched into rambling shock.

"Lu, Lu, please." Boss grabbed him, holding him still. "It's okay, you didn't know."

Luth's hyperventilating simmered down to whimpers. "I told them not to kill him..."

"I know, Lu. It's not your fault. It's just really, really, really bad luck--and Griffin being a dick."

Luth bit his lip. "You're taking this rather well, sir."

Boss returned a jaded eyeroll. "I would, wouldn't I? I think I'm pretty desensitized to people dyin' on me."

"At least now you know what became of Althier, sir," Luth figured, digging for needless consolation.

"Yeah. It's been thirty years... He'll be forty-eight next month." He fidgeted with the tag behind his shirt collar and remarked, seemingly to himself, "I can't keep this up much longer, either."

"What do you mean, sir?"

Boss looked away, evasively pensive. "...Nothing, never mind."

Apprehension clenched Luth's nerves, jumping him to conclusions. "You can't leave again, sir. What's going to happen to the company? And to you? And to me?"

Boss treated his fretting with a glum smile, one hand ruffling Luth's dirt-brown hair. "Don't worry about that just yet."

Luth hummed, hardly satisfied, but ready to move on. "You know, sir, you never did answer my first question."

The Genome playfully scoffed, "What, the first million of them?"

"The 'how have you survived this long' one," Luth urged. His complaint feeling incomplete, he then amended, "...Sir."

Boss shrugged haplessly. "I can't age. I wish I had an explanation, but I don't. I've run into a lot of crazy shit, especially during the Mist War, you know, and there's no telling what all of that did to me--or, hell, why it didn't affect any of my friends the same way. Believe me, it still freaks me plenty the hell out, sometimes."

"You just stopped aging? When did you realize this?"

"I dunno, hard to say. It wasn't just one day, /bam/, 'Holy shit, why am I still here?' The whole thing kinda crept up on me." He scratched his head with an introspective frown. "I think it was pretty damn obvious once I was getting hit on by my best friends' /grandkids/, though, geez."

"Hehe, really?" Luth caught his lip in a pinch. "Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to laugh. I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time."

"I guess it's funny now/," he permitted. "You just have no idea. It wasn't only the age thing. I never get sick--I mean, the real 'cough-cough' kind. Not one cold, sore throat or pesky STD, ever. Heh, I practically have to poison myself for a buzz. You remember that night you came in here and talked to me, I guess a month back? I'd taken /six phendaquil," he bragged.

"Six?" Luth waded through ignorance. "That doesn't sound like too terribly much."

"Phendaquil is a tranquilizer for /chocobos/," Boss enlightened him.

"...Oh." Luth would be impressed, if he weren't appalled. "That is too terribly much, then."

"It doesn't seem to matter what I do. I can't even go hungry. I tried starving myself once, just to see how long I would last."

"How long did you?" Luth pried, morbidly curious at this point.

Boss crossed his arms and huffed at himself. "Tch. It was disgusting. I had to give up after six months! I felt like shit and looked like a damn dusterhead. Still didn't go hungry."

"Six /months/?" Luth boggled at his committed recklessness. "Without food??"

"I wouldn't recommend it."

Luth was torn between meaning to say, 'You shouldn't do that; it's unhealthy,' and 'You shouldn't BE ABLE to do that.' All that came out was, "That's insane, sir."

"I know," he couldn't deny. "It feels crazy. It's like I'm invincible. I can feel pain, but..." He thoughtfully scratched the bandage under his shirt, though the fresh cut didn't even itch. "Everything heals so fast."

"You're immortal...?"

A measure of dread in Luth's tone made Boss reconsider. "I don't... I'm not sure. I don't really think I'm invincible. I'm pretty sure it's possible to kill me, just..." He plucked away the old cotton wraps on his wrists and exhibited each. "...Not easily."

Luth strangled an outburst, merely gawking at the railroads of marred flesh along the Genome's arms and palms. "I'm surprised I still have these scars," Boss remarked over them, almost wistfully.

He then took the thought to the next level, taking off his shirt and showing the spread-winged bird of prey in pallid red ink on his back. "See this tattoo I got? It fades out completely in two years/, I'm serious. I have to see four different guys all across Gaia to keep it touched up without people getting suspicious, and even then, Marla at the /Crystal Artz shop still gives me funny looks. Been keeping it going almost twenty years now, though. I'm kinda proud of it."

"That's crazy, sir--I mean, the situation, not you, sir--I mean--" Luth bit down on his knuckle, muddled. "I should quit talking now."

"Hahaha." Boss wiggled back into his shirt. "It's okay, rookie. I told you to relax."

"But, um, those scars...?"

"What? They're just scars. I don't know why they always stick when I can't keep a damn tattoo, but whatever. I got some from the war, some from stupid stuff--accidents, whatever. You try living two hundred years and not picking up a few scrapes!"

"Fair enough, sir. Is that why you really wear those bandages all the time? Are you ashamed to show them?"

"...Oh, oh!" He belatedly caught Luth's meaning, and started to restlessly stroke his wrists. "These scars. Um... yeah. These don't look good, do they? Like I've been cutting myself, like one of those manic-depressive freaks, huh? Nah, it's not like that. Not exactly. Those guys are just trying to get attention, y'know? I knew what I was doing. Or I thought I did."

".../What/?" Luth suddenly didn't want to hear that right.

"Well, I don't want to make this sound morbid, but I guess there's no avoiding it. There's been lots of times where I... Haha, well." He snickered bashfully and scratched the back of his neck. "If practice really made perfect, I'd be the best suicide artist in the world by now, hahaha."

Luth's throat felt stuffy and dry. "You're scaring me, sir..."

"You're scared? Try to imagine what I've gone through. I've hit a lot of points in my life--a /lot/--where I didn't know what to do with myself anymore. No kids, no family, no prospects--everyone and everything I'd grown up with died and moved on without me. It feels like a curse, sometimes. Most people are afraid of dying. I'm afraid of going on."

"So what do you do?"

"What haven't I done?" He leaned back and waved significantly at his surroundings, and all the things beyond them: shipyards, warehouses, offices, an economical empire. "I'm one of the richest men on Gaia. Isn't it funny? All those crazy theories about who I am and what the company is, and it's really all just one guy, pissing his life away. I kept waiting for one of those tabloid nut-jobs to call me out on it, but it never happened. Nobody ever guessed." He stared gloomily at the wreckage of skin around his hands. "So, I tried a few times to put an end to it all. Razors, noose, the conventional stuff."

"I think I'm going to be sick, sir..."

Boss thumbed towards a bin in the corner. "Trash can's over there if you're gonna blow."

Luth smoothed back his ears and gulped down the creeping green sensation. "Erm, that's okay, sir, just... You haven't really tried to kill yourself, have you?"

"Oh yeah, several times. Best time was when I jumped out that window across the hall, in my office. You know that one next to the sofa? Actually, I wasn't trying to kill myself that time. I was trying to prove myself to Meridia."

Luth shook his head, a discomfited furrow to his brow. "Why? How?"

A defensive shrug. "I was trying to tell her the truth, and she didn't believe me! Of course, I don't blame her, but I had to prove it /somehow/. It was a pretty bad idea, in retrospect. Broke a lot of bones. Really bloody painful. I was lucky it was dead o'clock at night and only the drunks and bums saw me go splat. Lots of blood." He flexed one shoulder with an uncomfortable grunt. "Man, hurts just thinkin' about it."

Luth covered his ears. "I don't think I want to hear any more, sir..."

"Hey, you asked! It sure worked, though. Meridia flipped a lid--said if I ever tried a stupid, crazy stunt like that again, she'd finish me off for sure." He grinned nostalgically. "God, I loved that woman."

Luth watched his good spirit waver again. Boss sighed and rubbed a phantom ache in his chest. His malaise didn't last long enough for Luth to devise some comfort, though, and in the next instant the Genome somersaulted out of bed.

"Man! That's enough depressing stuff. One thing I've learned is that moping over the past is no good way to spend an eternity, Lu." He turned towards the door and swept a hand over his shoulder, beckoning, "Com'on, let's go to the basement. I've got something really cool to show ya."


"There really is a secret basement here?"

They took the stairs, for a change. They were supposed to be a fire escape, so Luth never dealt with them before. If he had, he might have discovered the utility sub-floor on his own.

Boss led him around whirring compressors, dripping valves and hissing pipes, each step deeper into stingy green and orange shadows. There was no one else in sight, not even a pest.

"Please, Lu. I am insulted. How could I be an eccentric gillionaire and not have a super-cool underground vault? Honestly." He bumped into a wall at the end of the narrowing corridor. "Ach. I keep forgetting that's there." Boss fumbled around the inky corners of bricks, their only light about fifteen paces around the last corner.

Luth heard the tiniest scrape of metal over concrete as Boss scooped up a key. "Hah! There it is." The Burmecian patiently stood back while Boss tinkered behind the breaker boxes, cracking an obscured lock.

"Oh, and don't worry," he assured on the side, "There's no missiles or giant robots. Just my collection."


"It's a hobby." Something snapped with a muffled, mechanical ding. "Hey, push hard on that door to your right for me."

Luth obeyed, surprised by the way the heavy steel slab groaned ajar, like pushing a car. Boss stepped around him and down into the void that appeared, muttering, "I always forget to bring a light. Watch your step down here, Lu."

There were more stairs. Luth very carefully progressed to the bottom, Boss's unconcerned voice and a handrail guiding him through the pitch black.

"You might call me a treasure hunter. It used to be a real lucrative trade, back when I was your age. My old boss and his gang, Tantalus, hunted for treasure all the time. Then cities got bigger and the world got smaller and... well. There's really not much left to the business. It's kinda a shame."

Once on solid ground again, Boss cursed and stumbled until he hit a switch, throwing on the lights. A sparse row of incandescent factory lamps split the room in two.

Luth drew a long, shallow, awestruck breath. "Oh... wow."

It was a single hall, concrete and austere, nothing grand in itself, but along each wall were cases of glass, oak and brick, each sheltering a unique treasure. Luth glided from one niche to the next, admiring the artifacts in turn: cracked, rune-carved blocks; a cursed mirror; a collection of multicolored, palm-sized, radiant stones; a chimera armlet; an ivory hand bell...

The more Luth looked, the more he saw stranger, esoteric things: a chest full of sundry keys, a Griffin's heart, a rat tail, an antique map of the world, a Namingway card, six "Master Hunter" medals of assorted years, and a framed ticket to an old play, dated 1839: 'I Want to be Your... Crow?'

"These are my precious little canaries," Boss sang, his arms stretched out with a flourish as he swaggered down the aisle. "I hunt them, and catch them, and lock them away in pretty little cages in the dark--and when I am done with them I set them free, for me to hunt all over again~"

"That's madness," Luth shot him down, at a loss for any kinder way to describe it.

Boss rather took it like a compliment, only grinning wider. "You might say the same about all hobbies. You see, what I do is give all this stuff away before I, ah, /take my leave/--y'know, donate to museums, art collectors, auction houses, stuff like that. Then later, when I reclaim the company, I go around and take it all back. It's like a game."

"How very... sporting," Luth ambiguously commented. His gaze lingered on a bobo totem as he surmised, "You don't exactly 'reclaim' all this legally, do you, sir?"

"Well, Lu," he quipped, swaying towards the far wall, "They don't call me the King of Thieves for nothing."

Luth followed him to the end of the walk, where he beheld a showcase loftier than the others. Standing behind the glass in plain, unassisted glory was an obscene array of old-fashioned weapons: great swords, staves, rods, daggers, clawed gloves, and even a giant, gilded fork. Luth could just make out the inscription on the sword directly in front of him: /Excalipoor/.

Boss picked open the door to the case and rifled through the armory with meticulous grace, eventually pulling out a polearm of fair length and elaborate make. "It's called the Dragon's Hair. Your... ahm..." He paused to calculate. "Great-great-grandmother gave it to me. Adele."

"Lady Freya's daughter?"

Boss nodded as he passed the weapon to Luth. The Burmecian turned it over thrice, admiring the relic. The spiral shaft was dusted with gold, and a steeple of three swooping blades crowned the head, each glossed with iridescent violet and fire-orange.

"It's beautiful..."

Boss bowed into his line of sight, grinning cheekily. "You like it? It's yours."

"What? Oh, I couldn't!" It was the /Dragon's Hair/. Of course Luth had heard of it. Its edges were the very ones driven into the head of the Great Necromancer, the one none but Lady Freya and her band of intrepid rogues had met and lived to write about. Of course Luth knew, because he read it and believed, and Boss... /Boss was there/.

Luth had barely given it back when Boss's hands steeled against his, stopping him. "No," he insisted, his tone oddly reverent. "It belongs to a Crescent."

He smiled, and Luth didn't question any more. He understood.


They headed back to the ninth floor--thankfully via the elevators--in contemplative silence. It was almost a momentous occasion, right there: Boss running out of things to say. Luth didn't dare spoil it, the Dragon's Hair cradled in his hands saying enough.

There was the inevitably awkward moment outside their rooms, when Luth had to ask, 'What now?' Before he could say a thing, though, Boss took care of that problem by sagging against the wall with a small, pained moan. "Agh..."

"You okay, sir?"

He sank to the floor like a clumsy sloth, clutching the wall for support. "...Uh... dizzy."

"Sir?" Luth knelt over him, studying his suddenly pale face. "Are you okay?? I think you need to lie down some more, sir," he prudently suggested, and helped Boss stand.

"That's not a--huuurck!" Boss doubled over, retching into his fist until a formidable phlegmy mess coated his fingers. He and Luth simultaneously recoiled from the sight of blood and shared a second of horrified shock.


Boss just frowned. "...Ugh. That's new. Did you say chimera venom? Because, /damn/." He wiped the ugly humors off on his shirt. "Yeah, I'm definitely going to lie down," he weakly announced. "I'll see you later, Lu."

Luth impotently watched his boss retreat behind his door. "...Take care, sir. Please call if you need anything."

The door grunted, and then was quiet. Luth went back to his room with the Dragon's Hair in tow, many weighty worries on his mind.
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