Blood and Honorby Zephir
Chapter 8The man reels from a two-hit bodyblow combination thrown by Vargas, then falls on his back from a three-hit jab-jab-hook combination to his chin. Rika comes into the sparring room and looks around at everyone, letting her eyes fall on the man on the ground as he rubs his chin and gets back on his feet. "He's lettin' ya have it, huh?"
The guy faces her, still rubbing his chin and stumbling a bit, while she walks towards them and addresses Vargas. "You got a moment?"
Vargas rubs his hand in his palm and flicks his wrist twice. "No, but I could use some practice."
He adds a little extra hiss on "practice" for some barbing fun, and circles partway across the mat to let her on. She stares at him for a second, and then chuckles and walks onto the mat. "All right... I'll try not to be too rough."
He tilts his head at that, then charges at her with a light jab. She dodges it easily and counters with a kicking jab to his head, which he dodges also. "So what brings you down here?" he asks between punches.
"Well, you know I--" she starts, then jabs at him and pulls back to finish. "--Found something -- last week while I was out."
"Eh?" he asks, then swings wide.
She ducks under it and makes a legsweep attempt, but he hops over it and waits for her next move. She comes back up on her feet hopping on her toes, but instead of continuing her attack she bounces around from side to side, looking for a good opening. "I met some merchants up north who've been out to Narshe lately..."
Quickly, while he's looking out for a punch, she ducks and rushes at him, grabbing him around his waist and taking him down to the mat. Some of the small crowd gathering about them hops up and exclaims in unison, "Ohhh!"
He lies on his back for a moment while she gets off him and back on her feet, staring at her, then nods before getting back to his feet. "Good, good... so, uh, what about your merchant friends?"
She starts hopping on her toes again, raising her fists back up. "They told me they'd met this guy--URGH!"
He does pretty much the same to her as she'd done to him, except he grabs her waist and whips himself around behind her, where he gets her into a headlock and forces her to one knee. She gags on his arm, feeling all that muscle closing off her windpipe. "Ack... augh... I can't... breathe..."
"I think that's the point," he says with a grin.
She coughs a couple times, then stands on her two feet and grabs his head in her hands. She then kicks her leg out in front of her and sits down from that position, ramming his forehead into the top of her scalp and breaking the hold.
"OW! Ow, that hurt!" he exclaims, rubbing his forehead vigorously.
"It's supposed to, dimwit!" she says with a wide smile.
He finally stands up again and holds his fists up, across from her in the same grappling stance. "Okay, so what about this guy they met?"
"They said he lives in this house north of Narshe, all by himself..." She tilts her head stiffly to work out a kink, then returns to looking at him. "I think it's Duncan."
Vargas pauses, lowering his hands. "...Huh?"
"Yeah..." She lowers her hands, too, instead of taking advantage.
"But... are you sure?" Skeptically, he shifts his pose and looks at her with his eyebrows furled.
"Loud mouth, hyper, threatened to beat 'em senseless when they first saw him, sure sounds like our Duncan."
Unsure what he should be saying, Vargas steps back and utters small syllables of sound, breathing heavier. She walks closer to him and puts a hand on his shoulder, catching his eye. "I think he might be alive, Vargas."
"B--b--but... but... b--but... but..."
"B--b--b--b, maybe you should go and see for yourself?"
He tries to step away, but can't go anywhere under her gaze. "I... but... he... we... I..."
"Hey, you could use some time off anyway. Consider it a vacation!" She catches his eye again and nods at him hopefully, but he shakes his head and draws back.
"What if he... I mean, I tried..."
She watches him stammer for some time, then sighs and raises her hands in defeat. "Okay. It's your choice. I'm just a messenger."
He looks up at her with confused, frightened eyes and watches her start turning away. "I'm gonna go now... it's just about dinner time."
He waves a hand at her, sloppily, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, dinner... bye..."
The whole scene leaves a couple guys and gals scratching their heads, but they soon forget about it and go back to training, while Vargas paces about for a moment and then leaves.
He heads straight for his quarters and plunks down on his bed, unable to get it off his mind. Should he go? Should he stay? What if he rejects him? What if he doesn't remember him? Or worse yet... what if he forgives him?! Sitting soon turns to pacing, and pacing soon turns to nervous nail biting. In the end, he takes one last glance over at his claws and stares at them for some time, then looks himself in a mirror.
Without taking so much as a second glance back, he exits the Colosseum and starts making his way northeast, passing by Rika in the grand lobby, who watches him leave with a smirk.
Across plains and meadows he trudges, slaying many a monster and foe before marching across more plains... and yet more plains... until he finally arrives at Figaro Castle. Hiding his identity in robes made from animal hides so he won't be discovered, he passes under the sea and arrives in South Figaro. Standing in that town brings back many old memories for him, but he doesn't have the time or patience for nostalgia. He charters a trip to Narshe as soon as he can, and arrives the next day.
It certainly takes some doing, but owing to his many days spent mountain climbing with his dad he crosses the range and finds Duncan's house within the week. The feelings running through him as he stands before the small orchard surrounding the lone cabin are indescribable; everything from fear to depression passes through him in a short moment, but he quickly swallows the lump in his throat and works up the courage to enter...
He passes through the thin line of trees and emerges to see the cabin, a little run-down but still in good overall condition. He's still gawking at the sight when the door flings open and a man steps out, a very stout one in his mid-fifties. His face scowls beneath the great white beard he wears, and he squints through the sunlight, straining to make out the figure he sees. "Who is it...? Is it... Vargas? Vargas?"
He steps closer and examines him closer, watching Vargas swallow again and take another step forward. "...Vargas! Vargas, my boy! Ha ha ha!"
Duncan starts to jog towards him, but stops a few steps short and squints one eye at Vargas. "Say... you aren't here ta finish the job... are ya?"
Taken aback, Vargas can only stammer. "Uh... uh... um..."
"...Hah! Hahaha!" Duncan throws his arms out and grabs Vargas up in a big bear hug, with Vargas finding him to be remarkably strong for an old man.
Vargas pats him on the back reluctantly, so confused his poor mind can't figure out what to do or say. "Uhh..."
Duncan lets go of him slowly, still laughing. "Ha ha ha haah, what? Cat got yer tongue?"
"I, uhh... I, uhh..."
Duncan laughs once more, heartily, then stands to his side and puts his hand on his back, leading him to the door. "Come inside and have some tea! This is cause for celebration!"
The two of them sit at the living room table (the only table in the house, actually) and drink their cups of tea, one very happy-looking Duncan sipping from his glass and gazing at one very confused-looking Vargas. Finally he can't take the silence any more and just asks him bluntly, "What? Can't say anything to me, son?"
Vargas spins his cup around in his hands uneasily. "You mean... you aren't mad at me?"
Duncan sets his cup down and leans forward, answering with a bob of his head, "Do you think you're the only one who's ever tried to off his old man?"
Vargas gazes into his eyes and thinks he can pick up what his father's telling him. "...You mean you--?"
Duncan just closes his eyes, smirks, and nods. "Wow... I never knew you..." Vargas says, sitting back in stunned silence.
"That's 'cause I never told you." Duncan sits back in his seat again and picks up his cup. "Well, it didn't do me no good, either; the old geezer got out of it just as easily as I did."
A grim chuckle comes from him. "Huh, I guess it just runs in the family, eh? Heheh..."
He takes a sip of his tea and stares into it blankly, while Vargas lowers his head. "Dad... I really am sorry... I was just so... I didn't know you'd actually chosen me."
Duncan leans forward in his seat again and places his hand on Vargas' shoulder. "Vargas, you're my son. You'll always be my son. Remember that."
Vargas stares back at him sadly, then curls his lips down and embraces his dad, while Duncan pats him on the back. Vargas starts to get teary-eyed and his lips quiver while he whispers, "I'm sorry..."
"I've forgiven you," Duncan whispers back.
"I'm so sorry..." Vargas repeats, holding him closer. "I'm sorry..."
Hours pass of them reminiscing about the last few months and the past, recounting to each other tales of adventures and conquests. Duncan is especially proud of Vargas' championship victory over Rika, and his newfound mastering of the skills he'd taught him. They pass by a large tree while walking through the orchard a few hours after the tea, and after taking one glance at the sun dipping under the horizon, they decide to sit and pass the last hours of daylight in the shade. "Ohhhh. It sure seems like the ground just gets farther and farther away the older I get," Duncan quips upon being seated.
Vargas chuckles and sighs, breathing in the night air. He seems to be perfectly content just sitting there watching the sky, but Duncan still feels like talking. "So, you never told me, what was the prize you won in this tournament?"
Vargas glances over at him and shakes his head. "Ahh, money, prizes, nothing really important..."
"Nothing important?" Duncan laughs. "Since when is money never important?"
Vargas looks over at him and smiles. "Since getting my father back mattered more."
Duncan grins so widely then that it seems he might just make it pull from ear to ear. Vargas smiles back at him for a bit, then looks away at last and returns to gazing at the sunset. His smile soon fades, however, and more questions come into his head. Questions he can't hold back. "You must've been angry at some point."
Duncan remains silent for some time, and silence falls between them, where only the birds and insects make any noise for the longest time until Duncan finally answers him. "I was."
Vargas turns to look at him, every hint of jubilance gone from his face. Duncan goes on somberly, "At first. There were times I felt like disowning you... but then I started remembering what you'd told me that day... something about choosing him and not you. I started thinking about it, and I thought you must've meant Sabin. You thought I'd picked him over you?"
Vargas nods at him, and lowers his head in shame. Duncan looks him over curiously before going on. "I guess it was fair enough. I should've said something sooner, but I wanted it to be a surprise."
He looks down at himself and holds his arms out. "Well, heh, surprise! At any rate, I started to feel that this whole thing was actually my fault... and I couldn't stay angry at you for long, anyway. The fact is, I love you, son. In the end, that always wins."
Vargas works up the courage to look him in the eye again, and he sees the sincerest of faces looking back at him. "...I love you too, Dad. I never really wanted to hurt you."
His lips begin to quiver and he tries to fight back tears that he can't stop. Duncan shakes his head and feels tears tugging at his eyes, too. "I know, son, I know..."
And if you've never seen it before, you'd see two grown men cry right there under that tree. There they sit for hours more, until night falls and they're forced to go inside, and wait for the new day to break.
Vargas steps out into the new day's sunlight and breathes in the air, taking a deep breath in and out. "Ahhhhh!"
Duncan steps out behind him soon after, holding a small pack in his hands. "You sure you don't wanna stay a bit longer? I wouldn't mind the company. And we could spar for a bit, eh?"
Duncan smiles at his son while throwing some mock punches with his free hand, and Vargas smiles back while taking the bag into his arms. "No... no, I should get going. I've got my own things to take care of."
"Well... you were always were something of a loner."
"We both are," Vargas says, to which Duncan nods in agreement, with a little smile. They gaze at each for a while, then embrace each other in a hug.
They hold the other for some time, patting each other on the back, until they pull away and step back. Duncan sighs and shakes his head, looking him over. "You kids grow up so fast... y'know, one of these days, you'll be a parent and you'll be thinking the same thing, too."
"Heh, hopefully later rather than sooner," Vargas replies with another chuckle.
"Now don't be so sure 'bout that," Duncan starts. "What about, uh... Rika, eh? I remember she was quite the, uh... find in the day."
Duncan winks and grins at him, to which Vargas retches while starting to walk away. "Uugh, I didn't wanna see that..."
Duncan points his hands to his chest defensively and follows him. "'Ey, I'm a man, too, y'know!"
"Besides..." Vargas adds, changing the subject. "I don't think she really likes me, anyway."
"Why do you say that?" Duncan asks as he joins him at his side.
"'Cause! She just don't seem that way."
Duncan tilts his head at him and frowns, then looks out to the horizon and studies the skyline, as if looking for something. Vargas looks back and sees this, feeling something strange come over him. He looks back over the skyline and the mountains and sighs, telling him confidently, "Sabin's out there."
Duncan nods. "Oh, I know he is. I feel it in my bones."
Vargas follows his gaze out over the mountains, then looks back at him and asks, "Dad... if he ever finds you... would you, uh... mind not telling him anything about me?"
Duncan looks over and asks simply, "Why?"
"Well..." Vargas starts while shouldering the pack better. "I wanna settle our thing my own way."
Duncan looks him over for a long moment, nodding slowly. "Okay... I won't tell him anything."
Vargas nods at him with a small smile and looks back ahead, moving further away. Duncan follows him, then stops as they reach the edge of the orchard. "Give my best regards to Rika for me, will ya?"
Vargas turns around and sees Duncan waving at him, and he returns the favor and adds a smile. "I will!"
Vargas walks further away into the distance, leaving Duncan to stand by himself with his arms crossed, watching him walk off towards the horizon. He sighs at length and shakes his head. They do grow up too fast...
He turns around and heads back into the house, still shaking his head, while Vargas gets farther away. In a week, he returns to the Colosseum, and though his trip is uneventful, it still takes much out of him and so the first thing he does is take a hot bath and sleep the night away. The formal welcome back party and greetings can wait.
"Hello? Helloooo--? Wake up, sleeping beauty!"
Vargas opens his eyes and looks at his door groggily, following her voice. When he answers, he does so in a harsh just-woken-up voice. "What?"
"I saw you come right in here last night. You tryin' to hide or somethin'?"
"I'm tryin' to sleep!" he retorts, then grabs his pillow and presses it to his face.
Dead silence fills the room for a few seconds, but some silent clicking's soon heard coming from his door, followed by hinges swinging open and soft footsteps padding over the floor. He doesn't hear it through his pillow, however, so he's quite surprised when she nudges him on his shoulder. "Hey, wake up--RMMF!"
"GAHH!" He sits up in bed and throws his pillow at her, hitting her square in the face, and scrambles backwards. When he sees who pushed him, however, he stops and stares, then scoffs and tries to relax. "Rika! What in the name of Figaro are you doing--"
She holds his pillow out over her chest, a little shaken up and surprised by his reaction, too. "You don't have the best locks, y'know."
"Remind me to get a better one!" He climbs out of bed and gets on his feet unsteadily, still only half-awake. He turns back to her slowly while walking around his bed, looking at her oddly and asking, "What're you doin' in here?"
"Well, I... came to welcome you back..." she answers, fidgeting with his pillow.
He stops at the foot of his bed and looks at her with another funny look. "You? Welcome me back?"
"Well, times change..." Her fidgeting gets a little more pronounced, as she starts slapping it into her palm; then she holds her arms out, pillow in one hand, and cracks a nervous little smile. "...Welcome back!"
"...Right..." He starts to move towards his dresser, taking one creaky step after another.
She turns to look at him and adds, "They're also holding a homecoming party for you. I wanted to tell you about it."
"Oh, great, more parties."
She tosses his pillow on his bed and follows after him while he grabs clothes from his dresser. "You are the champion."
"Yeah, well..." he replies somewhat unenthusiastically.
"I also wanted to ask you about the guy up north..."
"Duncan? Oh yeah, he sends you his best."
He walks over to his dresser like it's nothing too important, but her eyes seem to light up a bit. "Really? You mean, you met him?"
"Yeah, he's still alive." Vargas stands in front of his dresser and looks in the mirror, studying the scars across his chest passively. Reaching up with his fingers, he touches the one across his left shoulder lightly, given to him by one of the monsters on the way back, and smiles. "The old geezer's still alive."
"Wow... that's good news!" she says with a slight laugh.
He smiles to himself and gets some clothes from his dresser, then looks up at his mirror again, where he sees her standing behind him, as if waiting for something. He's about to ask her what else she wants when he sees something brown across the side of her face... the scar. He turns about and looks at her, letting his eyes fall on her face. She fidgets with her fingers for a second, working up the nerve to ask, "Did he say much about me?"
Not noticing that she doesn't seem to know he's staring, he walks over and reaches with his fingers, touching the scar behind her ear gently. Confused at first, she starts to draw away, but stops herself and follows his hand up to her face, then pulls her face away and rubs the scar after he feels it a bit, looking a bit unnerved. He gazes at her wordlessly and waits for her answer, which she gives him in a near-whisper. "It's permanent. It's nothing, anyway."
She steps back and stands tall, unashamed of the scars given to her by him. "It's not like it's the only one I have, anyway," she tells him with a chuckle.
And she's right. He hadn't paid much attention, but she's got several small nicks across her abs and upper arms, though he probably gave her most of those in the championship bout. Greatest of them all, however, is the one between her shoulder blades, though he hasn't noticed it at all since it's usually covered up by at least a bra strap. He gazes over them for a moment and tries to joke, "Guess I cut you up a little better'n I thought, huh?"
To his relief, she doesn't take any offense and barbs back. "I gave you a fair share of 'em, too."
She reaches up and runs her fingers over a large one running down his pec, to which he recoils a bit under her touch. "What?"
"Your hand's cold," he answers, then moves past her to the door.
"Well, sorry." She follows him out into the hall and towards the bathing pools, staying quiet for a moment... but unable to take the silence, she finally asks him out of the blue, "Anyway... speaking of the tournament, umm..."
She hurries out ahead of him and gets in front, then crosses her arms behind her back and halts, stopping him and bouncing on her toes a couple times. "What was the, uh... prize you won, hm?"
He sways in place groggily, fidgeting with his clothes bundle in his one hand. "Whadda ya care, anyway? It's jus' stuff."
"I'd just like to know what I could've won..." she says, looking away. Then she looks back at him and brings her hands back around to her front, rubbing them together expectantly. "So, um... what could I've gotten?"
He gazes at her blankly for a second, then sighs and shifts his weight. "Well, the championship for one, some money--"
Before he can go on, she cuts him off with a sharp, "How much?"
He looks at her with his eyebrows furrowed. "Hold on, woman! Something like... I dunno, a few hundred thousand gold pieces or something..."
She whistles, and he nods. "Yeah. Oh, and, I got this stupid little tiara..."
She looks at him blankly and tilts her head slightly. "Tiara?"
"Yeah..." He rubs the back of his neck with his hand and looks up at the ceiling a bit. "Cicero told me it was for something dumb... something like, if it were a woman who'd won, she could crown herself some kinda queen, or if a guy won, he could give it to his girlfriend and make her his queen, I dunno, something dumb like that."
She looks away, puzzled, and starts rubbing one arm with her other. "...That is dumb..."
But kinda... romantic... in a stupid kinda cheesy way... hm.
He watches her muse, then smirks and leans against the wall with one arm. "Well, you know, I do still have it..."
She looks back up at him, only half paying him attention. "And I could use me a queen at my side..."
Getting it by now, she just stares at him blankly and hangs her jaw open very widely, while he leans off the wall and steps closer, grinning. "So whadda ya say?"
She looks up at him through a few low-hanging bangs of hair for a long moment, then looks down at the floor and shuffles her feet. He watches her intently and keeps smiling at her, while she laughs softly and steps closer to him, placing her hands on his shoulders. Then, in one quick motion, she gives him a high knee to the crotch and lets him bend over to her right shoulder, groaning. She smiles widely and pats his shoulder a couple times while moving past him, whispering in his ear, "I don't think so."
Doubled over and holding his crotch, he can only cough and lean against the wall for support as she saunters off down the hallway with a smile on her face, satisfied. A janitor, who just happened to be there to see the whole thing, comes within Vargas' sight and watches him. Vargas looks up at the kid and stands a little taller, smiling toothily, and pants almost happily, "I think she likes me."
The kid chuckles and shakes his head, taking his mop bucket with him down the hall. Left alone in the hallway, Vargas laughs to himself and recovers slowly before making his way to the bathing pools.
Another new day, another new prize, another new challenger. Vargas' feet shuffle through the sand swiftly, tossing dust around in an intricate dance, holding pace with those of the man across from him in the arena. They hold each other punch for punch, matching skill in the martial arts and putting on a tight match for the thousands watching them, a crowd including the likes of Cicero, Siegfried, and Rika. They cheer for each well-placed punch, stand for the best spots, and applaud for the technique involved. Every so often they'll glance at the crowd and catch a familiar face, a friend, or an enemy... and more often than not Vargas finds his gaze landing on Cicero and Rika, high in the private box of the stadium. And each time he does, a slight smile crosses his lips, because every time he does, he can feel victory within his grasp.
Their match continues, with Vargas landing a swift legsweep and following with a powerful Aurabolt, knocking the other man out and throwing him rolling head over heel in the dirt in a tight ball, thereby winning the contest; the thirtieth in two months. With each win his reputation has grown, and word of his prowess spreads to lands farther and farther out, the stories growing taller and taller. As time passes, he only becomes more notorious as the greatest fighter in the world, though the truth is a bit farther from this view. Heroes, however, are often born this way.
And so it is that Vargas' name ascends from obscurity, and into legend.