A Warrior's Redemptionby Artiles
MEMORY EIGHT: OF WOLVES AND DOGS
Seems like forever that my eyes have been denied
Home, I dream of home...
I've been twenty years away from all I ever knew
To return will make my dream come true...
"How appropriate" said Jack, as the radio played a most melancholic song.
"Sure is..." added Varlus, steering the truck through the turns leading out of Corel's mountain range and down into Costa Del Sol. The song reminded him of Ifalna, Aeris, and his house near Junon. It was midday.
"So, Varlus" began Jack, facing him. "What's your plan after we arrive at Costa Del Sol?"
Varlus thought for a moment about it. "I've got a good friend who's leading an anti-Shinra movement there. He's running a goods market as a cover to sneak weapons, plans, and even his own resistance members in and out of Junon."
"Why Junon? Wouldn't it be better to act against Midgar?"
"Think about it, Jack" replied Varlus. "Midgar is a vast city, and it's almost one-hundred percent controlled by Shinra. It'd take more than just a resistance group to harm Shinra there. Besides" he added, "Roland, my friend, was born in Junon. His parents were killed by the Shinra when he was a little kid, and some poor fella got him out of there and stationed him in Costa Del Sol. Ever since, he'd been intent on freeing Junon from the Shinra."
"Sorry to ask, Varlus, but I can't help it" said Jack. Varlus peeked at him, puzzled. "Are you sure he's not gonna pull a Krianna on us? I mean, we can't afford another betrayal."
Varlus went silent. Jack seemed to notice he'd just touched a very sensitive nerve. "I'm... I'm sorry, Varlus. Forget I asked."
"Roland is a patriot" replied the warrior, now looking coldly at Jack. "He wouldn't betray Junon by helping the Shinra. I'm certain of it. He'd rather be hanged than betray all he'd fought for. No, Jack... He's gonna help us. There are not many men like him around, and he's probably one of the last I can trust now." Varlus refocused his sight on the road. Costa Del Sol's rooftops were already in sight. "And if you find that's not reason enough, you can go to hell, kid" he added, grinning. Jack snorted, but said nothing.
"How're you going to contact him? I assume that, being a leader of an anti-Shinra movement, he should be well concealed and away from prying eyes."
Varlus laughed fit to burst.
"Wait and see."
"Costa Del Sol" said Varlus, getting off from the truck and lighting yet another cigarette. "You familiar with the place, kid?"
"Not really, no" admitted Jack, walking to him.
"A beautiful, sunny getaway for those willing to kill their stress. Once a popular vacation spot, now's reduced to a shadow of its former self."
Jack was looking at the town, eyes wide open.
"You sure?" he asked, shocked. "It seems quite lively and full of activity for me."
"Sure does" replied Varlus, blowing off the smoke and dousing himself in a thick layer of nicotine. "Pity you didn't see the town in its golden years... Bursting with tourists, music, dancing and entertainment everywhere, gorgeous women getting a tan at the beach... Hell, I still remember my nights off-duty here. Wonderful. Lots of fun indeed. Oh, and drinking by the dozen, mind you" he added, smiling. Jack laughed.
"You drink a lot?" asked Jack, still grinning.
"Used to. Now I'll probably throw up and get a heart attack after the second bottle of beer goes down my throat."
Both men laughed strongly. Varlus gave another puff to his cigarette.
"Anyway, let's get to the inn. We'll meet my contact there."
Varlus and Jack walked towards the nearby inn, Varlus pretty much ignoring everything around him, Jack not knowing where to look at with so many bikini-wearing girls strolling, chatting, working on their tans or gulping down fresh drinks under the shadows of umbrellas placed in the tables.
The warrior opened the wooden door to the inn and entered, followed reluctantly by Jack, who clearly wished to stay outside enjoying the landscape.
"Well, look here who's entered my inn!" shouted a booming voice. Varlus grinned.
"Thought I'd pay you a visit, Roland" he said towards the counter. A gruffy, well-built man, probably in his mid-forties, walked out from it and approached them.
"If it isn't Varlus the Emerald Wolf!" he laughed. "Man, are you a mess. You're an ancient wolf now, kid."
Varlus laughed in response. "Is that hair color gray, or is it just me? Age hasn't treated you well, Red Dog."
"Ah, fuck my hair" the man replied with a wide smile. "I still can hold a rifle steady, ya know..."
"Too bad you can't hold other things steady, eh?" Both Varlus and the man laughed. "It's good to see you again, Roland."
"You too, Varlus" said the man. He then fixed his eyes on Jack. "Wolf, are you traveling with rookies now or what? Passing the skills onto the next generation?"
Varlus grinned once more. "Roland, this is Jack Gainsborough, a combat buddy. Jack, this is Roland Hentus, the man I told you about."
Jack and Roland shook hands.
"He's still green" said Varlus, smiling as Jack threw him a somewhat dirty look, "but as tough as they come."
"Nice to meet you, boy" Roland said, and Jack nodded with a smile. "So. Let's get to the point. What the hell are you doing here, Wolf? I thought you were in Wutai."
"We were. Let's get a safe room, and I'll tell you my story."
Roland agreed, and after shouting to one of his employees to take care of the counter, he showed the men a room at the back.
"Varlus, what's that Emerald Wolf stuff?" asked Jack, as he followed Roland to the back room.
"Just an old codename from long ago. You see, back in my younger days as Shinra Commander, I always wore a green vest and helmet, and dark green combat trousers. Since I was the only one at Shinra who wore those colors, all the groups we fought against began to call me "the Emerald Wolf". It was so popular, people inside Shinra took up the same nickname, and so it came than whenever I had to keep my identity a secret, I was given the codename Emerald Wolf."
"Because my vest had a wolf drawing on it, and because of my tattoo." Varlus lowered his black vest, showing Jack the wolf tattooed on his chest. Jack whistled.
"You seem to have a real obsession with wolves" he remarked.
"Wolves are noble animals, and fearsome warriors. My Father used to tell me we warriors were untamed wolves, striking both fiercely and accurately, having both strength, swiftness, and intelligence. In a sense, wolves are the warriors of the Nature."
Jack was amazed by Varlus' tale. "And Roland... why Red Dog?" he asked.
Varlus shruggered. "I have no idea. Why don't you ask him?"
Jack waved his hand. "Never mind."
As Roland walked inside the room he'd pointed to, Varlus turned to Jack once more.
"By the way, Krianna... she was codenamed "Blue Shade"."
Jack stared at Varlus, not knowing what to say.
Varlus spoke for almost half an hour, retelling Roland his long journey. He found it difficult to speak about Krianna's death... The memories were still fresh in his mind. Fortunately, when he found his throat shrinking like a knot, Jack took his role and continued.
"...and then we stole a Shinra truck from Rocket Town and drove all the way here. All things considered, it was an easy trip" concluded Varlus. Roland was scratching his chin, listening to Varlus' recap of events. As the warrior ended his tale, Roland moved forward on his chair.
"I'm sorry about Krianna, Varlus" he said sympathetically. Varlus nodded, but said nothing. There was nothing to say. "Blue Shade was a strong woman" continued Roland, "perhaps the strongest adversary I've ever met. I remember when we dueled in Shinra's last siege here in Costa Del Sol... she was a tough one. Amazing skill, outstanding dexterity and precision, and an unholy speed. A shade alright" he said, bowing his head to Varlus. "You taught her well."
"She was my most trusted lieutenant... and my best friend" said Varlus, sinking into his guilt again. Roland bent over the table, facing him.
"Listen, Varlus. Blue Shade was a warrior, just like you, just like me. You were just professionals working for different sides, that's it. She may have had her reasons to confront you, but if what you tell me is true, then she died like a warrior, fighting for what she believed in."
"She believed in me" said Varlus. "She believed if he fought me, she'd find peace within herself... She loved me, you know" he added. Roland nodded.
"I knew as much. But she was no fool... she knew you had Ifalna, and that she had no chance in fulfilling her dreams. Blue Shade thought fighting you was the best way to amend for this mistake. You" he went on, pointing at Varlus, "had to get past her to continue your journey home. It was either that, or never seeing Ifalna or Aeris again. This may sound hard to accept, but you did the right thing."
"Maybe I shouldn't have killed her" mumbled Varlus.
"Now that would've been a very ugly thing to do to her" Roland said, leaning back on his chair. "Crippling her long enough for you to escape and leave her behind? No good. She'd have chased you to hell, or killed herself, before facing being alone again. Wolf... you had no choice. Drop it. Stop hitting yourself for something you couldn't avoid. That road leads to madness, believe me."
And after hearing that, Varlus nodded, and understood.
"Keep with you the best memories you have of her, and remember her that way. A fine woman, an excellent warrior, and a good friend. War and her mind made her fight you, not you or your actions."
Varlus agreed, clutching Krianna's pendant in his fist.
"Ok, enough of this already" he said, before bursting into tears. "Roland, I need you to place us in one of your trading vessels towards Junon as soon as possible."
Roland frowned. "That's a tough one... we're not expecting any trade vessels 'till Friday" he said. Varlus groaned: it was Wednesday.
"I have no choice. I'll wait" he decided, speaking heavily.
"Wolf... Ifalna may not have that much time" said Roland, slowly.
"I know" said Varlus roughly. "But what other choice do I have? I can't swim all the way to Junon."
"What about asking her to come here?" proposed Jack.
"No way" cut Varlus. "It's even more dangerous than waiting here for her. Junon is probably swarming with Shinra troops by now: there's no way she'd be able to sneak through them and find a boat headed here."
"Good thing the Shinra don't know where your house is, Wolf" said Roland.
"Yeah... but how long is it gonna stay that way? Someone's bound to leak something to them."
"Keep your chin up" said Roland. "I'll grant you my inn services free of charge, of course, as I arrange everything. Until those ships arrive, though, hang in there."
All men stood up. Roland put a hand on Varlus' right shoulder pad.
"I haven't failed you before, Wolf, and I sure won't fail you now. Rest easy. You'll make it home before those Shinra. I promise."
Varlus nodded. "Thanks, Red Dog."
Roland grinned. "Now, both of you, get a shower and get some sleep. You look like hell."
Both Jack and Varlus laughed, and left the room. None of them seemed to notice a man hiding in the shadows near the door, holding a cell phone.
After a warm, pleasant shower, Varlus dressed up and retired to his bed, where he laid facing the ceiling, eyes wide open.
He was getting restless... What if he didn't reach his house in time? What if the Shinra are already on the move? What if two days were simply too long, and by the time he got to Junon his wife was already...
"Calm down, Varlus. That's not gonna happen."
How could he be sure of that? Varlus grabbed Krianna's pendant again.
"Krianna... my friend... I know I shouldn't ask anything of you, but... please... protect my family. I beg of you..."
He slowly faded back into blackness, falling asleep.