Final Fantasy 9: Black Mage No.421
Story by McT, D26Mo4Y2o01
"The first thing I remembered, somehow, at the rim of my consciousness... were boxes. A lot of them. Being carried to one of them. Then... darkness. Later, talking, it sounded upset. Rumbles, for the longest time. And then, a huge fall. Crashes. And in the end, a big crash. Light. There was a forest... grass and some stones... I couldn't see a lot more, but I wanted to, so... I decided to move."
* * *
Maybe it was a clearing, or at least there seemed less trees here than in the closer surrounding, but it still was dark. Huge barrels were lying around or hung in trees, most of them shattered, revealing some boxes, partly equally shattered. More of the boxes were on the ground. And figures, in them, or close to them.
The Black Mage carefully stood up and looked around. From what he could tell, all the figures looked somewhat like him. Some of them lay there, motionless, with their yellow eyes staring straight ahead. Some others... didn't have eyes. Everything was utterly quiet, small traces of mist crouching over the mossy ground, slowly fading away.
He carefully examined the boxes, trying to figure out what this place was, or why there were... all these people here. After a little while, he found a small note stuck to one of the barrels. He tore it off and read:
Lowering the paper, he looked at all the boxes again. The number of them more or less matched the numbers on the note.
After quietly walking around a little while longer, and still seeing nothing move, he decided to have a closer look at the others. He kneeled down in front of one of the broader guys with the purple jackets who lay in a box which's lid had cracked off. Unsurely, he touched his face, where eyes should have been but weren't. It felt.. less solid than it should - it didn't feel right. Creeped out, the Black Mage stood up again, shuddered, and walked to another of the broad guys. That one was lying on his back on the bare ground, but he had eyes that stared upwards to the sky. An empty, lifeless stare.
"H-hello...?" He waved his hand in front of those eyes.
Carefully, he shook the figure, to see if it would wake up.
He searched through the lifeless one, to see if there was something wrong with him. After a little while, all he found that seemed of interest was a small tag in the right sleeve. It read "No.97".
He decided to open one of the less damaged boxes. As he removed the lid, he found an exact lookalike of himself. Carefully, he shook him to see if there'd be a reaction, but just like all the others there was no sign of movement at all. Slowly, the Black Mage shook his head. He then looked over the figure, took its arm to see if he could find another tag. "No.416".
Now it occured to him to check the inside of his own sleeve.
He assumed that it was his name.
The delivery note had found a place in one of the pockets of his jacket, now he pulled it out again to compare. It seemed to make sense... in a way. But it still didn't explain how he got here, or why the others didn't move. Why everything was broken. And what he was supposed to do. Defeatedly, he stared at the debris around him.
It was there that he noticed a small being sitting on one of the rocks near him. Sizewise, it barely would reach his hip, it had fuzzy purple fur, red eyes and a large bushy tail. It scrutinized him curiously.
It seemed harmless, so the Black Mage slowly, unsurely walked up to it. It followed his movements with its eyes, whiskers twitching from time to time. When he was close enough to touch it, he leaned down towards its face, and stared back into its eyes while lifting a finger to reach out for it.
Before he could touch it, it suddenly hissed, in a nasty way that just didn't fit to a friendly-looking creature like that, and clawed at him with one of its paws. It ripped a small dent into his hat, but he winced and backed just in time so that it wouldn't damage anything else.
Quickly, he stood up and backed a few steps more, now scared of the being in front of him. It had its teeth exposed, fur raised and it still made small, dangerous hissing and chattering sounds while staring at him.. and he noticed it wasn't alone anymore. A little away, on one of the unopened boxes, another one of those creatures had positioned itself, looking at him in the same curious way the first one had looked at him before it had attacked.
Then, somewhere out of the depth of the forest, another one hopped into the clearing. And another one. Just a few seconds later, there already were about 20 of them, and new ones were still coming in.
Panicky, the Black Mage kept backing off, until he felt he had enough of a headstart to turn around and run. As fast as he could, he followed the stonewall that was framing the whole one side of the forest, and he heard the rustling of many little feet dashing though the grass and bushes behind him. He just kept running, having no idea what else he should do.
After a while, he reached the rim of the forest. The sudden light almost blinded him, but he ran on until he noticed that the noises behind him dulled down and then stopped... when he slowed down a little and turned around, he saw that the creatures had stopped following him for some reason. They still were there, staring at him from between the trees, but they didn't follow him anymore.
Exhaustedly, he sat down and leaned against the stonewall, which now came out to be the foot of a cliff that went up so high and steep that it seemed to end right in the sky itself.
Around him was a wide, empty grass field, only some dark rocks interrupted the endless seeming green, and a couple of massive, brown roots. Far off, opposite to the wall he was leaning against, was another cliff, which went up just as high as this one. To his left the forest blocked the sight to what may have been behind it, and to the right the grass field went on almost up to the horizon, framed by another forest far away.
He looked back to where he came from. Should he wait until those creatures had vanished and then try to go back..? It seemed way too dangerous. And if he'd start walking aimlessly through the open fields, he'd most likely get even more lost than he was now. So.. he stood up and decided to keep following the cliffwall until he'd meet.. someone. Or something. Anything. Maybe he could get help and then go back. All he knew was that just sitting around wouldn't get him anywhere.
* * *
Later, much much later he noticed a change in the cliffwall as he went on. The stone became smoother, and also colder. The grass around here seemed shorter and less healthy. A little bit ahead he saw that there was a hole. A big hole in the wall, and around it there grew no grass anymore at all. He also started to hear small, sharp, regular knocking sounds, echoing from inside the cave. Steam of cold air idly oozed outside and crouched over the ground.
One of the large roots that seemed to be everywhere out here blocked the entrance, but No.421 managed to find a gap to squeeze through and get inside. He brushed his jacket off and then stopped in mid-motion as he realized what place he was in.
It was bright, incredibly bright, and every wall and stone reflected the light a thousand times and sparkled in pretty blue, green and lightpurple colors. Flowers seemingly made from ice grew inbetween wispy blankets of snow. The only thing that seemed misplaced was the constant hammering sound, much louder in here than it was outside.
As No.421 went a little deeper into the freezing-cold cave, he saw the source of the sound. Two men in dark clothing, which seemed VERY off in this sparkly light-intense place, hacked away on a block of ice with an ice pick, with no much success. As the Black Mage looked closer, he saw that there was some kind of chest frozen inside the block.
One of the guys noticed him. For a second he just stood and stared at him, then nudged his companion with his elbow without taking his eyes off the newcomer. The other man turned around, too, and for a while they both just stared, suspicious, with narrowed eyes, but also careful and almost scared.
The Black Mage stared back, about just as scared as they seemed. "Uh..... I.... h-hey there......?"
They relaxed a little, but they looked like they had expected something different. Then the one of them who still held the ice pick snapped: "What do ya want here?! Who sent ya?"
No.421 blinked. "Sent...? N-nobody.... I was looking for help, I-"
The two men looked at each other, then smirked a little. It was unsettling, but they were currently No.421's only hope.
"Help? What would one like YOU need help with?"
The Black Mage hesitated for a second. "I... came from that forest... there were others like me, but... they didn't move..? Then there were those creatures and I had to run away...." He pulled out the paper he still had with him and held it towards the men, even though they were too far away to read it. "This is all the clue I've got..."
One of them came closer, but not without them exchanging another short glance, and took the paper to study it.
"Delivery note, huh...?" he waved at his fellower to come closer. They exchanged a short, whispered conversation, then got back to the Black Mage.
The man with the note scratched his chin thoughtfully while continuing. "Ya know... after the mist vanished the production of Black Mages was stopped... and after that terrible catastrophe in Alexandria they also won't need any new ones anymore..."
The Black Mage blinked. "... Catastrophe..?"
The man nodded. "It's none of ya' business, really, but fact is that the Black Mage soldiers aren't needed anymore."
No.421 only understood half of what the man was trying to say, so he settled for going back to his original question. "So.... what am I supposed to do now...?"
"Heh..." The man shortly put his arm around No.421's shoulder and patted it. "Don't worry mate, I think we might be able to help ya."
The Mage stared unsurely. "Yes...?"
"Sure, mate... ya see, we happen to be tradesmen from Alexandria, and I'm sure we could get someone like you under the 'hood, as we like to say. Ya can... do that magic-stuff, right?"
No.421 hesitated. "Uh... sure..."
"Would ya mind demonstrating it? Like, hmm, on that ice block over there. Not that we wouldn't trust ya' word, but we'll always need to make sure at first, I'm sure ya understand."
"The ice block you were working on..?" No.421 looked over to where the man was pointing.
"That's right, that one. We need to get to that chest, ya see. Important business."
"Hm-kay..." The Black Mage shortly looked into the smiling faces of the two persons, and then walked over to the ice block, looking down at it. It wasn't so big, so it surely wouldn't be much of a problem. He put his hands on it, closed his eyes to concentrate, and a flame started to burn its way around the shape of the block, melting the chest free in an instant, almost explosion-like. For a moment he wondered "Why hadn't THEY done it like that in the first place?"
In the background, the smiles of the two men widened, and they elbowed the Black Mage away from both sides as they scrambled to look what was in the chest. Mainly, it were a couple of small, colorful bottles and a pair of heavy iron-gloves wrapped into a piece of cloth.
One of the guys picked the package up and sighed quietly. "Well, ain't the Big One, but it's something."
The other one rubbed his chin. "Yeah.. but what do we care now? We've got quite the treasure standing behind us, I think this might solve our problem nicely."
No.421 stood behind them and blinked.
"Are you sure he would go for a trade on this one..?"
"Ya know Barril. Always open for.. extraordinary trades."
"Uh... excuse me...?"
The both men turned around. "Yeah?"
The Black Mage rubbed the backside of his hat timidly while looking down at the kneeling men. "Now what..?"
Man One stood up and smiled. "Okay, Black Mage-"
"-No.421...", No.421 corrected unsurely yet almost automatical.
"Right... No.421, here's what we've got in mind. We know a.. friend who might have a use for ya. Seeing that ya have no idea where to go and all, that would be just what ya need, right?"
"I guess so..?" The Mage cocked his head.
Man Two followed the example of Man One. "Well, then everything's set! We've got a small ship and can get you to Lindblum in the shortest of time."
"Lindblum..? Is that far away..? There's still that place in the forest, someone should look after it...."
"Yeahyeahyeah... don't worry about that. On the way to Lindblum ya'll describe us where this place in the forest can be found exactly, and we promise we'll have a look and do everything we can. Alright?" The man smiled.
"Al..right, I guess..." The Black Mage carefully looked at the both faces in front of him. Maybe it was supposed to go that way.
* * *
Outside, parked behind the root and around a corner of the cliffwall, was the ship the two men had talked about. It didn't really seem that small to No.421. It was mainly wooden, with two large propellers attached on each side and small wings made of cloth underneath. A small building with a red roof covered half of the deck, and inside it had two small rooms with beds, a table and cupboards in them. Outside of the small house ten people would still have enough room to walk about on the ship freely.
As the two men tried to start the motors and No.421 still was looking around the place one whispered to the other: "I hope he won't burn our baby down."
The other whispered back: "I doubt it. Seems helpless enough."
As the propellers finally started, lifting the ship into the air slowly, No.421 winced a little, not expecting something big like this to fly, and the rumble of the floor made him feel uncomfortable, so that he decided to lean against the wall of the small house.
Once they had reached a stable height the man who wasn't steering the ship laughed quietly and turned around to the Black Mage. "Well, welcome on the Mussel, which is the name of our ship here. Now that we're partners in a way, I guess I'll tell you our names. I'm Ruben.. this -", he pointed at the other man at the controls, "- is Fohlen. And like we said, we'll get you to Lindblum. We know a guy there who'll probably have a use for you."
No.421 still leaned against the wall carefully. The flight wasn't too smooth, and they had reached a height that surpassed the height of the cliffs. "Why are you doing this for me..?"
"Oh.. let's just say it helps you, and it helps us. So it can't be bad, right?" Ruben leaned against the railing and looked down at the now tiny looking fields and forests. "It won't take long 'til we get there, either. How about you take a little nap 'til then? You should be in best condition when we reach Lindblum."
The propellers of the ship slowed down for a small moment, with a roaring sound, but the ship only sank down a little before it went back on course. Fohlen shortly looked back at them, but didn't seem alarmed, as he went on taking care of the steering wheel.
"W-what was that..?" For a second, No.421 had been scared out of his wits when the ship sunk down so fast all of a sudden.
Ruben shrugged a bit. "It's the mist. There used to be mist all over the continent, but now there's only little of it left. Most of the flying ships run with mist, and it looks like soon we'll have to find other ways. But not yet.. our baby still flies okay with the smallest amounts."
"...." The Black Mage looked unsurely at the two men. It really seemed best if he went inside and tried to have a rest. The beds sure seemed comfortable.
* * *
"Hm-hm-hm... did you even know they sleep?"
"No.. but I also didn't know that they talk. Maybe they eat and drink, too? Better we won't tell Barril about this, might lower the price."
".... Hey, you! Com'on, time to rise! We've reached Lindblum."
No.421 opened his eyes. Ruben and Fohlen were standing beside the bed, Fohlen holding a brown hooded cape in his hand. The Black Mage sat up, stretched and looked at it as it was shoved into his face. "And put this on. We don't wanna walk through a whole city of paranoid people with a Black Mage following us around."
They left the room, and No.421 looked down at the cape. He shrugged, put it around his shoulders and stood up to leave the room, too. Ruben was busy unloading a couple of bags, while Fohlen mainly just watched him. When he saw the Black Mage coming out, he shook his head a little and went to put the hood up around his head. "Hrm... listen, it'd probably take too long to explain, but people wouldn't react too friendly if they saw someone like ya. So, while we're on the streets, keep the hood on, okay?"
No.421 nodded slowly, his yellow eyes glowing in the dark opening of the wide hood.
"Hrm..." Fohlen scratched his chin. "And keep ya' head lowered, for Odin's sake."
* * *
They had landed a little outside Lindblum and went in through the main gate which led straight to the Business District, bags full of items carried over their shoulders and No.421 following a little behind, staring at the huge entrance. As they walked through the streets, the Black Mage noticed three main things: This place was BIG. There were a lot of people. And somehow, lots of it all seemed about as broken as the barrels and boxes he had seen when he first woke up in the forest, but people were about to repair things. It made him wonder if all places with people in them looked broken. But it also was a very lifely and interesting place, and the sheer sight and sound of it left him gawking.
Fohlen had a short glance over his shoulder to see if their main trading item still was there, and winced when he saw him look around with childlike interest. He quickly turned around and pulled his hood down, hissing quietly: "Didn't I tell ya to keep ya' head lowered?? This is serious, people will NOT approve of a being walking around that could easily burn their eyes out without even lifting a finger!"
No.421 carefully lifted his head just enough to get eye-contact with Fohlen, whispering back: "Why should I do that..."
"It's not important what ya WOULD do, it's important what people think ya might do, and now come, we're almost there."
They walked on until they reached a small market. A little off from the mainrush, a hatch in the ground seemingly lead into a cellar - only when they went down the staircase, they actually ended up in a dark room filled with sticky hot air. Behind a counter stood a man, broad, huge and staring at the three visitors with small, gloomy, piercing eyes. A long scar split up his lower lip all the way down to the chin and halfway around the neck. His voice was quiet, deep and hoarse, more of a growl than a voice. Only the healthy side of his mouth opened as he spoke. "You."
Fohlen's voice maybe sounded a little too cheerful to be sincere. "Hello Barril! Guess what we got."
They put the bags on the counter and smiled in a way they seemed to hope was appeasing.
Barril kept staring at them unimpressedly. "More junk?"
Ruben folded his hands quietly. "The bags? Yes. But we've got something else. Something less common."
The huge guy narrowed his eyes. "Listen... you both owe me 10000 Gil, and if you keep coming with excuses like this I'll make it 20000 Gil. So what could possibly-"
He paused and stared at the figure behind them, as it unsurely pulled the hood back while looking around the room and straightening out its crumbled, pointy hat.
"What the- Are you two NUTS?? Who told you to bring a Black Mage in here??" he was, obviously, angry. That impression was reinforced by him crashing his fist on the counter so hard that the wood treatened to burst.
No.421 winced as the voice very much exploded at him, and all three looked at Barril in a very quiet, very frozen way. Fohlen caught himself first.
"Ah, but ya see, that is JUST the help-out ya need. Black Mages are known for following orders well, and what could be more useful for a forge than a walking fire source, hm? And ya know that they aren't produced anymore, now that Queen Brahne is dead."
Barril narrowed his eyes again. "I also friggin' know how much trouble they caused, in this and all the other towns. I would sell any weapon to anyone as long as they pay me right, but having one of the creatures around that helped destroying half of the continent would NOT be good for the business at ALL!"
Fohlen smiled. He knew Barril well enough to know that, if he didn't say "No!" immediately, you could trade out with him. "Think about it... 10000 Gil. Ya'll get all our junk-", he pointed at the bags, "-and ya' very own worker who won't ask for much, and we're even. People will also pay ya even more respect than they already do, with a Black Mage at hand? Come on. It's not like ya have the best reputation in town anyway."
Barril sneered. "The equipment I sold you was worth a LOT more than a walking, mass-produced war toy, don't you think? Also....."
No.421 didn't really listen to the whole conversation. There were a lot of interesting things in the room. The walls were full of weapons that, he could feel, were oozing with different kinds of magic. There was an iron staff hanging close enough for him to touch it, and the magic it beared felt familiar to him, so he reached his hand out in curiousity-
"-WON'T you touch that." The sudden sharp voice of Barril cut like a knife into the Black Mage's thoughts, and made him quickly put his hand down again. Carefully, he turned his face to the smith, whose eyes almost could have pinned him to the wall.
Barril turned back towards Fohlen and grunted disparagingly. "Okay... I'll keep him for a week and see how he'll do.. BUT."
Fohlen and Ruben smiled quietly.
"If he causes ANY damage.. you two will owe me 100000 Gil. Understood?"
"Ya won't be disappointed, Barril." Fohlen grinned, packing together the empty bags and the robe, ready to leave. He turned his head to the Black Mage. "421... ya better won't mess this up. Barril is ya' new master, and ya do what he tells ya, for ya' own sake."
Then Ruben and Fohlen left, followed by the silent stare of the Black Mage.
Barril growled quietly: "You heard them... try to melt my face off and you'll see that I can also USE all these weapons in this room."
No.421 nodded slowly.