Second Thoughts Chapter 1

By Kaeru


They exist. They are everywhere.

You might even be one.

But fear not, young knave. For every mistake one makes, there is an action one can perform for redemption. For some this may be helping the poor, for some it may be dedicating your life to the church, as I did. I made grave mistakes as a child, and only when I joined the church did I feel a sense of belonging. I have served the one and only God for 45 glorious years, and dying at the hands of the heretics will only hasten my ascension to heaven. I have accepted death. I smile to myself as I feel my soul slip away from me. I am going to heaven. And these young fools who killed me are going to Hell.

But as I lie here on the floor, slowly dying, I begin to wonder - could I have evaded this fate? Had I done something differently, would I have lived a better life?

They say your life flashes before your eyes. I guess I'll have time to judge then, I suppose.

* * *

Arian and Aarek huddled beside the fire, silently shivering. They hated the cold more than anything, and rightly so; when one lives on the street, the cold days are rough. Aarek muttered something about the restaurant who kicked them out of the wine cellar. It made a good home for the week they hid in its crevices, keeping their hides warm as well as their bellies. But their good fortune was short-lived; after all, a restaurant starts to get suspicious after the disappearance of 12 bottles of finely aged wine. The restaurant owner decided to keep watch for burglars one night, found the two of them, and chased them away with an axe.

“Aarek,” Arian said quietly. “What are we going to do for food?”

“I’m out of ideas,” replied Aarek. “We could steal some money...”

“My fingers are numb,” whined Arian. “I don’t think I’ll be able to pick any -”

“Hello!” Shouted an old man, looking at the two boys with a grin on his face. His whiskers and belly moved as he bellowed out the words in a deep, friendly tone. “You look tired and hungry. Would you like a meal? I bet you do. Come with me.”

The two exchanged cynical looks. “Look, sir,” said Arian, “we don’t have the money to eat at your restaurant. Besides, we’re not that hungry.”

“Oh, no child, you’ve got me all wrong!” The man exclaimed. “I want you to come to my house. Tonight. I’m having a party, many people are coming. Unfortunately, my guests of honour cannot -” looking around, he grinned sheepishly and looked back at the two boys, lowering his voice to a whisper. “My guests of honour cannot come due to a death in the family. I need someone to act as them for the evening. No one knows what they look like, so if you could pretend to be them for the evening...”

“...We get a free meal,” finished Aarek. “Sounds like a -”

“Hold on,” Arian interrupted. “We don’t do jobs for food. We’d expect some cash up-front, and some afterwards after the job is done.”

“Don’t worry about payment,” the man replied. “You’ll be getting enough money for this job to feed you both for a month. Like I said, I’m desperate. And money is most certainly not an issue.” He turned his back, still grinning. “Your choice. Follow me, or go hungry another night.” He began to shuffle down the road. Aarek stood up almost immediately, but Arian grabbed his shoulder. “You don’t want to look too desperate,” he whispered.

“I already know you’re desperate,” shouted the man from halfway down the street. “You may as well start walking now.”

Arian and Aarek exchanged looks, shrugged, and shuffled down the road.

* * *

“Hurry up!” Cried Leanna, running around nervously. “The guests will be here any minute!” She hastily hung an ornament over the fireplace and shouted, “Zalmo! For crying out loud, help me make this place beautiful!”

A young man scurried into the room. His face was round and friendly, but it showed many signs of stress. Realizing his mother was on the verge of another breakdown, he muttered, “what am I supposed to do?”

“What are you supposed to do?!” His mother cried. “I told you everything to do! Hang more ornaments! Fill the glasses! Finish roasting the boar!”

He looked at the table, perfectly set and ready for use. “I already...” Zalmo started. Realizing his mothers state, he said solemnly, “I’ll get right on it.” He made the motion of pouring water into all of the already-full glasses. He then pushed the corner of the tray that had the boar sitting upon it. He looked into the ornament box, which was empty, and sighed. I certainly don’t hope I turn out like this, he thought to himself. Dealing with his mothers psychosis was trouble enough.

The door swung open, revealing a large man and two skinny boys. “I’m home, honey!” He shouted. Zalmo cautiously peered around the corner and saw two skinny, dirty boys. “Uhh, dad -” he began.

“Say nothing,” his father said sternly. “I’ll explain when your mother isn’t around.”

“Welcome to my home!” Said Zalmo’s mother as she entered the foyer of the house. “I am Leanna, and this is my son, Zalmo. We are honored to make your acquaintance. I see you’ve met my husband Rhien already. This is our humble residence. I thought you two were going to be a bit older than this -”

“Please, Leanna, that’s enough,” Rhien said slowly. “Let’s go to the front room.”

Arian and Aarek looked in awe at the house. Beautiful wood carvings complimented the oak spiral staircase. Fresh pine was hung from the high ceiling, giving the house a fresh scent. Even the little dog wore a sweater - a sweater worth more than anything Aarek or Arian were wearing at the time. “Now, just a moment, Leanna, I need to talk to our guests of honor,” Rhien said slowly, approaching the two boys.

“There’s a large tub upstairs. There you will find some water heating. Put the water in the tub and take a bath. I’ll have Zalmo get you some party clothes for when you are finished.” He looked at his wife again and said, “They’re changing into their real clothes now, dear, don’t worry about the furniture.” Looking back at the boys, me mouthed, “Hurry.”

Aarek and Arian looked at each other for a moment, and bolted up the stairs, pushing each other out of the way to be first. When they found the room, they were astonished; the tub was a large rectangular basin carved from marble, with swan heads cut into the stone with care. There was in fact some hot water there, which they slowly poured into the tub. A chambermaid poked her head into the room, and seeing the two boys doing work, she immediately rushed in to take care of it herself.

“You really needn’t do that,” she said nervously. “That’s my job. I’ll pour the water.” She took the water from them and began to pour it herself.

“Oh, thanks,” said Aarek, looking at her quizzically. She barely seemed old enough to hold a job; she was certainly no older than the two of them were. She finished pouring the water. Her strawberry-blonde hair was pulled back messily, while her brown eyes darted around the room, never making eye contact. “Thank you, uhh...” Aarek started.

“Kayuko,” she said, smiling bashfully. She looked at the two boys, and said quietly, “I’m glad Master Rhien was able to find someone on time.” Remembering her duties, she quickly looked around and said, “Ah, right, umm, so, I’ll grab the soaps, just wait here - err, no, I guess you can get into the water, if you’d feel better. If you want, I guess I could clean your backs.” She looked at her feet, with a slight look of disgust on her face. Obviously, this hadn’t been the first time she was to clean a complete stranger’s back.

Noticing how uncomfortable she was, Aarek shook his head. “No, we can clean our own backs.” He finally made eye contact with her, and found himself unable to speak. “We... We...”

“Just grab the soap and that’ll be all,” Arian said firmly. “And thanks.”

“Right,” said Kayuko. “I’ll be back in a moment.” She darted into the next room, came back with the soap and handed it to Arian. Hearing the voices of more strangers, she muttered “There are new guests, I suppose I should go take care of them.” With that, she was out the door. As soon as she left, Arian got himself into the bathtub. Slowly, reluctantly, Aarek did the same.

“Wow!” Said Arian, taking a deep breath of the soap, “This stuff smells awesome! Take a whiff!” He tossed it to Aarek, who barely caught it. He sniffed it cautiously. It smelled of flowers and sugarcane and mint and tea. Smiling, he said “It smells absolutely incredible!” He began to wash his arms, his shoulders, and his neck with it. Arian grabbed the second bar, which smelled faintly of cinnamon and thyme, and began to wash himself too. They gleefully basked in the aroma of the soaps until there was a knock at the door. Aarek pulled his knees up and said, “Come in...”

The boy Zalmo stood at the door, holding a stack of clothes. “These are your clothes,” he muttered, trying not to look at the two boys bathing. “I’ll just leave them here.”

“Oh, thanks!” Said Arian. “But why are you doing the work and not that pretty chambermaid?”

“Kayuko?” He said in a quiet voice. “My father wouldn’t allow her to walk in here while you guys are bathing. He sent me up, because all our maids are female. He’d likely hit them if they walked in on you.”

“Well, tell him it’s all right!” Arian announced proudly. “We don’t care if the ladies see us, do we, Aarek?”

“Thanks for the clothes,” Aarek said quietly. He looked at Arian, who was laughing at his own joke. “We’re pretty much done anyway.”

Zalmo, hearing this, left the room, allowing the two boys to change into the clothes. “Dang!” Said Arian gleefully. “These clothes cost more than we do!” He placed the brand new boots on his feet. “Hmm...” He said thoughtfully. “A little small. Try these ones on, Aarek.” Aarek and Arian switched boots, looked in the mirror for a few moments, and proceeded down the stairs to meet the new guests.

Chapter 2

Final Fantasy Tactics Fanfic