Warning! Please read the Artist's Comments before reading this story!
Doubts and Revelations
This brings us back to the present, where we last left Richter and Emil, snoozing in the open air of the Sylvarant fields. Emil had since purchased Richter a matching ring, and they had spent many peaceful days and nights together and just as many exciting adventures together as partners. Their passion was still fresh and young.
Richter yawned lazily, rubbing his eyes as bright sunlight poured through the lush green leaves that hung overhead. Emil draped limply over his midriff, sleeping peacefully. The redhead smiled and ruffled the youth's blond tufts. The touch woke Emil from his slumber, and his eyes slowly fluttered open as he stretched his limbs. He smiled up at the half-elf, greeting him with a familiar "good morning" though it was already afternoon. Richter mirrored the expression, sitting upright and cracking his stiff neck with a quick twist of his head.
"So, Richter, I guess we ought to be going now, huh?" The blond inquired as he began to refasten his supplies to his belt.
"Oh, I think we can spare a little more time here for a little snack before we go " A lecherous grin spread across the half-elf's face as he pressed close behind Emil, nibbling Emil's neck. The boy squealed and giggled as he forced Richter off of him.
"Oh, no, absolutely not! You've done quite enough snacking today!" Emil smiled playfully back at the half-elf, but his voice was serious and stern: he wasn't going to let Richter have his way all the time.
Richter folded his arms and scoffed. "Only once this morning! That's not a lot."
"I think once a day is plenty! Besides " Emil's playful expression curled into a devious, lascivious smirk that was quite uncharacteristic of him. "You've swallowed me four times in a row. If there's going to be any more snacking at all today, I'm the one who's going to be doing it!" He charged at the man, licking his lips as he reached for the half-elf's collar. The redhead caught him with a single outstretched hand, stopping the boy in his tracks with outstretched fingers mere inches from the older male's cloak.
"Now, now, Emil, You shall have your turn but you must earn it." The half-elf cooed as Emil still continued to struggle, grasping at the air between himself and Richter.
"Since when?!" Emil growled, frustrated that the half-elf had a reach that surpassed his own.
"Since I just decided right this second ", Richter purred smugly. "Come now, I'm offering you a chance at this! After all, we both know if I didn't let you, you wouldn't be able to eat me."
"Maybe so, but we both know if I could just figure out more about how to use this stone's power, you'd be no mach for me!"
The redhead laughed hysterically. "Perhaps, but I still doubt it." He released is grip on the blond, giving him a brief moment of false hope before pinning both the boy's arms to his sides with a tight embrace. "It's not that you're not strong I'm just a little more experienced than you."
Emil sighed. "Tch, yeah, right Which is why I kicked your butt at the Ginnungagap."
"Alright, experienced may not be the best word I guess, I'm just a little more confident in my actions, more assertive At least. I'm usually more confident On the other hand, whenever you exude confidence and will-power, it tends to surpass my own "
Emil blinked up at him. What does he even mean by that?
"I guess I shouldn't underestimate you, even an impulsive whim like this could evoke that kind of power in you The kind that destroys demons and slaughters dragons."
"Wait Are you saying that when I'm really determined I'm stronger?"
Richter grinned. "Oh, crap, I've said too much!" He laughed whimsically and ruffled the blond's hair as though to say 'yes, that's exactly what I mean'.
"Pfft Alright then, Mr. Cryptic you say I've got to 'earn my chance' What did you have in mind?" His emerald eyes narrowed and a confident grin formed on his lips.
"Oh, my I'm really screwed I've seen that look before " Richter grinned. "Well, alright. I do owe you a chance at least. I'll give you a thirty second head-start If you can evade my pursuit and make it to let's say that tree over there." Richter pointed out a rather large tree that was some distance across the field, quite detached from the surrounding forest, "If you can make it there, I'll let you swallow me. But if I catch you before that " Richter licked his lips with a randy smirk. "Well, I think you know what I'll do "
"Sounds an awful lot like tag to me " Emil mused with a sardonic leer. "Aren't we a bit too old to be playing that?"
"I could just eat you now if you prefer."
"No, thanks. I'd rather test your little theory about my determination, if you don't mind."
"Very well " Richter released Emil. "Go."
Emil turned on his heels and began dashing through the sparse trees toward the one Richter had pointed to, growing more and more excited as he heard Richter's distant countdown grow fainter. His enthusiasm was short-lived, however, because moments after Richter had shouted out the last one of his thirty seconds, he could see the half-elf drawing closer and closer behind him. As he grew more and more anxious at the redhead's approach, his mind began to race as he struggled to find a way to escape Richter's encroaching grasp.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort to make an exodus from the eminent fate that closed in on him, Emil ducked into a thicket of dense trees. To his surprise, he managed to evade Richter, who fell behind almost instantly as he struggled to navigate through the thick grove of trees. One negative repercussion Emil had failed to foresee was that he had absolutely no idea where he was anymore. The green canopy overhead blotted out most of the sunlight, but the few little trickles of the warm, golden radiance that poured through the layered leaves gave Emil small comfort in knowing that he at least knew where west ought to be. He continued cautiously through the woods, keeping an eye out for any monsters as well as any sign of Richter. He soon came across a faded path among the twisted roots of the forest floor, much to his surprise. He decided to follow it, since it was pretty much going the same direction he was headed anyway. At the very least, he thought, it should lead me out of this forest.
He hadn't taken more than a few steps along the path before he heard a twig snap a short distance behind him. He put his hand on the hilt of the sword, but did not draw it, just in case the sound had been caused by Richter; he didn't want this childish game to end in fatality. Then again, if it were a monster, Emil was at a loss. If he needed Richter's help, chances were the half-elf might not make it to his side before the monster had it's jaws around his throat. Emil tensed himself, trying to remain calm by taking a shaky breath to steady himself. No reason to worry, it was probably Richter right?
Emil focused intently on the shadowy maze of trees from which the snap had come. He tightened his grip on his sword, hoping more than anything that the rustling coming toward him was just a small woodland animal and anything but a monster.
"Emil?!" A silhouette detached itself from the murky darkness of the brush, calling out to him in a familiar voice. Two light blue eyes, wide with amazement, met Emil's as Marta - Emil's old traveling companion - emerged from the tangle of trunks.
"It is you! Emil!" She ran over and hugged Emil, who was only somewhat comforted by her presence. It had been a long time, and needless to say, whatever feelings he had once held for her were long since vanished. In fact, Emil had quite forgotten her after all that had happened between himself and Richter since they met up after their victory together with Ratatosk at the door to Nifelheim.
"M-Marta?!" Emil gaped at the girl who had her arms securely wrapped around his waist.
"Oh, Emil! I haven't seen you in so long! I've missed you! Where have you been all this time?!"
"I-I Well, I umm " Emil shifted uneasily in Marta's arms, unsure of what to say to her.
"I've been looking everywhere for you! I thought you promised we'd meet up in Palmacosta again someday! Remember?! You promised me!" Emil vaguely remembered making some sort of promise to her when they had separated after their last adventure together a very long time ago, but he didn't remember what his exact words had been.
"Well, umm I just " He tried to come up with some sort of excuse for why he'd forgotten and what he'd been doing for so long.
"Never mind, that doesn't matter now." Marta interrupted, "All that matters is that we're together again " She still held onto Emil, which disturbed him beyond words. He was already quite used to being with Richter, and was more than dedicated to him, and he felt almost as though letting Marta hold him was some sort of sin, a betrayal of Richter's trust and affection. But, as usual, he was unable to form any sort of verbal or physical protest against it, and even if he had tried, Marta surely would have drowned it out with her ceaseless chatter.
Marta continued to spout out the lovesick drivel that she had repeated so often about loving Emil, wanting to marry him, missing him, all their adventures, and Emil chewed on his lip, feeling more than awkward and anxious as he searched for a way out of this situation. He tried to tune out as much of what Marta was saying as he could manage, scanning his surroundings searching for an escape route.
"-- and I hadn't seen any trace of you for so long, I almost thought you'd found someone else and completely forgotten about me! But now we can be together! Just the two of us, like our adventures before!" She took Emil by the hands, jumping up and down as she danced around with him, dragging him around in an awkward circle, giggling ecstatically, that is, until she saw his ring.
She stopped in her tracks. "Emil, why are you wearing your ring like that?" She stared at the ring for a long moment.
"Uh, w-what do you mean?" Emil stammered, blushing as she took a closer inspection. "What's wrong with the way I'm wearing my ring?"
Marta shrugged with a nervous giggle. "Oh, it's nothing it's just well, you're wearing it on that finger. Wearing it on your left ring finger like that, it kind of looks like a wedding ring or something!" She stared up at Emil with uncertain eyes. "I-it's not right?"
Emil dug the toe of his shoe into the hard packed earth beneath him as he averted his gaze.
Marta dropped Emil's hands dully. "Emil ? It's not a wedding ring, right?" She stared at him with doubt and fear now where there had once been uncertainty.
Just as Emil was about to mutter a lie of "no, of course not", he realized his hands were free, Marta wasn't holding him any more! Faster than you could blink, Emil darted down the path as fast as his legs could carry him. Branches swatted him in the face as he fled, not even bothering to look which way he was going, just as long as it was away from Marta.
He ran until he was breathless, and then he just kept on running. Suddenly, his feet were yanked out from under him - an elevated tree root catching him at the ankles in mid-stride sent him tumbling head over heels out of the forest . He was caught, much to his ironic relief, by a gloved pair of hands which extended from two violet cloaked arms joined to a head of lengthy red hair draped over broad, familiar shoulders.
"Ha, looks like I win? Emil, what's the matter?" Richter stared down at the disheveled teen in his arms, all smug satisfaction drained from his voice once he saw Emil's terrified expression. "Hey, Emil! Are you alright?! Were you attacked by something?!" Richter lifted Emil to his feet and stood protectively in front of him, gripping Sol and Mani as he prepared to battle.
"No, Richter " Emil gasped, "Not something Somebody! M-Marta You've got to hide me from Marta!" He grabbed frantically at Richter, still barely able to breathe as he spoke in a shrill, raspy whisper.
"Marta?!" Richter's face contorted in disgust at the mention of the name. "That whiney little brat? What is she doing here?"
"Does it matter?! All I know is she's coming after me, and if she sees us together, we are in so much trouble! There's no time to waste, you've got to hide me, quick!"
"Hide you where? There's nothing but open space out here! You were better off in those woods!"
Emil began stripping his clothes off anxiously. "You've gotta swallow me, now! She was right behind me, you've got thirty seconds maximum! Now come on, hurry up!"
Richter grimaced at just the idea of having to choke Emil down at that speed. He could eat fast but not that fast! "It would be easier for me to just kill her " Richter grumbled as his stomach flip-flopped, not particularly enthused by Emil's request.
"Richter!" Emil gave him a dirty look that scolded him for what he had intended to be a jest.
"Jeez, why so serious? It was only a joke!" Richter rolled his eyes which were quickly forced wide open as Emil stuffed both of his hands into Richter's mouth, completely unannounced.
"Stop joking and start swallowing!" Emil demanded. Richter shook his head dismally, but obliged. It was one of the more unpleasant sensations Richter had ever experienced, having his throat muscles stretched and pulled against their will as Emil stood on tiptoe, forcing his arms further and further down Richter's esophagus without even waiting for the man to swallow. The whole endeavor was progressing at about twice the speed Richter was used to, and the sore, tingling, overstretched sensation that spread down his throat was becoming gag-inducing.
Richter groaned in discomfort, getting to his knees as he tried his best to keep pace with Emil, who was now cramming his shoulders into Richter's strained mouth. Gravity, Emil's frantic squirming, and Richter's painful, but rapid swallows, pulled Emil inside at record speed, but it wasn't fast enough. Marta burst out of the forest just in time to see Richter and what she correctly inferred to be Emil's feet slowly passing down the man's aching throat to join the rest of the blond teen inside the half-elf's equally sore belly.
Marta stood agape at a scene she almost couldn't believe, but all the evidence was there, and she couldn't ignore what lay indisputably before her eyes. Emil's traditional black and blue attire lay strewn haphazardly in the grass. The feet she had seen disappear into Richter's maw were certainly Emil's The nearly identical ring that decorated the redhead's finger like a wedding band and that awkward, self-conscious grin he was giving her Marta didn't want to believe it, but it had to be true! She didn't know what to find more disturbing, the fact that Emil had rejected her in favor of marrying Richter - a man who had once tried to kill them both - or the fact that the aforementioned man had just swallowed what should have been her fiancé.
She shrieked - it was all she could do at the moment - as the image cemented in her mind. Richter got slowly to his feet, a nervous sweat pouring down his forehead. "Now, now, j-just calm down. This, uhh this isn't what it looks like ?" he tried dubiously to keep the girl calm for the express purpose of avoiding another "Aqua Episode".
Marta sputtered furiously, "Pfffwhuh huh?! N-not what it looks like?! You just ate Emil!" She pointed at the grotesque bulge that hung suspended below the man's chest. "And that had better be Emil's ring you're wearing, or he's going to have some serious explaining to do when I cut him out of you!" She shouted at the redhead's distended gut, making sure that Emil could hear how enraged she was at him for apparently marrying Richter instead of her. The bulge flinched.
"Well, you see, it's all rather complicated !" Richter backed slowly away from the fuming young girl, tense laughter betraying the fact that he took her remark about cutting him open very seriously - just as he should, one should never doubt the seriousness of a woman scorned.
Marta equipped her spinner. "Oh, no. You're not going anywhere, buddy " She snarled up at Richter, bearing her teeth. "I know how to deal with monsters like you." She flicked her wrist to start the blades spinning and drew them close to Richter's face. "I'll give you 5 seconds to spit him out " she dropped the blade to his jugular, "If you don't I'll slit your throat and go in after him myself!"
"W-wait! Marta!" Emil squeaked from inside Richter's stomach. "Please, don't! This was my idea, I asked Richter to do this! He won't digest me, you don't have to kill him!"
Marta turned her attention to the squirming bulge on which she was mounted (she had needed a foothold to gain a dominant position over the half-elf and get into a suitable position to lop off his head). "Of course I need to kill him! He ruined my fantasy! He stole you from me, and I intend to get you back!"
"Whoa, whoa, hang on. I didn't steal anybody!" Richter said indignantly. "As a matter of fact, I resent your phrasing. I 'stole' him, like he was your property? What a selfish way to think! He has every right to be with whoever he wants, he doesn't 'belong' to anybody!"
"Shut up!", Marta growled, "Your five seconds are over!" She grabbed Richter's collar tightly and prepared to sever his head, blinded by a twisted, jealous love. Just as Richter was about to draw his own weapon to defend himself, the necessity to do so was eliminated. The moment that Marta had lifted her hand to end Richter's life, Aqua grasped it firmly with one hand and tore the shrieking girl off of the redhead by the scalp with her other.
"Stupid girl! How dare you attack Master Richter!" She held Marta in mid-air by a handful of orange hair as the feeble girl kicked helplessly in her grasp.
"Put me down, put me down! I have to save Emil!" Marta tried to wriggle free from Aqua's grip, with absolutely no success.
"He doesn't need saving! Don't you get it, you brat?! He chose this! As much as I hate it, your old flame Emil and my precious Master Richter fell in love! There's nothing you or I can do to change that, and believe me, I tried!" She released Marta's hair and grabbed the girl's other flailing arm, securing it behind her back with the other as she returned Marta to ground level. "Do you understand yet, Marta? Even if you killed Richter, it wouldn't make Emil love you! You can't change this! You're just going to have to accept it; you and Emil aren't ever going to be together!"
"I don't want to accept it!" Marta wailed. "I want my Emil back! Emil!" She broke into tears and stamped her feet, bawling like a child throwing a tantrum.
Aqua let out a miffed sigh as she looked up at Richter. "Sheesh, did I act like this, too?" Richter nodded. "Wow, I'm sorry, then it must have been obnoxious." Marta continued to tug against Aqua as she kept on sobbing and cursing at Richter, and the puerile spectacle didn't cease until a familiar, dark, gravely voice interrupted.
"Well, now, this is an unbecoming display for you, my dear Marta." Everyone (minus Emil who was constricted and held rather immovably in Richter's belly) turned to the source of the voice. It was Ratatosk, who still bore a tremendous resemblance to Emil and the stolen physique that once belonged to Aster. Though he was a bit more feral in appearance, with a more defined musculature, and much more decoratively clad, many of his physical features bore the same basic resemblance to Emil's and - by association - Aster's. Apart from elementary differences in coloration - raven where there would have been blond, crimson were there should have been emerald, a paler complexion - he was otherwise Emil's twin.
"R-Ratatosk?!" Marta froze in mid-kick when she recognized the approaching figure. "What are you doing here?"
"I felt like going for a walk. There are still plenty of monsters wandering about that haven't re-forged their pact with the Centurions, so I thought I'd lend them a hand and tame a few while I was out, and much to my surprise, I find one of my Centurions squabbling with my little Marta." He sneered at the two girls, not particularly accusatory or castigatory, and more than anything, he seemed vaguely amused. "And you there, Richter. I wondered when I'd see you again " He shot the half-elf a dark but not unfriendly grin. "The man who tried to kill me, huh? It's not everyday you run into a devoted arch nemesis on such friendly terms. You look well " He glanced down at the redhead's pronounced midriff. "And if I'm not mistaken, that huge lump taking up space in that fat gut of yours is Emil. That nebbish kid still doesn't have the balls to stand up to you by himself, or am I missing some details?"
"Lot's of details " Aqua put in, still keeping a firm grasp on Marta.
"I'm not sure I want to know them!" Ratatosk laughed throatily. "But I will ask you, Marta, why you're whining here like an infant."
"I have to save Emil!" She resumed her struggle against Aqua. "That stupid half-elf took him form me!"
"Liar!" Aqua held Marta firmly in place, turning to Ratatosk to explain. "She's just mad that Emil loves Master Richter instead of her."
"Ah!" Ratatosk nodded with a devious smirk. "Now I see " He strode over to Richter. "So this is what you've been doing to my counterpart You horny bastard!" He laughed with apparent approval for the ribaldry. "Vorarephilia It's quite the fetish, isn't it?" He gave Richter a rough pat on the shoulder; the unwanted physical contact with a person (or, more accurately, Summon Spirit) that he didn't much care for made Richter's skin crawl.
"Don't worry, Marta I still love you." Ratatosk returned to the young girl's side, looking her over as he spoke. "I don't suppose I've mentioned how beautiful you are? As a matter of fact you look absolutely delicious!"
"D-delicious?! Me?!" Delicious was the last adjective she had expected to hear. By "delicious", did he mean that he seriously intended to eat her?! "Oh, no, no, no! Absolutely not! You actually want to eat me?! It's out of the question!"
"Ah, but you see, Marta You have no choice in the matter." A sadistic grin spread across Ratatosk's face. "Don't worry, I promise it'll be painless and I'll spit you back up eventually I'll even let you keep your clothes on if you like."
"Forget that! I don't want to be eaten at all!" Marta struggled as hard as she could, but just like her many attempts before, she failed to escape Aqua's clutches.
"That's not going to help your case, y'know? I kind of prefer unwilling prey " With that, his mouth opened wide, and as Marta let out one final shriek in protest, he engulfed her entire head.
Marta whimpered as all light was cut off and a hot, wet film of saliva coated her face. She felt her spinner forcibly removed from her hand and her rucksack unbuckled and cast aside. The slimy walls of Ratatosk's mouth pressed around her face on all sides and a squelching sound filled her ears as Ratatosk swallowed. She thought to herself that this was all impossible, that it must be a dream. It was physically impossible to swallow someone whole, right? There was no way it could be happening to her. But it was, and her steady progress down Ratatosk's throat soon validated its physical possibility. She was vaguely surprised that she hadn't suffocated yet, and the more she thought about it, the more improbable it seemed for her to be able to breathe while crammed inside of someone's esophagus.
Still, despite the suction around her, there was enough air to breathe comfortably, and even more amazing was that it lacked any sort of odor. As she felt her shoulders get sucked in, she decided putting up whatever kind of struggle she could manage was her best bet. After all, it had to be uncomfortable to have something squirming around in your throat, right? If she struggled enough, Ratatosk would just have to spit her out. She wriggled back and forth against the clingy tube of muscle only to find that however violently she attempted to thrash, the impact was absorbed by the pliant, conforming wall of flesh. Much to her dismay, she found the movement not only had no effect on Ratatosk, it actually propelled her further down. And worst of all, Ratatosk seemed to be enjoying it.
She was not pleased by this. She knew her legs were still free, so she attempted to deal a few painful kicks to Ratatosk's ribs. She was blessed with no such luck; both of her legs were caught mid-swing by what she presumed were Ratatosk's hands. There was nothing left now, nothing more she could do. Well, nothing except scream and cry as she was pulled farther and farther down toward Ratatosk's stomach. Marta soon felt her head squeeze though a small opening and into a less confining space; that was when the real panic set in.
Her forearms were firmly pinned at her sides by a pair of drool-smeared lips and her legs were still immovably fixed together by two steely hands. Fear forced angered shrieks and muffled threats from her as she plunged deeper and deeper into the abyss. She trembled, despite whatever efforts she had made to appear composed, the inherent truth of the matter had finally begun to sink in; she was being swallowed, and there was nothing within her power that could prevent it from happening.
Ratatosk, on the other hand, was quite pleased with the way things were going. As a Summon Spirit, he had never given human pleasures much thought, but after the journey he had shared while conjoined with Emil, even silly human notions seemed more appealing. Physical limitations did not apply as strictly to him as they did to humans, and though it was his first attempt, he found swallowing someone relatively the same size as he was to be a simple task.
That's not to say that it didn't require some effort; he had comparatively less experience than Richter and even Emil, and considering that his first victim was extremely uncooperative, he had considerably more trouble than Emil had during his first attempt. Still, that didn't stop him from enjoying every second. He had far fewer constraining notions about propriety and normalcy than Richter did, he didn't care in the slightest about the mildly disgusted look on Richter's face as the half-elf tried (without success) to avert his gaze. (He had never seen human - human [or more accurately Summon Spirit - human] vore in the third-person before, and he couldn't help but entertain his curiosity on the subject. After all, such an opportunity might not present itself ever again. Still, with Ratatosk and Marta as the subjects, Richter found it difficult to enjoy the spectacle at all.)
Despite the dreaded gaze that most would flinch self-consciously under, Ratatosk didn't waver. Once he had reached Marta's waist, he threw his head back and held the squirming girl's legs by the ankles as he continued to pack her into his stomach with the assistance of gravity. Marta had given up all hope by then, as her legs gradually folded in after her hips. She was too exhausted to struggle, too tired to scream, she could only wait for the inevitable end. The sludge caked in her hair and clothes was gradually soaking through, dampening the skin underneath. She felt her boots being unbuckled and removed before what felt like two hands settle against her back. She flinched at the touch. A throaty hum echoed around her as Ratatosk seemed to muse about her futile struggles. She elbowed the surrounding wall of flesh, earning a grunt in response, though it was more an acknowledging grunt than one of pain. The warmth crawled at last to the tips of her toes, and with a few final gulps, the last of Marta squished inside and the stomach closed around her.
She felt a sudden drop and was thrown onto her side by a second. She realized she was now resting on her side; Ratatosk must have decided to lie down. Stupid, lazy Summon Spirit She delivered a few weak kicks to the lining of Ratatosk's stomach; they elicited no response. She tried writhing; the results were the same: no response. She tried digging her nails into the smooth muscle, but only dug trails in the viscous, mucosal coating, and the trails refilled almost instantly. She would have tried biting him if she thought it would get her out, but the way things were going, there didn't seem to be any hope of her escaping. Besides, there was nothing to bite into, and even if there was, she wasn't eager for a mouthful of the sticky mucous that coated Ratatosk's gut.
She sulked quietly as a bit of slime dribbled down her face. She could hear Ratatosk breathing, slow and raspy. He sounded far too relaxed for Marta's tastes. The low, rhythmic beating of his heart echoed around her, muffling what she presumed was Richter's voice, it was too low and distant to be Ratatosk's and too deep to be Emil's or Aqua's. She couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, but based on Ratatosk's response of "Don't mention it " she assumed that the half-elf must have been thanking him.
She felt the two hands return to stroke her back, and she flung herself against them to shoo away the unwanted touch. Ratatosk let out a low belch but did not remove his hands. All her tears had been spent on the way down, and all her shouts used up as well; she could no longer cry or scream. Her throat was parched, but of course she couldn't ask for any water. So she just sat and sulked and wondered where her life had gone so terribly wrong; good people don't get eaten by Summon Spirits Her shaky breaths were the only visible sign that she was alive.
Eventually, she felt gravity shift around her again; she was upright once more. She heard the gruesomely familiar sound of swallowing again, and she could only cringe and wonder what to expect. She gasped as cold water splashed down on her head. A series of continuous gulps brought splash after splash of water down on top of Marta; splashes that she could not avoid. Her dry throat prevented her from protesting, though she put up a good struggle to make her point clear. After a certain point, once Marta was thoroughly drenched, Ratatosk's thirst seemed to have been sated, and the sputtering waterfall ceased pouring down Marta's back.
She felt Ratatosk let out a sigh of contentment. That pissed her off. Her fear had subsided long ago, and her anger toward Ratatosk had been building since the end of her short-lived period of self-pity. Honestly, what right did that Summon Spirit have to enjoy himself at her expense? She wanted nothing more than to yell at him and kill that laid-back mood he'd settled into, but she wasn't going to risk a mouthful of that secondhand water that pooled on the bottom of her prison for succor. She heard Ratatosk mutter to someone that swallowing clothes was uncomfortable. Marta smirked, vaguely satisfied that at least it hadn't been all that pleasant for Ratatosk. She went on listening to half a conversation, inferring what the other participant must have been saying based on what Ratatosk's responses were. There was a lengthy discussion about the monster populace in recent months. She wasn't particularly interested in the conversation until she heard Emil's name come up.
She couldn't hear all of what was spoken, but managed to piece most of the story together from what she gleaned from fragments. Apparently, Emil had managed to kill a huge dragon, single-handedly. Marta swooned at the thought. Emil, her knight in shining armor, valiantly charging into battle and slaying a terrifying dragon. The mental image made her heart flutter. She, of course, inserted herself into the story, the damsel in distress; she was rather enjoying her little fantasy until she picked up on the fact that Emil had fought the dragon to save Richter. Yuck. That was not a pleasant mental image. As a matter of fact, any mental picture of Emil with someone else made her skin crawl.
After that dream was crushed, there was a conversation on the state of affairs between Tethe'alla and Sylvarant, a few words back and forth about travel plans (apparently, Richter and Emil were heading to Flanoir next), and , quite unexpectedly, an apology from Ratatosk to Richter. Ratatosk had never shown any compassion or empathy to anyone (except in rare cases where he showed more sensitivity to Marta) and now for the first time, he was actually trying to make amends for something, entirely of his own accord. Marta couldn't believe her ears.
"You know " Ratatosk began. He was using the same gentle tone that was usually reserved for her, the only tone that made him sound genuinely sincere. "I I really am sorry for what I did to your friend."
For the first time during the conversation, Marta was able to hear Richter's response clearly. "If you really were sorry, you'd stop wearing Aster's face." She could hear that he was struggling to suppress the resentment in his tone. A long silence stretched on between the two, it put Marta ill at ease.
Finally, in a hushed tone, almost so quiet that Marta couldn't hear it, Ratatosk's dusky voice responded. "This is the only form I have left, it's the only form that I can present myself to Marta with It's the only way she'd recognize me. Can you imagine how hard it would be for her to readjust to me if she knew what I really looked like?" Another unearthly silence followed.
"I can see what you mean but that doesn't excuse you from using an image that isn't yours."
"What about Emil, then?"
Marta could only imagine the terrifying look on Richter's face. "That has nothing to do with it! He didn't choose to assume this form, you did!"
"He was a part of me. Think about it. How can you choose between two halves of the same person?"
"Because he's the half of you that didn't kill Aster!" Even Marta could tell that Richter was losing ground; it was a slippery slope argument, and in all honesty, Richter really didn't have much else to use except emotional attachment to justify his preference for Emil.
"Perhaps, but he didn't stop me from killing Aster, either. Isn't that just as bad?"
Marta flinched at the sudden increase in volume as Richter responded; he must have been inches away from Ratatosk, screaming. "How dare you talk like you're the good person here! I can't say that there wasn't more Emil might have been able to do to stop you because I don't know the circumstances, but as far as I know, there was nothing he could have done. And even if there was, I can't blame him for not acting. Granted, if there was some way he could have saved Aster, I wish he would have done it, but that doesn't clear you of your sins! You chose to kill Aster, and that is a far more heinous offence than preventing it from happening!"
Ratatosk didn't seem phased by the threatening tone in the half-elf's voice, and continued to argue the moral status of Emil and himself. "So if a human kills another human, are we to say he is innocent because his conscience didn't prompt him not to act? Can you really argue that my situation is all that different? Emil is just as responsible as I am; we are the same person, after all "
"I'll hear none of this! Your situation is completely different! If it were possible to split a man's id and superego, I would certainly condemn the id and absolve the superego of any given murderer, granted that murderers even have a conscience! To be perfectly honest, I would say Emil was indecent in not acting if there really was something he could have done, but that doesn't mean he was morally wrong! And regardless of ethical standing, if I choose to like Emil and dislike you, that's my prerogative, and I don't need to justify myself to someone like you! I appreciate that you took care of Marta for me, but I must say, I'd rather not sit around discussing morality with someone I don't care for."
"Suit yourself, but If I were you, I'd try applying that logic to myself before I try to condemn others with it "
"Go to hell!" The distant shout and the silence that followed told Marta that Richter had stormed off, taking Emil with him. She began contemplating her fate, formulating an escape plan, when she felt herself tilted once more on her side. She heard Ratatosk's breath and heart slow, and minutes later, a faint snoring. She silently cursed to herself. She was really in a tight spot now both literally and figuratively
Night had fallen in Palmacosta by the time Emil and Richter reached it. They had already booked passage on a barge to Flanoir the next morning. The walk had been awkward and quiet after the argument with Ratatosk, and any attempts Emil had made to engage Richter in conversation did not even earn him the redhead's eye-contact. Dinner was just as awkward, and though Emil had managed to recapture Richter's attention, the minimal conversation was sterile at best. While preparing for bed, Richter and Emil showered separately (the nonverbal cue Richter had made by locking himself in the bathroom made this decision emphatically one-sided) and the distance between them in bed was greater than ever.
Emil couldn't shake the thought that Richter might have been considering what Ratatosk had said about him, about how he was just as responsible for Aster's death as Ratatosk was. He kept trying to convince himself otherwise, wanting to believe that Richter loved him enough to know that he would have done anything to protect Aster if he had been able to. He was sure that Richter understood that he was powerless at the time, barely able to exist; as a matter of fact, he lacked any memory of coexisting with Ratatosk prior to Aster's death. And yet, he couldn't help thinking that Richter blamed him for it; the guilt he used to harbor for it was creeping up on him again.
Richter knew that was what Emil was thinking. He knew that train of thought was running through Emil's head, and though in the back of his mind, he would have liked to put a stop to it and clear up the awkwardness, he was too wrapped up in his own pain to even try. It was true -- what Ratatosk had said was true, wasn't it? -- about applying that logic to himself. He really was in the same spot, wasn't he? He had acted foolishly, trying to show how dark and sinister Ratatosk's intentions were when he, as well, had partaken of hedonistic and murderous intentions. How could he hold himself to a higher esteem than the man (or Summon Spirit) who had taken his friend's life when he had attempted to exact revenge on that man? In the process of seeking that revenge, he had inadvertently harmed so many others. So many innocents had to suffer just because he hadn't been able to handle his own suffering. Was he really no better than that monster who had killed Aster in cold blood? "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind", as they say and now he, a sinner himself, had tried to pass judgment on another only to find that he was just as guilty of that same crime.
When Richter finally managed to stifle his thoughts and plunge his mind into sleep, he was tormented with hellish nightmares. All he could see was himself, gazing into a mirror, only to see Ratatosk's reflection. That sadistic grin widened, "You did it, too. We are the same." A cold sweat dripped down his face as he tossed and turned in his sleep, and suddenly he felt himself falling. Distorted memories whirled around him, shrouded in darkness, an evil smile. Crowned in flames, blood frothing on his lips, mangled corpses at his feet, and Ratatosk's sinister cackle resonating from his chest; it was a vision more horrific than he could handle.
Richter jolted awake, the drawn out cry of "No!" still leaving his lips as he flung himself into an upright position. The suffocating darkness in the room pressed down on him and his hair clung to his damp skin in a helter-skelter flourish; his heart was pounding against his chest as if in dire need to escape, and the patter of his perspiration raining on the sheets was almost too loud for him to stand. He felt feverish and nauseated and the gasps of air he had been taking in felt dusty and stale. He jumped at the gentle touch of Emil's hand on his shoulder, attempting to bring comfort to what was, unfortunately, an inconsolable mind.
Emil offered up a glass of lukewarm water from the nightstand, and Richter accepted it with trembling fingers. "Bad dream?" Emil asked quietly, though he knew it must have been; all he really wanted was to coax Richter to talk about it, thinking that if he could encourage a discussion, he could ease both their minds. Richter nodded, still not very eager to discuss the heart-pounding mental images still cemented in his mind. He took a few sips of the tepid water and grimaced.
"I need a real drink ", the redhead muttered to himself as he slipped out of bed. The light mist in the out-door air and the still darkness of the starless sky told Richter that it would still be many hours before dawn would arrive. He shuffled across the room to his bag, taking out a flask of something quite a bit stronger than mead that he always kept around for "emergencies". He downed the entire contents. A couple more flasks of mead later, he finally felt like talking about it, though he might have been far better off trying to talk about it sober. He staggered back over to the bed, thumping down on the stiff mattress and turning to face Emil with bloodshot eyes. "Do you think I'm a horrible person?"
Emil was taken aback by the blunt question. "Of course I don't! I think you're a wonderful person; that's why you're my partner --"
"Then why do I feel like a horrible person?" Richter glowered, seemingly at his boxers, because that's what he was staring at.
"Maybe because you drank about 3 bottles of mead and another bottle of liquor that smelled to be about 180 proof*?" Emil obviously did not approve of drowning one's troubles with liquor, but one could tell that the derision in his tone was derived more from disappointment that Richter had not offered him anything to drink than from moral discontent.
"No, I mean besides that." Richter slurred, wiping a bit of liquor flavored drool off his lips. "Only horrible people let others die as an indirect result of their ambitions So I must be a horrible person."
"What are you talking about, Richter? When did you -- ?" And then it hit him. Like a brick. That's why Richter had been so upset. It wasn't what Ratatosk had said about his part in
Aster's death at all; it was what Ratatosk had said about Richter's claims about murderers. It was true, through his actions, Richter had made many suffer for his cause, and though he never directly hurt anyone (himself, Marta, and the others excluded) several people had died because of his involvement in the Vanguard. And yet, despite all of that, Emil knew that Richter really was a good person. He could feel it, in every fiber of his being he could feel that Richter was a kind, warm, caring person. But how was he going to prove that to Richter?
He thought for a long moment, frantically searching for some words of comfort he might use, but try as he might, none would come. Then, almost as if someone else had taken control of his mind, a solution formed, and his lips moved without his effort as speech poured naturally from him. "Do you think I'm a horrible person, Richter?"
"What the hell?! No, of course not!" Richter exclaimed, flabbergasted. "You're the most sincere, kind, honest, loving, tender, selfless, perfect, beautiful, wonderful, amazing person I know! You're the exact opposite of a horrible person, you're --" Richter paused, lost in thought for a moment before he began to laugh hysterically.
An embarrassed and somewhat castigatory frown formed on Emil's face. "Wait What's so funny?"
Richter calmed his laughter after a moment and spoke (though it only served to reveal to Emil that Richter was far too drunk to have a serious conversation). "H-have you ever noticed that 'terrible' and 'terrific' mean opposite things, but 'horrible' and 'horrific' mean exactly the same thing?!"
Emil let out an exasperated sigh. "Yeah, it's hilarious Richter really "
"I know, right?! Hey, you know something else? You can't say 'happiness' without saying --!"
"Shh, shh! Richter, keep it down. Other people are trying to sleep, you know." Emil cut Richter off mid-sentence, mostly because he wasn't too eager to hear how it would end.
Richter finished the sentence quietly to himself and snickered. Emil rolled his eyes. Finally, once Richter seemed to have regained some of his sanity, Emil continued his speech. "So, Richter " Emil gently cupped the older male's face and directed it toward his own in order to keep his attention. "You don't think I'm a horrible person, do you?" Richter smiled winsomely and energetically and shook his head. "But you think that you are?" The half-elf sighed and nodded. "And do bad people and good people like each other?" Richter thought for a moment and hesitantly shook his head. "Well, isn't it obvious, then? You must be a good person or we wouldn't get along, right?" This idea soothed Richter, but only for a moment; unfortunately, out of all the inhibitions liquor removed from him, reasoning and logic were not among them.
"Unless you're a bad person, too which is probably more likely because I know I'm a bad person. And sometimes good people are kind to bad people simply because they are kind and forgiving to everyone I think that's why you can be a good person and still like me "
Emil sighed. "Richter, come on. I know you aren't a bad person, I told you so before."
"Yeah, well prove it, how can you be so sure? Because all I can see is the countless ways I've hurt people indiscriminately in my pursuit of revenge. I'm just like Ratatosk "
"No, you aren't."
"Yes I am. Just because I didn't kill him doesn't mean my intention wasn't there. Good people don't commit murder " Richter paused and amended his statement, foreseeing Emil's response. "Or try to murder people."
"Richter " Emil gasped in frustration. "Look, do you think bad people deserve to be punished?"
"Well Yeah, I do " Richter mumbled.
"And do you think that it's permissible for good people to be the ones to punish bad people?"
"Yeah, that seems reasonable "
"So, just because you wanted to punish Ratatosk doesn't make you a bad person then, does it? Your intentions weren't murder, they were to balance the scales of justice, to do what was moral or at least, moral in the Retributivist's* perspective." Emil tried his best to use what little knowledge he had on common theories of morality to soothe Richter.
"What about the countless lives I've destroyed, all the people who are dead because of my manipulation?"
"As far as I know, all you did was militarize the Vanguard, gave them the ability to defend themselves, gave them the means to do what they intended to do from the beginning. Even if you hadn't meddled in their affairs, they still could have ended up the same way All you wanted to do was fix things. You were even willing to spend eternity burning your life-force just to protect the world and bring Aster back A bad person would never do that. Bad people don't usually seek out punishment, unless they're psychotic, I guess but you are neither a bad person, nor a sociopath. I just know you're not."
"You you really believe that? That I'm not a bad person?"
"Of course! I've said so a dozen times you fool!" Emil threw his arms around Richter, dislodging a pocket of stale air from the half-elf's belly and earning a loud belch followed by a mead scented apology. Emil just shook his head and laughed. For a while, they just sat like that, holding one another; Richter stroked Emil's hair gently and Emil stroked Richter's belly gently in return.
"Th-thanks, by the way Richter " Emil whispered as he snuggled closer to his partner.
"What for?" Richter grunted, settling down into a more comfortable position on the bed; he was feeling rather sleepy, and he was just about ready to go back to bed. Thankfully, the booze and Emil's comfort had finally accomplished their mission, he felt better now.
"For hiding me from Marta. I never thanked you properly."
"Hey, don't mention it. I'll always protect you, 'cause I'll always love you." Richter yawned widely.
Emil smiled and replied, "See? Only a good person would say something like that." He planted a kiss on the redhead's cheek and slowly drifted off to sleep by his side.
Richter moaned, hunched over the railing on the deck of the barge. Hangovers and sea-sickness don't mix very well. The captain of the vessel had mused that if they lost their way, all they would have to do is turn around and follow the nearly constant trail of vomit all the way back to Palmacosta. Richter had tried dry crackers and candied lemon rind to settle his stomach, but it had done him no good, and said snacks were bobbing along in a trail of bile that floated alongside the boat. Emil pat Richter on the back, reassuring him that they only had a few more hours left before they reached Flanoir. Richter groaned and hurled another fresh liter of bile into the ocean. "Never Again I'll never ever drink again "
"Well, that's a shame. They were going to have a wine tasting festival in Flanoir this week. I thought you might be interested, but now I suppose you won't enjoy it. Such a terrible shame "
"Why is that?" Richter gasped as he tried to hold down another mouthful of puke.
"Because after we got a little tipsy, I was planning on letting you do a little me tasting "
Richter looked at him for a moment, then took several heavy swallows of water from his canteen, knowing full well what would happen. There was a long and painful-sounding session of continuous vomiting and dry-heaving for almost ten minutes straight before Richter finally lifted his head with a grin.
"Wha-what was that for?" Emil asked.
"I was making room "
The End? Not likely!
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