For a long time, Ringabel had no idea what drew him toward the white mage asterisk. Amnesia had made him a man of mystery even to himself, and the same jobs that gave their little band strength for their travels also piqued his curiosity. What had his work been before? Perhaps if one called to him more than the others, it was a clue to his past? Yet, he certainly wouldn't have thought himself a healer before the stone caught his eye. Its power far more suited Agnès, the earnest if not single-minded woman who had already devoted herself to the welfare of humanity, and more often than not she was the one to wear the white robes. But there were times she did not; after learning the thieves in Ancheim were in collaboration with higher powers and how its king despised Crystallism, Tiz had grown concerned. The Eternian forces were not the only ones who opposed the vestals, and even if that were the case, nothing need stop them from hiring petty thugs or using disguise if they wanted to catch Agnès unawares. Even spirited Edea, who had initially been offended by the very suggestion, admitted it was a possibility from certain divisions; so they talked to Agnès about learning the more nimble role of monk as well, so that she might be able to defend herself should the worst happen and she be ambushed alone. She did not seem to require much persuasion, and Ringabel thought quietly that she must still view this journey as all her own, even if she did blush prettily at times when Tiz trained with her in the evenings. The boy had been dancing between offensive jobs, first a monk, then knight, then spell fencer, then back as seemed suitable, and had he been more red-blooded Ringabel would have wagered he sparred with Agnès in the hopes of impressing her with the lean muscle steadily building on his bared arms-or for the simple delight of seeing her move in the thigh-high slit of her own outfit. No, Tiz was Tiz, pure-hearted to the point of naivete, and his single-mindedness lay in keeping the girl he'd found under attack safe from any harm.
They did make quite a pair. An innocent, if not obstinately thick, pair.
As for Ringabel himself, with the role of healer now left unfilled at times, he simply stepped in out of necessity, of course. That it was needed was a good enough reason on its own, and he refrained from mentioning his curiosity because it seemed ludicrous from the moment he donned the cloth. He hated its fit to start with: slightly loose and baggy, not entirely conducive to speed or physical defense, piety without practicality. The staff was not right in his hands, and he missed that extra tick of-was it wisdom or simple aggression?-that other asterisks held to help drive a weapon to do the most damage. No. He had not been a healer, he was sure of that much.
It was still worth taking on the job to ease Edea's injuries when her daring caused her to overreach in combat. To stop Agnès' tears when the pain finally overwhelmed her determined facade and laid bare just how frightened she was. Even a simple broad smile of gratitude from Tiz was worth something.
But as soon as the red mage asterisk was obtained in the underbelly of Florem, Ringabel seized on it. For one thing, it was far more versatile; he could still heal, if a touch less effectively, and this job allowed him to do a good bit of damage as well. Anyone could tell you the best defense was a good offense-or perhaps he'd gotten that one a little mixed up. Memory issues, after all. Mostly, he was determined to put it to better use than that foul DeRosa had. He hadn't quite solved why the role of white mage had held such allure, but with a new job more suited to his preferences, that question fell to the wayside. He could use a sword, and use it skillfully. He could exploit enemies' weaknesses and continue to soothe the hurts of women. ...And Tiz. It didn't hurt that he looked rather dashing in the job uniform, if he dare say so, though it was a tiny wound on his ego that Edea had taken to calling him a narcissist. With no personal history to establish credibility by, he'd be a fool to not consider the impression he first made with every woman he met. Though Agnès experimented with the summoner and black mage asterisks, she was the first to switch back to white robes and holy power when they truly needed a dedicated healer, and Ringabel was content with being the jack of all trades, though he played at hunting and piracy for brief spells. He liked the offensive job classes, yet the valkyrie's habit of gaining strength as her allies fell left a bitter taste in his mouth; the swordmaster took patience to a degree he could manage, but didn't much care for. The templar's blade was a good one, and was also Edea's to take up, no other's. And after the shock of seeing the dark knight's face match his own, after hearing Edea call Alternis' name in desperation as the man pitched over the side of Grandship and was lost in the blinding Pillar of Light...no, he had no desire for that bleak job at all. Ringabel had the horrid feeling it would fit him like a glove, hide him all too perfectly beneath a heavy helm, and Edea might forget for a moment who she was looking at. Let him keep being the flamboyant red mage, the hunter, the pirate. The vagabond and not the lost. He mistrusted the power of darkness anyway; perhaps it was because they were set on unleashing the crystals' light.
The white mage asterisk had been near completely forgotten in the onslaught of new jobs to pick from, let alone the chaos of waking up seemingly months in the past with all their work undone. He was bemused when he finally got to meet the White Mage Holly Whyte in person-she was so far from Agnès' sacrificing personality-but didn't give it much more thought until one day Agnès gave a loud gasp shortly after a battle, her hands clasped around the stone.
They all looked at her in surprise, but Airy got to her first, flitting in front of her face. "You learned that, didn't you? Don't give it another second's thought!"
"What is it?" Tiz asked, his confusion echoing Ringabel's own, as well as Edea's.
"It-it could be useful..." the wind vestal murmured. Her fingers clutched the stone tightly to her chest, nearly touching her pendant.
Airy all but shrieked. "It's like banking on dying! You're always such a martyr, Agnès. But you've got to think of the big picture! Who'll awaken the crystals if you don't?"
Edea's and Tiz's faces had both darkened from those first words, and further still when Agnès didn't immediately refute them. "Don't use it," they said simultaneously, and that was that, though the woman's expression remained pensive.
"Agnès," Ringabel spoke up. "You've mastered it, haven't you? Perhaps we should switch again. I haven't been able to master healing spells as powerful as yours."
"Are you sure, Ringabel?" she asked, still seeming thrown by the secret she had just learned. "If that's what you wish. But the last spell... don't bother with it."
"Of course," he lied. His curiosity was piqued once more. Of course, if it was really such a poorly-considered incantation, he wouldn't invoke it. But it wouldn't harm anyone to simply learn it. Tiz and Airy instantly looked relieved as the asterisk was swapped; Edea looked suspicious a moment longer, but he gave her a winning smile and she merely rolled her eyes. He rubbed his thumb over the asterisk, tapping into its knowledge and seeking out that spell. It was still well beyond his reach, and yet... perhaps he had found the reason why the role had any interest for him, who was not the best suited for healer.
Mastery came before confirmation. By the time he remembered how darkness had already once failed him, and why he would never be fit to wield the holy blade of the templar, and how the valkyrie's strength from fallen allies sickened him because he had allowed those he now called ally to fall without moving an inch, he had an answer to all of it in the white mage's last spell, a passive incantation he had come to always make sure was applied before their quartet ventured into possible danger. Considering they were traveling with the True Evil itself, he had to use the utmost discretion to not seem obsessive about his set-up or give himself away.
Perhaps the false fairy was right; to use it was to bank on dying. ...Well. That was exactly what she expected them to do, wasn't it? Perhaps not in this world, but somewhere, surely, down the line. So he would bank on it.
Because never again. Never, ever again. Never... would he find himself the sole survivor of a bloodbath.
It came to a test before the fairy's betrayal. He suspected the others had long since forgotten that awkward moment when Agnès learned the spell. It was obvious now that she had honored her word and not used the incantation; she'd just now fainted from a deadly swipe of dragon's claws, blood staining her face and tunic and steaming on the snow, but Tiz and Edea who'd fallen before had yet to rise. Rather than bank on dying she'd tried her utmost to stay alive and turn the tide of a losing battle. Perhaps she was a martyr, but even in that she tried to be selfless: to think of Tiz and Edea's feelings, to think of the big picture and her role as the only remaining vestal.
How very glad Ringabel, no, Alternis was to have been punched out of the big picture long ago. He could focus on the three people he wanted back on their feet, now, and be as selfish as he wanted in bringing them back. He'd been pushed to the breaking point in both body and mind, barely having anything left to give, and that was all right, because he only had to break to effect their revival. Before that, he would give this beast as much pain as possible with the sword of rage and hate he knew so well. Having that last resort of light had allowed him to have no hesitation in embracing familiar darkness, and it was all too easy to fall into a fury that lasted until he had no more to give, until the wounded dragon had had enough and not only pierced his armor with its heavy claws but unleashed a frigid wave of air that froze the very breath in his lungs.
Even as his body shut down from the sudden temperature drop and his vision darkened from oxygen loss, he could feel the promised light of that incantation unfurl, stealing away the last sparks of his life to bestow on his friends. His breath for Edea's. If it had been her alone, it would have been a good trade. That Agnès' and Tiz's lungs would also fill with breath made it even sweeter. They were reviving even as he only dimly registered having fallen onto his back, unable to feel anything and merely guessing at the hazy images coming through his eyes. They were reviving, and he was... finally...
His helmet had been opened, and someone was pounding on his chest as though that would help matters any. He tried to lift his head, but he was still near completely frozen; he'd only managed to lift it an inch at best before simply breathing proved too much and he coughed hard, expelling bloody bits of ice crystal from his airways. At least the pounding stopped. Someone then lifted his head up for him and coaxed him into drinking what had to be a refined potion, judging by the taste of mushrooms and the blissful warmth coming back to his body and soothing his lungs. His vision started to come back into focus, and what little surprise it was to be greeted back into the world of living by the severe expressions of Edea and Agnès, his harsh but lovely angels of mercy. There was no dragon to be heard bellowing or stomping its feet, and he could only presume they had managed to finish it off.
...They had survived the battle.
"You weren't supposed to use that!" Agnès said sternly. "There were-there are other ways to safeguard-"
"You didn't even try to defend yourself!" Edea accused.
He shook his head weakly and lay back again, not up to arguing. Edea was correct, anyway, even if he didn't see how she could know beyond a guess. "Tiz?"
"Here," said the boy from behind, looming into view after a second. "But are you okay? You gave us all a scare."
"So did all of you," he retorted, though tiredly. They constantly scared him with the fact that they were there, beside him, and at any moment they could be threatened and taken away. That he was to help them fight, and that he had already once utterly failed. Just moments ago they had been laid broken, and he scared them? Just because he had found a way to ensure he didn't out-survive them once more?
He had been too honest, he knew that immediately. Agnès made a small, sad sound, her hands reaching to clasp his right hand, and Tiz knelt with an earnest expression. "We'll be more careful, Ringabel. I promise you."
Edea looked at him with frustration and upset, and he knew she didn't understand in the way Agnès and Tiz did, didn't have the same kind of ghosts. He was glad for that. The weakest, traitorous part of him sometimes wished he could once more forget what had happened back then, forget feeling her go cold in his arms, injured past the point of revival. But he could not, so at least he had this one, last resort, the Conservation of Life. He would never see it happen again.