A/N: Sorry for the long delay! Long story short, schoolwork has been kicking my ass into the worst writer's block I've ever had. Taking writing courses in school turned out to be one of the worst decisions I've ever made - they totally ruined my passion for it.

Just a short update for now, while I get back into it. Sorry if it's not great, I literally haven't written anything for over a year, but it's better than making you all wait longer than you already have.


"Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you'll be criticized anyway."

― Eleanor Roosevelt


Chapter 65: Arietta the Wild

Ion had decided their reason for being in Engeve was pointless, and yet no one would listen to him. To make things worse, he didn't have any more time to try and convince them to solve the issue of Arietta without resorting to violence.

Why did they need to duel? Ion could at least somewhat see why Arietta would want to. Revenge for the liger queen who had raised her, and resentment of Anise who had taken her beloved Ion from her.

But he wasn't even that beloved Ion, he was someone different. Someone who believed Arietta deserved to know that her Ion had died a long time ago. Someone who didn't really understand why Anise would want to go through with a duel to the death, especially when there was nothing she would gain from it. Someone who didn't understand why the others would support her in that decision.

Ion knew Arietta would be distraught if she found out the truth, but surely the others' argument that she may take her own life was an exaggeration? Wasn't it also possible that her knowing that Van had been lying to her for years could result in her leaving the God-Generals?

The duel they wanted would almost definitely end in death, and it didn't seem fair to withhold information from Arietta over an assumption, especially when she would likely keep fighting until she or Anise was dead anyway.

When the group split up in Engeve to prepare, Ion went with Anise. He couldn't help but notice the young guardian was particularly distracted by thoughts of the imminent duel as they moved toward the village's small and crowded marketplace. He felt a little badly about taking advantage of it, but as a large group of villagers passed by he slipped away with them and hid behind some nearby trees.

He watched the marketplace for a moment to see if Anise had noticed him disappearing. He saw her frantically looking around the large crowd of people for him, but she didn't appear to notice where he had gone.

There wasn't much time. Though he felt guilty, he made sure he could avoid Anise's line of sight, thankful his hair and clothes somewhat blended in with the trees and grassy area, and hurried toward the Cheagle Woods. If Arietta was already there waiting for them like Largo said she would be, he might be able to talk to her before the others could catch up to him.

As he approached the woods, Ion noticed wolves and ligers watching him from the bushes. He suddenly remembered the last time he entered those woods alone all those months ago, and worried there would be a repeat of the last time when he first met Luke and Tear. The beasts watched him closely with narrowed eye, but they weren't attacking. The Fon Master guessed that Arietta had asked them not to attack any humans who tried to get through as she anticipated Anise's arrival.

Without interference from the creatures who inhabited the woods, making his way to the largest tree in the middle of the forest where the liger queen once lived wasn't that difficult. The terrain brought up a couple problems, especially since he grew tired so easily, but he pushed himself forward knowing the rest of the group could guess what he was going to do at any moment and follow him. They would get through the woods much quicker than he could.

"Ion!" Arietta exclaimed as he carefully descended the largest tree in the forest to reach the liger's den. The pinkette looked around, expecting the others to show up. "Anise isn't with you?"

Ion shook his head, panting. It had been a long time since he'd put that much physical effort into anything. "No...I came on my own."

He noticed Largo narrowing his eyes at him. The larger man could probably guess what Ion was about to do. Would he try to stop him, too? After all, the other God-Generals all knew Ion was a replica, but no one had deemed it necessary to tell Arietta.

Arietta looked confused for a moment, then a delighted smile graced her lips, and Ion realized he was so used to seeing the girl depressed, it was almost odd to see her smile like that.

"So then you're finally going to let me become your guardian again?!"

Ion frowned, "Arietta, that's not why I-"

"I'm so happy, Ion! But...I still need to duel Anise!"

"There's no reason to duel, Arietta!"

The smallest God-General shook her head. "Yes there is! For Mommy, and for you, too, Ion. Anise failed you too many times - she even sent you to your death! I won't let her get away with that! I can't!"

"Arietta, I'm not who you think I am. Dueling over me is pointless!"

"Careful, Fon Master," Largo warned, "Don't go saying anything you'll regret."

"Will you kill me if I do?" Ion asked.

Largo didn't reply, but leveled a glare on the younger boy. Ion knew Largo was in no good position to try and stop him. He would be lying if he said the Black Lion's gaze wasn't intimidating, though.

It did make him worry for a moment if Largo would attempt to silence him, but then he knew Arietta would interfere if he tried.

It wasn't that Ion was afraid of dying, he just needed to live a little while longer.

He had every intention of saving Tear, he just couldn't yet. Not until they had discovered what Dist had done to make Alex's curse slot different from a normal one. After Alex was saved, he was free to save Tear as well.

He was already disappearing, anyway. Opening all the doors to the Sephiroth created a strain on his body that had caused his fonons to start separating.

The others must have thought that saving him had shown altering the Score was truly possible. Ion didn't want to tell them that it was in vain. He believed in what they were trying to accomplish and wanted Van's ideals stopped. He didn't want to give his friends any reason to doubt themselves.

But there was no denying the inevitable truth. If the Score said he was going to die, it would happen whether they liked it or not. It was only a matter of when and how exactly.

He didn't fully know when, but he was going to take the 'how' into his own hands.

"What do you mean?" Arietta asked, confused, "I know you've changed since Anise took over as your guardian, but you're still Ion!"

"No, I'm not. I'm not your Ion."

Largo was slowly shaking his head behind the girl. Seeing how he also appeared to think this was a bad idea shook the green-haired boy's resolve a little, but Ion couldn't let this duel happen. He couldn't let Anise or Arietta or anyone else end up dead because of him.

He took a deep breath. "Arietta, your Ion died two years ago."

Largo sighed.

"What...do you mean?" the girl asked slowly, her eyes narrowed in confusion. "You're standing right here, in front of me!"

"That's enough," Largo said, moving to stand in front of Arietta.

"No! I want to know what he means!" Arietta exclaimed, a feral look appearing on her face. Largo grimaced, but stepped aside.

"The reason why Anise was named Fon Master guardian two years ago is because your Ion died...and was replaced with a replica." Arietta's eyes widened, but Ion continued. "That's why you think I act differently from before. It's because I'm a completely different person."

"No!" Arietta shouted, thrusting her doll in front of her and hiding her face. "You're lying! You're just making this up so I won't want to duel Anise anymore!"

Ion shook his head. "I'm sorry, Arietta, but I'm telling the truth."

The pinkette dropped to her knees, tears in her eyes. "No! No...it can't be true! Master Ion couldn't be replaced - I would have noticed!"

"You would have." Ion agreed, though it was hurting him to continue when she already looked so heartbroken and confused. "The Oracle Knights have been working to keep you away from me for that reason."

"Alright, you've said enough," Largo said, but doing so only seemed to confirm to Arietta that Ion wasn't lying.

"It's true then. You...you're an impostor," Arietta's voice was as quiet as the tears now streaming down her face. Something in her broke, and she began to hyperventilate. "Then he's gone...and I failed to protect him...I failed!"

She tossed her precious doll to the side, and withdrew a small dagger she had concealed in her uniform.

Ion realized in horror that Anise wasn't exaggerating when she said Arietta would kill herself if she knew the truth.

...

"Your brother?" Luke asked, "So you're Alex's uncle?"

The older man's eyes narrowed in confusion at Luke, and then widened. "Do you mean Alexandra? Is she alive?"

Luke nodded, "Yeah. And Isabell, too."

"They're alive!" A wide smile spread across the man's face. "That's wonderful to hear! When I heard about the war and Hod's collapse, I thought it was impossible they had survived. But the girls are okay, I only wish I'd known sooner. I would have taken them in..."

"I'm sure they won't resent you for not knowing," Guy told him.

He sighed, "I hope not. Xavier and I exchanged letters often, but I'd never had the chance to meet Alexandra before the war. I only saw Isabell a couple times when she was small; I doubt she even remembers me. I imagine she might've sought me out if she did."

"Xavier?" Luke asked. "Alex's dad," Guy explained quickly.

Luke felt like he was imposing on a reunion, despite the fact that Guy had never actually met this man before. Or maybe it was guilt at the fact that he was there to meet Alex's uncle, and they had no idea where she was.

"Oh, forgive me. I lost my manners in the excitement. Call me Dominic."

"I'm Luke."

"Guy," the blond said as he shook Dominic's hand. "Can you tell me a little about your brother? Alex really doesn't know much about her family, I'm sure she'd really appreciate some information."

"Of course! Though I'd rather have the chance to tell her myself. Where are the girls?"

"They aren't with us right now," Luke replied, scratching his nose, "Uh, some things came up."

"We'll make sure to tell her about you the next time we see her," Guy added.

Dominic's enthusiasm turned to a slight frown, but he nodded. He took a small notepad from his pocket and scribbled something on it before tearing the page out and handing it to Guy. "My address. Let them know they're more than welcome to come see me whenever they like."

"Yeah, of course," Guy said as he pocketed the paper. "I'm sure they'll be excited to meet you."

"And I'll be eager to meet them. Now, you want to know about Xavier. I'm happy to tell you the basics, but I would prefer to have some new information for Alexandra and Isabell when I meet them."

"Makes sense to me," Luke shrugged.

Guy nodded, "Yeah, we don't mind. Anything we can tell them is appreciated."

"Alright. You said Alexandra doesn't know much about her parents. Did the girls grow up separately?"

"Yeah," Guy replied, "To be honest, Alex didn't even know she had a sister until a few months ago."

"I see. Then I'll start with the very basics. My brother, Xavier, was a well-known tactician and Knight in Hod. He never said it outright in his letters, but it's my understanding that he even worked fairly closely under Count Gardios."

"That's true," Guy confirmed, "Alex's dad was at the mansion pretty often. He was one of the few knights I saw all the time that wasn't just there on guard duty."

"You said your name was Guy... So I suppose you're Count Gardios' son, then?"

"That's right, but I'm more interested in your family."

Dominic nodded, "Yes, where was I? Ah, Xavier's wife. Anastasia was the daughter of a noble family in Hod, and before meeting her I'd guessed she was his ticket into the Count's circle. During my first visit with them, I realized I was wrong to assume his relationship with her was only beneficial for his career. They were good together, and when Isabell came along they made a great little family. I only wish I'd visited in time to meet Alexandra..."

"Thank you for telling us," Guy said. He looked deep in thought. "And I'm sorry for your loss."

Dominic shook his head, "The loss of my twin still hurts to think about, but it was years ago. I've healed, for the most part. I'm more sorry for the losses both you and the girls have faced."

"I don't get it," Luke said, something had been bugging him for most of the conversation. "You guys evacuated Engeve a few months ago, wouldn't you have noticed Dominic then?"

"I only moved here about a month ago," Dominic replied, "The big city was getting to be too much stress for me. You were the ones who evacuated the village during the fall? Tell me, what are the girls up to? I hope not anything too dangerous."

Luke and Guy shared a look. "Er, well..."

"Guys!"

Luke turned to the familiar voice as the speaker ran over to them. Anise looked panicked, and was breathing heavily.

"Anise, what's wrong?" Guy asked, looking around the girl a if expecting someone else to follow her.

Luke felt dread as he also noticed who was missing. "Where's Ion?"

"I don't know!" Anise cried, waving her arms around in a panic. "One second he was right next to me, and the next... I can't find him anywhere! You have to help me! What if one of Mohs' men finds him? What if -"

"Anise, calm down," Guy told her, "I'm sure he's okay, we'll help you look for him."

As Luke tried calming the young girl from her hyperventilating, Guy turned and quickly explained to Dominic that they had to leave.

"We'll bring Alex and Isabell with us when we come back," the blond promised him before the three left to look for Ion.

"Where did you last see him?" Luke asked as the dread worsened. Engeve was a small village, Ion couldn't be that hard to find. A small boy with green hair stood out compared to the villagers.

"We were just heading to the marketplace, then a big group of people split us up and I couldn't find him after. Ohh, I hope he's okay..."

"I'm sure he's fine," Guy repeated, "We should keep an eye out for the others, too. They can help us look."

Just as he said it, they rounded the corner of a house and spotted Tear and Natalia walking in their direction. At first the girls smiled when they noticed them, but then must have noticed the panic and saw that they were missing someone who was usually at Anise's side.

"Where's the Fon Master?" Tear asked, a frown on her face.

"We got split up!" Anise explained in the same panicked voice she had used to tell Luke and Guy.

"We're trying to find him," Guy said. "I guess you haven't seen him anywhere then."

Natalia shook her head, her eyes wide with worry. "No. Do you have any idea where he would have gone?"

Luke thought back to the last time Ion had gone missing in Engeve, when he and Tear first met him in Cheagle Woods. He caught Tear's eye, and by the look on her face she must have been thinking the same thing.

"I think I know where he went."