Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn
A Genso Suikoden Fanfic
By: Aaron Nowack
Part 1: Memory
"Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made.
Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades.
What was asked is given. The price is paid."
- The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
Disclaimer: The Genso Suikoden game series is made and owned by Konami. As I am neither a corporation nor Japanese, that would not be me. The title of this fic is stolen from the title of a fantasy novel series by Tad Williams, who is also not me. This fic brought to you by the GOLDEN EMPEROR: BARRRRBARRRRRROSSSA!!!!!
The Rune of Life and Death, also called the Cursed Rune, but best known as Souleater. One of the Twenty-Seven True Runes, formed from the primordial void at the dawn of creation, one of the jewels that adorned the twin brothers Sword and Shield, from whose conflict the world was born. Like its brethren, part of the foundation of the world, the bedrock on which all of reality rested.
It allowed Life to exist, and caused it to end at Death. Without its power, neither would exist, and the world would be unrecognizable. That power was awesome, and there were many who sought to wield it. However, like all awesome power, it came with a terrible price. It was that price which gave the Rune its more common name.
Unlike the more common Runes, the Souleater allowed access to its power only as it saw fit. It would twist fate so that its bearers' loved ones would fall one by one, their souls trapped forever within the Rune. As each was consumed, the Souleater would grant new power to its 'master'. Over time the bearer could control this process, or even stop it, but it was a feat that took centuries to master. The wielder would have all the time he needed, for like all the True Runes, it granted the painful gift of immortality to any it allowed to carry it.
Because of the curse it bore, few could stand to keep Souleater long enough to accomplish this, instead choosing to end their own lives or pass the burden to another. And so, Souleater had had many masters through the centuries.
In the year In Solis 455, it had fallen to a young man named Tir McDohl to wield the Cursed Rune, as destiny chose him as its agent to change the course of history. Over three long years of war and suffering, Tir gathered the 108 Stars of Destiny to his banner. Through their combined efforts, they brought an end to the corrupt Scarlet Moon Empire. The evil sorceress Windy was vanquished, her plans to control the Cursed Rune come to naught. A new power was rising under the banner of the Toran Republic, and young McDohl was chosen as its leader.
All this had passed as the mysterious sage Leknaat, keeper of the Rune of the Gate, had foreseen, bringing her plans to fruition. Her blind eyes now turned northward to the lands of the Jowston Alliance, where she could feel the strands of destiny already beginning to ensnare a new hero.
But just because the Gate Rune Wars have ended does not mean that the story is over. Even without the force of destiny pushing him to greatness, the wielder of a True Rune is never allowed to merely float passively along the river of history. To him is given the ability, and with it the responsibility, to guide and shape the flow.
For him, the story never ends.
Fall had come to the Golden City of Gregminster with surprising suddenness. Tir found it hard to believe that it was only a month ago that he had lead the Liberation Army in triumph to the walls of the capital, sending the demon Yuber's army scattering to the four winds, or that it was a month ago that he had defeated the Sovereign Rune's monstrous incarnation. Most of all he found it difficult to believe that only a month ago Barbarossa Rugner, the last Emperor of the Scarlet Moon Empire, had leapt to his death from the Floating Gardens.
Those gardens were gone forever now, destroyed in the magical backlash of the cataclysmic final conflict. The lower palace had weathered the destruction surprisingly well, and it was nearly restored to its former splendor already.
The same could not be said for the city of Gregminster. The scars of war ran deep, and it would be years before they were healed. Thousands of refugees lived in the rubble-strewn streets, having fled the devastation that was all that remained of the once-rich province of Arlus. As the rest of the Empire had been liberated, the people of the capital province had borne more and more of the burden of keeping the Imperial Army in the field, eventually driving even the richest to poverty. And now, the remnants of that army had turned to banditry to survive, and had stolen most of the little that remained. Rockland, the town where Tir had committed his first open act of rebellion, was little more than a ghost town, and most of the region's other cities were similarly deserted.
Tir rubbed his head, trying to fight off a rapidly approaching headache. He looked around the throne room, where the provisional leadership of the Toran Republic had taken to meeting each day. At Tir's right hand sat Lepant, recently chosen as Tir's Vice President, while Warren, who had assumed the position of Chairman of the Provisional Senate, sat on his left. Further down the table sat those military leaders who were presently in the city- Admiral Sonya Schulen and Generals Valeria Haia and Kwanda Rossman. At the foot of the table sat Hanzo, chief of the Rokkaku ninja. Joshua Levenheit, commander of the Dragon Knights, would normally be seated next to the ninja, but he had returned to the Knighthood of the Dragon's Den to handle his own affairs. This was the Provisional Council, and it was the extent of the Republic's government for now.
"Is there any word on grain shipments?" Tir asked. Food would have to be found and sent to Gregminster soon, or starvation would be added to the list of the occupants' woes.
Warren shook his head. "We have some coming up from Kouan, thanks to Lepant, but the other cities in Gouran don't have any surplus grain to send."
"And we don't have enough ships to bring grain from anywhere else fast enough, even if we could afford to buy it," added Sonya.
"That's very well, Admiral," Lepant said, "but not very helpful."
Sonya glared at Lepant for a moment. She had been one of the Five Great Imperial Generals, loyal almost to the end, and she despised those who had abandoned the Empire before her. "I have no help to offer. Only a handful of ships survived the destruction of Shasarazade, and it will be years before my navy can be rebuilt."
"What about Kun To?" Tir asked.
"That old scoundrel?" Lepant said, but after a moment he nodded. "He loaned his fleet to the Liberation Army once, perhaps he will see fit to loan it again. Hopefully he won't ask for too high a price." The Vice President jotted a note to himself on the paper that lay before him. "The next matter is... the situation with Jowston."
Valeria broke her silence. "The situation is not good. General Hazil has taken command of the northern checkpoint, but Jowston still controls the fortress of Moravia."
"My scouts tell me that the enemy has occupied the entire Banner Pass," Hanzo said. "If we do not push them out soon, they could threaten Gregminster itself."
Lepant shook his head. "I've told you a thousand times, Hanzo, we don't have the men to retake Rokkaku and still maintain the northwestern front. There's little chance of them coming out of the pass, anyway, as after the first snow they'd be cut off from Jowston."
Hanzo might have frowned behind his mask. "We must do something," he said. No one answered him.
After a moment's uncomfortable silence, Valeria spoke again. "The only good news is that the only cities we seem to be facing are Tinto and South Window. The other cities seem to be more concerned about the border skirmishes with Highland."
Kwanda nodded. "If Muse or Two River were to join the offensive, we would be in dire straits. We just don't have the soldiers to hold off the full might of the Jowston Alliance."
Tir sighed. "There's really nothing we can do about that now, General Rossman. What is next on the agenda?"
Lepant shuffled the papers that were strewn about him. "The Stonecrafter's Guild is requesting a twenty-year tax exemption in return for their help in rebuilding Gregminster..."
Tir closed his eyes as Lepant continued. He had thought that once Barbarossa was dead things would be simple, but fate seemed intent on proving him wrong.
Kasumi heard an almost silent footstep behind her, and reacted instantly, dropping to a crouch and rolling away. A shuriken hit in a nearby tree, the force of the impact causing a few leaves to flutter to the ground. Kasumi quickly spun about, throwing a shuriken of her own at her opponent, but was not surprised when he dodged the missile easily.
Kasumi, using the other ninja's distraction to close the distance between them, lashed out with a series of lightning-fast punches and kicks. Most of the attacks were blocked or dodged, but enough got through to send Kasumi's opponent stumbling to the ground.
Holding back a sigh, Kasumi offered the fallen ninja a hand, which he accepted. "You still have a lot to learn, Fuma. I heard you trying to sneak up on me." Chief Hanzo had given her the task of training the new recruit, a responsibility which irked her to some extent- she would rather be helping to evict the Jowston forces from Banner Pass and reclaim Rokkaku.
"I don't think it's possible for anyone to sneak up on you," Fuma complained.
"I can," Hanzo said.
Kasumi nearly jumped. Fuma actually did. Muttering a curse under her breath, Kasumi turned to her chief. "Don't scare me like that!"
Hanzo probably smiled behind his mask. "I will continue to 'scare' you until you can hear me coming as easily as you can hear Fuma." The older ninja paused a moment, then continued, "And watch your mouth with your chief."
Kasumi restrained the urge to utter a second curse, instead nodding. "I will try, Chief Hanzo," she replied.
Hanzo nodded back at her, then turned to Fuma. "You are getting better. Perhaps it is time I started training you myself."
"What would you have me do, then?" Kasumi asked.
"I am leaving Gregminster," Hanzo said. "Regardless of what Lepant thinks, it is time to for Rokkaku to be ours once again." If Hanzo was smiling underneath the black cloth that shrouded his face, the smile no doubt turned mirthless. "With the winter, death will come to the Jowston army. However, it would not do to allow our... alliance with the Toran Republic to lapse. Hence, you will take my place as Rokkaku's representative on the Provisional Council."
Kasumi bowed. "Thank you, Chief Hanzo." After a moment's wait she asked, "How was... President McDohl today?"
Hanzo's cold blue eyes stared at her and he was silent for a while before he responded. "That boy bears a terrible burden, Kasumi. I would advise you to forget your attraction to him, for your own sake."
Kasumi grimaced, and lowered her eyes.
Hanzo sighed. "It is, however, your decision to make. I wish you happiness in your choice, whatever it might be." With that, Hanzo turned away. "Come with me, Fuma."
Kasumi watched the other two ninja leave and shivered, though not because of the cold wind.
Tir McDohl, provisional President of the Toran Republic, entered the Gregminster Palace graveyard with a trembling step. It seemed his daily walks always ended in this morbid place. The setting sun cast long shadows over the quiet landscape. Tir let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding, and began to walk down the earthen path that lead into the heart of the graveyard.
The palace graveyard was huge, containing centuries worth of dead, going back to before Kranach Rugner had founded the Scarlet Moon Empire. The oldest graves were positioned closest to the entrance, and it was almost dark before Tir reached the graves he sought.
The first was that of an old friend. Pahn. He had been a mentor, a guardian, and sometimes almost a father to Tir. Despite that, Tir had never known much about Pahn's past. All he knew was that Pahn had fought against Tir's father during the Succession War, switching sides after Teo spared his life. Tir laughed bitterly at the irony of his guardian's death, slain by the same man who had spared him so many years ago.
Tir absently scratched his right palm, then turned to the grave that lay next to Pahn's. Tir knelt before the tombstone, wishing he could find tears to shed. He had made sure that this body had been delivered to Gregminster, even though it was at the height of the war. He knew that his father had wanted to be buried here.
It should have pained him more. Here lay his father, and he was the one who had killed him. He knew that the histories would always mention that the "Victor of a Hundred Battles" had finally known defeat at the hands of his own son. It had the feeling of a legend already, and the story would no doubt live on long after the war was forgotten.
Tir bowed his head a moment. "Father..." he said, searching for words he could not find, as he did each night. He could not say how long he knelt before his father's grave, as darkness fell around him. The first night he had done this, he had caused a panic, as none had known where to find him.
Tir's right hand suddenly pulsed, and he rose, unthinkingly summoning a ball of cold, bright light. He glanced about, his eyes finally falling on Barbarossa's empty tomb. "Who's there?" he called out harshly.
After a moment, a lithe form leapt from the tomb's roof, gracefully landing just inside the range of the light. Tir nodded curtly, and relaxed somewhat. "Kasumi. What do you want?" The question came out a bit harder than he intended, and he saw the ninja wince slightly.
"I... I just want to talk to you, Tir," she said softly. "It's not healthy for you to do this every night."
Tir laughed. "Is that all? I assure you, I'm perfectly healthy. My Rune sees to that."
Kasumi shivered. "I don't mean it like that, Tir. You can't do anything for the dead. It's the living that need you now."
Tir smiled, but the smile did not touch his eyes. "They died for me. Father and Pahn. Gremio and Ted. Mathiu. They all died because of me. This seems the least I can do."
Kasumi shivered a second time, and changed the subject. "How can you stand the cold? It's freezing out here."
"Is it cold?" Tir asked, frowning. "I didn't notice."
"That's scary," Kasumi said.
Tir felt another pulse in his right palm, and with a sick feeling in his gut he realized that he could feel Kasumi standing before him, feel her warmth, her life. His stomach twisted again as he felt the Souleater reaching out, pulling at her. "You should be scared," Tir said as he wrestled with the Rune.
Tir fell to his knees, the Rune burning on his hand. "No..." he muttered. "Don't..."
Kasumi raced forward as Tir fell. "What happened?"
Tir looked up at her. "Get away!" he screamed.
Kasumi came to a halt. "What..." she began.
"Leave! Please," Tir begged, and after a moment Kasumi complied. As she left, Tir relaxed his mental struggle. Pure destruction emerged from his palm, streaming hungrily in the direction the ninja girl had gone.
After the rune's power was spent, Tir rose, staring at the rune on his palm, now quiet, showing no sign of the life it had just displayed. After some time, he stared up at the full moon, estimating the time of night.
After another moment, he nodded, and set off for his chambers. If he was lucky, he could be in Lenankamp by dawn, and past the Fortress of Kwaba before it could be alerted.
The next morning, Kasumi rose early to attend her first meeting of the Provisional Council as Chief Hanzo's representative. When she arrived, only Valeria was there. "What's wrong?"
Valeria sighed. "President McDohl's gone missing. One of the maids found his bed empty when she brought him breakfast this morning."
"All right," Kasumi said quietly. "Take me to his room."
Valeria nodded, and shortly the two women arrived there, finding the rest of the Provisional Council interrogating the maid who had discovered that Tir was missing.
Kasumi ignored the conversation, instead stepping through the open door and examining the room. It had been Barbarossa's, though Tir had removed many of the more ostentatious decorations, most of which were then sold to finance the staggering cost of running the Republic.
"Has anyone touched anything in here?" Kasumi asked.
After a moment of too harsh questioning, the maid managed to convey that she had run to tell someone as soon as she had seen that room was empty, and that she certainly hadn't destroyed any evidence.
Kasumi nodded. "There's no sign of a struggle. I don't think anyone could kidnap him without some sort of fight, so we can rule that out." The other members of the Provisional Council muttered their agreement. Kasumi ignored them, instead concentrating on searching the room.
After a moment, she announced, "He took his staff and his backpack, and most of his traveling clothes. It's safe to say he's not planning on coming back in the near future."
"What do we do?" Lepant asked.
"If the people find out that President McDohl is gone, they might lose their faith in the new government. The whole Republic could collapse," Warren said, stroking his beard.
General Kwanda frowned. "If that happens, then you can count on South Window's flag flying over Gregminster by the end of next summer."
Valeria grimaced, but after a moment she nodded. "Rossman's right. Our situation just isn't stable enough to take a shock like this."
"I'll have to temporarily assume the duties of President," Lepant said. "If necessary, we'll announce that President McDohl has gone into seclusion to consider how to solve the problems we face. Someone send a fast messenger to Kwaba, and alert the commander there of the situation."
"I'll see to it myself," Kwanda said. "I'll make sure he understands the matter is to be kept secret."
"And I'll alert the forces guarding the Banner Pass, in case he heads that way," Valeria said.
Kasumi nodded. "I will track him down. I have the best chance of finding him quickly, before word of this gets out."
"All right," Kwanda said. "I'll get a squad of men to accompany you."
Kasumi smiled softly and shook her head. "They couldn't keep up me," she said, seeming to vanish into thin air.
Kwanda cursed. "How, by all Twenty-Seven True Runes, do those ninja do that?"
Author's Random Ramblings
1) All comments are, of course, greatly appreciated.
2) Thanks goes to Ryan Hupp for his incredibly thorough prereading, without which this fic would be far poorer. Now, if only he'd get around to finishing Shades of Gray...
3) The name Tir is used for the main character in this fic, as that is the name used in the official Japanese novels.
4) As you may have noticed, this fic is not based off the optimal ending to Suikoden. The sequence of events assumed for this fic is that all 108 Stars of Destiny get recruited, but Pahn dies in his duel against Teo, and so Gremio is not resurrected at the end.
5) Rabid Suikoden fans may protest that the last name I gave Valeria (Haia), is in fact the name of her swordsmaster, who is no relation to her. I have an explanation for this! In the continuity of this fic, Roundier Haia's students took his name as a sign of respect. So therefore, Anita would be Anita Haia, were she to appear in this story (which she won't).