So far the tournament had gone as planned. Chadeaux-Bunee smiled widely as his friend Apollonious won consecutive rounds of increasing difficulty. Each nation had been set up in a bracket system with the top four from Windurst, Bastok, San d’Oria, and Jeuno being given a spot in the final elimination rounds.
Each round lasted five hours to allow enough time to complete the articles of clothing. The tournament was grueling on the contestants as there were three rounds per day with only a half hour between for meal breaks. There were more than a few hand cramps and the Combat Casters’ Medic Brigade was (as they liked to joke) “on hand” when it came to care.
One clothier that needed no attention was Noxx. As impressive as the other crafters were, there was a literal magic to her art. Thick masses surrounded her table. Nobody had seen someone sew like this before. She didn’t need thread nor needle. She had no use for thimbles nor threaders. Given a stack of material, the mithran weaver simply pulled a small crystal from a hip pouch. Through five minutes of intense concentration, she unlocked a hidden power. While the crystal itself was consumed in the process, the finished product was an immaculate representation of what was desired. It was as if the piece was pulled from the veteran’s mind itself and made whole in reality.
This did much to disturb the other crafters. While she would share her spot in the San d’Orian Final Four, the other weavers knew in their hearts that they were no match for this powerful force. Other nations panicked as well. Even the cosmopolitan citizenry of Jeuno was in shock. As if to add insult to injury, Noxx would simply turn in her piece to the judges and come back five hours later for the next contest.
Apollonious didn’t panic, though. He knew that he had ample time to do what he needed to do. Designing clothes in Jeuno had given him the ability to accommodate for financial, chronological, and racial modifications his customers and the judges would add to certain pieces. He simply did what he was good at: concentrating on a job and using the masterful skills given to him by Noxx to satisfy customers. So far, his works stood out and his advancement through the ranks reflected that.
There was one other Jeunoian which matched his ability. He was always dressed in formal Ducal attire. A representative of the Duchy itself, Apollo’ figured. He was rather cold of personality and had said about as many words in public as an orc has brain cells. Nobody knew his name and he was commonly referred to as “Duke” in public and “The Blue Devil” in more private and hushed locations. That particular title was granted to him because of the quantity of blue tattoos he wore on his head.
“He too is magi,” Apollonious reckoned to himself, “I wonder if he is from my same order?”
A week had passed now and the Inagural Windurstian Clothes-Off would enter its international elimination round, referred to as “Sweet William’s Sixteen”. As before, the garments were judged on cut, comfort, standards, and style. Names were chosen at random so that the starting round would have one member from each nation. The contestants starting out were as follows:
Federation of Windurst:
Republic of Bastok:
Kingdom of San d’Oria:
Grand Duchy of Jeuno:
The rules in the final showdown had changed. Now contestants were responsible for two-piece matching sets and the criteria for judging became even more strict. But of course, the reasoning went, these are Vana’diel’s top clothcrafters and they should have no problems whatsoever, especially for the grand prize – an entire twelve pieces of the mysterious damascene cloth!
“Your man is doing well. I’m impressed, Chadeaux,” slyly complimented the hooded figure across from the galka.
“I told you he would pull through. Apollo’s a trusty frie-“
“I’m not interested in your life’s story.” At the shunt, the green-and-white striped model with speckled beret closed his mouth with subservience and an equal part of aggravation. “I have assured that the brackets will work in our favor. Everything must be in its place for this to work. Tomorrow night I am making the grab.”
With that the hume pulled back his hood and leaned forward to add emphasis. The blue tattoos on his head only made him more menacing, even to the hulking brute. “Do not fail like you did last time, galka. This has been our only opportunity to learn Noxx’s secrets since she came out of seclusion the last time an attempt was made,” he flicked Chadeaux’s nose, “and failed. The Duchy does not tolerate failure well and the fact that you have been granted a second chance should be quite the motivator for you. If Noxx wins, you won’t exactly be in her nor the Court’s good graces. Losing their protection may make you more vulnerable to ‘unscrupulous actions’. Clear?”
“As the Knightwell…”
“Good. Tomorrow night then.”
Duke’s face became hidden in a dark cloak once more and he slunk out of the residential district.
Things were really getting heavy now. Chadeaux-Bunee sat back in his chair and sighed. He thought back to when he had left Jeuno for San d’Oria. Before he left, Duke had pulled him aside and for the right amount of money “convinced” Shadowbuni to acquire information and samples of the mithra’s rumored and revolutionary new experiments in clothcraft. He was to run distraction while the lithe hume would sneak inside and get what he needed.
Shadow’ never counted on the mithra’s strict demeanor. Undaunted she continued to walk to her house even after the up-and-coming model talked about everything he could think of to discuss. When she was a block away he dismissed himself in a huff and left to try and catch transportation out of Windurst to avoid Duke’s wrath.
Noxx’s pawed hand opened the door. In the dim light her cat eyes made out a hume in simple robes with a tattooed head rifling through her things. She was flashed by the man and she heard him try to escape. As she lay roiled on the floor, her sensitive eyes feeling as if they might burst, she felt even more pain that her student, the only person she ever cared about enough to let near (and tutor on top of that) would try to steal her secrets. How the only seemingly respectable hume on the planet would be so low, especially to try and hide himself with a blinding spell as opposed to facing up to his actions. “He must pay.”
With a new life and no attachements, Shadowbuni could finally be free. It wasn’t until he now found himself almost back where he started that for the first time in his life, he thought about the price he had paid versus the worth of the end result. Guilt from the mage school incident only made him more bitter. He was once again going to sacrifice a loyal friend, possibly his only true friend, just for his own gain.
“I am a sham.” A tear rolled down a galkan cheek.
There was a knock on Noxx’s door. She didn’t answer. “Noxx,” came a familiar voice, “can I come in?”
Recognizing the voice, the mithra snapped back, “No. Leave now, thief, else I call the Cardian Guards on you!”
“I wanted to say that I’m sorry something bad happened to make you hate me like this,” Apollo’ turned around at her door and leaned against it. “But, I’m happy to see you again. You’ve come a really long way and to be able to compete against someone of your caliber is just…amazing.”
One of her cat ears twitched and she sneakily crept up to the door as the hume continued on.
“I wish things were different. You gave me discipline. You gave me focus. My life was a total mess before I met you.”
Noxx was taken aback. This didn’t make sense. If he was truly the thief, then why this? Just a charade? Was he after more? The Apollo’ at the door is the Apollo’ she had grown to know and…love? She opened the door and he fell on his back with a thud, looking straight up at her.
“And your life isn’t a mess now?” The hume smiled up at her and she smiled back, until she saw his eyes shift and bald head blush. She then realized that he was looking up her separates at her underpants. Razor-sharp claws emerged from her fingertips.
“I’ll just be standing up now.”
That night the two caught up and replaced years of animosity and confusion with friendship and conversation. Apollo’ had related to his former mentor how far he had come and how he improved even on her own techniques. In return, Noxx described a little bit about her new item synthesis technique.
“…So that’s all there is to it, huh?”
“I never would have thought…”
“You never do think, do you Apollo’?”
The next day came more eliminations and finally brought about results for the third and final round. It was going to be Apollonious vs. Duke and Noxx vs. Gudan. The winner of each battle would move to the final round. This was the night that Duke was going to make his move. Tonight he was sure to not only obtain the secrets of item synthesis, but knock out Apollo’, then Noxx, and even rid himself of the clumsy Shadowbuni. The real Duke of Jeuno himself would be pleased and soon The Blue Devil would be rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. Not to mention he’d be able to keep every square inch of the precious damascene cloth.
Twilight shadows grew long. “It’s almost time,” Duke murmured to himself. He met up with Chadeaux-Bunee and received the all-clear that it was set up for Noxx and Apollo to be out of the house. He kept the galka’s job easy this time around to fit his mental capabilities. He smiled as he walked away from the appropriately-colored red and white model.
Shadowbuni smiled as he walked away from Duke. “I had better get a move on, things are going to get hot real quick.” He sighed, but this time of pleasure. Duke was walking right into a trap. Noxx and Apollo’ were well aware of what was going on now and were waiting for him. “This time, though, I won’t be sticking around. It is time for me to move on and find my own life. This act is the first step on that journey.”
It was also his last. Before he even got to the end of the alleyway a poisoned dart was thrown into his neck. The ninja-assassin retrieved it and melted back into the night. “Ah well,” thought Shadowbuni as the poison shut down his body, “I gave it a shot. Go get ‘em, Apollonious. I believe in you.” His eyes shut for the last time and a smile crept on his face.
The Blue Devil finally reached Noxx’s house. The lights were off, nobody was home. “He was good for something, after all.” The door crept open and in stepped the mage. For the next few minutes he fumbled around, adjusting to the dark. All the while two cat-eyes watched his every moved. Just as the intruder’s dilated pupil’s located the synthesis kit, the lights flared on.
“Hello, Duke. Welcome to my house, we’ve been expecting you.” Noxx’s voice was cold and predatory.
Duke spun around to the mithra. “But! How?!”
“Friendship and honor are things that gil and threats cannot buy, traitor.” Apollonious said, standing by the door.
“But death is something I can give for free!” The tattooed hume known as The Blue Devil charged the other. Immediately in the light, Apollo’ recognized the tattoos as belonging to an ancient order of ninja-magi. A secret and deadly clan rumored to be the real Duke’s left hand on internal matters. This was a lot deeper than anyone could have imagined!
A dagger stuck in Apollo’s gut, but a second later mithran claws embedded themselves inside Duke’s back. He shouted from pain but reached back and hurled the seamstress over his head. Noxx hit her head on the wall and slumped over, unconscious. The blood oozing from his back didn’t stop the enraged Blue Devil from moving in for the kill. He produced a second knife and stalked over to finish Noxx. “Your secrets will be mine either way, cat-****!”
“Not if I can help it!” With summoned strength, Apollo’ launched himself toward his foe. Duke wheeled around, cutting a deadly arc in front of him. Apollo stuttered back, but it saved him an opened belly, not just a punctured one. He grabbed a book from the table and hurled it at Duke, hitting him squarely on his head. This staggered the ninja-mage. Noxx woke up and bit his ankle. He was infuriated but couldn’t react in time to stop a tackle rush by the other hume mage.
They fought in close quarters, but Duke got the upper hand by throwing him toward the kitchen. By this time Noxx had stood up in a spin-move that knocked The Blue Devil to the floor. She ran to her former student who had collapsed against the counter from pain. Duke stood up and wound up to launch his dagger toward his rival. Noxx saw this and stood between it and her renewed love. It buried itself to the hilt but it didn’t stop one last lunge. Tooth and claw rent flesh from bone with a sickening noise and gurgling groan.
Apollonious awoke with a groan and saw Noxx on the floor by a still and bleeding Duke. On hands and knees he painfully crawled toward the door, dripping blood. Noxx was cool to the touch and had labored breathing. She was bleeding to death internally.
“Shhh,” she placed a mithran finger to his lips, “it’s ok. I’m sorry about before, Ap-“ her body was wracked with coughs that brought blood to her lips.
“Can you cure yourself?”
“It’s too late…and I no longer have the capability to cure myself…I’ve dedicated all of myself to my new craft.”
“I can still cure you!” He winced in pain from his own wound.
“No, you cure yourself.” She smiled with bloodied lips, but reached up to pull him down for a kiss. “You know my secrets. Use them. I trust you, Apollo’, and,” she closed her eyes and her voice sighed away, but her lips moved and the hume knew what she said.
The event was put on hold a day due to the deadly transaction that just took place. But, the show had to go on. Apollo’s soul was saddened but invigorated as he saw Noxx’s body loaded on the airship bound for her homeland for burial. “I’ll win this for you Noxx. Thank you. I love you too”
While Gudan (the only remaining finalist, literally) was fairly easy to beat, Apollo’ won gracefully and thanked him for the competition. He didn’t use Noxx’s synthesis techniques, but rather resigned to practice it in Jeuno in his humble shop. He still made clothing for the common person at reasonable prices. In honor of his friend Shadowbuni, he started a line of clothing custom-made for galka which became rather popular. In honor of Noxx, later in life, he began a clothcrafting school of his own. Students came from every city from east to west.
Apollonious didn’t just teach the traditional crafting techniques, but also the advanced synthesis. The magic to item synthesis isn’t magic at all. One must simply use the skills and knowledge already possessed and focus it all onto the crystal. The crystal then makes dreams into reality. He was careful to whom he taught this technique for the New Way could be used for evil just as much as it could for good.
We see the end result of that today. All across Vana’diel, crafters use this magic daily. It is almost an expected gift to have, losing the previous mystery it had inherent. The days of traditional creation has fallen to the wayside.
“It isn’t modern enough.”
“It takes too much time to do it the other way.”
“It is less expensive this way.”
…Is it really?