"What would you do? If it was you? Would you take everything for granted like you do?" Staind, What Would You Do

Consciousness returned to Mina like an old man with a severe case of hemorroids trying to sit down. The world blinked nauseatingly in and out, her eyelids fluttering to reveal flashes of reality. A dark sky... then nothing. blackened rock... then nothing. A sense of movement, being carried... then nothing. Finally, her consciousness easing itself into place, and Mina awoke suddenly to find herself staring at a scene of vast devastation.

I... I did that? She thought to herself muzzily, blinking suddenly and sitting up (or at least attempting to) only to find that it is somewhat difficult to sit up when one's hands are bound behind one's self. She slipped sideways a bit and whapped her head painfully against a rocky protrusion, wincing and hissing in pain. Great, Mina.. head trauma on top of magical overextension. You are really on top of this whole hero thing, aren't you?

A deep, rumbling, wryly amused voice broke into her thoughts like a burglar. "Well, Mina Inverse... glad to see you've returned to the land of the living. For now anyway..."

She glanced quickly towards the source of that growling voice and found herself staring at the man who by all rights should be a rapidly expanding vapor cloud. The ridiculous yellow overcoat, now somewhat tattered and burned, was folded neatly on the ground next to her, ground that had been blasted into smooth rock in some places, and blackened glass in others. Atop it was that massive blade, completely unmarred despite the terrible heat it had displayed during their fight. The man himself was crouched across from her, black tunic bunched up at the sleeves revealing massive forearms, black slacks somewhat worn but not shabby, beaten but servicable boots crushing the blackened glass beneath him. His red eyes gleamed slightly with reflected light and he smiled at her. She found herself staring at his teeth...

The teeth moved, and she blinked rapidly, forcing herself to pay attention to what he was saying.

"That was quite a blast you created, Miss Inverse. It puts me in a decidedly unpleasant position. Any idea how you're going to compensate me for that?"

She blinked rapidly. Being somewhat exhausted and dealing with a rapidly increasing headache, his words made absolutely no sense to her. Compensate? Unpleasant? Where was this guy from? Bandits normally had a vocabulary limited to words with 4 letters or less, at least in her experience... (namely, "who the hell is this girl?" Immediately followed by, "help, I'm on fire!") Dazed as she was, she just said what was on her mind.

"What... why are you still alive?"

He raised bushy red eyebrows and shrugged. "I was rather hoping YOU might have the answer to that question."

She shook her head and looked at him sharply. "How... how would I know that? As far as I know surviving that spell is pretty much impossible..."

He scratched his chin and looked thoughtful. While he appeared distracted she gave a bit more concentration to her surroundings. Her hands were bound tightly behind her with what felt like chain... no way of abraiding that enough to escape. Her sword was sheathed and at her side, (haha very funny... apparently he had a sense of humor to go along with his vocabulary) but for all the good that did her it might as well have been in the giant's grasp. She was completely at his mercy, and that was the odd thing... he didn't particularly have a reputation for mercy at all...

"Why am I still alive?" she wondered aloud, and he broke from his thoughts to give her a somewhat stern look.

"Bandit and murderer I may be, Mina Inverse, but I do not make a habit of killing unconscious and defenseless women. Furthermore, I had thought you would be of some use to me, though I am rapidly being proven otherwise."

She blinked. "Me? Useful? How? I'd..."

He grinned. "No? Don't I look familiar, Mina Inverse? You certainly look familiar to me. Though if your age is any indication, I may be a bit confused. Unless you are alot older than you look..."

She frowned. "How old DO I look?" she asked archly. He raised an eyebrow. "I'd say... 16? 17?"

She nodded. That was pretty close. Most people estimated her age to be somewhat higher due to her... ahem... attributes.

He sighed. "Then you can't be who I remember. 10 years ago you would have been 7, and I rather doubt-"

"Why aren't you sure? What's your name? Maybe I do know you and just forgot who you were..." She immediately felt somewhat stupid for saying this. How the hell she could have forgotten a bushy red-haired giant she wasn't sure..

He raised an eyebrow. "My first memories, aside from the occasional, confusing flash, start 10 years ago. I was then as you see me now. I have not given you my name because I do not know what it is. I'm sorry, Miss Inverse, I'm afraid you aren't particularly useful to me." he stood up as if to leave..

"Wait! Wait a minute... you said more than 10 years ago... I look familiar... maybe you want my mother... Lina Inverse." she didn't particularly want to find out what he had in store for her should she prove "useless" to him. She needed time to come up with an escape plan or something, anything...

He stopped and gave her a momentarily thoughtful look, then sat down and stared at her intently. The name was ringing some sort of bell in his head, he recognized it and latched onto it. "Now we are getting somewhere. Your mother... is the resemblance between the two of you very close?"

She sighed. "Well... sort of... She used to wear the same adventuring costume, but I had to make a few... modifications to it of course..."

He frowned. "Such as?"

She blushed. This was not the sort of conversation she wanted to have a bandit. "My mother was not quite as... well endowed as I am." she coughed through that last part.

He raised another eyebrow and smirked. "You mean she's got itty bitty t-"

She snapped, interrupting him. "Yes, that's what I mean."

He nodded thoughtfully. Yes... that sounded exactly right. He had a picture built in his head, and it matched the memory exactly. In a moment, he was decided.

"Ah well... I was due for a change anyway. Since you rather inconveniently reduced both my lodging and my army to..." he sighed and gestured around him. "Well, let's just say any bandit gang in this area will have to be called the Black Lowlands Bandit gang. A pity... I was rather fond of the place."

He gave it a moment of silence, then shrugged. "So... where does your mother live?"

"If you think I'm going to lead you to my mother-"

He shook his head. "You aren't really in a position to argue, Miss Inverse. I could probably get the information out of you eventually, but that would be... unpleasant for both you and me. Despite what you may think, I do not derive any pleasure from seeing pain."

She glared at him defiantly. He looked in her eyes, then sighed.

"Look, if you are worried about me hurting your mother, I assure you that would be entirely to my detriment. I need to get information from her..." he grinned ironically for a moment and tried to look innocent. He failed. Miserably. "Besides, for all you know we could be friends."

Mina looked him over dubiously. "Somehow, I doubt that. If you were enemies, my mother probably won't give you anything other than a fireball."

His grin became predatory. "Ah, but I beg to differ. You see I have something very important to her in my possession." She glared at him in realization.



"Look... Bandit King... whatever your name is... Damn it." she looked at him with severe irritation and a little distress. "You need a name. I can't just keep calling you Bandit King. Its ridiculous."

He turned his head to stare at her indifferently. She had eventually come to the conclusion that he was perfectly willing to wait for as long as it was necessary before she came to the inevitable conclusion that she had no choice but to take him where he wanted to go. He'd been completely silent up to this point in their walk, apparently deep in thought, and had answered all of her previous questions in monosyllabic grunts.

Since he didn't answer her, she decided to continue. "Alright Red, I'm having a difficulty here."

If he was irritated at the nickname, he gave no sign. "So?"

Well its going to become YOUR difficulty in a moment big guy."

He narrowed his eyes. "What is it?"

She sighed. "I have to go to the bathroom."

He smirked, and she interrupted before he could say anything. "Before you even SAY it, there is no way I'm going to be able to hold it, nor am I going to mess my pants or allow you to remove them for me. You are just going to have to trust me with my hands free."

He stared at her for a moment before relieving her of her sword and reaching behind her. She couldn't exactly see what he was doing but he appeared to be bending one set of links open... the links were thick and there was no way SHE could have bent them... what the hell was this guy?

He raised an eyebrow, then gestured towards some nearby trees. "I take it you want some privacy."

She snorted. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."

He kept his expression neutral. "Then I'm afraid you are going to have to give me your pants."

She blinked, her mouth falling open of its own accord. "WHAT?!! OF ALL THE... YOU HENT-"

He gave her an expression that brooked no argument. "Honestly, lady, do you think I'm stupid? I know as soon as you are out of sight, with your hands free, you'll try SOMETHING to escape. You hero types have a very interesting idea of honor, namely, you have none when it comes to dealing with my type. I figure you won't go flying off bare-assed to the world... it would be... beneath your dignity. Besides, think woman... If I had wanted to see you naked, hell, if I had wanted to do ANYTHING to you, I'd have done it while you were dead to the world."

She opened her mouth, closed it, then did it again.

"Well now, that's a rather impressive imitation of a landed fish. Now do you need to relieve yourself or not?" he was beginning to lose his patience with this stubborn young woman, and things with which he lost patience generally ended up in a shape that the gods had never intended for them when he was done with them.

She glared red-hot flaming death at him, then stalked towards the brush. Just within his view, her lower quarters hidden by the bushes, she removed her pants. Then, tossing them into the road, she stepped behind a tree. Shaking his head, he bent down and picked them up, folding them over one arm. Something told him this was going to be one of those days...

Behind the tree, Mina tried not to think of the close proximity of her captor. This was ridiculously embarrassing. No one should have to deal with something like this... her MOTHER certainly never had to... still, he was absolutely right. She was pretty much at his mercy, should he decide to get "physical", and in her exhausted state there was very little she could have done to stop him from doing whatever he wanted with her. Thus far, aside from his infuriating nonchalance about this whole thing, he'd been nothing but the perfect gentleman... a decidedly perverse and ridiculous part of her was somewhat hurt by the fact that he apparently had no interest in even catching a glimpse of her exposed. That certainly wasn't in character as far as a normal bandit went... but then, a normal bandit didn't fall unharmed from heights of 500 feet or more, nor did they walk unscathed from the terrifying power of a Dragon Slave... there was something about this man... she shook her head in wonderment at herself. What was she thinking? Down girl!

Finally she called out, (snapped irritably out, more accurately) "I'm done. Gimme back my pants."

A huge arm penetrated the brush just above her head, pants dangling from a massive fist. She snatched them from him, and he withdrew the arm.

"You have 10 seconds, then I'm coming in, clothed or not."

She growled. "WHAT?!"

His reply was infuriatingly calm. "7 seconds left.... 6..."

She broke speed records for dressing under fire.


A few hours later, as dusk fell, she started to stagger a bit. Her wrists hurt from where the chain was biting into them, and her legs felt like two leaden weights rather than a pair of useful appendages. To make matters worse, her reaction headache was pounding between her eyes with a steady beat, like a bunch of chibi-Xellos' being chased by wild mace-sama swinging Filias inside her skull. She was exhausted, but she'd be damned if she'd give him the satisfaction of...

He gave her an inscrutable look and stopped so suddenly she bumped into him from behind, and immediately found herself leaning against him for support, and hating herself for it. He sighed.

"I guess that's far enough for today. Have a seat."

She hid her collapse to the ground rather well she thought, making it look like she'd just sat down heavily, when in actuality, she didn't think she could walk another step.

Or ever stand up again.


"You know, you COULD take these chains off so I could feed myself. This is sort of embarrassing, you know." she glared at him and he chuckled.

"I don't know, I'm kind of enjoying it myself. Besides, I don't particularly want a fork shoved into my person, thank you very much. Open."

Her next words were stifled as she was forced to open her mouth or get hot rabbit chunks shoved up her nose. She chewed quickly and continued to glare at him. He turned the rabbit-carcass-on-a-stick in his own direction and bit off a huge hunk, bones and all. She almost became sick at the dry stick breaking sound of small bones crunching under his teeth and she shook her head. "That's disgusting."

He grinned and swallowed his mouthful. "Waste not, want not. Besides, you might get lucky... I could choke and die."

She shook her head and muttered. "I should be so lucky."

She opened her mouth and accepted another bite of rabbit-carcass-on-a-stick, which she had to admit was rather tasty, though it's said that hunger is the best spice. She was ravenous. While she chewed, she watched him across the fire. He wasn't an unhandsome man, far from it... he was just really BIG. His manner of feeding her, while ridiculous and inconvenient, was in no way cruel (aside from having food shoved into her whether she wanted it or not)... on the contrary, it was almost gentle. Everything he did was so completely out of character for a bandit that she could finally take it no more.

"Red... why are you treating me so... politely?"

He blinked. "What?" he actually seemed somewhat startled. "If being tied up and force fed is what you consider polite, I'd hate to see your definition of rude."

She snorted. "Thats not what I mean. I mean the way you talk. You're so polite... its not like a..."

He stared at her for a moment, then his face became a mask. "Why should I be rude or threatening? There's no advantage in it... if you aren't scared of me by now then you probably aren't ever going to be. I've already put you at such a severe disadvantage combat-wise that you couldn't possibly harm me. Being rude at this point would be... cruel and rather petty."

"That's just it, why would a bandit care-"

"What does being a bandit have to do with this?"

She blinked. "Well... everything... bandits are scum of the earth. They rob innocent people and kill... They aren't normally too concerned about politeness or cruelty, unless its how to be as cruel and impolite as possible."

He narrowed his eyes. "Oh I see. I fit your rather limited definition of evil then do I? Mina, for a very smart girl you have a very narrow way of looking at the world."

She blinked, then snapped back at him, hurt despite herself. "Wha.. What do you mean by that?"

"Right. Well let's look at the facts. Yes, I do rob innocent people on occasion, that I will give you. I can honestly say however, that I have never once killed an innocent."

"Bullshit. You mean to tell me you've never killed another..."

"No, you weren't listening. I said I've never killed an innocent. Nor have I ever knowingly allowed a bandit under my command to hurt or molest an innocent under any circumstances. The elderly, children, the sick, even unarmed men and women, I never harmed them. I made it clear to any person who defended themselves that if they resisted, they would die, but if they dropped their weapons they would not be harmed, aside from monetarily."

She shook her head. "So as long as they just bellied up and gave in without a fight... sorry Red, I'm not buying that."

"I'm not trying to justify myself to you, and yes, if they didn't fight, we left them alone. Thats just good sense, it means less resistance in the future if people know that even if you rob them, they aren't going to be hurt as long as they don't resist. Anyone who tried to defend themselves we killed, absolutely, but anyone who's willing to fight against a horde of bandits and a huge bastard like myself is no innocent, I can assure you."

"It doesn't change the fact that what you were doing was WRONG!" this wasn't right... she wasn't supposed to be on the defensive like this... what the hell kind of bandit was he?

He shrugged. "At least I'm honest about my wrong doing. It's alot better than being a hypocrite like you damned heroes."

She blinked. "Huh? How the hell do you even begin to justify that?"

His eyes were cold and merciless. It was obvious that he'd given this alot of thought, and he wasn't pleased with it. "Let me be perfectly clear. I'll even use an example you know. The 300 gold coins and knick-knacks in your pouches. How did you come by them?"

She blinked. "I don't see what.."

"Answer the damned question!" he roared, and she started at the anger in his voice.

"I took it from some bandits."

"I see. You came barging up blasting down my gates and injuring my men and fought me damn near to a stand still, so I figure you didn't just steal it from them or trick them into giving it to you, you took it from them by force. Am I right?"

"Well of course but I don't see..." she stammered.

He didn't let her get a word in. "You had no plan whatsoever to give that money back to who it was stolen from originally, did you?"

"How could I? How was I supposed to know where the money came from? They could have gotten it from anywhere..."

He thundered on, ignoring her protestations. "So YOU keep it, and YOU spend it. Sound familiar? I rob people, innocent or not, but what it boils down to, the best definition I've heard so far, is that I beat people up who are weaker than I am and take their stuff. YOU, in turn, beat people up and take their stuff, but instead of being reviled for it, society says you are doing the world a service. How is that definition any different than the one you label as evil? The man who gave me that definition, by the way, was retired and living as a cook in the fortress you leveled because he was too damn old to go out and fight anymore. Where's your convenient definition of good and evil now? Hmm, Miss Hero?"

She stared at him, nearly speechless. "Its... its not that simple... Robbing someone who earned their living honestly is wrong, pure and simple. Besides, not every bandit does things the way YOU do."

He sighed and leaned back, his face, all except for his eyes hidden in shadow. Those eyes gave her a look that were unreadable, but somehow as close as if he were right in her face. His words were quiet, but had a sort of conviction in them that she couldn't deny.

"My point is, Mina, that you assume that because I do what I do, I am evil, and by definition, I must also be cruel, rude, loutish, and stupid. You do the same thing, and you are rather obviously NOT cruel, rude, loutish, or stupid. I have MET some very cruel, rude, loutish, and stupid people who fit society's definition of "good". That seems very wrong and hypocritical to me, and if there is one thing I can't stand, its a hypocrite."

She frowned, staring at him. "What's the difference between us then? I know I'm not evil..."

His eyes became predatory and seemed to glow with their own internal light. She repressed a shiver. "That's very simple, Mina. Robbing from innocent people is repugnant to you. Something inside you would never allow you to forgive yourself if you caused an innocent pain. This society defines as a conscience, and since you act with it in mind, follow it without question, you are considered good."

He grinned. It was not a pleasant smile in any sense of the word. More a challenge. "I, on the other hand, have no conscience that I am aware of. That, my dear Miss Hero, is a weakness that I lack."

The rest of the evening passed in silence, as Mina struggled to come to terms with what he'd said. She'd followed in her mother and father's footsteps, and she'd always been told it was the good and noble thing to do. What the contradictory giant said could not be denied however, and Mina was in turmoil. Every child eventually reaches the conclusion that their parents are not perfect at some point in their life. Mina had realized this intellectually before... some of her parents tactics had been questionable, but the results were undoubtably heroic. Still, that a bandit could be on higher moral ground... it shook her world view terribly. She began to feel perhaps she'd gone about this whole adventuring thing wrong... and the enigmatic and mysterious, seemingly indestructable giant before her was the source of that doubt. More and more to her shame she found herself wanting to know who he was.. to know about him...

She dozed off so suddenly she might have been hit over the head with a board... and when she awoke, the Bandit King was nowhere to be seen... but he had apparently taken the time to wrap her up in his huge overcoat, to keep her warm....

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