CoN 20th Anniversary: 1997-2017
Steam Fantasy VI

Posted: 7th January 2014 05:19

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


New submission and disclaimer:

This is a re-imagining of the plot of the game. This means there are spoilers in this reading. Continue at your own risk.

This submission will begin pretty much as a longer and uncut version of a re-imagining of Final Fantasy VI (III for some of the older folks like me.) From there, I'll revise and edit the posts from time to time. Initial chapters may have a few typos, plot holes, or inconsistencies, but that's why you, the reader is here, right?

Final Fantasy VI touched upon a long-existing but barely breathing science-fiction genre that rose again in popularity upon the release of games like Final Fantasy VII. This genre is Steampunk. I would then go watch Robert Conrad (and later Will Smith) and their misadventures in this genre, along with reruns of the short-lived Brisco County Jr. This genre has fascinated me, right alongside William Gibson's Cyberpunk, and various other alternative science fiction/fantasy settings. Joss Whedon managed, finally, to put my interests completely into perspective when he released the cult favorite and very short lived series Firefly.

After watching one of my Firefly marathons, I linked this somehow to making the full conversion of Final Fantasy VI over to a flat-out six guns and sorcery style story, making it a steam fantasy mish-mosh thing. I'll be adding characters, and subtracting them, and filling some of the personalities of the characters. I know that my vision of these people we've all grown to know and love may not exactly agree with yours, but try to enjoy yourselves nonetheless.

I can't put my finger on just how many chapters this narrative might have, but it's safe to say there could be as many as 40. I hope this can turn out to where the readers can like this. Anyway- here it is.

p.s- This is not my intellectual property and is not intended for use as profitable material.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 2nd September 2018 00:16

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205934
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Posted: 7th January 2014 05:52

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Prologue-

Once, long ago, in this, the only world we know, there was a time of fantasy and romance. A time when the world lived and died by an old concept known as "magic". Magic was a force in those days, acting as a benevolent tool among the humans. It would heal the sick and wounded, and even go so far as to prolong human life to sometimes over a century. Magical marvels abounded in those days. In this amazing time, it seemed human ingenuity and its accomplishments could reach the heavens itself!

Little did the men and women of that era know was that magic could be as cruel a mistress as she was a benevolent one. Greedy humans and monstrous creatures would eventually spring forth from the earth and threaten to destroy all who would call it home. From these humans, filled with greed and horrid ambition, sprang disasters too horrible to imagine. The humans' neighbors, those that personified the magic humans used, the espers, were forced to flee to a distant place away from the pain and suffering the humans had caused.

This period of pain and suffering was known as the War of the Magi, and it would take the very blood and bones of the world in which they lived, and twist and disfigure it, leaving a mere shell of what once was. Millions died in those years, and the rest could only survive on the basest means they could find.

Centuries, perhaps even millenia have passed since those horrific days. Humanity has recovered, and magic has since disappeared. "Science" has replaced magic, and where elemental spirits used to control machines, steam and clockwork are doing the job just as well. Humanity is beginning to prosper once again.

In the mining city of Narshe, a late winter storm is falling all around their peaceful, yet hard-working town. Steam, combined with their unusual position nestled within Mt. Narshe, prevent the endless volleys of falling snow, fueled by the uncaring winds,from battering the buildings, or its people and pets. It is here that the story begins. Potentially, the horrible mistakes of the distant and nearly forgotten past could be birthed once more, conceived and birthed by the same greedy humans.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 2nd September 2018 00:17

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205935
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Posted: 7th January 2014 09:03

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 1- The Storming of Narshe

Through the blinding whiteness of the snow and ice over the one winding road leading up to Mount Narshe, clouds of greyish steam rise from three titanic figures. Over ten feet tall, their black, steely frames trudged ahead over the snow covered road, instantly melting the snow beneath their feet and sinking to the hardened road beneath. Like a twisted, steel clad giant, they forged their path undeterred by the elements around them. There were no discernible heads, just a large, hardened glass bubble at the very top of the torso. Extending from each shoulder were to arm-like appendages, ending in long, powerful claws. Beneath those claws were long, hollow cylinders that glowed inside its deepest core, promising a deadly and spectacular fate should they ever be used.

Within each bubble, there sat one individual per creature. All three wore very thick vests beneath their safety restraints, and all three of them piloted the hulking machines with their hands and feet, operating them with practiced ease. All three of them looked different from the other.

The first operator was an older man, clean shaven and with short hair. His arms showed he was a physically fit man, his arms well defined and honed. His hair, though cleanly shorn, was shown to be a very light blonde.

The second man was also cleanly shorn and well-muscled. He seemed a great deal younger than the first, and his mien seemed to be a bit lighter hearted than his older comrade. Despite the cold around him, sweat seemed to pour from his body.

The third operator was by far the one that stood out the most. She was porcelain skinned and almost seemed to be cut from a delicate figure. Her hair, while tied back in a tight bun, was very distinct in its color. It would seem at first to be an odd blonde color, closer examination showed a very strong green hue to it. Her face was almost vacant, as though she were a machine.

As they came to another bend in the path, the lead hulk halted and the other two stopped at its flanks. The first one released the glass canopy over his cockpit, causing it to casually flip outward at an oblique angle. The second one did the same.

The younger pilot spoke first. His tone was jovial and confident as his eyes scanned the city off in the distance. "These Walkers never cease to amaze me. I think Cid outdid himself."

The older pilot nodded, his brown eyes scanning the city more deeply.

The younger one continued, "Sure is hot in one of those things."

The older one nodded, "Yup."

There was an awkward pause before the younger man glanced at the third pilot, "Why is she with us again, Biggs?"

Biggs' eyes never left the city in front of him, "she can communicate with that thing inside the mine. Or, at least she could with the others that were in the facility."

The younger pilot let his gaze linger at the robotic woman in the cockpit of the Walker. "She's very pretty. The Lieutenant told us, though, that she could be dangerous. How could she be so dangerous?"

Biggs had lit a cigarette as the younger man finished talking, his eyes never leaving the city in the distance. "Don't know. She rampaged and killed a lot of soldiers when these Walkers were being tested. Seems she's a natural with these things."

The other pilot nodded, trying to lock eyes with the woman. All he could see was that she was staring straight ahead. "Could that happen again?"

Biggs flipped the cigarette into the storm, watching the cherry-colored ember vanish into the snow. "She has a slave crown on her head. All she can do right now is what she's told. Let's go, we have a mission to complete."

"Think they know we're coming?"

Biggs nodded, "Yup."

With that one curt word, both pulled their respective levers and turned to resume their journey up the winding paths.

------------------------- ----------------------------------- -------------------------- ---------------

Stuart Raeve had been asleep when the alarm sounded. He was the sherriff of the local town, and head of the militia of Narshe, known as the Narshe Guard. In this city of 5,000 people, about 400 men and women could be mustered at any one time to take turns defending the city. Most of the time, it consisted of keeping the mines clear of mutant rats, and any squatters and thieves that may happen to pass by. This time, however, the alarm had been sounded to signal an invasion.

He was cranky as he sipped his coffee with trembling hands from his position amidst the steam powered buildings, which left his body conflicted between the elements of nature and the steamy heat that swirled around him. He was a rugged man, as most Narshe men were, with a thick salt and pepper beard that characterized the miners in this area, and his body seemed bulky beneath the parka he used to block out the cold.

The forward sentries reported Imperial soldiers piloting large, hulking vehicles that were coming straight up the pathway.

How were they getting through the snow? The vehicles were just cutting through it?

Aside from all of that, the Empire recognized Narshe as a neutral party in their little wars with the countries south of here. The Northern Imperial Army was stationed at Nikeah, a port city that had surrendered without a fight., and had Figaro and South Figaro to contend with on the way here. Figaro was an Imperial ally, and South Figaro had been fighting with the troops between there and Nikeah. How would the NIA have gotten so far north?

Maybe they were after that thing in the mines. In that case, they had Whelk, a tame monster to guard the mines, and aside from that, maybe they should just let the Imperials have it.

Stuart grunted and took another sip of his coffee. He was kneeling, leaning against the stone chimney on the roof of City Hall, with his rifle right next to him and a revolver holstered neatly at his hip. Narshe also had cannon, but those were closer to the mines, and would be the first things fired from the mountain and into the invading force. Situated in ambush points, about half of the militia were armed in a similar fashion.

As he waited, he pondered the thing in the mines. It was a massive thing, about twenty five feet in height, it reminded him of one of those dragons his mom used to tell him about when he was a kid. The difference was that this one had feathery wings instead of bat wings like in the old tales. He was kind of scary looking, frozen in place under the thick ice within the bowels of his beloved mythril mines. The wings were beautiful, glistening in the ice, with colors like that of a ray of light that shined through a glass or ice cube. The scales on its body glimmered with so many colors as well. It looked black, blue, sometimes even purple, depending on where you shined the light. It was reared back with its front talons in the air and it's beak opened as though it were roaring or shrieking.

Thoughts like this passed through Stuart's cold laden and sleep impoverished mind by the time the first sounds of the cannons echoed from the mountains high up and behind him. He could hear the whistling above his head and see the splash in the snow in front or around the hulking steel creatures as they approached the city limits. He even saw one of the cannon balls hit one of the glass domes squarely, but shunt off to the side harmlessly.

"Take aim!" He shouted, raising his rifle and placing his eye over the sights. The hulks steadily made their way to the crest of the road at a deceptively fast pace. The cannons fired again, bouncing in and around the hulks and one even managed to land squarely atop the lead one. The iron ball pinked loudly off of the top and was sent its merry way behind the target.

As they pulled into range, Stuart shouted, "Fire!"

On that command, the people from the ambush points rose up in unison and fired concentrated salvos into the hulks. The shots seemed ineffectual as well, and all Stuart saw were the sparks of bullets as they careened off of the steel and disintegrated. Stuart pulled the bolt back and released on his rifle, firing again. This was doing no good.

Suddenly, the lead one stopped walking and raised one of its claw-like arms to point toward the mountain behind them. There was a surprisingly quiet series of pops from the hand and some amber bursts of light and the blackish smoke of powder. Several projectiles, snaking like torpedoes took a very brief flight path toward the Narshe Guard's artillery. This was punctuated by thunderous explosions as the projectiles exploded and leveled so many of the cannons at the mines.

"Shit!" Stuart barked, watching the flame and smoke mix with the drifts of snow.

Both of the hulks behind the first also raised arms, sporting what looked like glowing, oversized rifles.

This was not getting any better for the Narshe guard, and Stuart very well knew that what came from these cannons was going to be terrifying. He just knew.

Pearl colored, and ruby colored beams of concentrated light blazed forth from them, knifing through various buildings with a loud crackle sound. One of the pearl colored beams sliced toward him, causing him to dive away from is. With this act, he narrowly escaped the sizzling red beam that shot overhead.

He then realized he was a lucky one, on a nearby roof, one of his guardsmen had been hit by that red beam, and it slashed through him, instantly igniting the poor man's clothes as he died. The man didn't even scream as he fell in two burning pieces from the roof and fell with a rough thunk to the ground below.

"What the Hell are these things!?!" Stuart barked as he watched both of the rays wreak havoc on the tops of the buildings. Slowly, one of the pearl colored rays punched through the stone walls of city hall, punching a deep hole within.

After a few seconds, the hulks continued to walk as the Narshe Guard was trying to recover from such a devastating attack. Stuart stood again, shouting back to the mine entrance. "Release the vommamoths!"

The vomammoth was a plentiful creature in the mining city. They were pachydermic creatures, measuring about seven feet at the shoulder and weighing almost five tons. They are covered in wiry hair, usually white or blue, but occasionally would turn out with gold or black fur. They bear long, prehensile trunks in place of a nose, which allows them to grab and hold things. From their lower jaw, giant ivory tusks protrude, causing them to gore any foe they may come across. While very dangerous when frightened, these tamed animals were used in Narshe as labor animals in the heavy snow, pulling wagons and carts from the mines to the surface. They also assisted in the construction of the city and all of its parts, efficiently moving materials from the base of the mountain to the city. Today, they were being called upon to defend their city.

The shaking earth and the thunder of their footsteps were unmistakable to Stuart, as was their earsplitting trumpet. Surely these massive beasts could overwhelm the hulking brutes who lumbered toward Narshe's precious mines!

The lead hulk stopped, pointing her body toward the onrushing stampede of mammal. A loud, bass-filled hum issued forth from her, sending an almost visible wave straight into the vomammoth charge.

The thundering herd reacted immediately. the ones in the front tried to turn around to escape that awful noise, which drowned away the trumpeting, which caused a panic among the herd. Tusk punched through thick skin, and the beasts began to attack one another.

"Shit!" Stuart spat. There was no way of stopping them short of releasing Whelk within the mines.

The carnage beneath him began to intensify. The other hulks had joined the fray, their beams butchering the panicked vomammoth herd. Stuart could only listen helplessly as Narshe's beloved animals shrieked in fear and pain.

There was only one thing left for him to do, and he needed to be present to authorize it. Whelk needed to be released now.

Stuart ran across what was left of the City Hall rooftop and scurried up a nearby rope ladder that brought him to the edge of the mountain. Once on the mountain path, he then sprinted toward the upper entrances of the mines.

============== ========= ========== ================ ===============

The younger pilot was in high spirits when the yawning mouth of the caves reached out to swallow them. There was something to these machines, the power that they wield, it brought a massive charge of power through this sweating body. The sight of the massive herd beasts that would have shattered a line of thousands of Imperial infantry. He, along with two others, turned hundreds of them into nothing but steaming piles of flesh and bones.

Biggs, on the other hand, began to grow more wary as the mission progressed. Even the easiest of missions were always more difficult than one would think. The Narshe Guard had one more trick up their sleeves, and he had been briefed. He brought his hulk to a stop and once again opened the canopy of his cockpit.

Gas lights flickered in the windless cave, allowing him to see a pretty fair distance not only in the grotto where they stood, but down some of the tunnels as well. The grotto looked pretty well abandoned by Narshe population, but the evidence that this was an operational mine was very rampant. Rails lined the side entrances, some of them with mine carts. These rails were well maintained by the population, and it made sense. Mining tools, boilers, and even a station for running water existed, both of them showing definite signs of recent use.

The younger pilot stopped and opened the hatch to his cockpit as well, turning toward his superior in curiosity.

Biggs spoke first, "Wedge. Do you remember our briefing? "

Wedge replied, "Yeah. Something about a giant snail-thing. Had a weird glow coming from its shell."

Biggs lit another cigarette, "Our scientists believe that it stores energy from the magical residue of this cave. Probably feeding off of that Esper. This means that our Walkers' beams would probably be absorbed by its shell. If it comes into view, aim for the exposed body, and by no means should you ever touch its shell with your beams."

"Yes sir, " Wedge said. "Before we go, I have one more question."

Biggs paused a moment and took a heavy drag from his cigarette, "Go ahead."

"How are we going to find this Esper?"

Biggs gestured toward the girl and tossed the cigarette aside. "We'll have to loosen control just a hair on the slave crown, and let her instincts find it."

"Then what?"

"We call Kefka and wait."

Wedge shrugged. The orders in of themselves made no sense, but it wasn't his place to question them. Both men closed the cockpit and paused, while Biggs reached over and made an adjustment to an extra control nob. The Walker the girl was in suddenly turned about and marched deeper into the caverns.

The two men followed, his eyes darting about, looking for the giant snail creature that could be lurking somewhere within the caves. After several minutes of winding and twisting tunnels, they stumbled into a very wide cavern, barely lit by a strange glow. A bluish light that eerily wafted from a smaller tunnel lit the entire cavern where they rested, causing the shadows to flicker around them.

What started next began with a monstrous gurgle.

"GRUUUU!" The noise echoed off of the cave walls.

Biggs and Wedge spun about to meet the monstrous growl, and laid eyes immediately upon the monstrous Whelk. Whelk was a giant, phosphorescent snail. Its shell glowed with the same color as the light that wafted from the smaller corridor to their right. The stalks from its head crackled with energy.

Without warning, the third walker's cockpit opened. The girl unfastened her safety harness and proceeded to climb down the leg.

Biggs growled, "Where the hell are you going?"

He then heard the crackle of one of Wedge's beams fire, causing him to spin about to watch what Wedge was hitting. Wedge had missed the initial shot, and Whelk was now hiding in its shell.

Biggs barked, "Wedge, don't hit the..."

The ruby beam struck the shell, causing the color to suddenly glow a dark crimson. Then, an awesome ripple of white energy suddenly covered the room, and both of the remaining Walkers powered down against their will.

Biggs gritted his teeth, shifting the throttle to neutral and turning the ignition switch to off. This was definitely within the possibility of happening, and he'd been trained as to handle this setback.

Wedge, however, seemed to be panicking. The Walker lurched a few times, as though Wedge were frantically trying to restart it. The snail emerged from its shell and slithered over to Wedge's Walker. With a mighty ram of its head, the Walker tumbled to the ground. The snail then proceeded to climb onto the Walker's cockpit before sliding its head back into its shell.

Biggs averted his eyes from the bright flash of energy emitted by the snail, and didn't look up. He knew that Wedge was not surviving that onslaught. He flipped his ignition switch, hoping the Walker would restart. The Walker lurched, but didn't power up.

Whelk reemerged from his shell and turned his eyestalks toward the second helpless hulk. Biggs toggled the switch again.

A third time, the Walker powered up. It seemed to take forever for the arm to raise, but finally it did. quickly, he fired one of his beams. The beam struck the large snail in the head, causing it to explode. Black ichor spattered all over the glass cockpit.

The light from the smaller corridor had begun to intensify. The door was far too small for the gigantic Walker to pass through. Biggs flipped the cockpit open, feverishly climbing the leg, as the girl had done.

Unusually, Biggs threw caution to the wind. He sprinted around a smooth bend before halting in his tracks. He then realized he may have made a fatal mistake. Had he not ran into this grotto, he may have not witnessed what he was currently seeing. If he would have just abandoned the mission and ran, he might have lived through this.

A bright blue halo surrounded the girl, while bolts of iridescent energy shot from her and the Esper they were looking for. The giant draconian creature seemed to be in some sort of quiet communication with the girl. Slowly, her body began to change, twisting into a semi-monstrous form. Terrifying and beautiful, the girl became an iridescent creature. A perfect mix of angel, demon, and human.

She turned her head to Biggs and opened her eyes, revealing emerald colored eyes with no pupils. She opened her mouth into a silent scream, causing a massive burst of raw energy.

The last thing Biggs saw was a bright light before the searing pain of a primal force tore through is entire body. He didn't even have time to scream before he left this world.



This post has been edited by chevleclair on 7th January 2014 19:17

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205937
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Posted: 8th January 2014 23:55

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 2- Eyes Are Open For the First Time

The echoes of past ghosts echo through her mind. They swirl in front of her mind's eye, then streak from her like a comet in the cloudless night sky. She reaches for them, and like the ether they pass through, they pass through her skin.

"No!" She screams. She longs for them, and the mysteries they unlock.

A few more comets pass before her, skimming through the gaps between her fingers as water would. She would get feelings, but nothing more than that. Some would be sad, some would be happy, and others would terrify her.

"Why? Why can't I hold them?" She cries.

"Because, child, " her mind says, "they are bad. They will injure us and maybe kill us. We must be safe."

She clenches her fists and sets her jaw. "No! I want to see!"

Her mind shies from her, but does not relent.

She reaches out to the canopy of stars and digs her hands into them. She feels steel, but it also warps around her fingers, plying to her touch like a sponge. She cinches her fist into the scape of her mind, and began to pull.

"No!" Her mind protests. "You will injure us! You will injure us!"

With clenched jaw and all of her strength, she pulls free the cover of the starry sky. Beneath it are thousands of the feeling wisps, which set themselves free in a blinding flash of white light.

She wails a tiny wail. The flood of them almost suffocates her, and threatens to bear her to her knees. The light scalds her eyes, and she, at length, longs to close them.

With all of her might, she reaches her hand into the light and pulls a squirming comet and brings it close to her. This comet spreads and swallows her, turning her feelings into a memory.

Machines everywhere. Pounding and banging. People dressed in suits that make them look like bug men. There's a smell- a foul smell that would choke her if she were not dressed like a bug man. A purple and green smoke courses around these things. Things in jars. Like bugs.

Except the bugs were outside of the jar. What were these things?


One is more like a man. More like an angel. Or a devil? His skin is bronze and his hands end in long claws, but his eyes and face are that of a man, and the broken wings behind him are feathered like that of a bird. She stares at the angel/man/devil's eyes, which are filled with love and eternal pain and sadness. Short words lance into her mind like burning needles.

My daughter

She begins to weep uncontrollably as she sees this beautiful hybrid of all of these things.

She falls to her knees, not knowing why she is sad. She tries to tear this evil mask from her face, and to get away.

Several men surround her, put their dirty, bloodstained hands upon her. They were trying to make her stop. Stop what? Stop being sad?

Sad? I am ANGRY!

She reached over to one of the ones who tried to restrain her and tore the mask from his face, causing him to gasp. Her other hand clasped around the throat of another, crushing it and causing him not no longer breathe. He fell clawing at his throat and trying to cry out. The rest of the men began to backpedal, giving her time to suddenly reach for a nearby steam pipe. She knew it was hot- too hot to hold.

With a mighty wrenching sound, the five foot pipe pulled free from its moorings, causing the welding to shatter, and the steel bolts to burst from their screws and hurtle themselves with lethal force to all parts around her.

Suddenly, she's back into her space. The memory-comet was running away from her.

With a stronger effort, she reached out and pulled the comet back to her. She felt she had to know why this made her feel so much at once!

"Kill them!" A shrill, excited voice from around her prompted. "Burn them! Stab them! Make them suffer, make them bleed!"

A bolt of power surged from deep within her, and a powerful and giving heat emerged from her face, hands, and fingers as a burst of fire raised from the ground, incinerating these men in blue and green.

The shrill voice spoke again, laughter inflecting his voice, "Stop her! Kill them! Stop her!"

The laughter was garbled and confusing. She turned toward the man that was laughing, building her energy to attack that very one.

The laughing man was very, very tall. Her was dressed in a red, black and white checkered coat and wore a gaudy orange cloak. A shock of platinum blonde hair sprang wildly from beneath a wildly shaped cap.

His laughter stopped, and his eyes widened with fear. "Oh. Oh, dear!"

Suddenly, she felt a weight on one arm, and weight upon the other. The weight built quickly, and pretty soon it became too much to bear.

"You fools! Keep her alive! We need her!"


She let that comet go, reaching for another that came too close to her. This memory felt different, more like frozen terror. She opened that one, too.

She stood, looking over a throng of people. Not just the green and brown soldiers, but also other people. Big ones, small one, women and children. They all were staring at her. The her that did not move. That could not move. She could only see and hear.

"Vector has arrived, my people! Gone will be the days where citizens will toil endlessly in mines of coal, or to plow the unfruitful fields that are daily ravaged by monsters and thieves! We will spread into the world, and demand from them the respect that we, as the hard working men and women of Vector so richly deserve! We deserve the world, people, and it is now ours to take!"

This man who spoke. He had the sound of an angry father, an angry father whose only wish was to give his children bread, but could not do so. He sounded like someone all people would follow.

After his speech, the people in the crowd raised their hands and chanted the name of their city.

"Vector! Vector!"


The chants began to fade as a paralyzing pain wrapped itself around her head, and a faint yellow light replaced all she saw and heard.

^ ^
U $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ --------

A mish-mosh of shapeless colors greeted her aching eyes, followed by the sound of a crackling fire and the touch of a fleece blanket. Still, her head throbbed and the working of her brains seemed to snap and pop. She greeted the waking world with a groan.

"Ah, finally awake I see!" Came a kindly masculine voice.

Her blur soon began to focus on the speaker. Slowly, the form of a weathered, middle-aged man formed within her view. He wasn't extremely tall, but to her as she was lying down, he did cut almost a jarring figure. His hair was salt and pepper and thinning, but still prominent on his head. He wore a short-sleeved button up shirt with a fur-lined vest over the top. The thump of hard leather sounded off of the wooden floor as he walked over to her with something in his right hand, and a teacup in his right.

"Sit up, honey," he said gently, waiting to hand her the teacup and the capsules in his right hand. "Take them, they'll handle that massive headache you probably have. Don't chew the capsule, just drink the tea and swallow them whole."

She did so, grimacing at the bitter taste of the black tea.

The gentleman sauntered over to the kettle and poured him another cup before leaning against the wall.

In a few minutes, her vision returned to normal and the pain began to subside.

"Where am I?" she blurted shortly.

"You're in my house in Narshe. Good thing you're in my house, too. The city's so pissed at you they'd hang you for sure."

"What did I do?" she asked, a wave of shock and fear welling up within her.

"You and two troopers from the NIA stomped in here on a couple of big hulks and tried to lay waste on the town," the man replied.

She put both of her hands over her mouth in obvious revulsion.

"Interesting side effect," the man said in reaction.

She blinked and turned her curious gaze over to the man, who strode over to his sink and pulled a copper and iron ring from it.

"You can't remember anything because of this. It's called a slave crown. Imperials use these to control dangerous people to enslave them. Part of their Magi-Tech program, same as those big hulks you were piloting a couple of days ago. Apparently you're pretty dangerous."

The look on her face must have told him something, because he reached over and put the crown back into the sink. "Apparently something happened in that cave that caused it to malfunction, thus your headache and the amnesia."

She nodded, sipping more on the bitter tea.

"You got a name?" The man asked. "My name's Arvis."

"My name is Terra...I think," she replied.

"That'll have to do, I suppose.Nice to meet you, Terra."

"Can I ask you a question?" Terra asked.

Arvis poured himself another mug of tea, "Fair enough."

"If the city wants me dad, and you're hiding me, that means you're probably risking arrest," she said.

Arvis nodded.

"Why are you helping me?"

Arvis grinned sheepishly. Despite his weathered face, he seemed to look more like a scientist. Meaning he kept his appearance quite clean, that included his teeth. "Very fair question. The answer's quite simple. I am with a society dedicated to stopping a horrible mistake those people from Vector are making. This probably means overthrowing the Emperor. We're called the Returners, because we're dedicated to returning the world to what it was like before the Emperor decided to try to conquer the world.

We became aware of you a couple of years ago, when one of our spies told us about a crazy lady that rampaged through the Imperial Research facility and killed a bunch of engineers and soldiers."

Her hands went to her mouth again. Was she really capable of causing so much death?

"I hate to be so callous, honey, but our leader wants so very badly to speak to you and help our cause," Arvis finished.

"So, basically, you want to use me like the Empire did?" Terra said.

Arvis shrugged, "In a certain sense, but not exactly. Though I think he intends to ask if you want to."

There was a pregnant pause as Arvis drank his tea and Terra slowly digested the information she was given. She wasn't required to make any decisions just yet, and that was probably best.

"So, what happens now?" She queried.

"We wait. I have a contact on his way to get you soon. There's also a question of whether you can walk, " Arvis rejoined.

Slowly, Terra climbed from the bed, waiting for some sort of vertigo to overtake her. The vertigo didn't come, but her legs felt a little weak as she tried to walk, and that caused her to stumble. Arvis reached out to steady her.

"Looks like you might be ready to ship out. That's good news,"Arvis said, his voice filled with relief.

Suddenly, his front door rattled from a fist pounding into it.

"Arvis! Open the door! We have reason to believe you're holding that witch!"

Arvis sighed, glancing over to the door. "So much for sitting tight." He strode over to the closet and pulled it open. Inside was a backpack, a parka, and a belt with a sword and revolver hung from it."

Terra froze. From what Arvis said, they'd kill her if they caught her. Panic lunged into her mind and replaced all rationality with its painful grip.

Arvis tossed the parka at her, "Put this on. It's cold out there. This pack has food and supplies in it, as well as a torch. Slide through the back door and get onto the catwalk behind the house. After that, make a beeline to the caves. The contact will come after you. Just don't get caught.

The door rattled again. This time more insistently. "Arvis, I'm going to break this door down if you don't answer it immediately!"

Arvis slid the pack onto her and buckled the belt to her hip. "Now get out of here before they get in here!" with a rough shove, he hustled to the front door. Terra stumbled to the back and braced herself on the door.

The voices were indistinct at the front, but she took that as a cue to open the door and step out into the catwalk.

Compared the safety of the house, the catwalk was terrifying. It was about four feet wide with no railing. It wasn't slippery from ice, but a coarse wind blew on her, threatening to overbalance her. Slowly, she took a step. Then another. she looked over the catwalk and down to the ground some forty feet below.

Terra clenched her eyes shut, and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and focused on the entrance some distance in front of her, and proceeded to place one foot in front of the other.

This pace, though laborious, would have been fine save for one problem. She felt the poof of air suddenly rushing back to a spot between her ankles. The crack of a rifle shot echoed through the mountains of Narshe, its bullet nearly finding a mark near her ankle.

"Captain Raeve! I found her! She's walking into the old coal mines!"

Two more of the guardsmen rushed from up the street, pulling bolts on their rifles to gun her down. Terra completely forgot her fear of the catwalk and took off into a dead sprint toward the mines. Behind her the rifles sounded, and their shots were sent her way. After a few seconds, more bangs echoed from beneath and behind her. Suddenly, she felt a painless thump and the dull thud of something small and fast striking metallic within her pack. She stumbled forward and fell face first into the mouth of the mine in front of her.

Slowly, she climbed to her feet and stumbled a few more feet to completely shield herself from the rifles outside. When she was out of their sight, she set her pack down and began to itemize the things Arvis had given her. She found tin cans of food, a wooden spoon, a tin mug, a cat iron pot with a dent and a flattened lead bullet lodged in it. She brushed the bullet away and dug further into the bag. She also found an electrochemical torch, which she could simply twist the torch and a pointed light would glow into the spot where she pointed. After a few more tins of food, she found a few more items such as matches, graphite and grooved steel, extra bullets, and oil for her revolver.

She smartly closed her eyes and re-packed her bags.It was only a matter of time before the Narshe Guard would catch her. She just hoped that whomever was sent to pick her up would find her first.

________________________________________________________________________________________________


Terra was lost. The caves wound through endless darkness. All she found around each turn was rock. Occasionally, she would find an incline, or a ladder. She would arbitrarily climb one of these things, just to continue to leave a trail, and to give the feeling she was going somewhere. This, however, only caused her to feel even more lost.

From her right and behind, she saw the flicker of another flashlight. Behind the flashlight was the silhouette of one of the soldiers turning the corner of the cave. Bundled in his parka, he seemed far too imposing to to attack at this point.

Terra turned about to move around the opposite corner, making as little noise as possible to avoid alerting the guards. As she turned, she saw another torch suddenly materialize around the corner and center exactly on her.

"I found her!" the guardsman yelled, reaching for his pistol. In a flash, Terra drew her sabre and slashed, catching the guard in the face. The guard didn't scream, just reeled backward and gasped, dropping the pistol to clutch at the furrow cut into his face by the sharpened blade. Terra pressed the attack, lashing out with her foot and connecting solidly with the man's midsection. The man let loose a strangled pained cry and crumpled to the ground. Terra stepped over the stunned guardsman only to find the torch of another not far behind him. Terra quickly backpedaled, spinning again to move the opposite way from whence she came. From behind her, a shot rang out and whined against the cave wall next to her, causing her to stumble ever so slightly.

Because of that stumble, she almost didn't see the previous guardsman come around the corner. This caused her to backpedal once more, causing her back to press against the wall.

What happened next was a question of chance. One could not come close to figuring the odds of this event occurring. Her heel tread upon a tiny loose rock, which caused the floor to almost instantly vanish from beneath her feet. With no ground to stand, Terra fell, the wall sloping slightly forward. She grunted as her butt and back thumped into the slope, which pushed her forward into open air. A few feet below, she scrabbled for a tiny jutting rock that protruded from the wall of the shaft. Her fingers, for a split second, found purchase before slipping away once more. This caused her once again to fall, this time a few more feet, this time face first. Her head connected with another jutting rock and caused another serious headache just as soon as she, hopefully woke up from this one.

Consciousness was once again snatched from her as her limp body continued to careen down the shaft.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 9th January 2014 05:01

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205948
Top
Posted: 10th January 2014 16:55

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 3- Beautiful Mysteries

Arvis poured the coffee into the porcelain mug and placed a small plate with a roasted beef sandwich next to the coffee mug. His guest rarely ate decent meals when he was working, and he knew it would be appreciated if at least something not dried or canned were ready to eat when he arrived.

From a few feet behind him, the door creaked open, the noise amplified by the ambient silence.

"Almost right on time, Locke," he said, barely turning to meet the interloper.

The man he called Locke chuckled. His voice was somewhat deep and robust, with the quiet rasp of experience to flavor it. He was just below average height for a man and would be characterized as wiry or lean, given the elongated muscles in his arms. He was older than a fresh-faced lad, but too young to be a grizzled old man, with light brown hair and extremely dark blue-almost indigo eyes. He wore his hair fairly long, and kept his face clean shaven. This revealed an angular, almost elfin face. He had sharp, angular features in his jaw and chin, and almost a delicate nose with his eyes slightly tilted into that of an almond shape. Locke pulled the blackened glove from his right hand as he walked over to pick the sandwich up from the plate.

"Almost?" He asked, right before taking a hasty bite from the sandwich and taking a sip of coffee.

"Somehow the guard caught on to us, so I sent her to the Caves."

Locke swallowed his bite of the sandwich, "Captain Raeve suddenly got competent? Why did he have to go and do that?"

Arvis shrugged, "Just to make your job harder, I suppose."

Locke guffawed through the sandwich, swallowing the bite. "So, the hulk-riding witch is stumbling 'round in the darkness dodging a bunch of jumpy miners with guns?"

Arvis nodded.

Locke sighed and reluctantly put the sandwich down. He didn't remember the last time he'd eaten anything home cooked, and Arvis new how to roast beef very, very well. He took a long, hard drink from his coffee mug, his eyes watering from the heat.

"Be careful, Locke, she's very beautiful, and actually living. Not like the usual trinkets you make off with."

Locke rolled his eyes and slipped his glove back on. "I just take artifacts from caves and sell them for profit. It's not like I actually steal things, right?"

Arvis put up his hands. "Right."

Locke pulled a bandana from his pockets and tied it into a dew-rag to cover the top of his head. "Well, Arvis, once I steal her away, they'll probably be coming after you..."

Arvis waved his hand. "Leave that to me, Locke. Your job is to get the girl to Banon."

Locke shrugged, "Hope they let you cook in the jail, mate."

Arvis just chuckled and let Locke start his search by walking onto the catwalk.

O.o --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- o.O

Locke normally loved prowling around the Narshe mines. In the upper sections, where iron was mined for various things, there were all kinds of artifacts and things one could simply look at and wow over. The lower sections often held very little, but the miners were finding the mining to be a little too easy. It was as if someone or something had already cut through the strata.

It didn't take long for him to find a group of guardsmen milling about in one part of the cave. He must have just missed her by less than a half hour. Two men were kneeling in front of another that was seated, his back pressed against the wall and a white cloth pressed against his face. Judging by the blood on his towel, he'd suffered a nasty cut on the side of his face.

By the excited way he was talking, it was definitely the work of the witch. Probably caught him solidly with the edge of a blade, but didn't kill him.

Locke shrugged. She wasn't a natural killer, at least not yet. She was very well trained in how to be a soldier, however. All of this information was good, but how was he supposed to find her?

Locke stole quietly away, slipping passed the three soldiers. They also hadn't caught her, despite the fact that one of them had been that close to her. The Narshe Guard was not exactly military efficient with its group of miners and clerks all carrying guns, but that were never so stupid as to not alone when hunting someone down.

Locke tapped one of his torches against his leg and pointed it at an acute angle toward the ground. He'd been on the run from the Guard quite a few times, and this much he actually knew.

A glint shined somewhere near the rope ladders that lead to the upper levels of the mines. Quietly, he crept up to the glint and knelt down, picking it up and holding it into the light. It was a brass bullet casing from a revolver. Slowly, Locke slipped his revolver from its holster and pulled one of the bullets from its chamber to compare it.

This bullet had a bigger bore than his, meaning it probably came from one of the Guardsman's guns. This also spurred the possibility that this witch might have been shot. She wasn't dead, or Arvis would have been arrested by now.

Exhaling to avoid grunting, he quickly scaled the ladder to the upper level. There, he found an even larger party of men. About ten of them this time, pistols drawn and in a stand-to position. This means they were looking for trouble. They were probably guarding a vital clue to her whereabouts. Now all Locke had to do was slip passed them to figure this out.

As he crept closer, he began catching wind of their conversation. He recognized the two men, just couldn't recall their names. Both of them were miners. Both were perpetually covered in dirt and rock with bushy beards and big, burly arms.

"Just out of nowhere?" One of them was saying.

"Yup. It goes down pretty far. Fall probably killed her, if she were normal. Captain says he thinks he saw light at the bottom. He's trying to find a way down there right now."

Lock took a few steps closer then found a crevasse to hide behind as two guards passed by. The two that were talking and the ones that passed by exchanged a greeting, then resumed their conversation.

"Think she's alive?"

"Yup. Beau hopes she is, I suppose. She put a nasty gash on him."

The other one nodded seriously. "Yup. Kicked him in the man parts, too. that's just dirty."

The other man flinched, instinctively clutching his groin. "Almost wish he'd been shot, huh?"

"Yup."

Locke slipped passed the several yards of open space up to the jog the two men were guarding. How could he get behind them and set his line to climb down without them noticing?

Locke pulled a spare torch from a belt pouch and lobbed it toward the latter. The torch clanged off of the floor and became lit from the impact before bounding over the edge of this level and down the ladder.

"Someone here?" One of them blurted, before leaving his post.

The sound of iron scraping leather and hundreds of torches swung toward the source of the noise. The guard closest to him left his post to go check out the source.

Locke had only a few seconds to act, and act he did.

Slipping behind the second guard in the distraction, he immediately caught sight of the sinkhole they were referring to. That was probably where she fell. It was about five feet wide, meaning if she were normal height, she wouldn't be able to stop herself.

Unless she explored caves as her life's work, that is. As far as he knew, she didn't. That was his life's work.

From his belt, he pulled two metallic gloves. These were special gloves given to him as a gift from his current employer, and they were designed for this exact purpose. He slid them on quickly and slid into the hole, using the gloves to prop himself against the edge and slowly climb down. He could still hear the people talking above him as he slid down, and he figured he had a matter of minutes to find a rough spot and set his line. After about ten feet, he found a small jut he could place his feet on to brace his back against the far wall of the pit. Slowly, he opened a contraption that brought out the end of a rope and pulled it through, and quickly tying an end to the loop.

From an opposite belt pocket, he pulled out a silvery-metallic spike made of mythril. This would bore easily enough into the wall. With practiced speed, he slipped the loop around the head of the spike and then pushed the nail hard against the fissured rock in front of him. The spike went in about an inch before it resisted. Locke pulled a small, padded mallet to tap it the rest of the way in.

That's when he heard the voices from above getting back to their posts. He could even see the creep of one of the torches about to peek over the edge.

Locke gritted his teeth. This was not good. Not good at all. He finished pounding the spike into the wall just as the light shined on him. Slowly, he pulled another clasp to release the rest of his rope and hooked a clasp from his vest to the rope. That's when he dared look up.

"Who's down there!" One of the guards shouted, his light shining directly onto him.

Locke looked up, biting his lip. He was ten feet from the ledge and ready to rappel down pit. His eyes met that of the guard's.

"Wait, what are you doing!?" The guard demanded.

It was at that point, Locke let go of his foothold and began his decent.

"Guys! We have someone in there! He just let go!"

He wasn't going to make this slow, even though he'd technically gotten away. If there were new tunnels down here, there would be a way to get there as well. He needed to move quickly.

The pit fell for about seventy-five feet before opening into a well-lit grotto. From the ceiling, it was another thirty feet to the ground. From here, he saw his quarry. It was the girl, laying prone on the cold stone below.

Locke closed his eyes took a deep breath. This was going to be a near free-fall, only slowed slightly by the rope. In his head he counted three.

One. I wish I were somewhere else.

Two.Let's hope this doesn't hurt.

Three. Away we go!

Lock kicked away from his foothold and slid the remaining length of his rope, catching suddenly about six feet off the ground. He felt the rope tighten around his waist and chest, which would leave a burn or a bruise. Otherwise, everything was fine.

With a quick wrist flick, he cut the cable and dropped himself to the floor, his feet straddling his fallen quarry.

He knelt down next to her and rolled her over, putting his ear on her chest to check her breathing. She was, but judging from the wounds on her face and hands, she had taken a nasty beating. Most likely from the fall.

Carefully, Locke pulled off the metal gloves and slid them back into his pockets. He then pulled a glass vial from another belt compartment and pulled out the stopper, holding it under the young lady's nose. Her breathing changed immediately as she gasped.

This little woman was very beautiful indeed, in a very exotic sort of way. Her hair seemed very blonde, but with a green tint to it. With some healing, she would have a delicate, childlike face, and her eyes wouldn't be so badly swollen.

She groaned as the shock of the potion left her system, and the pain of her fall began to kick in.

Locke pulled out two capsules, gently placing a hand on her shoulder.

She started, but only could move her head to look at him. She had very, very sharp green eyes and a very innocent and child-like look.

"Take these, love, " he whispered gently, "this'll help your wounds knit a bit."

Terra sat up to take the pills, along with the water Locke offered him.

"I kind of wish we'd met over better circumstances, I'd wager you'd look stunning in a red dress."

Terra blinked at the comment. She didn't giggle at the joke, just looked confused.

Locke chuckled. It wasn't the first time an attempt to flirt was met with a look like that.

When she finally did respond, she asked, "What's your name?"

"Locke Cole. Yours?"

"Terra."

"So, can you tell me why there are several hundred men in this mine trying to hurt you?" Locke asked.

Terra shook her head.

"Right. Beautiful mystery. Got it now. We'll just give you a few minutes for those pills to work, then we'll try and find a way out of here."

A sound from the opposite side of this cave seemed to immediately contradict his words. The sound, which echoed through this stalagmite infested room was dogs barking.

"Okay. Looks like my mind's been changed. " Locke said, hurriedly looking around for a way out. From behind him, he saw a twelve foot rise with a crude archway. This meant he couldn't carry her away from any trouble. The healing pills would have to kick in, and soon.

Gently, Locke lifted her into his arms and carried her to the most remote part of the cave before sitting her down once more.

"How do you feel?" Locke asked, drawing his pistol.

"I still hurt badly, Locke. I think one of my legs is broken."

"Damn!" Locke hissed. The pills wouldn't re-knit the bones, just cause them to heal incorrectly.

"Well, can you use any talent or something to heal your leg?"

Terra shook her head. "If I had that kind of talent, I don't remember it right now. The Imperials put some crown on my head that took my memories away."

Locke sighed. "A slave crown? Well, your memory may come back in a few days, but that won't help matters much right now. I'll see what I can do in the meantime."

Locke darted across the cave to a vantage point where he could see as much as possible.

What he saw did not encourage him. There was only one guardsmen, but it was Captain Raeve. While he carried his torch in one hand, in his off hand, he had a dozen dogs tethered. That's how Raeve managed to track her.

Locke cocked the hammer back on his pistol and raised his gun. He leveled it in the general direction of the Guard Captain, who for some reason was by himself.

He pulled the trigger. The bang echoed throughout the cave and managed to drive the remains of the peaceful setting away. The bullet spiked off of the ground some yards from Raeve's foot.

Raeve swore loudly, putting his torch away, which was unnecessary, and drawing his pistol. He was now looking around for whomever shot at him.

Locke bolted from his hiding spot, allowing Raeve to see him for just a brief second. Raeve fired, missing high and behind him.

"Hello, Captain! Seems we've run into one another again!" Locke shouted.

Raeve titled his head. "Cole is that you? The mine thief?"

Locke sighed, a pang of annoyance shot through him. He popped out and fired another shot, which still landed short. Rave fired back, hitting the stalagtmite he used as cover.

"I've never stolen property in my life, Stu. No more than you've ever been a soldier!"

"You have the girl, Cole. Surrender her and yourself."

Locke bolted to another stalagmite. "Sorry, mate. No can do."

"I'm going to release the dogs, Cole! They will find her, and I know you don't have enough bullets to kill them all. She's more than likely too hurt to run! You're only going to get yourself killed!"

Locke swung around the opposite side of the stalagmite and fired another shot, this time grazing Captain Raeve's pack. "I'll just have to kill you before I give the satisfaction!"

With that final shot, Raeve bent forward and loosed the dogs. The guard captain was right, even with extra shells, the dogs would easily find the crippled girl and tear her to pieces before he could kill them all.

Still, Locke had to find a way.

With a quick glance toward Captain Raeve, he sprinted back toward Terra's position. Predictably, the captain took a few shots his way. As he also suspected, the Captain also missed each shot. Nonetheless, being shot at wasn't something Locke ever truly enjoyed.

Along the way, he found one of the dogs sniffing the ground near the center of the tunnel, and was a whiff away from finding the trail and being on his wounded ward. As much as Locke didn't want to do this, he leveled his revolver and fired, catching the dog square in the head. The dog barely yelped before falling to the ground, dead.

This only gave him a slight advantage, because the noise only attracted the other dogs toward his position. He had only two more shots left in his gun, and there was no guarantee he would hit with those. He was going to have to just make do with what he had and hope for the best.

Quickly, he ran to Terra's position and knelt over her. Some of the color had returned to her face, but now the pain of the shattered leg was readily apparent on her face. Wordlessly, she held her loaded revolver to him.

Locke smiled, "Thanks, love. You're a lifesaver."

Terra only smiled as he ran a few feet ahead and crouched, waiting for the dogs to come down the narrow way. From here, the dogs could only come from two directions, and he could at least meet them headlong each way.

Sure enough, the first dogs spotted him and sprinted his direction. Locke aimed and fired his two remaining bullets, catching two more dogs and causing them to slip and fall, either dead or wounded. Quickly, he drew the gun Terra gave him, bracing for the next set of dogs. The next dog stepped around the corner, causing Locke to fire the shot. The dog stepped back as the bullet whizzed harmlessly by.

"Clever girl, " Locke muttered.

He didn't realize how correct that statement was as another one of the dogs charged from another direction, and was nearly on top of him before Locke could spin and fire on that one. Locke managed to fire the revolver just as the dog made its leap, and the bullet connected with its heart and plowed into him as dead weight. This caused him to fall over and drop his gun.

Locke instinctively rolled and shoved the dog away with his hands and feet, and was merely on his knees when the next two or three dogs were nearly on top of him. Locke pulled a dagger from yet another sheath on his belt and stabbed forward, stabbing the lead dog under the soft palette of his moth and killing it instantly.

That's when things went to hell. All he could do was lift his off hand to ward off the rest as they were suddenly upon him. He felt a sharp pain as teeth sunk into his arms and shoulders. They were going to tear him apart now, and his mission would fail.

"So that's how it goes," he grunted as he punched the knife into another dog's eye. He also heard Terra whimper as one of the dogs decided to bypass him and go straight for her. It could probably sense she was wounded, and it would be just a matter of time before it all ended.

"Terra!" Locke yelled, with one last effort to shove the gnashing and tearing teeth of these fierce attack dogs.

While it seldom happens, life will, from time to time give someone a lucky break, and the two overwhelmed humans were going to get one. Wooden-shafted stone projectiles rained from above, peppering the remaining dogs with their crude but deadly tips. Within seconds, the dogs all either lay dead or wounded, and the cavern, once filled with the cacophony of barking dogs and gunshots, now suddenly became eerily silent.

Locke stood up, his left arm covered in blood from jagged canine teeth. He grunted from the pain the wounds caused. He reached over and picked the discarded revolver from the floor, stepping into the clearing in front of the rise to see what exactly caused the spears to rain down from the sky.

When he saw it, he could scarcely believe his eyes. About fifteen to twenty of them. All about three to four feet tall, were fuzzy creatures. Their fur contained all kinds of colors, from black to pink. Some were yellow, and even the tallest one was completely white. Others were even mottled, either speckled with several other colors, or even striped. They bore a body shape that was roly-poly, like an overfed cat. They had shape, catlike ears and round, cheerful faces with button noses that ranged in color as much as their fur did. On their heads were balls of fluff, also wildly ranging in color. On their backs were a stunted pair of wings, which right now flapped in joy as the creatures danced about.

"Moogles?" Locke muttered in disbelief. "Those bloody things should have been extinct during the War of the Magi..."

The white one reached out with its stubby fingers, as if to ask for something. He then gestured to a jutted rock, then gestured again.

Locke was quick on the uptake, and didn't argue. He walked over to Terra's pack and pulled a rope from it, smiling reassuringly at her.

"What happened?" Terra asked, her eyes wide.

Locke chuckled, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, love. You'll just have to see for yourself."

He heard more footsteps running down the corridor. Locke then remembered that Captain Raeve has also been down there, and that the moogles above had killed all of his dogs. Raeve was in shock, surveying the damage that had been done to his beloved dogs.

Locke raised the revolver and cocked the hammer back, putting the Captain dead to rights. With a pull of the trigger, a long time nemesis would no longer be alive. The look in the Captain's eyes showed that he also knew the stakes.

Locke smiled wearily. "Captain, I'm not going to kill you. Not for doing your job. I might have annoyed you and made you regret going to work in the morning, you're still a good man just doing your job. I also know you have a family to feed, and killing you would just make life worse for them."

Captain Raeve relaxed, knowing he was safe.

"However, mate, I can't have you following us. I still need to escape after all. Don't be too angry," Locke said, squeezing a shot off that connected solidly with Captain Raeve's kneecap. The Captain dropped like a stone, screaming from the initial jolt of pain.

Locke turned and tossed the moogle the rope, presently returning to lift the wounded witch to her feet. With Locke's wounded shoulder and Terra's wounded leg, they managed to climb the rope lowered by the moogles, and then follow them to what seemed to be a series of burrowed tunnels. In one of the wider tunnels, Locke lowered Terra gently to the ground.

"I've only got two more sets of pills. I need my shoulder healed, and you need your leg healed. From now on let's not get hurt."

Terra nodded, "Fair enough."

"First, we need to set the leg, then we'll get started, " Locke said. He'd reset a few broken bones in his life's work as a tomb raider and adventurer and sometimes spy. This should be no different.

He found the break easily, it was near the heel of the ankle. This would have taken weeks to heal, were it not for the miracle pills that Banon had sent him. He raised her leg.

"All right, love. I want you to brace, because this might be a bit painful. I'm going to count to three, and reset this leg. You should feel a pop and some sharp pain. It'll linger a bit, but the pills should handle that."

Terra nodded, her lip beginning to quiver.

Locke positioned his hands around her ankle and took a deep breath. "Ready?"

Terra took a deep breath and nodded.

"One...two.." Locke then snapped the bone back in place with a sudden jerk. "Three."

Terra's back arched, but she didn't scream, instead tears began to well into her eyes from the sharp pain.

Locke sat down next to her and handed her the pills, "You know, you have to be the toughest bird on the face of this planet. I've seen larger, tougher men faint dead away from that pain, and yet you didn't even scream."

Terra gasped, taking a deep drink of water. "I guess pain affects me different than most. "

Locke chuckled as he sat down next to her, taking a pull from the same canteen,"Beautiful mysteries."

Terra frowned and peered at him, "That's the second time you've said that.What does that mean?"

Locke, his eyes filled with an exhausted joviality, just returned the look, "I'll let you know when I figure that out."

II* II...........II * II............II *II...........II * II..............II* II...............II * II...........II II*.....

About an hour had passed before the two of them felt good enough to walk. During that hour, Locke had spent his time alternately watching his ward and watching the moogles scurry about doing their daily business. While he didn't exactly see how they operated from day to day, he did managed to get a good chance at trying to figure her out.

Her eyes seemed to glimmer with childlike enthusiasm at the creatures running to and fro around her, even saw her smile a little confused smile when a smaller, pink moogle handed her a wreath of cave moss and rock flowers. Still, outside of all of that, all he saw was a curiosity about her, and an intelligence.

Locke stood up, the pain in his arm was a dull ache now, and he was able to move it.

"Can you stand up?" Locke asked.

Terra nodded, standing with relative ease. She also took a perfunctory step to make sure the ankle would hold.

"Good lass. We need to head south, toward the desert castle of Figaro. There we'll sit tight and figure out what to do next," Locke stated.

Terra, as usual, absorbed the information and acknowledged it.

The moogles were kind enough to lead them to a spot where the cave cave exited at the base of Mt. Narshe. They even showed him a secret catch on both sides of the mountain in the event they needed to return.

"Well," Locke stated matter-of-fact, "enjoy the cold air because within a couple of days, we'll be blistering in desert heat."

With that, they exited the caves.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 11th January 2014 03:43

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205952
Top
Posted: 12th January 2014 17:01

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 4- Castles in the Sand

Terra learned much about being an adventurer in these past few days. She learned that, in spite of brief flurries of activity- particularly in the morning and at night- there was nothing much to do but talk and take in the scenery. She learned how to build a fire. Locke stood enthusiastically over her when the campfires were built, arranged in just a way so the light traveled a short distance. He also taught her how to purify water by scooping the winter snow from the Figaro Plains, or from various creeks and ponds and boiling it. She learned how to cook a very crude stew, consisting of the canned meat and potatoes in her pack. Locke also taught her to set perimeter trip flares to warn them if anything dangerous might be near while they slept.She absorbed this information with great enthusiasm, which seemed to be mirrored by her teacher.

There was much to ponder, however, when they were just walking. While the bluish-white plains with snow dusted shrubs and trees was breathtaking, the questions about her seemed to dance into her head nearly all of the time. She knew her name was Terra, but she didn't know where she came from, and who her mother and father were. She couldn't remember her time with the Empire, or why she was considered a witch. Locke had previously mentioned a black hulk she had piloted, but she had virtually no memory of that, either. Just holes in her mind that needed filled. Just a bunch of questions.

Sometimes, Locke would kneel down over some tracks and explain what kind of animal had the tracks, and what may have happened at that spot, or he would pick a flower and tell her what it is. Once, he picked a particularly beautiful flower and gave it to her after she stood over it and marveled at its beauty in full bloom, along with its resiliency. It was a very pale red color, and its very look amidst the blues, greys and whites nearly took her breath away. Locke carefully clipped the flower and with a very sharp knife, trimmed every last thorn from its stem.

As she took it, her eyes glimmering with joy, she asked him, "What is this flower, Locke?"

Locke placed his knife back into its sheath on that very strange belt and replied, "Winter Rose. It blooms during the harshest weather around here. I think it's nature's way of keeping us from going mad while everything else just lies sleeping."

She smiled a very giddy smile and,with Locke's help, pinned the rose in her hair.

Locke smiled, re-tying his dew rag and inspecting the new decoration, "Looks good on you, love. Kind of sets itself off from your hair, and makes your hair, pretty, too."

Terra smiled, too, glad for Locke's compliment.

While boiling water one night, Terra's mind did shift to Locke. He had been very good about not hounding her with questions she didn't know the answer to, but had also said nothing about himself.

"Locke?"

"Hmm?"

"When the dogs were coming at me in that cavern, you could have just climbed that ledge and got away, right?"

Locke paused a moment, his brow furrowed in what looked like surprised indignation, but quickly he recovered with one of his crooked, roguish smiles. "Never crossed my mind."

Terra tilted her head, "Why didn't you? It's kind of illogical to die for someone you'd barely met."

Locke ran his hands over his chin, where stubble had begun to form. "Wouldn't 'ave done my job, then."

Terra frowned at that reply.That reply made no sense whatsoever. "Where did did you grow up?"

Locke chuckled as he poured the water from the pot into a canteen and added more water. "A farming town. Wasn't all that special."

"Did you live with both of your parents?"

Locke nodded as he buried the canteen in the snow to cool.

"Why did you leave?"

Locke paused a moment, as if how to consider how he should answer the question, his face furrowed into a deep frown. Finally, he dismissed the question with a shake of his head.

She began to notice, after awhile, that the plants around her were disappearing in favor of rough ground and scrub brush. Then the ground slowly began to soften into sand. As this was happening, Locke had placed a wide-brimmed hat on top of his head, and had instructed Terra to do the same. Even going so far as to tie Terra's hair into a tail before doing so.

"Figaro Castle, which is where we're going, is only a few hours from here. It's going to be a very tough few hours, so just try to minimize talking, keep the hat on your head, and no matter how warm you get, keep that jacket on you. As long as you keep drinking water once in awhile, you should be just fine.

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If someone had told Terra that a place such as this had existed, she would have laughingly called him a liar. Encased behind rugged steel walls stood a magnificence that only the age could provide. The inner walls were made from a superbly clean silvery stone. In the front courtyard stood two very large fountains, each pouring forth from its mouths gusts of steam that changed color amid each stage, from gold, to radiant blue, to green, and finally white as it subsided. Musicians played among the lively people, a joyous mix of all types who passed by in leisure or business in what seemed to be a street where the sun forever shined.

Terra couldn't help but be amazed at some of the wonders that made their appearances by the courtyard. A steam powered cart ran directly through the center of the fantastic city, its color a bright red so everyone could see it. Chocobos and buggies intertwined with happily clad pedestrians, which were directed by brightly colored peace officers.

One peace officer approached them, riding a golden-feathered chocobo. The bird in of itself was beautiful. It was bipedal with a friendly look on its face. Its beak was turned upward to give a friendly look to those around him, and its brown eyes showed that of a very happy mount. The policeman was dressed in blue and silver. Around his neck was a silver whistle, and in his holster was a shiny, ebony-handled revolver.

He sounded stern as he stopped his bird short. "Cole! I would have hoped to all that is holy that you'd ever return, as long as I lived!"

Terra, whose arm was interlocked with his, tensed. Locke gave her a reassuring pat on her hand.

"You know me, mate. Like a bad penny, " Locke replied.

The guard chuckled and held out his hand. Locke took it and they warmly shook hands.

"Well, it's not very often an attractive lady enters here on your arm. Not by choice at any rate. Don't get too attached, His Majesty will most definitely see her," the officer said.

Locke winked his way, "I was counting on it. Does he know we're coming?"

The officer nodded. "He sent me to look for you and to escort you back."

He blew into his whistle and raised his hand in a signal, beckoning for a gentleman with two of the beautiful birds in tow. The man handed the reigns to Locke and Terra and quickly returned to what he was doing when the officer dismissed him.

Terra, as though she'd done this a thousand times, climbed onto the bird's back, fitting easily in the saddle. Locke mounted up next to her, looking most impressed at her birdsmanship.

Terra shrugged, "There's so much about me neither one of us know."

Locke nodded slowly in agreement.

Despite the traffic, the trip through the crowd and into the castle lasted what seemed like minutes. At a walk, a chocobo was a fairly comfortable ride. The seven foot tall bird easily bearing her weight as it wandered through the smoothly paved streets. Terra said nothing, just let the amazing place wash over her. The policeman and Locke were speaking, but she decided to pay no attention- just enjoy herself. It had been mere days since she had been laying on a cave floor, her senses barely with her and the freezing cold air permeating to her bones. This warm desert air on top of a comfortable bird riding through this magical city was a most welcome change by her reckoning.

The city, filled with thousands of friendly-looking people, seemed to do little to prepare her for the castle. Made from the whitest steel, it almost seemed to be made of mythril. The walls and ramparts glimmered brilliantly through the steam that puffed from its many exhaust ports. A mammoth monument to beauty and progress sprouting forth from the inhospitable grounds of a sandy desert.

At the gates of the castle, the three dismounted and entered into the splendid building. The city, filled with its thousands of people, seemed bustling before. If that were so, then the castle was brimming with life. Servants and workers seem to zip and hover about as bees in a very elaborate hive. Some would stop to pass messages through a vacuum tube system, others were carrying things back and forth through untold numbers of doors and entryways. Locke and Terra followed the peace officer through the straight and wide hallway through it all, somehow never breaking stride through the efficient crowd. From there, they entered through a pair of elaborate steel doors and into a beautiful throne room. There, a young lady waited to greet them, taking their coats to be laundered.

"This place kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it?" Locke asked, offhandedly.

Terra nodded, her eyes racing about the building, trying to take in everything as fast as possible.

"You'll never see another place like it. It reflects her king very well. It's so beautiful and ornate, but fails to reflect the genius of it all. With any luck, we'll never have to," Locke said.

Terra blinked at that last statement. What was that supposed to mean?

Before she could ask that question, a man entered into the room. He was elaborately dressed and stuck , at least to Terra, an extremely elaborate pose. He looked to be the same age as Locke, but his face was smoother due to what seemed like softer living. His face seemed to be sculpted from the finest clay, with a square jaw and powerful chin. His mouth was set to a handsome shape and his brown eyes radiated a fine confidence. His clothing was silken, contrasting a cobalt color with a golden hue. This seemed to be perfect for the long, luxurious hair that flowed down to the middle of his back. At this time, the hair was bound in a disciplined tail.

Locke approached the man, causing the two to stare at one another for one brief second before both of them embraced in a manly hug. The silence of his entry broken by the joyous laughter of best friends who'd not seen one another in quite some time.

"Nice to see that they haven't cut your fingers away from those thieving hands!" The man shouted.

"It's also wonderful to see that King Roland's little girl all grown up!" Locke shot back.

Both men laughed briefly before Locke sobered up for a moment, "I forgot about the reason for my visit, Ed. This is Terra. She's the one everyone around the base has been talking about."

Ed, as Locke called him, took a long glance at her, his facial expression both caused Terra to blush and puzzled her. He stepped deliberately, and with great confidence toward her, then around her with what she supposed would be a lascivious twinkle in his eye.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, milady. I am Edgar, King of this mighty castle and fine country that you may have seen. A creature such does stand out so in this city filled with nothing but the fairest women."

Terra felt her face flush with heat. She quickly glanced over at Locke, who seemed to regard this display with amused annoyance.

"Nice to meet you, sir, " she stated. This caused Locke to place his hand over his mouth and Edgar to suddenly stop walking and raise his eyebrow. He seemed nonplussed by her reply.

"Ed, we've been on the road a long time, dining on nothing but canned food, would it be...?"

Edgar nodded, "Yes, that would probably be for the best. Time to clean up and rest, it's probably been a difficult trip for the both of you. Locke, would you be so kind as to show her where she needs to go?"

Locke nodded, gesturing Terra to follow him. As they wandered through the castle, Terra's thoughts did wander to the king. Locke seemed to be good friends with him.

"I suppose a normal woman would find him somewhat suave. I guess I'm no normal woman, " Terra said at length.

Locke shrugged, a bemused glint in his eyes. "Honestly, love, the dandy dressing and the foppery is just a front. Ed's a great man and a very good king. While does enjoy his time with the ladies, his real passion is for his people and for building things."

Terra frowned, "Things?"

Locke shrugged. "Things. Odd things. Since he was young, that's all he seemed to do was build one strange contraption or another."

He tapped a metal tube attached to the wall, "Under here is a system for delivering messages through a series of tubes that lead to anywhere in the city. Letters and such. Far to small for a human to fit through. It speeds up the spread of news and messages at a rate that would boggle your mind."

From off in the distance, she saw a plain metal building that seemed covered in vents. Smoke poured from them and heat radiated from them more so than anywhere else. This seemed rather plain looking in comparison to the rest of the flash and finery of both the city and the castle.

"Figaro, at least on paper, is allies with the Empire. In exchange for not invading Figaro, Edgar designs weapons for them. The reason he took such an interest in you was that you were piloting something he may have designed. This might bother him more than you think, " Locke explained.

Terra thought about this for a second. Something didn't sit well with her, "If Figaro and the Empire are allies, why would we be here?"

Locke glanced around the halls, "Figaro is only a nominal ally. Edgar keeps this alliance to keep his beloved country from being burned to the ground, and its people either enslaved or killed. He supports the Returners in secret. I'm being told that right now, he's trying to devise upgrades to the devices he's sold to the Empire. He just needs more money before he can begin to build it."

"So, how do I come into play with Edgar's plans?"

Locke paused a moment to ponder her question, and finally answered, "According to all of our reports, you're one of the Empire's key assets. With whatever you can provide for us, we just might win some of the neutral countries over to the cause, and finally we can go on the offensive against Vector and put an end to the madness down south."

Terra sighed, "I'm remembering more things, little by little, but I don't understand how helpful I can be."

Locke opened a door into a room with a washtub and a servant woman within. Warm and cold water were being poured in from a faucet, and fine clothes were being prepared for her.

"You'll get a bath and some decent food, love. Just relax and enjoy yourself. I'll be doing the same in another part of the castle."

Terra nodded and entered into the room.

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Edgar Figaro sat down on his throne with a weary sigh. He loved his people, but honestly, he really didn't see the point in most of the reports he was about to read. Most of them were proposals by wealthy men who begged for him some tax break or another. Other times, it was some demand by the Empire for the plans and/or building of another one of his inventions. Either way, it led to a long, dreary day of sitting over these papers and making decisions that affected virtually nothing.

With his pen, he checked a few tax requests, sending his usual auditors to look over the properties of these people before he approved or disapproved anything. He then scribbled denied on a few more auditor's reports. Figaro didn't become wealthy because a few men controlled all of the money. Figaro became wealthy when workers were paid a fair wage and spent money in the marketplaces. The taxes these millionaires and billionaires paid were doled out for not only the soldiers and defenses of Figaro, but to maintain the thousands of things that the average Figaroan could enjoy.

With an absent wave, he turned away a young lady who was about to brush his hair, and continued to read through the many, many complaints sent by his citizens. He would simply respond by scribbling a prescription on the paper somehow. One gentleman felt that there was constant vandalism of his shop and home. He would extend one patrolman's route to that neighborhood, or add another.

Edgar sighed as food was brought to him. He pretty much ignored the dish until it was taken away. He wanted to finish the work and to get back to his passion, which was with the men in the engineering section, testing prototypes, designing new ones, and building anything his imagination could ever crank out. Being denied anything else do to his position, this was his only escape from the drudgery of rulership.

One of his retainers burst through the front door. He was breathless and quite worried.

"Messenger from the Empire has just bypassed South Figaro, sir!"

Edgar barely looked up from his papers, "Show him the usual and I'll get to him in a few minutes."

"Sir, I think it might be more important than that. The messenger is General Palazzo."

Edgar paused in mid pen-stroke and immediately dropped everything. Quickly, he waved for the servant girl with the brush to follow him as he rushed into the city to meet the representative of his ally.

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Kefka Palazzo was in a foul mood. In his bird-drawn carriage, which shielded him from the sun and sand, he had spilled the wine he had been drinking. It was a fine vintage, and given to him as tribute by the people of Nikeah. However, the jostling of the rough terrain had disrupted his chance to take a long sip of this wine, and it now just ruined his day. With a grunt, he tossed the open wine bottle out of the carriage window. With a loud clunk, it ricocheted off of his flanking honor guard's helmet and fell to the desert floor.

"Thank you, sir!" The soldier said.

Kefka poked his head out of the carriage window to glare piercingly at the speaker. He was extremely thin, but inhumanly tall. He stood close to six and a half feet tall, with his hair being a bright blond color and his eyes a faint amber color. His face was extremely pale, and his mouth was twisted into a closed-mouth rictus.

"Why does your uniform have wine stains on it! We're on a diplomatic mission, and that's no way to show how an imperial soldier dresses! Remind me to have you shot when we return!"

The soldier saluted, "Yes, sir!"

Kefka flopped back in his seat, "Idiot!" He then let loose with his shrill, whooping laugh. This, of course, was interrupted by the jostling of the carriage once more by the desert terrain. In frustration, he began to lash his hands and feet against the walls and floors.

"Edgar, you pinhead! Why did you have to go and build a castle in a desert!"

He continued to lash out with his hands and feet about the walls and floor of the carriage, stopping only when his bleeding fist smashed through the wooden planks of the vehicle. Kefka shrieked in pain, but the shriek was then replaced by shrill, whooping laughter.

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When the two men met, it was at the edge of Figaro. Edgar had Charles, the Captain of his guard with him, to meet the contingent of mounted NIA elite troopers that preceded Kefka's bird-drawn carriage. The troopers dismounted and fanned to explore the perimeter, in the event any assassins may be present. They then proceeded to dismount their horses and wait for the door to open.

Kefka stepped from the vehicle, the heel of his foot grazing the edge of the running board. Only his great height saved him from a catastrophic fall. He simply planted his feet and shrugged his shoulders, as if nothing happened. For no reason Edgar could discern, the tall man then lashed out with with his right hand and struck the rearmost guradsman with his right hand, knocking him to the sandy ground.

"Stand up you fool! We're in the presence of a mighty king!" Kefka shrieked. As the trooper scrambled to his feet, Kefka laughed once again. This noise always made Edgar flinch. Was Kefka amused by everything? Or was he amused by nothing?

Charles was not quite as tall as the six foot tall Edgar, but still managed an air of authority. He was a brown-haired brown-eyed member of Figaro, and just as proud of the fair city as Edgar was. He leaned over and whispered into Edgar's ear.

"If we attack Kefka now, the troopers would probably let him die."

Edgar nodded, having thought the same thing himself. This, however, might cause a serious problem with the Emperor, who seemed to value Kefka more highly than anyone or anything else in this world.

Edgar smiled and offered his hand to the Imperial General. This gesture was summarily ignored. Kefka simply shouldered his way passed Edgar and stood behind him, glancing at the city.

Edgar's smile vanished as he glanced about the Imperial troopers standing at attention around the city gates. He then turned sideways and looked up at the imposing dignitary. "Is there a problem, General?"

Kefka, standing at parade rest, surveyed the city. "I'm just here to deliver some news personally."

Edgar nodded, trying his best to feign incredulity. "For you to leave the battle front down south and visit me personally, this must be important news."

Kefka scowled, glancing down at the smaller man, "Not really. We have word that one of our officers was kidnapped by Returners and was being held prisoner in Narshe. Have you heard of this?"

Edgar pondered a moment, not giving ground to the taller man at his shoulder, then answered,"No. One the other hand, I did hear about a raid in Narshe that ended badly. Would one of the officers have participated in that raid?"

Kefka whirled to face him, his face twisted in a sinister and angry grin, "I've no clue what you speak of! On second thought, I'll just drop the bullshit and get straight to it! I want the girl!"

Edgar smiled as warmly as he could, "A girl? You've come to the right place, General! There are many, many women here. All of them extremely beautiful! You're welcome to pick among them."

Kefka hissed, "Don't play stupid with me, Edgar! You know the very one I'm talking about!"

Edgar tried to hide his irritation with his smile, "If I hadn't made it clear to you, sir, I'll state it plainly. I don't know what you're talking about!"

Kefka leaned forward, speaking to Edgar through clenched teeth. "I hope you're lying, Edgar. Because if you are, I'll be back tomorrow to search more thoroughly."

With that, he reached his hand forward and shoved Edgar away from him by the face.

Edgar stumbled into his Charles and watched as Kefka stumbled away, laughing hysterically.

Edgar watched Kefka leave, while doing so, he whispered to his guard captain, "Initiate Protocol Zeta. Have things packed for Locke, Terra, and me for tomorrow."

Charles nodded. He blew his whistle to summon the peace officers before mounting his bird and rushing toward the castle.

Edgar pulled a gold pocket watch from his suitcoat, took a quick glance at it, and put it away. He had a lot of preparations to make before Kefka's return.

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Terra could barely understand these women. All of them, she assumed, were very beautiful, ranging from very dusky skin to extremely pale. Their body tapes ranged from slender to voluptuous, and their hair and eye colors seemed to cover the whole color spectrum. When Terra asked them about the king, however, they all reacted very much the same.

One lady, about Terra's height with honey-colored hair managed to answer her question through her giggles, "Edgar comes across as kind of a seducer of women. Yeah, he's cute and he's a king, but he's not really much of a threat."

Another one added, "He can be a decent flatterer, but when it comes down to it, he seems to back down at the last minute. Very much a lecher."

"We have so many women living around here, and he's so nice to them all. Honestly, I think he has a fling or two with them, but mostly he just stares at them all day."

One woman, looking closer to thirty, was quiet through most of the conversation. At best she would smile at some of the comments the ladies made, but otherwise just listened to what the women had to say.

Terra pointed at her, asking one of the ladies about her, "Oh, she's Clementine. If anyone knows so much about the king, it would definitely be her. Rumor has it she come the closest to marrying the king than anyone."

Terra nodded, finally starting to relax as another one of the girls began to brush her hair. They had all bathed together, and sat in this room with naught but cloths around their waists as they had this conversation.

"What about Locke?"She asked at length.

Some of the girls paused and glanced at one another.

"You mean the shorter fellow that hangs around the king?" One of the women piped up.

Terra nodded.

"Hold still, " the woman continued, "you've got very pretty hair, and I'd hate to tear a bunch of it out on the brush. Anyway, he's got the bad boy thing going for him. Don't get me wrong, given the right time, I'd crawl between the sheets with him..."

The girls giggled all around her as she made - apparently - a very bold statement. "But he's kind of got sad eyes. Like he's lost someone he's been in love with. It makes me wonder if he were a pirate or something. Like that gambler fellow that flies in those airships around Jidoor. He kind of gives off the vibe of a guy who pines away for some long lost girl or something. Very romantic."

Another girl rolled her eyes, "If that's true, then he's just wasting his life. I mean, what kind of girl wants their true love to ever suffer. I mean, seriously."

This conversation rapidly led to a debate about what love was. This left Terra a chance to enter into conversation with Clementine. She did so right as everyone was getting dressed.

Set out for her was most definitely not meant for finery. She had white traveling pants set out for her alongside a red blouse. She was also given a pair of sturdier boots to wear than the spiked heels the other women were wearing.

Clementine came over to assist tying her hair back, and seemed to be appraising her as they began to dress."You aren't staying long, then?"

Terra shrugged, "I don't think I am. It sure was nice to feel clean again. It wasn't in such good shape not two or three days ago."

Clementine smiled at that remark. "I heard what they said about me, and you probably want to hear my story. I think you're a very curious girl. Well, so am I. Tell me your story and I'll tell you mine. Deal?"

Terra nodded solemnly.

"Though, it does help to smile from time to time, "Clementine said.

Terra told her story, trying to rush through it. Clementine, being a bit older and more clever, would often halt her and ask more questions. She was also intrigued by the fact that Terra had no memory. She also seemed incredulous when Terra mentioned that she could be very dangerous.

Terra followed Clementine up a set of stairs and onto a top rampart. There, they sat in the cool shade cross-legged and refreshed themselves with a strange, minty drink handed to them by one of the serving girls.

"Edgar has always been a womanizer. That much was always true. Up until about five years ago, it was much different. It was the night they decided between Edgar and Sabin on who would be Figaro's next king."

Terra was now even more confused. "Edgar had a brother?"

Clementine nodded.

"Sabin and Edgar were very close to one another. Sabin was more of an athlete, while Edgar preferred to read growing up. Both grew into handsome young men, and both of them were ready to walk away from the troubles Figaro was having with the Empire at the time. Sabin had studied with a man named Duncan since he was a child. Some sort of hand-to-hand combat training. Edgar had..." Clementine paused for a second. "Me."

"I was Edgar's first kiss when we were eleven years old. He promised me that we would run away together, and we'd forever be a prince and princess in a far away land somewhere."

Clementine paused, her eyes glancing in the direction of the sun.

Terra craned her neck to look into her face, "Are you crying?"

Clementine wiped her eyes with the corners of her blouse. Terra frowned, and for the first time since she'd awoken from the stupor caused by whatever happened in the mine, she felt sad.

Clementine wiped her eyes with the kerchief served with the drink. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you crying?" Terra asked.

Clementine sighed,the sadness of the memory mixed with the exasperation of her listener's childishness, "The night Edgar and Sabin decided who was going to be kind, was the night Edgar and I parted ways as lovers."

Terra shifted in her seat, not knowing how to handle the emotion she now felt.

"He explained to me how his mother had grown old too fast when she was a queen, and how it was just too much for anyone to bear but him. He put his people first, and his feelings- and mine second."

"So what did you do?"

"I married one of Edgar's engineers, and took a job working in the castle."

Terra glanced toward the sun then back to the older woman. "Do you still love him?"

Clementine shook his head, "No."

Terra frowned again. She probably learned more about Edgar than she probably cared to. Still, it helped her very much in deciding whether to rust or not trust this king.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 14th January 2014 07:28

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205968
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Posted: 15th January 2014 16:17

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 5- A Disappearing City and Another on the Front

Edgar awoke to alarms sounding all about him. From his sitting position on his own throne, he jumped to his feet. Soldiers were already scrambling about, carrying out the orders Edgar had given the day before.

Edgar loosened then retied his hair. The alarm meant that General Palazzo, also known as Kefka, was on his way to raze the city in search of Terra. This also meant that he would be joining Locke and Terra in their journey south to Returners headquarters. The first thing he had to do right now, however, was to make sure his people were safe.

Charles had joined his side, carrying a different jacket than the night before, and a look of consternation as he noticed Edgar's grim expression. Edgar immediately changed jackets and reached over to sign two or three more sheets of paper.

"Until further notice, we are on General Quarters. Get Locke and the girl over to the stables, Tell Locke to mount up, take the girl, and meet me at the front gate. When you see me on the bird, activate the engines."

Charles nodded as he followed Edgar through the front gates of the castle, relaying most of the orders with hand signals and finally stopping briefly to relay the orders about Terra and Locke to one more guard. The guard acknowledged the orders with a salute and raced toward guest quarters.

"Come back in one week, where I shall meet you," Edgar finished. As he did so, he was handed a backpack, a tool belt, and a strange gun, shaped like a pepperbox rifle.

Edgar finally stopped, placing his hand on the shoulder of his guard captain and placing his forehead against his, "Finish getting citizens to quarters, then get to your families. I'll face Kefka and his strike-force alone. Go! NOW!"

Edgar felt exhilarated as he quickly climbed the ramparts of the walls and made his way to the front walls, to await Kefka and his strike force. That crazy bastard would never know what hit him.

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Edgar hailed Kefka and one of his hulk riders about an hour later. The king knew that this was only perfunctory. Kefka was intent on destroying his beloved city, simply because he would get great pleasure in doing so. He knew it all very well. Figaro was the scapegoat for whatever failed mission had taken place in Narshe, and Kefka was given the go-ahead to destroy its ally, and greatest threat in the North.

Kefka responded to the hail directly, mounted atop a black chocobo. The hulks stood at attention, the tops of their cockpits almost as tall as the walls Edgar atop Edgar stood. "You have one last chance, you dandy peacock! Give us the girl!"

Edgar shook his head, his face grim, "I have no clue what you speak of, Kefka!"

Kefka rocked back on his saddle in laughter, "Then welcome to the barbecue!"

With a hand gesture, he signaled the first hulk to let loose an attack.

A ruby beam shot forth from one of the guns mounted upon its side. The steel walls split as easily as the air. The steel whined in protest, but sadly, it was only token. The smell of burning steel and the blackened smoke of his failing walls were what greeted him.

Kefka's voice started low, but raised in a twisted joy as he finished the sentence, "I will destroy all you hold dear, Edgar Figaro! After you've finished watching thousands of your people die, I will, by my own hand, pull your body apart, piece by painful peace! You'll die by choking on your entrails!"

Kefka cackled madly as the other hulk fired his beams, causing the steel to twist and warp beneath its beams.

"Figaro will not fall so long as I live, Kefka," Edgar replied. He stepped back onto the wdge of the wall and sprang from it, landing on the chocobo that Locke had sent his way.

Kefka's face twisted in dark amusement, "You're fleeing while your city burns? This is delightful!"

Just then, a shot echoed from some distance around the wall, connecting solidly with the General's lower back. Kefka rocked forward as the bullet punched through his armor and lodged into the muscle in his back. The sudden motion caused his chocobo to stagger a bit and knock Kefka from his saddle. Two chocobo raced into the space Kefka occupied, nearly crushing him from beneath the weight. The two chocobo bore Locke, who held a pistol in hand, and Terra.

Edgar raised his right hand in a defiant gesture, "Not as you think, you son of a whore!"

As remarkable as the City of Figaro was, what happened would astound even the most cynical of viewers. First, gouts of steam erupted from the fountains in the city, along with every rampart and tower. Then, the buildings began to slide, as though on a track. They compacted together in a smooth motion. The rumble of these movements and the enormous blast of steam echoed in a musical cacophony that caused the earth to shake. The buildings, now gathered into what seemed to be a massive gestalt, then began to sink into the desert sands.

Kefka, who was already perturbed by the cheap shot Locke had taken at him, was now infuriated as his chance at torturing a populace disappeared. His face was horribly twisted into the most savage grin one could comprehend. He stood from the sandy desert floor and pointed at the fleeing trio.

"Kill them! Kill them all!" He shrieked, before grasping his chocobo around the head and savagely snapping its neck.

The trio pushed their chocobo to full speed, looking back occasionally to see if someone was trailing them. Much to their surprise, the hulks that were alongside Kefka had decided to pursue them, and by Edgar's reckoning, they were quickly gaining on them. Edgar pointed behind them, and Locke and Terra both looked back.

"Shit!" Locke spat, reaching for his pistol. He remembered the report he'd received from a few days ago, and decided against pulling it free from its holster.

Edgar raised the hand-held machine gun and took aim. He checked the chamber to see if it was loaded, and quickly wound a crank until there was a definitive click. He then looked through a steel crosshair to take aim. This hand held gun was meant to be given to his soldiers once it had been perfected and properly tested. Here, it would be properly tested.

He squeezed the trigger of the gun, letting loose a cascade of bullets in the direction of one of the hulks. The volley didn't group as tightly as a volley of rifle shots, but many of them found their mark. None of them did any damage.

Edgar grunted his disgust. He'd upgraded infantry weapons, but the Empire had something far stronger than what he'd anticipated.

Locke interrupted his thoughts with one word, "Incoming!"

Edgar looked back, and before he had time to react, rocket powered torpedoes wound through the air and then landed all around him. The ground belched smoke and sand, and one even exploded only a few feet in front of Edgar's chocobo. This immediately killed his bird and threw him free, pieces of shrapnel entering into his belly and leg. The bird tumbled end over end and remained still beneath a wave of sand.

Edgar felt the sting of a thousand bees perforate his body all at once. He then felt the hard, shifting desert floor beneath his back as his body slammed into it. The wind whooshed mightily from his lungs, and the burning sparks of panic suddenly appeared before his eyes. He'd been hit by one of those missiles, and this could very well kill him. Above him, Locke appeared. He crouched low as those wicked beams of ruby and pearl began to blast their furrows into the ground, rapidly approaching the two. Locke pulled him from the ground and rolled away, saving both of their lives. Edgar grunted as pain erupted from his body.

Locke pulled him from the ground, talking to him in a low, calm voice. He felt himself being raised up to Locke's bird, and the familiar shape of his machine rifle in his lap. Locke continued to speak as he mounted the bird.

Edgar reached into Locke's belt, pulling from it the healing pills he had refreshed, and promptly swallowed them dry. He hoped they would act before the wounds would be fatal. After a second, he shook the pain and trauma from his head in time to look around. He realized they were not moving.

"Terra! There's nothing we can do! We have to run!" Locke shouted. Edgar turned about to look at Terra, who was standing in her saddle with her arms raised against the beams of the monstrous hulks that chased them.

Suddenly, a green aura surrounded her, and a rippling, almost invisible pulse traveled from her. The pulse forked like a lightning bolt and slammed into both hulks simultaneously. From these pulses, the heat of what seemed like the heart of a volcano manifested, shattering the cockpits of those hulks,and killing the drivers inside. Both hulks fell inert to the ground. The trio was free to escape.

WMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWMWM

Once Terra had destroyed the pursuers, and the riders slowed down in their flight south, Edgar had many questions that careened off of his conscious mind. What did Terra just do? How did she do it?

Edgar whispered at Locke, "Did you see what she did back there?"

Locke nodded, taking a sideways glance at Terra as he did so. "I'm thinking what she did was magic, mate."

Edgar frowned, also glancing her way. Terra was trying to pretend they weren't talking about her, but he also knew she was afraid of them rejecting her. Was this why Kefka wanted her back so badly?

"Supposing those hulks back there had a magical bent to them, kind of a magical technology, then she would be absolutely vital to our cause. Those things back there are practically invulnerable, and carry devastating weaponry. Maybe magic is the only way to stop them."

Locke nodded, indicating he was thinking the same thing.

"Banon has to see her, and try to talk her into joining us," he finally stated.

Edgar finally looked over at Terra, who was trying not to pay attention to what was being said. He suddenly felt like a petty schoolboy. talking about her like she wasn't there. He lowered his eyes before gathering the words to speak to her.

"Terra?" He finally asked at length.

Terra looked over, a kind of fear in her eyes.

Edgar sighed, "How long have you known how to do that?"

Terra shrugged, her voice flat. "My whole life, I think. I can't really remember."

Edgar paused a moment. He'd heard about experiments in Vector to create super soldiers who used magic. Three of the first became the Emperor's top Generals:

Leo Cristophe- Eastern Imperial Forces, Celes Chere- Southern Occupational Force, and Kefka Palazzo- Northern Imperial Army. According to rumor, all three gained superhuman powers, of a sort, and were known to share the Emperor's megalomania.

Locke chimed in, "There's no known human being in history that could...."

Edgar cuffed Locke in the back of the head as Terra slowed down. Locke's inadvertent insult seemed to have struck a chord with her. she'd been, up to this point, showing nothing but childish curiosity in everything.

Locke sighed, "Look, Terra, I'm sorry. It's just..."

Locke paused, fishing for the words, so Edgar cut in, "This makes you unique, Terra, and absolutely vital."

Terra nodded, "To stop the Emperor's mistake."

Edgar acknowledged her words, but added, "Did you see what Kefka tried to do to the city?"

Terra glanced back over to Edgar, and nodded.

"The Empire has done that to every city they've come in contact with. The world, should the Empire succeed, would turn into a twisted shell of itself. Cruelty would reign over all citizens, man, woman, and child."

Terra glanced ahead to the south. "I'll at least hear what Banon has to say."

Edgar sighed in relief.

=======================================================================

Two days had passed on the road before they entered into South Figaro. It was here they had intended to stop, resupply, and then head north to Mount Koltz to meet Banon and decide the next move.

The City of South Figaro was definitely a city under siege when the group arrived. even at the best of times, South Figaro was a commonplace city in comparison to its neighbor to the north. Nonetheless, it was the foremost trade hub from the North to the South. That was until Nikeah's collapse seven months ago. Despite their northern neighbor's humanitarian aid to its citizens, South Figaro was rapidly running out of supplies. Their army, greatly aided by Returner forces from all over the world, decimated to the point that only a protecting garrison stood between Kefka's NIA and complete surrender. Kefka was not prone to taking prisoners, nor accepting surrenders gracefully, as was demonstrated in Nikeah. People were walking the streets in silence, going to their jobs, or to pick up their food rations in nothing but total silence. to even the untrained eye, South Figaro's downfall was nothing but a matter of time.

Edgar could feel the acute despair in the town as he slipped his way toward a nearby general store. Locke sighed behind him, almost sensing the same thing. Inside the store, he saw several men gathered around a table, all of them with some sort of drink in their hands, and one fellow who sat near the end of the bar, his face hidden from view by the shadows of the bleak lights.

Locke tapped Edgar on the shoulder, "Ed, this town's fortunes have turned for the worse."

Edgar's brow furrowed as he followed Locke's gaze to the man in the corner. He was seated, but wore a loose black pair of pants and a black blouse. At his feet lay an old, gray-muzzled dog. His fur was still a coarse black with some of his old faun colored markings peeking through some of the snowy fur that marked his age.

"That fellow goes by the name Shadow. He's a mercenary, typically an assassin. It's rumored his first kill was that of his mother and father for two-hundred gold. He's probably been sent to this town to take out a key figure to this resistance. Once this happens, South Figaro will definitely fall. Then there'll be nothing standing between Figaro and the Empire, " Locke said.

Edgar sighed, placing his hand on his forehead. He might be able to get chocobos and move quickly. He had, at first, planned to spend the night in South Figaro, but if the city fell while he slept here, all of their hopes would be crushed forever.

Still, he wondered. Who was Shadow's target?

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 16th January 2014 07:29

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #205981
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Posted: 17th January 2014 23:10

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 6 - Shadows and Mount Kolts

Locke put his hand on Edgar's shoulder. It had been nearly a decade since they had first met, when Edgar was still the womanizing prince. Even before he became king, he'd always had a penchant for finding problems and solving them, which fit well with Edgar's true nature- that of a scientist and engineer. Apparently, Edgar was trying to decide what to do about the assassin across the room. That was not the important part right now. The important part was to get Terra to Mount Kolts before the Empire moved on South Figaro. Spring was coming in a very short time, and the NIA's full compliment of forty-thousand men would be sailing up from Nikeah and making short work of the city. If Shadow was here to kill one or all of the Council at this point. As harsh as it sounded, Edgar did not want to be here when the attack happened. As a matter of fact, Locke wouldn't want to be here after the city fell.

Locke momentarily shuddered, but pushed the dark thought aside to focus on Edgar's primary mission, which was bullets, food, and medicine. That was what was needed at the Returner base.

"All of the shops are required to ration things, right?" Locke said suddenly. Something occurred to Locke when he took one more glance at the assassin. This, hopefully, would get Edgar focused on the important part.

Edgar had been trying to deduce who Shadow's target was with Terra, who just listened and glanced back occasionally at the faceless man. Locke's sentence had gotten them to stop their conversation and look his way.

Locke paused, looking from one person to the other, "Look, as harsh as it sounds, we don't have time to worry about who he might kill or not kill. What matters is that we get Terra where she needs to go, and gets some supplies up there. If you, Terra, or me are Shadow's target, then we have to worry about it when he strikes. In the meantime, it's time to take advantage of a little corruption."

Terra, her beautiful, delicate face had her usual curious expression, while Edgar seemed perplexed. He seemed to know what Locke was getting at, he seemed to not know how this was going to be useful.

"Black marketeers tend to profit a great deal from sieges and battles. They often provide the people with things they want, such as food and things because they steal from shippers and the like to sell for a greater profit. We have the money, but the shops don't have the supplies. This is really our only option. Just talk a price out of the black marketeers, and let's be on our way."

Edgar reached back and brushed his pony tail, "That sounds simple enough. How do we start?"

Locke glanced around the store. What he was looking for was the right person. South Figaro had a network of criminal element, given the relative market freedom of the area. The two major cities to the North had import and export laws, taxing and regulating trade. South Figaro, a city much wealthier, had very few regulations before the invasion. This allowed for criminals to dip their fingers into the goods and sell them black market. These people often rented stores as forefronts. given the number of people huddled about here, this, by chance, was the right place.

He approached the keeper and laid down some coin in front of him. The shopkeeper walked over and swept them up quickly. He quickly made eye contact with the shopkeeper and nodded toward the back. The barkeeper nodded and took a glance toward the front door. After checking if the coast was clear, the keeper waved them to the back. Edgar and Terra soon followed as the signal was given.

There in the back, the keeper, a middle-aged man with a slight paunch sat at a desk, carrying nothing but a quill in a pen.

Locke gestured for Edgar to sit in the chair in front of the keeper, and stood back with Terra.

Terra, naturally, just watched the events in front of her with the typical curiosity.

Locke walked over to a chair and sat down. "Come over here, love. Let Ed do his job."

Terra shuffled over, still watching the progression with fascination. Locke decided to explain the proceedings.

"The keep won't have the goods on hand. He's going to feel Edgar out to see if he's going to blow the whole business wide open. Ed has an advantage by being a king, he's also at a disadvantage. Ed, on the other hand, knows how to negotiate."

The subjects of Locke's explanations spoke in low tones, almost in a casual fashion.

"We won't be able to carry much. He needs to negotiate bulk and time, and do so in a short time."

Both men were writing furiously, and discussing things somewhat casually. Locke chuckled as Edgar seemed to catch on to negotiations quickly, by bribing the shopkeeper and expediting the goods. Within a half hour, the two shook hands and the money was exchanged.

Edgar pulled his hair ribbon and re-tied it as they walked from the shop. His face wasn't smug or confident, just focused on the next task.

He's a machine! Locke thought as he saw Edgar's purposeful stride. Edgar, as usual, was looking for his next problem to solve. He'd known the man for years, and the only way he knew Edgar could relax was when he was in his shop, building something.

Or, Locke supposed, when he was making love to a lady.

As they left the shop, Locke only asked, "How did it go?"

Edgar glanced over to a nearby clock in the square, "We have an hour to meet them at a designated location north of here. He more or less identified Terra as someone we want to protect. The price was actually somewhat lower than what we would get legitimately."

Terra then added, "That's good, right? Neither one of you look happy."

Locke shook his head, "That's not good. They intend to rob us."

Edgar chuckled, "You believe that?"

They were speaking to one another as they mounted their birds. Locke glanced over at the king. He saw another plan forming in Edgar's mind immediately. He immediately glanced over at Terra.

"Can you focus that thing you do into something smaller?" He asked Terra at length.

Terra paused for a moment, before nodding, "I think so."

Edgar's face turned from thoughtful to almost sinister, "Then we're going to get them for free. I need some brass and some gunpowder. I believe bullets will do just fine."

---------------------------- Yeah, I know, another page break ----------------------------------------------

Edgar had insisted they show up a tad late for the proceedings. With Locke's sense on how these thieves would operate, he had devised a plan to use the fact that he was seen as a foppish dandy combined with their greed to not only get what they, and the rebels in the mountains needed, but to exact a little justice on the criminals who had been robbing the good people of South Figaro since they split from his kingdom a century ago.

There were ten of them visible when they reached the rendezvous point. If Locke estimated properly, hidden in the brush would be several more. What he needed to do was to get the bushwhackers to reveal themselves before setting off the trap. After that, they needed to rush the bandits in the open to engage in melee. After that, it would turn into a shootout.

Edgar sighed and straightened his outfit. It was showtime.

Raising his voice and octave, he boomed, "Greetings, friends!"

Ten men lounged around a wagon, smoking cigarettes and generally just on stand-to. One of the men, a gentleman slightly taller than Edgar, waved back at Edgar.

"You're late, " he chuffed.

Wow, could this get anymore cliche? Edgar thought to himself as he spoke. "Apologies, sir. it takes time to properly accomodate the necessary people. Is that what I had ordered?"

The big man nodded, gesturing to the wagon.

"Would you care to walk with me while Inspect them?"

The big man nodded again, allowing the three to approach the wagon and inspect it. Edgar opened one of the bags and saw the grain he had ordered. He also found the bullets and guns, which were Imperial models.

He stolidly climbed down from the wagon and handed the front man the money. From around him, he heard the sounds of iron scraping against leather. It was just as Locke had predicted. The men would try to rob them.

"You're the king of Figaro, right?" The bandit leader asked. He was built as a whip, very knotted and wiry, with a well-trimmed goatee and a devilish smile.

Edgar nodded nervously as he glanced around at the guns that had left the holsters. It was happening exactly as Locke had predicted.

"Then there might be a ransom for you," the man said, sneering.

Edgar sighed, "There's no need for this. We've done what you've asked, and paid what you asked. You risk jeopardizing that."

"With what? You and an army?" The man replied.

Locke dutifully reached for his gun, only to be stayed by the king.

"Well, for one, you want a ransom, instead of a reward on your head, it would be very wise then to keep me alive and unharmed, yes?" Edgar said, approaching the leader and placing his hand over the gun.

The leader stepped back, cocking the hammer on his gun.

"I suppose I could surrender and you'd allow the other two to go free? Then again, they might get cut down by the men in the scrubs, then?"

The bandit smirked, "You're clever, Your Majesty. They're just going to have to die."

With that, he raised his hand and gestured all around, allowing for about six or seven men to step from the bushes, all armed with rifles.

"Well, I'm sorry it has to work out this way, " Edgar said politely, nodding at Terra.

The faint green aura surrounded Terra, and the faint ripple cut across the air, igniting the brass shavings at the bottom of the coin purse along with the gunpowder.

This caused a bright green flash that somehow ignited the bandit leader's clothing.

"Now!" Edgar shouted, drawing a smallsword. He plunged the sword into the bandit leader's chest and withdrew, kicking him to his feet and then slashing another stunned bandit across his belly, causing blood to be torn from the man's body.

Locke had produced a small dagger from his sleeve and had launched a back-handed throw that caught another bandit behind the jaw. With his other hand, he drew his pistol and fired point blank at another. That bandit just crumpled to the ground, a hole in his chest. Locke stepped forward and scooped the bandit's pistol from his hand to turn it on the remaining nearby bandits.

What seemed more fascinating, and by default, more terrifying, was Terra's initial actions. Terra's demeanor had been child-like, and her look was that of a fragile woman, but the skills she showed with the sabre she carried were that of a hardened warrior. The one nearest to her immediately had his gun hand lopped from his wrist, then his head divorced from his shoulders. She wasted no time in going after the next nearest man, who attempted to spin on her and fire. He was met with a vertical slash that caught him inside the collarbone.

By the time the rest of the bandits had realized that their trap had failed, it was too late. Edgar and Terra easily dispatched those, while Locke had already killed one of the snipers with one shot each from the pistols he was holding.

The remaining snipers scattered, dropping their rifles.

Edgar daintily wiped his sword on the cloth of a slain bandit. Locke holstered one pistol and retrieved his thrown knife from another.

Terra, meanwhile, seemed to pause and ponder what just happened. She was no more covered in gore than either Locke or Edgar, the look in her aqualine eyes seemed to reveal something to her. During the battle, she showed exceptional speed and skill with the sabre she carried. Her right hand gripped the saber tightly, but the rest of her body seemed relaxed. Her face, other than the conflicted look in her eyes, seemed very blank.

"I've seen that before, Ed, " Locke said. "That's the thousand yard stare."

Edgar pondered Locke's observation then replied, "That makes sense, Locke. I've seen quite a few Imperial soldiers with that look. Something tells me she was, like Kefka, raised as some super soldier. With her magical talent, it makes perfect sense."

Locke carefully put a hand on her shoulder, causing her to jump slightly, but otherwise, no serious reaction. He leaned over and whispered into her ear. Whatever Locke said, it caused Terra to suddenly begin to cry.

Locke gently took the sword away and embraced the young lady in a hug. Terra quickly reached out and hugged him, her shoulders shuddering from wracking sobs. in a slight motion, Locke handed the sword to Edgar.

Edgar was perplexed, "What did you say, Locke?"

"I just told her it was over," Locke replied sternly.

Terra gasped, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, "It's nothing Locke said, Edgar. I..."

Terra put her hands over her mouth, suppressing another sob, "I just saw what I did. I killed those men."

Edgar quickly reached over to guide her to the edge of the wagon, where he lifted her onto the lip and sat her down. "We all killed them, Terra. It was something we needed to do."

Terra shook her head, "It's not just that. What upsets me is the fact that I liked it. It felt good to kill those men."

Edgar was taken aback by what she said.

"It wasn't the thrill of battle, Edgar. I actually enjoyed feeling those men die. I'm also scared about that, Edgar. Whatever the Empire did to me, it could very well have made me a monster," Terra finished.

Edgar shook his head, "You're no monster, Terra. The pain you're feeling right now proves it."

Locke walked over in front of Terra, laying his hands gently on her feet. "I don't think you're a monster, either. Give this time, little lady. You'll see for yourself."

There was an awkward silence between the three, Edgar glancing between Terra and Locke. He had made friends with Locke many, many years ago, and he was fully aware of Locke's history. If anyone could understand guilt, it would be him.

He sighed and shouldered his pack, "Locke, you take point. Terra, guide the birds as best you can, and I'll take the rear. We have a long climb up this mountain trail ahead of us."

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The trail was indeed not ideal for a cart to travel upon. It was barely wide enough to fit the wagon, and there was little margin for error. The trail took many sharp bends, and even managed to dart in and out of smaller caves. The latter was exceptionally difficult to skittish birds, who've always been claustrophobic by nature. Only chocobos especially trained are easily willing to go into enclosed spaces such as buildings or caves. Locke often would bribe them with fruit or greens, walking backwards and feeding them little by little as they made their way through the caves. Terra, who possessed more strength and fortitude than what was initially shown, began to get exhausted, just simply keeping the wagon from turning over and careening down the side of the mountain. Edgar , at times, was forced to stop and push the wagon over some annoying bump, or to kick a rock out of the way. He would often glance at the sky, and hope that rain wouldn't fall, or this journey would be even worse.

After several hours of painstaking, meandering labor, Locke came upon a large grotto. This cave stood out from the others in the sense that it looked almost completely man made. Instead of burrowing itself into the bulk of the mountain, it actually leaped from its bulk. The roof of the cave was a domed roof, with what looked like a skylight carved in its direct center.

At this point, the sun was setting in the western sky, and the three travelers wearily collapsed in their respective positions, much to the relief of their sore, aching bodies. Locke reached into his pack, which was loaded onto the wagon, and pulled out two or three cans of food and a stew-pot and handed them to Edgar. He then returned to tending to the birds' food and water. Terra unloaded the rest of their packs and began to set up the sleeping arrangements, along with setting the brake on the wagon, and placing rocks under the wheels to prevent it from rolling away suddenly. Edgar built the fire by striking a match into a fire pit made with rocks surrounding leaves, pieces of brush, and vines from the clinging plants.

Within an hour, supper was ready and all three sat down to eat and drink. Edgar found a decent stone and sat down on it, while Locke and Terra sat leaned against the wagon. Locke would repeatedly glance at the rising moon through the skylight, a far away look in his eyes. This behavior caused Edgar to look at the skylight to see exactly what Locke was looking at. There's he saw something that didn't seem right. A small little mar on the skylight. An imperfection that didn't seem to fit with the stonework.

He glanced quickly at the other two, then looked back up. The imperfection was gone. Edgar brushed the stray hair from his face. While he tried to dismiss the tiny imperfection, he couldn't. Now his eyes never left the skylight.

Locke whispered, almost to himself, "It's impressive, isn't it?"

Edgar took his eyes away from the skylight and glanced at his roguish friend, nonplussed. "What?"

"This cavern was found. No one this day and age made it. I'm thinking this cavern is generations old," Locke said. "It's a safe bet this was part of a group of people that fled from the War of the Magi. They probably hid away in the mountains and waited for the carnage to stop. The cataclysm that reshaped the world seemed not to touch this place."

Edgar chuckled, "Sounds like you wanted to live around that time."

Locke shrugged, "Not really, more like a generation or two after. Places would be very peaceful, like this one. Where the birds are sitting right now, I could just imagine a stone chair, where the chieftan of some small clan or tribe would sit and talk to the rest of them."

Edgar shook his head, glancing back to the skylight. He was beginning to feel like he was being watched, and this made him more uncomfortable.

"How much farther do we have to go?" Edgar asked.

"If we leave early, we should make it to base by about noontime. We just have to cross the Old Bridge and then it's fairly safe when we reach the Spiral."

Edgar sighed, neither of those two obstacles sound like fun at all. He pulled his backpack away from the wagon and leaned against it so he could sit up and watch the skylight, in the event his instincts were correct. This was not to be, however. The fight at the beginning, combined with the long, backbreaking trip up the mountain fatigued him far too much to fend off sleep. Slowly, the pain and fatigue disappeared as he nodded off.

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The next day, each body awoke stiffened by fatigue, but ready to finish the journey. The late winter morning, as it had been for most of the season, was sunny and fairly warm. This, for Locke and Terra, quite a change from Narshe's harsh winter. For Edgar, the bite of the relative cold added to the misery of this trip.

The trail, while still very rugged, widened and straightened out at this point. After about an hour, the trail completely straightened out and turned into a stone bridge. Edgar shuddered as Locke took a hold of the front bird's bridle and guided it onto the bridge. While slightly wider than the trail behind them, the long and uninterrupted drop beneath them more than made up for the relative security of a wider trail.

As they reached the halfway point of the bridge, Terra suddenly spoke up, "Locke! There's someone at the other end!"

Locke didn't respond, just looked straight ahead, focusing on the figure dead ahead. The man had no interest and ambushing them while on the bridge. He would wait for them to finish crossing before he, and whomever would be with him, to attack. The man then turned around and ran through the pass that would open up to the basin that lead to the final leg of the journey. A series of lazy curves called the Spiral.

After what seemed a terse eternity, the wagon crossed into the far ledge, and near the relative safety of the basin that led to the Spiral. This was an uncreative, but apt nickname. The road was wide and the curves were gentle, and the angle of the road was fairly forgiving. This was supposed to be the easiest part of the journey. This, was not to be, however. There was someone waiting to ambush them as soon as they entered the basin. Locke drew his pistol and cocked the hammer back as the wagon, with Terra on board, and Edgar in tow, entered fully into the basin.

After that, he barely saw what hit them. From the corner of his eye, he saw gleaming metal streak across the lower sky and land with a thump on a surprised Terra. Locke whirled to face her and watched her slump forward in the seat.

"Terra!" He shouted, circling around the chocobo to climb into the wagon and pull her from harm's way. As he reached the point where he could round the corner, he saw a man.

The man wore long, loose pants, like that of a male dancer, and an opened silk shirt. He was wearing a pair of soft-skinned shoes that look more like slippers than actual shoes. He had no time to react before one of those shoes connected solidly with his solar plexus. Locke grunted, feeling the dull pain in his chest, and the despairing feeling of the air being forcefully pushed out of his lungs as though he were a blacksmith's bellow. He saw the man perform a spinning stutter-step then bring his foot down like a guillotine,landing solidly at the base of his neck. Locke felt as though a giant boulder had fallen on him, and was driven to the ground. He lay there prone, bracing himself for a blow that would finish him off. That blow didn't come immediately, and he knew why.

Edgar had joined the fray, lunging in with his smallsword. The assailant easily slapped it aside with his punching dagger and spun in another 360 pattern, kicking Edgar's legs from under him. Locke pushed himself to his knees and picked up his revolver from the ground next to him. He cocked the trigger back, which seemed to catch the attacker's attention. With rattlesnake reflexes, he had disarmed the king and had sent it in a vertical spin, somehow causing it to bury its tip into Locke's shoulder socket in his gun arm.

Locke whimpered, the pain now becoming more of a burn than the dull ache the first kick had caused him. The attacker wasn't finished with Edgar, either. He grabbed a hold of his hair and pulled his head downward, simultaneously lifting his knee so the two collided at the maximum force point. He heard Edgar's nose break and Edgar fall unconscious.

He turned around toward Locke, his surprisingly young face twisted in a sinister sneer. His voice was deep, and had a growl in it, "You took out my ten guys pretty handily. I thought I was actually going to have a real fight on my hands. I guess I overestimated you. Oh, well, looks like I'll just have to kill you, take the cart, and my money back."

Locke pulled the sword from his shoulder and tossed it aside, and started to struggle to his feet. Terra was somehow unconscious, and Edgar had been beaten senseless- it was up to him to try and stop this man now, before they were all killed.

The man seemed impressed by Locke's defiant attitude. He shook his head and connected with a roundhouse kick that would have broken Locke's jaw had Locke not partially blocked it with his left hand. Instead, it caused his body to twist in the direction he kicked and fall back to the mountain ground.

"You're a pretty tough guy. Have you taken a beating like this before? Did I waste the poison dart on the witch?"

Locke rolled to his back just in time for Vargas to put the heel of his shoe to Locke's throat. Locke gagged and lifted his working hand to try and fend it off, "See, I know who she is. Kefka has a huge reward for her, and the other guy- well, he's the King of Figaro. Him I'll savor killing. I'll make him suffer. You, well- you're just some guy. You've probably had a good run anyway..."

"Let him go!, Vargas!" A voice thundered from the opposite side of the cart.

A large man entered into view. He was around six feet tall, and built very much like an ox. He had short, blond hair and Edgar's dark brown eyes.The man's identity finally clicked in his mind as he saw the man briefly kneel down to check on the fallen king. It was Edgar's twin brother, Sabin.

Vargas snarled, his attention to Locke diverted. He stepped away from the wounded rogue and took two steps toward the big, burly prince. "You stay out of this, rich boy!"

"I can't anymore, Vargas. I've seen this world go to hell all around me, and now that Master Duncan is dead, I think it's time I righted a few wrongs. The first one is to take care of his killer," Sabin replied, his voice sober.

"You think you can, you overgrown slab of meat? You're welcome to try!" Vargas shot back.

"He was your father, Vargas. Why did you do it?" Sabin asked.

"Because he was weak!"

Sabin shook his head, "He wasn't weak- he just trusted you, his only son. He made a fatal mistake. Shame on him for doing that."

Vargas launched a kick at him, which Sabin easily ducked, then followed with a pinwheel kick that caught nothing but air, and a series of punches that were easily turned aside.

"Duncan always talked about you, even though he knew you were running that stupid little gang of yours.He always hoped that you'd come around and see the light."

Vargas responded with another series of punches and kicks, each one easily warded by the larger man. The final blow was an attempt with the punching dagger. Sabin caught the wrist with the dagger and turned it. This threw Vargas off balance and made him vulnerable to Sabin's counter attack.

Sabin struck fiercely. He lifted Vargas's arm straight upward and drove the palm of the other hand into the pit of Vargas's arm. This caused a loud pop, and Vargas to scream. He then took the limp and useless arm and twisted on it, simultaneously throwing his shoulder into the small of Vargas's back. He now had Vargas's arm twisted behind his back and his free hand wrapped around Vargas's waist. Like a powerful spring, Sabin bent his body backwards, lifting Vargas with him. This ended with Vargas reaching an apex, then suddenly getting his head and neck driven to the ground with the whole of his weight pressing down. At impact, Sabin let go, causing Vargas to roll to his belly and slide.

Sabin knelt down over Vargas, who lay stunned on the ground.

Vargas let loose a pained chuckle, "You're much better than I remember."

"I've been practicing hard."

"Father always did care more about you than he ever did me."

Sabin shook his head, "That's far from true, Vargas. You just misused your talents. Instead of perfecting yourself, you used them to hurt and rob others. it pained both your mother and your father to know all of this. He did nothing to stop you, and hoped you would come around on your own. Instead, you killed him."

Vargas clutched his shoulder, which had been ripped in two when he landed from the suplex. "I've been beaten and shamed, Sabin. Have mercy on me and kill me."

Sabin shook his head, "No."

Sabin spun on his heel, turning his back to the defeated foe and started to walk back to his fallen brother. Locke saw Vargas climb to his feet, like he was going to ambush Sabin. So, he raised his pistol and fired. The shot was straight and true, landing square into Vargas's chest. Vargas collapsed to the ground, never to get back up. Sabin heard the gunshot and had spun to meet the shooter, his body tensed. Once he realized who the shooter was, his body relaxed.

"Locke Cole?" Sabin asked.

"Hello, shorty. I think I could use your help right now, " Locke replied.

Sabin rushed over to help the rogue to his feet.

"I know you let him live, mate. The "shame him with honor" and all, but he put a number on me, and he looked like he was about to kill you. Just thought I was doing the right thing," Locke stated, his voice shaky with pain.

Locke felt the mass of Sabin's shoulder beneath the shirt he was wearing. The sapling he knew as a boy had suddenly taken root and grew up to be a giant redwood tree.

Sabin pulled the gate of the cart down and sat Locke upright on it. He then quickly rushed over to his brother to do the same. Locke quickly gulped down some of the pills he had, then pulled Edgar's backpack from the pile to retrieve some of the medicines he kept. He needed a couple of Phoenix Downs to revive the other two. Easily, he found five of them. He whistled to get Sabin's attention and tossed him one, while climbing over the cart to get at Terra.

"So, shorty, what brings you to the side of a mountain no one is supposed to know about, " Locke asked as he pulled the poisoned dart from Terra's ribs. He uncorked the stopper and waved it under Terra's nose. This caused the obligatory gasp and Terra's eyes flew wide open.

"I was actually following Vargas and his gang. Vargas killed his father, who also happened to be my teacher. I wanted to put an end to his stupidity, one way or another. You guys just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Edgar was groaning, no doubt from the pain of his broken nose. Locke looked away as Sabin rubbed his hands together, ready to reset the bone. "Don't worry, Ed, I've done this a thousand times."

There was a quick snap and Edgar gasped, the wind sucked out of him from the sudden shock of his nose being reset. Locke heard the king gag afterword.

Sabin laughed, "You big wimp. All of that fine food and throne sitting softened you, didn't it?"

Edgar glared at his younger brother, downing the pills he was given with water.

Locke sat Terra back on the driving bench of the wagon and held on to her as she opened her eyes. She clutched her head.

"Are you okay, love?" Locke asked.

Terra nodded, her face still pale from the poison, "Head hurts a little."

"Probably a side effect from the poison."

Terra blinked, "What happened?"

"The wagon was attacked by one man. He seemed to know everything about us, because he used poison on you. He put a beating on Edgar and me with nothing but a punching knife."

Terra sat up and looked around, taking in the sight of the still loaded wagon, Vargas's dead body, and the brothers talking beside the wagon.

"The man talking to Edgar helped us?" Terra asked.

Locke nodded, smiling.

"Who is he?" She asked, appraising him.

"Hey, Shorty! The lady would like to meet you!" Locke shouted.

Sabin stood up and walked over to the wagon, his face spread in a broad grin,"I see the girl's awake." He held out his hand for Terra to shake it, and continued to smile when she did so. "Name's Sabin, Edgar's little brother."

Terra again looked perplexed. Locke had gotten used to that look by now, "Shorty? 'little' brother? You look too much like a dockworker who took a wrong turn."

Sabin paused a moment to ponder her sentence, then suddenly broke into a booming laughter that only big men could laugh,"I'll take that as a compliment, missy."

Edgar stood up and approached his younger brother before clasping him in a fraternal hug, "It's good to see you again, Sabs. I'm sorry I couldn't throw you a homecoming party."

Sabin returned the hug, and replied, "Save that for later. I've decided to help you."

Edgar let him go and stepped back, "You're not kidding?"

Sabin shook his head,"No, Ed. I've seen enough of the world to know it's going to hell. I now have the means to help you stop the Empire, and by some token, avenge our father. "

Edgar seemed please by the news, "Welcome aboard, little brother."

Locke smiled. This was very welcome news indeed. Sabin seemed more than able to handle his own on the battle aspect of things.

"You can start right away, Sabs. By helping us get this cart up that spiral," Edgar finished.



This post has been edited by chevleclair on 21st January 2014 17:26

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206001
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Posted: 24th January 2014 01:05

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 7- The Fateful Meeting

Terra, Locke, Edgar, and Sabin were welcomed with cheers and general good feelings within the Returner base. This base was more akin to a town. Thousands of men, women and children lived, worked, and played inside the summit of Mount Kolts. All four of them, cart in tow, were met with embraces from people of all genders and ages. This caused a few embarrassed reactions from Sabin and Locke, the usual confusion from Terra, and Edgar welcomed the attention. It was only natural that the heroic group get the proper attention, after all.

A group of men and women burst forth from what seemed like nowhere and immediately set upon the cart. One lady, in her late thirties, was directing traffic. She wasn't very imposing in stature or build, with mousey colored hair and light brown eyes. She carried the excess weight of a mother who had given birth multiple times, but her vocal tone and curt demeanor seemed to demand respect. It was plain to see she was one of the people close to Banon.

Locke immediately approached her, clapping her on the back as she looked over the barrels and boxes, "Captain Wiley, we come bearing gifts. We have this cart from South Figaro, skillfully negotiated for by King Edgar and we also brought the witch from Narshe.

Captain Abigail Wiley glanced over at the rogue and at the other three,her eyes lingering on Edgar for a few extra seconds. She nodded her greeting to Edgar, who had apparently met her previously, and then fixed her eyes on Sabin.

"The new guy?" She asked.

Sabin quickly and clumsily stammered, "Sabin Figaro, madame, brother to King Edgar."

Edgar signaled confirmation of Sabin's identity. She then focused her eyes on the tall, attractive woman with the pale skin and the hair the color of sea foam, "Is she the one that Narshe captured?"

Terra finally spoke up, "Yes, madam."

Captain Wiley approached her with a cool regard. While shorter and less impressive than the younger woman, her mien came across as no nonsense and somewhat intimidating. While she had to peer upward to look directly into Terra's eyes, she seemed to make the younger girl flinch by drawing near.

"She doesn't look like much, does she?" Wiley finally asked.

Locke and Edgar both broke into laughter upon her assessment, this confused all other parties involved not named Terra.

"There's more written there than what the cover shows, " Edgar said. "We need to see Banon and decide what to do next."

Wiley nodded, gesturing to one of her underlings to escort them to Banon's palace. For the four arrivals, the air felt pregnant with change. All felt that it was soon going to come to a head, for better, or for worse. Whatever outcome the upcoming war might have heavily depended on them, and whatever was decided here.

The gaslights of this cavern illuminated the smooth stone floors of this cavern, allowing the party to take notice and see all of the houses and people who were either busily working or playing away. To the average onlooker, this seemed as a normal village, just underground. It was as though nothing had changed in most of their respective lives, save that they moved underground.

Locke, who had been a Returner the longest, was the first to speak, "The Albrook, Tzen, and Miranda districts to the South actually welcomed Vector into their cities, begging protection from a rash of nasty monster attacks on their shipments about fifteen years or so back. Then, the Emperor was seen as a hero. A champion of peace if you will.

"Then, soldiers came in to each of the cities to enforce Vectorian laws. This included conscripting young men into the military. There wasn't any formal letter, or a polite recruiting, boys and men from the ages of fifteen to fifty would be dragged from their beds and suited into uniform to begin a campaign that would make their way north. The Returners were founded by Banon, a doctor from Miranda who had been sent to Vector to serve in their military as a medical technician. He'd apparently seen things that weighed heavily upon him, and would have gone to the Emperor himself to protest the unethical experimenting, but then something awful happened.

"A group of protestors from Miranda brought complaints about the conscription and the taxation for this war to the Emperor's youngest General, Celes Chere. This happened about ten years ago, and the general, a prodigy in the arts of war who displayed a mysterious talent, Celes heard their protests, then promptly ordered them all arrested, with their families and friends. This happened about ten years ago, right around the time I met you, Ed. He hired me to free as many of the prisoners as possible, and to engineer an escape to the North. I only managed to free about fifty people, and Banon had arranged a ship. He, along with me and those fifty people sailed away from the Empire, the very same day that Celes ordered the public execution of two-thousand men, women and children in the Miranda public square."

The other three listened to Locke's story about the Returner leader's origins.

"Captain Wiley and her husband were among the fifty with us. She was with me when we found this massive grotto to set up our headquarters. I was about seventeen, then. She and her husband had the honor of birthing the first children as Returners, and have remained very loyal to Banon since.

"The rest would slowly come by, when the Empire would run over the top of their villages, or burn their towns to the ground. General Kefka, in particular, being the cruelest of all. Even Nikeah, who surrendered without a fight, saw their city leaders paraded in front of its people and were executed in front of them."

Their escort nodded his affirmation, "I'm from the Nikeah peninsula. The small town of Laffey's Breeze. We saw what the Empire did first hand, and barely beat Kefka north."

"Our best break came in Edgar's father, King Edward. When Kefka had made first contact with South Figaro, Edward sent word that he would actively oppose any Imperial encroachment on the Figaro continent. That changed, officially, when Edward died six years ago. However, Edgar was more active in aiding us while simultaneously declaring Figaro an ally of Vector. The reason we have lights, clean water, and hot food at our disposal was because of Edgar, "Locke said.

Edgar nodded, giving a small, proud smile to Sabin.

A short stairway greeted them as they worked their way toward Banon. With each step, there was a partially fearful excitement.In the springtime, South Figaro would fall, and with Figaro relocated somewhere else in the world, the Empire would take steps to conquering Narshe. Should Narshe fall, the last great repository of raw materials would belong to the Empire, and no other city to the North would ever be able to oppose Vector, and something far worse would happen to the world than it simply falling under one man's rule. At least that was the belief.

When they arrived, Banon was busy as usual. He was going over various reports, a pair of wire rimmed glasses on the bridge of his nose. While he was a greying man of fifty, plenty of red hair splayed out from atop his head. He was dressed in clean, but battered formal clothing. His eyes were almost silver, and had an intense glare about him. Even though the hair atop his head seemed wild and unkempt, he sported a well-groomed beard on his chin. His hands were steady as he held a pen and paper, and his voice, though raspy with age, was strong when he greeted the four that entered.

"Greetings, Locke and Edgar. I hear you've come bearing gifts, and a couple of new recruits," Banon stated, his voice almost cheerful.

Edgar nodded, "This is my brother, Sabin." He said, stepping forward and indicating the prince. He then put his hand gently on Terra's back and guided her forward.

"This is Terra. She was the one Locke was sent to retrieve in Narshe," Edgar added.

Terra stepped forward, the presence of this man suddenly making her nervous.

"You're the girl who is supposed to be so dangerous?" Banon stated, his voice suddenly serious.

Terra nodded, feeling very small and alone.

"As Returners, we don't take life unnecessarily.For the record, I don't approve of you joining us," Banon said.

Terra blinked, startled by the abruptness of his words. Locke and Edgar stepped forward in an instinctive defensive cover.

Banon squared his shoulders toward Terra, seemingly ignoring the two men who had surrounded her. "You're a biological weapon. Your design was for only one purpose, and that's to kill. Did you not butcher fifty of the Empire's soldiers, plus hundreds of women and children in Vector?"

Edgar snarled, stepping between Banon and Terra, "That's not fair, Banon!"

Banon shoved Edgar out of the way, "Did you not ride a steam-powered hulk into Narshe and kill others there, too?"

Terra lowered her eyes, knowing what he was saying is true.

Edgar reached over and snatched Banon by the front of his shirt, spinning the older man to face him, "Leader or not, you won't treat me like that again!"

Banon slapped Edgar's hands away, causing Sabin to approach around the far side, to close and possibly attack the man who assaulted his brother. This prompted the guards to draw their pistols and level them at the interloper. This caused a halt in the process, leaving both Edgar and Banon standing eye to eye in the center.

"She can't be held accountable for those actions, Banon! The Emperor had her put in a slave crown!" Edgar growled.

"You mean the crown you designed, your majesty?" Banon shot back.

"You know why I..." Edgar started, but was interrupted by Terra.

"Stop!" Terra wailed.

All parties involved paused, and turned their eyes to the young lady.

"Regardless of why those things happened, they were done, and done by me. Mr. Banon, I don't understand how this makes it so important that I join the cause."

After a long pause, in which Banon stepped away from Edgar and motioned for the guards to put away their guns.

"The best way to illustrate the point would be from an old story that was told to me when I was a child," Banon said softly. "There was a time when mankind knew none of the evils of today's world. No theft, no greed, no suffering. This world was given to them as a paradise. The things that caused pain were sealed away inside of a box. One day, a man found this box and opened it, causing all of these things to inflict themselves in the world like a pestilence. The man wept bitterly at the damage he'd done, and would spend the rest of his days grieving but for one more thing that was left. A small sliver of hope. He pulled this from the box and a ray of light pierced the darkness and dulled the pain that was unleashed into the world."

Banon paused again, letting the story sink in.

He then placed his hand on Terra's shoulder, "You, Terra, were unleashed upon this world to bring it into darkness. What wasn't counted on was the fact that you might be that ray of hope. I may not approve of what you've done, but I can see the potential for good within you. You are that ray of hope, if you want to be."

Terra blinked, backpedaling.

Edgar, who still hadn't calmed down after Banon had pushed him out of the way, chimed in angrily, "Couldn't you have gone a little easier than that?"

Banon shook his head, "There's no point in couching things, Edgar! That's the way the world is! I've sugar coated things enough for her, and so have you. I've given her the choice, now it's time to decide!"

Terra once again broke in, "What exactly are we saving the world from?"

Banon once again turned from Edgar to answer the question, "The Emperor is making a huge mistake. In his greed, he has reawakened magic. The very force that started the War of the Magi."

Terra gasped. While she was not too familiar with the War of the Magi, she knew well what the result of it was.

"He intends to enslave us all with that force, and we're trying to stop it."

Locke finally interjected, "Well, it'll be a week or two before Kefka moves on South Figaro. Let's make plans to open talks with Narshe. We need her to talk to that Esper in the mines, right? Well, let's give her some time to decide what she wants to do, and make plans accordingly. This bickering is only wasting time."

Edgar and Banon both looked at one another, and both nodded in unison.

Banon finally added, "Take a look around this place, and come back to me in four days."

Terra nodded, swallowing hard. Change was in the air, and she was the epicenter of it.

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Edgar Figaro was clearly still angry about Banon's disrespectful gesture during the argument. While he understood Banon's method, it had been ages since someone had treated him like that. Through the first day's activities, he mostly aided in repairs to the gaslights and steam functioning equipment in the mountainside. Water purifiers, heaters, and even a communal water heater.

Through each of these functions, the events that ran though his mind were not the ones that led to this point, but the day he'd met Locke Cole, some ten years ago. He was barely sixteen, and had been in the process of giving a servant lady the time of her life. When one was a prince, it was always a ladies' fantasy to be a princess. She would be spoiled and constantly at the center of attention. As a queen, there was a responsibility to it, but a princess was just perfect for most ladies. Most of these woman, just to be a princess, if even for a short while, would be more open to Edgar's advances. Sometimes, those who were open to advances would be married. Married women were generally off limits, even to the prince of Figaro. This was why Edgar often never asked whether a woman was married.

He'd forgotten her name, but this particular woman was married. She was not only married to one of his officers, but she was also a daughter in law of his father's guard captain, Louis. The officer in question had been notified of their little dalliance, and had crashed the party within the castle, but Edgar managed to avoid any serious trouble because a young man about his age had warned him of her husband's coming.

"Oi, mate, " the young man said, his voice thick with the Kohlingen accent. It was very thick, meaning he had been from the capital of Kohlingen, it's eponymous city. "That bird there's sporting some fine feathers, isn't she?"

Edgar had stopped mid stride, spinning on his heel to face the impetuous country boy.

"Got a fine pair of wings, too ,no doubt," the man added.

Locke seemed to look the same then as he does now, with the exception being that his hair was shorter, and he was a bit more swarthy looking. He carried what looked like a short, triangular beard on his chin. He was holding what looked to be a crystal ball in his hand and was tossing it absently.

"Even if she did, sir!" Edgar snapped, "I don't see where it would be your place to say such things!"

Locke had smiled a crooked, sly smile, "You're probably right. Then again, her honor isn't yours to defend, is it?

Edgar's face had turned red, "I've no idea what you mean!"

The man reached into his pocket and flipped him a plain gold band, which Edgar had promptly caught. "Her old pot and pan's one of your guardsman. He knows you're with her, and he's likely to put a slug in you if he catches you doing what you're actually doing. Try being a gallant prince, mate. He'll see you handing back her ring and thank you for carousing with her. Meantime, here he comes. Hope all that fast talking works."

He had given Edgar a two-fingered eyebrow salute and wandered off.


Locke had been right that day, not only did he manage to avoid getting shot, the officer actually thanked him profusely for finding her lost wedding band. From then on, they were fast friends. Locke had taught him street smarts, and how to read a situation and think clearly. With his forays into the kingdom, he'd also learned where Figaro's money came from.

Still, the thought of that day erased all of the anger and indignity of Banon's rude gesture and put him in a good mood. Though, at one point in the day, he paused in the middle of his work to ponder a question that never occurred to him until now. Was was that thing he was half-juggling when they first met?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sabin Figaro did his share of labor, mostly menial tasks, for a good portion of the day. He remembered his now-deceased teacher, Duncan had always told him that the best kind of exercise for both the body and the soul was always menial labor. He found this to be very true. Besides, he had the strength of two or three of the average man, and there would be no better use for that strength.

The day started out pretty menial when Sabin approached the wagon to unload things, but rapidly turned into a good time for all who were involved. In the midst of unloading the cart, a ball rolled up to Sabin's feet and bounced off of his leg while he was carrying two massive sacks into the refrigeration room. The children who had kicked the ball his direction froze when Sabin, with a very stern look on his face, stopped the ball under his foot. This was not an easy thing to do when carrying something heavy. The children backpedaled, and were about to ask for the ball back, when Sabin swept the ball from the ground with his feet and proceeded to juggle the ball with his calves, knees, and head. All while carrying the heavy load.

The children giggled as they witnessed this, both in wonder and amusement. This lightened Sabin's mood, after that silly argument in Banon's house, and his brother getting all angry. Edgar butted in when he shouldn't have. Now, it was time to have some fun while he was working.

Sabin let the ball pause on his foot and grinned at the children, "I bet you I can juggle this ball with my feet and carry these sacks in without dropping the sacks or the ball, and without falling down."

One of the older children, a boy of thirteen, pulled a piece of peppermint from his pocket, "Yeah? I bet you this peppermint you can't!"

Sabin swayed back with laughter, almost losing his balance, "You're on!"

As strong as he was, balance and coordination were more important to Duncan's martial art. He simply called it life, because it pervaded everything he did. His code of conduct that always set a challenge,then overcome it. No challenge, once set, should be pointless, and overcoming it would always make one stronger.

Taking slow, staggered steps, he began to juggle the ball with his feet and knees, taking slow, plodding steps. He moved with purpose over the uneven ground, feeling with his feet and letting his senses take over so he could react, rather than anticipate. Around him the children were giggling and cheering, which drew a small crowd of adults. The adults began to call other adults, and then the crowd grew to a swell of cheering people. This, of course, only spurred Sabin to continue this little charade and add a few more things to show off just a bit more. He began to juggle the ball off of one foot, hopping forward, while still carrying the bag. After that garnered oohs and aah, he promptly spun to walk backwards. This garnered a few groans underneath all of the cheers. There was even a group of hecklers involved in this, chanting, "Miss! Don't miss, muscle man!"

Sabin only laughed and flashed a wink in their direction, turning to face forward long enough to barely edge his way into the door. There, the floor changed to wood, and a much smoother surface. This caused Sabin to quicken his pace. Time passed, due to the slow, staggering steps that he was forced to take due to the nature. When he approached the pallet that the sacks would be placed on, Sabin stalled the ball on his foot and crouched to unload the bag. With some effort, and effectively standing on one leg, he slid the bags onto the pallet. While it wasn't prettily done, he had done so nonetheless.

With that, Sabin flipped the ball from his foot to his hands and smartly handed the ball back to the kid who made the bet. "Thanks, kid, " was all he said.

With one more flourish, Sabin walked away from the crowd to wild applause. Flushed with the exhilaration, Sabin leaped to the top of the wagon and took a bow.

------ Yes, there is time passing between events in this chapter ----------------------------------

While Locke was more than well known for his acts of larceny in his time, his first and greatest love had always been that of history. The North was peppered with numerous mountain ranges, and all of these mountain ranges had extensive cave networks all through them.

He remembered fondly the first cave he had ever explored. He was eleven years old, and had been assisting the rest of the Kohlingen town farmers in digging new irrigation ditches so the farm networks could expand. He remembered the talk about how some of the farmers were having some serious difficulty with keeping their farms afloat. Insects, monsters such as leafer rabbits, and weather problems had caused many of the farmers to sell their farms to wealthy land owners from Jidoor, down south. As he was digging one of the irrigation ditches, the earth beneath him seemed to open beneath him and swallow him, faster than anything he'd ever imagined. He remembered a long fall, followed by splashing into the underground lake that had formed near the mountains to the west of the town. When he regained his bearings, he'd found the lake current had carried him near an underground beach.

After finding that he'd not been serious he'd somehow managed to fashion torch from a large animal bone he'd found and a pieces of his clothing. He managed to find a strange sconce on the far cave wall across a mighty cave floor. He placed the torch in the sconce at one point to rest, which had triggered a mechanism of sorts. What he found beyond that wall would change not only his life, but the life of his town and his family as well.

Among the dead and buried, there were gems. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Agates, spinels, rubies, lapis lazuli, rubies, garnets, and diamonds. All of these things were precisely cut, and over what seemed like ages, perfected. When he was found four days later, sitting in the mountains and living off of berries and wild onions, he would go on to sell one of those gems to one of the Jidoor landlords and somehow pay his taxes for the rest of the year. While others had explored the cave, Locke had removed the sconce and would visit there as often as he could.

Especially with Rachel...

Locke sighed and was forced to pause in the middle of what he was doing. The paperwork could wait these few minutes while he contemplated his teenage love. She had always been the girl next door, and had done everything with him. Hunting, fishing, and even digging grubs. As they grew up, they even pretended to marry at the age of nine. She was first to know about the secret of the sconce, and the first to see the gems. The look in her eyes when the wall slid open reflected the glow of the torchlight, and seemed only to intensify on the sight of the gems.

For the next five years, they would come to this cave as often as possible. That grew when the Empire had begun its push north into the Central continents, running roughshod over the cities down there. The farms in the North were now shipping their crop immediately to Jidoor and Nikeah to feed these troops. There was little to store, and with the money, not only did the farmers of Kohlingen buy their farms back from the landowners, but could afford new equipment with which to farm. It was there that Locke had known a woman intimately for the first time.

Locke immediately shook those memories from his mind and continued to work.

***************************************************************************

Terra spent most of her time talking to as many people as she could. When she wasn't talking, she was listening to the people as they spoke of their families, their hometowns, and the atrocities that the Empire had performed. What was strange about some of the later rebels, there was always a economic spike in a non-conquered city or country. Then, when the Empire would approach, often the leaders of the city would put up token resistance. When the Empire would move in to occupy, there would be some sort of upheaval in the leadership. In Nikeah, the entirety of the city council was executed despite putting up no resistance, and in one city further to the south, the resistance was stiff, and the Empire would execute random citizens for it. One village refused tribute to send their young men to the Empire for military service, and was promptly burnt down for its trouble.

Captain Wiley came from that particular village, from what Terra could gather, "We creeped from that village sometime in the middle of the night, my sons and I. My husband and father offered to stay behind to distract the soldiery so we could run across the plains on foot to Nikeah. It was what a lot of people had done, and if the authorities in that town were to catch wind that you were Imperial refugees, they would arrest you on the spot. Turns out they were petrified of General Kefka encroaching on them and interrupting their lifestyle. We had barely enough money to travel to South Figaro and then to here, where we could live in peace."

When she talked to Sabin, the big man only shook his head, "The Empire took my father's life. He'd refused to cooperate with the Imperial war effort. Figaro has been well known to create gadgets that would improve everyone's daily life, and the Empire wanted to turn these things into weapons. When my brother took over, he proclaimed that he would cooperate with the Empire, and I would catch rumor of some of the very devices Ed created would be turned and used in their war effort.

"My teacher, Duncan, would send us in to South Figaro and tell us to do what we could to help refugees find a place to live and work. When I'd heard about this camp, Vargas and I hired some of the criminal element of South Figaro to lead them up this mountain to this base. It turns out that Vargas was also terrorizing people and taking their money."

Sabin, who was sitting down, had a mug in hand and was drinking, "I found also that some of Figaro's tax money had been spent to shuttle supplies up here. Despite the money he paid to the Empire, he'd managed to keep the Returners afloat with newly acquired wealth.

"My brother is a fop and a dandy. He was always fussing over his hair, nails, and clothes, but when it comes down to it, he's as tough as I am. Though, it's probably not good for that inflated ego if he finds that out, huh?"

With a belly laugh, he slapped Terra in the back and nearly caused her to topple over.Terra didn't laugh, just marveled at how much the man didn't know his own strength.

The next person he cornered was Edgar, with whom she had many questions. The first one being personal, the deal with the slave crown.

Edgar was fussing over a blueprint he'd made to build lifts so the sick, injured, and pregnant ones could access the upper levels of the cave-city. He was sitting at a desk with a stylus and a slate board with a deep frown upon his face.

"Edgar?" Terra asked, poking her head through the door.

Edgar started slightly, and grumpily spun on his chair to face the one who interrupted him. Upon seeing Terra, the angry scowl left his face and a warm smile replaced it.

"Hello, Terra. Have you decided yet?" He asked, setting the stylus down.

Terra shook her head, taking two steps into the room and standing with her hands behind her back.

Edgar sipped from his cup with one hand and kicked a chair from beneath the table to provide a seat for the young lady, "Come in, madame. I'm just in the process of working."

Terra shyly slunk across the room and sat in the chair in front of the king. Since their first encounter, the thought of being alone with Edgar in any room always made her feel very warm. This caused her to have some difficulty in speaking.

"What are you doing, Edgar?"

Edgar took a small bite of the stew he was given, "I'm trying to finish designs of this elevator."

"I was curious about something."

"What's that?"

Terra fidgeted a little, but managed to blurt out, "How many things did you design that the Empire has used to hurt people?"

Edgar paused in mid drawing before setting down the stylus and board. The look on his face showed that he was aware the question may be coming, but hoped it wouldn't be asked.

"Technically, none." He answered at length.

"Technically?"

Edgar nodded slowly, his eyes casting down to the table in front of him.

"The engine that runs those walking hulks was one of them, and so was your slave crown. The cannons those hulks used were also based on designs I'd sold them," he continued.

Terra sighed, Edgar was being honest with her, for the most part. It was hard for her to be too angry. However, the words "based on" seeped through his condemning words. She just simply glared at him and waited for him to explain himself.

"None of those designs were intended for war. They were intended to make human life easier. The engine was for streetcars, it keeps the streets from overcrowding. The slave crown was intended to stabilize people with back injuries. The cannons were designed to be used as machine guns."

Terra frowned at that last sentence, that last sentence didn't make any sense. I thought he'd just said none of those designs were made for war.

Edgar sighed and nervously swayed in his chair, "Okay, that last one HAD war applications. It just wasn't designed to shoot beams that could melt through steel and rocket bombs."

Terra nodded slowly at Edgar's clarifications.

Edgar then paused and looked squarely into Terra's eyes. He seemed perplexed by something, "What were those things? Can you remember now?"

Terra bit her lip and nodded slowly, "Yes, a little."

Edgar didn't relax, he simply put his hands on the table, flat with his fingers grouped together and pointed squarely at her. "Can you give me any information on those hulks?"

Terra nodded slowly, she now realized that she went from being the questioner to the one being questioned."the soldiers called them Walkers. There are old models and there are new. The old ones have beams that shoot elemental magic- the red beams are fire, the pale beams are ice, and the dark blue ones are lightning. The armor is made from mythril, and can repel almost all physical attack. The heat of the engine can be transferred through exhaust ports in the feet to melt snow and ice."

"Mythril?"

Terra nodded.

Edgar put the back of his right hand up to his lip in deep thought. Edgar was a gifted engineer, and was probably going over this new knowledge and trying to apply it to what he already knew.

"Do you know how how they incorporate magic into those guns?"

Terra shook her head.

Edgar suddenly erased everything on his board and was furiously drawing again.

"Edgar?"

Edgar growled and furiously waved her away.

That gesture was signal enough for Terra. She had a few more questions to ask the king, but this wouldn't be a day to answer them.

Quietly and quickly, she got up from her chair and stole out of the room to leave Edgar to whatever he was planning.

The last person she wanted to talk to was also the hardest to find. The man who had rescued her from execution at the hands of Narshe.

###############################################################

All she had to do to find Locke was to follow her ears. She heard the music from a harmonica coming from one of the distant caves within the grotto she had wandered around for the last several days. The music playing would have been haunting were it played by a flute or a true woodwind instrument. The tune consisted of a few high notes and some rapid changes in notes. toward the end of its playing. The song reminded her of the journey she had taken so far, and the events of the last two or three weeks since she had awakened from the coma like state.

She found Locke on a perch, tucked away in a cubbyhole, dreamily staring into space as the notes rose from the tin box. He seemed thoughtful, and yet sad at the same time. The wonder that she once felt during the time those dogs had overwhelmed the adventurer, threatening to tear him apart, all on his account sprang to mind. He had fought to the best of his ability that day, for a woman he had never met, and one he wasn't even sure was worth saving.

That of all things confused her. What did Locke want? Did that even matter to anyone?

That thought opened a gateway to the question she should have asked herself a long time ago.

What did she want? This was a thought that suddenly swallowed all others, and caused a flooded jumble of possible answers and questions to those answers.

"Is there something I can help you with, love?" A voice echoed, cutting through her thoughts.

Terra started. From the years of walking tight ledges and climbing cliffs, Locke had developed extremely light feet. This made him a master of stealth, and this is what made him able to approach Terra without ever being heard.

She decided to voice what was in her heart at that moment, "Locke? What do you want?"

Locke paused for a moment, clearly not expecting the question she'd asked.

"Lots of things, I guess. It doesn't often cross my mind. Right now, I want to stop the Emperor from repeating history, " Locke said.

"What history would that be?" Terra asked.

"The Great Mistake," Locke said.

Terra knew he had spent time as a child hunting for ancient baubles in caves, and this meant that Locke had an interest in history. He knew so much about it, and sometimes talked about things that Terra didn't understand.

"The Great Mistake is what started the War of the Magi," Locke said. "There was a powerful chieftan back in the day, who wanted nothing but power. He began by exploiting like minded people into following his dream. He then began to hunt down magical creatures called Espers..."

Esper.

Why did that word sound so familiar?

"...and, by some source completely unknown, had destroyed the world instead of ruling it."

Terra blinked, realizing she'd missed everything Locke had said. She'd heard an important part, though. The word was Esper.

"Terra?" Locke queried, realizing she hadn't been paying attention.

"I realized what I wanted, at least for right now," Terra blurted out.

Locke shook his head and smiled, "I think, after a few days, you've made your decision, haven't you?"

Terra nodded, a groundswell of excitement bursting from her psyche. She knew exactly where she wanted to go.

"I have to go talk to Banon," was all she said.

+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=

Terra burst through the door into Banon's apartment, whooshing passed the guard who had sat idly while she whooshed passed him with almost super human speed. Banon and Captain Wiley had been speaking to one another about some matter or another, and were deeply surprised by the young lady that stood in the doorway, who now seemed determined to speak to them no matter what. The guards had rushed in behind her, still startled by the young lady who was so fleet of foot.

"I know what I'm going to do, Banon," she stated flatly. "There's something you have to do for me, though."

Banon finally stood up, his excitement obvious, "What would that be, Terra?"

"You have to help me find out who I am. That means using your best people to figure it out," she said.

Banon and Wiley looked at each other for a brief second before he answered, "Done."

Terra smiled broadly. For the first time that she could remember, her life was going in the direction she wanted. For the first time, she had hope.

With that ray of hope, she would give others the very same thing.

"Captain, gather everyone. It's time to make our move, " Banon said, and for the first time in many months, he, too seemed to have hope.

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In the very center of the cave, a throng of people gathered around an improvised dais. On the dais sat a table, and at that table sat six people. Banon, Captain Wiley, Edgar, Sabin, Locke, and Terra sat in anticipation of what their leader had to say next.

"My friends, " Banon said. "Fellow prisoners of the world that the Empire has created, I stand before you with an announcement. We finally have a ray of hope. The former Imperial solder known as Terra has finally decided to join our ranks!"

The crowd cheered at that announcement.

"We can now move on to at least stop the advancement of the NIA toward Narshe. After that, we can begin to push the Empire back to where it came from," Banon continued.

The crowd cheered again. Yet, the five who were seated at the table seemed skeptical. All of them had more experience in dealing with Imperial troops than the throng that sat below the dais.

"How do you intend to do that, Banon? Even if you ally with Narshe, combined with Terra's help, we're dealing with fifty thousand Imperial troopers and all of their little toys and things," Wiley said.

Before Banon could answer, Locke interrupted, "The creature in the Narshe mines. That creature could be an Esper."

Banon paused, turning his gaze to the rogue," Yes, Locke, that's exactly what I was thinking."

Edgar added, "You believe that Terra can talk to it?"

Everyone on the dais turned to Terra, who could only shrug, indicating she knew nothing.

"Reports of the Esper reacting to her during the Narshe raid would indicate that she can. If she can, then we could definitely finish this," Banon said.

"That's a lot of ifs, " Edgar said flatly. "If we can persuade Narshe to let us help them, and if we can get Terra to talk to this thing. That doesn't sound like too sound a plan."

Banon sighed, "This is our last and best hope. It's one hell of a gamble, but if it works,and everything works out for the best, the Empire will be defeated within the year."

Locke shook his head, placing his hand over his forehead, "Banon, you're walking on shaky ground. The Emperor might be repeating the Great Mistake, but you're falling right in line with how the War of the Magi started."

This caused a murmur within the crowd.

Banon nodded, "That's very true, Locke. However, there's a huge difference. That difference is Terra. Back in that day, there was no one like her to act as an intermediary between human and Esper. The Esper will be acting on its own free will, and can do what he likes after it's all said and done. There's no imprisoning him or exploiting his powers beyond what it wishes to do."

From behind rose a shout. This caused all of the attention to turn from the dais to the entrance of the cave.

"Captain Wiley! We have a wounded soldier!" The guard shouted.

Banon immediately sprang into action. He walked spryly through the parted crowd, much more quickly than anyone could follow. When he arrived, Banon had knelt over the body of the wounded soldier.

"Relax, my boy, I can help you," he said, as the soldier tried to speak.

The soldier shook his head, his eyes sharply focused despite blood loss,"Bad..."

Banon tore open the ragged tears of the young man's uniform, quickly identifying the bullet mounds in his back or abdomen.

"Damn! He's been blood poisoned by the bullets that are lodged inside of him. I can heal the wounds, but the poison would kill him before too long," Banon said. "There's no time for surgery."

"South...army...destroyed.Empire...in.."

Edgar knelt down on the opposite side of Banon," South Figaro has fallen to the Empire?"

The soldier nodded, his breathing shallow and ragged.

"They moved early, " Locke said, his voice calm and emotionless.

"Of course. those Walkers aren't hindered by snow, and there's no snow anywhere, despite the season!" Edgar said.

Banon frowned, "Then why did they hesitate to attack South Figaro? There was nothing..."

The look of horror simultaneously crossed the faces of Locke and Edgar both.

"To get confirmation of our base!" Edgar barked.

Banon started, his voice suddenly thin, "That means they'll be here soon enough. The mountain and it's bad terrain will buy us a few days, but we all need to escape. Wiley, start now! Get everyone out of here! Reconvene at Narshe, this still doesn't change things!"

Captian Wiley stood up and began relaying orders to everyone around.

Banon stood, "We need someone to get into South Figaro and get a progress report on the troops."

Locke had already stood and was moving to catch his pack, "Already going, boss.I'll see you and Arvis at Narshe!"

Banon continued, "The rest of us gather people together and get to the rafts in the back of the caves. We may only have hours, so move now!"

Within the rays of hope springs chaos, as the war began in earnest.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 1st February 2014 19:30

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206042
Top
Posted: 4th February 2014 21:40

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 8- The River Lethe Part I

The calls of "Stay with your family!" was repeated so often that it was almost a mantra as the base exploded with activity. Everyone was gathering things to survive on- weapons, munitions, food, portable shelter, and many mother odds and ends.

Edgar had very quickly packed and was heading toward one of the many large skiffs that stood poised to slide down the rocky cavern beach and onto the Lethe River, which flowed east and ended south of Mt. Narshe by about four or five miles. He then began to help Captain Wiley keep as much order as could possibly be kept, arranging the groups so families could stay as close together as possible.

Sabin entered into the cavern with a single mother, carrying not only his pack, but the packs, but with two small children in his arms and their packs, while a mother carrying an infant was close on his heels. Gently, he sat the children down onto the skiff and then helped the mother and infant. Without even thinking, he pointed to two young men and ordered them to accompany the woman and the small children.

"Guard them with your life, boys!" Sabin barked. Both boys nodded silently, taking the oars Sabin handed them.

Terra, for her part, sprang into action. Her childlike demeanor and her tendency to cling to either Edgar or Locke had many believing she would be lost in the chaotic shuffle. She was trained as an Imperial trooper. An elite trooper. If anything, she was more efficient than anyone else around. She actually had enough time to find the Returners' leader and guide him through the throng toward the rafts on the inside. It was her that found Edgar so the two could be guided to the raft Edgar had staked for himself. She casually helped Banon onto the skiff and began to arrange the packs and oars.

"Are you okay, Mr. Banon?" Terra asked.

Banon actually smiled at the efficiency of the young lady in front of him, "I am."

Edgar took a hold of Wiley's arm as the families began to fan out and said to her, "Narshe! Tell everyone to meet at Narshe! Follow the river to its mouth and head north!"

All around the grotto, rafts began to slide down the rocky beach and into the water. Edgar and Sabin assisted some of the other rafts into the water before Edgar jumped aboard the raft occupied by Banon and Terra.

"You do know that this is going to be the end of the rebellion as we know it, Banon," Edgar said grimly.

Banon nodded, his face solemn.

Sabin charged toward their skiff, giving the final skiff a mighty heave. The skiff slid down the rocky embankment and into the water and immediately began to drift eastward.

With their oars, Terra and Edgar stabilized the raft and prevented a violent collision with the walls of the cave. With a concerted push, the boat was on its way toward the mouth of the cave. It was then that Sabin sprinted down the ledge of the cave and jumped in a graceful arc and landed solidly in the middle of the skiff, causing it to wobble. and almost sent it into a wild spin.

"Terra, push against the spin!" Edgar grunted, placing his oar into the water and holding it in place. After a few seconds, the raft stabilized.

Terra merely shook her head, but Edgar demonstrated his annoyance more dramatically. He reached over and cuffed his twin in the back of the head.

Sabin, who had been laughing smugly, suddenly grunted," What did you do that for?"

Edgar growled, "You could have killed us, you moron!"

Sabin flinched, knowing his brother was right.

"Relax a minute, Sabs, then take Terra's oar here in a couple of hours," Edgar continued, his voice terse.

With one final push, the quartet drifted through the mouth of the cave and into the open sky.

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The river began by sloping gently downward through the first few miles. There were no signs of the other rafts, and only nature and its beauty greeted them through the sunlit days of late winter. It was at this time, the four began to think.

"You notice the weather has been very ward for this time of year?" Edgar started.

Banon replied, his voice serious," That's very unfortunate. If it had been a normal winter, we would have had time to do things as we chose."

Edgar sighed, "I shudder to think of what's happening to those poor people in South Figaro, with Kefka occupying the town."

The rest of the people aboard the skiff pondered Edgar's words, with Edgar and Terra idly pushing the water passed the skiff.

"We need to think about the world that hasn't fallen, first, " Banon said. "If we prove the Empire can be beaten, we can get the rest of the world to rise and take their own cities back."

Sabin stood, taking the oar away from Terra to take his turn at rowing.

"It kind of confuses me, guys. Why would anyone give up a city to a lunatic like Kefka?" Sabin asked.

The other three paused at what they were doing to grasp the naievete of the question Sabin asked.

"I'd rather die than live to be tortured by that freak," Sabin continued.

"Sometimes," Banon replied," people feel helpless. They risk more than simply their own lives, Sabin."

Sabin barely considered the answer, but continued, "What could be worse than living like that? I mean, you see people you care about screaming in agony or even getting put into slavery. Personally, I'd just kill any wife and kids I had, if it was a last resort."

Edgar groaned, shaking his head, "It's not that simple, gambere."

Sabin almost had to chuckle at the name Edgar addressed him by. He and Edgar had heard the fisherman from one of the small villages near South Figaro say all kinds of things in a very energetic language. From then on, the two would speak code words to one another in that language. Gambere was a twist on their word for "shrimp", which is what Edgar always called him as an affectionate term, and just as often, sarcastically, especially when he'd thought Sabin had said something not too smart.

"Then enlighten me, pavone," Sabin snapped back. Pavone was the word for peacock. This was so the two could affectionately insult one another without drawing the ire of their parents.

"It's simple.Not everyone prefers their children to die!"

Sabin rolled his eyes,"I didn't say anything to murdering children, Ed."

"Sounded like that to me," Edgar snapped back.

"I meant as a lat resort," Sabin replied.

"Why wouldn't you distract them while..." Edgar started, before being interrupted by Banon.

"Gentlemen, there are rapids ahead. I would suggest you do something about that," Banon said.

Both men paused in their argument and looked ahead to where Banon indicated. Then their gazes turned back to one another, and immediately ceased their arguing.

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The river began to pull them ahead at increasing speeds. Subtly at first, and then finally eddied into a chaotic mess. The skiff was too wide to find a center current and began to be pulled in several directions. This caused the raft to begin to twist on its center, back and forth in a violent motion. The four riders began to jostle about, and supplies began to shift. Both of the brothers stumbled at some point nearly losing their footing and tumbling over the edge.

Sabin placed his oar against the brunt of the rapids and began to row against the pull, with Edgar doing the same on the opposite side. While this lessened the spinning somewhat, no one was able to control the raft as it sped aimlessly through the frothing rapids.

"Terra!" Edgar gasped. "Try to keep us from crashing into the rocks! We need you to steer the damned thing!"

Terra quickly leaped to her feet and pulled a third oar from beneath the paltry protective rail and rushed to the back of the raft. Desperately, Terra speared the water with the oar and held desperately to slow the raft down. After a few minutes, Terra had the raft under control enough to make the rapids survivable.

From in front, the river was fairly clear. As long as they stayed mid-stream, Terra had little trouble steering. Sabin and Edgar did a majority of the work, pushing against and with the wildly shifting eddies to keep the raft stable. Though it was unseasonably warm in the northern mountains during late winter, the splash of the icy water over the hapless four people reminded them of the season at hand. Each of these splashes slowly sapped the life from the beating hearts that gamely pushed the raft through the unforgiving river.

The river abruptly began to terrace some time in front of them, the crystalline waters cascading forward and brutally smoothing the rough edges of the rocks below.

Edgar shouted, "Get the oars out of the water and drop to the deck! There's nothing we can do over this cascade! Try to even out the weight so we don't flip!"

The rest of them did as they were told, and could only throw their lives to lady luck as the raft began to careen down the terraced cascades. The raft slammed and spun over these cascades, the timbers rattling and shivering against the stubborn, but smooth stone.

At one point, the raft stalled against one of the terraces, the raft bracing itself between that terrace and one above it. Each of them in turn began to cling to part of the raft, but at the very least they gained respite from the raging rapids all around them.

Edgar, who was covered in the spray of the icy river, was the one closest to the precipice of the upper cascade. With a powerful effort, he pulled himself to the top of the raft, using his oar to push against the ledge and free them to finish this harrowing trip through a set of cascades.

The raft didn't start slowly, but sped down the remaining cascades and nearly flipped over its front end when they reached the bottom and into the relative calm of the river beneath.

Shivering and exhausted, the four adventurers lay within the skiff, exhausted from the grueling trip and the frequent splashes of the freezing water. As they floated gently down the river, they all could do very little but allow the raft to float calmly into another cave.

Sabin finally spoke as they entered into the cave, his normally booming voice thinned by the harrowing experience, "Are we there yet?"

Edgar groaned, rolling onto his back.

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Within the cave, Terra had found a nice, easy beach to rest for the day on, and the party decided to go to shore to rest for the remainder of the day. All three, with some awkward transition with Terra, changed into a different set of clothes while their remaining clothes dried off. Warmer, and now fed, their spirits began to raise a little bit. While uncertain about even the near future, optimism seemed to be the emotion of note.

After an hour of silence, Sabin was the first one to speak. "You know, that was kind of fun!"

Edgar coughed and shook his head, showing his disagreement.

Terra frowned, "I didn't think so. Especially that part with the waterfalls."

Sabin laughed a little at that, "That was the most fun part."

Edgar chuffed as he busily sorted through everyone's supplies.

Sabin just rolled his eyes and continued, "If you look at it a certain way, it kind of makes danger easier to face if you see it as fun."

Terra paused, blinking rapidly as she did when someone gave her something to ponder.

With a flick of his wrist, Edgar whipped a knife into a crack in the stony ground, "You know, Sabs, you never were able to grasp the big picture."

Sabin frowned, his mood suddenly turning sour, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Edgar stood up, his voice tight, "are you aware that there were women and children sent down this river? Do you think it was fun for them?"

Sabin glowered back at his brother, standing to meet his fraternal twin face to face, "What was the alternative, Ed? Let that loony get a hold of them?"

Edgar snarled, "Either way, many of those people could be dead. Even if they survive this trip, what makes you think that their safety is even guaranteed up in that mountain town?"

Sabin shook his head, "There is no guarantee for that. Sometimes you just need to have faith that..."

Edgar scoffed, "Faith? That what- things will work out? That mentor of yours is dumber than I thought. Things don't just 'work out'- someone works it out for them."

Sabin shoved Edgar, causing the older brother to stumble a bit. "You can insult me, Ed. Insult Duncan when he's not here to defend himself once more, and I'll break your jaw."

Edgar stepped right back in his former place, "That's because you aren't smart enough to defend him like a human being would! You were never blessed with an abundance for brains, so you react to everything like a damned ape would!"

Sabin clenched his fist, showing that he may lose his temper.

"It's a good thing that the coin landed the way it did, gambere, or the Empire would have burned Figaro to the ground and raped all of our women!"

"Yeah? That's because I would have had an actual spine and fought them like father would have wanted! Like our people have wanted!"

Edgar shoved his younger brother at that sentence, which caused Sabin to rear back with his fist and connect solidly onto Edgar's jaw. Edgar tumbled to the ground from the force of the blow, but quickly jumped to his feet. With alarming speed, he drove his shoulder into his brother's stomach and tackled him to the stone. Sabin, the well-trained fighter he was, managed to roll over the top of his brother and pin his arm to his back. Edgar gasped in pain.

Banon, who had barely been paying attention to what was proceeding, finally spoke. "I don't think this is solving anything, you two. You're both adults, and brothers. Perhaps some rest and a period of calm will do better to relieve your respective tensions than tearing each other apart."

Terra, for her part, watched the exchange with fascination. Since they had been reunited, the brothers often strongly disagreed with one another over many things. It was clear that the two deeply cared for one another, as evidenced by their happy reunion, but they seemed to dislike one another just the same. This behavior was simply added to the many puzzles that life had bestowed upon her to solve.

The two brothers, as though they were scolded by their father, sheepishly separated themselves and resumed their activities in silence. Sabin was boisterous and fun loving, and Edgar was thoughtful and dynamic, but seemed to go completely out of character when around one another. This was something Terra wanted to ask about later.

The late day passed into the night, and the group slept, barely anticipating what may come next.

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Edgar was the first to wake inside the cave. After a few minutes and a small drink of one of Banon's Panacea tinctures to clear his headache and joint aches, and then proceeded to cook some of the food gleaned from the Returner base in the mountains. Most of the rations were extremely wet from the splashing water of the wild trip, and many of the packages had been torn open from the force of the movement. One of their packs was missing, probably from the trip down the terraced cascades. Given the damages, the food was going to be a problem if they were to make the entire trip to the mouth of the river and then the two or three day trip to Mt. Narshe.

Edgar sighed and took a bite from the soggy hardtack he had picked out of one of the packs. If there were only a material or fabric one could make that could repel water more easily. Something like glass, only more flexible and far less brittle. This was a formula he pondered in his head as the food cooked. It was better than envisioning the other refugees who might be smashed against the rocks of the rapids, or killed by other hazards such as snags, disease, or exhaustion.

Edgar sighed, his normal coping methods weren't helping him. All of his solutions as a king were made to protect his people from danger, not send them directly to it. The guilt of sending innocent people to any kind of death didn't just gnaw at him, it seemed to tear into his psyche and let it bleed painfully.

He put down the hardtack and proceeded to cook for the rest of the party. He was far too used to being a king and not accustomed to being a soldier or an adventurer. The way his mind was working, he felt as though the river beside them was over his head and causing him to drown.

"There's just too much to think about, isn't there, Your Majesty?" Came a voice from behind him, causing him to start.

Edgar turned his head to meet the speaker, and found Banon had awakened. He sighed, turning back to the fire.

"Your conscience stings at you because there might be a few of the Returner families might be dead or dying from the trip to Narshe," Banon continued.

Edgar scoffed. While Banon was right, the confusion and anger he felt were beyond just simply that, "It's not just that, Banon. Normally I make grand decisions that affect domestic affairs, like taxes and criminals. I give the nod to whatever can be built in Figaro and not be built. I'm not used to being in the trenches and making snap decisions. I'm not used to having to lie to someone when I say it's going to be okay."

Bannon stood up, his joints making a loud pop, and joined Edgar by the fire. He sat down next to the king, allowing the next minutes to pass in silence before the former doctor spoke again.

"Were this another time, Edgar, then you would probably have never been forced to make these decisions. Nor would I," Banon said, flatly. "All I ever wanted was to save lives by healing the sick.Things turned out differently than I had planned or hoped."

Edgar kept his eyes to the food that was cooking, but did nod as the elder spoke.

"I became so good at my job that the Empire recruited me. They paid me well, but I was put in the hole of a deep, dark facility where..." Banon paused and shuddered.

Edgar looked up from the fire and finally looked to Banon's face. The middle-aged man had begun to tremble, and he had suddenly glanced to the floor as the color began to leave his face.

"We had made some amazing advancements in medicine. Pills that could heal wounds, and those tinctures that would cure anything from the common cold to a bite from the most venomous snake. That wasn't the Emperor's aim, however."

Edgar brushed his hands through his hair and resumed his post as the ear for Banon to talk to.

"'Magi-Tek' is what the doctors were calling it. With advancements in technology, the Empire had found a way to infuse bits of magic into everyday devices. That's why your steam engine powers all kinds of vehicles, but also powers war machines. The medicines we developed became-other things," Banon explained.

Banon swallowed hard, his voice dimmed a bit as he seemed to be confessing something to the king, "We experimented with these creatures. Creatures with mythical forms that expound beyond even the animals we see out there today. We would poison them, and drain their blood. We would expose them to these horrible things. We also did the same thing to humans. We witnessed some horrifying things in those days."

The doctor closed his eyes and sucked the air deep into his lungs, "None of us cared. I was called into this world to save lives, and I thought this horror I'd been performing was doing exactly that. That was until the fusion experiments."

"Most of them were failures, more failures than you can imagine. At best, the humans would become automatons. They couldn't think or operate for themselves, they just would sit there and follow simple commands."

Banon shook his head, "The Empire was trying to make a super-soldier. Similar to the legendary mage warriors in the days of the War of the Magi. The Emperor wanted to repeat the Great Mistake."

Edgar re-tied his hair into its tail and nodded, "We know you believe that. You're telling me you have proof?"

Banon nodded, "Yes. You've already seen it. Kefka is just one example. So is Terra. Can you imagine the hundreds of soldiers with Terra's power? With Kefka's madness? This is what they're creating down there!"

Edgar suddenly paused. The Empire created Kefka and Terra? What if Terra..."

He shook his head violently. If Terra was spying, it wasn't voluntarily. Still, he needed to keep his eyes on her. If Banon was right, then she could be programmed to do something at a critical moment.

After at long length, Edgar finally spoke, "Wake the others. We have a long day ahead of us."

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When the time came to leave, the sore, stiff, and ultimately unrefreshed group took to the river again. The day itself was overcast, and the cold, deceitful water once again invited the battered skiff onto its relatively calm waters. Sabin grumpily took the oars to the water while the rest quietly went about their own business on the deck of the skiff.

Most of the business was assisting Edgar, who was constructing life savers in the event someone was thrown from the raft. Edgar would use his knife to gently tear the seams of burlap sacks to preserve the thread. Terra then would stuff wheat chaff into the sacks, and then pass them off to Banon, who would carefully sew the sack back together in the horseshoe pattern Edgar had arranged them.

Sabin, meanwhile, was treated to plenty of grim sights along the banks of the river. Remnants of other skiffs, sacks, and even a broken mirror compact congregated along the shores of the now calm river. The night before, he secretly dreaded the thought of seeing families not making it down the river, and now he was forcefully confronted with its evidence. There was, at one point, a large babushka doll floating in a merry circle completely upright near a small shoal.

Sabin quickly batted the doll with his oar and dragged aboard the ship. Something inside him dared hope that the owner of this doll had survived the wreckage of his or her raft, and would make it to Narshe. While the river sought to tear away the old lives of those who dared navigate its waters, he was determined to give some sort of happy memory to this unfortunate soul.

Edgar had obsessively tested the lifesavers. At one point, he put the horseshoe shaped burlap around his body and beneath his shoulders and climbed into the water to make sure he would remain afloat. With the exception of his busy brother, he was the heaviest aboard the skiff. When the test proved fruitful, he climbed aboard from the freezing water and proceeded to pass them to the rest of the crew.

When it was time for Sabin to be finished, he walked over to pass the oar to his older brother. Edgar reached to take the oar when Terra jumped to her feet, proffering her hand to the big prince.

"I'll take my turn right now," she said.

Edgar paused to consider Terra's words. The fact that she could be a spy sent by the Empire once again crossed his mind. While she was still eager and helpful, from what Banon had said last night, she could be programmed to do these things without even knowing she was.

He turned his eyes to Banon, who simply nodded slowly. With all of his knowledge of what could happen to these Imperial Super Soldiers, he still trusted Terra. His word was going to have to be sufficient as far as trusting Terra was concerned.

He slowly nodded and allowed Terra to take the oar from his brother to continue the journey down the river Lethe.

"Lake Erebus should be within a few miles, Terra. I want you to paddle to the North shore when we get there. If the maps at the old base are correct, the Lethe should continue from there," Edgar said.

It took less than two hours for the river to suddenly calm itself and widen into the tributary lake. The waters, for some strange reason, the water began to tint red. Around the lake, skiffs were either parked or washed ashore due to the currents. Unlike Sabin, to whom it was a harbinger of pity and grief, Terra saw this as a grim warning for something. She turned around to speak to the three men, when she suddenly felt a tight grip seize her right ankle. With a quick yelp, she was pulled from the skiff and into the water.

Sabin glanced from the map at the sound of the splash, and found Terra and the oar missing. He quickly jumped to his feet.

"We have a problem. Terra's gone," he said, shortly. He quickly scanned the water for any sign of where the young soldier was pulled underwater. Behind him, the other two had scrambled to the opposite sides of the boat, scouring the water for Terra.

Sabin noticed some thrashing around the water about a foot out of his reach and a slight angle from the skiff. He dropped to his belly and reached with all of his might- hoping she was close to the surface so he could simply grab a hold of her hand.

He strained, and felt his two fingers touch something soft and moving.

"Banon, grab the oar and get Sabs closer!" Edgar shouted, crouching behind his brother and grabbing his ankle.

Banon didn't argue, just snatched an oar and shoved the raft with all of his might toward the thrashing eddy.

Sabin redoubled his effort, finally grasping the hand beneath the surface of the water. When he was satisfied with the grip, he grasped and heaved. The boat suddenly rushed toward Sabin's pull, but Sabin managed to pull Terra's head above water.

Terra gasped and lunged for the edge of the boat, latching on with her free hand.

"Something has my leg," she coughed.

Edgar stood up from behind Sabin and rushed to the edge, pulling his pistol from its holster. He aimed at where he guessed Terra's feet may have been and fired two shots. This must have worked, because Sabin, who was still pulling with all his might, managed to pull Terra onto the skiff.

Sabin stood and moved aside to allow Banon to check on the half-drowned warrior. Edgar remained poised at the edge of the skiff, now switched over to the mini machine gun of his invention. Terra quickly sat up and climbed to her feet, motioning to Banon that she was okay.

"Sabin, get us over to the shore," Edgar said, tersely.

Sabin didn't argue, just did what he was told. The King and Prince were thinking the same thing, that whatever Edgar had shot was not dead, and would strike again very soon. If they were on shore, this would either avoid the attack, or negate the advantage granted by the water to the monster.

As they reached, Terra and Sabin jumped from the raft and pulled it ashore. Banon followed, and Edgar brought up the rear, his gun trained on the water.

That was when the tension exploded into battle. As Edgar took his last step, the lake seemed to birth a massive abomination in an eruption of water. A large, two-eyed cephalopod sprang forth from this eruption. It resembled an octopus, but had tough, scaly skin the color of amethyst and from beneath its tentacles were rows of jagged teeth around its maw. To make matters worse, it spoke:

"You know, it's not nice to tease the octopus, kiddies!" It gurgled, blasting a cannonade of ink into the waiting party.

Edgar, who had been holding his gun, and was point blank into the salvo, was instantly covered in the stinging black goop. He screamed, dropping the gun and covering his eyes to wipe away the ink. Those further back had time to react, with the rest managing to cover their eyes. They, however, were still covered in ink.

The octopus continued, "Shame on you, bringing a gun to a tentacle fight!"

With a massive lash, it's hardened tendril whipped its tentacle across the King's face and sent him sprawling to the ground.

It eyes shifted to Terra, before rolling about in his head. He then japed again, "Oh, what a pretty little morsel! Too bad I didn't bring my bib!"

As the words were spoken, he whipped his tentacle toward Terra, this time wrapping her around the waist and slowly dragging her toward him. Sabin acted next, sliding a bladed iron cestus over his right hand. He then lunged toward the tentacle, bringing his right hand over his head. With a roar, he slashed downward, plowing a deep furrow into the tentacle that held Terra. There was a brief spurt of black ichor and the tentacle retreated, releasing Terra from it grip.

The octopus recoiled from the pain, shifting his attention over to Sabin, "You're not fit to eat! That muscle would make you all gamey and tough!"

With a dextrous flip, another tentacle plunged ahead like a spear. It found its mark square into the center of Sabin's chest, driving the muscled Prince backward and pushing the air from his lungs.

"Bad boy!" The octopus gleefully gulped, following the jab with a brain rattling slap that spun Sabin around. "You need disciplined like your momma never did!"

With those words, the octopus then clubbed Sabin across the head and back with a fierce blow from a third tentacle. Sabin was thrown from his feet, face first to the swampy ground below.

The eyes then shifted to Banon, the octopus's tone shifted to that of mock exasperation, "I was getting to you! For the love of me, I only have 8 arms!"

He whipped another tentacle again, this time catching the older man by his throat. He seemed to amuse himself by constricting his hold around Banon's throat and slowly choking the life out of him.

"You're turning purple," he gurgled gleefully. "I kind of like that color, personally."

This time, it was Terra's turn to act. She drew her sword from its scabbard and slashed, severing the tentacle and causing the constricting part to fall away from the gasping Banon.

The octopus snarled, "You know, I have eight reasons as to why a young girl shouldn't get me angry! If I catch you, I'll make you squeal like a pig!"

Before he could react any further, Edgar had drawn his pistol and fired it again, this time catching the octopus's main body. Black ichor slashed from the wound, but as large as this octopus was, the wound wasn't that tremendous.

The octopus sounded angry, its eyes narrowing at the king, "You look a little peckish, like you haven't had a bite all day! Let me help you with that!"

The octopus then lashed once again with his tentacle, catching Edgar around his gun hand. He then yanked, caused Edgar to stumble into the shallow water and fall into the boat.

As had been seen by Edgar and Locke before, the greenish halo surrounded Terra, and the ripple of energy crossed the gap and exploded onto the octopus full on. The resulting fireball caused the octopus to screech in a high-pitched wail. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as the octopus caught fire.

The monster dropped Edgar and recoiled, "I am Orthos, king of the octopi! Calamari is NOT on the menu tonight!"

With that,Orthos dove beneath the calm lake.

Terra was the first to arrive, but the three adventurers rushed to Banon. He was kneeling, but he breathing was beginning to steady. He was kneeling, but his face was normal color.

"Are you all okay?" He asked.

Edgar nodded, "I'm a little dirty, and I think Sabs has his pride wounded a bit."

Sabin growled, his face twisted in suppressed anger. The way the octopus had treated him was very embarrassing, "I'd jump at the chance to fry that son of a bitch!"

Just then Terra yelped, jumping straight into the air and clutching her backside.

The rest of them started, drawing weapons. They spun toward the water, only to find one of Orthos's tentacles slithering back into the water.

"That thing pinched my rear!" Terra snapped.

"That's it!" Sabin roared. "I'm going to kill that piece of shit!"

Edgar tried to reach his hand out to stop the prince, but was too late. Sabin rushed into the water and dove in.

A terse minute of silence passed before Terra broke the silence, "Is he going to be okay?"

Edgar, still looking in the water, nodded. "He should be. This isn't the first...."

Suddenly, Sabin's body breached the water, rising above it about five or six feet and splashing back in, toward the current of the opposite river.

Edgar frowned, watching his brother get swept in the opposite direction they needed to go.

"I have Figaro to think of, "Edgar said after a long pause. "The life preserver around his neck should keep him alive. He'll also know where to go when he gets to shore."

"Is that it?" Terra asked, watching Edgar stolidly load the boat.

Edgar sighed, his face calm, but his eyes burned with a sort of anger and frustration." A great number of people will suffer at the hands of the Empire if we don't get there, and figure things out. Sabin's on his own."

Terra paused, watching Edgar preparing the boat to launch again.

"Get in the boat, Terra. We'll talk about it on the way."



This post has been edited by chevleclair on 16th February 2014 21:07

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206093
Top
Posted: 18th February 2014 15:20

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Interlude-




The Esper that is buried deep within the Narshe mines was the object of attention when this tale started, and if Banon is right, the key to the Returners winning or losing their cause.

Edgar, Banon, and Terra are headed to Narshe, where they believe that the seemingly unbeatable Northern Imperial Army can actually be beaten. However, it's going to take all of Banon's conviction and Edgar's influence to convince the city that their involvement is critical in stopping a second War of the Magi. With Terra present, things might get slightly more complicated.

Sabin, by accident, had split from the initial group and is drifting helplessly down the wrong river. He'll find himself in over his head when he finally stops.

Locke Cole was called on to do some dirty work. He's joined the remaining Returners in South Figaro in not only attempting to discern what the Empire's next move is, but in sabotaging their efforts in doing so. His plan is now going to run into a serious complication.

The next sections, just like this whole story, contain spoilers. They will also be written out of order in the timeline. The order this is written is for dramatic/revealing purposes, and I hope it's presentable.

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206163
Top
Posted: 25th February 2014 16:23

*
Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 9- Locke, Stock and Barrel (part 1)

The attitude of the city had changed since the last time Locke had visited.The previous tension of a city's potential demise was replaced with a quiet anger and determination. Instead of slinking about with their heads bowed, the town immediately set about rebuilding itself. The remaining people of the village, without the aid of their more prominent citizens, simply gathered everything they could and began to rebuild. The merchants of the town simply lowered the prices of their building materials and the town went to work. Everywhere you looked, beneath the noses of the patrols that now swarmed the once pristine streets, was the sight of the people simply hammering, carrying, driving, and measuring. The women had put away their stylish dresses and had donned the denim of the common worker, their long hair bound in plain wrappings or coarse bandanas. Even the younger children found ways to help, running mass quantities of food from wagons to the workers.

This, combined with the fact that Kefka had suddenly departed from port to head south, made Locke's job far easier than he had originally anticipated. With no leader present, the Empire's standard practice of publicly executing the city's leaders, or even imprisoning them, did not take place. The only thing that managed to happen was that the Empire had replaced South Figaro's police force, and that led to an upswing of crime within the city, as soldiers often failed to capture the parties responsible for the constant attacks of the officers and soldiers of the occupying force.

It was this criminal element that Locke had allied with to perform the act of sabotage necessary to stymie the Imperial advance northward. They were able to, over the course of two weeks, steal black powder and supplies enough to perform an act that would halt the NIA's advance to the north by many months. Currently, there were ten magi-tek walkers inside the city, which was more than enough to take any opposing force down should there be no preparation. One week later, a giant steamship had entered port carrying twenty more had arrived. Locke, and his new found criminal friends, were going to insure that those walkers would never be used again.

With a pair of field glasses, he watched as the ship crews began to impress clear the dock areas, and deploy massive cranes. It was during this chaos, that he was going to disguise himself as a soldier and sneak aboard the ship with charges to destroy the keel of the ship and sink it before cranes could be fully assembled and the walkers could be brought to land. Once this was done, he could simply walk out of town amidst the scrambling troops and make his way to Narshe to link up with the others.

That was when he ran into his first real complication. A gangplank was suddenly lowered as the soldiers and dockworkers assembled to begin the laborious act of assembling the cranes. That was when he saw her- a woman known for her ferocity, cruelty, and beauty. General Celes Chere. Wearing a dress of emerald and white, she was being led in chains away from the ship. Her hair, a shimmering platinum blonde, was bound into a bride's braids, with pale lilies intertwined. Her wrists were bound together by a steel chain and then bound to her ankles, making her steps short and clumsy. Her opaline eyes, despite her body being bound by steel, reflected a fiery and angry spirit. Her head was held high, and her mein seemed to dare anyone to make light of her position.

Locke frowned. Why would a general be led here in chains? In a wedding dress, no less?

This was something he could possibly use to the Returners' advantage, but that was something he would have to worry about until later. Meanwhile, he had a ship to destroy.

Locke reached for his sergeant's uniform- it was time to get to work.

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Locke had easily boarded the boat amidst the organized chaos of the working men aboard the dock. In the weeks previous, he had paid a few bribes, and made good a few promises made to the South Figaro port authority to insure the number of its citizens would be injured or killed from the dynamite blasts that would scuttle this boat and sink some twenty magi-tech walkers to the bottom of the sea. Still, the pang of killing innocent Imperials still somewhat gnawed away at him. While it was necessary, it just didn't seem fair that these people had to suffer because of a greedy Emperor.

Locke entered into the fore hold of the ship and quickly assessed the situation. Crates of grenades and ammunition sat stored in this area, meaning the blast would do the most damage in this compartment. Locke took a deep breath and got to work. He pulled the cloth adhesive from the belt pouch around his waist and went to work setting the timed charges in the strategic locations hidden about this ship.

With that done, Locke pressed to the aft hold, only being forced to stop once to acknowledge the other soldiers as they passed. Quickly, he crept into the hold, which was now filled with non-weapon supplies such as uniforms, spare pieces of armor for the walkers, and odds and ends for the soldiers in general. After a brief hesitation, Locke began to plant the remaining bombs he had in a shoulder bag, taping them to the preplanned spots on the hull of the ship.

With a sigh, he stood up to leave. Behind him, the hold door opened, startling him.

Before he could react, he heard the sound of leather scraping metal, and knew that someone had caught him in the act. Slowly, he raised his hands.

"I wondered why a soldier would ignore a call for all hands on deck. We have a thief on our hands," the soldier said, gruffly.

Locke closed his eyes and sighed, feeling the temperature of his blood rise. As far as he was concerned, he was no thief. Certain larcenous acts, such as breaking and entering and robbery were not beyond him, but he was no thief.

"Turn around, boy!" The gruff voice said. The owner of the voice was that of an older sergeant. He was dressed in full dress uniform, a cap replacing his helmet. and the brown uniform replacing the armor soldiers typically wore in battle.

Locke slowly turned around, escape scenarios running through his head. His hands were over his head, and nowhere near his gun. The only hope he had was to reach for the small knife that was hidden in his belt pouch beneath the uniform. The only way to do that would be when the sergeant approached him to pull the gun from his holster.

The sergeant strode over to him, his face grim but cocky, "You know what the punishment for theft is, boy?"

Locke swallowed hard and nodded.

"You'll just have to be hung on the wedding day, along with the pathetic assholes that used to run this dump."

The sergeant reached over with his off hand and pulled the pistol from its holster, lowering his own for a split second. This was enough time for Locke to react. There would only be a few minutes to run before the bombs exploded, and bring the ship to the bottom of the sea. At this point, pieces of him would definitely join them. Locke pulled the knife from his belt pouch and with is free hand, shoved the shoulder of the gun arm. The sergeant grunted, but stumbled just a tiny bit. In that same instant, he reversed his grip on the knife and plunged it into the ribs of his foe.

The sergeant grunted, the shock of the blade puncturing his lung apparent on his face. Locke wasted no time, he withdrew the blade and stabbed again, this time plunging it through the man's temple, killing him instantly.

Locke knelt down and lifted his pistol off of the floor, pausing a moment to kick the sergeant's lifeless body, "I'm not a thief, you piece of shit."

With that, Locke sprinted for the deck of the ship. When he found the daylight, he quickly ran for the railing on the water side, passed the stunned soldiers and workers, and dove into the water.

For a few seconds, everyone stood on deck and gaped at one another in amazement. Why did that guy make such a beeline for the water?

In a few seconds, their question was answered. The bombs detonated within seconds of each other in the ammunition hold, ripping through the hold and finding its way, rather rapidly, to the deck. There was a massive roar as wood and iron shrapnel cast themselves all about, hurling themselves at anything that might stop them. Some pieces lodged into the cranes, or parts of the deck, others found their marks on then people aboard. Those caught directly over the explosion had no time to scream, their lights were extinguished immediately.

Officers scrambled around, trying desperately to maintain order out of the panic that ensued from the initial blast, calling for the men to lower gangplanks and to find help for the wounded. The fore began to fill with water, causing the boat to list forward, causing more soldiers and workers to slide into the water of the harbor. Amidst the ensuing panic, the second set of bombs exploded, blowing a massive hole in the aft hold. At that point, the only thing that could be rescued were the human lives, because within minutes, the ship would be at the bottom of the harbor.

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Locke paused to catch his breath underneath one of the other harbor piers about a half mile from where the explosion occurred. he only had a few minutes before he was to change his clothing and then plan his next move.If there were any survivors on deck during that explosion, they would be able to identify him easily, given his showy dash for the water right before the explosions. This would have been the perfect time to change clothes and make his escape, but General Celes's presence, possibly as a prisoner, piqued his interest. It was time to find out for himself.

He quickly scrambled out of his military uniform and into a courier's uniform. It was time to find his answers immediately. With the Imperial troops going into high alert, this was going to be impossible in a few hours. Luckily, he knew exactly where to go.

After changing clothes, Locke pulled all of the necessary equipment from this pack, filled it up with sand and rocks, and sank watched it sink to the bottom of the harbor. He was going to be a fugitive from South Figaro very soon, and he didn't want to leave a trail that was easily followed. Hopefully, they wouldn't catch on until it was time for him to make his escape.

Locke crept through the pier and into the warehouse alleys before entering into the business district of South Figaro. The differences between the two cities were very much characterized by their respective public districts. The parent city was new and progressive, with streetcars and gaslights. Throngs of people would attend the various fairs and sales, milled about and buzzing about energetically. There were palisades and elaborate colors everywhere, with barkers shouting to all who pass by to enter into their shops and sample their ware. South Figaro, even before occupation, was a great deal calmer. Barkers were replaced by simple signs with both writing and pictures on them, with small stand-up billboards that denoted a sale or something equivalent. During its peak hours, there was a throng and a buzz, but it was far more muted, giving way to the sounds of children playing in the yards nearby, and the calls of the sea birds. right now, only a few shopkeepers occupied the streets, either lounging or dusting in front of their shops and straining their eyes to view the commotion by the harbor.

It was one of those shopkeepers that Locke approached. She ran a collector's store filled with clay and porcelain sculptures, along with sewn stuffed animals and elaborately carved toys. Locke slipped passed her and into the shop, immediately striding to the counter.

The lady casually entered the shop and closed the door, her voice was extremely cheerful as she asked, "Is there anything I can do, young man?"

Locke slipped a silver dollar from his pocket and spun it on the counter, looking around the store at all of the strange odds and ends that decorated it. The lady was aged, but spry. Her hair was silvery white and wrapped in a shawl, and her skin was leathery and wrinkled, and she was dressed in the typically conservative fashion with the long dress and shawl.

"Spring is coming soon, ma'am. I'm looking to get away," Locke said.

She tittered dryly as she strode across the room to the counter, "Understandable for a young fellow like yourself. It should also be pretty simple, what with no family and all to anchor you down. Why would you need my help?"

Locke scooped the silver dollar from the counter and dropped it into the till, hopping boyishly up to the counter and lounging back, "There is a complication. I need to take a young lady with me."

The old lady shook the till before nudging the younger man off of the counter with the edge of a broom, "Oh? Do I know her?"

"I should think everyone does. She arrived here this morning on one of the boats. I just need to know where she's staying. "

The woman paused amidst her sweeping, stunned by what Locke had just told her. In the code they were speaking, Locke had just asked where they were keeping General Celes.

"The minds of you young people only serve to baffle me," the woman said shortly.

"Well, the best way to try something like that would be to bring the old man his whiskey. There you'll get access to the Branelli mansion. You can work from there."

Locke smiled and leaned over, kissing the lady on the cheek, this caused her to smile warmly.

"Much thanks, love. I'll write when I get there."

The old lady shook her head, "IF you get there."

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Locke remained in his courier uniform for this one. The man she referred to was named Thomas. The name was common, both as a first name and as a surname. Especially when Figaro and South Figaro split. It was this man's family that were the ringleaders of that separation, or, rather, his ancestors. He, apparently, liked one kind of whiskey, which he would drink in the course of an entire day. This whiskey was sold directly from the brewery at a very similar time of day.

Given how relatively abandoned the streets were, it was relatively easy to slip through undetected and just simply wait for the regular courier to come retrieve it. He slipped passed the service entrance and dipped into an alleyway. All he had to do now was wait.

After an hour or so, the delivery man did arrive, and fetched the bottle from the entrance. It was a relatively quick transaction, just a form to sign and the bottle was handed to him. The bottle was simply handed to him, no dressings, ribbons or bags.

From the look of things, people were beginning to file back toward what they would normally be doing on this time of day, be it work, drink, or just wander. This meant that time was running out. He had to act, and act very quickly.

He picked up his pace and sidled alongside the courier, keeping easy step with him. After a few seconds, the courier finally looked over. At first it was a glance, then it turned into a double take. The man young, probably in his late teens. He was clean shaven and his uniform was prim and spotless. His mien bore the air of what he thought was aristocratic, and this came across as pretentious and stodgy.

"Let's make a deal, " Locke said, doing his best to clear his accent. "I have 500 gil in my pocket right now. You hand me the bottle and I give you the five-hundred."

The boy shook his head, "This is an exclusive job, sir."

The Figaroan language was normally a bouncy and energetic sounding to Locke, but this young man managed to make it sound flat and boring.

Locke sighed, "Well, if that's what you wish, young man. I would just be careful. A ship was just sunk in the harbor by some terrorist."

The courier shrugged, looking back at him, "That doesn't bother me. I don't support the Empire."

Locke nodded, pursing his lips. He glanced around the roadway, looking for some means to extract the bottle from the courier without a huge scuffle. That would draw too much attention to him, and far too fast.

As they neared one of the corners, the courier glanced at him, this time sizing him up, "Aren't you the man that's been skulking around here? Stealing things from shops and the like?"

Locke frowned, "Excuse me?" This boy was asking to get hurt. Especially if he was going to make the mistake Locke thought he was going to make.

"Yeah, it IS you! The thief from up North somewhere!"

Locke sighed, finally spotting one of the lamp posts near the corner they were walking. The boy went and called him a thief. This rankled Locke a great deal. He'd rarely stolen anything from anyone, most of his skills in stealth and balance were learned from stalking the caves around the Kohlingen mountains. He'd also learned to use picks to open locks, but that was not for the purpose of stealing anything.

Locke only responded with, "Post!"

This startled the courier, causing him to glance straight ahead and not pay attention to what Locke was about to do. Locke reached his foot out and kicked the heels of his counterpart. This caused the counterpart to stumble. Then, before the courier could make a sound of protest, he shoved the young man headfirst into the iron lamp post.

With a loud "THUNK", the boy fell to the ground senseless. Locke quickly scooped the bottle from the boys' grip and tipped his courier's cap, "Next time think before you speak, mate. Sometimes what you say could be hurtful."

Locke replaced his cap and hurried off.

(break)

It was a twenty minute jaunt to leave the commercial district and enter into the upper class district. There would be Imperial soldiers all over the streets asking around about the explosion soon enough, and they would start a two-pronged assault on the town, interrogating everyone they knew about any plot to set the explosion, and about him.

The upper class district was as close to opulent the city of South Figaro would ever be. Houses made from brownstone sat sentry, their gazes south and their grandeur was almost rustic in comparison to the marble and shale manses in their northern counterparts. Just like the rest of the city, there was a pointed lack of streetcars, just a gondola in the canal around them that would allow for the wealthy to travel downtown in relative speed, style, and comfort.

Locke's target was a plainly built house that took up less space on the ground than the rest. However, due to some strange engineering, was covered in various decks, porches, and even overly decorated landings that accented the massive spirals of stairs that seemed to constrict the brownstone house from the outside in.

Locke glanced around the house for a short while, before spotting Thomas on the topmost deck, relaxing on a chaise lounge. He wore tinted glasses and seemed to be almost asleep as he lazed in the odd late winter sun. While he wore a pulled over sweatshirt and long pants, he sat on the chair with a sunhat as though he were bathing in the sun..

Locke found the nearest set of stairs and climbed the serpentine finishing. While somewhat intimidating and labrynthine at first, the stairs became much more simple after the first flight. Essentially, they all led to the top, making stops at floors along the way. So, it wasn't long before he was standing over Thomas with his prized bottle of whiskey.

"I have your bottle, sir, " Locke said.

The old man simply waved the bottle over to the small table next to him. Locke complied and turned to walk away. He paused a minute before turning around. He had gone through this trouble for a reason. He needed to continue his final mission before he could get out of here and to the relative safety of Narshe.

"Excuse me, but I have a question for you?" Locke asked, as careful as could be at hiding his accent.

Thomas looked directly at him, lowering his tinted glasses to get a better look.

"I need to make a delivery to Brenelli mansion. The Imperials have that place heavily guarded, and..."

The old man chuckled, "Just use the service entrance. Just go to the first floor and tell my son you have my permission. The Brenelli mansion is the new headquarters for the Imperial army. It takes courage to go and defy them like you are."

Locke smiled and tipped his cap, "Thank you, sir."

Locke entered into the house and began funneling down to the first floor. The house was, predictably, rustic and opulent at the same time. Elegantly carved wooden furniture mixed with hunting trophies from trips around the world. There were simple fireplaces in every room, with decorative andirons next to them, and screens designed to attract the eye.

Locke chuckled. This man was rich enough to modernize, by getting kerosene stoves and incandescent lamps, but chose not to. He chose candles and fireplaces for his light and heat. Truthfully, Locke would have loved to live in this house.

At the ground floor there was a grand hall, with a series of closets so guests could wipe their feet and check their coats. Directly in front of the main door, there was a tall, marble fireplace that seemed overly large. Then again, this was simply a large room with access to the outside. With no stove, a large fireplace would be needed to warm this room.

Then again, that's probably where the service entrance is. At least, around there is where you would hide a clue to it. Locke thought.

Locke approached the fireplace and stood in front of it, his eyes sizing it up. The andirons with the poker and tongs within were securely fastened, and the andirons were free standing. Locke paused and stepped back, peering into the fireplace for something that may be the trigger for a mechanical door.

That's when a voice sounded behind him. The voice of a prepubescent boy, "Can I help you, sir?"

Locke started, whirling around to meet the owner of the voice. The voice did belong to a boy of ten. He was short and lanky with a round face and short hair that seemed to cling to the top of his head. He was dressed in walking shoes and dress pants that were supported by suspenders that overlapped a white shirt and capped by a bow tie. He seemed to be trying his best to look officious, but instead came across as awkward and comical- akin to someone his age playing dress up.

Locke stood at full height and cleared his throat, "I'm sorry, I was admiring your fireplace."

The boy nodded. His face was so serious, it seemed comically austere. However, he didn't respond, causing Locke to shift his weight from one foot to anothyer. If this were an adult, this situation would have been less comical and he coulod have more easily bluffed his way through it. This situation, however, made things a bit more difficult.

"I was just looking for your service entrance, " he just plainly stated. "Thomas gave me permission."

The boy nodded, "What's the password?"

Locke frowned. Password? The old man hadn't said anything about a password.

Unless the old man had been on to his ruse- then the last words he gave him may have contained the password.

The only words he remembered that stood out were "courage" and "defy". He decided to use one of those words.

"Courage."

The boy paused a moment, before walking over to the stairwell and pushing on part of the wall. The wall pushed inward and slid to the side, revealing a space big enough for the courier to crawl through.

"Shut the door, sir, once you're all the way in."

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The crawlspace was dark and uneventful. Locke had pulled a torch from his belt to guide him through the narrow, earthen tunnel, and found that this place was nothing but an oversized rabbit hole. The ground and walls were simply hewn stone, with the occasional wooden support to keep the whole thing from caving in. The smell of stale air assaulted the nose, replete with the smell of wet mold. There were no sconces, and not even a landmark or two to judge how far you had gone. The tunnel also seemed to have a nasty habit of twisting and turning and rising and falling for reasons the long time spelunker couldn't comprehend. Naturally, he was relieved when the tunnel ended with a similar secret passage into what looked like an abandoned outhouse to the rear of the property.

The outhouse exited into a yawning, fenced in courtyard. This was not exactly opulent in comparison to other things Locke had seen, but in its sheer scale, it was impressive enough. A small pond is what immediately to the adventurer. The water was crystal clear with a slight current. Inside were very colorful fish, glinting gold and silver in the sun.

Around the pond was the servant's entrance, an inauspicious door, incongruously placed within the brownstone walls of the manse. On the door, a plain iron lock garishly announced itself. Quietly, Locke checked to see if the door was locked. Confirming this, he quietly pulled the picks from his belt and slowly went to work on the old fashioned fixture. While extremely durable and unbreakable short of placing dynamite flush to it, the tumblers were large and simple. It took only a few seconds for the wily rogue to trip them all and slide the door open quietly to step inside.

If the rumor mill was true, Brenelli had volunteered his house to be Kefka's headquarters. This, in the minds of all of the other citizens of South Figaro, made him a coward and a traitor. He had done this to spare his own life, according to the merchants in the main square, and therefore had been ostracized by the rest of the community.

Well, let's see if Brenelli feels guilty enough for doing all of this to allow me to confirm the rumors that General Chere is here, Locke thought as he sneaked through the pantries and into the kitchen.

The kitchen was finished making its last meal, and was now rushing to and fro to clean up the kitchen, and prepare for the next one. To Locke, this was the perfect opportunity. The staff had to have hired new help to take care of the Imperial officers, and that meant new faces among the serving crew. It was just a question of picking the lowest occupation he could find, who could move freely about the house.

With a quick thought, Locke snatched a dirty apron hanging from a nearby counter and removed his hat. Staffs this size needed someone to collect and to throw out the garbage. This was a constant thing in a house this large, with this many people.

Slowly, Locke drifted through the kitchen and slipped into the main house. With most of the new residents sitting down to meal, the house was pretty quiet. One guard was posted by the staircase, the other by the dining room, and finally, a third by the front door. While this would make escape less difficult, breaking in was much more difficult.

Locke pushed his way through the kitchen door and briskly strode to the stairway leading up. The guard lifted his head to look the rogue in the eye. Locke avoided the gaze, simply walking up to the stairway. The guard simply stepped in his path, nearly causing a collision.

"You have business up there?" The guard said sternly, his face shifting from the businesslike blank look to that of a frustrated bully. Imperial guards always looked the same to Locke, with their neat uniforms and shaven heads beneath their brown caps.

"Garbage, " Locke replied slowly. He was trying to suppress his Kohlingen accent to the best of his ability.

The guard reached out his hand and placed it on Locke's chest. Locke tensed, sensing this guard was going to alleviate his boredom on him. "You don't look like any of the staff I've seen before."

Locke stepped back, his voice shaky. This truly wasn't an act, this guard was working hard on blowing his cover, whether he knew it or not, "I'm new here. Other guy quit, so I.."

The guard drew his pistol and raised it to point between the rogue's eyes. Locke took another step back and raised his hands.

"Want to hear something funny? I could put a bullet through your head right now, and the only thing that would happen is the new garbage boy would have to clean up the mess."

Locke sucked in his breath sharply. Once the gun was leveled at him, there was nothing he could do to stop it.

"Carl!" Snapped one of the guards behind Locke. "Let the damned boy upstairs. We need to keep this house ship shape for when the General returns. According to Colonel, he has big plans. Don't waste the kid's time!"

Carl glanced over at the speaker and paused. Finally, he lowered his gun and stepped to the side, "You are lucky this time. Nest time, if you so much as look at me funny, I'll blow your brains out!"

Locke nodded, looking at the floor in relief. He quickly darted toward the stairs, stumbling slightly as Carl's foot connected solidly with his backside. Locke grunted, but made it up the stairs just the same.

On the second floor, it wasn't nearly as elaborate. This, however, did contain artworks and decorations, meaning that this is where the family and guests would sleep, as opposed to the servants. With the presence of one guard on opposite sides, this was probably where Brenelli was being kept as well.

Locke glanced from the five or six doors on this floor, quickly surmising that the largest door would be the master bedroom. That, and there was a guard posted right nest to it. Locke raised his hands and showed himself to the Imperial guard standing next to the door, "Garbage?"

The guardsman nodded and pulled a key from his hip, unlocking the door. He then pushed the door open and allowed Locke through, allowing him to get a good look at the room.

"Hurry it up, boy, " the guard said.

Brenelli sat at a desk, his eyes fixed on an open book that lay open beneath him. He had a hand pressed to his head, and his face seemed flush with what seem3ed like a resigned frustration. Brenelli, unlike many of the affluent citizens of South Figaro, was not advanced in years. He seemed to be in his mid thirties, his father leaving him the fortune not too long ago. He had the typical rustic version of Figaro styling about him. His hair was long and neatly kept, and his face was clean shaven. He wore earthy colors, mostly brown and white.

Locke approached the desk quickly, "Brenelli," he hissed.

The man started, bolting upright in his chair. He then started again, when he found someone standing immediately near him.

"Don't speak yet, I'm a Returner. I just have some questions for you," Locke whispered.

"I saw General Celes get led here in chains. Why is she here?"

Brenelli blanched, his eyes were those of a deer about to be run down by a carriage.

"Come on, Brenelli, there's a point to all of this. If things go correctly, we can reverse our fortunes, " Locke continued.

Brenelli nodded and licked his lips, "She's in my panic room in the basement. She, apparently is being held prisoner there."

"Why?" Locked asked.

Brenelli shook his head.

"Is there a secret way out of here?"

Brenelli nodded, "Through the panic room. There's an old clock in there. If you reach in and pull the pendulum, you'll release a secret door that closes after a few minutes."

Locke nodded. The Empire was known for arresting and executing all of its prominent citizens to establish control over any town they have just conquered.

"Where's the panic room?"

"In the basement," Brenelli replied. "You'll find a small door next to the wine cellar. There's a combination lock in it. They've probably changed the lock code."

Locke sighed, "I can handle a combination lock. Right now, I've at least bought you some time. I'll be springing her and taking her to Narshe with me. When Kefka gets back, he'll probably be looking for her."

Brenelli nodded.

Locke pulled the burlap garbage sack from the can by the wall, and proceeded to exit the room, flashing a wink to the beleaguered aristocrat as he left. He'd stop at the other rooms before heading to the basement. His suspicions were confirmed, and now he found a way for the Returners to possibly turn the tide on the Empire.

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Celes stared at the plate of food that sat in front of her. For the past week, one indignity after another had been heaped upon her. Before she had heard the scientists talking about the poison, she was in very high standing in the Empire. she was the General of the Southern Garrison, and had been in charge of maintaining order in the Southern continent. She had been unswerving in her loyalty to the Empire. While her punishments were harsh, she had treated all of the new Imperial subjects with as much dignity as could be allowed.

She remembered the night she was captured very well. As soon as she heard, she had ordered her personal ship to be readied to depart for the Doma front. There, she could warn General Christophe that Kefka was conspiring to poison the water supply of Doma. This would cause a very painful and cruel death to all citizens of Doma, and would cause more casualties in future conquests, and cause more people to join the hated terrorists, the Returners.

Celes and her her bodyguard, Alrond, stood at the edge of the gangplank beneath the swirling wind at the elevated airport atop the Vector tower. She was dressed in her Imperial battle dress, combined with the mithryl armor she was given when she came of age. She wore no pistol, preferring to use the magic she was infused with as a child. Her sword was also made from the shiny, silvery metal. The epee was infused with elaborate runes throughout the blades, allowing her to focus her magic power into the blade. This corresponded well with her natural talent- when she stood still and concentrated, she could absorb all active magical energies in her general vicinity.

"Preparations are complete, milady. I suggest we board now, before anyone else gets word of your plan," Alrond stated. Alrond was an experienced warrior, a former monster hunter that would later join her as she rose through the ranks of the military. He had always been faithful to no one but her.

After a terse and windy climb up the gangplank, Celes entered into the cockpit of her airship to reconvene with her crew.

"Do you remember where we're supposed to go?" She asked tersely, to her pilot.

The pilot nodded, "Yes, General."

"Then depart immediately," she ordered.


The man watching over her lifted the spoon and shoved it into her face, "You need to keep your strength up, girl. A wedding night can take a lot out of you."

Both guards laughed at the implications of Kefka having his way with the former general.A wave of revulsion erupted from within her, and cascaded through her hands, causing them to move, bound as they were to slap the spoon from the guard's hand.

The guard drew her beloved sword and pointed the tip to her.

A wave of anger replaced the disgust as she saw how clumsily the guard was handling it, "Careful, you idiot! Generall Palazzo wants no scratches on me. If you hurt me now, he'll have you burned alive!"

The guard paused a moment and considered her words. He then lowered the blade and raised his hand, cuffing her across the face with the back of it.

Celes's head snapped to the side and immediately felt the sting of the slap. This only angered her worse.

The soldier chuckled, "You know, that might actually work for you, woman. You could be a blushing bride!"

He then slapped her across the opposite cheek.

The second one produced a sting so harsh, a tear from her eye.

"You were always so arrogant, woman. Always treating us like slugs under your feet. Acting like you're some sort of goddess. It turns out you're only human after all."

Celes snarled, leaning forward. She only tolerated this because she was bound and could not use her magic.

"If I ever have the chance, boy, I'll make you suffer!" She hissed, her voice crackling like fire.

The man took a step back, but laughed, "I'm guessing you don't know what General Kefka likes to do with his women, do you?"

Celes said nothing, just continued her fiery glare.

"I've never seen it, but I've seen the women. They are mentally broken. Their minds shatter like glass. He then has them killed and thrown away as garbage. That's your fate, 'general', to have your corpse tossed into a garbage heap. You'll not get the chance to make me suffer."

The message was not lost on her, but she couldn't show this worm any sign of fear or weakness. That's what he wanted from her. That was not what he was getting.

For good measure, the soldier slapped her again, this time it caused her to crumple backward into the chair.

"Damn! I'll have to get some tincture so she doesn't bruise. I'll return shortly. Keep an eye on her."

The other guard saluted as the first one exited the room.

Celes shifted and sat up as much as her chains had let her. These manacles were constructed to bind her hands in such a way that she couldn't use her magic to harm anyone, and made it difficult to perform normal functions, such as eating. the heavy feeling of them had caused many hours of frustration for her, and more than any slap from a peon soldier, this is what drove her crazy.

She heard the guard grunt from across the room, followed the a heavy thump. Then she heard the heavy door to the room shut, and the lock clasp into place. She looked up from the table to see what the cause of the commotion was.

His accent was clearly one she'd not heard in awhile. Kind of a cockneyed version of the Jidoor accent she was used to, and his voice was a strange combination of cheerful and grim at the same time, "I guess that means I'll not be needing this job anymore."

He almost daintily dropped the apron over the corpse of the Imperial guard.He had blond hair and very vibrant violet eyes. He was shorter than she, and his build was a bit on the lean side.

He knelt down over the guard and searched him. Apparently he didn't find what he was looking for, because he made a face of disdain as he stood again. He finally lifted his eyes to meet hers.

"Hello, General. I apologize for being late to this dinner party, but I lost my invite and had to gatecrash, as it were," he said almost jovially.

He walked over to her and knelt down, inspecting the locks on the manacles.

Celes was taken aback. Who was this guy?

She decided to voice that question as he produced lockpicks from beneath his shirt.

"I'm saving your life, " he replied. "Hold still, love, this won't hurt a bit."

The man proceeded to dig the lockpicks into the manacles, his face screwed up in concentration. Even to the point where the tip of his tongue jutted from the corner of his mouth.

"How do you plan to do that?" She demanded.

"Well, it's a bit complicated - do hold still, these aren't the easiest things to get apart, you know- but I plan on sneaking you out of here," he replied.

On her wrists, she felt a click. Suddenly, the iron that had weighed her down for so long slipped from her, leaving a bit of a throbbing sensation on her wrists.

"We're in the panic room of a house that's crawling with Imperials. Do you have a plan for that?" She queried, massaging her wrists.

"First thing I want to do, is to get to where you can stand and walk. It would be much easier that way," the man replied.

"Ah, here we are," the man continued as the clasps for another set of manacles opened, allowing her to stand.

He then got back to his feet and walked over to the sword, previously laid upon a table next to its scabbard by the departing guard. He placed the sword into the sheath and tossed it to her, "Might be needing that, love."

Celes caught the sheathed blade and stood up.

"I've no place to put this," she stated flatly, indicating her white dress.

The man walked over to the small clock resting on a mantlepiece near the edge of the room. He began to examine it, almost as if he didn't hear her.

His voice was airy and distracted when he did reply, "Use the guard's clothes. Might be too big for you, but at least it has a belt. Besides, the pants and boots..."

He had opened the clock's pendulum door and had reached in, and had yanked on the pendulum, causing the fireplace backdrop to suddenly slide open,"...might be better than the dress and slippers you're wearing now. You'll have to take them with, we don't have much time."

Celes shook her head. There was no way she was going to strip a dead soldier's pants from his body and wear them herself. It was bad enough that her life was wholly dependent on this criminal right now. She just simply lifted her sword and slipped deftly into the opening created by the lever inside the clock.

Celes took this time to survey the area around her after she caught her bearings. This passage was simply a closed in breezeway. The hallway was about ten to fifteen feet wide, and perfectly dark. It was surprisingly warm in area, and Celes could only surmise that the furnaces that heated the place were nearby.

She heard a light thud next to her, and as she turned to look, she was greeted by the heavy feel of thick, shaped cloth reach out and hug her. Behind that, she saw the glimmer of a torch as the young man climbed into the passage behind her.

"I will not wear this!" She snapped.

The young man shook his head in exasperation, "We're going to have to do a lot of running, love. While the skirt and slippers are fetching, you won't be much good on the run. "

Celes snarled, squinting over the torch at her rescuer. There should be no reason to listen to this little rat of a human being. Her force of will had caused armies to march and for cities to bow down to her. One cad, no matter how captivating his eyes could be, was ever going to go against her will.

"I WILL not wear this! This is the behavior of a thief, and well beneath me- General Chere!"

The man sighed, "Look, love..."

Celes lunged forward and lashed out with her right hand, gripping the front of his shirt with her surprising strength, "Call me that again, and I'll remove the head from your shoulders! I am a General!"

The man raised his hands, dropping the torch, "Consider this, General. You being missing from that room means that every garrisoned soldier in this area is going to come looking for us. If we don't move, and move quickly, we're both walking dead. You know bloody well that those foppish shoes that you now wear will only stop you in the event you need to run, and are uncomfortable in long walks no less!Not to mention the dress, which will tangle with your legs and trip you should you need to fight or run!"

The man slapped her hands off of his collar and walked back to the now closed secret door. He pulled a dagger from his belt and slid it into a crack near the fireplace, effectively wedging the door shut, as he was doing this, he continued, "So, unless you want to be back in that room, where your near future will be as a reluctant bride to that sadistic monster, I'd strongly recommend you do as I suggest!"

Celes pondered what he was trying to say for a minute or two. The rogue was right. Dresses and slippers were not designed for anything strenuous, and a dress had no room to carry her sword.

"I've no shirt or blouse," she said.

The man quickly pulled his off, revealing a white sleeveless shirt beneath. his upper body was lean, but neatly defined with muscle. The elongated muscle that emphasized control and precision over raw strength. He smartly tossed the shirt to her.

"Please turn around. I'll not have you gawking at me."

The man's voice sounded amused, "Fair enough."

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Celes couldn't help but feel even the slightest tingle of excitement as they crept through the secret passage that led them into the sewers. As they slipped through the putrid stench of the sewer systems, she caught herself imagining the guards who were sent to prevent her escape by the door of the panic room. She could imagine the frantic pounding, and the bellowing for the dead guard that remained in that room. She actually smiled to herself through the choking stench and blackness of this area that seemed forsaken by time.

Despite these short bursts of excitement, she truly couldn't help but wonder why this man was going through the trouble of rescuing her? For that matter, what was his name?

"As romantic as the notion of being whisked away through a sewer is by a strange man dressed as a garbage boy- would you kindly tell me who you are?" She asked, her voice terse.

The man in front of her chuffed, "Why does that matter? Let's just say I'm a member of a group that doesn't like your former employer. We'll work from there when we can get clear of all of these soldiers."

Celes frowned, there were hundreds of small factions all over the world that hated the Empire, but the one with the most influence north of Nikeah would be that of the Returners. These were, in essence, the boogiemen of many soldiers who had served on the front lines. They were effective with Espionage and terrorism, and had managed to subvert many formerly cooperative leaders, and to make matters worse, they were more responsible for the deaths of Imperial troops than all of the armies of the opposing countries combined.

This only caused Celes to become more confused, "So, you're part of the Returners? If that's true, I AM an Imperial General. Why would you allow me to be armed?"

The man paused, glancing at one ladder or another before moving on to the next, "You WERE an Imperial General, love. Your current job is a runaway bride."

The significance of the words weren't lost on her, "Is that why you're rescuing me?"

The man apparently found the ladder he was looking for, because he stopped and approached the ladder, "Partly."

He quickly scaled the ladder and pushed the manhole cover up slightly so he could view the world outside. Despite her misgivings, the thought of actually seeing sun and sky without being bound in shackles caused her more excitement than she cared to admit. It had been a week since that were even possible.

The man pushed the manhole cover all the way open and looked down. his face was that of intense concentration and urgency, but his voice was that of terse amusement, "You coming with me, or is a bridal bed with a sadistic lunatic what you prefer?"

With a sigh, Celes took hold of the ladder and climbed.

When Locke had exited to the street level, it was a clear shot to the city limits and off into the wilderness. In the open wilderness, her rescuer did little talking save for a few terse answers to questions and a few mumblings to himself. From what she could tell, they were traversing the South Figaro plains and to the southern grottoes. If she remembered her maps, his destination was probably going to be Narshe, a neutral country. While she had recently received word that Kefka had botched diplomatic attempts with Figaro, the capitol city had recently just vanished beneath the desert.

The silence and the lack of scenery only led Celes to try and recount her own capture in her mind...

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"We'll be arriving at the Doma camp tomorrow, General."

Celes nodded, retreating to her personal cabin. when Cid had approached her with the dire news of Doma's subsequent poisoning, and the potential for the massive casualties of Leo's troops and the civilians inside Doma, it had shaken her to the core. The Emperor had always demanded that any battles of conquest be performed with honor, because those who would be conquered also need be ruled afterword. This blunder would only stiffen resistance to the Vector cause, and cost the armies much more in the long run, and raise the need for harsher punishments when terrorist groups would perform their post conquest counter strikes.

Leo had to be informed of this, and together, they could put a stop to this. This would change the course of the entire Eastern Campaign- while Leo was progressing much more slowly than Kefka, the areas Leo had taken were pacified and subdued much more quickly.

She paced back and forth around her cabin for most of the trip, while Alrond, her faithful aid, had simply watched her. Finally, after a few ours, he finally spoke to her.

"I assure you, General, you're doing the right thing. For the sake of Vector's dream of a better world, Kefka's plan must be stopped."

Celes nodded and took a deep breath, "I know that,. Alrond. These actions, however, are going to create a crack in the face of Imperial unity. This could very well foment just as much trouble during these times. Yes, we have powerful garrison presence in all of the conquered towns, but there's no telling how many more resistances will come from the woodwork and cause harm to the people we're trying to protect. Also, what if the Returners up north would catch wind of this? They've been the strongest threat to the Empire as of late, and could really use this dissension to cause some serious injury to the NIA's efforts.

Alrond replied, "I understand all of that, General. On the other hand, we would be empowering those same resistance groups by creating a whole city full of martyrs for the Northern cities to rally around. That's a far more slippery slope."

It was then the cabin door suddenly swung open. Two of the marines aboard the ship, rifles leveled, smartly entered into the room as if they were catching prisoners.

One of fired, catching Alrond square in the chest. Alrond slumped to the ground, instantly dead from the precise shot.

Before Celes could react further, the second marine had rushed her. With powerful force, he swung the butt of his rifle squarely into her solar-plexus, knocking the wind from her and causing the shocking pain to reverberate through her body.

"General Celes is only to be detained, marine. Alrond, however, we can dispose of by tossing his remains over the sides."

Celes dropped to her knees, her breath recovering slowly. She didn't need to ask what was going on, she knew. She had been caught, and putting up any resistance to being detained aboard this airship would only cause it to crash eventually. Her only chance to survive would be to surrender.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Judging from the landscape, winter was quickly fading from view. Patches of green peeked from the otherwise brown landscape, and the occasional tree began to show off the buds in hopes of the upcoming blossoms and leaves. Off to her right, she saw two songbirds bathing themselves in a patch of dirt, while nearby, a smaller furry creature alertly munched away at the weeds and greens underneath their feet. For the last two days, they had marched over pastures and fields, avoiding the roads to evade capture.

Celes's heart began to ache. The other two generals would have seen this kind of thing all of the time. Her job was to oversee the governors and towns of the occupied people, and so much of her job depended on staying in towns or cities. While many of them had trees, it seemed so artificial compared to what she was seeing now. This was wilderness at its finest.

She turned to look at her rescuer, who moved purposefully toward the north, his face seemingly blank or twisted in concentration or reverie, depending on when she looked. He wasn't terribly old, possibly in his mid twenties, but had the marks of experience that Alrond or General Leo had- the mark of experience. He wasn't a foolish child who made impulsive decisions, nor did he blindly fight for an ideal he didn't understand.

"Sir, " she said, trying to keep her voice polite, "I don't think I heard your name."

The man laughed, "So, after all this time, you actually want my name? Why do you want it now?"

Celes flushed, "Because you're accompanying me, a lady. Wouldn't it be fit to know her escort's name?"

The man groaned, "General, I barely have spoken to you by myself, but I've gotten plenty of intelligence on you. You never, ever learned the names of anyone you considered beneath you. Except when you want to remember them for a crime of some kind. To you, I'm the lowest of the low- a criminal. So, why would you want my name now? Is what I'm doing considered kidnapping?"

A twinge of anger knifed its way into her heart. She had made overtures to being polite to her rescuer, and he responded with this remark, "Perhaps what you have heard isn't exactly what's true."

What was more infuriating was the fact that, in hindsight, what he said was very much true. It was more efficient to address those who served her by rank instead of by name. Perhaps when she got to General Leo and cleared herself of any wrongdoing, she would change that habit.

"My name's Locke, love."

Celes's anger converted to one of a strange kind of indignance, "Please don't call me love."

Locke paused and looked her in the eye, his eyes showed exasperated incredulity, "Sure, General. Whatever you like."

Celes sighed, as of now, she wasn't a General. She was like him, a criminal.

"Just call me Celes."

Locke shrugged, not looking at her this time, "Fair enough."

The conversation might have continued, save that one of the South Figaro's regional quirks began to happen. Unlike jungles or forests, it doesn't constantly rain in those plains, but during the course of the four seasons, rain would fall in squalls, often without warning. Celes had opened her mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by the growl of thunder overhead.

"Ah shit," Locke grumbled, stopping suddenly and dropping his pack. "Let's hope this storm doesn't last long. We've left South Figaro only a day or two, and we've got about six more to get where we're going. I hope you don't mind getting intimate, lo....Celes, because I've only what I packed, and a circus tent wouldn't fit on my back."

Locke pulled two crude ponchos from his pack, tossing her one. They smelled somewhat foul, probably made from rubber-treated canvas. Celes let the coat fall at her feet.

Locke slid into his and glanced over at her, "Even if we had an umbrella, this would still be better. Trust me, you want to keep dry in these squalls."

Celes knelt down and snatched the poncho from the ground, "I just noticed something. You carry a lot of things, especially in that odd belt of yours. Where did you get all of that?"

Locke refastened his pack and chuckled, "Donations."

Celes frowned, what he said was clearly a euphemism, "Do you steal them?"

Locke paused and glanced at the sky, his eyes were clearly still amused, but he did visibly frown, "No."

Celes's primary job was a liason to the emperor to the governors of conquered territory, and could sense from his body language that he wasn't going to expound upon his answer.

The first raindrops interrupted the conversation, causing Celes to quickly don the poncho right as the clouds and wind roared across the plain. Through the wind, the rain attacked what was left of her exposed skin, stinging her slightly.

Through it all, Locke simply shouldered his pack and continued forward. Celes opened her mouth to speak, and realized she could barely hear herself through this, and he couldn't hear her.

The storm lasted for a few days, with breaks here and there between the falling sheets of water. The days were filled with miserable silence, while the nights, while dryer, lent more toward the awkward silence between the two as they lay crammed inside the tiny tent he had packed with him. Those nights,she lay next to him, trying to touch as little of him as possible. Though, she had to admit, there was a certain comfort with him next to her, the rain drumming heavily off of the surprisingly efficient tent. He slept facing away from her, and she away from him, but that meant they would touch at the hips, which, by her recollection, was always the part she remembered as the strongest part of anyone's body. When a child reached for her mother, it was always the hip she hugged. When a lover embraced beloved, it was always the hip or waist they started with.

Celes would, during those nights, wonder if she should embrace this man. What would it be like to lay in his arms while the thunder rumbled outside? His breath on her cheek as he secured her so warmly...

She dismissed those thoughts as soon as they entered her mind. He might have been her rescuer, but he was still a common criminal. Barely a month ago, she stood astride the world, and with the right breath, she could cause it to burn. Even without that power given to her, she was still the woman who could make the world burn if she desired.

Those were her thoughts during the rain. The miserable, relentless rain. During nights like these in the past, all she thought of was the coming day, and what she needed to do in order to maintain order for the empire. Where to deploy her troops to hunt the partisans, or what measure to take against any major criminals. Never once, did she remember, ever thinking about herself. Never did she entertain the notion that she might as vulnerable as she was now, thinking of things like being in a man's arms. Right now, of all times, she needed to think of what she was going to do once they went to where they were going.

The problem was, she had no idea where she was going. she had tried several times to get the location from her new companion, but he simply would not listen, or would quell any further questioning by talking about an immediate need. The only question he cared to answer was not even a direct answer.

"Locke? What will happen when we get to where we're going?"

Locke had shrugged, "I guess we'll know when we get there."

This only made the trip longer for her. He'd saved her from a certain painful death and brought her to the territory of what was once her enemy.

------------------------------------page break!---------------------------------------------------------------------------

As the sun rose, the rain stopped. As suddenly it had arrived, the rain disappeared. The wind would linger only an hour or so later, and what followed was what she would consider nice. The sun seemed to gently reach into their soaked and battered bodies and pull all of the sadness and soreness from them. From around them ,the aroma of the wilderness around her became fragrant and pleasant. Unlike the cities , where it all began to stink with the backed up sewers filled with hidden filth.

While this made everything around them easier to see, the moving was still fairly difficult. Their feet sank into the ground with each passing step, causing them to use twice the effort to go one step than if the ground were dry. Numerous times, Celes had lost her boots to the muck, causing them to stop and pull it free, and both of them caught themselves frequently slipping. By the time they reached the mountains dividing the Figaro nations, it was nearly nightfall and both of them were very exhausted.

Locke led them to some firmer ground before laying down the gear. Celes groaned audibly as she brought herself down to the ground in exhaustion. She had received military training, as had any other officer, and was even considered by many more fit than most of the enlisted men- but even the most fit soldier would have been exhausted from the three day slogging through the mud on the plains they had to endure.

Locke pulled his field glasses free from his pack and peered the direction they were heading, as was his routine at the time they stopped each night. There was a difference, however, when he returned. She had just finished building the fire when he quickly dumped some muddy water on it to put it out.

Celes opened her mouth to protest, but Locke quickly put his finger to his lip to quiet her.

"We're about a quarter mile from an Imperial camp. They have a facility blocking the cave we need to take to reach the Figaro district," Locke said.

Celes scowled in annoyed confusion, "What? Let me see those."

Quickly, she snatched the field glasses away from the adventurer and walked over to where Locke had knelt down to scout. There was an Imperial camp, but it wasn't a military camp. There were no Tech walkers, just a sentry post constructed over a mining camp with no walls. A tracked magi-tech vehicle stood underneath of a tarp while the miners and soldiers were sleeping in makeshift barracks.

Celes quickly slunk back to where they were camping and sat down with a sigh, "That's not a military camp, Locke. That's a labor camp. Looks like they're going to try to widen that cave a little to get troops through more quickly."

Locke shook his head, "That's a tad inefficient, I'd think. Forty miles to the west, there's a small fishing village. Why not simply walk over them and set up there?"

Celes shook her head, "Far too slow. While it's easily done, it's faster to put supply lines on a straighter course overland. Believe it or not, it's much faster to tunnel through an already existing grotto."

(going to divide this chapter into 2, I keep losing huge chunks, it might be too long for one post

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 17th May 2014 08:23

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206193
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Posted: 17th May 2014 04:48

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Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 9, part 2

Locke sighed, pulling out one of his knives to dig into the can to eat. He dug a piece of the beef from the can and pulled it from the can to his mouth. He chewed quietly and thoughtfully.

"This changes things. I planned on entering the cave in the morning, but now we have to sneak by those sentries. They don't have a perimeter wall, so that probably means that any way in from the side will have mines. I think the best bet is to move in an hour or so. So rest and eat all you can, that's when we're moving."

Celes sighed and sat down cross-legged. As much as she craved rest at this point, her rescuer was right. Despite all of her aches and pains of traveling through the rain-soaked plains, this was her only chance to escape the nightmare that Kefka had in store for her.

-----------------------------(and now the final action sequence for this chapter)---------------------------

Celes had to keep her rescuer in sight on this moonless night. She was in in very good shape, given the extensive physical training, but right now, fatigue was plying its trade across the entirety of her body. Given his slower gait and slight limp, she realized he was feeling very much the same way. The movement was fairly quick as they kept their left sides to the face of the mountain range, up until about a quarter of a mile from the labor camp.

Locke immediately dropped to one knee and began to dig in the dirt. He had pulled the knife from his hip, and was gently running it along the ground, and then followed it up with placing his hand on a certain spot, followed by a quick cutting motion. He then quickly dug around the mine he was looking at and lifted it from the ground.

"It's exactly as how I suspected. They're mining the area in the exact fashion I expected of them. If that's the case, then just step where I step, and we'll be through this field in no time, " he whispered.

Locke stepped lightly over one or two rows, and Celes followed. Locke then knelt down and scanned the ground with his eyes, glancing over the ground to find more trip wires, occasionally cutting them to give her a bit more margin for error. Combined with the fatigue of walking half of the day, this was far more challenging for the both of them than what it should of been.

Finally, they crossed the minefield, and into the territory of the outside patrols. Locke quickly motioned for Celes to get low into the mud, pointing off to his right to indicate that a rifleman was walking his beat for the night.

Celes dropped to her belly, hoping that Locke knew what he was doing. There was only a small platoon guarding the camp, and would have only left a single man out at a time to walk the perimeter. Chances are, they would have been watching out beyond the minefield, hoping the mines themselves would alert them to any serious trouble. The man's gait seemed lackadaisical , as though he wasn't close to expecting trouble. Locke had crawled along on his belly nearly to the footman's path and stopped.

After a few terse moments, the patrolman stepped near Locke. Locke reached out and slapped the patrolman's ankle. This caused the patrolman to bleat slightly in surprise, then turn around to see what had caused him to stumble. By this time, Locke was already on his feet with his dagger drawn. By the time the soldier could react, Locke had already pounced, and had driven the dagger between the soldier's eyes.

Locke quickly strode over and helped Celes to her feet, "That should buy us about fifteen minutes or so. That's time enough to be lost in those caves and out of sight before they even know what hit them.

As she got to her feet, Celes saw the conical light of a torch sweep their direction. Apparently, by some fluke, someone had heard the commotion over here, and was checking out what was making the commotion.

"Behind you!" Celes hissed, but it was too late. The torch centered its light directly on the two of them.

Locke spun about, shielding his eyes from the bluish light, "Damn!"

The man began to shout, and simultaneously, Locke had drawn his revolver and fired. The bullet seemed to strike the interloper and cause him to crumple to the muddy ground.

The shot, however, was too little, too late. The alarm was already beginning to raise, and they were still several hundred yards from the mouth of the cave.

"Run!" Locke barked, and both of them took a mad sprint for the relative safety of the opening. In the moment, all of the fatigue had fled from her body, and the excitement caused by the imminent danger was all her body responded to. Alongside her rescuer, she sprinted faster than she could ever think possible, with her focus strictly on the den of safety to the fore.

Around them, men scrambled from the barracks buildings, only a few of them armed, and virtually none of them had any light to go by. Blindly, they fired at the vague direction of the ruckus. None of the bullets, at this point, were even near them. Various shouts rose along the camp, most were orders from officers to pursue the two who were rushing the cave, and others were for someone to man the large machine.

After what seemed like forever in the open, the two escapees dashed into the cave. Both of them ran a decent distance into the widened grotto, and knelt down to catch their collective breath.

"That big machine, " Locke asked through gasps, "is it armed for battle?"

Celes shook her head, "No. It has a small ruby beam that heats the stone to make it easier to drill into, but it's not like the tech walkers. The vehicle is probably made of iron and not mythril."

Locke groaned, "Ruby beam?"

Celes nodded, "It's like a purely magical beam of fire that instantaneously heats stone to soften it."

Locke sighed, shaking his head, "So, if it hit me or you, it would instantly incinerate us?"

Celes nodded.

"We have to disable it, Celes. Those soldiers will hound us through the cave and out into the open. If we disable it at the right time, we can block the entrance and widen the gap between us for many hours. We could possibly get some rest in that time," Locke said.

Celes placed a hand on the sword that had been at her hip since the escape, "Leave that, and the soldiers to me. You should probably use the land mine you picked up to toss it into the cockpit. There is where it will do the most harm."

Locke's face screwed up in a scowl, "How will you manage to do all of that with a sword?"

Celes quickly drew the sabre at her hip and drew a deep breath, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. You'll just have to trust me, okay? Just stay behind cover until the beam fires. After that, let me step out first and then sneak around to the tunneler, climb onto it, and blow it up. "

Locke shook his head, and put his back against the stone barrier that sat between they and their enemies.

Celes closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding her sword to the sky while kneeling. She had practiced this many times, and was so adept at it that she could do this in her sleep. For the first time in her life, she would finally use this talent when it actually mattered. Beside her Locke fired shots, then slid behind cover when the enemy returned fire.

She heard the whine of the laser charging up, and felt the waves of energy that tore through the already shattered air of the cave. These waves of energy were suppose to coalesce and form into the ruby beam, but instead stalled, flocking to her and her upraised sword. Those waves began to enter into her sword, and into her. Like a starving man eating the finest dish ever served, she feasted on those waves, her psyche devouring them and absorbing them. This lasted only a few seconds before she felt the waves disappear.

When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Locke's face, his mouth agape with stunned shock. She stood and passed her stunned rescuer with her sword drawn. Those puny weapons would not harm her in this state. With a slow grace, she strode out into the open, facing the seven or so men who had entered into the cavern in front of the tunneler.

The men all raised changed their aim and pulled the trigger. Bullets whizzed through the air at her, most of them missing by fairly close margins. Those that would have found their mark suddenly became brittle ice, freezing instantaneously as they passed through her aura. The ice would then either drop to the ground harmlessly, or shattered against her clothing and skin.

Celes snarled, "My turn."

She charged toward the seven men who had fired at her, her sword glowing in a wicked, pearl colored light. It sang its icy song against the air of the cave as she swung it, and it continued the song as it gored through the belly of her first victim. With one smooth motion, she reset her attack and lashed again, arcing the sword in a deadly upward arc. She caught the second man through his arm, and his collarbone. She spun to face the man behind her, catching him cleanly under his arm. The sword buried itself deep into his ribs and slid out again, allowing her to thrust viciously forward and punch through the next victim's sternum. She withdrew and swayed away from the butt of another rifle, slashing into that man's belly and then ducked down to slash at the sixth man's ankle, severing it almost cleanly and causing him to slam to the ground in anguish and shock.

The seventh man backpedaled. He had dropped his rifle and was trying to pull his pistol free from his holster. Celes raised her sword and stalked him, almost relishing the fear in the man's eyes. The soldier drew his pistol and leveled it, but before he could pull the trigger, a loud boom cascaded through the cavern. This caused Celes to stumble, and the man to fall to his back.Celes didn't turn around to see the explosion, she simply approached the terrified soldier and stabbed her sword between his eyes, killing him instantly.

She then turned around to finish off the men who remained alive, it was only then she remembered that Locke was with her.

"Locke?"

She finally glanced up to assess the damage the explosion had done. The porthole was blown wide open, and the magically tempered glass of the cockpit had completely shattered. The body and frame of the vehicle now seemed as a steel flower, with shreds of it blossoming in all directions. Smoke and dust still emanated from it.

"Locke?"

A grunt echoed from near the machine. Celes raised her sword, the thrill of her magic now subsided.

She quickly ran to the source of the grunt, espying the adventurer supine. his pistol was several yards over his head, and he seemed to be in some amount of pain. She quickly strode over to him and knelt down.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

Locke nodded, "nothing a couple of pills can't fix. What I just saw you do, on the other hand, will require an explanation, on the other hand."

There was a brief pause, when Locke suddenly spoke up again, "I have a better idea. Just wait until we get to Narshe, and you can explain it to everyone."

"Narshe?" Celes interjected. "And who is 'everyone'?"

"Returners. You'll meet them when we get there. In the meantime, let's find a spot to rest, and then continue our journey tomorrow, shall we?"

"What about the soldiers at the mining camp?"

"It will take them forever to move that bloody mess in front of the entrance. We'll be long gone by the time they even started."

With this, Celes and Locke started deeper into the cave. From there, they would eventually move through the Figaro territory and onto Narshe.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 17th May 2014 08:18

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206784
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Posted: 17th May 2014 17:25

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Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 10- The Fall of Doma

Sabin Figaro, known affectionately as "shorty", "tiny", or as his older brother called him in their native tongue, "gambe", lay on a beach many miles distant from Narshe or either of the Figaro nations. From where he had spent most of his days, the war was a reality looming on the fringes of the vision of the common person. Where he awoke, war was not only a reality derived from nightmare, but it has gone on for so long that it's almost accepted as a way of life. Only twenty miles from where he would awake lay the final battle of one of the Empire's most lengthy and costly wars of conquest. This would be the Bastion of Doma.

The Bastion itself stood upon a steep hill, which was less than ideal for Magi-Tech Walkers to scale, and its walls far too sturdy for even the powerful magics of their beams to easily penetrate. The Eastern Expeditionary Forces, led by General Leo Christophe, spend more time building ladders and ramps, it seemed, to cross the hill than they did actually fighting.

Inside Doma, there was a brand of soldier that wore unique arms and armor. They proudly wore an antique style of laminated silk, which was used to repel arrows in simpler times, but did little to stop the bullets fired from Imperial rifles. The armor scarcely hindered the soldier's movement, so it was worn anyway. Each of their soldiers carried rifles designed not to fire quickly, like all other country's rifles, but to fire ext5remely long distances with deadly accuracy and power. Their swords were larger and thicker than the common sabers and rapiers of all other countries, and were another point of pride in the long Doman warrior tradition. The swords were katana, the ultimate slashing sword. The common soldiers used steel, the elites used mithryl. These swords were forged in such a way, much to the shock and chagrin of many Imperial officer, that they were able to slash through the armor of even the Imperial walkers.

Two men sat upon the front rampart of the Bastion and curiously watched Imperial construction crews busily constructing yet another ramp just outside of range of their artillery and rifles. One was younger, in his early to middle twenties, the other was middle aged, looking to reach his fifties. Both men had almost coal black hair and very light brown eyes. The younger was glancing through a glass scope on his rifle, while the older stood upright, looking through a spyglass.

"Lord Cyan," the younger started, his voice filled with amusement, "Over yon hillock! They once again endeavor to build another edifice to ascend our hills!"

Cyan nodded grimly. As was their tradition, he wore a mustache to indicate he was older and married. he also wore a gold sash over his dark blue uniform, to indicate his rank of Retainer to the king. His primary responsibility was the defense of their beloved land, "Verily. It causes one to wonder of what is of his mind."

General Leo, throughout his campaign in Doma, which had lasted five years, had used sound tactical know how to overcome any Imperial disadvantage in the past. Many times, Cyan saw his armies fall in defeat by some surprise move Leo had made in the past. Now the Imperial General was acting with almost tedious predictability.

"I shall summon a contingent to task. They restlessly gnash against the bridle of confinement. Keep thee as a tree rooted to your place."

Cyan quickly left the rampart and walked through the corridors of the Bastion, where the last of his people now took refuge. The city behind the Bastion housed the Royal Line of Doma, and all of its major servants and Lords and Ladies. In times such as these, they were also meant to house all of those who were forced from villages during times of war. Due to the nature of its placement, it was unreachable by any means other than building ramps and climbing them, and could withstand a siege for nearly an infinite amount of time. Within its walls lay numerous fields that could support far more than its number, and a river that flowed from a source far upstream of the city. There was nothing the Empire could do to starve them out, or allow disease to take its toll. They would have to storm the Bastion, and pay dearly for its victory.

He quickly bid an officer to summon his men, and marched with a quick and purposeful gait to the courtyard, where he would choose the hundred or so men to form the skirmish group to dispatch the men making the ramps and then destroy the ramp itself.

Despite the thousands of troops that abounded within the bastion, it only took a matter of minutes to assemble them. Morale was high, and the only threat these men felt was real was the threat of boredom and banality. When the chief retainer summoned them, it was for a chance for them to do something exciting.

"Dear brothers! I hath summoned thee in assemblage to confer to thee news that would deign to give thee a chance of glory and honor for Doma!"Cyan shouted.

"For this, I shall require ten score men to approach those who would folly to erect a bridge to attempt to cross unreachable height and approach the walls of this castle! Draw thee lots of ten score men who shall march with me to smite those who would commit such foolhardy acts! Thou hast one hour!"

Cyan turned to descend the stairs amidst the wild cheers of his Doman soldiers, who seemed to ache for the chance to lash out at the villainous forces that invaded their land.

He was far more guarded than the rest of the army. He had requested a large force due to the chance that his enemy had most likely lent its own support crew as bait for an ambush. He would most certainly do the same in that position, given the initial success that had given way to his efforts being stymied recently. While this wouldn't drive away those who would lay the siege, but it would give pause to the enemy and cause them to pause longer. This would buy Cyan more time to devise a way to lift the siege and drive the Empire away.

As he waited, he could hear cheers and groans outside. After each such instance, one of his loyal and excited soldiers would enter into the waiting area and stand at attention. Each soldier carried their sword and their rifle, and each wore expressions of barely contained excitement. Despite past losses, the morale of his men were very high, and Cyan felt pride for his country well within him.

When the troops all filed in, it was time to give his final orders and then march out to meet them.

His voice became stern, but he heard the slightest quaver of excitement in his voice as he raised it to speak, "Sons of Doma! My brothers! I will select fifty men from thy ranks to accompany me to engage the labor camp by sword. The remaining number shall perch at range behind us. should we be flanked, raise thy rifles to cleave through those who would interfere!"

The men barked simultaneously to acknowledge what had been said to them.

"Forward! To battle!" Cyan called.

The officers then repeated the call, and from the castle they marched. When they marched to the first hill, Cyan quickly selected fifty men from the group and continued the march the half mile to the labor camp's position.

In the hour it took to march to the hill where the labor camp lay, and during that time, Cyan waited to see if the camp was going to react to the arrival of fifty men dressed in Doma blue, due to the fact that the Domans were making no secret of their arrival. The camp wasn't reacting. He knew then that this was simply going to be a trap.

He smiled grimly. He was ready for this.

"Brothers! Attack only on my signal!" He barked as he led the troops onto the hill where the labor camp lay. The camp had no walls, meaning the ambush was set to come over the far hill and either force a retreat or surround the contigent coming to attack.

As they reached the top of the hill, he drew his blade and bellowed, "Attack!"

Discipline disintegrated as guard and laborer alike drew sword and pistol to meet the headlong attack of the Doma swordsman. Cyan drew first blood by slashing through the Imperial camp sentry, his mythril blade knifing through the cloth and flesh of his foe. Three men, wielding sabers and bayonets slashed and stabbed, but were warded by Cyan and the men around him.

The initial skirmish lasted only a few minutes with no shots fired, just the fifty soldiers and the laborers who tried to defend themselves. The laborers, with about a third of their number dead or wounded, quickly gave the ground they once held.

Before the soldiers could cheer, however, Cyan called, "Form rank and give accounting!"

Some troops seemed to be surprised at Cyan's sudden orders, but nonetheless did as they were told. Each in turn, with blood on their swords fell in line as they were trained.

As they re-formed, they heard the noise of troops marching over the hills.

"Face the enemy, men, but hold your ground!" He barked.

The troops all turned toward the marching unit of Imperial soldiers, swords drawn and tensed to attack. Cyan raised his sword toward the party waiting a few hundred yards away, knowing that one of his officers was focused completely on Cyan and his mythril sword.

As the front line crested the nearby horizon, Cyan lowered the sword, giving the command to fire at the ambushing unit that crested the hill. What followed this command was a strange sound of banging and buzzing as the battery line from unloaded their rifles and rained their deadly leaden drops into the company line.

When the bullets stopped raining upon the surprised ambushers, Cyan raised his sword again, "Let these dogs feel the steel forged by men and wielded by the arms of men forged by gods! CHARGE!"

The fifty men, from lower ground slashed into the brittle line standing over the nearby hill. Once again, the Imperial troops scattered in all directions. These were not laborers, but regular soldiers that were rent asunder by the fury of the Doman army.

Cyan spun about, now occupying the highest hill in the plains outside of Doma. There were no more men cresting the hill to challenge the might of fifty men. With the blood of his enemies adorning his blade, he turned toward the camp of his foe, who could barely see him, and raised his sword to the sky. The men behind him did the same, raising their voices in a roar.

"Return to the keep, men! We hath won the day!"

The skirmish party of the Bastion of Doma sang a joyful marching song all the way home, secure in the knowledge that at this time, they were invincible.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sabin awoke with his entire body aching. When he hit the water, he remembered panicking as the rapids quickly tore control from his body and hurtled him downstream by the least convenient route possible. He couldn't react fast enough as the stream tossed him in every direction possible, and at times either upended him, so his head was below water, or pulled him under to drown violently to come to same conclusion. Each of these times, he would pull himself to the surface long enough to catch his breath before the current whisked him away to the next obstacle. At one point, the current dragged him toward a large piece of driftwood. Seizing his opportunity, Sabin lunged for it and latched on. There, he draped his body over it and held on.

With this, he managed some semblance of control, and while he couldn't kick his way to shore, he could stay above water and possibly avoid obstacles around him. He was able to kick through eddies just fine, and keep himself in the widest part of the stream. He felt a little more secure in this fact.

That was until the cascades appeared in front of him. There was no way to avoid them, all he could do was brace himself and hope that he could survive. With no words, he braced his body and held his breath. The first cascade was a shock, with a ten foot drop to the next bare-looking rock, which the younger Prince of Figaro managed to lead with the flotsam, which only caused it to snap in half and leave Sabin to the mercy of the rest of the river. The second level of the cascade was at a sharp angle, and barely caught Sabin on his rolling shoulder. This caused him to perform a sort of a corkscrew fall, causing his feet to catch the edge of the third cascade. The strength of the river refused to allow him to keep his balance, and he was thrown none too gracefully into a more placid river below. He felt his back hit the water, and something hard his the back of his head. There was a flash of blue-white light and his senses left him.

That last piece of memory only caused the back of his head to begin throbbing. Combined with the spring sun shining in his eyes, his mind could no longer push back the pain. This, of course, caused Sabin to put a hand to his forehead. The closest match for the intensity of this headache would be the last hangover he had suffered during his and Edgar's last birthday together six years ago. On top of that, his body felt extremely heavy, and he smelled like stagnant water.

"Good morning, friend! You looked like a stout enough fellow, I assumed you'd recover fast enough!"

This was an older man, but seemed fairly hardy for a fellow that seemed his age. He was mostly bald, with wisps of white hair that surrounded the ridges of his head. He was very lean and perpetually red from working out in the sun, his muscles defined by that of a perpetually working man.

"Where am I?" Sabin asked.

"You're at the Wildland Ranch, friend. Name's Peter. You got a name?" The man replied.

Sabin nodded, "Sabin. Thanks for helping me, but how did I get here?"

Peter shrugged, "Found you on the bank of the river, looking like a drowned rat.Me and that fellow outside dragged you here. I just assumed that you got washed shooting the rapids upstream a ways. It happens from time to time. Though, you're the first person I ever dragged out alive. Testament for how good of shape you're in."

Sabin sat up with some effort, "Thanks for the help."

"Think nothing of it, friend."

"By the way," Sabin interjected, "Where is Narshe from here?"

"Narshe?" The man replied with a chuckle. "About a thousand or so miles to the Northwest. You're best bet is to take the Doma line to Nikeah then take a steamer to South Figaro."

Doma? Sabin's exasperation was evident. How did I get THIS far south?

All he said was, "Thank you, sir."

"Think nothing of it, friend," was all the man said.

Sabin climbed out of bed with a groan, his body still stiff from being asleep for so long.

"How far is it from here to Doma?"

Pete jerked his thumb in the direction of southwest. "About 4 hours chocobo way. I got a couple left over in the stalls- Imperials bought the rest. Just take 'em for now. You need 'em more than I do at the moment. They'll come back when you get off them."

"I don't know how to thank you, Pete."

The man shrugged his shoulders, "Let my birds come back. That'll do just fine."

"Thanks," Sabin said, vaguely hearing the acknowledgment of his gratitude as he exited the door. He stepped outside of the house and took in the sights.

The house was situated on a slow moving river with cut timbers that seemed to be cordoned off for grazing land. The place wasn't big, probably big enough to raise twenty chocobo or other grazing animals. A small feed garden was situated just above the floodplain with all kinds of chocobo greens. A stable was quaintly nestled behind the series of squared off corrals. Everything was almost compulsively neat and tidy all around this place.

Near one of the empty corrals was a man dressed in black. His clothing was tight, wasting no space. A ninjato sword was strapped to his back, and various daggers and pellets were aligned on various parts of his body for quick access. This reminded Sabin of Edgar's old friend Locke. The difference was that this man wore a hood and mask over his face. He stood languidly against one of the rails of the corral, a large black and tan dog curled up at his feet.

Sabin frowned to himself about the outlandish garb this fellow wore, but nonetheless felt the need to approach the fellow and speak with him. As he close for the last twenty feet or so, the man's dog lifted its head and growled. This caused the man to lift his head and look directly over to the prince as he approached.

His eyes were very dark, almost black. They seemed to Sabin very terse but almost emotionless at the same time. He unfolded his arms and squared his body to face the prince as soon as the dog growled.

"Why do you approach, Young Prince of Figaro?" The man asked, his voice barely inflecting as he spoke.

Sabin frowned, "You know me?"

The man nodded, "It is my job to know you."

Sabin immediately raised his arms, to which the man shook his head, "There is no reason for you to see me as a threat, young prince. We have no business this day."

Sabin thought about his words for a second then replied, "Are you a mercenary?"

The man in black nodded his head.

Sabin continued, "You know me as a prince. You know I can pay you at the right time?"

The man nodded.

"I want you to accompany me to Doma."

The man paused to consider a moment, "You may find this journey to be a bit difficult. For the last five years, Doma has been under siege by the Empire."

Sabin replied, "Then it's all the more reason for you to come with me. There is safety in numbers."

Shadow paused, before stepping forward and offering his hand, "I will warn you, Prince, my handshake is my signature. Before accepting it, there are two things I must tell you:Once you shake my hand, it is a contract. I take my contracts very seriously. You do not honor your end, you will pay with your life. I also reserve the right to leave any time I'd like. Should I do so, I will forfeit future payment. Do we have a deal?"

Sabin immediately took his hand and shook it firmly, "Shadow, you have a deal."

"I am at your disposal."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

General Leo Christophe was a very imposing man. Six and a half feet tall, he sported the muscular build of a soldier. He was dressed not in the finery of the other generals, but in the same uniform his officers wore as well. A zweihander was strapped to his back and while outdoors, he donned the cap of an officer. He wore his hair very short, which seemed the color of wheat, and his face was clean shaven. He was just receiving the report about the Doma ambush and subsequent failure of his countermeasures.

"How bad are the losses in this skirmish, Colonel?"

The man in front of him was a well conditioned man in his middle forties. He wore an officers uniform with the Colonel's insignia, and stood at respectful attention in front of his general.

"The estimates are at 85% sir, wounded or killed. The Doma losses were minimal."

Leo nodded, scratching his craggy chin. Instead of drawing out the Retainer to the Army, Cyan Garramonde, and capturing him , he wound up boosting the morale of the defending soldiers. This meant that their confidence was at an all time high. Combined with their almost preternatural self sufficiency, a siege would take years to complete.

He turned to another younger officer, "Did you receive reply on my offer for safe conduct for the civilians currently living in the besieged city?"

The officer nodded. He wore a captain's insignia, and seemed much younger and more enthusiastic than the previous colonel. "Those who will leave have left, according to the reply."

Leo nodded again, letting the words sink in with the officers arrayed in the room.

"General," the captain interjected, breaking the silence. "If there are no other qualms about starting a full scale assault, then I suggest we concentrate our forces and attack."

The other officers seemed nonplussed by the captain's brazen and frank ejaculation.

Leo paused to consider the captain's words at length, then replied, "Captain, you're from Miranda, are you not?"

The captain replied somewhat proudly, "Yes, sir."

"You're loyal to the Empire despite the misgivings in recent months?"

"I'm loyal to you, sir!"

"Do you believe your company is of the same mindset?"

The captain replied louder and with more pride, "Yes, sir!"

Leo remained calm. He scratched his chin again, this time to hide the smile that was poised to sneak through and poison the seriousness of this meeting.

"You're a good man, captain. That's precisely why we can't just gather the forces and attack the wall. While we would eventually succeed, their advantages are enough that we would take heavy losses. These aren't simply numbers, these are sons, fathers, brothers and husbands. The cause may be just, but there's potential hardship for their loved ones should they die. We'll find a way, I promise," said Leo.

As he finished those words, the distinctive roar of an airship engine was heard overhead. Leo stood up and put his cap back on. An airship meant that one of the other Generals was over for one reason or another. Leo had surmised that it should be Celes, given Kefka's preparations to move on Narshe and Figaro after South Figaro's fall.

"Fall in, officers and men! Fall in! He shouted, causing all the officers to do the same. They were to greet the guest formally as was standard protocol.

When the disembarking plank lowered, and he saw the elite guard for the NIA appear, Leo cleared his throat and shifted his weight slightly. The EEF and NIA were rivals at best, and there was no officer in his army that showed any love for the NIA's general, whom they saw as a pathetic bully.

Kefka walked amongst his elite guard, muttering to himself in his typical addled fashion. He was wringing his hands and trembling just a little as his elite guard parted at the bottom, paving the way to meet Leo face to face.

Leo snapped a sharp salute at Kefka as the two met. When Kefka failed to return the salute, Leo shot the man a sharp glare. Kefka hurriedly saluted upon looking into Leo's eyes.

"To what do we owe the honor, General?" Leo said, his voice was sharp and polite.

"I'm here with written orders from the Emperor, General, " Kefka stammered, proffering the writ directly to Leo.

Leo quickly snatched the letter from Kefka's hand and opened it, reading it on the spot. This was normally considered taboo by military protocol, but if another general personally delivered the letter, it was important and probably urgent.

His eyes grazed over the letter, which stated in direct terms, sealed and addressed to the code specifically for him. Celes had been arrested for treason and he was required to return home to assume her position immediately.

He glanced up at Kefka, who was wearing a cocky sneer. Kefka was to take up operations here, with the EEF before resuming the Narshe campaign.

Quickly he turned to his aide, "Colonel, prepare my things. We depart before dark. General Palazzo is to assume command of the Doma operation. Show him the due respect."

After Leo had walked out of earshot, Kefka turned to the very same colonel, "It's time to finish the operation. Assemble a squad, we'll depart by tonight. When those cowards at Doma wake up to bathe and drink tomorrow, they'll be laying at our feet!"

"What about the prisoners inside the stronghold?" The colonel asked.

"They were weak enough to be captured. The way my game is played is you're either with me or against me. Those who aren't in are out. Wiped out, that is."

The Colonel frowned and immediately went to task, allowing Kefka's shrieking cackle fill the camp. At the same time, he longed to finish this campaign and go home.This was no time to worry about doing things the fair way.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

During the day and a half travel, Sabin had seen the different and interesting landscapes around Pete's land. Many types of animals scurried about, from tiny bugs to large mammals who would snort and sniff for prey around the edge of the calm tributary they were following south. The water in of itself found many fishing birds either swimming on or circling above its calm waters. Sabin was taught about the harmony of nature, and was aware of its peaceful seeming, and its turbulent undercurrent. While the geese on the water led its young, a peaceful and heartwarming sight, beneath the mother and father kept vigilance over them so the circling birds wouldn't snare their young, and simultaneously dove beneath the current to snatch fish from beneath. This was the harmony he had been spoken to about when Duncan had trained him. Nature lived by its own laws, especially on the surface, but the laws protected no one, only serving to control the chaos that nature brings.

Sabin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His older brother often implied that he ran away from all of his responsibilities. With the way Edgar had seen things, Sabin would always go off somewhere and sulk. Despite Edgar's intellect and lack of propensity of things physical, Edgar had always been the more practical of the two brothers, and always seemed able to put aside his own personal feelings to solve problems. This was never true for Sabin, it seemed.

(---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------)

Both sons knelt on the opposing sides of the King's bed. He could not speak, being barely able to breathe for the last three days. Their nanny had rushed to find them as the king had raised his hand with the last ounce of his strength and stood poised at the brink of his last breath. When the sons had arrived, the dying king had placed his hands upon the hands of his sons, and smiled before breathing his last.

Sabin glanced across the bed at his brother, who simply removed his beloved father's hand and placed it over the stilled heart of his father. He simply stood and exited the room.

Sabin could no longer hold the tears back- the tears he had cried privately these many weeks . with slow, body wracking sobs, he bathed his fathers' lifeless hand in the tears of farewell. He felt the coolness of his father's hand on his feverish face, and for a good long time, could only do just that. He cried for his mother, who had caught the same ailment as his father and had died not a few years before. He cried for his people, who suffered as well. He mostly mourned the loss of his youth, which seemed to pass on with his father's spirit.

Beneath the piteous sadness welled within him an anger that began as a sullen burn. This anger began, however, to rapidly gather within to the point of physical pain. Sabin quickly jumped to his feet and stalked out of the bed chamber, the anger suddenly erupting from him like a toxic explosion. He roared at the top of his lungs and immediately lashed out with his foot, knocking over a desk. He then walked over to one of the ornate columns of his castle, made from specially crafted steel, and repeatedly bashed both of his knuckles against it. With each blow, his fists began to throb, and the pillar began to dent. He was angry with the words Edgar was going to say, and what needed to be done. He was angry that his father and mother were both dead. He was also angry that he may have to put aside his old life, which was spent with his truest passion- martial arts training with Duncan.

Sabin seemed to barely feel the pain of the skin that was now parting to let his knuckles bleed. All he wanted to do was let this all pass through him so that he could do what needed to be done. Something inside of him, on the other hand, felt he wasn't ready. Not yet at any rate.


That revelation had caused him to walk down a very difficult road by his reckoning. To his people, he was the prodigal son. He, in their eyes, abandoned them in a dire time of need, leaving the burden to his older twin. While beloved by many of the town, he was just a spoiled brat, and was never truly seen as the leader his brother was. Given the circumstances within the last year, however, he felt it was time for all of that to change. Duncan was dead, the Empire had invaded the North continent, and his beloved country turned against their longtime allies.

He felt a light but strong had upon his shoulders interrupting his reverie. He started and glanced back at his mercenary traveling companion . Shadow was pointing to the southeast of where they stood, near the river that led directly into Doma's stronghold.The sun itself was setting in the western sky, yet Sabin could easily make out a large canister being taken out of the back of a wagon. There were some ten Imperial troopers with one tall, thin and pale man dressed in loud red clothing.

"Hurry up you dolts!" The man in the red bellowed. "If the Domans find out we're up here, we'll have those blasted sharpshooters on top of us!"

Sabin immediately recognized that voice. For a long time, that voice had grated on his ears and caused his father a lot of sleepless nights. The General of the Northern Imperial Army, Kefka Palazzo.

Sabin slid a claw onto each of his hands and stood, bracing his body to charge in to the some twelve men.

"Don't be a fool!" Shadow hissed.

Sabin started, glancing back over to the man clad in black.

"If you charge head long into those men, you will be shot before you can lay a single claw upon them. Use stealth and cunning, and you'll accomplish what you need to," Shadow added.

Sabin nodded, "What do you think they are doing?"

Shadow's eyes were fixed on the barrel that was just lowered from the wagon, "I believe that barrel has some sort of biological weapon within. He intends to pollute the water supply."

The barrel was lowered to the ground, and that's when Kefka began to organize the unit. Sabin saw this opportunity to begin sneaking along the brush and grass to spring into action.

"Be careful with that!" Kefka was growling. "If this drop and breaks, we've wasted a lot of hours and money!"

Sabin managed to reach the wagon just as soon as the sentries began to take their place along the sides of the wagon. This was far easier than he thought it was going to be. Sabin punched with his clawed fist, letting the claw punch through the back of the guard's neck, killing him instantly.

He then sprang from the guard's position and straight into the center of the group. What followed was chaos. Three soldiers had partially lifted the heavy barrel, while one more sentry had taken his post on the opposite side. There were four or five other soldiers set up to assist and guard the ones who were doing the lifting, and Kefka was somewhere in the middle of it all, barking unheeded instruction.

Sabin slashed the first man across the belly, punching through his armored uniform. In a split second, he punched upward with a powerful uppercut, catching another through the palette and into his brain. He would then kick backward with his heavy foot, connecting with the solar plexus of the third.

Kefka's voice rose to that of a shriek, "You lazy good for nothing assholes! Kill him! Put down the barrel and go after him!"

The soldiers tried to comply, some of them fumbling for their sidearms, while others drew blades and tried to close with the one interloper. Sabin, however, was far more spry than any of the soldiers. Before the first of the remaining soldiers could pull his blade free from its leather house, Sabin had swung his savage clawed fist in a blinding arc. The claws at the end of his fist punched noisily through armor, flesh and rib, causing the soldier to grunt in pain. The soldier dropped his sword immediately and clutched his wounded ribs, dropping to his knees from the shock of it. Sabin quickly lashed out with his front foot, connecting solidly with his target's face. The soldier fell to the ground, dying.

The next two approached from opposite sides, swords drawn and bearing down upon the interloper. Sabin recognized this in the nick of time and simply sidestepped, causing both men to halt their charge and step back to avoid running the other through. Sabin had, in one deft step, slipped behind one of them and kicked once more. The kick connected to the small of the soldier's back and caused the two soldiers to slam into one another and fall to a heap on the ground.

Kefka snarled, pulling a nasty mace from his belt. The flanged mythril edges gleaming wickedly in the low light, "I am sick of this! You gaggle of pansies can't handle just one loser with fancy knuckles!"

Kefka took one step forward and swung his mace with surprising ferocity with his mace. Sabin barely reacted in time to raise his hand to meet the wrecking ball at the end of a staff. The shock of impact was suddenly much greater than Sabin had anticipated, and felt his arms quiver and buckle underneath the impact. Sabin quickly felt the pain ripple from his hands and up his arms, and had to use the whole of his strength to turn the mace aside to avoid breaking bones in his hands and arms. Both men stumbled from the effort.

Kefka quickly gained his feet and raised his finger toward the prince, "There are three of you standing, assholes! Shoot him!"

Sabin had regained his feet and looked around, finding three soldiers who were in various positions to fire when wounded. He knew then he was in the deepest of troubles. There was no way he was going to catch all three shooters where they were positioned.

That was when Shadow intervened. With his shoto blade, he quickly and neatly stabbed one of the gunman and then quickly snatched the firearm from his hand. He then raised it easily and fired two shots, each hitting their mark on the two remaining soldiers. one in the chest and the other in the hip.

Kefka snarled, "You worthless maggots! Do I have to do it all myself?"

With a quick gesture, an indigo flash seemed to surround the mad man in red like a full halo, then a rolling bolt of lighting to pass from his fingers. The bolt struck Shadow cleanly, causing him to stumble backward, stunned. Kefka raised his mace and stalked the ninja, poised to move in for the kill.

Sabin, now freed to act, rushed the general. With his bladed hands raised, his feet pistoned across the ground, waiting to cleave his foe from both sides. The fury of battle and the smell of the blood of his enemies driving him into a fury that he had rarely felt in his lifetime. If he didn't finish this lunatic, he and Shadow would be dead for certain.

Except for the fact that when he reached the point where Kefka was supposed to be, there was no mark for his claws to find. Kefka had seen him coming and had stopped short in his movement. With a surprising deftness, he simply extended his leg and allowed Sabin to blunder over it and crash heavily to the earth.

Kefka laughed his shrieking laugh, "Oops. Excuse me!"

Sabin had quickly rolled from the fall and had found his feet. He braced his hand on the dirt floor and uncoiled once more, this time in a more efficient position. His claws were now in front of him, and he was ready to sidestep or bock and counter Kefka may have had.

Kefka's laugh quickly silenced itself and his face twisted into a snarl, "You're wasting my time, you snot nosed punk!"

Kefka then dropped his mace and thrust his palms outward, waiting for Sabin to meet him head long. When Sabin reached within slashing distance, he felt the jolting surge of electricity course through him, as Shadow had. suddenly his battle fury was clouded with crippling pain, and his legs and lungs seemed to refuse to function.

Sabin collapsed to the ground with a groan. He had defeated ten Imperial soldiers by himself. This one man, however, had managed to, with little effort, incapacitate him with what seemed like minimal effort.

The General surveyed the carnage and then turned his eye to the south. The gunshots would have drawn the attention of anyone for a few miles, and soon there would be someone to investigate this. With none of his soldiers alive to finish the task, it was up to him to finish it.

With a scowl, he tipped the barrel over and rolled it to the edge of the stream, his heart filled with a combination of the orgasm of triumph and filled with the disgust at the failure of these men.

"Lousy good for nothing sacks of pig vomit, " he grumbled as he placed a rock beneath the barrel to prevent it from rolling away. "Can't even kill two weaklings. Some just don't care enough about the cause enough."

He paused briefly, and then walked over to Sabin's temporarily incapacitated but conscious body and knelt in front of him, "You know, boy, I'm not going to kill you and your friend. Scouts from Doma will be here in a short while.You can try to explain to them what happened, here. I'm sure that they'll listen, after all. What with their love of outsiders! Who knows, they might lock you up in a cozy cell and feed you the tainted water I'm going to feed them! If I were you, when you feel the slightest bit better, I'd take your buddy and leave here."

Sabin snarled, shifting his body to try and pull himself to his feet.

Kefka mockingly recoiled from the gesture, "Oh, no! The muscle man is going to get me! Tear me limb from limb! oh! Help! Help!"

He jumped back to his feet and kicked Sabin in the chest, driving his wind from him, "Don't do that, hero! Or you'll be caught for sure!"

Kefka giggled at what he had done, and returned to his work. Slowly, he uncorked the barrel and allowed its contents, which had no color, to pour into the stream that fed the besieged fortress's water supply.

"By tomorrow morning, " he cackled, "the mayhem will already start! In a few days, our last resistance to the East will be wiped out, and all that will be left is the North! I love this job!"

He then danced a celebratory jig as the barrel emptied its contents into the river. in a few minutes, he, the barrel, and the wagon would be long gone. Then Doma would suffer for daring to stand in his way!

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For the last four days, everything that could have gone wrong for the besieged has indeed gone wrong. Each of his soldiers, for which he needed every last one, including himself, started to fall gravely ill. For the very strongest, it had been dysentery and stomach cramping, but for anyone else, it had been very severe. Vomiting, shivering, and weakness seemed to rule the day. If the Empire were to scale the hill on this very day, Cyan knew that there would be no repelling the invaders.

Still, he spent more and more time in his home, with his young wife Elayne and his son Owain. Elayne was rapidly weakening, and his son was now bedridden, and only getting worse. This was to the point where Owain had not even awakened this morning, though he still had breath.

Elayne refused to sleep in the past three nights, tending to her son's every need. Each night, after she tried to eat and drink, she would sit by Owain's bed, waiting for him to wail or at least wake and ask for food, water, or just for her to sing to him. She had barely moved since she found her son laying comatose on his bed, too feverish to even weep for her son's failing health.

The doctors would visit them from time to time, but they were far overworked as the populace grew more and more ill. Most of the time they would state that they had no news to parlay to him, and would try one medicine or another on Cyan or Elayne, before administering it to Owain. Nothing had seemed to work, and Cyan felt his frustration growing.

It was when he sat at his post that all things seemed to turn for the worse. The men spoke of the plague, and were far from naive as far as what may or may not happen.

"'Tis the Empire. Truly, they are the ones who envenom our water! With their crafts, one could not see, taste, nor smell the foul ichors thus hidden withhin!"

Cyan would normally have admonished the speaker at a time like this, but his accusations seemed to make a great deal of sense. While a very cowardly act by all means, it would explain the coincidence of so many people falling ill. The problem with it all was there was nothing they could do about this.

He had pondered surrender during the first times the king had fallen ill, but knew well what happened to anyone who surrendered to the Empire, especially anyone who might have influence. The horrible stories of torture and slow, painful death always made their ways through these ranks. The only choice they had was to wait this out and pray that the Empire would not attack.

This turned out to be a prayer unanswered, because by midday, he saw the Empire's full strength approach the distant hills. The fall of his beloved Doma will now have begun.

"Take thy arms, men! Stand at this wall and strike as lightning from afar! When the army crosses unto the gates, we shall fall back to the courtyard! Repel them, and let not Doma fall with the wail of a kitten, but the roar of a lion!"

The men who could stand took their rifles and manned the cannon around the front of the wall. The flush of it all coursed from Cyan's heart and flushed into even the tips of his fingers. The poison had taken its toll on his men, and while the shells and bullets did some damage to the advancing column of Imperial troops, it was only a bee's sting in comparison.

The cannons from the distant walking hulks fired the beams Cyan had seen all too often. Azure, ruby, and pearl colored beams grazed the walls, and only adding to the burn marks that decorated the walls. It would take explosives to breach the gate, and it was only a matter of time before those would be in place. He could not allow those of his men who remained to die surrounded.

"Destroy the cannon, men! We meet them in the courtyards! We protect the sick and those we love at the doors! We cannot surrender! Move, now!"

As the troops gathered to do as he orders, Cyan rushed from the outer wall through the doors of the castle. There, he met the king's chamberlain. The chamberlain, about the same age as the king, was kneeling outside the king's room and weeping bitterly.

"Why do you weep, dear friend?" Cyan demanded, kneeling in front of the chamberlain.

The look in the elderly chamberlain's eyes had already told him the answer. Through the nausea and the cramping pain, Cyan Garramonde knew the king of Doma was dead. With no heir, he would have to assume the leadership of the once proud nation. With no place to run to, he knew the only way to avoid a painful death was to fight on the battle field.

"Your family, Cyan. Protect your family," the chamberlain whispered. "They're the only thing you have left to fight for."

His family?

Behind him, fighting raged in the courtyard, and he knew well that his men would be overwhelmed by the tide of soldiers that poured through the walls. The Empire had no intent to leave anyone alive, and that was abundantly clear. Still, if the king had died, it was because he succumbed to the poison.

Cyan leaped to his feet and made a rush for his quarters within the castle. If his family was still alive, he could possibly escape and find a way to survive. Doma wouldn't be wiped out. His men and their families became secondary to all of this. What mattered was Elayne and Owain.

With all of his strength, Cyan slammed the door open to his quarters within the castle. The door had nary time to protest before unhinging and toppling to the floor. Despite this, no one in the room stirred. The beautiful Elain, now emaciated from the illness brought about by Kefka's poison, slid from the bed she knelt over, her full raven locks forming a black sunburst around her too pale face. To Cyan, it seemed she was already a ghost.

Cyan grunted and rushed to his beloved wife, cradling her. He kissed his cold lips and held her close, praying in a silent desperation for the sound of her breath, or the beating of her heart. There was none. Cyan wailed a tiny wail and began to shake, trying with all of his might to not let the tears fall. Around him, the castle shook as the main doors had exploded inward. Doma was now breathing its last.

Cyan slowly stood from the ground, gently laying his wife down to the hard stone floor, and placed his hand over his son's staring, but unseeing eyes. Slowly, he closed them and closed his own. The pain, one so unknown to him, would escape right then. A single tear wormed through his defenses, and then another. Not since he was a young boy had he ever been in pain so unbearable that he was forced to cry.

His body shook harder as tears began to fall from his eye in droves, and with those tears was something that burned. Something beyond all his reasoning, and something he could never control. He decided now that, for the first time in his forty five years, it was time to embrace it. Even if it meant destroying him in the process. It's not as though he had anything to live for, with his King and country dying, and his wife dead, and his son dead by such treachery.

He heard the thump of Imperial troops' hard leather boots, and knew that someone was going to approach his door. It was time to make them pay for their treachery.

He drew his sword and crouched by doorway, knowing some will enter into the room. If he were to die, it will be with honor.

A few minutes passed and finally, he saw the hand of one of the enemy reach out and grip the door frame. After a few more seconds, the man cautiously poked his head in through the door. He glanced down at the bodies that lay on the floor and stepped into the room to check on them. He knelt over her, placing the palm of his hand over her chest. He took in a deep breath to yell something and turned around. The soldier started to speak, but the arc of curved steel interrupted him. with a quick sweep, his head was cleft from his shoulders.

Cyan spun around to meet the rest of the squad near the door, who were standing in a guard position outside. The ones that saw him tried to raise their guns to meet him, but were far too slow to react to the spring that uncoiled near them. Within merely a second, two of the eight men had lost their lives. Cyan spit a third with the tip of his blade, and had beheaded a fourth. After that, the rest of the unit began to scatter in terror. Cyan reached out with his left hand and snared one of the higher ranking men, a lieutenant.

The lieutenant was a young man, less than half of Cyan's age. The look of terror on the boy's face was unmistakable as Cyan wrested the helm from his head. This boy was going to see what he'd done. Before he died, he was going to know why. Cyan shoved the boy roughly back through the doorway of his quarters, and allowing the boy to topple to the floor near the headless corpse of his comrade. The boy scrambled for his pistol, but as it left its holster the hand that gripped it suddenly was crushed under Cyan's booted feet.

The young trooper's wail of agony only fueled Cyan's need to cause harm to this monster in human skin. If Cyan were to let him live, he would be boasting with the other vermin of how he would have slain his child and sullied his wife. This thing deserved everything that could be done to him.

Cyan lifted his heel from the trooper's now useless hand and reached down to lift him by his hair. The trooper was still groaning as he was dragged to the part of the bed where his son and wife lay. Cyan clutched the neck harder on the trooper.

"Look, boy! silence thy pitiful cries and behold! Thou fancy thyself a conqueror! Thou art naught to me but a slayer of little children and helpless wives! Thou art no man of honor, but merely a coward, beneath the contempt of real men! I shall show thee what it feels like die, helplessly as they did, afraid and trembling! Then I shall show thee to thy fellows, that they may see the pathetic worm thou art! May thine own whore of a mother lament your conception from the loins of slugs and worms!" Cyan bellowed, before slamming the face of his quarry against the stone walls of his home, repeatedly. Amidst the blood, the boys' pleas and screams disappeared, and not long after, his breath would do the same. Cyan reached down and lifted the pistol from the floor and positioned the dead trooper in front of him to act as a shield for what he was to do next.

Cyan Garramonde was going to die fighting, and kill as many of those spiteful swine with him.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 26th December 2017 20:18

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
Post #206786
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Posted: 17th February 2015 22:42

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 11- Escape to and from the Great Beyond

Sabin Figaro knew his only chance of rescuing anyone was through the mass chaos of the battle raging in front of him. With the help of some healing potions, and a few hours of rest, he and Shadow did manage to recover from the injuries inflicted on them several days ago at the hands of NIA general Kefka Palazzo. He wasn't feeling at his absolute best, but he needed at least one person from Doma to help him reach Nikeah. There, he could sneak into port and take over from South Figaro before rendezvous with his friends at Narshe.

"Shadow, " he whispered to his silent stalker companion. "Things are going to get hot, try and back me up from out here, ok?"

Shadow simply nodded and quickly moved into the penumbral cover of nearby trees.

Sabin moved closer from cover to inspect the smoldering ruins of Doma Castle, and it seemed already that auxiliaries were excavating ruins while garrison units inspected the houses that remained standing. Plain clothed men and women passed in and out of the gate with not so much as a glance from the sentries who were posted.

Sabin quickly took a breath and lowered his head, walking briskly through the gate. He glanced sidelong to see if the sentry would even acknowledge him. The sentry scarcely look over before returning his blank gaze to the countryside in front of him.

Sabin furtively dashed from house to house, trailing just behind one of the auxiliary units. He would drop to his knees and sweep the ground for possible trapdoors or secret exits somewhere. Most of these houses were pretty well looted and stripped, with traces of bile or blood being the only evidence that there once were people who had died within those walls. Certain furnishings and keepsakes lay scattered and destroyed. At one point, he spied a charcoal drawing on the floor of a bedroom. It was child's drawing, the stuff that one would either ignore or give a passing glance in any other situation. This drawing was more ominous than the smiling family in the summer sun kind of thing. It showed a mother and a little girl crying and in Doma's typical dialect "father, where art thou?".

Sabin felt a pang of sadness and anger as he gently traced the drawings on the floor. This little girl's father had died, just like his did. Dead at the hands of the Empire.

Just then, he heard a commotion outside. Men shouting in panic and pain, along with a few gunshots. Sabin jumped to his feet and ran to the door, glancing outside to the wreckage. What he beheld left him in awe.

There was a man. A tall, powerful looking man. his uniform and face indistinguishable from the various tears and blood spatters that adorned him. All he knew was this man was a warrior, and judging from his fierce brown eyes, and the wickedly curved long blade he swung, he had to be a Doman. He moved with the fluidity and power of a well-trained soldier, but fought with the cunning of an experienced one.

Imperial auxiliary scattered in front of him, fumbling with pistols or trying desperately to pry their sabres from their scabbards. Those who were in the way were quickly cut down by the well-aimed blade strikes and thrusts, either wounded sorely or slain.

One such soldier raised his rifle to fire, but managed to miss horribly, and draw the ire of this warrior. The larger warrior barely interrupted his deadly dance before guiding his blade through the sinew and bone of the unfortunate defender's left arm, nearly cleaving it from its mount at the wrist. The soldier barely had time to scream before the attacker's blade punched through his armor and deep into his heart.

It wouldn't be long before attackers would organize and cut this man down amidst his rampage, and Sabin saw no better chance to find someone to help him find the city of Nikeah.

He dashed from his hiding place and charged across the field, near where a small group of Imperial soldiers were trying to reform and make a concerted attack at the rampaging Doman. Sabin quickly raised his clawed hand and slashed toward the one who seemed to be taking charge. His claw punched through the man's armor and carved a jagged furrow from his shoulder blade to his upper stomach. The man bellowed in pain, clutching his bowels as he fell to the ground.

Sabin lashed out at another this time with his booted foot. The soldier caught his boot clean in the face, causing his nose to crumple on impact. In an acrobatic motion, he punched with his claw and caught a third through the face, killing him instantly.

"Sir!" Sabin called. "The soldiers will be gathering soon! Come with me so that you can live!"

The big man paused, looking around for the one who addressed him. When he finally met Sabin's eyes, he simply returned to chasing the demoralized troops. Sabin quickly caught up to him and imposed himself.

"You're not doing any good with the path you're taking!" Sabin shouted.

The man tried to step around him, but Sabin cut him off again.

"Move aside!" The Doman snarled, his face a mask of blood and tears. He quickly shoved Sabin aside with his off hand to move around him.

Sabin swatted the hand away, "I know what you've lost, Sir! I can help you!"

The man's twisted visage returned to him, "I never asked for thy help! Move aside 'ere I run thee through!"

Sabin glanced over the man's shoulder, watching the sharpshooters begin to assemble on the castle balconies, along with the Doman cannons. He only had a few more minutes.

"You can avenge them! I'll help you! You don't have to die!" Sabin said, his voice both forceful and pleading.

"Maybe that is what I wish!" The Doman replied, moving around him again.

Sabin let him go, "Then Doma dies! The Empire wins! The people you slaughter before they kill you, won't mean anything! Just some story told by drunk soldiers for a laugh! A passing joke!

"Is that how you want Doma remembered? Or do you want the Empire to fall, to be erased from this world forever? I have the way to do it!"

The Doman stopped, clearly considering the burly warrior's words.

"Then follow me from this place, and see it built again!"

The excruciating pause in time as the Doman considered Sabin's words was interrupted by the zipping sound of a bullet that pinged off of the road between them. Both men nodded and immediately took to their feet and made a beeline for the front gate.

Sabin heard the shouts behind them and the echoing sounds of gunshots from the balconies behind the castle. From his blurred perspective, he could see civilians and auxiliary soldiers scramble to move away from two fleeing men and the hail of bullets that followed them.

Sabin hoped that Shadow had not run from him, and had found a way to escape just like he was ordered to. Otherwise, the EEF, now commanded by General Palazzo, would have two very valuable prisoners. This would probably be the worst possible thing that could happen to the two men.

Sabin and the Doman warrior dashed through the front gate and into the Imperial camp, skidding to a halt in front of one of a giant, menacing machine. One of the Empire's feared walkers had loped its way across the camp, and now came to rest in front of them. Like a groggy behemoth, it surveyed the landscape deliberately, its menacing beams aglow, but not activated.

Sabin and the warrior skidded to a halt and backpedaled. Out of the corner of his eye, he heard the sound of metal scraping against leather. The Doman had sheathed his sword when they had decided to run. Now, he was going to fight that giant monstrosity with that blade?

"That's a fine looking blade, sir, but I don't think it will do much to hurt THAT thing," Sabin said.

"The finest smiths hath wrought this blade from the hottest fires an the finest mythril, friend. This blade may hew through aught men can make, " the Doman replied.

They heard the loud whine of the weapons as they were brought online, and both men tensed. It was clear that this machine could destroy anything it was brought to bear against, and two strong men would be no match for it once it began to fire.

At the last moment, the machine raised itself and opened fire with everything it could bring to bear upon the assembling troops behind them. Pearl and ruby colored beams knifed through the air with a thunderous crackle, while its tech missiles swarmed through the air with menacing hisses.

Men shouted behind them, attempting to scatter from the impact points of all of these weapons fired simultaneously. Sabin turned to see this in awe, as men were vaporized and blown to pieces.

While both men marveled at the damage done behind them, a voice shouted above them, "Your Highness, I trust you've found what you are looking for! This is our means to escape! We must hurry!"

Sabin whirled around again, this time toward the source of the voice. In the cockpit of one of the beastly walkers was his black cowled traveling partner, Shadow. Seated behind him was the dog that seemed to be around him even when not seen. Shadow lowered a ladder, and needed and the two men on the ground needed no further urging as they leaped from the ground and quickly pulled themselves to the cockpit.

Shadow simply flipped one more lever to close the cockpit and immediately began to operate the levers and foot pedals to set the hulking walker into motion. Inside of the hulk, it was very cramped, and Sabin found himself half-standing in a cockpit designed to fit one person comfortably, with a pack of combat gear. what it contained were two good sized men, a medium sized man, and a fairly large dog. Of all of them,
Shadow was the only one who seemed even remotely comfortable as the machine seemed to lurch forward, rocking all in the cockpit back and forth.

Still, first thing was first. He turned toward the gentleman he had just rescued and held out his hand, "I'm Sabin Figaro. Our rescuer goes by the name Shadow."

The older man glanced at the hand that was proffered to him, and then to the driver of this hulk, "I am Cyan Garramonde, Retainer to the King of Doma. Prithee forgive mine gauche portance, sir. I am in a bad humor."

Sabin could only partly understand the sentence that came from the man's mouth. He assumed Cyan was the man's name. The rest he could only gather from his gestures and countenance that his reaction to the Prince of Figaro was lukewarm at best. Sabin, honestly, couldn't blame him. If he was the retainer to the king, then he would have felt responsible for the entire Kingdom's fall.

The rest of the ride was spent in uncomfortable silence.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cyan could only feel relief when Shadow had finally stopped the walker. They were hardly accommodated within this hulk, and he found the friendly demeanor of the young man wedged against him grating at best. At the same time, the void created by any silence only drove him to his internal torment. The gentleman, Sabin, had struck a chord in him by stating he could very well avenge the deaths of his King and his family.

More than that, to atone for his shame. He had abandoned his men to try and rescue his family. If he would have stayed in the courtyard with the remainder of his men, he would have died. He would have joined his wife and children in the afterlife, and all of the pain he had suffered during that war over the last several years. Now, he still suffered. The poison the Empire fed him still coursed through his veins, but not strong enough to kill him. As he climbed down the ladder, he felt the sickness of that poison, and the pain of fatigue and the small cuts and bruises.

Once the other two had dropped from the machine via an emergency ladder that the quick thinking Sabin had found, Shadow drew a pistol secreted in the cockpit and emptied its cylinder into the controls in front of him. He then proceeded to wreck the inside of the machine by smashing levers and buttons, rendering it useless for a short period of time.

Sabin stood next to Cyan at the foot of the hulk and simply shook his head. Apparently the man in black was a complete mystery to the muscular man next to him. Under normal circumstances, Cyan would have been very curious as to how these two became traveling companions. This, however, was not the time to even think about such things. He needed the chance to avenge the wrong that the Empire had done to him, and to erase the shame he felt from his heart.

With a smooth, easy motion, Shadow hopped down the rope ladder and landed next to Sabin. He stood in ready attention, facing Sabin. His face was covered by the thin balaclava he wore, save for his eyes. Cyan recognized the look in those dark brown eyes. The look in them was cold, like many of the soldiers he had seen in the long war that was now behind him. He was so close to being that of a machine, someone who had trained himself not to care if he lived or died, just to get the job done and ask no questions.

The bulky man, on the other hand, was quite the opposite. His voice was booming and his demeanor was very boisterous. Despite this facade, his stature and relative body build belied to the older man both a sense of discipline and vanity.

Sabin glanced at him and then back to Shadow, realizing that the one who needed to make the next decision. "Let's move. They'll be coming after us very soon."

With no further ado, the trio quickly scampered into the thick forest behind them.

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Sabin, right now, wished he had his brothers' penchant for carrying watches. Within the thick and tangled timber, very little sunlight could find its way to the forest floor. Shadow had been correct in assuming that the Empire wouldn't chase them into here, but Sabin didn't think to ponder as to why. While not completely pitch black, the forest showed a very olive color that seemed more intimidating than if it were pitch dark.

Sabin glanced at the sky and then straight ahead, watching the light get dimmer and dimmer. "What direction are we going?"

Shadow didn't even turn his head to look at his benefactor. "North."

Sabin nodded. The hijacked walker had most definitely been a boon when it came to escaping the city, but perhaps a map of the area would have been as or more valuable.

"What's through this forest?"

After a brief moment's pause, Shadow shook his head, indicating he didn't know.

Sabin turned his head to his new ally, who was still covered with the gore of a battle he had just lost. Judging from the way he walked, he was probably covered in scratches and bruises from the whole ordeal. He quickly sifted through his pockets for more of his medicine, hoping Cyan would be in better spirits if his body weren't so badly injured.

He couldn't find anything in those pockets even remotely useful, just pieces of lint and a small wallet, empty save for the proof of his lineage from Figaro and a few small bank notes.

Despite it all, he kept a close eye on the older swordsman. He looked sick, probably from the poison he had drank, and the infections slowly rising in his wounds. Cyan's skin had slowly started to tinge grey, and his step was beginning to falter. This man had a powerful will, and beneath the rage he had seen earlier, it seemed to halt the hammering of his infirmities as an anvil would stop a smith's sledge. Still, there was only so much the will could do.

Shadow would periodically disappear from sight through the darkening wood, and reappear to guide them through the most expedient path. Most of the time, he would simply motion for Sabin and the ever weakening swordsman to follow him. He scarcely spoke, simply would make a noise to get Sabin's attention and then plant a marker for the prince to follow.

The three of them eventually reached a large lake. Sabin and Cyan slid free from the dense woods to rest by this wondrous body of water. The face of the moon glimmered onto it, seemingly enhanced by the lake's tranquil surface. There seemed to be no sign of life on the lake, and only token animal life around it- trees, grass, and the like.

Sabin sighed and searched his pockets again. He needed to build a fire and see what he could do about making a real camp for his poisoned companion. The problem was, all of the supplies he carried were either left on the raft, or were scattered when he splashed down and was swept away.

After arranging a few rocks, he sat Cyan down against them. By the moonlight, he could see the older man getting ever paler. It was up to his body to decide whether the poison was going to kill him, or he was going to recover. The wounds that decorated him weren't helping, either.

He snatched one of Cyan's canteens from off of his belt and hustled down to the stream to fetch water. Instead of the tin bottles he was used to, this was made from lacquered wood. Boiling water in this container would do no good. The water itself seemed to glow inside of the wooden bottle.

With a puzzled frown, he paused a moment. Why would it glow?

With his hand, he swept the shallow lake bed and raised his hand full of the dirt. He recognized what he saw immediately- he had almost the very same lake in a cave south of his home- this was a Healing Spring! With an excited whimper, he rushed back to Cyan and handed him the wooden flask.

"Drink, Cyan. This water can help heal you."

Cyan blankly stared at canteen.

Sabin sighed. "We need for you to survive. Please drink."

Sabin shivered a little in the ambient cold of this dense yet humid forest. Near the lake where they rested, an argent fog swirled about them, crawling across the ground and dancing into the cold, humid air. Save for a moss riddled path, the trees seemed massed together, hogging the sun from the foliage beneath.

Cyan took a. long gulp from the newly filled canteen and grimaced. Apparently the water had a strong taste to it, what with the silt that infused the water to give it the healing properties. He also glanced around the forest, a look of trepidation on his face.

Sabin capped the flask and slid it onto his belt. He noticed the look on his face and tried to follow his gaze. The tangled timber, mossy floor, and an eerie stillness were all he noticed.

"Do you know this forest, Cyan?" Sabin asked, his voice lowered reflexively due to the stillness.

Cyan nodded, climbing to his feet."This forest is known as the Phantom Wood. Legend ascribeth here as the dwelling of souls long passed. Life dwelleth not here, and I deem it meet that we tarry not, friend."

Sabin scratched his head. The man's manner of speaking made sense, yet seemed confusing all at once. It reminded him of the books his tutor made him read as a boy.

All he said was, "Sounds like a plan to me. Let's go."

With no means to gather their bearings, the three men followed the only landmark they could see clearly in the sun-starved wood- the lake.

Shadow, for his part, seemed as a machine. Sabin and Cyan were both brave men, but both seemed spooked by the gnarled yet still forest, Shadow himself never seemed to notice. He hacked through the brush, or would occasionally kneel down to look for signs of where they were going. At most, any words sent his way we're rejoined with either a grunt or one word answer. Nothing seemed to affect him at all.

After what seemed like many hours, the three noticed an ancient, wooden bridge that spanned a narrow part of the lake. Across the bridge and through a narrow but clear path came the soft glow of gas lights.

"This can't be bad," Sabin blurted as he trotted over the bridge. "Anything would be better than that forest."

Cyan paced to catch him, and he and the silent mercenary joined the Prince at the forest side of the bridge. Cyan was more nervous than before, clamping his hand over the hilt of his sword.

"Caution, friend!" Cyan warned. "This place vexeth me!"

Sabin furrowed his brow, but caught what he meant. "Can't be worse than that forest."

Sabin took the fist step over the bridge.

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Cyan couldn't fight the fear welling up from within. After the spring water healed his wounds a little and negated the vile poison from his body, a tiny sense of foreboding had crept in passed his mental defenses. With each step, the fearr's strength increased, just by tiny amounts. As they reached the bridge, the fear had strengthened to a type of terror, and he felt his hands tremble. He simply gritted his teeth and clenched the hilt of his sword. He was beyond the fear of death, his training and grief had assured that. What he WAS afraid of lay at the end of the path he now walked. Still, something his new friend, Sabin, had said to him allowed him to lift his feet and place them one in front of the other.

His beloved Doma could rise again, and by his drawing breath, he kept the hope alive that it would. Though, Sabin's brasness only added to his vexation. His conviction was both refreshing and slightly annoying, and drove the point home that he needed a clear-headed companion during his journey.

The King 's Retainer looked around as the three men passed the gas lights, suddenly noticing a dilapidated archway passing overhead. The soft, mossy pathway they had found suddenly creaked beneath their feet, being replaced by wooden planks. Across the slats laid in a symmetrical pattern was a large train.

Off of the creaking dock, he saw the monstrous thing.A row of decaying, but elegant passenger cars linked together by their iron clasps. Wine colored awnings decorated the dining cars, barely accentuating the flat black cars. The car nearest the wooden platform emitted an eerie glow from within.

"This is odd," Sabin blurted, his booming voice jarring everyone present. "I would figure all of the rail travel around Doma would have been commandeered by Vector."

Cyan nodded his confirmation when the young man looked to him. "This is no train mine eyes hath beheld."

Sabin sauntered over to the edge of the platform and glanced at the ground. "It's on a working rail. Why isn't there staff near or around it?"

Before anyone could answer, Sabin hopped into the nearest car. Cyan, meanwhile, began searching the dock for answers, and Shadow simply knelt by his dog at the edge of the platform, whispering to it.

As large as that dog was, it was a stealthier than any animal Cyan had ever known. Was it with them the whole time?

Cyan sighed, that was another matter to think of entirely. In the meantime, he needed answers. Near the opposite side of the dock, he found a ragged signpost, it's facing dangling over its post by a single nail. Cyan approached it and lifted the face. On it was a simple picture- a scythe- the symbol of death.

Cyan gasped, the suppressed terror suddenly exploded within him, transforming into panic.

"Sabin!" Cyan bellowed, dashing across the dock. "Sabin!"

He spun on a dime and raced into the dining car, finding his new friend was inspecting one of the chairs. Sabin bolted upright at the older knight's approach.

Cyan skidded to a halt, the sudden panic he felt having run its course.

After taking a second to catch his breath, he spoke to the man who glanced at him with a worried curiosity. "We must disembark!"

Sabin seemed taken aback by the older man's urgent words. "Why?"

"This is no train built by men!" Cyan barked

Sabin's expression matched his feeling. "What?"

From behind him, Shadow's voice sounded ominously. "It's too late. We're moving."

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Prince of Figaro raced to the car's door. He leaned out, spying the track picking up speed. He quickly darted his head back in and spun around to meet his companions. A sense of dread began to take root at the pit of his stomach. A fearful question welled from the back of his mind and quickly slipped from his mouth. "What train is this?"

Cyan stepped to the middle of the cart, his hand clamped back around his sword's hilt. "This is the Departing Train. The dead pass from here to the next life using this train."

Sabin's eyes nearly bulged from his skull, the dread within seemingly shaken loose by the blow struck by the answer to his question. "I'm not ready to go the next life at all! I have things left to do in THIS one!"

He again marched for the door resolutely, "I'm getting off here...."

He then looked out of the door again, seeing the tracks as before, but instead of the gravel and ground seen previously, he saw the tracks hovering over a deep, black void. Sabin groaned, slumping against the doorway. Before he could relax fully, he felt something grip his right arm. Sabin shook off the grip and looked up to face the hand's owner.

Never had he seen such a thing! The body was putrid looking and ashen grey. Its face drooped as if its skin were to slide off of the skull, and the rest of its body was twisted and mangled in various states of decay.

"Shit!" Sabin yelped and backpedaled into the center of the car. There, he turned to Cyan and Shadow, noticing that Cyan had his sword drawn, and Shadow his pistol, facing the other exit from the car.

"Friend," Cyan stated, his voice grim. "I fear that things hath gotten worse."

Sabin nodded, "Yep."

Shadow opened fire twice, striking the humanoid in the chest and between the eyes. The creature staggered, but otherwise seemed unaffected. The large dog, whose hair had stood on end, now issued a vicious growl.

"So, they're also unkillable," the big man groaned. "This is getting no better!"

"They are the dead, Master Sabin," Cyan commented. "Natural means would not do so again."

As the monsters approached, scenarios raced through the big man's mind. There had to be a way to escape this. Quickly, he slipped his bladed cestus onto his hands and took a deep breath.

These were shaped like humans. While they couldn't die, they still could be incapacitated in such a way to clear a path for them to escape by. when the first wight staggered into his range, Sabin attacked. The slashing motion of his weapon dug into his target's throat, tearing open a bloodless wound. His second slash removed the head, causing the body to fall. Next to him, Cyan and Shadow had done something similar with their blades.

"concentrate on the door between the carts! Combine our efforts and rip through, we'll escape that way!" Sabin barked.

The three men formed up, bladed weapons at the ready. Together they charged the horde blocking the door, slashing through the slower but more numerous foe. After a few solid minutes, the three had pushed through and were stumbling into the next car.

They scarcely had time to look at one another before the guttural groans of their assailants could be heard again, slapping open the door of this lounge car and rising from its seats.

This cabin had three doors, with the walking dead slipping through two. Sabin, who was nearest the unblocked door, slammed it open, sending one of the walking dead falling from the train. The three men quickly slipped outside and immediately broke into a sprint toward the engine.

When they reached the next car, Sabin immediately latched onto the service ladder and scurried to the top. When he turned around and looked, he saw Shadow had done the same, and Cyan was in the process of doing so. Before he could reach the relative safety of the roof, however, one of the creatures had lunged and snared his ankle. Cyan shook the grip free, but three more hands latched on, and more were on their way.

"Damn it!" Sabin barked, rushing back to the edge of the car. He dropped to his belly and grabbed onto Cyan's wrist. Cyan yelped, but when he saw it was his ally, he didn't resist. He instead grabbed the top rung with his free hand and assisted Sabin in pulling him up. While their pull was fairly weak, their grip was strong enough to prevent the two men from helping Cyan climb the ladder.

Sabin called, "Shadow! Help us!"

The assassin crept forward and assessed the situation below. He reached into a pouch and pulled something from it. He struck a match and lit the grenade in his hand. With a casual toss, the grenade landed in the mass of walking dead, and promptly exploded. The shockwave did knock a few more from the train, caused the living's ears to ring, but it also freed Cyan so he could finish his climb to safety.

Shadow kneeled next to the two men trying to catch their breath. Cyan on one knee and Sabin had rolled onto his back. For a minute or so, the exhausted men recovered, watching the throng mill about the car they stood upon.

At length, Sabin spoke, "We have to stop this train and get off of it somehow. Or, at the very least, take control of it."

Cyan glanced over the edge to the inky black abyss below and shuddered, "I know not how this would serve us, Master Sabin."

Sabin sat up, then stood up, "It's either that or go where this train is going."

Cyan nodded, turning his head toward the cargo compartments, which would be fronted by the engine. "That is no alternative."

Shadow tapped the Prince on the shoulder and pointed to the edge of the car. Sabin looked over and groaned. The creatures had figured out how to climb the ladder, and were doing so, their gurgles and groans increasing in intensity.

"Well, first we need to take care of these, " Sabin said, his voice twinged with annoyance. He glanced around the roof before walking to the opposite side of the car and looking down. Between the feet of the milling throng was the link and pin between the carts. He then glanced up at the cargo cars and noticed nothing was coming from them. All of the walkers were coming from the passenger cars.

"I have an idea. Follow me!" He shouted.

With a deep breath, Sabin Rene Figaro broke into a sprint and leaped from the roof. He sailed the fifteen or sixteen feet from the roof of one car to another, landing with a roll on the far roof.

By the time he was standing, the masked man was already flying through the air. Due to the train's motion, he was also forced to roll as he landed. Cyan hesitated, sheathing his sword and brushing his hand over his mustache.

Sabin beckoned to his new friend. "Come on, Cyan! It's easier than it looks!"

Cyan quickly glanced behind him as he saw the first fingers of their pursuers reach the top rung of the ladder behind him. With a wordless cry, he broke into his sprint and took to the sky. While he easily cleared the distance, the knight tried to halt his momentum rather than break into a roll like the others had done. Instead of the smooth, clean roll, Cyan crashed forward onto the roof. The force of the impact caused the roof to suddenly collapse, pulling the older man down with it.

The fall was short, but it knocked the wind from Cyan's lungs. Amidst the dust, Cyan stood, his sternum sore from the fall.

From behind the trio, the monsters began to mass and resume their attack from before, their groans sounding to Sabin like a swarm of hornets.

"Run! Run to the first cargo cars! " Sabin shouted.

With a quick gesture for Shadow to follow, Sabin ran across the next roof and leaped again, landing as neatly as he had before. After that, he quickly slid down the ladder by the cargo compartment. Cyan was already there, standing at the ready.

Sabin quickly dropped to his knees by the coupling and pulled the pin from it. From in front of him, the first of those walkers shuffled onto the car nearby. In mere minutes, he would reach them. He reached down by the linked pieces of iron and pulled, trying to separate them.

In front of him, he heard the groans of his pursuers. He vividly heard their thumping steps, and then he heard something else. Something he'd missed before. The groans were actually garbled words.

"No escape," it intoned.

He felt the coupling separate slightly, so he heaved harder. The steps were getting closer, the chilling chant of the walking dead getting closer. He felt his face flush with effort. He roared with effort as he pulled one last time, separating the links. With a loud CLANG, the freed side slowed down, nearly yanking Sabin along with it. The Prince let go, and the only one who fell free from the train was the lead pursuer.

Sabin stood up, shaking from the effort and excitement.

"Come on. They shouldn't be a problem anymore," he said with a grim triumph.

The three of them turned and headed toward the engine.

------------------------------------------------
Unlike the passenger cars, the cargo compartments had no way around them. This made the trip all the more harrowing for all involved, passing in front of various doors, nooks, and crannies where anything could leap out at them. All three were wary as they stepped carefully through each one, weapons at the ready.

By the time they reached the final car's exit door, all three of them physically relaxed.

"This train is a lot weirder than is good for me," Sabin said, grimly. Cyan nodded in affirmation. While the terror had calmed slightly during the course of the trip, a sense of dread still nagged at him.

"Halt!" Issued a voice from behind them. "How DARE you disrupt ze great exploits of Ziegfried, ze world's greatest adventurer! For zat, you must be punished!"

The three men halted, turning slowly at the familiar scraping sound of iron against leather. What they saw seemed impressive enough. Roughly the same height as Sabin, the man wore a tight body suit that accentuated a bulky, muscular body. He wore a hood and mask. Over that, he wore bandanas as both a dew rag and around his neck as though it were a dust catcher. The ensemble was a combination black and violet colored, save for the ochre colored bandanas. He brandished a lever-action scattering in one hand, and his other was placed on the pommel of a sword sheathed on his back.

Cyan clasped his hilt, ready to draw and stepped forward. The gun kept him at bay, but a quick step could easily put him in position to slice open the interloper. Sabin also stepped forward, his armed hands raised.

"Which one of you will be first?" Ziegfried taunted. "Ze old man, or ze ox?"

Sabin scowled and shuffled another step forward."I'm getting kind of sick of being compared to a cow by every idiot I meet."

"So, it is ze meathead who wishes to perish first?" Ziegfried jibed.

Sabin's face began to redden. "Keep talking, and I'll make you eat that gun!"

"You and vhat army, no-neck?"

With that, Sabin attacked. Ziegfried pulled the trigger, but instead of the proper "BAM" of the scattergun, a dull "click" sounded. He barely swayed away from the devastating claws on Sabin's claws. He stepped to the side and drew his blade, a rapier.

With blinding speed, Ziegfried struck! Two thrusts connected with Sabin's hip, followed by a whirling slash at Shadow, who barely dodged the blow, and maneuvered to the left and right around the barrage of lunges. This might have continued save for Cyan.

With a quick swipe, the whirling and stabbing swordsman was halted and thrown off balance. Cyan wasted no motion, reversing his curved blade's arc and digging into the target's abdomen.

Ziegfried grunted and retreated,clutching the bleeding but shallow wound on his belly.

"Ow," he gasped, retreating from the older swordsman. He backed toward the exit door, his rapier raised in defense.

"I'll grant you your lives zis time, fiends! But you have not seen the last of me, Ziegfried!" He shouted as he bolted through the door.

"Art thou wounded, Master Sabin?" Cyan inquired, sheathing his blade.

Sabin quickly searched his body for wounds and found only holes in his clothing from where the blade struck. "Yeah
No. Though that has to be the oddest thing on this train."

Cyan glanced around uneasily, "If thou sayest."

Sabin glanced at his companions and promptly opened the door toward the engine. "Let's stop this thing and get off. We have a lot to do before all is said and done."

The knight did follow the monk out once again into the abyssal landscape of the train's exterior. Though he did not fear death (part of him welcomed it after all he'd been through), the feeling of dread still lingered within him as he crossed over to the engine's compartment. When Sabin opened its door, it began to rise and fall in waves.

Sabin stepped in through the door, and Cyan followed. The rest of the train was decorated with at least a sense of forlorn friendliness in mind, but the engine room was spartan in comparison. There was space enough for two men to move around freely, the rest of it was filled with wheels, dials, and levers situated over a boiler that burned with an eerie blue light.

"This is most complex," Cyan said. "What dost one to stop this?"

Sabin scratched his head, his eyes crossing over the wheels and switches. "We could run in front of it and hack away at it until it stops."

Cyan frowned. Why would he even suggest something so ludicrous? "Master Sabin, we could scarcely hope to run that fast!"

"No problem!" Sabin retorted. "I could simply suplex it when it got too close!"

Cyan scowled. The monk had already done some outrageous things since they had boarded. Was he serious?

From behind him, he heard a light scoff. He turned to look at their silent companion who had shaken his head and turned away. When he looked back, he saw a playful look in the boisterous one's eyes.

Cyan guffawed slightly, but quickly refocused. "Thine jest answers not my question, Master Sabin."

From inside the compartment, a voice uttered, "Who are you?"

The three men started, backing out of the cab so they would have room to ready their weapons. Inside the can, a man dressed as an engineer seemed to materialize from the wall. His cap and uniform were a very deep black, but his skin was very pale. He had a an expressionless face, with seemingly lidless eyes and a lipless mouth.

"I ask you once more," he said, his voice flat, but strong. "Who are you?"

"I am Sabin Figaro, prince of the Jewel of the Desert, Figaro."

Prince of Figaro? He was Edward Figaro's son? In the heat of battle, with all things involved, it not occurred to him that this would be one of his twin sons. Whilst he had never met the children, he had spoken to their noble father a number of times. Last he knew, King Edward was dead, and Edgar, his elder twin, was its current King.

"I am Cyan Garramonde, Lord Retainer to the King of Doma," he replied.

The engineer turned to him, shifting his mien slightly. Was there a glint of sadness in its dark eyes?

"I am the Train of the Departed," the pale man said. "None of you belong here. Though you delayed me a great deal, I will let you disembark at the next stop."

He then switched his gaze to lock eyes with the older knight. "You will not like what you are about to see. Just remember all you see and hear."

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
:::::::::::::::::

The three men stood by the train's rails as it pulled into the next loading dock. The bleak, surreal landscape slowly morphed into an area similar to where they boarded. As the air brakes hissed and the final puff of steam escaped from the stacks, the spectral engineer appeared next to the three men once more.

"This is where I will let you get off. From there, follow the mossy trail to the edge of the forest. From there, you will find the top of Barren Falls. From there, a simple leap of faith will take you to the next step of your journey."

The three men disembarked, moving quickly toward the archway in front of them. Cyan felt a strange sense of urgency as he moved to the gate, but also felt incredibly wary of what was looming in his immediate future.

Before they could cross over from the dock and down the ramp into the forest behind them, the engineer bellowed, "All aboard!"

That's when the first person appeared at the archway. Despite the creaking boards, it floated over the dock and passed the engineer. In a rapid drove, more and more people appeared and passed by the three waiting men.

"Are these people...?" Sabin asked.

Cyan nodded, his dread shifting to fearful reluctance, as though the reason for the dread was right here. He swallowed hard and braced for the feeling he knew was going to collide with him.

Interspersed among the dead citizens, more and more of his soldiers crossed the dock with their families and boarded the train. Some didn't seem to notice him, others turned and waved to him. Some even mouthed the words "good-bye" to him.

The first signs of helpless grief began to wash over him. Watching people he knew and cared for was going to be a harrowing he was going to be forced to take. For his part, he stood at attention and crossed his sword and hand in a Doman salute. As their commander, he fell upon his discipline to avoid breaking down into tears.

Even when the King of Doma appeared through the gate, the loyal retainer remained steadfast, though he felt the pressure was too much for him, and a small tear escaped from his eye.

The King stopped in front of him, stepping away from the line. He was young again, and handsome. His head was bare and his face was clean shaven, as he was in the prime of his life. Cyan dropped his salute and lay his sword to the ground, genuflecting before the specter of his lord.

"Rise, Cyan, my old friend," the king said, his voice more otherworldly, but just as strong as it was before. "You are no longer my servant, but the sovereign of all Doma."

Cyan rose, leaving his sword at his feet. He choked back a sob, and the tears ran more freely down his cheek.

"As its former King, I charge you to rebuild the Kingdom, from what you have. I know you, old friend, you will not fail," the former King said. With that, the King bowed solemnly and moved to join his subjects aboard the train.

Cyan kept his head bowed, bitter tears streaming down his face. So far, he had withstood the sight of his people all departing. That, however, would change. He felt a soft hand on his shoulder, and a small one on his hip. He clenched his eyes shut, knowing the owners of those hands.

A soft, feminine voice whispered, "Beloved husband. Look at me. Please."

A child's voice added, "Please, father."

Cyan opened his eyes, espying the young and beautiful woman he had fallen in love with. Her ghostly aura only enhancing her beauty all the more in her eyes. Only sharpening the hot, stabbing pain in his heart.

"Thou wert the greatest of husbands, beloved. The hours in which I drew breath under thy roof were the happiest of mine life- and a lady wouldst ask thee naught better, " Elayne whispered. She leaned forward and her ghostly lips met his, her spectral kiss becoming as painful as it was sweet. After a few seconds, she pulled back.

"Farewell, father," Owain said. "I shall take with me what thou hast taught, and prepare our house for thy arrival. Until then, know that we love you."

Cyan let them join the others aboard the train, but dropped to his knees. The train's whistle blew, signifying its departure. Cyan jumped to his feet, wailing and reaching his hand out to his family as the train began to speed away.

As he stumbled toward the departing train, he felt someone in front of him. With a rough swat, he shoved the obstruction from him and stumbled after the train, his mind racing. He was going to go with them. Life was not worth living without his liege or his family...

A weight leaped onto his back and kicked his legs from under him. A strong weight pinned him, but did not obstruct his view of his family as the train faded into the horizon.

"No!" he howled in anguish. "No! Takest me with thee! I cannot do what thou ask! Without thee I am nothing!"

He thrashed helplessly beneath the weight until he gave up and allowed himself to surrender. They were gone, and he was here. With no way of knowing where to begin, all he could do was let the true grief overcome him. Still laying there, he covered his head and wept. Wept until his body became weary.

As the tears ceased, he glanced up and found his sword, laying in front of him.

When he glanced up, he spied his new friend, the Prince of Figaro. Sabin knelt down in front of him, a look of compassion and sadness masked his face. In his heart, he knew that Sabin and his friends, the Returners, were the way to begin his lifelong quest to rebuild his homeland.

Sabin reached his hand out to the older knight, and Cyan took it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. Cyan, his face covered in dirt and grime, could only show his shaky resolve by looking into the Prince's eye.

"Shadow said he had fulfilled his contract, and left a few minutes ago. It's just us now," Sabin said quietly.

"Lead on, Prince Sabin, and I shall follow."

The two men exited the station, ready and waiting for what comes next.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 1st September 2018 22:57

--------------------
"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
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Posted: 1st September 2018 23:14

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Black Mage
Posts: 166

Joined: 7/1/2014


Chapter 12: Into the Wild.

It was a short trip over the path and into the wide open space. Though a mere two days had passed since the fall of Doma, the forest seemed to cause time to stretch differently within the minds of its travelers. It took less than a day to climb the gently sloped Mount Barren, and one could not help but enjoy the view. The clear spring air allowed full view of a she-bear and her cubs gathered around a bush to gather berries, and a pair of redbirds to fly an intertwined route from tree to tree in search of their own food.

Sabin Rene Figaro stood at the top of the mountain, the rest they had received the night before beneath the clear stars was the first they'd had in two days. Beside him, looking down into the frothing falls stood the Doman Retainer, Cyan Garramonde.

"The train told you to jump over these falls?" Sabin asked incredulously.

Cyan nodded, his face stolid. "The next step would be a leap of faith. Over Barren Falls would be the Wild Straits then into the Veldt. Our other option is to go through all things in the past."

Sabin looked back into the Phantom Forest and shuddered. Even if he died from the long fall over the waterfall, it would be better than dealing with all of the things they had seen before.

He sighed and loosened his muscles on his neck and legs.

"Are you ready, Cyan?"

Cyan nodded, his eyes trying to penetrate the spray at the bottom of the falls.

With a yell, Sabin ran and leaped, clearing the land as far as he could. Cyan soon followed, and very soon the waters of the strait would come up to meet them.

______________________________________________

The boy saw the men laying in the yuck water. They were covered in it. Both men were tall, but looked so much different than each other, and from those at the People Den. One had short, golden hair, the other had long, dark hair. Both looked strong, but tired. They wore the strange plant skins the others wore. The dark-haired one also had something strange on his back. He'd seen many hand-teeth before - he had one on his animal skin- but this one was long and curvy. He also knew that the two men were sleeping at the high tide mark. Not a good thing! The yuck water would cover them and they would drown

The boy apishly scampered over to them. He looked to be about 12 or 13, with long, shaggy brown hair and soft brown eyes. His skin was golden brown from long periods in the sun, and his body was lean and tawny, from hunting and behaving as an animal. He wore a threadbare pair of human trousers (plant skin!) so he could carry his hand-tooth and use his hands for a good reason.

The boy, whose name was Gau, reached the short haired man first. He locked his hands with is own and dragged. The sand on the beach made him easier to drag, and soon enough, the sleeping man was safe from the yuck water.

Gau hopped over to the second man, and did the same. He was older and slightly taller, but he also had the long, curvy hand-tooth. Now that man was safe, so he decided to pull the tooth from its shelter. He reached over the man ang tugged, exposing the mithril just so slightly. The man, who was laying on his back, reached up and snared the boy's wrist.

Gau squealed, trying to jerk himself from the older man's grip. The old man sat up, wide awake. He slipped away from the man's grip, letting the hand-tooth go.

"Longtooth scare! Gau!"

Cyan bolted upright, startled by the howl of the feral child.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Cyan crawled to his feet, his eyes scanning the grassland in front of him, trying to discern where he was. Wet, fine sand and salt sifted through his soggy fingers. Compared to the cool, soggy forest of his homeland, the dry heat seemed both refreshing and slightly oppressive. his clothes were badly torn and crusted with sea salt, and his fingernails were cracked as he ran them over his salt-encrusted skin.

Off in the distance, he saw the vague outline of smoke over the shrubs and sparse trees. Between them, he saw a herd of large lupine creatures and near them, a herd of large bovine creatures with curved tusks.

Somewhere close to him, his companion stirred. The fall should have killed them, but something about Barren Falls allowed them to be carried to a relatively soft landing in the water below. While it was a brief swim, he remembered the waves tossing them about and flying through the air repeatedly. When the beating finally overcame him, he remembered the world blurring and darkness overcoming him.

"Where are we?" Sabin groaned.

"I know not. If what hath been taught to me as a child be truth, this wouldst be the Veldt," Cyan replied.

Sabin rolled to his belly then climbed to his feet. "The what?"

"A wildland south of Doma. Little civilization exists here. Life abounds in strange animals and the grasses and such."

Sabin kicked the sand. "Damn! We need to go north! Now what do we do?"

Cyan pointed to the smoke east of them. "There! They art the smoke of hearth fires. Mayhap a village looms over yon horizon?"

Sabin quickly removed his tattered shirt and shook the salt and sand from it. "It's better than nothing."

Sabin decided against putting on the salty shirt for now, tying it around his waist to allow the warmer sun on his skin. Also, the salt and grime made the shirt unappealing to don again.

Cyan spotted a colony of rodents. They cavorted about on their hind legs, dug for grubs in shady spots near rocks, and otherwise just lived a busy, yet carefree life. These were similar to the gophers he used to see during his walks through his gardens and orchards. This shifted his thoughts to his wife.

This post has been edited by chevleclair on 11th September 2018 22:43

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"So, are you a fan of the Fett?"

"Nah, I'm more of a Star Wars guy."
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