Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 1 – Part 3)

For your reading pleasure, here is the third part of Final Fantasy: Returning Hope, Chapter One.

Warning: there may be profane language in the following excerpt.

Reminder: you can see the previous posts of this story by choosing “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope” from the Categories drop-down banner on the left side of the blog.

Terra - Sad (Front)Arvis (Left)
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net*

The pain was immense. She groaned aloud and reached up to her throbbing head but found herself tangled up in a pair of bedsheets. Disoriented and panicked, she kicked and thrashed at the bedding and soon found herself tumbling painfully to the floor with a loud thud.

“Where am I?” she cried, eyes darting around the small bedroom.

“Woah,” a warm voice responded, “It’s okay, just calm down. You’re safe here.”

She turned to the closet where an elderly man with a kind face was placing something away. “I…I don’t remember anything!” she sobbed, her eyes widening in fright, “What’s happening to me?”

The man smiled woefully and took the item he’d been tucking away back out of the closet. It was a thin gold circle of some sort and looking at it filled her with dread, though she was unsure why. “This is a slave crown,” the man explained, “The men you were with, they had complete control over you while you were wearing it. If you’ve been wearing it a long time it may have some adverse effects on your memory, but it should all come back…in time, that is. Can you remember your name?”

She thought, though it was painful, and found that there was something, lingering in the very back of her mind, waiting for her to retrieve it. If she concentrated she could almost see the letters in front of her eyes…

“T…Terra…” she whispered aloud, “Terra Branford. My…my name is Terra Branford.”

“Wonderful!” the older man exclaimed, “Rarely does anyone recover this fast! You should do well.” He walked towards her and Terra found herself scrambling backwards, her back pressed up against the bed she’d fallen from. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said again, with that same warm smile, “I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”

Slowly, analyzing his face, she found she believed him, although she was still terribly frightened. “How did I get here?”

Before the kind man could answer there was a furious pounding from the other side of the house. Alarmed, they both jumped.

“Open up!” a voice bellowed, “Open this door! We know you’ve got her in there and we want her back, old man! That woman is an officer of the Empire!”

“Empire?” Terra stuttered, “Officer? Me? What does he mean?”

The man’s face had gone hard, his eyes narrowed toward the front door of his small home. “I’m very sorry Terra. I’d hoped we’d have more time to chat, but unfortunately it looks like that’s a luxury we can’t afford.” Without warning he jogged over to her, and hauled her up off the floor from under the arm. Dragging her unceremoniously over to a corner, he began to slide a bookcase out of the way of what appeared to be a hidden door, grunting from the heft of his books.

“You’ve got to escape out through the mines while I keep these guys occupied!” he explained hurriedly, “I’m sorry that I don’t have time to explain everything, but I promise I’ll send someone to meet up with you just as soon as he arrives here.”

“I-I don’t want to go alone!” Terra cried, her heart racing, “I don’t know what to do!”

The man’s face softened again, just a little, but he stood resolutely, gesturing towards the door. “I am terribly sorry, but believe me when I say you’ll be better off running. I promise that someone will meet you as soon as possible. Just keep out of sight of the miners and you should be fine.”

She was confused, her head still throbbed, and she hadn’t the slightest clue what was happening to her. Every thought in her mind screamed out in protest of this entire situation. However, she found that she wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with choices.

“I’ll…I’ll go,” she finally agreed, a few hot tears brimming in her eyes, “But please…make sure someone comes soon.” She didn’t wait to hear a response because she was frightened she’d lose her nerve.

It was dark outside and the wind was freezing. A few burning lanterns gave Terra enough light to see the small wooden bridge extending from the hidden door, over the street, and into a small cave opening. She started to creep carefully forward and instantly winced at the noise she created. Examining herself for the first time she found she was covered in bits and pieces of bronze armor. Carefully, painstakingly, she peeled the armor away and laid it carefully down on the bridge, piece by piece until she was wearing only the basic grey jumpsuit meant as an undergarment. Free of the noisy coverings, she scrambled to the cave as quickly as she dared while still keeping as quiet as possible.

The cave was either part of one of the mine shafts that was currently being excavated, or else the old man kept it lit with small strings of lanterns for just such an occasion. Terra crept through quietly at first, but a yell near the cave’s entrance sent her into a panicked run. She wasn’t sure why she was so frightened, but some instinct told her to trust the old man and to fear the men who had pounded on his front door. She ran through tunnels, unthinking, taking a left, then a right, never debating where she was going or where she might end up, until eventually she found herself at a dead end.

“Oh…” she muttered, halting in front of the solid stone wall, “Dammit.”

“There she is!” a voice echoed through the tunnel.

Terra spun around, eyes wide, to find half a dozen men with mine picks and at least one rifle barreling down on her. Somehow she’d managed to navigate herself right into their hunting party.

“Alright, Missy,” the man with the rifle spoke in a gruff voice, “Don’t try and escape now. We’ve got you cornered. Just come quietly.”

Terra’s heart raced and a few hot tears rolled from her eyes. What do I do? she thought.

“What do you want from me?” was what she screamed, “Leave me alone!”

The men took a few steps forward, not answering her cries, and she pressed herself up against the wall.

“No!” she screamed as loudly as she could manage, “Stay back!”

A deep rumbling sound came from somewhere close by and the men stepped back in surprise and alarm. “Shut up!” one of them hissed at Terra, “Not so loud! You’ll bring the place down!”

“Get away!” she shrieked again, ignoring his warning and straining her voice.

It happened so suddenly that the men barely managed to scramble away. Terra didn’t even attempt to move as the stony floor crumbled beneath her.

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