Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 2 – Part 1)

Since I’ve decided to start working on this project again as a way of getting my word count up, I’m going to keep posting bits of this for a while. Enjoy!

Reminder: If you’re looking for the previously posted parts of the story, go to the “Categories” drop-down banner on the left banner of the site and choose “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope”.

Locke - AngryLocke - TentTerra - Glance
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

They walked in silence until they were a good distance away from the town. As they traipsed along, the only sound that of the snow crunching beneath their feet, Locke took the opportunity to steal quick glances at Terra out of the corner of his eye. He’d heard many rumors about the ‘blue-haired Magitek girl’. He’d heard people use the word ‘witch’ and exchange stories about how she could destroy an entire city (as no cities had gone missing lately, Locke was fairly certain these stories were exaggerations). Arvis, the old man from Narshe, insisted that she was nothing more than a victim of the Empire’s cruelty. Locke thought she looked simply like a scared young woman barely out of her teenage years.

It took them over an hour to reach Locke’s small campsite, at which point he determined it should be safe to break the silence.

“Alright, Terra,” he said jovially while sticking his head inside the tiny tent, “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” He grabbed two articles of clothing from the small pile he owned and turned back to find Terra gazing rather intensely at the remains of his fire from the night before. He wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking at, but when he cleared his throat she slowly turned back to face him.

“Here you go!” He grinned and held out a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. “These should warm you up a bit!”

Terra’s eyes slowly dropped to his outreached hands and there they stayed. She had a blank look on her face.

A few moments passed and Locke began to shift his weight nervously from foot to foot. “Um…” he said eventually, clearing his throat again, “I know they’re not…fashionable, and their probably way too big, but…”

Terra’s eyes shot up and widened. She looked as though she’d just woken from a trance. “No, no…” she stumbled over the words. “They’re fine, of course. Thank you very much…” She gave a strange, unsure smile as she took the clothes from Locke.

She pulled the jeans over the gray jumpsuit. Locke himself was fairly lean, so they weren’t enormous, but still they hung loose around her hips. The jacket was very large – Locke liked it baggy – but she wrapped it around her chilled body happily.

“Hungry?” Locke asked. He held out an apple from his pack.

Terra nodded frantically, only just now realizing what the pain in her stomach was trying to tell her, and accepted the apple hungrily.

Locke took a large bite of his own apple and chewed thoughtfully. “Maybe we should camp here for the day,” he suggested after swallowing. “After everything that’s happened, well…it’s probably been more than twenty-four hours since you had a decent rest.”

But Terra was already shaking her head. “Honestly, she told him, “I don’t think I could sleep now if I tried. I think…I think I’d just like to get far away from here as fast as possible. If…if that’s okay with you?”

Locke found it hard to believe that Terra wasn’t utterly exhausted after all she’d been through, but he replied with a smile and a “No problem!” and quickly began to gather up his belongings.

And he waited for the questions. He had assumed that, once he’d shown it was okay to talk again, he’d be bombarded with them. Surely this poor girl with a lost memory, finding herself in such a strange and frightening situation, would have a million questions to ask. And yet, she seemed strangely quiet, withdrawn, and uninterested. She was silent while Locke rounded up the last of his things and dismantled the tent. She gave only a small nod when he asked if she was ready to set out. He heard only the sounds of the snow under her boots as she walked.

It was, to say the least, a little unnerving.

As they hiked for mile after mile, Locke began to nervously wonder what her problem was. Was she scared? He thought he’d done a fine job of reassuring her that he was here to help and that he wanted to be her friend. Was it shyness then? She hadn’t seemed particularly shy earlier, but perhaps now that the initial shock had worn off… Or maybe she’d hit her head harder than he’d originally assessed. Could that be it?

A little too frantically, he whipped his head around to examine Terra’s face. She looked back at him with shock at his sudden movement and he quickly forced a grin on his face and turned back to the path. Well, she’d responded quickly enough anyway.

The truth was that while Locke was desperately debating why Terra wouldn’t ask any questions, Terra was having a mental and emotional battle over what questions she wanted to ask.

There were so many of them swarming through her head that she couldn’t seem to choose just one. Why had the men from Narshe been trying to capture her? What was this Empire they thought she was a part of? Who was the old man who had helped her? What were those little bear-like creatures she’d seen? The list went on and on and repeated itself multiple times through her head until it hurt physically. How could she possibly decide what to ask first? And how could she avoid the questions that she didn’t necessarily want to know the answers to?

Many hours later, when the sun had begun to sink behind the mountains, Locke collapsed and suggested they camp for the night.

“It’s another four or five days at least,” he explained. He panted, out of breath from the trek, while Terra’s breathing seemed perfectly stable. “We’re far enough away from Narshe now; they won’t follow us this far. We should rest and eat.”

Terra nodded in her quiet way and sat herself gracefully down on a fallen tree.

Locke reconstructed the tent to the low hotting of a waking owl. Once the tent was in place he extracted a few pieces of dried jerky from his pack and handed half of them to Terra. He observed, as she took them gratefully, that the strange young woman didn’t seem to register hunger until she was presented with food.

“Locke?” Terra spoke softly.

He jumped a mile at the sound of her voice. He’d become so used to the silence. “Yes?” he replied after a second of steadying his heart.

She hesitated a moment, fidgeting where she sat, and eventually she said in an even quieter voice, “Tell me about yourself.”

Locke couldn’t have been more taken aback. Of all the things she could have asked!

“Uh, well…” he stuttered his surprise. “What do you want to know?”

Terra flushed a little and stared determinedly forward at the owl stretching his wings from a nearby branch. “I don’t know…anything.”

He stared at her out of the corner of his eye for a long moment before finally speaking hesitantly. “Well, I’m a member of the Returners,” he told her. “I do a lot of…spying, and odd-jobs for them. The man you met in Narshe is one of us as well.”

“And who exactly are the Returners?” Terra asked quickly, and now Locke understood. She hadn’t known where to start, and now he’d given her an opening.

“Well,” he said, thinking about how to best answer the question, “We’re an organization that’s opposed to the Empire. I’m not sure how far we’ll get or how much good we’ll do, but I guess you could say that we’re trying to bring the whole thing down.”

Terra nodded quietly, but Locke could see that she didn’t quite understand.

“It’s like this…” He took a bite of his jerky and repositioned himself to face Terra. “There’s this guy called Emperor Gestahl. He has lots of followers and a huge army, and he does a lot of awful things like invading peaceful countries and taxing people nearly to death. I guess you could say, for lack of a better description, that he wants to take over the world.”

Terra nodded again, a little more enthusiastically. “And the…Returners want to stop him?”

“Right,” Locke confirmed. “We’re freedom fighters.”

Terra had many more questions, but she found herself suddenly rather frightened to ask them. She was thinking about the miners who had shouted from outside the old man’s house. That woman is an officer of the Empire! That’s what they’d said. Was it true? She certainly couldn’t remember, but they had sure seemed to think so. Did Locke know about it? Surely he wouldn’t have helped her if he did… Or perhaps he did know and she was really his unwitting prisoner, being duped into coming quietly.

Locke watched Terra’s blank face as she ran through the possibilities in her head. He expected that, how she’d finally broken the question barrier, she would continue relentlessly. After a few minutes, however, she simply nodded. The jerky strips were limp, forgotten in her hand as she stared into the trees where the owl dove at a field mouse.

Though it was a peaceful night, they both slept uneasily.

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