Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 3 – Part 2)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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”.

Shadow (Left)           Locke - StealEdgar - Shocked Terra - Glance
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

The journey was barely a day long with the help of the lovable chocobos. They found the one that had run off wandering a little further south, looking decidedly regretful that it had abandoned its rider. Locke forgave it for dumping him in the sand and gave it and the others a few handfuls of seed before they continued on.

They reached the cave by mid-afternoon and passed through as quickly as possible, as the birds seemed to be frightened of the dark. From there it was a leisurely trot across grassy lands until they came to the port-town of South Figaro just before nightfall. The view was beautiful from here; the clear blue ocean lay to the south of the town, and a vast mountain range, tinted red by the sunset, lay to the north. Terra and Edgar admired the view and took the chocobos to a stable just outside town while Locke, the least conspicuous of the three, ran to the nearest shop to procure some disguises. He returned with a long, dark green robe for Edgar, who would be most easily recognized by the royal crests for his clothing. For Terra he brought a black silk scarf to hide her strange hair color, which had been spoken about enough in rumors to be identifiable.

“There’s a bar attached to the inn,” Locke informed them as they donned their new fabrics. “What say we book a room and have a nice, relaxing drink before bed?”

Edgar looked like he might argue, but he caved at the pleading in Locke’s eyes and the interested look on Terra’s face. “All right, all right. But I’d better not have any trouble hauling you out of bed in the morning, Mr Cole. We can’t afford to be sleeping in.”

Locke grinned, and Terra was sure she caught a hint of mischievousness in the action.

Terra hadn’t gotten to see much of Narshe, and her mind had been too busy during most of her time in Figaro, so she took her time to take in the visuals of South Figaro. It was a lovely little town, busy with people. There was a bustling market district near the harbor; men were selling everything from fish and bread, to knives and swords, while women sold beautiful hand-woven fabrics and sweet treats. There were more children here than there had seemed to be in Figaro, running and playing if they weren’t fishing off the docks with homemade poles. Several large boats with colorful sails, packed high with crates, were docked in the harbor, either waiting to unload or to ship out. Finally, the houses and different establishments were made of either logs or wood paneling, giving a somehow warmer and friendlier feel than had the stone corridors of Figaro Castle.

The bar was busy, but there was a friendly atmosphere about the place and the travelers were lucky enough to snag a corner table as an older couple were leaving.

“What’ll I get yeh?” a busty barmaid asked with a smile.

Terra saw Edgar about to flash his dazzling smile, but Locke noticed as well and kicked him hard under the table. “Three of the house ale, please,” he said while Edgar hissed in pain. The barmaid looked at them sideways, but wandered over to the bar all the same and quickly returned with three large glass tankards.

“You’re an ass,” Edgar muttered at Locke under his breath as the barmaid wandered away, hips wiggling.

Locke simply laughed out loud and took a large gulp of his ale. After a moment Edgar, who didn’t seem to have it in him to stay mad for long, followed suit.

Terra looked cautiously at the glass of honey-colored liquid in front of her. She wondered why it foamed at the top and smelled musty. Eventually she placed the glass to her lips and took a swig. Locke and Edgar laughed at the face she made as she placed the glass back down to the table.

“Maybe we’ll get you something a little sweeter?” Edgar suggested, but Terra shook her head.

“No, it’s fine!” she insisted, not wanting to waste the drink. “I’ll drink it!” She took another gulp to prove her point, and controlled her reaction this time. Then she took another drink…and another. Soon her cheeks were starting to turn pink.

“Woah! Slow down there!” Locke chuckled. “We’ll be scraping you up off the floor if you keep drinking like that!”

As usual Terra didn’t understand, but she slowed down all the same. Instead of guzzling the mug of liquid, she examined it, wondering how it could taste so icy cold and yet still make her throat and stomach feel warm.

The men chatted casually about idle things while Terra studied the patrons of the bar. There were lots of men in filthy work clothes, drinking and laughing loudly, but also a few women. Terra observed that the men and women who were the loudest also seemed to be the ones with red cheeks and noses. The barmaid hopped from table to table, cheerfully serving drinks. Once or twice Terra saw her using her serving tray to smack the hands of red-faced men who tried to grab at her backside.

Terra’s gaze wandered past a trio of older men singing terribly off-key, past the middle-aged bartender who was daydreaming whilst drying a mug, and to the other side of the bar where a man sat alone with a dog at his side. Her eyes stopped here for a moment because he seemed so out of place amid the gaiety. He was dressed almost entirely in black; even his head and face were shrouded in black scarves so that only his dark eyes peeked out at the world. The only color on him came from a golden decoration on the wrap over his forehead, and a set of thick golden cuffs, one on each wrist. At his hip was a long, thin sheath that, presumably, housed a like-sized sword. A full mug of ale sat on the table in front of him, but he did not touch it. And then there was the dog. The dog was enormous and lean, mostly black like its master, but with a dark brown throat and belly. Neither its long, thin tail, nor its short pointed ears twitched as it sat obediently next to its master.

Terra stared at the pair for a long time.

Edgar’s angry voice brought her back to the table. “No, I am not following in his footsteps! I fully intend on returning to Figaro once our tasks are done!”

Locke’s hands were up in the air in defense. “Didn’t mean anything by it, pal. Just making an observation.”

Edgar fumed. Terra guessed that the conversation had turned to the twin brother who had run away from home. Still curious with the little information the handmaiden had offered, she wondered if it would be okay to prod the subject. After a few more gulps of ale she decided it would be fine.

“Edgar,” she posed the question slowly. “Why exactly did your brother run away?”

She had been worried that he’d get angry, but instead he looked rather surprised.

“The handmaidens mentioned it,” she admitted.

Locke looked interestedly on; Terra assumed from the look on his face that he’d never heard the full story himself.

Edgar stayed quiet for a moment, swishing the ale in his mug and glancing back and forth between it and Terra. Eventually, after looking at Locke and finding the other mane staring intently, he sighed and lay the drink down. “Alright, alright,” he said quietly. Both Locke and Terra leaned in to hear better.

“First off,” Edgar began, “Our mother died when we were very young. She’d been sick and eventually the disease took her away from us.”

Locke nodded, apparently having already known this part.

“Then, a few years ago, our father grew mysteriously ill. He’d been perfectly healthy before, and as he was rumored to have been funding an underground rebellion – the early Returners – it was widely suspected that he was poisoned by the Empire.”

Terra drew in a sharp breath.

Edgar continued on, eagerly now, as though he’d been secretly dying to get this off his chest. “Sabin was always innocent and carefree. He focused more on his martial fighting hobby than on things like politics and his royal position. When he heard that the Empire may have assassinated our father, and that nothing was to be done about it, his world shattered.

Father passed on.” Edgar paused here, recalling the painful memory. “And he left behind a wish that the kingdom be divided between his two sons. But Sabin rejected the idea of becoming a king. To have such power, and not even be able to avenge his own father? No. He wanted freedom from the insanity of the world that had fallen on his shoulders, and…and he wanted me to come with him.”

Locke sat up straight in surprise. “Really?” he asked.

Edgar nodded. “We made an agreement; the toss of a coin would decide. If it was heads, he’d win and we’d both leave Figaro behind together and find our own way in the world. If it was tails…we’d both choose whichever path we thought was best, no hard feelings and no regrets.”

From here, Terra and Locke could easily deduce what had happened. The three of them sat quietly for a minute, each imagining or remembering it in their own way, and Edgar took a long drought of ale.

“But I guess it all turned out, more or less,” Locke said quietly.

Edgar nodded. “Except for one thing.” He smiled sadly at the questioning looks of his companions before explaining: “There have been plenty of regrets.”

After a few more moments of silence the men began to speak quietly and casually again while Terra turned Edgar’s words around and around in her head. What exactly did he mean? Did he regret that he hadn’t gone with his brother, or perhaps that he’d let his brother leave? His attitude toward his duties would have her believe that he regretted allowing himself to become entrapped in the world of politics. This, she felt, she could at least understand a little. To be forced to play at allies with the very people who had murdered your father…the idea deeply unsettled her stomach. In fact, she felt a little ill.

Her hand flew to her mouth and she forced herself to swallow though the taste was horrifying. The men weren’t paying attention, so she quietly pushed her mug away and took a few deep breaths to settle her stomach. She closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself, and then slowly opened them.

The black-clothed man and his dog were staring at her.

Surprised, Terra stared back with wide, unblinking eyes. The man didn’t blink either, didn’t even move an inch. Terra wondered why he was suddenly so interested in her, and with a note of panic she wondered if he recognized her. Was he from the Empire?

Locke noticed the look on Terra’s face and turned in his seat. “See something you like?” he called sarcastically to the stranger.

The dark eyes didn’t turn toward Locke’s voice, but after a moment they turned back to the still-full mug of ale. Half a second later the dog turned away as well.

Locke’s face reddened. “At the very least you could give me a response!” He began to stand up, but Edgar hauled him roughly back into his seat.

“Are you crazy?” he hissed. “Do you know who that is? That’s Shadow!”

“So?”

Edgar shook his head, the look on his face suggesting that Locke was exceptionally stupid. “Shadow is a famous mercenary-for-hire,” he explained in a low whisper. “He’s a money-grubbing madman. Rumor is he’d slit his mamma’s throat for a nickel!”

Locke raised his eyebrows and swallowed visibly. “Best to steer clear of him then…” he admitted while glancing at Shadow out of the corner of his eye.

Terra, however, was staring openly now. He was mysterious enough, for sure, but she didn’t get an evil feeling from him. She wondered if Edgar’s words were an exaggeration, and she felt a twinge of apathy for the man. People seemed to think she was dangerous too…

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