Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 4 – 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”.

Vargas (Front)       Sabin - Action
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The base of Mount Kolts was foreboding. There was a path, but it was thin and steep. They would have to go single file, and the chocobos would have to be left behind.

“They’ll be okay, won’t they?” Terra asked as they dismounted.

“They’ll be fine,” Edgar promised. “They’re extremely smart birds, and well-trained. They’ll stick together and make their way back to the forests to the west of Figaro Castle. There’s a stable master there who will take good care of them.”

Terra nodded and turned to her chocobo. She nuzzled her face into its feathery cheek and whispered a quiet, “Thanks for everything.” The bird cooed softly at her and ruffled its wings in reply.

“Okay, are we all set?” Locke asked. He was looking warily up the path, to a spot about a hundred meters away where the air suddenly became very foggy.

“Ready,” Edgar replied, voice steady. He pulled the auto-crossbow from his back and held it at the ready in front of him.

Terra nodded and began clenching and relaxing her fists in preparation. She looked back at the chocobos one more time and they squawked at her once before turning and trotting off together. Terra silently wished them a safe journey.

They headed up the mountain cautiously, Edgar at the front, ready to sink an arrow into anything that attacked them. Locke was at the rear; he’d produced two long, curved knives from his pack and was twirling them around his fingers while keeping his eyes warily on the fog. Terra walked in between them, no physical weapon on her, but continuing to clench and flex her hands. She tried to watch all directions at once in case either man found himself in trouble.

Though the path was steep, slowing their ascent, it wasn’t long before they began to approach the wall of fog. It was a little disconcerting, to be sure. The misty whiteness hung in front of them, still and silent, as though an invisible wall was holding it from sinking down any lower. It was thick as well; even Terra’s excellent eyes couldn’t tell what was beyond it.

Without meaning to, the trio had stopped in front of the white wall, hesitant to proceed. From somewhere above, a small rock fell with a gentle, echoing clatter, and Locke jumped. Eventually, just when Terra was starting to wonder if the men had gotten cold feet, Edgar took a deep breath and choked up on his auto-crossbow.

“Keep close,” he instructed. “And watch your footing.”

It was an odd sensation, Terra thought. She could make out Edgar’s body in front of her, and she could feel Locke’s presence behind her, but everything around them was a void of white and shadow. They shuffled along very slowly now, taking care that their feet continued to land on solid stone. For all intents and purposes, they could have been climbing the mountain with their eyes closed.

Terra stopped suddenly. Preoccupied, Locke stumbled into her. Edgar whipped around at the sound.

“What’s wrong?”

Terra’s eyes were narrowed, staring at a spot some fifteen feet to their right. “I saw a shadow…”

Given the nature of their journey, Edgar and Locke decided to take the claim very seriously. They raised their weapons, eyes darting to where Terra was staring.

Cautiously, her arms raised out in front of her, Terra began to creep forward to where she’d seen the movement. Eventually, gingerly, the fingertips of her left hand met rock; her right hand met open air. With Locke and Edgar creeping along behind her she examined the rock wall – and the absence of rock wall – with her hands. She noticed that minuscule movements in the air displaced the fog from the area where there was no rock.

“It’s a cave,” she deduced. With the men sticking close to her sides, she began to move into it.

They walked very slowly at first, feeling along the walls to guide them, Terra now in the lead. Soon, however, the fog began to clear. Gradually a wide tunnel appeared before them. It was dark, but without the fog their eyes were able to adjust. Terra conjured a small flame in her hand to help guide their way.

“I’m…I’m not sure which way he went,” Terra stammered when they came to a fork in the road. “But I’m sure that the shadow I saw was a large man.”

Edgar nodded gravely. “Alright,” he said. “We’ll try the right path then. I’ll lead, Locke will keep an eye behind us, just in case. Terra, you keep the light going.”

She adhered, but as they started down their chosen path she couldn’t help feeling anxious. Neither man’s eyes were as good as hers and she worried that the shadow-man would pop out and attack before either of them saw anything happening. If only she’d seen where the shadow had gone, they’d know where to focus their attention! She found herself obsessively turning back and forth to make sure that neither of the men had been silently murdered while she wasn’t looking.

“There’s light up ahead,” Edgar announced quietly. It was only a tiny light at first, but they soon found themselves coming back out into the mountainside.

There was no fog here; only clean, crisp mountain air and the bright mid-day sun shining down on them. There was a rickety-looking bridge creating a path from one ledge to another, and when Terra looked over the edge she saw that the fog was below them, masking their elevation.

A flash of movement brought Terra’s eyes back up to another cave opening at the far end of the rope bridge. “There!” she hissed at the men. “Someone is in that cave!”

Eyes narrowed, Edgar lifted his auto-crossbow and dashed across the bridge. With a cry of alarm Locke ran after him, and after half a second of surprise, Terra followed.

“Edgar, hold up!” Locke cried. “This bridge might not be safe!”

As though his words had been a prophecy, the air was suddenly filled with the sickening echo of snapping wood as a foot-board broke. With a yell of alarm, Edgar disappeared from sight. Locke hit the bridge with full force on his stomach and threw his arms out, barely snatching Edgar’s flailing hand out of the air. The force of the catch jerked both men forward. Locke quickly looped his feet around the rope rungs of the bridge to stop himself himself from being yanked through the hole as well.

“You idiot!” Locke bellowed.

“I’m sorry!” Edgar’s cracking voice wafted up.

Helpless as to what she should do, Terra dropped to her knees, scraping her legs on the weather-beaten wood, and began hauling on Locke’s legs. “Hold on!” she cried, panicked. “I’ll pull you back!”

“You can’t!” Locke grunted as she nearly ripped his legs from his body. “The two of us together are too heavy!”

She was about to argue, but just as she opened her mouth another ear-splitting crack filled the air.

Locke had just enough time to twist his head and look at Terra with wide eyes before the entire bridge collapsed beneath them.

The moment of the drop seemed to last forever as Terra’s heart raced, but the fall itself was all too fast. Before a second had passed they were hurtling through the layer of fog. Less than a second after that, the wind passing by her ears began to burn. Half a second later they’d come to a very sudden, extremely jerky stop.

For a moment Terra thought they’d hit the bottom and died. Then she realized that her right hand was still locked in a death-grip on Locke’s pant leg. Further below, looking as though he might pass out from fright, Edgar was still dangling from Locke’s arm. After a few seconds of tense silence, Terra took note of the strange position she’d landed in and looked up to find that the leather belt she’d wrapped around her waist to carry a pouch of seed for the chocobos had caught on the thick branch of a tall tree. They’d been saved by a lonely tree growing in the middle of the mountain. Edgar’s hanging feet were less than five feet from the ground.

“What’s this tree doing here?” Terra asked aloud, examining their surroundings. The tree’s great brown body and spindly green leaves were the only color amid a sea of gray.

“Do you honestly give a damn?” Locke replied, laughing out loud with near hysterical relief. “Hey Edgar, think fast!”

Edgar had half a second to prepare before Locke dropped him, but he managed to make the landing with both feet. “Hey!” he cried, though he too was laughing nervously. “You could have broken my legs!”

“It’d be more than you deserve, you idiot!”

Terra was laughing now too. She couldn’t have said why, but it felt so right. They’d almost died, but been extraordinarily lucky…should that really be so hysterical? Disbelief of the situation buzzed around in her head, and yet she couldn’t stop the strange giggles.

With Terra keeping a firm grasp on his leg, Locke swung himself to another branch. He tossed down Edgar’s auto-crossbow – which had gotten tangled in the branches – and helped Terra to safety. Together they descended the large tree that had saved their lives, and Terra promptly gave the trunk a huge hug. She only released the embrace when Locke spoke.

“What is it, Edgar?”

The young king’s brow was furrowed as he examined a piece of wood from the fallen bridge. He ran his fingers along the break, which was straight and perfectly smooth through the first three quarters of the depth of the board.

“This plank was cut,” he announced. There was a gleam of anger in his eyes. “I think someone tried to kill us.”

“But why?” Terra asked.

The voice that answered her was deep, cold, and unforgiving. “Because you dared to scale my mountains.”

Their heads turned, surprised, up to an alcove of rock above and behind the tree. There, crouched like an enormous cat ready to pounce, was a huge, bulging man. His skin and thin ponytail of hair were dark, and the only clothing he wore was a loose pair of black pants. His arms were massive and his muscles twitched and bulged as he stared down at them with hate in his eyes. “Sabin sent you, didn’t he?” he snarled, baring his teeth.

“Who’re you?” Locke retorted.

The murder attempt momentarily forgotten, Edgar posed a different question. “Sabin? Is he here?”

Locke pushed his friend aside and stepped forward, pointing an accusatory finger. “You were shadowing us earlier, right?”

Even from here Terra could see the man roll his eyes. “Brilliant!” he mocked. Then, to their surprise, he placed both hands at the edge of the outcrop and pushed off with mighty force. He propelled himself over them and landed a few feet away on the other side with a foreboding thud. When he stood up to his full height, Locke visibly gulped. The man was even bigger than he’d looked; at least twice the size of Edgar.

“And how unlucky it is that you should have to run into me!”

Edgar got one shot off before the man rushed. The arrow was aimed perfectly, but the man was very fast and very agile. The shot bounced uselessly off the rock wall behind them. The charging bull went straight for the king, but missed when Locke yanked his friend out of the way. While he was distracted, Terra threw out both of her arms, but the fire merely licked at his heels as he leapt to a large rock out of reach. If he was surprised by her use of magic, he didn’t let on. Instead he bowed, grabbed on to either side of the rock – which was almost as big as he was – and began to lift. He hoisted it above his head as though it had no more heft than a wooden chair.

“Watch out!” Terra screamed to the men, but to her surprise the bolder came hurtling straight for her. In a panic move she raised her hands and screamed. The rock exploded brilliantly, showering everyone in shards. Terra and her comrades shielded themselves, but the huge man stood still and allowed a few shards to mar his skin.

“Enough!” he cried, his face clearly wrought with anger. “Away with you!”

It wasn’t magic, of this Terra was sure, but the technique he used then was powerful, beyond what most humans were capable of. He swung his fists, up and down, back and forth, and he created wind. Or perhaps he commanded it… It was hard to explain. Regardless, a mighty wind was conjured where a moment prior there had been nothing. Terra’s dress whipped around her legs and she had to squint her eyes against the sting of the rushing air. Again and again he swung his arms. The wind grew and grew until Terra started to stumble backward. A muffled yell, barely audible, made it to her ears. Leaning into the wind as much as she could, she raised her arms above her head and looked over to the tree. Locke and Edgar were there, hanging on for dear life, Edgar’s cape whipping so violently that it looked like it might rip from his shoulders.

Come on! Locke mouthed, reaching one hand out as far as he dared.

She tried, but the wind tripped her, pushed her off course, and she soon found herself on the ground, nails digging into the rocks in a desperate attempt to stay still. She tried to raise her palms toward the caller of the strange wind technique, but every time she tried she was pushed back even further. Locke was shouting, though there was no way she could have heard him, and Edgar looked one step away from letting go of the tree and running to her.

Terra was just about to shout to them not to move – not that they would have heard – when a large pair of bare arms wrapped around her waist. Before she could twist around to see who the arms were attached to, she found herself being hoisted into the air and carried, as though the wind no longer had any effect. Locke and Edgar were staring in shock, but the new stranger dropped Terra next to them and turned before she could see his face. She stared, instead, at his body. He wore only a loose pair of blue pants and a sleeveless white top, and although he wasn’t freakishly enormous like the other man, his arms were muscular and very large. A short shock of spiky golden hair stood straight up from his head, and the muscles in his back were tensed.

“Give it up, Vargas!” his angry voice exploded over the wind.

“Is that you, Sabin?” Vargas laughed cruelly. He saw that his attack was having no effect and lowered his arms.

With the wind disappearing, Terra leaned forward to look at Sabin’s face. Though the body shape and hair style were very different, she was surprised to see that the face was Edgar’s through-and-through. The eyes, in particular, were absolutely identical.

“Vargas, why’d you do it?” Sabin cried. His hands were clenched into shaking fists. “How could you do in your own father like that?”

Vargas’ face twisted into an ugly sneer. “Fool!” he screamed. “He made the mistake of choosing you as his successor! He snubbed me, his only son!”

Sabin’s shoulders slouched. “No! You’re wrong! You were the one he chose!”

“Liar!”

Sabin shook his head and Terra saw pain on his face. “Our master wanted you to be his successor, not me. He appreciated your spirit…”

Vargas’ whole body was shaking, his face darkening with the rush of blood. “Enough of your lies!” he shrieked, his face contorted with rage. “Now have a taste of my Blizzard Fist, you bastard!”

Terra saw it coming and quickly wrapped her arms around the trunk of the tree. The winds came in one enormous, continuous gust that was as frigid as ice water. Tears sprung to Terra’s eyes as she struggled to see if Locke and Edgar had managed to hold onto the tree. In a moment of panic, when she couldn’t immediately see them, her fingers began to slip.

But it ended almost as quickly as it had begun. Locke and Edgar had lost their grip, but had only flown a few feet before the winds dispersed again. When Terra looked she found that Sabin was only a couple of feet from Vargas now, fists held high in a boxing stance. Vargas was rubbing his chin, his eyes fierce.

“Ahh, Sabin…the Master has taught you well.”

“I guess there’s no avoiding this.”

Vargas raised his hands in a mimic of Sabin’s stance. He was so enormous that Terra couldn’t believe Sabin didn’t tremble.

“Fate made us train together, and fate will send you to your doom!”

Vargas began to charge. The spectators tensed in concern, but in one split second Terra saw a wave of calm and confidence pass over Sabin’s face.

“Blitz technique!” he bellowed. His voice echoed all through the mountains.

Vargas stumbled, and for the first time since he’d appeared before them, there was something other than rage on his face. Terra thought it looked like…fear.

“W-what the-?” he stuttered. “H-he already taught you that?!”

It was an amazing sight; Terra’s eyes flew, trying to follow the movement of Sabin’s fists. Locke and Edgar stared so blankly that it was clear all they saw was a blur of motion. It was hard to watch, but it was also hard not to. Vargas’ head snapped back and forth; his chest, stomach, and arms moved in strange ways with every landing of Sabin’s fists. It was impossible to tell whether it was the last hit that did it, or if Sabin just realized eventually that it was over.

Vargas’ body, beaten to a pulp, dropped unceremoniously to the ground. For a moment Sabin stared at it as though he expected the man to jump back up, but when nothing happened he slowly lowered his fists.

“If only you hadn’t been in such a rush for power…” he said quietly. There was genuine pain in his voice.

The silence was deafening until Edgar could no longer hold himself back and shouted, “Sabin!”

Sabin jumped a mile, as though he’d forgotten anyone else was there. “Big brother?” he replied, spinning on his heels.

The two blond men wasted no more time in sprinting toward one another. Their laughter filled the mountains as they clapped each other on the back and examined the changes that time had brought. Terra was again struck by how identical the two faces were.

“The brothers are reunited!” Locke cried jovially.

“Brother, yes…” Terra smiled and approached the reunion. “At first glance I thought he was a bodybuilder who had strayed from his gym!”

“B-bodybuilder?” Sabin exclaimed. He burst into laughter. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment!” he roared. Soon, however, he turned back to Edgar with a concerned look. “Anyway, brother, what are you doing here?”

“We heard about your Master’s murder,” Edgar explained, looking a little sheepish. He glanced over at Vargas’ body. “We, uh…came to rescue you.”

Sabin guffawed at the irony of it, but there was also a joyous gleam in his eyes. Clearly, Terra thought, the idea of his brother rushing off to save him made him happy.

“Yes, it’s a terrible thing that’s brought us together,” Sabin eventually sighed. He looked to Vargas as well and the pain returned to his eyes. “I’ll miss them both terribly.” He shook his head suddenly and turned back to the others. “But that wasn’t really what I meant, brother. Why are you here, away from Figaro?”

“We were on our way to the Sabil Mountains.”

Sabin nodded slowly, shooting glances at Locke and Terra. “To the Returners’ hideout, no doubt?”

Edgar and Locke nodded.

Sabin raised his eyes to the sky and thought quietly for a moment. “I’ve been watching from afar,” he admitted, “Hoping that the world might regain some of its sanity… At this rate Figaro will be reduced to a puppet state.”

“No!” Edgar exclaimed. He shook his head angrily. “Our time to strike back has arrived! The Empire will pay for all it’s done!”

Sabin’s eyes dropped to meet Edgar’s and the two brothers gazed at each other for a long time. Terra could only assume that they were both thinking about the past…about their father…

Eventually Sabin broke the silence. “Think a ‘bodybuilder’ like me could help you in your fight?” He winked at Terra.

Edgar, in spite of himself, looked surprised. “You’d join us?”

Sabin nodded, his face grave. “I’ve been sheltered away here, studying, for too long.” His gaze returned to the still body of Vargas and a sad smile appeared on his face. “Besides, I think Master Duncan would rest easier if he knew his disciple played a part in bringing peace to the world.”

Edgar couldn’t keep the grin off his face. He happily clapped his beefy brother on the shoulder. “Come then,” he said joyously. “We’ll need a guide down the mountain. And also,” his eyes glanced toward Terra, “There is much to talk about.”

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