Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!
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Terra sunk a little in her chair. Locke chuckled and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder.
The area with the long table was packed. There were at least three times as many Returners as Terra had originally estimated, and many of them were looking at her with interest as they chatted and waited for the meeting to begin.
“Alright!” Banon spoke above the crowd from his place at the head of the table. The crowd quieted and turned all their attention to him. “First, we all know that the Empire is using this strange Magitek power in battle. The question is, how has the Emperor created this man-made magic?” Here he paused and looked to Edgar, who stood and cleared his throat.
“I had heard a rumor,” he told the room, “That the Empire is forcing the world’s finest scholars to study espers and esper lore. Locke looked into it for me.”
“It seems to be true, although I haven’t been able to officially confirm it,” said Locke, who refused to stand when he spoke. “All the trouble in Narshe was over an esper too.”
Terra’s mind flashed to the strange, beautiful creature, encapsulated in ice, staring, eternal… “Do you mean,” she said quietly, “That there’s a connection between espers and the power that the Empire wields?”
Banon nodded gravely. He linked his fingers in front of his face and peered over them. “I can think of only one thing that would liken espers to machines that seem to use magical powers.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Terra noticed that Edgar’s face dropped in a strange way. His mouth opened a little and a half sentence escaped. “You can’t mean…?”
“Indeed,” Banon answered. He projected his voice to ensure everyone would hear. “The ancient War of the Magi.”
A gasp went throughout the crowd.
“No!” cried one woman.
“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed another.
Terra glanced around, bewildered at the shock and horror on the faces of the Returners. Gloriously ignorant, she asked, “What’s the War of the Magi?” No one seemed to hear her.
“My Grandma used to tell me stories about magical machines that existed long ago,” Locke told Edgar, eyes wide. “Could they have been true?”
“Could that ancient tragedy be playing out again?” Edgar responded in question.
“This is all just speculation,” Banon’s loud voice brought a bit of order back to the room. “But historical studies have provided a number of conflicting and frightening theories about the War. According to one of the more common theories, humans and machines were imbued with magical powers drained from espers.”
“And devastation was the result,” Edgar growled, “Since you can only fight magic enemies with magic weapons!”
Banon nodded. “But one way or another, the War ended. How is the missing link that may help us.” Here his eyes locked on Terra. “It may be risky, but that esper in Narshe reacted to Terra… If we have her ‘speak’ with it, it may just wake up and-”
“I wonder if that’s wise?” Edgar interrupted, frowning.
Banon shrugged, flicking his gaze to the young king. “Who’s to say?” he admitted. “But regardless, we aren’t particularly burdened with options. We need to try something, anything, if it will help us understand our situation and come up with a way to fight the Empire. And for that we need Terra’s help.”
Terra felt every eye on her and cringed. But she was also thinking about the esper again, about its piercing gaze. She vaguely remembered the scream as the second soldier vanished. But the esper hadn’t hurt her. She’d simply passed out. Perhaps it wouldn’t be dangerous at all. Perhaps the beautiful creature would be grateful to Terra for freeing it from its icy slumber. Perhaps it would give Terra some answers…tell her what she…
“I’ll do it!” she exclaimed. Several people jumped in surprise.
“What nonsense!” Sabin laughed, teasing. “You sound almost as if you’re enjoying this!”
Banon ignored the excited whispers and Sabin’s banter and gave Terra a warm smile. “Thank you,” he told her. “You have no idea how much we all appreci-”
The slam of a door and the clatter of several crates bouncing across the stone floor interrupted Banon’s moment of gratitude. Several people rose from their chairs and all heads turned to look as a young man stumbled into the room and fell to his knees. Terra recognized him as the young man who had led them into the hideout earlier. His dark hair was pasted to his slick forehead and he was gasping as though there wasn’t enough oxygen left on the planet to fill his lungs.
Banon rose from his seat. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “What’s happened?”
“S…South Figaro,” the young man struggled with every syllable. “Empire…t-took South F…Figaro…coming…this way!”
The panic was tangible. Terra swore she could feel each heart rate quicken, each breath shorten.
“But why?” Edgar exclaimed. “South Figaro is a peaceful fishing town! What use could the Empire possibly have for-”
“They’ve found us,” Banon groaned. “We haven’t a moment to lose!” Terra watched in confusion as the Returners’ leader began quickly doling out evacuation orders.
“Locke!” cried Edgar.
“I know,” replied Locke. “Someone has to sneak into South Figaro and slow the Empire down, right?”
“This is right up your alley,” said Edgar with a grim smile.
“No!” Terra cried, surprising both men. “You can’t go alone!”
Locke smiled that soft, infuriating smile, and placed a hand on Terra’s head. “Don’t you worry about me. This is what I do. I’ll be just fine.” Terra tried to argue, but Locke plowed on, not to be interrupted. “Wait for me in Narshe, and please, don’t let a lecherous young king, who shall remain nameless, anywhere near you!”
“Locke!” Edgar screamed, his face red. He grabbed madly at the other, but Locke had already run, howling with mad laughter, toward the exit. Terra watched him go with a frown on her face and a worried crease on her brow.
Sabin, who seemed to be immune to the concept of panic, was roaring at the rage on Edgar’s face. “Oh big brother,” he chuckled loudly. “Won’t you ever grow up?”
Banon had appeared behind them. “Everyone is heading out through the back tunnels,” he explained. “They’re going to scatter until further notice, but I think we four should head directly to Narshe.”
Edgar put aside his anger long enough to agree. “Yes, I want to see that esper for myself, and we really shouldn’t waste time. We can head down the Lete River.”
The men all agreed, but given the strange look on Banon’s face, Terra had a very bad feeling about the decision.