Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 8 – Part 1)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Since this chapter is particularly long, I’m going to wait until I’ve posted each part of it on this blog before posting the complete chapter on FanFiction.net.

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 (Front)Sabin - Action
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

The morning sun was just rising when Sabin pulled himself up onto the rocky beach. He’d lost Ultros somewhere just off the Lete River; the cowardly creature had eventually given up the fight and taken off for his life. The current had been too strong for Sabin to swim to shore and he’d soon found himself pulled out to sea. Lucky enough to snatch a floating piece of driftwood, he’d drifted in and out of sleep all night as he floated along through the vast waters.

It was good to be on solid ground again.

Drenched and dripping, the younger Figaro brother made his way across the rocks, into the grass. When he spied the large cottage a mile or so off he practically sprinted for it.

When he burst in the door, the dozen or so patrons of the lounge jumped in surprise. The man behind the counter looked him up and down and chuckled. “Out for a swim?” he asked with a smirk.

“Something like that,” Sabin mustered a smile. “Where am I, please?”

The other patrons looked on in curiosity as the bartender raised an eyebrow. “How specific d’you need me to be?”

“You’re northwest of Doma Castle.” The voice came from the far corner of the room, from a man covered head to toe in black. A rather large black dog sat attentively at his side. The other patrons eyed him suspiciously and with various levels of dislike on their faces, but Sabin gave him a friendly smile and took a few steps toward him.

“You a traveler?” he asked cheerily, dripping all over the floor. “Couldn’t tell me how to get to Narshe from here, could ya? I got separated from my friends, you see…”

The man in black was slowly shaking his head. “Rough journey,” he explained. “Imperials have built a base just beyond the forest.”

Sabin’s eyes grew. He’d heard the Empire was setting its sights on Doma, but these things usually took time. “Already?!”

The man nodded. “They seem to have set their sights on the castle fortress.”

Sabin’s eyes narrowed. He flexed his fists while he thought. “So Doma’s next in a line of hostile takeovers, eh? I have to reach Narshe immediately!” His outburst caused everyone in the establishment to break into a noisy murmur.

“Then your only option is through Doma’s lands,” replied the black-clad man calmly. He stood slowly and the dog was immediately at his heels. “My name is Shadow. I’ll show you the way, so long as you understand that I may abandon the journey at any time if I feel like it.”

Sabin nodded. “Agreed.” He stepped aside to let Shadow lead. As the black-garbed man stepped through the door, a hand grabbed Sabin’s shoulder. When he turned his head he found the bartender staring at him with wide eyes.

“I wouldn’t travel with him, pal,” he warned in a whispered rush. “Guy’s insane! He’ll lead you into the forest and slit your throat, sell your cold, revolutionary body to the Empire!”

Sabin smiled a little and nodded. “Thanks for the concern,” he replied calmly and shrugged off the man’s hand. “But as thousands of lives may hang in the balance, I think I’ll take the risk.”

The looks he received as he walked out were ones of complete bewilderment.

Shadow and his enormous raven-colored hound had already set out across the plains at a steady pace. Sabin jogged to catch up before slowing to match Shadow’s pace. He tried to be patient with the other man’s conservative speed, though what he really wanted was to run with all his strength.

The journey was a silent and uncomfortable one. Shadow, though he’d seemed willing enough to guide Sabin on his travels, did not seem to be the friendly type. Sabin tried to respect that. The younger Figaro brother’s mind was busy anyway. He wondered how many Imperials had already congregated outside Doma. What were their plans? Diplomatic talks or full-out attack? Would it wait until he could get to Narshe and send the cavalry? Or would it be long over by then?

They walked like this for hours, Shadow’s stride never changing or faltering, Sabin’s mind constantly racing. Just as Sabin noticed the setting sun, a small house began to appear in the distance. Sabin examined the tiny building with some interest – Who would live out here in the middle of nowhere? – when Shadow and the dog began to veer of toward it.

“Where are we going?” Sabin finally asked.

“Shelter for the night,” was Shadow’s straightforward response.

Sabin stopped in his tracks. “Shelter for the night?” he exclaimed. “I don’t have time for that!”

Shadow continued to walk as though he hadn’t heard the outburst. He didn’t speak until Sabin had jogged to catch back up to him. “There are many Imperials. We will need our wits about us to make it through the base alive. Thus, shelter and sleep.”

Sabin opened his mouth to argue, but the dog let out a low growl that made him shut it again.

“Down, Interceptor,” Shadow said to the dog. Sabin could have sworn he saw the man’s lips twitch upward from beneath his mask.

As they came upon the tiny house – it was really more of a shack, actually – they could hear a curious muttering coming from inside. Sabin was about to ask whose home this was when Shadow reached for the door and strode right in. Sabin scrambled in behind, intrigued and not wanting to be left behind.

The source of the muttering became immediately evident. There was a man rocking in an old chair in the corner of the room; he was not elderly, but he had clearly aged in other ways. There were many gray streaks in his otherwise black hair, and there were lines in his face that made him look as though he’d been pulling at his skin for many years. He wore old clothing that hadn’t been washed in a long time, and the tiny, single-room house looked like a tornado had ripped through it.

As the two younger men and the dog poured in through the doorway, the man’s head shot up and his eyes narrowed. “Hey!” he exclaimed at a shout. There was a note of anger in his voice. “You the clock maker?! I’ve been waitin’ for ages!”

Shadow ignored the man completely, so Sabin nervously replied, “Uh, no… No, I’m not the clock maker.”

Sabin’s words seemed to have no effect on the man, who barreled on while pointing at a wooden hunk of junk hanging above his small kitchenette. “There it is, on the wall. Ain’t been ticken’ for one, no…five? Shucks, maybe even ten years now!”

Bewildered, Sabin stepped closer to the clock, only to find that it was merely a few chunks of wood nailed together with a clock face messily painted on the front. “Uh…”

“Ignore him,” Shadow spoke up. He was settling himself in a corner of the room. Interceptor lay loyally at his side. “Gone crazy a long time ago,” he explained. “Wife died giving birth.”

The man turned away and began muttering to himself again as though he couldn’t even hear Shadow talking about him. Sabin shook his head and walked over to the corner adjacent to Shadow to settle down. “What happened to the child?” he asked as he sat on the hard floor.

Shadow shrugged a little. He seemed unaccustomed to so much talking. “Like I said, gone crazy. Near I can figure from his ramblings, he thought the babe was a demon and tossed it down Baren Falls.”

Sabin’s face blanched.

Shadow and Interceptor had closed their eyes and made no further attempt at polite conversation. The old man continued to rock in his chair and mutter nonsense to the wall across from him until he eventually nodded off in mid-rock. Sabin lay awake in his corner for several hours, staring at his roommates and contemplating the bizarreness of the world in which he’d been born. Eventually, while thinking of the poor child that had been thrown down the falls, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

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