Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 10 – Part 1)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Enjoy, and also check out FanFiction.net, where I’ll also be posting this story. 

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”.

Terra - Sad (Front)
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

While Locke and Celes were making it on foot, and Sabin and his new companions were trekking halfway across the world, Terra, Edgar, and Banon had made their way to Narshe with very little incident. The Lete River had carried them the bulk of the way and they’d made the remainder of the journey in less than a day on foot. They arrived at night, but before they entered the town Terra had posed a request. She was concerned, she told the men, that the townspeople would remember her, and not kindly. She showed them the secret passage that Locke had used when they’d escaped the mountain town, and asked that they take this path instead.

Arvis had been quite alarmed when they came bursting through the hidden doorway in his house, but he was pleased and excited when he saw who the intruders were. Terra in particular received a very friendly welcome, as if the two were old friends.

Arvis and Banon spoke for a long while, and eventually Arvis agreed to facilitate a meeting with the town elder and two of the head miners in town. Terra had thought some action would come of such a meeting, but she had watched the group of men argue and deliberate over the course of several days and they seemed to be getting nowhere. Terra didn’t understand much of what was being said, but she caught a few important parts every now and then.

They would not let the Returners near the esper.

They would not join the Returners in openly opposing the Empire.

They did not trust Terra.

“I understand all of that!” the elder was shouting angrily, not for the first time. “Except, how can we, by refusing to take up arms, be encouraging bloodshed?!”

Arvis looked past the point of frustration, but he was trying desperately to keep his calm. “Now, I never said that.”

“Something like it!” one of the miners sneered.

Banon, who had been sitting quietly to one side, let out a single, loud, humorless laugh. “Ha!” he shouted, not cruelly, but angrily. “He’s right, you know!”

Arvis looked aghast at the outburst. “Banon-!” he stuttered out, unsure of himself.

From the corner of the room where Terra sat with Edgar, the two watched the display. The young king sat with his shoulders tensed, arms crossed. Terra fidgeted a little, uncomfortable.

Now Banon stood, and with three long strides he was right in the elder’s face, pointing a finger directly at the man’s nose. He was shaking with weeks of built-up tension, fear, and frustration. “Our blood, and the blood of countless others, will spill because of you!” He waved his arms around the room, desperate to convey just how serious this situation was. “Emperor Gestahl is racing to acquire Magitek power! He’s set his sights on the esper that was found here! Do you honestly believe that you can stop them forever?” He gestured to the miners who thought themselves fighters. His face was hard. It was the face of a man who had seen too much horror and would see plenty more by the end of his days. “Elder,” he spoke with a pain in his voice, “Think of the stories you were surely told as a child. Think of the stories you’ve told your children and grandchildren. Increased use of Magitek power will surely lead to global destruction.”

Terra watched the elder’s face. It was hard to read. He looked sad, and very old.

“The War of the Magi.” His voice was barely a whisper, like he was talking to himself. “The mythical battle that set mankind back a thousand years.” He looked up into Banon’s eyes with a strange sort of pleading. “Can this really be happening?”

Banon nodded without hesitation.

“People will never learn.”

Edgar put his head in his hands. The miners shot looks of terror at each other. Arvis stared at the floor as though hoping to divine some answers from the wood grain. Terra looked back and forth between them all, holding her breath so as not to disturb the silence that had fallen over the room. For a long while everyone lingered quietly, minds racing with fear and uncertainty.

It was so quiet that everyone, Terra included, jumped in alarm when the door suddenly slammed open. Looking extremely disheveled, covered in dirty, and exhausted, Sabin can rushing in.

“Brother!” he cried.

Edgar literally leapt to his feet. “Sabin!” he shouted. “You’re alright!” The two brothers rushed together eagerly, taking each other in an enormous bear hug and patting each other on the back.

From the darkness of the doorway, two more figures cautiously stepped in. Terra watched them curiously. One was dressed almost as formally as Edgar, though he was just as filthy as Sabin. The other was an odd-looking young boy who didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the cold weather of Narshe, despite wearing very little clothing.

“Who’s this with you, Sabin?” Edgar asked of the newcomers.

“Gau. Gau!” the boy exclaimed with a grin. He hopped forward and pulled on Edgar’s cape a little. The king raised an amused eyebrow.

Sabin closed his eyes for a moment and seemed to be counting to ten. “This is Gau,” he finally said. “He helped us get back here as quickly as we could.”

The other man stepped forward with more dignity and gave a slight bow. “I am Cyan Garamonde,” he announced, “Retainer to the lord of Doma.”

Edgar looked surprised at this, but before he could pose a question, Sabin spoke quietly. “The people of Doma have all been wiped out by the Empire…”

Cyan took a deep, calming breath and added, “Kefka poisoned…everyone.”

Edgar’s eyes went as wide as saucers and Terra found herself raising a hand to her mouth. Poisoned? Everyone?!

Surprisingly, it was the elder who was the first to speak. “Barbaric!” he cried. His face was pale with horror. The miners looked as though they might retch.

Banon seemed to see an opening with this reaction and reached forward to put a hand on his peer’s shoulder. “Elder,” he began, but the other man pulled away.

“But that was only because Doma was collaborating with the Returners!” he insisted, his face the color of curdled milk. “If we make that same mistake…”

“That’s nonsense!” shouted another voice. For the second time in as many minutes all eyes turned to the door, where two more figures now stood.

Terra’s face broke into a smile and she pushed herself to her feet. “Locke!” she shouted. Her friend, looking as worn as Sabin and his party, had eyes only for the elder, but Terra noticed that the proud-looking blond woman standing beside him shot her a very curious glance before turning away.

Locke glared angrily at the elder and spoke with a very deliberate tone. “It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on or how you justify your decisions to yourself,” he told the older man. “The Empire is poised to attack Narshe as we speak!”

The words caused the room to fly into a panic. Terra felt her heart in her throat as everyone began speaking at once. Edgar’s voice was one of the loudest, shouting, “What?! How did they mobilize so quickly?!”

The miners were jabbering at their elder in high voices, but Banon pushed past them all to get closer to Locke and demand, “How do you know? Where did you hear this?”

Locke gestured to his female companion, who seemed to grit her teeth at the gesture. “Celes here told me all about the plan to attack,” he explained. “She was one of the Empire’s generals, but-”

Locke didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence because Cyan, who had previously seemed so calm and poised, let out a howl of rage. “I knew she seemed familiar! Sir Gau, out of my way!” In his anger he almost knocked the strange boy over to get at the blond woman, but Locke stepped between them with his eyes narrowed.

“Back off, pal,” the thief warned.

The swordsman practically growled in frustration. “This is General Celes!” he bellowed. “She torched Miranda! She’s an Imperial spy! Now stand aside!”

Locke stood his ground, staring the taller man in the eye without so much as a flinch. “No,” he replied bluntly. “I will not stand aside. Celes has joined the Returners. She’s fighting for us now.”

Cyan’s face was red hot. He opened his mouth to retort, but Locke cut him off. “I promised I’d protect her, and I will not back down on my word, so you had best back off.”

The whole room had quieted to witness the display, but only Terra caught the words that Edgar seemed to whisper to himself: “Locke…are you still thinking about…”

Locke and Cyan glared at each other with daggers in their eyes, and though she looked mortified, Celes offered no defense for herself, so after a few tense moments it was Terra who stepped forward. “I…was also an Imperial soldier,” she admitted.

Cyan’s face looked as though it might burst. “What?!” he exclaimed. He made to move toward Terra now, but the Figaro brothers blocked his path.

“The Empire is evil,” Edgar stated plainly. “But not all of its citizens are.”

Terra watched the way the men all stared at each other with great interest. The room was awash in conflicting emotions and opinions, and she wasn’t sure she understood any of them. What she especially didn’t understand was the way the blond Imperial traitor kept staring at her.

A shout from outside broke the silence. “Emergency!” a scout cried aloud. “The Empire! The Empire cometh!”

Cyan shot one last glare each toward Terra and Celes before allowing his shoulders to drop. He gave the Figaro brothers a short nod and turned to the Narshean elder, who sighed before the swordsman could speak.

“We really have no choice, it seems,” he concluded, dejected. “Let us make ready for war.” He nodded at the miners, who shared a quick look and dashed out the door.

“Locke,” Banon asked, “Do you know how many there are?”

Surprisingly, it was Celes who answered. “I’m very sorry, but I never heard any exact numbers.” She kept her gaze steady on Banon, attempting to ignore the rest of the room. “What I do know is that Kefka will be among the main attack party.”

Terra’s heart did a strange little jump that made her throat hurt and all her muscles clench up. She saw those crazed, evil eyes in her memory, laughing as Figaro burned. This was one emotion Terra was confident that she understood. Fear. She was truly fearful at the prospect of facing Kefka.

The room became a cacophony of voices, but Terra was able to pick Banon’s out amid the din. “They’re coming for the esper. Wherever the esper is, that is where Kefka will go.”

“We moved it into the hills,” the elder explained. “We thought it would be safest at the precipice of the cliffs, where there is only one access point and it can be more easily defended.”

“Then that’s where we’ll make our stand,” Edgar announced.

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