Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!
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The plans were made hurriedly, given that they were not blessed with time. Terra listened with interest as the men shouted ideas at each other, dismissed several, and eventually settled on the best they could come up with under such duress. A team of miners and other Narshean citizens were assigned to guard the town, with instructions that they stay hidden and only emerge should the Empire take fancy to harm the town itself. Otherwise, they were to allow the invaders to pass through the town unhindered. The battle would be fought as far away from any innocents as possible.
Those who remained – the rag-tag group of Returners and about one hundred miners – gathered what weapons the had and began a cold trek up into the mines. Terra felt very conspicuous amongst this group. These were people who were defending their homes, their morals, and their way of life. They were fighting for what they believed to be right. But what was Terra fighting for? She had no idea. She was contemplating this when Celes sidled up beside her on an icy bridge.
“So, you were actually born with the power of magic,” she said casually. “Isn’t it a lovely gift?”
Terra glanced sideways at the other woman. She’d thought she could sense something about her earlier, but now that they were so close physically… “You can use magic too?” she asked.
Celes nodded, careful and with a strange look in her eye. “I was not born with it,” she explained. “When I was a baby I was ‘adopted’ by the Empire after my parents died. At the Magitek Research Facility I was artificially infused with magical power and raised as a Magitek knight.”
Terra thought about that for a moment. She thought about asking Celes how her parents had died, what it had been like growing up under the Empire’s wing, how it felt when she used her “artificially infused” magic. Curiously, the words that she found tumbling past her lips were, “Have you…ever loved anyone?”
Celes visibly started. With a clenched jaw she turned her entire body toward Terra. “What is that supposed to mean?” she questioned, her eyebrows knit.
Terra stopped and stared back at Celes with honest curiosity. She wondered at the look on the woman’s fierce, beautiful face. Clearly this conversation had turned in an unexpected direction, and neither woman seemed to know where to go from here.
The awkward silence was broken when a group of miners pushed past them with annoyed grumbles, prompting the women to start walking again. Terra watched Celes out of the corner of her eye as they traveled further and further up into the hills and over trenches. She thought that the blond soldier seemed sad, somehow. Celes’ face turned hard, however, when they reached the top of a particularly steep incline and found Cyan waiting for them with his arms crossed. The women stopped and Celes met his steady gaze. “What?” she asked simply.
Cyan’s eyes narrowed. His gaze flicked between the two women, but eventually he settled on Celes. In a gruff voice he told her, “Don’t think for a moment that I trust you.”
Celes took a deliberate step forward, and for a moment Terra feared that a fight might break out, but the woman simply gazed back into Cyan’s eyes. “Fine,” she spat back at him. “Use your own eyes, and then you can decide.”
Cyan’s eye twitched. He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but suddenly Locke was at Celes’ side, his eyes hard, and the funny little boy named Gau was yanking fervently on Cyan’s arm. After a long moment the swordsman stopped off with the boy at his heels.
Celes gave Locke a strange look, but the treasure hunter simply smiled and said, “Come on, ladies. Not much further now.”
The air got colder, the wind sharper as they ascended the cliffs, and everywhere was white with freshly fallen snow. They stopped in a small clearing where the stone walls rose twenty feet high on every side and the only ways in or out were narrow passageways where only three men at a time could stand abreast. The Empire would only be able to attack in small waves, and the path onward to the esper would be easy to protect.
Once Edgar and Banon had shouted out their commands and everyone scrambled into position, it seemed as though hours passed. The wind howled down their backs, chilling them to the bone, and their legs began to ache. Terra stood at the forefront with Edgar and Sabin on either side of her. Locke and Celes flanked the left, Cyan and Gau the right. The miners situated themselves in long rows behind them, with Banon and Arvis positioned on a high outcrop in the back, ready to shout commands based on their view of the battle from above.
Though it seemed as if they’d been waiting for ages, it was still jarring when Banon’s voice called, “They’re coming!”
To her sides, the Figaro brothers readied themselves for battle, so Terra did the same.
Before they could see him, Kefka’s high, lunatic voice rang out through the hills. “I don’t care what you have to do! Exterminate everyone! Just get me that esper!” He appeared then, just as flamboyant and psychotic as Terra remembered. And he smiled. “Oho!” he shouted with glee. “Here you all are! And oh my…it’s General Celes, the traitor! How delightful! This shall be fun!”
Celes did not give Kefka the satisfaction of a reaction, but Edgar took a step forward with his brother close at his heels. “We’ll never let you have the esper, Kefka!” the king taunted.
Kefka had looked rather amused, but his face distorted so quickly that Terra found herself shrinking back. With a frighteningly grotesque grimace, he turned to the soldiers waiting behind him and shrieked, “Go! Get those vile insects!”
The first wave rushed through the narrow passageway, the soldiers itching for battle. For a moment Terra panicked, her eyes still on Kefka, and forgot the instructions that Edgar had given her. A dozen men in black-and-brown armor were stampeding through before she remembered herself and raised her arms. A pillar of flame burst through the air, melting snow and burning flesh. The screams of the Imperial soldiers were mixed with the cheering of the Returners. Terra wasn’t sure if smiling was appropriate at this moment, but she found herself doing so anyway.
The small victory was short-lived. Behind the dying soldiers came a wave of Magitek soldiers, and though they could only come through one at a time they stomped easily through Terra’s fire and gave cover for dozens more foot soldiers to rush past. Terra saw Edgar lift his autocrossbow and release a volley of shiny steel arrows, and then, for a while, she lost track of her companions. As she rushed toward a group of Imperials with a ball of flame in her hand, she remembered thinking how loud war was. All around her were battle-cries, the clash of weapons, and the screams of the wounded and dying. She met a soldier face to face and shoved her hands in his face before he could swing his sword. His companions turned on her as he squealed in agony, but a flurry of fists sent them to the ground as Sabin flew into view.
“Kill them!” Kefka’s voice wafted above the deafening noise. “Kill them all!”
Near Terra two Narshean men fell to a Magitek soldier’s missile. She couldn’t stop to see whether or not they were dead. She yelled to Sabin, who caught on, took her around the waist, and propelled her as hard as he could. She almost fell back to the earth, but just managed to catch herself on the edge of the cockpit opening. Before the soldier inside the Magitek armor could react, she grabbed the back of his neck and set his whole body aflame. As a last minute decision she propped her backside against the edge of the cockpit and used her feet to shove at the man. He went tumbling out of the armor like a rag doll – having already stopped screaming in death – and left Terra with an only mildly-scorched Magitek weapon. She glanced down at the controls and felt a strange wave of nausea pass through her. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed Locke pulling his dagger from a foot soldier’s throat. She yelled to him instead, and his eyes lit up when he saw what she’d done. Soon they had switched spots and Locke was gleefully electrocuting a second Magitek soldier with his new toy.
Terra darted over dead bodies and skidded to a stop before a wounded miner with blood all over his chest. She pressed her hands to the blood and forced her energy through him. With shock on his face he gasped, thanked her profusely, and rejoined the battle. Terra scanned the crowd for others and gave her energy to a man with a broken leg and another with part of his skin burned off. Soon, however, she began to experience something she never had up until this point – she was feeling weak.
After helping a boy barely in his teens who had somehow sneaked into the battle and gotten an arrow in the shoulder, she found herself struggling to stand straight. And it was at that moment that a gleeful, evil voice spoke behind her.
“Oh dear, my sweet Terra. Just look at you. Dear, dear, did you think that your powers were limitless?”
Terra’s heart flew into her throat. Kefka stood before her, his cloaks and scarves blowing in the wind. A ring of fire and smoke surrounded them, blocking them off from the rest of the battle. The fire light shone in Kefka’s wide, emotionless eyes.
Terra was weak, dizzy, and she could hardly breathe. It had never occurred to her that her magical energy might have limitations, and all at once she realized that Kefka had been relying on that fact. He had her right where he wanted her.
His grin was the thing of nightmares. “My dear, you’ve lost the crown I gave for you!” he cooed in a horrific tone. “Perhaps if you’re good I’ll give you another.”
Terra’s mind raced back to the dream she’d almost forgotten. In the corner of her mind’s eye she saw Kefka placing the slave crown on her head, stealing her free will, and forcing her to burn everything before her.
“No!” she cried, her heart aching in her chest. “Please, no!” She raised her arms to Kefka, but her meager flame flickered and went out while he laughed. She motioned to the fire surrounding them, but there was not enough energy in her body to force her will upon it.
Kefka’s howls of joy filled the air. “You stupid little fool!” he japed cruelly. “You are nothing more than my puppet!”
Terra covered her ears with her hands and screamed to drown out his horrible laugh, but it seemed to be right inside her head. She was just beginning to wonder if she would survive leaping through the ring of flames when a deafening hiss filled the air and the fire gave way to giant puffs of smoke.
Steam! Terra realized as the clouds began to clear and revealed Celes in the midst of casting an ice spell.
“Give it up, Kefka!” Locke shouted. He’d abandoned his Magitek toy and was once again by Celes’ side. “You’ve lost!”
Terra was almost as surprised as Kefka. While he had been taunting her within the ring of flames, the battle had ended. What Imperials hadn’t been killed or badly wounded had fled. Terra’s companions surrounded Kefka while the miners tended to their wounded. Edgar and Cyan had their weapons directed at Kefka while Sabin and Gau stepped in to stand by Terra’s side.
“Time to surrender,” Edgar commanded.
“I think we should dispatch him right here!” Cyan argued, vengeance in his eyes.
But Kefka had other plans. He turned to Terra with the most sickening of smiles and spoke just loud enough for everyone in the circle to hear. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve won,” he goaded, showing his teeth. “I’ll be back, and I won’t forget this!”
Edgar barely had time to loose an arrow, and in a giant puff of black smoke that choked them all, Kefka vanished into thin air.
Cyan was enraged. “We’ve lost him!” he bellowed.
“Where did he go?” Sabin moaned.
Edgar and Locke had other concerns in mind. “The esper!” cried one. “Is it okay?” added the other.
The took off as a group, through the wreckage of the battle, past a shocked Banon and Arvis, rushing through the narrow passage toward the esper. They found it right where the miners had left it, perched precariously at the edge of a narrow precipice. As the others moved irresistibly closer, Terra found herself hanging back, staring up at the great creature with her heart beating wildly.
“Thank goodness,” Edgar was saying. “It’s safe…for now.”
Cyan was staring up at the esper with wonder in his eyes. “Can it truly still be alive?” he wondered aloud.
“Impossible,” Sabin replied. He sounded sure of himself but after a moment he looked at his brother and added, “Right?”
Terra barely heard the conversation. She was staring into the esper’s pure white eyes. Those eyes called to her. She could almost hear the voice, singing in a strange, sad song. Her feet began to move of their own accord, so powerful was the draw of the creature.
She didn’t even notice that Locke had been calling to her. “Terra! Terra! What is it? What’s wrong?” His voice sounded so very far away.
The esper’s eyes seemed to widen, to grow brighter. Terra’s whole body felt very warm and getting warmer every second. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from the esper’s. When a hand touched her shoulder she felt her body tense, and before she knew what was happening a wave of energy that felt like a tidal wave had pushed forth from her body, sending Locke flying. She heard shouts of alarm, but she could not pull her eyes away from the esper. In her peripheral vision she saw Celes skid to her knees and snatch Locke’s hand before he tumbled over the cliff’s edge.
The esper was talking to her, forcing images inside her head. She saw mountains and forests, a giant stone door, walls of metal. It all flashed through at once and none of it made any sense. Her head swelled with meaningless information. It ached. It writhed. “No!” she made herself scream. “Get out of my head!”
“Are Terra and the esper…talking?” asked Sabin’s voice.
The world seemed to be growing brighter. Terra’s heart began to race faster as she realized that the light was coming from her own body.
“There’s some kind of reaction!” Edgar shouted.
“We have to stop this!” cried Cyan.
The light was nearly blinding her, but Terra had the vague impression of half a dozen bodies rushing toward her just as a second tsunami of power burst outward, swatting them all away like flies.
Terra wanted to look away, to run to her companions and make sure they were all okay, but she couldn’t. She was compelled to move closer and closer to the esper as it continued to force images into her head. A monstrous face with horns, an old man in regal garb, a beautiful woman crying. And all along the heat inside her grew stronger, the light without brighter.
“What is this?!” she screamed. “What am I feeling?! What are you doing to me?!”
From within her head then, a small, weak voice spoke, “Your…true…self…”
“W-what?” Terra stuttered. “What do you mean? What’s going on?!”
Celes had managed to clamor back to her feet and was watching the exchange with awe. “The esper,” she said reverently. “I can actually feel its mind.”
Then there was Edgar’s voice, panicked. “Terra! Step away from the esper!”
But Terra was beyond saving. Her body was on fire, her head swarming with thoughts and images that were not her own. Against her will her body began to raise into the air – a foot, five feet, twenty – and filled with a pressure so intense that she thought she was going to burst. Light flashed all around her, hot and bright, and every color of the rainbow. She screamed in fear and pain.
And then, with one great flash and a release as though her body had exploded, it was over. Terra blinked, surprised and confused, and looked down at the cliff below. The first eyes she met were Celes’, wide with shock and fear.
Why are you looking at me like that? she thought. Then she looked down at her body and a wave of terror washed over her. She wanted to speak, but she couldn’t find the words so she screamed instead. Long, pale pink fingers dug into wild spikes of same-colored hair and pulled madly. She gnashed at her arms with sharp, crystalline teeth and scratched at bare, pale pink breasts with her nails, but she could not shed the monster that had sprung from her skin.
With a second scream of pain and terror, Terra turned from the cliff and streaked off across the cool night sky.