Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!
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Just outside the second tower there was a woman laying face down in the mud, crying. Locke saw the way Sabin was looking at her and firmly said, “Don’t.”
Sabin didn’t move any closer, but he couldn’t resist calling out, “Ma’am? Are you okay?”
The woman was quick – she was on her feet and hurling a knife at Sabin’s face in the blink of an eye – but Celes was faster. The knife went skittering off into an alley and Celes’ sword was at the woman’s throat before the men had even reacted.
“Go!” Celes growled. The woman took off. Edgar raised an eyebrow.
The second building appeared to be empty except for a broken grandfather clock and a discarded pile of tools and building supplies. Locke idly wondered when was the last time any of it had been touched.
“Uh oh. Guys?”
The men turned to Celes, who was looking out the door. “We have company,” she told them. “Our damsel in distress is back, and she brought friends.”
Locke peeked over Celes’ shoulder. Sure enough, the mud woman had returned, and she had no fewer than a dozen others with her, all of them holding rusty blades and daggers. Some of the men were as big as Sabin and all of the women were larger than Celes.
“Come out here and face me now, bitch!” screamed the mud woman.
Celes raised her sword and pointed it at the crowd. “Couldn’t challenge me yourself?” she called back. “Had to bring a pack of wild dogs with you?”
The crowd erupted into a cacophony of vulgar shouting, with the mud woman’s voice the loudest amongst them.
Locke counted to ten. “Celes,” he said. “I know that you’re a soldier and all, but they outnumber us almost four to one, and some of them look like they have serious mental conditions.”
Before Celes could respond, Edgar spoke up. “I think I can even the odds,” he said.
When Locke turned around the king had a hard white mask over his face and was holding a large, metal monstrosity with teeth. He pulled a cord once, twice, three times, and the mechanical beast sprung to life. Puffs of acrid smoke poured out the back as the chains spun, whipping the razor-sharp teeth at a speed that was impossible to follow with the eye.
The moment Edgar stepped out of the building, three of the mud woman’s posse ran off. The others rushed forward, but couldn’t get close to Edgar without getting themselves chopped in half.
“Back!” Edgar shouted over the noise of the chainsaw. “Back, unless you fancy some very instant weight loss!” Celes laughed aloud at the looks on their faces as they did what they were told.
“What are you doing?!” the mud woman screeched at her lackeys. “Get them!”
But the other women were already across the road and the remaining men were looking at Edgar with deep trepidation. “Not a chance!” one of them yelled, and just like that they all began to melt back into the shadows. The mud woman shrieked unintelligibly before running off herself.
When they’d all vanished, Edgar released the throttle on his new toy. It slowed to a stop and the world was quiet again, save for the rain.
“I think I’ll keep this,” Edgar suggested. He threw it atop his shoulder and gestured for his comrades to continue on.
They decided to cut their losses and try the tallest tower next.
Edgar slammed his chainsaw on the small table near the entrance, snapping it in half. The man who’d been snoozing at the table opened his eyes very slowly and looked up.
“A strange girl,” Locke said simply.
The man looked at Edgar’s chainsaw, then Celes’ sword. After a brief glance at Sabin and Locke he raised a hand and pointed up. “Might wanna try the top floor,” he suggested.
Locke groaned. “That figures.”
So they began to climb. On the second floor they found several men playing poker who dutifully ignored them. On the fifth there was a couple rutting like animals on a filthy mattress. On the tenth there was a large group of very frightening women sharpening swords and knives, and carving arrows. These glanced at the group as they passed, but said nothing and stayed put when they spied Edgar’s toy.
“Why did Terra have to come here, of all places?” Locke muttered to himself as they climbed further.
From the fifteenth floor up there were no actual floors. The tower continued upward, but there was no way inside. Instead, creaking, crumbling staircases wound up and up around the outside of the building, offering no protection from the weather. So as they climbed they got wetter, colder, and became more and more exhausted. At one point a large section of railing snapped and went sailing down to the ground, almost taking Sabin with it.
By the time they reached the top floor, and the last door, even Sabin and Celes – who had been training their entire lives – were panting and puffing. This is why they deflated to see an enormous beast of a man blocking their path.
“Come on, man,” Locke groaned, his legs aching. “We do not deserve this torture!”
The hulk of a man flexed his chocolate-brown muscles, flicked his long white ponytail behind his shoulder, and, surprisingly, smiled. “Good day, gentle folks!” he boomed happily. “May I be of service?”
The Figaro brothers glanced at each other, suspicious.
“We just want to pass,” Locke insisted, perhaps in a whinier tone than was necessary. He gestured to the door and added a, “Please.”
The muscle man grinned, stepped aside, and told them, “Of course! Go right ahead!”
They knew that it was unlikely to be quite that easy, but what else could they do but try? And sure enough, as Edgar approached the door, their “friend” ripped the chainsaw from his hands and tossed it off the side of the building. Edgar barely had time to cry out when his face was enveloped in a massive hand. Unable to breath, he tore at the man’s fingers, to no avail.
“You will pass after you defeat Dadaluma!” the mass of muscles screamed.
Sabin was moving even as Dadaluma was speaking, and with a few well-placed punches he had his gasping brother free. Locke and Celes rushed forward to help, but there simply wasn’t enough room on the narrow staircase. Soon they were all tumbling over each other. Edgar couldn’t maneuver to reach the autocrossbow on his back. Celes’ sword swung wide to avoid her companions and ended up lodged in a rotting step. Sabin didn’t have enough room to perform his technique without sending everyone hurtling down the stairs. Dadaluma, standing on the only patch of even flooring, was in the prime position to simply stand there and laugh, his fists flying.
In the ensuing chaos, Locke got knocked to the ground and nearly bit his tongue off. He growled against the pain and was about to push himself up when he noticed that Dadaluma wasn’t wearing any shoes. With considerable effort, and one of Celes’ high-heeled boots in his shin, he wiggled forward past the Figaro brothers’ feet, twisted sideways to free his dagger, and sliced it straight across their foe’s Achilles tendons. A shriek of pain accompanied the spray of blood. As Locke scrambled to his feet, Sabin threw all of his weight into a punch to Dadaluma’s chin. The muscle man tottered, yelped, and went right through a half-rotted railing. One of his flailing arms snatched Celes’s hair, yanking her down with him, but Locke just managed to get to his feet, snatch her hand out of thin air, and pull her back onto the staircase. Dadaluma screamed all the way down to the ground, and Celes toppled, sprawling on top of Locke.
The Magitek knight’s eyes met the thief’s, and his heart flew into his throat. Her chest pressed against his as she gasped for air. Their lips were inches apart, and the cool ran was running down their bodies.
Sabin cleared his throat and suddenly Celes was standing, her face flushed. She offered Locke a hand and he accepted it, though it made his chest ache to touch her. The Figaro brothers were smirking, so Locke shot them a look of pure hate. He pointed at the door. “Go,” he commanded, and they went with grins on their faces.
“That’s the second time you’ve saved my life,” Celes whispered in his ear as they followed. He felt a pleasant thrill go up his spine.
As they passed through the door, Locke almost collided with Edgar, who had stopped short in shock. The top floor, which was one single, large room, was completely out of place in ZoZo. It was clean, with lovely, shining walls and plush rugs on the hardwood floor. It looked as thought it had been transported straight from another town.
The only items in the room were a small bed and a single chair. On the bed lay a creature the likes of which Locke had never seen, but when the others rushed forward he understood.