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”.
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net
Locke examined Terra with awe. Surely this could not be the same woman? Her body was bare, every inch of her skin resonating with a pale pink light, and her hair spread around her in wild pink spikes that were twice as long as Locke remembered her hair being.
“She…is she alive?” Celes asked in a hushed voice.
As if in response, Terra’s mouth opened to reveal sharp canine teeth, and she groaned, low and loud.
“Terra?” Locke tried. He hesitantly put his hand on her shoulder. “Terra? Are you okay?”
The voice that replied was not Terra’s. “She’s scared, you know.”
Locke jumped a mile and Edgar tore the autocrossbow from his back. In the chair that had a moment ago been empty, there now sat an old man. His smooth white head was completely bald, but his beard traveled down almost to the floor. He was wrapped in robes of green and yellow, and in his hands he held a long wooden staff that was taller than Celes. Though he seemed harmless enough, Locke wasn’t taking any chances. He retrieved his dagger and demanded, “Who are you?”
By way of response he asked another question. “This girl…she is your friend?”
Edgar lowered his weapon just a bit. “Yes,” he said. “Terra is our friend. Is she okay?”
The old man didn’t seem to hear the question. He stroked his beard and appeared to be considering something. “You call her Terra…Terra…how odd.” After what seemed like a very long time to the others, he finally spoke again. “Her life is in no danger, though I fear she cannot understand you.” He looked very sad, somehow. “She used a power that she did not know she had, and it overwhelmed her. Now her body won’t listen to what she’s telling it to do. As for myself, I am Ramuh.” He finally stood, and when he turned to look at them Locke saw that his eyes were as white as snow. “The esper, Ramuh,” he added.
Celes gasped. The Figaro brothers’ jaws dropped. Locke couldn’t have been more surprised if the sky had suddenly turned orange.
“Y-you’re an esper?” Edgar spat out. “But I thought espers lived in another world!”
“That’s true,” Ramuh said with a gentle smile. “But that doesn’t mean that there’s anything keeping us from living in this one as well.” He made a vague gesture toward his face. “My appearance is similar to a human, so I have been able to live here without anyone discovering the truth.”
“But why hide at all?” Sabin asked with innocence. “Why hide the fact that you’re an esper?
Again Ramuh looked very sad. “I hide because humans and espers are incompatible creatures.”
Locke frowned. “Is that really true?” he asked. “My grandmother used to tell me bedtime stories about when humans and espers lived side-by-side.”
Ramuh considered this. “The stories she told you were true,” he finally said. “The truth is that humans and espers used to live together in harmony. At least, until the War of the Magi.”
Locke looked to his companions. They were staring at Ramuh in wonder. To be this close to a real, live esper…
Ramuh seemed to be far away in his mind. After a moment he began speaking as though a question had been asked. “It happened long ago,” he said. “Humans had learned how to infuse themselves with magical powers extracted from espers, and so esper and human fought tooth and nail against one another. Many perished on both sides. Once the war was ended, the espers fashioned a new realm in which to exile themselves. They feared that if they remained in the human world it would only be a matter of time before war would erupt again. They thought themselves safe in their new world…
But then one day, about two decades ago, humans stumbled upon the entrance to that hidden realm – humans who knew of espers and the secrets of our powers. Thus began the hunt. For Gestahl, the leader of the men, the goal was to use the powers extracted from espers to create an invincible army.”
“Magitek weapons,” Edgar thought aloud, and Ramuh nodded.
“Didn’t you fight back?” Sabin inquired.
Ramuh’s eyes dropped. “As soon as we realized what was happening we erected a massive magical gate and forced the humans out. But for many of us it was too late. Those who were captured were taken to the Empire’s Magitek Research Facility, and they are there to this day, being drained of their power.” The old esper looked as miserable as a person could look. “I narrowly avoided that fate, and so here I am with you.”
Locke examined Ramuh’s face with interest. He couldn’t help asking, “Didn’t you try to rescue them?” He regretted the question the moment it left his mouth.
“I am very old, and have grown weak in my years,” the esper whispered with glimmering eyes. “I was…afraid. This is my deepest regret.”
The room went silent. No one seemed to know what to say, how to react.
With a deep breath and a heavy sigh, Ramuh pressed his weight to his staff and walked over to Terra’s bedside. “She seems to have calmed down a bit,” he commented.
Locke looked to the being that had enveloped Terra’s body. It was true. She seemed to be sleeping soundly now. “Why did she come here?” he wondered.
“She came because I called,” Ramuh explained. “I felt her change and it seemed that she had lost control, so I called her here to me where she could be safe while she recovers.”
The real question had been hanging in the air long enough, and now Locke finally asked it. “Is…is Terra an esper?”
A tiny smile crept onto Ramuh’s face. “No,” he answered. “She’s a bit different from us.” He offered no further explanation. Locke noticed that Celes was watching Terra sleep with a very strange look in her eyes.
“She looks like she’s in pain,” the woman commented.
Ramuh nodded. “She is afraid of what she is. That uncertainty can be a very painful thing.
Edgar stepped forward with his brother close behind him. “What can we do for her?” the king asked.
“She has to come to terms with her own existence,” Ramuh told them. “Once she comes to understand her true nature, the fear and doubt should subside.”
Locke frowned again. “But isn’t there anything we can do to help?” he asked.
Ramuh placed a withered hand on Terra’s forehead and closed his eyes. “The other espers who are trapped in Gestahl’s facility may be able to help her.”
Celes seemed to be considering something. “The Magitek Research Facility…” she muttered under her breath. “The espers are really there?”
Sabin seconded the thought. “If we can get inside the facility, you’re sure we’ll find them?”
Ramuh nodded. “I saw it before I escaped,” he confessed. “I ran off alone, abandoning my friends, and I’ve been hiding here like a coward ever since. But I fear I can remain here no longer.”
Celes’ head popped up. “What do you mean?”
Ramuh opened his eyes and gave her a meaningful look. “Gestahl’s methods are mistaken,” he told her. “You can’t drain an esper by force – that only weakens them, and the energy transfered is watered down, incomplete. Only when we become magicite can our power be transfered in full.”
“Magicite?” Edgar frowned. “I don’t understand. What exactly are you saying?”
“I am going to turn myself into magicite so that I might lend you my strength.”
“But what is magicite?” Sabin asked.
Ramuh brushed Terra’s hair to the side and gazed at her with a sorrowful expression. “Magicite is an esper’s power in its purest form,” he spoke quietly. “When an esper dies, magicite is what is left behind.”
Locke understood all at once. “Wait, what?” he cried.
Ramuh raised his staff and the others were momentarily blinded by a violent flash of light. When the spots had disappeared from their vision there were three beautiful stones laying on the bedsheets beside Terra. They were the size of Locke’s palm, cut in the shape of a rounded rectangle. All three were a deep, soulful emerald color, but from within the hearts there glowed a pulsing red flame.
“These are my companions who fell as we fled the Empire,” Ramuh told them. “And I will give you my power as well.”
Before Locke could object again, Ramuh raised his staff a second time. The second flash was brighter than the first and was accompanied by a shrill screech that made Locke raise his hands to his ears. When the light and sound died away Ramuh had vanished, staff and all. Where he’d stood a moment before there was now a fourth stone, shining at Locke’s feet.
“What happened?” Celes asked, rubbing her eyes.
Locke stooped down and gingerly picked up the magicite gem from the floor. It was hot to the touch but it didn’t burn his skin. He stared into the heart of the gem and watched the fire flicker and dance. “Ramuh,” he said quietly. “Are you really gone?”
Celes sidled up beside him and stroked the gem with a pale finger. “He turned himself into magicite,” she marveled. “He gave up his life to help us.” She gently took the gem from Locke’s hand and frowned down at it. “Why would you do such a thing?”
To everyone’s surprise, Ramuh’s voice responded, echoing against the walls around them, a last echo of his conscious being: “If our power is used for destruction again the skies will burn and all life will fade from the planet. You must stop the Empire. There must not be a second War of the Magi…” The voice faded, and Ramuh the esper was gone forever.
Celes closed her fingers around the magicite and murmured something that sounded like a prayer.
“So the Empire has been draining magic from captured espers,” Edgar grumbled. He looked furious.
“Is that really true, Celes?” asked Sabin.
Locke watched Celes’ face when she replied and noticed that she looked a bit more pale than usual. “I was asleep when they performed my infusion, and I was very young, so I don’t know for sure.” She stared at the magicite in her hand while she spoke and looked sick to her stomach. “But…I’ve heard rumors to that effect.”
They all thought about that for a few moments before Sabin spoke up. “Then I suppose we’re going to have to find a way to slip into the Empire.”
“I’ll send a pigeon from Jidoor to Narshe,” Edgar suggested. “We should let Cyan and the others know what’s happening so they can continue to beef up our defenses there.”
Celes handed the magicite gem back to Locke and stood up strait with a grim look on her face. “I’ll go to the Empire,” she insisted. “I know it inside and out.”
Sabin raised an eyebrow. “Certainly not alone?”
“It will be easy for me to get in,” she pressed. “I may be a traitor, but I still have friends on the inside.”
Locke frowned, and before he know what he was doing he’d placed a hand on Celes’ shoulder. “I’ll go with her,” he directed at the Figaro brothers. He didn’t look to meet the look Celes was giving him.
“We’ll go with you too,” Edgar insisted.
“The quest continues,” Sabin added with a grin.
Celes gave the men a hard stare each in turn before speaking again. “So what’s our big plan for actually getting there?” she asked with her mouth set. “The Empire’s fortress is on the southern continent, and they’ve recently closed down all the harbors, so there aren’t any ships going there anymore.”
Locke waved a hand to indicate that there was no problem. “No concerns,” he told her. “Jidoor is full of wealthy aristocrats. Surely we’ll be able to find a way through one of them. ‘Where there’s a gil’, right?”
“And whose gil would we be talking about?” Edgar inquired with a raised eyebrow.
Sabin rolled his eyes. He scooped up the other three magicite gems and deposited them into his hip-pouch. “Okay boys, I think it’s high time we mosey on out of the thieves den, hmmm?”
This Locke was all for, but as he followed the Figaro brothers toward the door a hand fell on his shoulder.
He looked at Celes, glanced at the brothers as they left the room, and then turned back to Celes. “Yeah?”
She seemed to be having trouble deciding what to say. “You know that I could get in and out of the Empire alone,” she stated. “So why are you coming with me?”
The first thought that came to his mind made blood rush to his cheeks, and he found himself stammering for a response that he could admit aloud. “Well, there’s rumors about all kinds of legendary treasures being hidden away in there,” he stumbled. “And I’ve always wanted to get an inside look at the Empire, you know?” He forced a grin on his face, but he could feel the heat of his skin.
Celes narrowed her eyes. Locke felt his jaw twitch.
Eventually Celes broke the gaze and turned away. “We should get going,” she muttered as she walked away.
Locke’s shoulders drooped. “Top form, Cole,” he grumbled. “Top form.”