Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 5 – Part 4)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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”.

Banon - AngrySabin - ActionEdgar - AngryTerra - Glance
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Terra sunk a little in her chair. Locke chuckled and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder.

The area with the long table was packed. There were at least three times as many Returners as Terra had originally estimated, and many of them were looking at her with interest as they chatted and waited for the meeting to begin.

“Alright!” Banon spoke above the crowd from his place at the head of the table. The crowd quieted and turned all their attention to him. “First, we all know that the Empire is using this strange Magitek power in battle. The question is, how has the Emperor created this man-made magic?” Here he paused and looked to Edgar, who stood and cleared his throat.

“I had heard a rumor,” he told the room, “That the Empire is forcing the world’s finest scholars to study espers and esper lore. Locke looked into it for me.”

“It seems to be true, although I haven’t been able to officially confirm it,” said Locke, who refused to stand when he spoke. “All the trouble in Narshe was over an esper too.”

Terra’s mind flashed to the strange, beautiful creature, encapsulated in ice, staring, eternal… “Do you mean,” she said quietly, “That there’s a connection between espers and the power that the Empire wields?”

Banon nodded gravely. He linked his fingers in front of his face and peered over them. “I can think of only one thing that would liken espers to machines that seem to use magical powers.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Terra noticed that Edgar’s face dropped in a strange way. His mouth opened a little and a half sentence escaped. “You can’t mean…?”

“Indeed,” Banon answered. He projected his voice to ensure everyone would hear. “The ancient War of the Magi.”

A gasp went throughout the crowd.

“No!” cried one woman.

“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed another.

Terra glanced around, bewildered at the shock and horror on the faces of the Returners. Gloriously ignorant, she asked, “What’s the War of the Magi?” No one seemed to hear her.

“My Grandma used to tell me stories about magical machines that existed long ago,” Locke told Edgar, eyes wide. “Could they have been true?”

“Could that ancient tragedy be playing out again?” Edgar responded in question.

“This is all just speculation,” Banon’s loud voice brought a bit of order back to the room. “But historical studies have provided a number of conflicting and frightening theories about the War. According to one of the more common theories, humans and machines were imbued with magical powers drained from espers.”

“And devastation was the result,” Edgar growled, “Since you can only fight magic enemies with magic weapons!”

Banon nodded. “But one way or another, the War ended. How is the missing link that may help us.” Here his eyes locked on Terra. “It may be risky, but that esper in Narshe reacted to Terra… If we have her ‘speak’ with it, it may just wake up and-”

“I wonder if that’s wise?” Edgar interrupted, frowning.

Banon shrugged, flicking his gaze to the young king. “Who’s to say?” he admitted. “But regardless, we aren’t particularly burdened with options. We need to try something, anything, if it will help us understand our situation and come up with a way to fight the Empire. And for that we need Terra’s help.”

Terra felt every eye on her and cringed. But she was also thinking about the esper again, about its piercing gaze. She vaguely remembered the scream as the second soldier vanished. But the esper hadn’t hurt her. She’d simply passed out. Perhaps it wouldn’t be dangerous at all. Perhaps the beautiful creature would be grateful to Terra for freeing it from its icy slumber. Perhaps it would give Terra some answers…tell her what she…

“I’ll do it!” she exclaimed. Several people jumped in surprise.

“What nonsense!” Sabin laughed, teasing. “You sound almost as if you’re enjoying this!”

Banon ignored the excited whispers and Sabin’s banter and gave Terra a warm smile. “Thank you,” he told her. “You have no idea how much we all appreci-”

The slam of a door and the clatter of several crates bouncing across the stone floor interrupted Banon’s moment of gratitude. Several people rose from their chairs and all heads turned to look as a young man stumbled into the room and fell to his knees. Terra recognized him as the young man who had led them into the hideout earlier. His dark hair was pasted to his slick forehead and he was gasping as though there wasn’t enough oxygen left on the planet to fill his lungs.

Banon rose from his seat. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “What’s happened?”

“S…South Figaro,” the young man struggled with every syllable. “Empire…t-took South F…Figaro…coming…this way!”

The panic was tangible. Terra swore she could feel each heart rate quicken, each breath shorten.

“But why?” Edgar exclaimed. “South Figaro is a peaceful fishing town! What use could the Empire possibly have for-”

“They’ve found us,” Banon groaned. “We haven’t a moment to lose!” Terra watched in confusion as the Returners’ leader began quickly doling out evacuation orders.

“Locke!” cried Edgar.

“I know,” replied Locke. “Someone has to sneak into South Figaro and slow the Empire down, right?”

“This is right up your alley,” said Edgar with a grim smile.

“No!” Terra cried, surprising both men. “You can’t go alone!”

Locke smiled that soft, infuriating smile, and placed a hand on Terra’s head. “Don’t you worry about me. This is what I do. I’ll be just fine.” Terra tried to argue, but Locke plowed on, not to be interrupted. “Wait for me in Narshe, and please, don’t let a lecherous young king, who shall remain nameless, anywhere near you!”

“Locke!” Edgar screamed, his face red. He grabbed madly at the other, but Locke had already run, howling with mad laughter, toward the exit. Terra watched him go with a frown on her face and a worried crease on her brow.

Sabin, who seemed to be immune to the concept of panic, was roaring at the rage on Edgar’s face. “Oh big brother,” he chuckled loudly. “Won’t you ever grow up?”

Banon had appeared behind them. “Everyone is heading out through the back tunnels,” he explained. “They’re going to scatter until further notice, but I think we four should head directly to Narshe.”

Edgar put aside his anger long enough to agree. “Yes, I want to see that esper for myself, and we really shouldn’t waste time. We can head down the Lete River.”

The men all agreed, but given the strange look on Banon’s face, Terra had a very bad feeling about the decision.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 5 – Part 3)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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”.

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

Locke led Terra back to the room with the beds she’d spied upon their arrival. They were both silent, neither sure what to say to the other. Locke motioned Terra toward a corner bed in the empty room and she sat down. After a moment of hesitation he turned and sat facing her on the next bed over.

Terra’s mind was swirling. ‘Our only hope’, Banon had said. What could he possibly mean by that? What was she supposed to think about it? He hadn’t explained anything at all, just dazzled her with a fairy tale and left her with a hell of a lot of confusion and questions. Was he…was he expecting her to fight for him?

“Locke,” she said after what felt like an eternity of silence, “Why did you join the Returners?”

Locke’s eyes probed Terra’s face, but she was staring resolutely at the floor while she awaited an answer. After a moment he sighed, lay back on the bed, and crossed his arms behind his head. “Someone important to me was jailed by the Empire,” he explained slowly. He didn’t use so much as a pronoun, but Terra’s mind flashed an image of Locke standing next to an older, more rugged version of himself…father and son. “I’ve hated the Empire every since,” Locke continued on. “When I realized that they were completely rotten to the core, I sought out and joined the Returners. I wanted to make a difference.”

Terra considered his words for a while before speaking again. “But I have no significant other in my life, no one to fight for. No one to ‘make a difference’ for.”

Locke turned his head to look at her, and this time she was looking back. “That’s not entirely true,” he told her. “Your memory still has a lot of holes in it, so you can’t be sure that someone like that doesn’t exist for you.” He smiled. “Besides, I’m sure there are people out there who feel that you’re important to them. They’re probably out there right now, somewhere, counting on you to do what’s right.”

Terra couldn’t decide whether that was a comforting thought or not. It was nice to imagine that there might be people out there who were emotionally attached to her, but it was also frustrating to think that they might be counting on her to make a decision that she felt completely inadequate to make. She just didn’t know what the ‘right decision’ was.

She popped up from the bed so suddenly that Locke jumped. “I need to move,” she announced. “Take a walk or something.”

“You want me to come with you?” Locke asked, propping himself up on his elbows.

“No,” Terra replied slowly. She turned toward the door. “I need to think.” She strode off before Locke could object.

There were plenty of people wandering the tunnels of the hideout; more than Terra had expected, men and women of all ages. It seemed that the Empire was more widely hated than she’d realized. It was difficult to find somewhere quiet to think. She met up with Edgar in one room, and he gave her some thoroughly unhelpful advice.

“It’s tough to try and talk you into joining us,” he’d said with a careful smile. “If we push you too hard then we’re really no better than the Empire. So we want you to make up your own mind…trust yourself.”

Later, by the food bar, Sabin gave her some even less helpful advice.

“The only thing I can add,” he’d said thoughtfully, “Is that you can trust my brother implicitly. He’s a good man and has always been fair with me. You can trust him, Terra.” He added with a sheepish grin, “But don’t you dare tell him I said that!”

After a polite smile to each, and feeling thoroughly uninspired, Terra eventually made her way to the mouth of the cave entrance. Here she finally found a quiet place to think. It was still fairly early in the day, but the sun was beginning to disappear behind the large walls of mountains, casting shadows across the valley.

For a few minutes she let her thoughts disappear beyond the mountains as well. The warm breeze blew through her hair and she stood with her eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the evening; a wolf’s howl, an eagle’s cry, and the grass in the valley rustling in the wind.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?”

Terra jumped about a mile before peering around the corner of the cave entrance. Banon was there, a few feet away, sitting down against the stone wall. His eyes were closed, his head resting back.

“I come out here sometimes, to think,” he explained. “It’s a very calming environment.”

Terra hesitated for several moments before walking over and sitting down next to him. “That is why I am out here as well,” she admitted.

“Hmm…” said Banon. “Trying to make up your mind about joining us?”

It was another few moments before Terra responded. “Yes.”

Banon offered no more, but Terra soon found herself irresistibly displaying her thoughts for him to see.

“It’s just that,” she started, “I think you’re the ‘good guys’, but how do I really know? My memory has so many gaps. How do I know that the Empire isn’t perfectly sound and that the Returners aren’t just a group of rebels who want to overthrow the government?”

Banon chuckled a little, and the response he gave almost seemed to be rehearsed. “I suppose when you put it in that sense, you really can’t know for sure,” he told her, his eyes still closed gently. “But we don’t fight because we know we’re right. We fight because our hearts tell us we’re right. Tell me, Terra, knowing that the Empire enslaved you against your will, what does your heart tell you?”

Terra didn’t have to think very long before admitting, “Anyone who would do that to someone has to be bad…”

“And as for us, well,” said Banon, “We can’t really prove to you that what we’re trying to do is inherently ‘good’, but certainly there’s no harm in observing for yourself. Allow yourself the time with us in order to give your heart enough evidence to decide properly.”

Terra considered this for a long time. She watched an eagle, its wings spread majestically, soar high in the twilit sky. “Yes…I suppose so…”

Now, finally, Banon opened his eyes and turned to look at her. “Then I must ask, as it’s been killing me, you see,” he said with a flicker of a smile, “Have you made your decision? Will you give our organization a chance and possibly become our last ray of hope?”

Terra continued to watch the eagle until it landed on a nearby ridge, where sat a large nest. She spied several tiny bald heads peek up as the mama-bird nuzzled in.

“Yes,” she whispered.

Banon’s eyes lit up. “Really? You will?”

“But,” Terra interrupted loudly, “I’m scared.”

Unable to hide his jubilation, Banon twisted to place both hands on Terra’s shoulders and grinned. “That’s natural,” he told her. “But try to have faith. If everyone works together, with a common goal in our hearts, we’ll be successful. Never give up hope!”

Terra allowed herself a small smile.

With a childlike bounce, a grinning Banon jumped to his feet. “I believe,” he said aloud, “That it is time to call a meeting!”

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 5 – Part 2)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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”.

Banon - AngryTerra - Sad (Front)
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Nobody bothered to ask Sabin how he seemed to know exactly where the Returners’ hideout was located; the wearied travelers were simply too grateful to have him as a guide. When they found themselves at the secret cave entrance that night, Edgar and Locke readily admitted that it would have been a two-day hike taking the path they knew.

A young guard, hiding in the shadows behind a large rock, popped up in surprise as the group approached. “King Edgar!” he exclaimed in shock. “What are you – I mean, please come this way!” The eager boy, whom Terra guessed was no older than fifteen or sixteen, ushered them happily down a short tunnel and through a thick wooden door.

“Ah,” Locke sighed, stretching. “Good to be ‘home’!”

Terra had to admit to herself that she was a little impressed. You could hardly tell you were inside a mountain. The tunnel opened up into a fairly large cavern that was furnished with a very long wooden table and many chairs. A makeshift bar was set up in one corner and an older couple were nestled there, doling out mugs of some sort of steaming, delicious-smelling stew. A number of other tunnels were partitioned off with more doorways; one of them was hanging open and Terra spied a group of small beds. The walls were lined with boxes of supplies and dozens of posters with revolutionary sayings, motto’s, and ideals emblazoned across them.

“This way, Sir’s and Madam,” said the young guard again, hurriedly. “This way, please!” He led them past the stew bar, past the long table, and through a door in the very back of the cavern. It was a study of sorts that housed several large shelves, packed with books.

An older man with long, wild white hair, swathed in a pale yellow cloak, turned from the shelf where he stood. He’d been flipping through a very large, very ancient-looking volume.

“Ah!” he said, surprised at the sudden arrival of so many guests. “King Edgar! This is a surprise!”

The young guard ducked away, presumably to return to his post, and Edgar stepped forward. “Banon, there is much to discuss,” he announced. He opened his arms wide in greeting as he spoke.

“Yes, yes…” Banon agreed. He placed his book on a shelf and moved to meet them. “There must have been some interesting events for you to land here with Locke and…” His eyes scrutinized Sabin for a moment. “Your brother?”

Sabin nodded respectfully and no further questions were asked. Instead Banon’s gaze wandered to Terra.

“And who is this lovely young lady?” he asked, though by the way he was looking at his hair it was clear that he already had some idea.

“Terra Branford,” Edgar answered for her.

“Hmmm…” Banon mumbled. “Yes…the girl who can talk to espers?”

Terra opened her mouth, ready to defend herself if need be, and explain that as far as she could recall there had been nothing resembling a conversation with the creature in the Narshe cave.

Edgar interrupted her. “It seems that the Empire had complete control over her.”

“Yes, yes…” Banon replied, his eyes boring into Terra’s. “Carrier pigeons brought word that she wiped out fifty of the Empire’s best soldiers in mere moments.”

The blood flew to Terra’s face, and then drained just as quickly. “That’s a lie!” she screamed in horror. She turned to run from the room, desperate to escape Banon’s steady gaze, but Locke and Sabin caught her on either side.

“Terra,” Locke whispered to her as she struggled against them. “It’s okay…”

“Banon!” Edgar cried, a hint of disgust in his voice. “She doesn’t remember anything! And even if she did, she wasn’t in control of herself! She’s a victim in all this!”

But Banon wasn’t listening to Edgar; he was still staring steadfastly at Terra. “Stay where you are!” he demanded, his voice suddenly loud and firm.

The authority in his voice caused Terra to freeze and slowly turn around, her eyes wide. She was surprised to find that the look on Banon’s face had changed…he looked desperate, and very, very old.

“Perhaps you may have heard this story,” he spoke quietly while taking a few steps forward. “Once, a long time ago when people were pure and innocent, there was a box they were told never to open. But one person’s curiosity was too powerful and one day he stole away and opened the box to see what was inside. In doing so, he unleashed all the evils of the world…envy…greed…pride…violence…control… All that was left in the box was a single tiny ray of light…hope.” As the word left his lips, a like emotion flickered in his eyes. “You may not realize it yet, but we now confront those evils within the Empire, and you may be that last ray of light…our only hope.”

Shocked and confused at the bluntness of his statement, Terra stumbled backwards into Locke. He caught her around the shoulders and gave them a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

“Banon!” Edgar admonished, but his voice was small. It was clear that his opinion on the subject was similar to the old man’s, even if he wasn’t quite so straightforward about it.

This time Banon reacted to Edgar’s voice, and for the first time since he’d noticed Terra, his eyes moved away from her. “Leave me now,” he all but whispered. “I am…very tired.”

Locke gave Terra’s shoulders another comforting squeeze and she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 3 – Part 1)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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”.

Edgar - Shocked Locke - Shocked          Terra - Glance
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She’d done it. She hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone, but she had let instinct take over, and instinct told her to protect the men who had protect her.

The flames that had erupted from her palms began to slowly die down, revealing a scorched and twisted mess of metal in their wake. Terra gradually lowered her arms, leaving the last of the fire to burn itself out, and turned in disgust from the smoking, stinking heap.

The look on Edgar’s face took her by surprise. Rather than looking relieved, she found him staring at the smoldering fires with eyes as wide as saucers, his jaw hanging slightly open.

Locke was hoisting himself from the ground, rubbing his head and stretching to peer around Edgar’s chocobo. “What’s happening?” He blinked a few times at the pile of melted metal and then up at Edgar’s shocked expression. “W-what’s the matter?” he asked in concern. “Edgar, you look positively spooked!”

“D-did you see what I just saw?” Edgar stammered.

Locke glanced back to the receding flames and then, oddly enough, started to examine Terra from every angle. “You loaded for bear, kid?” he asked, and Terra realized he was looking for the weapon she’d used to cause such destruction.

“She’s amazing!” Edgar exclaimed suddenly, startling his chocobo. He turned his wide eyes to Locke’s. “That was magic! Magic!” He said the word as though it meant something both holy and terrifying.

“M-m-magic?” Locke stuttered. He looked at Terra, and then back at the destruction behind her. He was looking with new eyes this time. His eyebrows raised and his mouth dropped open in realization, his face now a mirror of Edgar’s. “She used magic?”

“Terra…” Edgar barely whispered. “Where in the world did you learn…?”

Terra’s face was hot and her heart was fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings. She clenched and unclenched her fists, confused and upset, completely insecure and unable to speak. What had she done wrong? She’d saved them, hadn’t she? What was the problem? Why were they looking at her that way?

“I…sorry…I…” she whispered, her voice cracking painfully. “I…I just…”

The pain on her face registered something in Locke and he shook himself out of his own bewilderment. He shoved past Edgar’s chocobo and rushed to grab one of Terra’s hands. “No, no, it’s okay!” he promised frantically. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to make such a big deal out of it!”

“Me either!” Edgar insisted loudly. He hopped from his chocobo and rushed forward as well. “It’s just that I’ve never actually seen magic before…where did you…?”

Locke cut him off at the strange look in Terra’s eyes. “Look, Edgar…Terra can use magic and we can’t, and that’s it! She’s still our friend, and frankly we could use her help. She certainly saved our hides just now!”

Terra’s heart fluttered again, but for new reasons this time.

“You’re right, of course,” Edgar admitted. “This doesn’t change anything, naturally. She’s still just Terra.” He grinned at her, his smile genuine and sincere.

She let her face break into a smile and allowed instinct to take over once again. “Thank you Locke!” she cried, wrapping her arms around him for a quick, tight embrace. She squeezed once, firmly, before releasing him and giving Edgar the same treatment. “Thank you Edgar!” By the time she stepped back again both their faces were red as roses.

“Stop swooning!” Locke hissed under his breath at Edgar.

“You stop swooning!” Edgar hissed back.

The voice was distant, but they all heard the enraged shriek coming from the direction in which Figaro Castle no longer stood.

“Perhaps we should move on?” Edgar suggested urgently.

With everyone in full agreement, they quickly saddled up on the remaining two chocobos – Locke squeezed on with Terra – and took off to the south-east as fast as the birds would allow. Kefka’s furious screams eventually faded into the early morning air.

“He’s scary,” Terra observed quietly. She couldn’t stop picturing his abnormally pale skin and blood-like makeup.

Her simple observation caused Locke to chuckle, but there was little humor in the sound. “He certainly is.”

They rode in silence for several long minutes before Terra spoke up again. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“Through South Figaro and then into the mountains,” replied Edgar. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

“Another Returner,” Locke explained. “Our mentor, Banon.”

“He will surely like to meet you,” Edgar said, smiling at the thought. “Especially with what we now know. Your magic just may be the key to winning this war.”

“Magic…” Terra rolled the word around in her mouth. It sounded familiar, but ultimately meant nothing to her.

“Terra has magical powers,” Locke said, mostly to himself. “According to Arvis, that esper seemed to…react to her. Could there be some connection?”

Terra thought about it for a moment, but nothing came to her. “I haven’t the foggiest,” she said honestly. “I didn’t really think about it. It just seems completely natural to me that I have the use of this power. It’s like breathing.”

Edgar frowned. “But no human is born with the sort of power you seem to have, and-”

Terra’s face had fallen again and Locke was glaring daggers at the king.

“I apologize,” Edgar said quickly. “I just meant that you’re very unique. I’m sure the Empire will be coming after you, and if they get their hands on you again…well, it won’t be good for anyone.”

Terra imagined the death and destruction her powers could cause under the influence of another slave crown. “What should I do?” she pleaded.

“You want to understand all of this, right?” Edgar asked. “Then I think we should consult with Banon. He is very wise.”

Terra didn’t reply, but after a moment she gave a quiet nod.

“Alright then. There’s a cave in this direction that will take us to South Figaro. We’ll make our way there and rest for the night.”