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

For your reading pleasure, here is the third part of Final Fantasy: Returning Hope, Chapter One.

Warning: there may be profane language in the following excerpt.

Reminder: you can see the previous posts of this story by choosing “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope” from the Categories drop-down banner on the left side of the blog.

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

The pain was immense. She groaned aloud and reached up to her throbbing head but found herself tangled up in a pair of bedsheets. Disoriented and panicked, she kicked and thrashed at the bedding and soon found herself tumbling painfully to the floor with a loud thud.

“Where am I?” she cried, eyes darting around the small bedroom.

“Woah,” a warm voice responded, “It’s okay, just calm down. You’re safe here.”

She turned to the closet where an elderly man with a kind face was placing something away. “I…I don’t remember anything!” she sobbed, her eyes widening in fright, “What’s happening to me?”

The man smiled woefully and took the item he’d been tucking away back out of the closet. It was a thin gold circle of some sort and looking at it filled her with dread, though she was unsure why. “This is a slave crown,” the man explained, “The men you were with, they had complete control over you while you were wearing it. If you’ve been wearing it a long time it may have some adverse effects on your memory, but it should all come back…in time, that is. Can you remember your name?”

She thought, though it was painful, and found that there was something, lingering in the very back of her mind, waiting for her to retrieve it. If she concentrated she could almost see the letters in front of her eyes…

“T…Terra…” she whispered aloud, “Terra Branford. My…my name is Terra Branford.”

“Wonderful!” the older man exclaimed, “Rarely does anyone recover this fast! You should do well.” He walked towards her and Terra found herself scrambling backwards, her back pressed up against the bed she’d fallen from. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said again, with that same warm smile, “I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”

Slowly, analyzing his face, she found she believed him, although she was still terribly frightened. “How did I get here?”

Before the kind man could answer there was a furious pounding from the other side of the house. Alarmed, they both jumped.

“Open up!” a voice bellowed, “Open this door! We know you’ve got her in there and we want her back, old man! That woman is an officer of the Empire!”

“Empire?” Terra stuttered, “Officer? Me? What does he mean?”

The man’s face had gone hard, his eyes narrowed toward the front door of his small home. “I’m very sorry Terra. I’d hoped we’d have more time to chat, but unfortunately it looks like that’s a luxury we can’t afford.” Without warning he jogged over to her, and hauled her up off the floor from under the arm. Dragging her unceremoniously over to a corner, he began to slide a bookcase out of the way of what appeared to be a hidden door, grunting from the heft of his books.

“You’ve got to escape out through the mines while I keep these guys occupied!” he explained hurriedly, “I’m sorry that I don’t have time to explain everything, but I promise I’ll send someone to meet up with you just as soon as he arrives here.”

“I-I don’t want to go alone!” Terra cried, her heart racing, “I don’t know what to do!”

The man’s face softened again, just a little, but he stood resolutely, gesturing towards the door. “I am terribly sorry, but believe me when I say you’ll be better off running. I promise that someone will meet you as soon as possible. Just keep out of sight of the miners and you should be fine.”

She was confused, her head still throbbed, and she hadn’t the slightest clue what was happening to her. Every thought in her mind screamed out in protest of this entire situation. However, she found that she wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with choices.

“I’ll…I’ll go,” she finally agreed, a few hot tears brimming in her eyes, “But please…make sure someone comes soon.” She didn’t wait to hear a response because she was frightened she’d lose her nerve.

It was dark outside and the wind was freezing. A few burning lanterns gave Terra enough light to see the small wooden bridge extending from the hidden door, over the street, and into a small cave opening. She started to creep carefully forward and instantly winced at the noise she created. Examining herself for the first time she found she was covered in bits and pieces of bronze armor. Carefully, painstakingly, she peeled the armor away and laid it carefully down on the bridge, piece by piece until she was wearing only the basic grey jumpsuit meant as an undergarment. Free of the noisy coverings, she scrambled to the cave as quickly as she dared while still keeping as quiet as possible.

The cave was either part of one of the mine shafts that was currently being excavated, or else the old man kept it lit with small strings of lanterns for just such an occasion. Terra crept through quietly at first, but a yell near the cave’s entrance sent her into a panicked run. She wasn’t sure why she was so frightened, but some instinct told her to trust the old man and to fear the men who had pounded on his front door. She ran through tunnels, unthinking, taking a left, then a right, never debating where she was going or where she might end up, until eventually she found herself at a dead end.

“Oh…” she muttered, halting in front of the solid stone wall, “Dammit.”

“There she is!” a voice echoed through the tunnel.

Terra spun around, eyes wide, to find half a dozen men with mine picks and at least one rifle barreling down on her. Somehow she’d managed to navigate herself right into their hunting party.

“Alright, Missy,” the man with the rifle spoke in a gruff voice, “Don’t try and escape now. We’ve got you cornered. Just come quietly.”

Terra’s heart raced and a few hot tears rolled from her eyes. What do I do? she thought.

“What do you want from me?” was what she screamed, “Leave me alone!”

The men took a few steps forward, not answering her cries, and she pressed herself up against the wall.

“No!” she screamed as loudly as she could manage, “Stay back!”

A deep rumbling sound came from somewhere close by and the men stepped back in surprise and alarm. “Shut up!” one of them hissed at Terra, “Not so loud! You’ll bring the place down!”

“Get away!” she shrieked again, ignoring his warning and straining her voice.

It happened so suddenly that the men barely managed to scramble away. Terra didn’t even attempt to move as the stony floor crumbled beneath her.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 1 – Part 2)

For your reading pleasure, here is the second part of Final Fantasy: Returning Hope, Chapter One. This part is a bit long because I want to break up the parts of the story into chunks that are easy to read, rather than cutting them up in the middle of scenes.

Warning: there may be profane language in the following excerpt.

Reminder: you can see the previous posts of this story by choosing “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope” from the Categories drop-down banner on the left side of the blog.

Terra - M-Tek (Front)Vicks - M-Tek (Front)Vicks - M-Tek (Front)
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net*

Approaching the mining town, the soldiers’ ears met only sounds associated with steam power. All around them machinery popped, hissed, and belched puffs of smoke, but not a single person was to be seen anywhere. It was not likely that their approach had gone unnoticed. Three sets of Magitek armor made a fair bit of clamor.

“Let’s put her on point,” Wedge suggested, gesturing at the woman, “No point in taking any risks.”

In a v-formation with the woman at the front, they moved steadily yet cautiously into the center of town. The din of wind, steam, and machinery was everywhere, but the lack of living creatures was unnerving. There were lights shining through the curtains of many houses, yet no shadows moved within. If there were any humans tucked away in those buildings, they weren’t making themselves known.

Somewhere nearby came the unmistakable sound of rocks being kicked off of a ledge. Biggs and Wedge turned quickly, but it all happened so fast that they almost missed it. A very large dog that may have easily been a wolf jumped from a bridge spanning two buildings to their left. Teeth bared, a growl on it’s lips, the great grey beast hurled itself straight toward the woman’s throat. Unfortunately for the canine, the mysterious woman’s reflexes were unmatched. Even knowing to watch for the reaction, one could scarcely have seen her move. Before Biggs, Wedge, or the wolf-dog knew what was happening, a startlingly violent flash of flame erupted from the front of the woman’s armor. A yelp rang out through the dark town and the poor beast collapsed to the ground in a scorched, stinking heap.

A strangled cry burst from the shadows to the left, presumably from the owner of the recently deceased guard dog.

“Biggs!” Wedge yelled, “Over there!” He raised his right cannon arm towards the noises.

“Over here too!” Biggs responded, glimpsing movement to his right.

“For Narshe!” a strong voice bellowed from behind them.

The altercation was a short one. Though the miners were plentiful and determined, they also wore very little in the way of bodily protection and carried no weapon more powerful than a hunting rifle. Between the disturbingly fast skills of their point-woman and cover fire from Biggs and Wedge, soon the ground was littered with two dozen men and another handful of curiously large canines.

“Retreat!” someone screamed, and the remaining miners took of in several different directions.

Biggs made to give chase to a larger group scrambling up a hillside, but Wedge held him back. “Let them go. Our source said the esper was found in a new mine shaft.” He pointed towards a grouping of mine entrances at the far end of the mountain town. One had wooden braces which looked much newer than the others.

With a last longing glance towards his quickly escaping prey, Biggs grumpily followed Wedge and the woman into the fresh mine shaft. The rocky passageway had been masterfully excavated; it was easily wide enough that, had they wanted to, they could have walked side by side. The bracing was such that the shaft might easily stand for a hundred years. Humming lights lining the walls suggested that there had been work going on here very recently, if it wasn’t still going on.

There were two adjoining passageways, so they took the one that looked as though it went deeper. But before they’d gone very far at all they were blocked by a messily boarded up doorway that looked very much like it had been hastily constructed within the past half hour.

“I’ll handle this,” Biggs offered, raising one of his mechanical arms. The arm hummed and whirred; the cuff around the ‘wrist’ spun, pulling the metal hand back through the arm to be quickly replaced by a long, thin missile. “Stand back!” Biggs demanded, and the woman compliantly stepped to one side. With a squeal and a flash the missile was released, and with one explosive burst of energy the makeshift door was reduced to scrap.

As the dust began to clear, a distinctive coughing could be heard from the uncovered room.

“We won’t just hand over the esper!” a hoarse voice cried, “Destroy them, Whelk!”

The rock ground, walls, and ceiling began to tremble. Biggs and Wedge took a surprised step backwards as the passageway filled with an enormous creature the likes of which they’d never seen. It’s body was a massive spiral shell that shined and shimmered in the meager mine light. Bulging out from underneath the shell was an immense slug-like creature. It’s flesh was thick, brown, and extremely slimy, and two huge eye stalks swiveled horrifically on the top of what must have been it’s head.

Without thinking, Biggs quickly loaded another missile into his Magitek arm, “I’ll take care of this fucking monster!”

“No, wait!” Wedge cried, but a moment too late. The missile impacted upon the creature’s shell. Biggs grinned at the shrieking squeal it emitted, but his face quickly dropped. The clearing dust revealed no physical damage to the shell, which was now suddenly glowing a bright white light which filled the mine.

“Get out of the way!” Wedge shoved at Biggs’ armor, almost tripping them both before they could steady themselves. Within a second of the push, a precisely directed bolt of lightning demolished the wall where Biggs’ head had just been.

“Shit!” Biggs screamed, “What the fuck?”

“I read about this thing,” Wedge explained quickly, “A lightning whelk. These things follow around storm systems, ‘eating’ lightning and storing the energy in their shells. Attacking the shell releases bursts of that stored energy.”

“Okay, okay!” Biggs yelled impatiently, “So we’ll attack the head then!”

They stepped forward together, but jumped back in surprise when the whelk screeched again and released several smaller bolts of electricity. All around them bits of wall exploded. The whelk’s eye stalks writhed maddeningly.

“On second thought,” Wedge grumbled to himself, “Hey, witch!” The woman was still standing silently to one side; she turned her head to Wedge’s voice. “Kill that thing!” he commanded.

The Magitek armor moved casually, as though it were going for a leisurely stroll. The woman moved to stand in front of the nightmarish whelk. Lightning crashed all around her but she didn’t even seem to notice, and miraculously did not get hit. The whelk looked down at her, eye stalks twisting as though it were confused as to how she’d gotten so close. It’s shell began to glow, but before a single volt could be released two huge mechanical hands reached up and grasped the creature’s thick, slimy neck. It screeched in alarm and it’s eye stalks bulged from the pressure. The Magitek hands squeezed tighter as gears began to turn and shift. Excluding the missile cannons in the arms, every weapon on the armor clanked noisily into place and aimed at the massive neck. Through it’s significantly compressed throat, the whelk let out a final echoing screech before it’s hide was sliced open by a barrage of fire, electricity, explosives, and blunt weaponry. Without any feelings of remorse, or even a real comprehension of what she’d done, the woman tossed the twitching head unceremoniously aside.

“Yes, well…I suppose that will do…” Wedge stammered. Biggs couldn’t reply, as his jaw was hanging clear open. “Let’s, um…let’s move on then, shall we?” A little sick to their stomaches at the gruesome display, the men nervously waved the woman forward.

They crept cautiously into the recently blocked-off cavern, but whoever had set the whelk on them had evidently decided he’d rather be elsewhere.

“Look!” Wedge hissed.

There, sitting at the back of the hollowed-out room, was a massive crystal of ice. Within it’s confines stood a being that neither Wedge nor Biggs would have ever been able to describe if they’d been asked. It’s enormous wings were wrapped around it like a cape as though it had been trying to warm itself in it’s last moments. The feathers had a magnificence that could never be put into words. It was as though every strand of down was singing a sad song of light and dark, peace and war. Biggs and Wedge were captivated by the feathers. The woman, however, was staring directly into the esper’s pure white eyes. They seemed to be staring resolutely into hers, examining her, trying to speak to her.

Without being prompted, the woman slowly climbed out of her Magitek armor and took a few tentative steps forward. Wedge caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and dragged his attention away from the singing feathers. “Hey!” he yelled, “Where do you think you’re going?”

As she continued to move slowly forward, the frozen creature began emitting an eerie light, as though a flickering candle was being reflected through the many facets of the ice crystal.

“What’s this?” Wedge exclaimed, “Where’s this light coming from?”

Biggs barely had time to turn to his comrade before there was a bone-chilling scream and Wedge vanished in a flash of light.

“W-Wedge?” Biggs exclaimed, “Wedge! Where are you? W-what’s happening?”

No one would ever know what Biggs saw at that moment, but if the woman had been looking at him she’d have seen his eyes go wide and his mouth open in silent horror before a second flash of light swept him away to join his comrade.

The woman was not, however, watching her fellow soldiers vanish into the light. She was hypnotized by those white eyes. Without moving or giving any kind of indication that it was even alive, the esper was boring into her soul, analyzing her, wordlessly interrogating her. The feathers were not only singing now…they were performing a lament the likes of which human ears have never heard, and never will. The glimmers of light coming through the ice were blinding, though she was unable to close her eyes against them.

Her lip quivered and all at once a million thoughts came rushing through her head, filling her mind with painful images that made no sense to her. She grasped her head and cried out, falling to her knees on the hard ground.

“Who are you?” she cried with a hoarse voice that had not been used in a very long time, “What do you know about me? Please! Tell me, who am I?”

And with a final flash of light, she lost consciousness and dropped to the ground.

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

A true jewel from my childhood, I’ve always felt that Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) was one of the best video games of all time, at least partly because of the wonderful storyline. The characters were fun and lovable, the plot genuinely pulled you in and kept you playing, and it even had a number of subplots and character back-stories to really pull everything together. My best friend and I spent countless hours playing that game, and when it was released again as a Gameboy Advanced cartridge I nearly lost my mind.

That’s why, a few years back, I decided to write a fan-fiction for this particular game. But not the usual kind of fan-fiction where you take the characters and put them in a whole new story…no, I wanted to novelize the story I already loved. That’s how Final Fantasy: Returning Hope was born. I’ve been writing this story off and on for a while now, and I’m not even close to being done, but the comments I’ve gotten on it so far have been pretty good. That said, I thought I’d start sharing it for Fiction Fragment Fridays. I’ll have to chop the chapters up quite a bit because of the length of some of them, but you’ll always be able to see the whole story by choosing “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope” from the Categories drop-down banner on the left side of the blog. Enjoy the first part of Chapter One!

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

The wind was bitterly cold. The natural formation of the mountains funneled each gust down into the large caverns, creating ghostly howls that would cause even the bravest man’s hair to stand on end. The two men who stood on a cliff overlooking these mountains were certainly brave, but certainly not the bravest.

“There’s the town…” Biggs mumbled. He glared with dislike at the twinkling lights of the small mining town several miles away.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Wedge asked no one in particular, “A thousand years after the War of the Magi and they dig up a perfectly preserved frozen esper…”

“Think it’s still…alive?”

Wedge gave Biggs a strained look. “Judging by the urgency they put on this mission? I’d say that it must be.”

The two soldiers stood in silence for several moments, the enormity of the situation weighing heavily on their minds. The wind blew heavily at their backs.

A very out-of-place flash of color caught the corner of Biggs’ eye and he sneered. The woman standing silently several feet away was a sore topic for him, but even so he couldn’t help staring at her strange and mysterious beauty. The flash of color he’d seen was her long, wavy hair, which was a decidedly inhuman bluish-green, akin to the hue of tropical waters. Her eyes, which stared unblinking as though they were dead, were a hauntingly beautiful gray; looking into them was like gazing into a thick wall of fog through which sunlight was desperately attempting to burst. Draped around her thin body were bits and pieces of Imperial armor, although this had been done simply as a formality. No one truly expected this ‘soldier’ to be in any danger of physical damage.

“This woman…” Biggs broke the silence, “This…witch…why is she with us? I don’t trust her. I heard she took out an entire battalion of Magitek soldiers in under three minutes!”

“Overblown rumors,” Wedge insisted, though the sound of his voice indicated that he had considered the stories as well, “Besides, we’ve got nothing to worry about.” He pointed to the thin gold circlet wrapped around the woman’s head. “The slave crown robs her of all conscious thought and free will. She’ll follow orders.”

Gazing into those unblinking, unmoving eyes, Biggs found that he was neither convinced nor comforted. “Whatever you say…” he muttered, “Let’s suit up.”

The huge mechanical bodies that they climbed into made Biggs and Wedge feel slightly more comfortable amidst the dark, the wind, and the snow. The cranks and levers, which controlled the massive arms and legs, felt warm and familiar beneath their fingertips. From the chest up their own human bodies rose above the Magitek armors, allowing them to take in their surroundings from an elevated point of view. The suits would also make their trek much faster and much less exhausting.

Due to the suggestion implanted in her mind before they’d left for their mission, the woman followed suit and climbed gracefully into her own armored body.

“Whatever you might say, I want her up ahead of me at all times,” Biggs announced over the wind. Wedge rolled his eyes, but secretly he had been thinking the same thing.

“We’ll approach from the East. Move out!”

The 12 Posts of Christmas – Excitement

10. Kids get SO excited over some presents. Write about a particular toy or other present that made you lose your mind on Christmas day when you were a child.

There have been a number of presents over the years that made me lose my mind when I was young. Obviously I can’t remember any from when I was very small, but I’m sure my parents  could tell you a couple of stories of major freakouts from my earliest Christmases.

As for what I actually recall myself, two that really stand out were video games. The first, which I can only vaguely recall, was when I opened my Super Nintendo Entertainment System. If I was so inclined I could hunt through my parents’ basement and show you a couple of photos of that moment. I am not so inclined, given that I am currently over 3000 km away from my parents’ house, but let me assure you that the little girl in those pictures is grinning ear to ear and is gripping the box of that SNES with such force that her fingers are turning red.

The second example requires a bit of back-story… You see, when my best friend Kelly and I were younger we would regularly scrounge up some change and rent a video game at Dave’s Convenience Store. One of the games we rented enough times to cover the cost of the cartridge more than once was Final Fantasy III (US version) because we were absolutely obsessed with it. However, because of the length of the game (I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that it took at least 30 hours to reach the ending) we could never beat it. Inevitably we would run out of change and have to give the game back, and by the time we were able to rent it again some other child would have taken it out and overwritten our save file. It was a vicious loop. To make matters worse, by the time we had discovered this game it was actually fairly old for a SNES cartridge…in other words, it was no longer available in stores. Our only chance of getting it would be to snatch it up from a second-hand shop, and as not many people were willing to part with such a classic game, copies weren’t exactly floating around.

So imagine my elation when I opened a present on Christmas morning and found a like-new copy of Final Fantasy III staring up at me. I don’t recall exactly if I had specifically mentioned the game to my parents, but somewhere along the line they picked up on the fact that I was looking for it and they had kept close tabs on a local second-hand store until one finally popped in. I nearly cried when I opened that present, I’m not ashamed to say, not only because it was something I desperately longed for, but because I’ve always been annoyed by parents who are incapable of listening to their children and this proved that my parents were not those kind.

Hobbyist

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

41. How a hobby has made you a better writer

I gave myself a night to think about this one, and when I woke up in the morning I had realized the truth: pretty much all of my hobbies have made me a better writer. No, I’m not joking or exaggerating. Seriously, almost all of my hobbies lend themselves to writing in one way or another.

Hobby #1: Reading
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. I love to read, and what better way to learn about pacing, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, setting, etc.

Hobby #2: Video Games
It sounds unlikely, and parents and teachers would probably baulk at the idea that playing video games can be excellent for improving one of the finer arts, but those parents and teachers would be closed-minded. Video games – even the older, significantly less advanced ones – can have rich worlds filled with action, adventure, romance, horror, mystery…you name it! Video games are excellent inspiration for ideas. They’ve even helped me practice my writing via fanfiction (I’ve written several chapters of a Final Fantasy 3/6 fanfiction and also started a Chrono Trigger one as well).

Hobby #3: Movies
This one is more my husband’s hobby than mine, but I guess it’s mine by proxy since I do, in fact, enjoy the movies. This falls under the same category as video games; movies are excellent for inspiration, and if it was a particularly good movie, the kind that gives you shivers and has you thinking about the plot line for days later, it can even be just plain motivational. In other words, experiencing such an amazing story makes you want to write one of your own.

Hobby #4: Writing
Seriously, you didn’t see this one coming? Writing has been one of my most predominant hobbies since I was in grade school. From little one-page scenes my best friend and I would write back and forth to one another during class, to a very powerful fanfiction obsession in college, to the manuscript I’m still working on editing, I’ve been writing for fun for the past 20 years or so. And isn’t that the most important part of being a writer? Actually putting in the effort to write? Or is this just my clever way of saying that I’ve already run out of hobbies to list? That’s up for you to decide.