Still a Nerd, Just One Who Hates the Cold

I’ve always found it interesting how people change as they grow up; or rather, how they both do and don’t change.

A lot of it, of course, is because of what side of a situation you are on. When I was a kid, for example, I absolutely loved the winter. Snow was one of the greatest things ever. I could bundle up and spend all day outside, digging tunnels, making snow angels, building snowmen. Sometimes my mother would have to tell me to come in and eat, because I’d completely lose track of time. I didn’t even feel the cold, because I was too busy having fun. I could never understand how my parents could hate winter so much, and get more and more frustrated every time it snowed. How could they hate snow? Snow was so awesome!

Now, of course, I’m a grown adult and I’m on the other side of the situation. When it snows, my husband and I have to shovel. When it snows a lot, we have to shovel a lot. We spend a great deal of money keeping our house warm while it gets colder and colder outside. We have to put up with the disgusting mess that seems to end up everywhere as a result of the half-slush-half-mud crap that inevitably becomes the most common substance in the world during the winter months. We curse and growl while trying to de-ice the windshield in the morning while our daughter laughs from the inside of the car and declares that she loves snow. In short: I’m a cranky adult and I hate winter now.

snowrage
Just LOOKING at this fills me with a Hulk-like rage.

This is an example of how people can change as they get older, and there are plenty more. I think a fair bit of the music I listened to as a kid is complete trash, because my musical palette has matured. Some of the foods I used to eat daily as a kid now make me gag because just knowing how bad they are for you changes my ability to taste them the same way. I care a hell of a lot less about what other people think about me because I’ve found myself in the excellent position to understand that in most cases it doesn’t matter two iotas what other people think of me. I’ve changed over the years. My thoughts and opinions have changed, sometimes dramatically.

But then there’s the exception side of the coin, because no one ever really changes completely, do they? There are always going to be remnants of who you were in an earlier time.

For me, you can see it in my nerdiness. I still love almost all of the fandoms I loved as a kid. To this day I can happily sit down and watch and entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer without coming up for breath. I’ve been known to track down shows like Sailor Moon and Pokemon just to see if I can still stomach them and found myself curling up to binge-watch with a stupid, giddy smile on my face. I don’t watch Star Wars nearly as often as I used to, but I can still kick a lot of ass at trivia games because all that useless info seems so important to my brain for some reason. I was genuinely upset to find out that they only make three of the Power Rangers as Funko Pop figures because I would kill to have the whole set. I have almost every gaming console that has been available over the past two decades, but I will still happily curl up and play an entire run-through of Final Fantasy III or Chrono Trigger. And the thing is, maybe I’m wrong (because who can really tell?), but I don’t see any of this changing any time soon. I mean, if I’m still playing Final Fantasy III almost twenty years after first discovering it, then there’s probably a pretty good chance that I’ll be playing it in the nursing home when I’m 90, while complaining to the nurses about how this virtual reality junk that the kids play today is nothing compared to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

I don’t know. It just seems funny to me how some attitudes and options can change so dramatically, and yet other things can stick to you like glue throughout your entire life. There’s a psychology research paper in there somewhere, I think.

What about you? Which aspects of your personality have changed so much that the younger version of you wouldn’t understand what the hell had happened, and which things are so much the same that part of  you wonders if you ever really grew up at all?

A to Z Challenge Day 13: Magus (the Lost Wizard)

MMagus

If there was a game in my childhood that rivaled the obsessive qualities that Final Fantasy III instilled in me, that game is Chrono Trigger. Like it’s counterpart, I spent hours upon hours on this game, trying to find every item and get every one of the alternate endings (back in the days when we couldn’t cheat by looking it up on the internet). In fact, the first couple of times I rented the game I didn’t even realize that there was any more to the game than the Millennial Fair bit at the beginning. I was having so much fun with the little fair mini-games that I actually rented the game twice before I discovered that there was more game…a lot more!

I loved all of the characters in Chrono Trigger, but Magus was definitely one of my favorites. For one thing, he was an excellent addition to a party since he could use all four types of magic. For another, I simply loved his back-story. (SPOILER ALERT!) See, Magus’ real name was Janus, and as a child he was an inhabitant of the magical kingdom of Zeal. He had the misfortune to have a power-mad queen mother who decided to build a magical palace that would call forth the dread destructive creature, Lavos. She hoped to obtain its power for herself, but instead it destroyed her kingdom and warped time and space, creating a number of worm holes. One such wormhole sucked in poor Janus and sent him hurtling through time to the middle ages (many years in the future for him). He was “adopted” by monsters and eventually became their ruler, a magical villain who tormented the nearby kingdom of Guardia. Eventually Chrono and his friends take on Magus, only to discover that he has been trying to summon Lavos again, in hopes of destroying the horrid creature who decimated his life. Ironically he (along with the others) is then hurled back to the time of the kingdom of Zeal where he gets to watch the entire terrible thing happen all over again, unable to stop it, and eventually joins Chrono’s party in hopes of taking part in saving the world from Lavos’ eventual destruction.

It always struck me as this wonderful, terribly sad story. When we first meet Magus he’s a bad guy, no doubts about it, but as the story progresses we learn that he only became that way because his life and everyone he knew was taken away from him, and when it becomes clear that there’s no way he can ever change that, he decides to devote himself to ensuring that Lavos is stopped, one way or the other. Isn’t that just a great story? I always thought so, and it definitely added to the joy that was Chrono Trigger. 🙂

A to Z Challenge Day 11: Kefka Palazzo (the Magitek Monster)

KKefka

As mentioned before, Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) is at the top of the list of my favorite games of all time. My best friend and I discovered the Super Nintendo cartridge in our local convenience store/rental shop when we were quite young and proceeded to spend ungodly amounts of money renting it over and over and over again. As those who have played it will know, you can spend well over 100 hours on this particular game, and so my friend and I would struggle to come up with the money to rent it day after day, knowing that if we allowed it to return to the store it might be rented by someone else who would overwrite our save. I’m quite certain that between the two of us we paid for the game three or four times over in rental costs…and this was back when it only cost, like, $2 to rent a game.

We fell in love with the game for a number of reasons, but for me one of those reasons was the main bad guy of the story. Kefka Palazzo was a general in the evil Empire. He was one of the first subjects that the Empire used to test their methods of transferring magical powers to a human by extracting them from an esper. But the techniques had not yet been perfected, and it is understood that something in Kefka’s brain snapped during the process. He became a complete lunatic, insane to say the least, and eventually (SPOILER ALERT!) he betrays the Emperor in favor of taking control of the entire world for himself.

I always loved the Kefka villain for how just terribly maniacal he is. Our first glimpse of him is during a nightmare that Terra has in which he is taking control of her mind and body by forcing a “slave crown” on her head. The next time we meet him he’s searching for Terra and decides that the best way to flush her out is to set an entire castle on fire. And the story goes on like that, with him ready, willing, and able to murder anyone who wanders across his path, laughing demonically the entire time. In a time – and a medium – in which it was difficult to accurately portray emotions and suspense and the like, Kefka easily came through as a raving mad psychotic, and for that, Square, I salute you.

(As a final note, if you’ve never played Final Fantasy III, GO GET A COPY RIGHT NOW WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!)

A to Z Challenge Day 7: Gau (the Wild Orphan)

GGau

Video games have been an important part of my life, off and on, for the past two and a half decades or so. I had an original Atari, which I was absolutely obsessed with, and I’ve owned every generation of Nintendo console and hand-held aside from the Virtual Boy (because I honestly never knew it existed until years later), the 3DS (because my regular DS works just fine, thanks) and the Wii-U (because screw it, I’m not that big of a sucker). I’ve also, in partnership with my husband, had all four Playstations (plus the Vita), and the first two X-Boxes (the third will probably come along at some point), and we’ve got a Dreamcast squirreled away upstairs somewhere.

There have definitely been times in my life where video games became less important, but I’ve always loved them since I was barely old enough to be able to figure out how to play them, and to this day turn-based RPGs are my favorites. And of that classification, Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) definitely ranks at the very top of my all-time favorites list. I can not tell you the number of times I have played through this game. I love everything about it from the story, to the characters, to the battle system. To this day I get the random urge to pop in my Gameboy Advanced version and start a whole new game right from the beginning.

I love pretty much all of the characters in this game, but one character I always thought was under-appreciated was Gau. He’s the sweet little orphan boy who was raised by monsters and joins the party simply because they were nice enough to feed him. He’s never been a fan favorite amongst the FFIII characters, but I think that was mostly because of the effort required to make him a force to be reckoned with. You see, whereas the other characters learned their special attacks naturally, Gau had to be fighting in a particular area, and in order to get him to learn new attacks you had to let him leave the party and then keep fighting in random encounters until he showed up again. You might fight ten battles and have him come back and have learned one new attack, out of the 250 attacks that he could learn…and often the one he did learn would be total crap.

But, if you were willing to be a little patient, Gau could become a great addition to your party, one who could do an enormous number of special attacks. Plus, he was just fun to have around. Come on, FFIII fans…speak up! You know he was the cutest thing since kitty-shaped sliced bread!

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 1 – Part 4)

Trucking along, we have part 4 of Returning Hope, Chapter 1. Because of the way the points-of-view are divided this is technically parts 4, 5, and 6, but I didn’t think it necessary to divide the remainder of the chapter into so many separate smaller parts. This will therefore be the last part of Chapter 1.

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”.

Locke - FingerTerra - Blink (Left)
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net*

An evil chuckle. A foreboding sound that chilled her through to the bone. A voice that made her cringe internally.

“Uwee hee hee…my sweet little magic user…” he whispered, stroking her cheek with an icy cold finger. “With this slave crown I’ll practically own you.”

She felt the object being placed on her head and struggled, but the restraints held and she could scarcely move. And just like that she found that all control of her own mind and body was forfeit. She could see, and she could comprehend, but she could not control.

He took her to a field. Dozens of Magitek soldiers stood at command in their giant armors. At his command, she climbed into the armor he had readied for her and prepared for battle. Her hands and feet moved of their own accord, acquiescing to his every demand. She tried with all her might to close her eyes against the death before her, but even her eyelids would not accept this simple request.

“Yes!” he cried, his voice betraying his enjoyment of the slaughter, ” Kill them all! Burn them all up! Show me your power!”

Now they were at the head of a great fortress. Others stood with them, though she could not turn her head to examine them. She knew there was a beautiful woman with long, pale hair, and a tall man with a stout body. Before them was a strange old man in glamorous garb. This one spoke to the mass of soldiers who stood below, hanging on his every word.

“We stand on the brink of a major breakthrough!” he told them, “In the days to come, we will witness the total revival of Magic!” The soldiers cheered madly. “It is our destiny, mine and yours, to take this mystical force and use it to claim what is rightfully ours! With our new-found abilities, nothing can stand in our way!”

“Hurrah!” the soldiers cried, “Long live Emperor Gestahl! Long live Emperor Gestahl!”

Her heart ached. It was all wrong. All terribly, terribly wrong, and yet she could do nothing to change it. No one noticed amidst the excitement when a few solemn tears fell from her eyes.


The cheering of the soldiers in her nightmare gave way to a different set of noises. At first, Terra couldn’t tell if the clanging echoes were real or just in her head, which was pounding ceaselessly. Barely conscious, she opened her eyes part-way and glimpsed a mysterious sight. There was a young man in tattered pants and a tight blue shirt. His leather-booted feet were in a wide stance and a blue bandanna held back his scruffy brown hair. From her vantage point on the floor, Terra could not see his face, but he was holding a dagger that seemed to be dripping blood. Surrounding him on all sides were short, strange little creatures that she could not identify. They appeared to be small white bears, however from their backs sprouted tiny pink wings. Could she be seeing things?

“Back with you!” the young man yelled.

A voice came from beyond the crowd of little white creatures. “We want the girl, thief!”

The young man’s posture stiffened. “That’s treasure hunter, you bastard!

“Come on then you little punk!” another voice demanded.

Terra wondered if she was still dreaming, and before she could call out to the young man she found herself retreating back into a dead faint.


It may have been only a moment later, or it may have been hours; she didn’t know for sure. However, when she awoke for the third time that night she found yet another change of scenery. As she slowly regained consciousness, she found herself gazing into the bright blue eyes of the young man from earlier. At first she began to panic, but she found that looking into those friendly eyes made her feel safe and comforted.

“Back with us now?” he asked. His voice was playful and kind.

“Who…who are you?” Terra asked.

He raised her neck, helping her to sit up on the hard stone floor. “The name’s Locke Cole,” he introduced, “Arvis sent me along to help you out. Luckily I found you just before the miners did.”

She coughed and found that her ribs ached but nothing seemed broken. “You…saved me?”

“Save your thanks for the moogles,” Locke insisted, winking, “They really helped me out of a jam.”

Terra didn’t ask what he meant by the word “moogles”, but in her mind’s eye she saw the funny little white creatures from earlier.

The confusion on her face hinted Locke off to her ignorance. “Yeah…Arvis told me that you have amnesia…” Suddenly he jumped to his feet, putting his gloved hands on his hips and grinning like a maniac. Terra almost jumped back in surprise. “Well don’t worry!” he insisted loudly, “You’re safe with me! I give you my word as a man that I will not leave your side until your memory returns!”

Terra blinked a few times and her mouth dropped a little. “I…um, okay…” she stuttered, “I guess…thank you?”

Locked grinned and gave her two thumbs up. Terra couldn’t help but think that he was a bit off.

“Well, we’d better head off then,” he said, his demeanor suddenly turning all-business.

Terra stood slowly, taking in the aches in her body, but not finding any serious wounds. Looking around she saw that they were surrounded by rock walls on three sides, the fourth side being the route they’d obviously come down. “Head off where?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow.

Locke wagged a finger and winked at her again, then turned to the far wall. Running his hand along the stones, examining them carefully, he found a small circular stone that made him grin and pushed it firmly. The stone slid, almost mechanically, into the wall, and there was a deep rumbling as the wall itself split in two and grudgingly swung outward.

“A super-secret pathway into and out of town,” Locke explained, “We should be able to make it away without being seen.”

Cautiously following him outside into the cold and the dark, Terra saw the lights from the town a mile or so off. Grunting, Locke slid the secret door back into place.

“Where are we going?” Terra asked, shivering against the cold.

“South, to Figaro Castle,” Locke replied, dusting off his gloves, “The king there will give us shelter while we plan our next move.”

“And then, what is our next move?” Terra inquired, “I…I don’t understand what’s happening or why I’m involved in any of this. What is happening to me?”

Locke’s face was kind with concern. He smiled a gentle smile and reached up to wipe a tear from Terra’s eye. “I know,” he told her, “I’ll try and explain as much as I can on the way. It’s a bit of a hike.”

She looked up at him and didn’t know what to think, but didn’t think that refusing to go with him was reasonable.

“I’ll come then…” she agreed, “It’s got to be better than waiting here for people I don’t know to try and capture me for reasons I don’t understand.”

Locke grinned happily. “Alright then! Let’s head a little east first then. I’ve got a tent there with some extra clothes and you look frozen.”

“I’m Terra,” she said suddenly, remembering, “By the way…Terra Branford.”

“Nice to meet you Terra. I think we’re going to become good friends. You’ll see.”

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.

The Cure for What Ailes Ya

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

13. Overcoming writer’s block

Truly one of the most frustrating parts of writing. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it’s like your brain just turns off and nothing will come out. Or what does come out is complete, unadulterated crap. Either way, it can leave you feeling pretty useless.

My personal cure for writer’s block sounds a little dumb, but I swear it works…write fan fiction. No really! Fan fiction is great for writer’s block because the world, the characters, and all the important information is already created for you. All that’s left is to make something happen with all that information. Even better, take something that exists as other-than-written media (like tv shows, video games, etc) and write it out in novel form. It can be very interesting to use your imagination to flesh out visual media by writing it out in novel form, and it really gets the creative juices flowing. Writing a page or two of my Final Fantasy fan fiction (which is just a novelized telling of Final Fantasy III/VI) always gets me ready and able to move back to something original. 🙂