A to Z Challenge: A Review

First, I want to give a bit shout-out to all those who are involved in the running of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It’s got to take a lot of time and dedication to keep track of so many participants, making sure that non-participants are removed from the list, and ensuring that participants get the attention they deserve. Kudos!

Second, a double-huge shout-out to all my fellow participants who made it (sometimes kicking and screaming) to the end of the challenge. Some of those letters were pretty difficult, but you did it! You rock! 😀

Third, a triple-huge shout-out to all those who stopped by my blog during April and commented on my posts. I had some great conversations this month, met some cool new friends, and gained a number of new followers. I hope you all stick close by, because it’s been a blast, and I’ve been truly happy to meet you all. 🙂

The challenge has been a great deal of fun, and I got a lot of great comments on my 26 posts, so as part of this review I present a list of links to each of my posts in case anyone missed anything or is just dropping by now and would like to check a couple of them out.

Day 1: Ariel (the Little Mermaid)Day 2: Buffy Summers (the Vampire Slayer)
Day 3: Castiel (the Monster-Fighting Angel)
Day 4: Deadpool (the Lunatic Assassin)
Day 5: Eric Northman (the Viking Vampire)
Day 6: Freddy Krueger (the Nightmare Demon)
Day 7: Gau (the Wild Orphan)
Day 8: Han Solo (the Cocky Starpilot)
Day 9: Iron Man (the Smarmiest Avenger)
Day 10: James T. Kirk (the Star Fleet Captain)
Day 11: Kefka Palazzo (the Magitek Monster)
Day 12: Lisse (the Child of the Dystopian Future)
Day 13: Magus (the Lost Wizard)
Day 14: Neville Longbottom (the Heart of Gryffindor)
Day 15: Other-Mother (the Other World Evil)
Day 16: Peter Parker (the Spider-Man)
Day 17: Qui-Gon Jinn (the Jedi Knight)
Day 18: Ryuk (the Shinigami)
Day 19: Sherlock Holmes (the High-Functioning Sociopath)
Day 20: Tyrion Lannister (the Exceptionally Clever Imp)
Day 21: Usagi Tsukino (the Sailor Senshi)
Day 22: Victoria MacKinnon (the Lost Princess)
Day 23: Winchester Brothers (the Monster Hunters)
Day 24: Xander Harris (the Lovable Sidekick)
Day 25: Yuki Miaka (the Girl from Other World)
Day 26: Zelda (the Hyrulian Princess)

In case you somehow missed it, my theme for the challenge was “Fictional Characters”. Each one of these characters, even the ones chosen out of duress of very difficult letters, holds a special place in my heart for one reason or another. The TV shows, movies, comics, cartoons, and video games mentioned were overwhelmingly a great part of my childhood, and in some cases an incredible part of my adulthood. If you’ve got the time, check some of them out. You totally won’t be disappointed.

And finally, before I sign off, I wanted to share with you a couple of the blogs that I’ve come across during this particular challenge. I came into contact with so many awesome fellow bloggers this past month that it’s impossible to mention them all, but these are a couple of the ones I fully plan to keep tabs on even now that the challenge is over.

A Scenic Route – Kirsten is a fellow writer who blogs about her “journey into noveldom”. This month she wrote a wonderful series of posts with the theme “Backstage at the Blog”, in which she gave some wonderful tips, hints, and ideas for fellow bloggers, in addition to sharing info about her own blogging journey.

Sophie’s Thoughts and Fumbles – Sophie is a writer of many genres who uses her blog as a place to talk about reading, writing, all the topics in between, and whatever else she so desires. She is also the brains behind the mini-challenge that a few of us participated in in addition to the A to Z challenge: the Supernatural A to Z Challenge. She wrote about ghosts and ghoulies this month, and while I didn’t often comment on her posts because my WordPress reader doesn’t make it easy for me to deal with other blogging websites, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading about all the creepy creatures that she posted.

Alex Hurst – Alex is one of my favorite new people because she is fun, bubbly, and friendly, and we apparently have a great deal in common. The fantasy writer spent the month talking about different aspects of writing and being a writer. Her post “J for Jargon” cracked me up because so many of the definitions she came up with were SO TRUE.

I would love to share some more blogs, and perhaps I will in the future, but this has been such a busy month that I simply do not have the time it would take to go through all the wonderful blogs I’ve found during this challenge. However, if you’re really, truly interested in finding some great new people to follow, check out the A to Z sign-up list and just start clicking. There are literally hundreds of wonderful blogs amongst that list.

And now, with all that aside, I must say adieu, and take a much-deserved nap. Cheers everyone! ❤

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 8 – Part 3)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Since this chapter is particularly long, I’m going to wait until I’ve posted each part of it on this blog before posting the complete chapter on FanFiction.net.

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”.

Commander - DeadCyan - Action
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

Inside the main wall of Doma Castle two sentries were crouched, peering down at the chaos below them.

“It’s hopeless!” said the first. “We can’t keep them out!”

“So it’s finally happening,” moaned the other.

“Lose not ye faith,” came a third voice from behind them. “The battle is not yet lost.”

The sentries’ hearts leapt as they looked up with reverence at the man behind them.

Cyan Garamonde, retainer to the Doman throne, was the man all Doman men aspired to be. He was the definition of honor, strength, and bravery. He wore the dark navy uniform that was traditional to his position with great pride. He was like a father to the younger members of the Doman military, and treated them all with as much care and concern as he did for his own young son. Even his pure black ponytail and mustache – untainted by the silver of middle-age – exuded his regalia, kindness, and confidence.

“They’re reaching the walls, Sir!” cried one of the sentries.

Read More »

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 8 – Part 2)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Since this chapter is particularly long, I’m going to wait until I’ve posted each part of it on this blog before posting the complete chapter on FanFiction.net.

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”.

General Leo (Front)        Sabin - WoundedShadow - Wounded
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

Sabin’s eyes fluttered open when a cock crowed somewhere outside. He was stiff and hadn’t slept well, but he’d experienced much worse during his training so he couldn’t complain. He rose and stretched his muscles before noticing that his companions were missing. He gave the still-snoring man in the rocking chair a cursory glance before heading outside. He worried that Shadow may have already abandoned the journey, but he soon found the man and dog sitting on the opposite sides of a small fire behind the house. Three small rabbits were roasting on sticks. Sabin felt his stomach rumble. How long had it been since his last meal?

Without saying a word, Shadow plucked the grease-dripping balls of meat from the fire and tossed one to Sabin, who caught the cool end of the stick expertly. Interceptor caught the second rabbit in his teeth and immediately dug into it greedily. Shadow began to walk with his, so Sabin followed while taking a few sloppy bites.

Shadow ate his breakfast slowly as they walked. Every time he took a bite he’d turn his head away from Sabin before pulling his mask down from his mouth. Sabin thought it odd, but decided to respect his privacy.

Their silent journey continued until the sun was high in the sky. Then, without any warning, Shadow and Interceptor broke into a hurried run. For a few seconds Sabin blinked after them in confusion before sprinting after them.

“Why the sudden rush?” he asked as his steps fell in line with the others’.

Shadow made a vague gesture toward their destination. “Storm coming,” he explained. “If we hurry we can meet it at the base. The early shadows and rain will help cloak our way through.”

Sabin examined the sky and saw that, sure enough, angry black clouds were rallying toward the forest to the south. It would surely be a very dark evening, even if the rain didn’t fall. He couldn’t help but smile. With the early darkness, he wondered how much damage he could cause at the Imperial base, as long as he was there…Read More »

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
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

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.”

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 2 – Part 4)

Since I’ve decided to start working on this project again as a way of getting my word count up, I’m going to keep posting bits of this for a while. Enjoy!

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 - Chocobo Mount Locke,P20-,P20Chocobo,P20Mount.gif.pagespeed.ce.ll8OpsZGZf Terra - Chocobo Mount
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

None slept soundly that night, but Edgar – having been plagued with nightmares about his family – was the first to realize that something was terribly wrong. He’d thrown on his favorite navy uniform from the day before and was walking through the halls with his auto-crossbow in hand when he heard the first scream.

“What the-?” The auto-crossbow was quickly strapped to his back and he took off running.

Edgar’s personal chambers opened out onto a stone bridge that spanned two of the outer towers; this vantage point gave him a wide view of the carnage below.

“What’s happening?” he screamed to a Figaro soldier below who was attempting to put out the nearest fire.

“It’s the Empire!” the soldier yelled back in a panic. “It’s Kefka!”

The laughter, rife with insanity, that echoed through the courtyard made Edgar’s blood boil. Kefka was standing, roaring with mirth, in the center of the chaos as screaming Figaro citizens ran from the fires.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Edgar bellowed in a rage.

“I know you’ve got the girl!” Kefka squealed back. “Bring her to me now, or welcome to my barbecue! Kya ha ha ha ha!”

Edgar’s fists clenched as he screamed a string of profanity that echoed across the desert. His outburst only made Kefka laugh harder.

A body appeared behind Edgar. “Your majesty,” the Chancellor spoke quickly and quietly. “The soldiers are gathering everyone inside as we speak…” As he said the words Edgar looked for himself. Those who were dashing about in the courtyard in a panic were actually quietly ducking into the main building.

“You’re ready then?”

The Chancellor nodded slightly.

Edgar glanced across to the eastern bridge, where Locke and Terra were watching from the shadows, out of Kefka’s view. Terra looked positively terrified, but she was dressed and ready. The two men locked gazes and Locke nodded.

“Do it,” Edgar commanded.

“Good luck, your majesty,” said the Chancellor before dashing off into the nearest corridor.

Edgar took a deep breath, hitched his cape back behind his shoulders, and hoisted himself up onto the wall of the bridge. “Kefka!” he bellowed.

Kefka looked up, and a wide, insane grin spread across his hideous white face. “Change your mind?” he called in a mocking tone.

“I guess I have no choice!” Edgar called back. But as Kefka laughed in glee, the young king placed two fingers in his mouth and belted out a sharp whistle that pierced through the night air. A cry like an eagle’s called in return. Before Kefka understood what was happening, three huge, yellow, chicken-like creatures – the size of horses – came sprinting around the tower. The three chocobos stopped beneath the bridge and Edgar leapt deftly onto the back of the lead.

“Ack!” Kefka cried out in surprise, but he quickly fell into maniacal laughter once more. “Shameful that a king should flee, leaving his people behind! How utterly delightful!”

Edgar wasn’t listening. He steered the chocobos, as swift as any other creature that ran on land, to the eastern bridge. “Jump!” he cried, but the others were already ahead of him. Terra landed gracefully on the back of her chocobo, while Locke almost tumbled right off his. He cursed loudly. Edgar urged the birds into a gallop, past Kefka – who was now gaping with wide eyes – and through the gate that he’d broken through.

“Go!” Edgar called behind as loud as he could. “Dive now!”

“Submerge mode initiated!” came the Chancellor’s voice from high on top of the central tower. “No one can touch the people of Figaro!”

“Yahoo!” Locke cried across the desert.

There was a sudden immense rumbling, like the entire desert was shaking.

“What’s happening?” Terra yelled out in alarm. Edgar was grinning at her.

“The people of Figaro have long studied the potential of machinery,” he explained, winking and pointing to the auto-crossbow on his back. “What you’re hearing is the secret of our desert castle!”

And with a second, closer look, Terra gaped in surprise to see that the huge stone fortress was actually beginning to slowly sink into the golden desert sands. In the foreground, as the sand rose in large, dusty clouds, Terra saw Kefka running as fast as his legs would take him and felt an uncontrollable urge to laugh out loud.

The three galloped away, laughing together, secure in their knowledge that the people of Figaro were safe. It was not yet so, however, for them.

“Go!” came Kefka’s enraged voice, wafting on the wind. “Get them! Get them!”

It happened very quickly. Two soldiers, clad in full Magitek armors, emerged from the clouds of sand. There was a sound like an explosion as something collided with the sand mere feet from Locke. His chocobo reared and screamed in surprise, dumping him to the ground as it took off as fast as it could go. Edgar brought his mount to an unsteady halt in front of his fallen friend and ripped the auto-crossbow from his back. A round of bullets that could have easily been fatal shot the weapon away from his hand.

The Magitek armors, with their long stride, were on them in moments, all guns pointed directly at the two men.

“I’m really gonna enjoy this,” one of the soldiers snarled. He had both his cannons aimed at Edgar’s chest.

They were trapped. Edgar had no weapon and he couldn’t flee without leaving Locke for dead. The Magitek soldiers couldn’t possibly miss.

Terra made her decision without realizing it. The soldiers blinked stupidly at her as she leaped off her chocobo and ran into the center of the confrontation. Edgar shouted something that sounded like a plea to get back, but she paid him no attention.

“Then you’ll be the first, you little bitch!” the soldier screamed.

He barely got the words out of his mouth before Terra had raised both her hands, cried out unintelligibly into the night sky, and all the land before her erupted into an enormous pillar of fire.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 2 – Part 3)

Since I’ve decided to start working on this project again as a way of getting my word count up, I’m going to keep posting bits of this for a while. Enjoy!

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”.

 Kefka - FingerEdgar - Angry
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

“There, isn’t that lovely then?” the senior handmaiden cooed.

Terra gazed at her reflection in the full-length mirror and wondered if what she saw was beauty. The handmaidens had dressed her in a delicate red silk dress that slid gently off her right shoulder and fluttered around her thighs. Scarves of white, gold, and a soft baby blue were tied loosely around her waist, hips, and wrists, and one of the younger handmaidens was currently using a few to tie her hair into a long ponytail, high atop her head, that fell soft around her shoulders.

“Come on now, my dear,” aid the older lady. “You look simply ravishing! Let’s see a smile, hmm?”

Trying to avoid moving and upsetting the girl who was fixing her hair, Terra used the mirror to give a hesitant smile to the handsome older woman. She grinned back.

“You really are very pretty, Miss Terra,” said the blond one who’d picked out the dress. There was a hint of jealousy there that Terra didn’t quite comprehend, but she also thought she heard honesty. “I’m surprised that King Edgar didn’t attempt to – how do they say? – court you.”

All the other girls giggled foolishly as though it were some kind of inside joke. Terra flushed.

“Well, that is…” she stammered, “I think that maybe he did.”

They didn’t quite stop giggling, but they looked at her a bit more seriously.

“And you turned him down?” the blond asked, incredulous, before bursting into laughter. “Oh, my dear, you certainly have more class than most of us! Not to mention self-respect!”

Terra looked around the room of laughing women and felt more bewildered than ever. “I don’t understand,” she admitted quietly. “Why do I have more class and self-respect?”

“For being able to turn him down, Miss Terra!”

“Oh, we’ve all had our turn with him, hoping we’d be the one to make him change his ways and settle down…”

“And become Queen in the process, of course!”

“Yes, but in the end there’s really no changing him. He’s just destined to be a hopeless womanizer!”

“Now, now, ladies!” the older handmaiden admonished them in a strong, loud voice. “That’s no way to talk about our poor Edgar! You all know perfectly well how much stress he’s been under since his brother left!”

The girls quieted down at this, some of them looking rather abashed, and after a moment Terra’s curiosity got the better of her.

“Brother?” she inquired to the older woman.

The senior handmaiden smiled wistfully, as though recalling a sad memory. “Yes, our king is a twin, you see. Sabin is the younger brother’s name…born only an hour after Edgar.” She looked as though the thought of him was causing her physical pain. “Such a nice young man he was…until their father passed away and he ran out on the kingdom, leaving Edgar to rule alone.” She sighed then and Terra couldn’t help but feel that there was more to the story. She decided not to pry.

“Ahem,” said a voice from the hallway. “If you harpies are just about finished filling Terra’s head with nonsen-ow!” One of the younger handmaidens had thrown a heavy silver hairbrush out into the hallway where Locke had been waiting. Several particularly rude words wafted into the room and the girls began to chuckle again.

“I’d better go,” Terra told them. She nervously folded herself into a low bow. “Thank you so much for the clothes!”

“No trouble, my dear, no trouble!” they told her, happily. Suspecting that her eagerness to leave with Locke meant more than it really did, they ushered her out the door amid foolish giggles.

“Harpies!” Locke grouched, kicking the hairbrush across the hall and into the door as it swung shut. Then he caught a glimpse of Terra and grinned, which made her cock her head in curiosity. “Hey! I knew there was a woman under that ugly old jumpsuit!”

Blinking, Terra wondered if he was serious. Surely he couldn’t have been unsure of her gender, could he have?

“Come on,” he gestured. “I’ll show you around the castle grounds.”

It was nearing twilight as they wandered back out into the main courtyard. The vendors and swordsmen-in-training had left, but there were still people wandering about, enjoying the cool night air.

“So, how do you like Figaro so far?” Locked asked as they strolled across the yard. “Not a bad place to hang out, hmm?”

Terra nodded idly, but was otherwise distracted by the first groups of stars that were beginning to pop up in the evening sky. Locke noticed her preoccupation and glanced up. “Nice view,” he commented. “You like the stars?”

They were like tiny diamonds as Terra gazed at them, sparkling from so very far away. “They’re beautiful,” was her answer, but there was more to it than that. Looking at them stirred something in her. It was the first time she’d really looked up at the night sky since she could remember, and they triggered an odd sensation in her memory. She felt as though there was something wrong with them…like she was looking at them from the wrong side…

A strange and piercing voice came crashing though her reverie.

“Edgar, you pinhead! Why do you have to live out in the middle of nowhere?!”

Terra jumped at the loud shout. “What in the world-?” she started, but stopped when she saw the look on Locke’s face. Contrary to the sunny, child-like expression he’d worn almost perpetually since their first meeting, now Locke’s face was stony, like a man struggling to hold back a wave of fury. “Locke, what’s wrong?”

“K-Kefka, sir?” rang the voice of the gate guard. “W-what are y-you…?”

“Out of my way, you fool!”

Locke seized Terra’s wrist suddenly. “Quick!” he hissed, dragging her into the shadows of a nearby corridor. They had barely hidden from view when the gate was raised and the most frightening man Terra could have imagined stalked in surrounded by guards in black and brown armor.

His clothing was exorbitant and rich-looking. He was draped in layers of blood-red robes, strewn with yellow, white, and green scarves and decorations, some areas peppered in spots and odd patterns. There was an enormous yellow and white ruff around the back of his neck that extended down to his mid-torso; it was opened in the front, revealing a snow-white chest underneath. His face matched the whiteness of his chest, devoid of color, and his long blond hair – much paler in color to Edgar’s – was piled in a tight knot high atop his head. But his eyes were the strangest, and terribly frightening. They were a fierce, bright, inhuman blue, and were surrounded by an inch-thick border of bright red makeup that bled in streaks down his face. It gave the impression that his eyelids had been slit from end to end.

Those eyes were mad…there was no doubt about it.

Terra felt a wave of terror pass through her as she stared at him, unable to blink.

“Edgar!” his piercing, insane voice rang across the courtyard. More quietly, to himself, he muttered, “Stupid Emperor Gestahl’s orders. These recon jobs are the pits!” His cruel eyes wandered around at the people scrambling to get away from him and then down to the sandy ground in distaste. Suddenly, those terrifying eyes widened and a snarl escaped his lips. “There…there is sand on my boots!”

The black-and-brown soldiers sprang into action as though their lives depended on it. They hit the sand with no regard for their knees, and scrambled like dogs to brush the sand from the crimson boots.

“What brings Kefka, humble servant of Emperor Gestahl, into our lowly presence?” Edgar’s voice rang out as he appeared from the main building and strolled across the yard. His voice was accommodating and friendly, but there was a hard edge to it and his face was as stony as Locke’s.

Kefka sneered at the word ‘servant’ before hitching a frightening smile on his face. He walked forward, kicking the soldiers on the ground out of his way as he went.

“A girl of little importance escaped from us recently,” he explained with a grimace. Locke’s hand tightened around Terra’s wrist and she sucked in a sharp breath. “We heard she may have found refuge here.” He grinned in a way that he clearly meant to be friendly; the effort was an immense failure.

Edgar stopped walking while he was still far enough for it to be have been considered rude, but Kefka didn’t seem concerned. “Hmmm…” Edgar said, pretending to consider this news. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with this Magitek-riding ‘witch’ everyone’s been whispering about, would it?”

Kefka’s porcelain face twisted. “Lies!” he screamed so loud that Terra was amazed Edgar didn’t jump from shock. A moment later he’d collected himself and resumed his horrid smile as though the outburst had never happened. “She…merely stole something of minor value. Is she here?”

“That’s a tough one!” Edgar responded, playing at being thoughtful. “You see,” he said while gesturing at the castle around them, “There are more girls in here than grains of sand out there. I can’t keep track of them all!”

Kefka’s eyes narrowed to slits and the grin on his face was like that of a starving wolf. “I’d hate to be you if we found out that you’re lying…” A small chuckle fell from his lips.

Edgar said nothing in return, but raised a silent eyebrow.

There was a swishing of red fabric and sand as Kefka turned to leave. His guards scrambled to follow obediently. As they passed the gate he called back, just loud enough for Edgar to hear, “I truly hope nothing happens to your precious Figaro!”

Edgar’s face trembled with anger.

When he was sure that the Imperials were gone, Locke stepped out of the shadows. “That guy’s missing a few buttons…” he grumbled.

“Where’s Terra?” Edgar asked.

She stepped out of the shadows, shaking a little, though it wasn’t cold.

Edgar leaned in close to Locke and whispered, but Terra still heard. “Take her to her room, then come and see me in the throne room.” He straightened up a little and turned to Terra, flashing a smile that wasn’t nearly as dazzling as earlier. “M’lady, I’d love to stay here and chat with you, but I’m afraid the Chancellor and I must speak strategy. Sometimes I hate being king!” He sighed dramatically for effect, but Terra thought there was more truth to his words than he let on. “If you’ll both excuse me now?” He bowed and gave Locke a meaningful look before turning and heading back to the castle.

“It’ll be my fault…” Terra mumbled later, as Locke walked her down several corridors. “If that crazy man does something…it’ll be all my fault.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Locke assured her with a half-smile. “On the surface Edgar pretends to support the Empire, but the truth is that he’s collaborating with the Returners. Kefka has suspected this for a long time, so it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”

“The Empire…” Terra moaned, a pain rising in her throat. “But I’m a soldier of the Empire!”

“That’s not true!” Locke exclaimed. He seemed aghast at the concept. “They were using you like a toy! Things will be different now, I”m sure of it!”

Terra shook her head and leaned against the door they’d arrived at. “I don’t understand,” she groaned. “What should I do?”

Locke’s smile was soft and patient. “I can’t tell you what to do,” he told her gently. “Nor do you have to decide right now. Be patient and make your choice once you feel you’ve seen enough to make the proper decision.” With a protective air about him, he placed a hand on top of Terra’s head and ruffled her hair a bit. “You’ll soon find your way,” he promised, before turning on his heel and heading back the way they’d come.

Terra reached up idly and ran her fingertips across the spot where Locke had touched her hair.

“But how will I know which way is right?”