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
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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
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“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?”

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

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”.

Locke - AngryLocke - TentTerra - Glance
*Spites via

They walked in silence until they were a good distance away from the town. As they traipsed along, the only sound that of the snow crunching beneath their feet, Locke took the opportunity to steal quick glances at Terra out of the corner of his eye. He’d heard many rumors about the ‘blue-haired Magitek girl’. He’d heard people use the word ‘witch’ and exchange stories about how she could destroy an entire city (as no cities had gone missing lately, Locke was fairly certain these stories were exaggerations). Arvis, the old man from Narshe, insisted that she was nothing more than a victim of the Empire’s cruelty. Locke thought she looked simply like a scared young woman barely out of her teenage years.

It took them over an hour to reach Locke’s small campsite, at which point he determined it should be safe to break the silence.

“Alright, Terra,” he said jovially while sticking his head inside the tiny tent, “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” He grabbed two articles of clothing from the small pile he owned and turned back to find Terra gazing rather intensely at the remains of his fire from the night before. He wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking at, but when he cleared his throat she slowly turned back to face him.

“Here you go!” He grinned and held out a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. “These should warm you up a bit!”

Terra’s eyes slowly dropped to his outreached hands and there they stayed. She had a blank look on her face.

A few moments passed and Locke began to shift his weight nervously from foot to foot. “Um…” he said eventually, clearing his throat again, “I know they’re not…fashionable, and their probably way too big, but…”

Terra’s eyes shot up and widened. She looked as though she’d just woken from a trance. “No, no…” she stumbled over the words. “They’re fine, of course. Thank you very much…” She gave a strange, unsure smile as she took the clothes from Locke.

She pulled the jeans over the gray jumpsuit. Locke himself was fairly lean, so they weren’t enormous, but still they hung loose around her hips. The jacket was very large – Locke liked it baggy – but she wrapped it around her chilled body happily.

“Hungry?” Locke asked. He held out an apple from his pack.

Terra nodded frantically, only just now realizing what the pain in her stomach was trying to tell her, and accepted the apple hungrily.

Locke took a large bite of his own apple and chewed thoughtfully. “Maybe we should camp here for the day,” he suggested after swallowing. “After everything that’s happened, well…it’s probably been more than twenty-four hours since you had a decent rest.”

But Terra was already shaking her head. “Honestly, she told him, “I don’t think I could sleep now if I tried. I think…I think I’d just like to get far away from here as fast as possible. If…if that’s okay with you?”

Locke found it hard to believe that Terra wasn’t utterly exhausted after all she’d been through, but he replied with a smile and a “No problem!” and quickly began to gather up his belongings.

And he waited for the questions. He had assumed that, once he’d shown it was okay to talk again, he’d be bombarded with them. Surely this poor girl with a lost memory, finding herself in such a strange and frightening situation, would have a million questions to ask. And yet, she seemed strangely quiet, withdrawn, and uninterested. She was silent while Locke rounded up the last of his things and dismantled the tent. She gave only a small nod when he asked if she was ready to set out. He heard only the sounds of the snow under her boots as she walked.

It was, to say the least, a little unnerving.

As they hiked for mile after mile, Locke began to nervously wonder what her problem was. Was she scared? He thought he’d done a fine job of reassuring her that he was here to help and that he wanted to be her friend. Was it shyness then? She hadn’t seemed particularly shy earlier, but perhaps now that the initial shock had worn off… Or maybe she’d hit her head harder than he’d originally assessed. Could that be it?

A little too frantically, he whipped his head around to examine Terra’s face. She looked back at him with shock at his sudden movement and he quickly forced a grin on his face and turned back to the path. Well, she’d responded quickly enough anyway.

The truth was that while Locke was desperately debating why Terra wouldn’t ask any questions, Terra was having a mental and emotional battle over what questions she wanted to ask.

There were so many of them swarming through her head that she couldn’t seem to choose just one. Why had the men from Narshe been trying to capture her? What was this Empire they thought she was a part of? Who was the old man who had helped her? What were those little bear-like creatures she’d seen? The list went on and on and repeated itself multiple times through her head until it hurt physically. How could she possibly decide what to ask first? And how could she avoid the questions that she didn’t necessarily want to know the answers to?

Many hours later, when the sun had begun to sink behind the mountains, Locke collapsed and suggested they camp for the night.

“It’s another four or five days at least,” he explained. He panted, out of breath from the trek, while Terra’s breathing seemed perfectly stable. “We’re far enough away from Narshe now; they won’t follow us this far. We should rest and eat.”

Terra nodded in her quiet way and sat herself gracefully down on a fallen tree.

Locke reconstructed the tent to the low hotting of a waking owl. Once the tent was in place he extracted a few pieces of dried jerky from his pack and handed half of them to Terra. He observed, as she took them gratefully, that the strange young woman didn’t seem to register hunger until she was presented with food.

“Locke?” Terra spoke softly.

He jumped a mile at the sound of her voice. He’d become so used to the silence. “Yes?” he replied after a second of steadying his heart.

She hesitated a moment, fidgeting where she sat, and eventually she said in an even quieter voice, “Tell me about yourself.”

Locke couldn’t have been more taken aback. Of all the things she could have asked!

“Uh, well…” he stuttered his surprise. “What do you want to know?”

Terra flushed a little and stared determinedly forward at the owl stretching his wings from a nearby branch. “I don’t know…anything.”

He stared at her out of the corner of his eye for a long moment before finally speaking hesitantly. “Well, I’m a member of the Returners,” he told her. “I do a lot of…spying, and odd-jobs for them. The man you met in Narshe is one of us as well.”

“And who exactly are the Returners?” Terra asked quickly, and now Locke understood. She hadn’t known where to start, and now he’d given her an opening.

“Well,” he said, thinking about how to best answer the question, “We’re an organization that’s opposed to the Empire. I’m not sure how far we’ll get or how much good we’ll do, but I guess you could say that we’re trying to bring the whole thing down.”

Terra nodded quietly, but Locke could see that she didn’t quite understand.

“It’s like this…” He took a bite of his jerky and repositioned himself to face Terra. “There’s this guy called Emperor Gestahl. He has lots of followers and a huge army, and he does a lot of awful things like invading peaceful countries and taxing people nearly to death. I guess you could say, for lack of a better description, that he wants to take over the world.”

Terra nodded again, a little more enthusiastically. “And the…Returners want to stop him?”

“Right,” Locke confirmed. “We’re freedom fighters.”

Terra had many more questions, but she found herself suddenly rather frightened to ask them. She was thinking about the miners who had shouted from outside the old man’s house. That woman is an officer of the Empire! That’s what they’d said. Was it true? She certainly couldn’t remember, but they had sure seemed to think so. Did Locke know about it? Surely he wouldn’t have helped her if he did… Or perhaps he did know and she was really his unwitting prisoner, being duped into coming quietly.

Locke watched Terra’s blank face as she ran through the possibilities in her head. He expected that, how she’d finally broken the question barrier, she would continue relentlessly. After a few minutes, however, she simply nodded. The jerky strips were limp, forgotten in her hand as she stared into the trees where the owl dove at a field mouse.

Though it was a peaceful night, they both slept uneasily.

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*

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*

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*

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*

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!”