Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 9 – Part 1)

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”.

Ghost - Sad (Front)Ghost - Sad (Front)Ghost - Sad (Front)
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

The group of three men and one dog were two hours walk into the forest when Sabin started to break down. He’d had some extreme training over the past several years, but between fleeing the Returners’ hideout, wrestling with a giant octopus, trekking halfway across the continent, and battling his way through an Imperial base, he was well and truly exhausted. Cyan clearly had too much on his mind for one man to deal with, and Shadow had the look of a man who was rapidly losing interest in his journey. Even Interceptor was acting odd, trailing behind with his tail between his legs, whining and looking around at the shadows as though nervous.

“Is he going to be okay?” Sabin asked, gesturing at the shivering pup.

“He smells death,” Shadow replied simply.

Sabin raised his eyebrows, but Shadow offered no more. They continued their traipse through the dark, miserable underbrush.

Some time later, his patience wearing more thin with each passing moment, Sabin was finally ready to call it a night. He was opening his mouth to suggest that they find a place to camp for the night when a sound rang through the trees, a sound so loud that they nearly leapt out of their skins.

It was a steam whistle.

“A train, here?” Cyan wondered with some shock. “But Doma’s railway was destroyed.”

Sabin’s surprise was set aside in favor of joy. A ride! he thought, and burst into a run in the direction of the whistle. It only took a moment before he burst through a cluster of trees and right out onto a docking block. There, looking like a jewel amongst the gloom, was a midnight-black, multi-car steam engine.

“Hey!” Sabin cried, pointing at the single open door directly in front of him. “We can get in right here!”

The others had followed close behind and didn’t seem to share Sabin’s enthusiasm at the prospect of a ride.

“Sir Sabin…” Cyan gasped out nervously.

“We can’t wander around out here forever!” Sabin rationalized with a grin. “We absolutely have to get on board!”

Cyan’s eyes had gone wide. “But Sir Sabin!”

“Don’t worry!” Sabin insisted. He jogged through the open door without a care in the world. “Let’s go!”

“Sir Sabin!” Cyan exclaimed in horror.

As soon as he was inside the car, Sabin realized something was wrong. All the seats were empty. There was no sign of a single soul. “What the-?” he muttered.

The others rushed in behind him, Interceptor crying openly and Cyan looking very much as though he might vomit.

“Sir Sabin!” he begged. “Please, we’ve got to get off this train!”

Sabin had half a second to realize that Cyan was probably right before the door behind them suddenly slammed shut. Shadow quickly turned and gave the handle a good yank, but it didn’t budge. Less than a second later, the steam whistle blew again and the group felt the floor lurch beneath their feet.

“I-it’s moving!” Sabin observed stupidly.

Cyan groaned and yanked at the door, willing it to open though he was certain it wouldn’t. “We’re too late,” he sobbed.

“What’s with this train?” Sabin demanded. “What the hell are you so freaked out about?” Despite himself, he found that his heart was starting to beat strangely fast.

Cyan’s face was somehow pale and dark at the same time as he turned his back on the immovable door. “This is the Phantom Train,” he explained. “It carries the departed to…the other side…”

Sabin felt bile rise in his throat. “A-are you serious?”

Cyan nodded. He looked like a reasonable man, Sabin thought, but he was absolutely sure of his fantastical claim.

“I have also heard such stories,” Shadow offered with his usual stoic calm. “And it would explain why Interceptor is so upset.” He gestured to the whining hound who had just emptied his bladder in the corner of the car.

“B-but,” Sabin cried, beginning to genuinely panic, “Wait a sec! I don’t wanna go there!”

Cyan’s face was turning green. “We all have to go sometime.”

“I have things to do here!” Sabin was shouting hysterically now. “We have to stop this thing! Let’s make for the engine.”

Sabin took off at a sprint for the next car, but stopped dead in his tracks when he opened the door. Cyan, having run after him in a desperation not to be left behind, slammed into him. The two of them gaped at the car before them with a mixture of fear and amazement.

The car was filled with spirits. Some were thick, solid white masses with a scarcely human shape to them. Others had very visible human features but were barely more than wisps of smoke. Some were wandering aimlessly, while others were curled up in seats, staring out the windows as though not really seeing anything in front of them.

“Would you prefer to stay here then?”

Sabin and Cyan jumped and turned to Shadow. He was staring at them incredulously while comforting Interceptor. Sabin shook his head emphatically and Cyan shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. Shadow raised an eyebrow.

“I’m goin’, I’m goin’,” Sabin muttered. He took a couple of deep breaths, shot a look at Shadow, and plowed into the car with Cyan hot on his heels.

One of the solid white apparitions took immediate notice of them and wafted up into Sabin’s path. Sabin stiffened visibly and looked for a way to get around it.

“We’re looking to disembark,” came Shadow’s calm voice from the back of the pack. “Can you lead us through to the engine room?”

Strangely, the featureless mass managed to establish an almost amused demeanor. It nodded, turned, and beckoned the group to follow. Sabin and Cyan couldn’t move for shock. Shadow shoved past them while keeping a comforting hand on Interceptor’s head. Sabin looked back at Cyan with wide eyes. Cyan shrugged and steadied his hand on the hilt of his sword before nodding.

The strange spirit almost seemed to dance through the cars ahead of them. It seemed to be the highlight of its night to give them a tour of the train. Every so often one of the other specters would glance their way – one wispy woman with terrified eyes stared at them as long as she could see them from her seat – but for the most part they didn’t seem to notice the intruders at all.

“This is creepy as hell,” Sabin muttered with a shudder.

“Can we trust…it?” Cyan asked while waving a hand toward their guide.

Sabin shrugged a little. “Do we have a choice?”

Several cars forward, Cyan noticed that they had attracted a follower. A spirit that looked very solid, but only had the barest semblance of human form, was trailing very close to their group. Cyan nudged Sabin and pointed. While their heads were turned, their guide halted to a dead stop.

“What’s wrong?” Sabin inquired. He looked past the spirit to see that another specter was blocking the doorway to the next car. They were currently outside on their walkway between cars, the ground and tracks hurtling along beneath them. They could only move forward into the next car or backward into the one they’d just left.

“I believe we’ve been herded,” Shadow spoke up. There was a hint of amused interest in his voice. The spirit that had been following them had been joined by three friends and the four of them were blocking the return path. The spirit blocking the forward path made a low hissing noise that could just barely be understood by human ears: “N.o…e.s.c.a.p.e…”

Sabin’s face paled and Cyan nervously reached for his sword.

“It will do no good to fight them,” Shadow explained, ever calm. “They’re already dead.”

“Then what the hell do you expect us to do?” Sabin demanded. Several more spirits were pushing out from each of the surrounding cars. They were rapidly becoming outnumbered four to one.

“Sir Sabin,” Cyan cried, pointing, “There!” The spirit that had been guiding them had shimmied up onto the roof of the car and was gesturing to a thin ladder alongside the door, almost invisible in the dark.

“N.o…e.s.c.a.p.e…!”

While Sabin and Cyan were chilled by the wispy words, Shadow shoved through the expanding crowd. With what must have been a great effort, he shoved a yelping Interceptor up onto the roof before quickly following by way of the ladder. The other two men were behind him in an instant as more and more specters pushed out of the cars. One of them snatched Cyan’s leg as he climbed, but a frantic flailing of his sword dropped it back to the floor.

The wind was rushing past at breakneck speeds from the top of the car. Cyan’s ponytail and the edges of Shadow’s robes flapped madly as though in emphasis of the dangerous position they’d placed themselves in. And still the spirits were coming, crawling up the ladder and hissing in unison: “You can’t escape…nowhere to run…nowhere to hide…”

Cyan looked over the edge with a grimace. “I believe we’re stuck!” he yelled over the wind. He raised his sword, ready to fight the advancing swarm, but Sabin was looking at their guide, who was frantically gesturing forward. The stack of the engine was visible from only a few cars away, belching thick puffs of smoke into the night air. The friendly spirit was making a strange motion, a kind of arch through the air.

Sabin nodded. “Okay!” he shouted.

“You have an idea?” Cyan swung his sword threateningly at the hissing spirits.

The grin on Sabin’s face was forced and nervous. “The time has come to see if all of my training has paid off!” he announced. Without so much as a word of warning, he grabbed a yelping Cyan, threw him over his shoulders, and ran for the far end of the car. If it hadn’t been such a precarious situation, Cyan’s shriek might have been humorous. As it stood, the move demanded all of Sabin’s concentration, so he barely registered the other man’s cry. He wasn’t nearly as skilled as Vargas had been in this particular technique, but he moved his arms and body in a series of well-practiced patterns and the attempt was successful. The gusts around them bent and twisted just enough to help carry them safely to the roof of the next car. The moment Sabin’s feet landed, Cyan dropped and clamored for something to hold on to, nearly losing his sword over the edge. “Thou couldst have warned me!” he gasped. His face was green.

“No time!” Sabin shouted. Before he could get a snarky response, he leapt back the way he’d come. The spirits were swarming the roof from every direction. Before Sabin could speak Shadow picked up Interceptor and shoved him in the other’s arms. “Take him,” the ever-calm ninja requested. “He’s too heavy for me.”

There was no time to argue. Interceptor cried out in alarm when they jumped, but he stayed perfectly still all the same. Sabin placed him down next to Cyan and turned to get Shadow, but did a double-take instead. He was gone! The spirits were climbing onto the roof, but Shadow was nowhere to be seen.

“Shouldn’t we keep moving?”

Sabin nearly jumped out of his skin. He whirled around to find Shadow and their spirit guide standing behind a gaping Cyan.

“How the hell did you-?” Sabin shook his head. “Forget it. Let’s move!”

They shimmied down the ladder. Sabin and Cyan made to run, but Shadow stopped them. “Look,” he said, pointing. It was a large stone peg, vibrating madly, holding the cars together.

“We’ll never be able to move-” Cyan never got to finish the thought. Sabin strode forward with a deep breath and a shout, and the shackle burst into chunks and dust. Uncoupled from the chain, the spirit-swarmed car and all the cars behind began to lag behind.

Cyan, despite everything, looked amused. “Thine techniques are truly amazing, Sir Sabin.”

Amazingly, the spirits were still wailing at them as they faded into the distance.

“N.o…e.s.c.a.p.e…!”

“Nowhere to run…nowhere to hide…!”

Sabin couldn’t help but shudder a little. “Bloody persistent.”

“They can’t follow us now,” Shadow pointed out. “Let’s go.”

They encountered no further resistance as their guide led them forward, though they were now terribly wary of every spirit they saw. When they finally came to the engine room door, their guide stepped aside.

“Not coming?” asked Sabin.

The spirit made a motion like a shake of the head and a wave before turning and floating back the way they’d come. Sabin gave Cyan a wary look before moving to the door, taking a deep breath, and stepping inside.

There was no one there.

The three men looked around the room while the dog sniffed cautiously at every corner, but the engine room was definitely empty. There were panels of lights and buttons, sections of walls dedicated to enormous switches and levers, but no one was there to run it all.

Sabin walked up to one of the control panels. “Well, what should we try first?” he asked aloud.

Cyan’s face fell. “Don’t try any of them!” he gasped.

Sabin remembered the fiasco with the Magitek armor and winced. Cyan was clearly a total dunce when it came to machinery, but they had to try something. Wordlessly, Sabin reached forward and flicked a switch. Cyan cringed and Interceptor’s ears went back, but nothing happened.

And just as Sabin was reaching for a second switch, a voice filled the air around them: “SO!”

Their hearts pounded furiously, even Shadow’s. The voice boomed through the car, seeming to be everywhere at once. “You’re the ones who’ve been slowly my progress!” it bellowed.

Cyan’s jaw dropped comically, and Sabin suddenly understood. It was the train. The train was talking to them!

When it became clear that the younger Figaro brother and the Doman retainer had been stunned speechless, Shadow spoke. “Phantom Train,” he said, as calmly as if he were talking to an old friend, “We request permission to depart.”

The hearty laugh that filled the room was so loud that it shook the walls. “And why, precisely, would I want to allow that?”

Shadow spoke matter-of-factly, explaining as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Because we are accidental passengers on this journey, not yet passed on. And because these two,” he gestured to the other men, assuming the train could see him, “are on a mission to fight the Empire.”

The train seemed to take pause. “The Empire, hmm?” it considered. “The Empire has been creating a lot of extra work for me lately. Lots of souls who weren’t yet meant to move on…”

The tone of the train’s voice helped Sabin to find his own. “We’re trying to make our way to meet up with the Returners,” he said. “We want to stop the Empire from destroying more than they already have.”

Cyan seemed like he was going to add something then, but in the end he shut his mouth and averted his gaze from the others.

There was silence for what felt like a long time. Just when they were starting to wonder where the disembodied voice of the train had gotten to, it returned, decisive. “We’re approaching a stop. I will let you go.”

Sabin wanted to pump his fist in the air, but he managed to restrain himself. “Thank you.”

The train immediately began to slow down. “I am leaving you near the south exit of the forest. You will find Baren Falls to the east.” A squealing filled the air as the train’s brakes engaged. The men and the dog steadied themselves. “I suggest you move quickly. I can already feel the march of soldiers’ feet through the forest.”

“Thank you again,” Sabin said. He bowed awkwardly toward the control panel before running for the door and leaping happily at the platform. “Finally off!” he cried.

Cyan was raising an eyebrow. “Hast thou learned something about hopping aboard strange trains?” From where he crouched, patting Interceptor’s head, Shadow let out a single, out-of-character chuckle.

Sabin chose to pretend he hadn’t heard the question. Instead he turned to his comrades with his arms crossed. “We should get moving. Let’s go!”

Cyan nodded in agreement, but Shadow held up a hand as though to say ‘wait’. “We should let them board first,” he insisted.

Sabin and Cyan looked to the other end of the platform to see a mysterious sight. An enormous line of spirits were boarding the train. Unlike the ones they’d previously encountered, these still held onto their earthly forms. They would almost have appeared to be normal, living people, if it weren’t for the unusual glow that surrounded each one of them. They moved on to the train so quickly – literally hundreds of them – that the men scarcely had time to contemplate that what they were witnessing was the exodus of the dead of Doma. That is, until the final two spirits hopped aboard and Cyan let out a strangled cry.

Sabin looked first at Cyan, who was white with horror, and then to the two spirits, who had turned toward the cry. One was a beautiful woman with long blond hair; the other was a young boy, no older than seven. Sabin’s mouth dropped in understanding. “Cyan,” he croaked out, “Is…is that your wife and child?”

Cyan didn’t hear the question. The train’s whistle had blown and broken him from his trance. “No!” he screamed his denial. “Elayne! Owain!” He rushed toward them as the train steamed up and began to pull away. “No! Wait! Please wait!”

Elayne and Owain waved sadly from the train as it picked up speed. Cyan ran, hand outstretched as though to snatch them back from the moving vehicle. “Please!” he screamed, tears streaming down his face. “Stop! Don’t leave me!”

Elayne’s ghostly voice, sad but accepting, floated forward on the wind. “My love, you made me so happy. Don’t forget me.”

And Owain’s, trying to sound strong. “Don’t worry, dad! I’ll take care of mom! I love you, dad!”

Cyan had run out of platform. With a single heart-wrenching cry he dropped to his knees and watched the train disappear from sight.

Shaking all over, Sabin took a step toward the man, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to look at Shadow, who was shaking his head silently. Sabin’s shoulders drooped.

A long time passed before Cyan finally stood again.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 8 – Part 4)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Now that I’ve caught up to what I had already had written and posted on FanFiction.net, I’ll be posting these new bits on both sites. If you’ve never been to FanFiction.net, I urge you to take a look. There can be a lot to wade through, but I’ve been known to find some gems in there.

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”.

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

Late into the evening, Cyan stood alongside a Doman sentry, peering toward the Imperial base in the distance.

“The base seems to be bustling with energy, Sir,” observed the sentry. “Something must be up.”

Cyan nodded solemnly, eyes narrowed. “If there is, I’m sure we’ll find out about it soon.”Read More »

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 8 – Part 1)

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”.

Shadow (Front)Sabin - Action
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

The morning sun was just rising when Sabin pulled himself up onto the rocky beach. He’d lost Ultros somewhere just off the Lete River; the cowardly creature had eventually given up the fight and taken off for his life. The current had been too strong for Sabin to swim to shore and he’d soon found himself pulled out to sea. Lucky enough to snatch a floating piece of driftwood, he’d drifted in and out of sleep all night as he floated along through the vast waters.

It was good to be on solid ground again.

Drenched and dripping, the younger Figaro brother made his way across the rocks, into the grass. When he spied the large cottage a mile or so off he practically sprinted for it.

When he burst in the door, the dozen or so patrons of the lounge jumped in surprise. The man behind the counter looked him up and down and chuckled. “Out for a swim?” he asked with a smirk.

“Something like that,” Sabin mustered a smile. “Where am I, please?”

The other patrons looked on in curiosity as the bartender raised an eyebrow. “How specific d’you need me to be?”

“You’re northwest of Doma Castle.” The voice came from the far corner of the room, from a man covered head to toe in black. A rather large black dog sat attentively at his side. The other patrons eyed him suspiciously and with various levels of dislike on their faces, but Sabin gave him a friendly smile and took a few steps toward him.

“You a traveler?” he asked cheerily, dripping all over the floor. “Couldn’t tell me how to get to Narshe from here, could ya? I got separated from my friends, you see…”

The man in black was slowly shaking his head. “Rough journey,” he explained. “Imperials have built a base just beyond the forest.”

Sabin’s eyes grew. He’d heard the Empire was setting its sights on Doma, but these things usually took time. “Already?!”

The man nodded. “They seem to have set their sights on the castle fortress.”

Sabin’s eyes narrowed. He flexed his fists while he thought. “So Doma’s next in a line of hostile takeovers, eh? I have to reach Narshe immediately!” His outburst caused everyone in the establishment to break into a noisy murmur.

“Then your only option is through Doma’s lands,” replied the black-clad man calmly. He stood slowly and the dog was immediately at his heels. “My name is Shadow. I’ll show you the way, so long as you understand that I may abandon the journey at any time if I feel like it.”

Sabin nodded. “Agreed.” He stepped aside to let Shadow lead. As the black-garbed man stepped through the door, a hand grabbed Sabin’s shoulder. When he turned his head he found the bartender staring at him with wide eyes.

“I wouldn’t travel with him, pal,” he warned in a whispered rush. “Guy’s insane! He’ll lead you into the forest and slit your throat, sell your cold, revolutionary body to the Empire!”

Sabin smiled a little and nodded. “Thanks for the concern,” he replied calmly and shrugged off the man’s hand. “But as thousands of lives may hang in the balance, I think I’ll take the risk.”

The looks he received as he walked out were ones of complete bewilderment.

Shadow and his enormous raven-colored hound had already set out across the plains at a steady pace. Sabin jogged to catch up before slowing to match Shadow’s pace. He tried to be patient with the other man’s conservative speed, though what he really wanted was to run with all his strength.

The journey was a silent and uncomfortable one. Shadow, though he’d seemed willing enough to guide Sabin on his travels, did not seem to be the friendly type. Sabin tried to respect that. The younger Figaro brother’s mind was busy anyway. He wondered how many Imperials had already congregated outside Doma. What were their plans? Diplomatic talks or full-out attack? Would it wait until he could get to Narshe and send the cavalry? Or would it be long over by then?

They walked like this for hours, Shadow’s stride never changing or faltering, Sabin’s mind constantly racing. Just as Sabin noticed the setting sun, a small house began to appear in the distance. Sabin examined the tiny building with some interest – Who would live out here in the middle of nowhere? – when Shadow and the dog began to veer of toward it.

“Where are we going?” Sabin finally asked.

“Shelter for the night,” was Shadow’s straightforward response.

Sabin stopped in his tracks. “Shelter for the night?” he exclaimed. “I don’t have time for that!”

Shadow continued to walk as though he hadn’t heard the outburst. He didn’t speak until Sabin had jogged to catch back up to him. “There are many Imperials. We will need our wits about us to make it through the base alive. Thus, shelter and sleep.”

Sabin opened his mouth to argue, but the dog let out a low growl that made him shut it again.

“Down, Interceptor,” Shadow said to the dog. Sabin could have sworn he saw the man’s lips twitch upward from beneath his mask.

As they came upon the tiny house – it was really more of a shack, actually – they could hear a curious muttering coming from inside. Sabin was about to ask whose home this was when Shadow reached for the door and strode right in. Sabin scrambled in behind, intrigued and not wanting to be left behind.

The source of the muttering became immediately evident. There was a man rocking in an old chair in the corner of the room; he was not elderly, but he had clearly aged in other ways. There were many gray streaks in his otherwise black hair, and there were lines in his face that made him look as though he’d been pulling at his skin for many years. He wore old clothing that hadn’t been washed in a long time, and the tiny, single-room house looked like a tornado had ripped through it.

As the two younger men and the dog poured in through the doorway, the man’s head shot up and his eyes narrowed. “Hey!” he exclaimed at a shout. There was a note of anger in his voice. “You the clock maker?! I’ve been waitin’ for ages!”

Shadow ignored the man completely, so Sabin nervously replied, “Uh, no… No, I’m not the clock maker.”

Sabin’s words seemed to have no effect on the man, who barreled on while pointing at a wooden hunk of junk hanging above his small kitchenette. “There it is, on the wall. Ain’t been ticken’ for one, no…five? Shucks, maybe even ten years now!”

Bewildered, Sabin stepped closer to the clock, only to find that it was merely a few chunks of wood nailed together with a clock face messily painted on the front. “Uh…”

“Ignore him,” Shadow spoke up. He was settling himself in a corner of the room. Interceptor lay loyally at his side. “Gone crazy a long time ago,” he explained. “Wife died giving birth.”

The man turned away and began muttering to himself again as though he couldn’t even hear Shadow talking about him. Sabin shook his head and walked over to the corner adjacent to Shadow to settle down. “What happened to the child?” he asked as he sat on the hard floor.

Shadow shrugged a little. He seemed unaccustomed to so much talking. “Like I said, gone crazy. Near I can figure from his ramblings, he thought the babe was a demon and tossed it down Baren Falls.”

Sabin’s face blanched.

Shadow and Interceptor had closed their eyes and made no further attempt at polite conversation. The old man continued to rock in his chair and mutter nonsense to the wall across from him until he eventually nodded off in mid-rock. Sabin lay awake in his corner for several hours, staring at his roommates and contemplating the bizarreness of the world in which he’d been born. Eventually, while thinking of the poor child that had been thrown down the falls, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 6)

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”.

Terra - Shocked
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

“You’re joking, right?” Terra asked without humor.

Edgar shot back a half-hearted smile and reached down to untie their vessel from the shore.

The Lete River ran through the north-eastern mountains, a thin and winding road of raging rapids. Even as they stood on the stone shore of the twisting torrent, their legs were being drenched by the crashing waves.

The vessel that Edgar and Banon intended them to navigate this watery deathtrap with was a 15×15-foot raft comprised of roughly bound together logs.

“Don’t worry, Terra,” said Sabin, clapping her on the back just a bit too hard. “If anyone falls in, I’m an excellent swimmer!”

Terra groaned.

“Okay,” Edgar said, having untangled the rope. He held on with all his strength to keep the raft from ripping away from them. “Everyone aboard!”

Terra stepped on hesitantly, dropped to her knees, and clung to a bit of rope sticking between to of the logs. Banon and Sabin followed suit, though both seemed significantly more confident. Edgar was the last to board, leaping gracefully as the rope anchor fell to the waves.

The raft jerked forward as though it had been dying to ride the rapids. At first Terra squeezed her eyes shut as tight as she could and cringed at every bounce and lurch, every icy splash in the face. But after a few minutes, when there had been no yells of terror from the men, she slowly opened her eyes to see what was happening.

The speed was incredible as they hurtled along between the two rocky shores. There were treacherous turns everywhere, but Edgar and Sabin, one at each of the front corners of the raft, used their body weight to expertly force the vessel in the directions they wanted to go. They were perfectly coordinated with each other and Terra wondered where in the world they would have picked up such a skill growing up in the desert.

Banon had a goofy, childlike grin on his face as he held his head up to the cool winds rushing by. Terra looked at him and, how that she knew the Figaro brothers had navigation under control, couldn’t help but smile herself. This was amazing! They were actually river-rafting down a mountain range! Even if the Empire’s soldiers suspected how they’d left, surely they hadn’t thought to bring a boat with them; no change anyone would catch up to them now!

Terra found herself laughing out loud at the thought. Banon soon joined her with his deep guffaw, and the Figaro brothers weren’t far behind.

All concerns temporarily forgotten, Terra dared to release her death grip on the raft and made her way, unsteadily, to a standing position. Spreading her arms like the eagle she’d watched earlier, she reveled in the wind and water spray.

They floated on for miles in this way. Sometimes the river would wide and they’d hover along at a calm, relaxing pace; other times the banks would close in and the raft would rip along so fast it was hard to believe that Edgar and Sabin could keep them from capsizing.

They’d reached a relatively calm area when Banon announced that they were beginning to near the Narshean mountain range.

Terra raised her arms to the sky for a good stretch and felt it…a small bump on the underside of the raft. “Did anyone else feel that?” she asked, turning her eyes to the logs on which she stood.

“Feel what?” asked Banon. He was eying her curiosity.

He’d barely gotten the words out of his mouth when there was a startling crash and the raft lurched violently. Terra stumbled and nearly toppled over the side, but Sabin snatched her arm.

“What was that?” Edgar cried in alarm.

The raft began to settle again, the ripples in the water fading away to nothing. They were all silent as the raft floated on, waiting for another occurrence. At first there was nothing, but then Terra spied a gathering of bubbles.

They had just enough time to guide their raft off to the side before the creature emerged. It broke through the water’s surface so violently that the resulting waves almost tipped them clean over.

“W-what is it?” Terra shrieked.

The thing was huge; its bulbous body, black as ocher, was at least as large as their raft, and was amplified by eight swarming, thrashing tentacles slapping the surface of the water in a rage. A pair of gleaming white eyes stared at them from low on the main body, just above a row of thick, pointed teeth that stretched into an extremely wide grimace.

When it spoke, Terra nearly had a heart attack.

“OW!” it shrieked in a high, piercing voice that grated terribly against their ears. “You hit my head, you, you…jerks!”

Edgar’s mouth was hanging open. “Sorry?” he offered.

The creature’s eyes narrowed and it raised a tentacle, waving it back and forth in a ‘tsk tsk’ motion. “Uwee hee hee…” it chuckled. “Sorry won’t cut it with me, the mighty Ultros!”

Sabin snorted. Edgar and Banon shot a glare at him.

“Game over!” Ultros screamed, pointing four tentacles straight at Sabin. “Don’t tease the octopus, kiddies!”

Two tentacles came swinging in with immense speed. Terra screamed and Banon ducked in fright. Sabin grinned wide, lifted his arms, planted his feet, and stopped the tentacles in midair. Water from the creature’s slimy skin drenched his body, but he grinned and flexed his arms as though it was all a terribly fun game.

“Muscleheads?” Ultros squealed. “Hate em!” While Sabin struggled, the giant octopus whipped around with two more tentacles, looking to smash their raft.

“I think not!” Edgar bellowed. The auto-crossbow was already in his hands and he shot off a volley of arrows before any tentacles could land.

Terra covered her ears at the hideous noise Ultros emitted. Sabin was almost hauled off the raft as all tentacles flailed madly. Ultros slapped its limbs against the water in a desperate attempt to dislodge Edgar’s arrows.

“Arg!” it screamed, voice filled with fury. “Delicious morsel! Let me get my bib!”

“Away with you now!” Banon bellowed. “Take to the seas before you are injured further!”

The high-pitched laughter that followed was almost as painful as the scream. “I think not!” squealed Ultros, and all at once he lunged forward with his entire body.

Edgar raised his weapon and Sabin planted his feet, but they never got the chance to meet the attack. A burst of flame flew between them and connected squarely with Ultros’ face. The scream he let loose caused the brothers to cover their ears in dislike. Terra lowered her arms, a stony set on her face, as the violent creature fell back into the water, thrashing in pain.

“Yaaaaaaoooooooucch!” it shrieked. “Seafood soup! Seafood soup!” And then it sunk beneath the surface of the water, leaving behind only a few tendrils of steam.

“Good job, Terra!” Banon praised. Terra flushed.

“Is it gone?” Edgar asked cautiously. He peered over the edge of the raft. The current was beginning to pick up again and he could make nothing out.

“I think Terra thrashed it!” Sabin announced with a hearty chuckle.

Terra smiled, pleased to have helped, but the smile soon fell off her face as she felt something wet and slimy rub against her leg. Startled, she jumped, but the thing had glued itself to her boot. “Ew!” she cried, upset. “There’s something stuck to my leg!”

The thin end of a tentacle curled around Terra’s ankle and yanked hard, but Edgar and Banon grabbed her arms and Sabin brought both of his fists down as hard as he could. There was a squeak and a burst of bubbles from the water and the tentacle retracted beneath the surface.

“Terra, over here!” Edgar insisted, pulling them all to the center of the raft.

“It’s alright now,” Banon promised. Terra took a few deep breaths.

“That slimy, disgusting…” Sabin growled, peering into the water. “Watch out, I’m gonna hit it with a Blitz technique!”

Edgar reached out as Sabin stepped forward. “No! Sabin, wait!”

But Sabin shrugged off his brother’s hand. “Don’t distract me, Edgar!” Without a further word, he leapt from the raft and into the rapidly accelerating waters.

“He’s always been a tad zealous,” Banon groaned. Terra gaped.

“Sabin!” Edgar shouted again, his voice raising with panic.

“Don’t worry,” Banon assured him with a smile. “You should know better than any of us that any moment he’ll flop right onto the raft!”

Edgar was just opening his mouth to reply when there was an enormous splash and a yell. Their heads whipped around to see that Ultros had reemerged a dozen meters away, with Sabin standing on his head. As they watched, amused, Sabin hopped back and forth atop the octopus’ dome, dodging swing after swing from the tentacles. They couldn’t help but laugh as Ultros pummeled his own brain in a mad attempt to squash his tormentor.

“Seems a little too perky!” Edgar chuckled.

But Banon had stopped laughing. Terra followed his gaze and saw why. The now-speedy waters were hurtling them toward a fork in the river. Their raft was being pulled irresistibly toward the left fork. Sabin, still dancing on Ultros’ cranium, was floating toward the right.

“Sabin!” Terra called out in alarm.

The younger Figaro brother turned to the sound of his name, but was just as soon distracted by a flailing tentacle.

Edgar and Banon dropped to their knees and struggled to reroute the raft closer to Ultros, but the water was too fast and they were soon beyond the point of no return.

“Sabin!” Edgar cried out as their paths split. He looked concerned and frustrated, but he knew there was nothing to be done. “Sabin, take care of yourself! Meet us in Narshe!”

The brothers locked gazes for half a moment before the waters carried them out of each others’ sight.

 

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

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Reminder: If you’re looking for the previously posted parts of the story, go to the “Categories” drop-down banner on the left banner of the site and choose “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope”.

Banon - AngrySabin - ActionEdgar - AngryTerra - Glance
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

Terra sunk a little in her chair. Locke chuckled and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gasp went throughout the crowd.

“No!” cried one woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Locke!” cried Edgar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Reminder: If you’re looking for the previously posted parts of the story, go to the “Categories” drop-down banner on the left banner of the site and choose “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peaceful, isn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she whispered.

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

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

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

Terra allowed herself a small smile.

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

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

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Reminder: If you’re looking for the previously posted parts of the story, go to the “Categories” drop-down banner on the left banner of the site and choose “Final Fantasy: Returning Hope”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Terra Branford,” Edgar answered for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 5 – 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”.

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

Sabin knew the mountains like the back of his hand. Within only a little over four hours he’d led them down a back pathway, out into a green and flat ravine between ranges, and well on their way to the Sabil Mountains to the northeast. On the hike the brothers caught up with each other with help from Locke on the most recent events. Terra was concerned about the part of the story that revealed her abilities, but Sabin’s reaction to the news was one of calm interest.

“Magic, eh?” he said, smiling at her. “Master Duncan used to talk about how alike to magic some of his techniques are.”

Terra nodded enthusiastically, thinking of Vargas’ strange and powerful wind attack.

“Of course it’s not really magic,” he explained further. “The details are a closely-guarded secret, but the techniques I perform stem from a harnessing of physics, nature, and the power of illusion.”

“I…I don’t understand,” Terra admitted. Edgar and Locke also looked as though they were quietly struggling with this information.

“Well, for example,” Sabin said to Terra, “What sort of magic can you do?”

Without giving it a second thought, Terra lifted her palms and conjured a small flame between them.

Sabin smiled. “Now, there you have it,” he chuckled, impressed and amused. “See, you can pull fire out of the air. Where once there was nothing, now there is flame, using nothing other than your desire for it to be so.”

Terra nodded.

“But how is what you were taught different then?” Locke asked, thoroughly interested.

“If flame is already present, I can manipulated it.” As a demonstration, Sabin performed a strange movement with his hand that caused Terra’s flame to wiggle and dance. “But I cannot create.” He dropped his hand and Terra let the flame disappear. “Vargas commanded a very old technique that allowed him to guide the movement of air,” Sabin explained further. “But it only worked well in the mountains, where air currents are easily bounced off the rock.”

“It’s quite amazing, I must admit,” Edgar spoke up. “That move you did was…dizzying, to say the least.”

Sabin nodded soberly, his recollection more sobering than proud. “It’s more of an illusion than anything,” he modestly insisted. “The victim sees more punches than are actually being thrown, and thus doesn’t know which ones to block.”

Terra envisioned the rocket-fast punches she’d barely been able to keep track of and understood.

“What I do is the result of years of practice and dedication,” Sabin said, then turned to Terra with a grin. “But what you do…well, that’s something genuinely amazing.”

He seemed to be in such honest awe that Terra found herself quietly repeating his words in her head for the remainder of the hike.