Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 11 – Part 4)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Enjoy, and also check out FanFiction.net, where I’ll also be posting this story. 

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

As was his custom, Locke was the last one to wake the next morning. For a moment he lay under the covers, listening to the low, constant rumble of the motorized fortress passing through the earth. He’d expected the noise to keep him up all night, but it had actually been quite soothing. He’d had a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a long time and was rather loathe to end it.

It was the sound of hushed voices outside his door that finally drove him from the feather mattress. He thought he recognized the owners of the quiet words, so in the true spirit of an adventurer he crept to the door and laid his ear against it.Read More »

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 11 – Part 3)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

Enjoy, and also check out FanFiction.net, where I’ll also be posting this story. 

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

It was near midnight by the time the preparations had been made. Fully exhausted, Edgar dragged himself off toward his quarters to the soothing rumble of the castle beginning its decent under the sand. He was mercifully near to his waiting bed when he caught sight of the throne room door swinging shut; as an afterthought, he decided to peak in.

Sabin was standing in the center of the room, his arms hanging at his sides, looking for all the world like a little lost child. He seemed to consider the tapestries for a while before moving up to the thrones. He stared at these for a long time before gingerly sitting himself on the one that had remained empty for almost two decades; their mother’s throne.Read More »

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 9 – Part 2)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

This entry may be a little long, but the only way I could think to split it would have created a tiny entry and a barely-less-long entry, so I decided to just leave it as is. Enjoy, and also check out FanFiction.net, where I’ll also be posting this story. 

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”.

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

At the mouth of the cave that led through to Baren Falls, Shadow finally decided that the journey was over for him.

“I have served my purpose,” he announced suddenly. Without so much as a ‘so long’ he turned, motioned for Interceptor to follow, and began walking back in the opposite direction.

Sabin had known that the moment would come, but he had become used to having the quiet man around. “Shadow!” he called. When the other man failed to stop, he continued with: “Thanks for your help! Let’s join ranks again sometime!”

Shadow raised one hand in recognition of the request and continued to walk, his loyal hound at his side.Read More »

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 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 3 – 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”.

Shadow (Left)           Locke - StealEdgar - Shocked Terra - Glance
*Spites via http://www.videogamesprites.net

The journey was barely a day long with the help of the lovable chocobos. They found the one that had run off wandering a little further south, looking decidedly regretful that it had abandoned its rider. Locke forgave it for dumping him in the sand and gave it and the others a few handfuls of seed before they continued on.

They reached the cave by mid-afternoon and passed through as quickly as possible, as the birds seemed to be frightened of the dark. From there it was a leisurely trot across grassy lands until they came to the port-town of South Figaro just before nightfall. The view was beautiful from here; the clear blue ocean lay to the south of the town, and a vast mountain range, tinted red by the sunset, lay to the north. Terra and Edgar admired the view and took the chocobos to a stable just outside town while Locke, the least conspicuous of the three, ran to the nearest shop to procure some disguises. He returned with a long, dark green robe for Edgar, who would be most easily recognized by the royal crests for his clothing. For Terra he brought a black silk scarf to hide her strange hair color, which had been spoken about enough in rumors to be identifiable.

“There’s a bar attached to the inn,” Locke informed them as they donned their new fabrics. “What say we book a room and have a nice, relaxing drink before bed?”

Edgar looked like he might argue, but he caved at the pleading in Locke’s eyes and the interested look on Terra’s face. “All right, all right. But I’d better not have any trouble hauling you out of bed in the morning, Mr Cole. We can’t afford to be sleeping in.”

Locke grinned, and Terra was sure she caught a hint of mischievousness in the action.

Terra hadn’t gotten to see much of Narshe, and her mind had been too busy during most of her time in Figaro, so she took her time to take in the visuals of South Figaro. It was a lovely little town, busy with people. There was a bustling market district near the harbor; men were selling everything from fish and bread, to knives and swords, while women sold beautiful hand-woven fabrics and sweet treats. There were more children here than there had seemed to be in Figaro, running and playing if they weren’t fishing off the docks with homemade poles. Several large boats with colorful sails, packed high with crates, were docked in the harbor, either waiting to unload or to ship out. Finally, the houses and different establishments were made of either logs or wood paneling, giving a somehow warmer and friendlier feel than had the stone corridors of Figaro Castle.

The bar was busy, but there was a friendly atmosphere about the place and the travelers were lucky enough to snag a corner table as an older couple were leaving.

“What’ll I get yeh?” a busty barmaid asked with a smile.

Terra saw Edgar about to flash his dazzling smile, but Locke noticed as well and kicked him hard under the table. “Three of the house ale, please,” he said while Edgar hissed in pain. The barmaid looked at them sideways, but wandered over to the bar all the same and quickly returned with three large glass tankards.

“You’re an ass,” Edgar muttered at Locke under his breath as the barmaid wandered away, hips wiggling.

Locke simply laughed out loud and took a large gulp of his ale. After a moment Edgar, who didn’t seem to have it in him to stay mad for long, followed suit.

Terra looked cautiously at the glass of honey-colored liquid in front of her. She wondered why it foamed at the top and smelled musty. Eventually she placed the glass to her lips and took a swig. Locke and Edgar laughed at the face she made as she placed the glass back down to the table.

“Maybe we’ll get you something a little sweeter?” Edgar suggested, but Terra shook her head.

“No, it’s fine!” she insisted, not wanting to waste the drink. “I’ll drink it!” She took another gulp to prove her point, and controlled her reaction this time. Then she took another drink…and another. Soon her cheeks were starting to turn pink.

“Woah! Slow down there!” Locke chuckled. “We’ll be scraping you up off the floor if you keep drinking like that!”

As usual Terra didn’t understand, but she slowed down all the same. Instead of guzzling the mug of liquid, she examined it, wondering how it could taste so icy cold and yet still make her throat and stomach feel warm.

The men chatted casually about idle things while Terra studied the patrons of the bar. There were lots of men in filthy work clothes, drinking and laughing loudly, but also a few women. Terra observed that the men and women who were the loudest also seemed to be the ones with red cheeks and noses. The barmaid hopped from table to table, cheerfully serving drinks. Once or twice Terra saw her using her serving tray to smack the hands of red-faced men who tried to grab at her backside.

Terra’s gaze wandered past a trio of older men singing terribly off-key, past the middle-aged bartender who was daydreaming whilst drying a mug, and to the other side of the bar where a man sat alone with a dog at his side. Her eyes stopped here for a moment because he seemed so out of place amid the gaiety. He was dressed almost entirely in black; even his head and face were shrouded in black scarves so that only his dark eyes peeked out at the world. The only color on him came from a golden decoration on the wrap over his forehead, and a set of thick golden cuffs, one on each wrist. At his hip was a long, thin sheath that, presumably, housed a like-sized sword. A full mug of ale sat on the table in front of him, but he did not touch it. And then there was the dog. The dog was enormous and lean, mostly black like its master, but with a dark brown throat and belly. Neither its long, thin tail, nor its short pointed ears twitched as it sat obediently next to its master.

Terra stared at the pair for a long time.

Edgar’s angry voice brought her back to the table. “No, I am not following in his footsteps! I fully intend on returning to Figaro once our tasks are done!”

Locke’s hands were up in the air in defense. “Didn’t mean anything by it, pal. Just making an observation.”

Edgar fumed. Terra guessed that the conversation had turned to the twin brother who had run away from home. Still curious with the little information the handmaiden had offered, she wondered if it would be okay to prod the subject. After a few more gulps of ale she decided it would be fine.

“Edgar,” she posed the question slowly. “Why exactly did your brother run away?”

She had been worried that he’d get angry, but instead he looked rather surprised.

“The handmaidens mentioned it,” she admitted.

Locke looked interestedly on; Terra assumed from the look on his face that he’d never heard the full story himself.

Edgar stayed quiet for a moment, swishing the ale in his mug and glancing back and forth between it and Terra. Eventually, after looking at Locke and finding the other mane staring intently, he sighed and lay the drink down. “Alright, alright,” he said quietly. Both Locke and Terra leaned in to hear better.

“First off,” Edgar began, “Our mother died when we were very young. She’d been sick and eventually the disease took her away from us.”

Locke nodded, apparently having already known this part.

“Then, a few years ago, our father grew mysteriously ill. He’d been perfectly healthy before, and as he was rumored to have been funding an underground rebellion – the early Returners – it was widely suspected that he was poisoned by the Empire.”

Terra drew in a sharp breath.

Edgar continued on, eagerly now, as though he’d been secretly dying to get this off his chest. “Sabin was always innocent and carefree. He focused more on his martial fighting hobby than on things like politics and his royal position. When he heard that the Empire may have assassinated our father, and that nothing was to be done about it, his world shattered.

Father passed on.” Edgar paused here, recalling the painful memory. “And he left behind a wish that the kingdom be divided between his two sons. But Sabin rejected the idea of becoming a king. To have such power, and not even be able to avenge his own father? No. He wanted freedom from the insanity of the world that had fallen on his shoulders, and…and he wanted me to come with him.”

Locke sat up straight in surprise. “Really?” he asked.

Edgar nodded. “We made an agreement; the toss of a coin would decide. If it was heads, he’d win and we’d both leave Figaro behind together and find our own way in the world. If it was tails…we’d both choose whichever path we thought was best, no hard feelings and no regrets.”

From here, Terra and Locke could easily deduce what had happened. The three of them sat quietly for a minute, each imagining or remembering it in their own way, and Edgar took a long drought of ale.

“But I guess it all turned out, more or less,” Locke said quietly.

Edgar nodded. “Except for one thing.” He smiled sadly at the questioning looks of his companions before explaining: “There have been plenty of regrets.”

After a few more moments of silence the men began to speak quietly and casually again while Terra turned Edgar’s words around and around in her head. What exactly did he mean? Did he regret that he hadn’t gone with his brother, or perhaps that he’d let his brother leave? His attitude toward his duties would have her believe that he regretted allowing himself to become entrapped in the world of politics. This, she felt, she could at least understand a little. To be forced to play at allies with the very people who had murdered your father…the idea deeply unsettled her stomach. In fact, she felt a little ill.

Her hand flew to her mouth and she forced herself to swallow though the taste was horrifying. The men weren’t paying attention, so she quietly pushed her mug away and took a few deep breaths to settle her stomach. She closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself, and then slowly opened them.

The black-clothed man and his dog were staring at her.

Surprised, Terra stared back with wide, unblinking eyes. The man didn’t blink either, didn’t even move an inch. Terra wondered why he was suddenly so interested in her, and with a note of panic she wondered if he recognized her. Was he from the Empire?

Locke noticed the look on Terra’s face and turned in his seat. “See something you like?” he called sarcastically to the stranger.

The dark eyes didn’t turn toward Locke’s voice, but after a moment they turned back to the still-full mug of ale. Half a second later the dog turned away as well.

Locke’s face reddened. “At the very least you could give me a response!” He began to stand up, but Edgar hauled him roughly back into his seat.

“Are you crazy?” he hissed. “Do you know who that is? That’s Shadow!”

“So?”

Edgar shook his head, the look on his face suggesting that Locke was exceptionally stupid. “Shadow is a famous mercenary-for-hire,” he explained in a low whisper. “He’s a money-grubbing madman. Rumor is he’d slit his mamma’s throat for a nickel!”

Locke raised his eyebrows and swallowed visibly. “Best to steer clear of him then…” he admitted while glancing at Shadow out of the corner of his eye.

Terra, however, was staring openly now. He was mysterious enough, for sure, but she didn’t get an evil feeling from him. She wondered if Edgar’s words were an exaggeration, and she felt a twinge of apathy for the man. People seemed to think she was dangerous too…