Three stories of Final Fantasy 6, part three; Worshippers of insanity
Part three of my three-part story of Final Fantasy 3/6. I always thought that Sabin was cute, somehow... OK, so it's not mainly about one character, like in the other two stories. But I felt that somebody needed some kind of revenge *insert a scary laughter, yes, I know that it's impossible to find one of those... ask Ash! ;)*
This one is much longer than the other two stories in the series. Why do some of my own creations insist on attacking me...?
Oh, and I apologize if the opera's continuance suck. I've never written lyrics before.
The problem with followers is that they stay, like viruses, even if their leader dies. We have seen that many times in our own world. It might be a good thing, but it might as well be a bad thing. It all depends on the cause.
Shadow crawled over the thin ledge, gritting his teeth in pain.
Damn, damn, damn...
He shouldn't have fallen in such a trap! He should have seen the accursed holes in the wall before they shot their spikes, he shouldn't have trampled on the trigger! But these people had been prepared for someone like him, placing the traps where a professional could fall into them. He had been a fool.
They were probably tracking him by the blood, but he couldn't do anything about it. He could only pray for that Interceptor had managed to escape with the note.
Pray? Pha... it had been very long ago he'd done that last. But right now it felt like a good idea. He couldn't do much else.
Just a little bit longer... you can do it... don't think about the pain, think of Salea, think of Relm, think of Interceptor, think of Baram ... think of Terra, Gogo, Edgar... all those people who actually have the nerve to care about you!
Damn, damn... he couldn't die here, like a trapped rat!
But ever since he had chosen his path, the path of daggers, he had known that the end could look like this. He had known that the risk was great that he'd die like a trapped rat, hunted down by cats.
He had promised himself, promised Baram and everyone else... as he had been in the falling tower and had sent away Interceptor, he had vowed to start a new life. He had even meant to die there. Then he had heard Relm scream as she was about to fall down into a crack in the ground. With a curse he had gotten out of his own pain and rushed to help. Interceptor had been relieved, to say the least. Relm too, as Shadow had helped Strago to pull her out of the danger.
That girl... and Salea...
No, he couldn't die here!
"Forgive me, Salea," Shadow snarled through clamped teeth, "I should have told her, I know, I know..."
He had promised to get a new life. But the world had still needed someone like him. There had been that whole thing with Gogo, tracking him down and make him tell the others who he really was... and now this.
His hand slipped on the border of the thin ledge. He was about to fall, but managed to keep up.
Just a little bit longer... but what did it matter? They'd find him anyhow, no matter how many inches he forced himself past. Yet he kept crawling, with his right leg and arm burning with poison.
"Salea, watch over me..." he snarled, "help Interceptor to get out of this hellhole... help him find anyone..."
He was almost blinded by sudden torchlight flaming from below, spreading light over the cavern below him. Oh, gods...
He blinked, trying to keep his sight up a little longer. It didn't make him feel any better.
By the far back wall there was a stone statue, about ten feet high. That face that it carried couldn't be mistaken... good powers...
It held a golden ball in its right hand, surely a small replica of the planet Shadow had watched crumble almost two and a half year ago.
Before the statue's feet stood an empty throne, draped in gold and red silk. And before that was a stone, about three feet high, just as wide and maybe eight feet long. There were chains dangling from its short sides.
Oh no... oh gods... they couldn't be...?! They couldn't be that mad...!
As if forced, Shadow's eyes turned to the wall behind the statue. And he saw what from his distance looked like black dots on the cliff. Seven pairs of dots on each side of the sculpture. Fourteen... there were fourteen pairs of irons, waiting for wrists to encircle.
Oh, gods... damn!
Nobody could be that crazy! Yet... no, they couldn't be! It's complete madness! Nobody could perform such a task!
But there were places for fourteen prisoners, there was a statue of Kefka and there was an altar. And many men in dark robes, carrying torches, pointing at the weakened assassin and shouting triumphantly at each other.
Damn, damn, damn... damn!
"Are you serious?!" Terra laughed.
"Yeah!" Sabin grinned, "he said he'd grow branches before getting married, and now that lady Kanai has shown to be even worse than him! A toast to my brother!"
"And to the lady of his dreams!" the woman with green hair grinned.
They raised their cups of tea, laughing. Who could ever have believed that Edgar would find a noble woman who was as fond of... err... hunting as him? Good grief...
"Say, Sabin," Terra said, smiling, "don't you ever think of getting married?"
He almost dropped his cup.
"Me?" he said, sheepishly feeling his ears change color, "nah, I'm not the kind of guy..."
"Hey, hey, you shouldn't tell yourself things like that," Terra said, absentmindedly following the brim of her cup with a fingertip, "it's like when you tell yourself that you're stupid. You're not that either."
She smiled at his astounded look.
"Celes said something like that when I met her after the Apocalypse," Sabin said, trying to not let his embarrassment show, "well, it might be true, but I'm not considering getting married. How about you?"
"No, I don't know..."
Terra sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
"There is no one for me."
"Aww, don't tell yourself things like that!" Sabin smiled and winked with one eye.
She smiled back at him. Good old Sabin...
"By the way," she said, leaving the subject, "I didn't hear you snore last night, couldn't you sleep?"
"Yes, I could," he said with a little pride in his voice, "but I've found some breathing exercises that help off snoring."
"Couldn't you have found them a few years earlier?!" Terra exclaimed, playfully making an attempt to throw her tea at him.
"Ahh! Spare me!" Sabin laughed, throwing himself on the floor.
Terra sat back on her chair, laughing.
"God, my stomach will ache in two days after this!" she moaned, smiling, "you're more dangerous like this than when you fight..."
"Instead of my fists I should have used my mouth to bring the monsters down, you mean?"
He got back on his chair with a chuckle.
"You've really improved your way of talking anyway," Terra smiled.
Sabin stretched his arms.
"Well, time to get moving," he said, "that school won't get built by itself."
"I really appreciate that you're helping us with it," Terra honestly said.
"I wonder if your kids agree..."
They left their empty cups on the table and got out in the morning light. From almost all of the houses other men and woman came, ready for another day of work. The skeleton of a building awaited them.
Sabin watched Terra as she walked in front of him. Since she was going to work, she didn't wear any of her usual clothing with its soft red and green color. Instead she was dressed in a light grey shirt and an pair of old, blue pants that were really too big for her. She had probably lent the clothes from somebody. Her hair was as always in a cute ponytail, waving back and forth as she walked on. The prince found that he was smiling to himself, without really knowing why. He cleared his throat and instead focused at the work that needed to be done. Even though many in Mobliz weren't very happy about what was going on, it was going to be completed.
No, the children weren't exactly thrilled by the idea of a school, but everyone else agreed that they at least needed to learn some math and to read.
Once again the sound of saws and hammers filled the air. The rest of the town's population awakened bit by bit and started with whatever they were occupied with. And many of the children sourly watched the workers, even though Terra had told them at least five times that it was a school and not a prison. But they weren't happier to hear that. Steven had even bitterly said that there wasn't any difference.
Terra sighed as she saw the small, angry eyes. The children were used to freedom. But this school would only take a couple of hours of their days! It was just being built so that they'd have some place to study the basics. Then there were more, better schools in other towns if they'd want to keep studying. Children...!
"Hey, what are the poisonous looks about?"
Sabin grinned at the boys, holding a plank and giving a nail one single hit with his hammer. The nail went into place as simple as that.
"I didn't like the word 'school' when I was a kid either," the prince continued, calmly, "but at least you won't have to learn how to dance."
The boys stared at him, and Terra dropped her hammer.
"Can you dance, Sabin?" Cecil almost stuttered.
"I'm a prince, you know," the bodybuilder grimaced, "being able to dance with noble women is a part of the job."
He rolled his eyes.
"You're lucky, boys. You'll only have to put up with reading and a little math. That's nothing, trust me. Did you know that there's twelve different ways to ask somebody for a dance? And I had to learn all of them. You shouldn't be complaining."
"Was that why you ran away from the castle?" Sean asked.
"Partly. And I'd rather be a warrior than a prince, anyhow. Look here, this is something I learnt in the school I choose to attend."
He placed another nail against the plank, put the hammer down and clenched his fist. The iron spike went into the wood as easy as when he had used the hammer.
"Cool!" the boys gasped.
"Yeah, but don't try it before you have trained for at least ten years, like I have done," Sabin grinned, "run along now, you'll have plenty of time for this building when it's done."
The boys left talking loudly about how awesome Sabin was. Terra walked over to him.
"I didn't know you could dance," she smiled.
"And if you tell anyone, I'll have to kill you," Sabin replied with a grin.
"Alright, I'll keep quiet. I must say, you've got a great hand with children."
Sabin shook his head.
"I wouldn't say that, they make me do such stupid things. Do you have a bandage?"
With a grimace he put his bleeding knuckle between his lips. Terra had to chuckle at his behavior before she went to her house to get something that could help Sabin. But by her door, she found something that was much more important than a small wound on a prince's hand.
"Oh my God, Interceptor!" she exclaimed.
He looked almost as if he was dead, gasping so faintly that it was hardly recognizable. On his pads were deep cuts, and dark pieces of dried blood stained his fur.
Half the town came running as they had heard her shout.
"Something must have happened to Shadow!" Terra harshly concluded, looking at Sabin.
He grimly nodded.
"Come on, pup," the prince said and carefully lifted the great beast from the ground, "you need some caring... huh?"
As he lifted Interceptor, he unveiled a piece of black cloth that the dog had been lying on. The beast must have dropped and fallen on it; the scummy slobber on the cloth showed that he had carried it in his mouth. Terra didn't care about the disgusting parts and picked up the black thing. It was torn, and grey on the backside. Somebody had been writing something on the lighter side.
"What is it, Terra?" Sabin worriedly asked as he saw her pale face.
Without a word and with lips pressed together, she held the cloth between her hands so that he could read the writings. The letters were broken and sprawled; written in haste. And in blood. Even though Interceptor's drool had worked on the message, it was still readable.
"Good gods..." Sabin muttered.
To whoever found
The Cult of Kefka never disappeared. Warn the Warriors, especially Terra Branford. I'm done for. Don't try to help me.
"We'll have to warn everyone," Terra said, frowning deeply, "if they've got Shadow..."
She fell silent, clenching her teeth. It was too well apparent that the chances of the assassin even being alive in said moment were puny.
"It will be hard to tell Gogo," Sabin muttered, forcing back his anger, "and Relm too. She always liked him... I won't let them get away with this! Damn!"
He snarled the two last sentences.
"Don't worry, Interceptor," Terra grimly told the dog, "everything will be fine, I promise."
Lying to an animal... what a thing to do. But Terra had to, to keep herself calm. Interceptor weakly yelped.
Half an hour later the big dog was sleeping in Katarin and Duane's house, with so many bandages that he almost looked like a mummy. He'd survive, to Sabin and Terra's relief.
"I'll go and see if I can catch Setzer in South Figaro," the prince grimly said as he walked towards the door of the small house, "he was going to visit Locke and Celes after dropping me off here yesterday."
"I'll come with you," Terra resolutely said.
He looked at her, rather surprised.
"Shouldn't you stay here and guard?" he asked.
She bitterly shook her head.
"No. Shadow wrote that I needed to be warned, so he probably feared that they'd be aiming for me. It wouldn't be a surprise if that were true, right? They're worshipping Kefka, and they surely know about all of us since our story is nothing of a secret. So I better get out of here to protect everyone."
"Alright. Let's go."
They went to Terra's house.
"Wait a moment," the woman of the two called as she hurried up the stair.
A minute later Sabin caught an empty backpack that was thrown at him.
"Go to the shop and get some supplies, alright?" Terra said from top of the stair, "I'll have to shape up..."
"Are you sure I should..." Sabin said, hesitating.
He didn't feel like leaving Terra alone now that he knew that there was a mad cult running free. As if reading his thoughts she tried to smile.
"I'll be fine, Sabin," she said, "I'll just change clothes and find my sword."
The prince left the house, even though he wasn't very happy about it. He knew that Terra could take care of herself, no doubts, but... if Shadow...
Sabin almost walked backwards to the shop, trying not to let Terra's home out of his sight. He didn't feel very secure.
As soon as he entered the shop, the merchant held up a hand.
"I've heard about it already, Sir Sabin," the man grimly said, "what do you need?"
Katarin and her husband had gotten the story and were going to inform all the grownups about the danger. No kid should be allowed leave town, just to be sure. This wasn't a good moment for leaving anything in the hands of fate. They had obviously already been in the shop.
The bodybuilder had to smile.
"Look, I've got the money needed to..." he began.
"No, no. If Terra is going anywhere, I'll help in any way I can. I'm not more fond of anything that has to do with Kefka than anyone else with a grain of sanity left."
In her room, Terra grimly stripped out of the lent clothes and with a sigh reached into her wardrobe, bringing out a red and yellow striped full body-slim and a pair of high boots. She had saved the clothes from the battling that had ended two years ago, why she had never known. Certainly not because she had thought that she'd put them on again. They only reminded her of all pain she had gone through. It wasn't easy to put them back on. But as it was done, she bent down and pulled out a small chest from the wardrobe. After opening it, she sat still for a moment and watched what was inside. A light half-plate armor, the hilt of a sword, a couple of black earrings, a sword and a small golden box covered with jewels.
The sword and the armor had never had any magical value, they were just plain equipment that she had used in the earlier battles. But the earrings had once shone with blue light from within, and filled her with calm and focus every time she had been chanting. The lonely hilt had grown a blue, shining edge whenever she had grabbed it and gotten ready to fight, turning her strength into a magical blade without harming her; the Atma weapon. And the small box...
She picked it up. It was so small that it easily fit in her palm, the jewels were tinier than her nails. They didn't cover the box completely, she could see the gold beneath.
Master Kefka's treasure.
The madmen in dark robes, the men in the Cult of Kefka, had named the gem box that.
Whenever she had held it while chanting, it had filled her with strength and making casting even the most powerful spell as easy as breathing. It was hard to tell how it had ever had such power; it was empty. It must have been something with the box itself.
Terra couldn't stop wondering where Kerr... Kefka had found such a treasure. Or had he created it? Maybe the goddesses had? Had it been a treasure of the espers? Next time her father came to visit her mind, she'd ask him if he knew anything about the once powerful artifact.
It had no magical use either nowadays. It was surely worth a fortune, but that was nothing in compare to the power it once had provided.
Come to think of it, why would Kefka give such a treasure to a group of worshippers, why hadn't he kept it safe himself? On the other side, he had never been a man of logic.
Terra shook her head. There was no time for these kind of thoughts now! She put the box back into the chest and brought out the armor. When she put the metallic pieces over her chest and secured the plates on the front side of her legs, she had to fight against a shudder. It wasn't easier to clasp the belt around her waist and put the sword in its sheath.
This didn't feel very good.
She had no time to ponder all of her thoughts and doubts, however. She heard Sabin open the door downstairs and the sound of his footsteps.
"Are you ready, Terra?" he called.
"Just a minute!" she yelled back and closed the chest, pushing it back into the depths of the wardrobe.
She looked around the room, with a cold feeling in her stomach hoping that nothing in all of Mobliz would have changed when she returned. If she returned. It was time for battles again. And again...
Terra fought back another shudder and went to the door. Sabin watched her all the way down to the first floor, and she couldn't figure out what he thought. Never had been able too. She could almost read Edgar like an open book, but not Sabin. There was seldom any telling what he'd do next.
"Are you alright?" he asked, gravely.
"Yeah," she said and tried to smile, "there's just so much..."
She fell silent and sighed.
"I'll survive, Sabin. Thanks for caring."
"Hey, of course I care," he said with a small smile that made her feel much better, "you're my friend. Here."
He gave her the backpack. It clinked lazily; there were bottles of various potions and some food rations where there once had been emptiness.
"I had to force the merchant to accept some money," Sabin said, "you're popular around here."
Was that a compliment? Terra didn't know, so she just tried another smile. Sabin nodded and went into his guestroom to get his own backpack.
Then they went towards the chocobo stables.
Once again, Sabin watched Terra as she walked. Fascinating... just one hour ago she had been walking before him, looking like any young woman. That her hair was green, well, he had never minded about that. But now, it was as if the clock had moved a couple of years backwards, and she was Terra the half-esper again. If she had raised her hands and sent a wave of fire towards a tree, he hadn't been surprised at all.
Sabin wondered if he changed like that too, when he put on his light armor and went into battle. Funny... he found that he missed the other Terra, the peaceful one. The warrior had her strength, but she was strong as a regular woman too, somehow. And much happier. Sabin didn't like to feel that grim, bitter aura encircling her now. Maybe it was mostly because she grieved for Shadow's fate, and she hadn't been prepared for something like this. Heck, he hadn't either, who could have been... but he was more of a warrior than Terra had ever been. He thought that he'd better watch her closely from now on until this crisis was over with.
Before he knew it, he had reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. Terra stopped walking and turned around in surprise.
"It'll be fine, okay?" Sabin said, encouraging, "whatever happens, everything will be alright again. We'll find those idiots, beat the crap out of them and return home safe."
She smiled hesitantly, surprised of his behavior. It was unlike Sabin. But his apparent worry for her feelings made her feel a peculiar happiness.
"I'm glad you care," she said, "but don't worry. I'm a big girl, you know."
"Yeah, I know," he said and carefully squeezed her shoulder, "come on, let's get ourselves a chocobo each."
She nodded, and they began walking again.
"Where are you going, mama?" little Lia asked as Terra was about to mount her bird.
"I'm going to South Figaro," the young woman told the small girl, "and I want you and your siblings to behave while I'm gone, alright?"
"Sure, mama. Bye!"
The little girl waved with both her hands as the two travelers left the town.
"I don't get it," Terra told Sabin as the grass was flying beneath the birds' claws, "if those madmen have been around for all this time, why haven't they made a move earlier?"
"Maybe they have been shattered until now, or awaited some kind of 'sign'?" Sabin thoughtfully said, shrugging his shoulders.
Both he and Terra startled and stared at each other, thinking about the same face. A hidden face.
"You don't think that Gogo..." Sabin began, but then shook his head and answered his own unspoken question, "no. I shouldn't even think something like that about him."
Terra shook her head in agreement. They both knew that Gogo rather would die than even remind anyone of his twin brother again. What had happened about five months ago had been enough for the rest of his life.
"But where is he, by the way?" Sabin asked, still not completely able to shake off the unpleasant idea.
"Last I heard, he was still in Doma and helping Cid and Cyan to work on some kind of air-condition device to warm up the basement during the winter," Terra said.
"Well, I guess another unveiling could bring those idiots to their knees, if needed..."
Terra grimly nodded.
By the evening they spotted South Figaro. To their relief there was a very big, distinctive shadow on the field outside of the town. If the Falcon was there, Setzer hadn't left the town yet.
The two chocobos gladly ran away as soon as the travelers dismounted. Silly birds, really...
"Where do they live again?" Terra snarled and almost wildly looked around, "I haven't been here for some time..."
"This way!" Sabin grimly said and hurried into town.
As the evening got deeper and darker, candles and lamps were lit inside of the houses. Sabin and Terra ran through bars of shadows and weak lights spilling out of the windows, dark, light, dark... there was much more dark than light. The thought sent a shiver through Terra's stomach. She had thought that she was done with fighting! She hadn't wanted to pick up the sword again!
Sabin reached a house, not different from all the others, and hit the door a few times with his fist, almost breaking it. Terra stopped by his side, trying to regain her breath. The prince was also breathing deeply after the run.
After what felt like an eternity Locke opened the door, frowning. The frown disappeared as he saw who it was.
"Don't knock like that," he said with a smile and snort, "I thought it was the police or the empire..."
He noted the looks in his friends' faces and fell silent, frowning again.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Shadow..." Terra gasped, still not fully recovered.
She reached for a pocket and handed Locke the now dryer piece of cloth. He took it and backed into the light of the house to be able to read the message, waving at Terra and Sabin to get inside. They obeyed.
"What, the cult?" Locke exclaimed after reading the bloody letter.
"What?" Setzer said as he came into the hall with Celes one step behind.
"Read this," Locke said between clamped teeth and handed the gambler the message.
Celes read over Setzer's shoulder, a frown growing deep in her usually smooth forehead.
"No..." she muttered as she had read it all, turning to Terra and Sabin, "what happened?"
The two new guests hurriedly explained how they had gotten the letter. Setzer clenched his teeth and grimly nodded.
"Well, I hate flying at night, but I'll make an exception," he said.
"I'll get our old armors, Locke..." Celes began.
"No!" Locke and Setzer simultaneously said, resolutely.
The blond woman's husband furiously shook his head.
"No, Celes," he said, "I'm not letting you get even close to battles in your condition."
"Locke, it hasn't even begun to show yet!" the former magitek knight said, "this is a battle that concerns all of us!"
"I'm not going either," Locke said, "I won't leave you alone. Not now."
"I'm pregnant, not helpless," she said.
"Oh, congratulations..." Sabin and Terra said, finally catching the message.
Locke shook his head, looking at his friends.
"I'm sorry," he said, "you'll have to fight without us this time."
"We understand," the prince of Figaro said with a nod, "should we really, really need you we'll fetch ya."
Setzer grabbed his jacket from the clothes rail and put it on even as he walked through the door.
"Take care, Locke, Celes!" he called back, "come on, you two!"
Terra and Sabin hurriedly said good-bye and followed the gambler through the town.
Locke closed the door.
"But what if they need us?" Celes said, frowning.
"No, they'll be fine. I'm sure they will."
He turned to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Look, I know you don't want to sit here doing nothing while our friends fight; I don't like it either. But I don't want you to put yourself at risk anymore."
"You never complained before," she pointed out, rather cold.
No, she really didn't like the situation.
"You wasn't pregnant before," her husband said, trying to calm her down.
"It doesn't turn me into a lost kid, Locke."
"No, I know that. But you don't want to put our child in danger, do you?"
Celes sighed and looked away. Locke draped his arm around her shoulders and brought her back into the living room. Setzer had forgotten his playing cards on the table. Not his deadly ones, of course. Just a regular set of cards. Locke sat down in the sofa, making Celes do the same. He absentmindedly began to assemble the cards into a neat heap, taking a look at the ones Setzer had had at hand. Seemed like the master of games would have won again if they hadn't been interrupted.
"I'm not sure about this, love," Celes said, frowning, "I have a bad feeling..."
"They'll be fine," Locke repeated.
"I don't know. If Shadow fell to those people..."
She fell silent and draped her own arm around Locke's shoulders. He leaned back and wrapped his arms around her.
"If something like that happened to Shadow, he must have been unlucky or outnumbered. Probably both."
Locke sighed, clenching his teeth.
"The poor devil..." he muttered, rubbing his forehead, "left as king of mysteries after pushing Gogo from the throne."
"I hope he didn't suffer too much..." Celes bitterly muttered.
"So do I."
Shadow shook his head, trying to think. No, no, no... what the heck was happening? What had they made him drink... what... what... wh...
So cloudy... everything seemed to float together. What strange colors...
He heard himself giggle.
'Oh God...' his fading mind whispered before it fell into deep mist.
"Where can we find the moogle and the yeti?" somebody asked, cold, patient.
"I shouldn't think that I should tell you that..." Shadow slurred, giggling again, "wait, what am I saying..."
Why was the world spinning? It looked funny...
"Tell us," the questioner said.
Well, why not? It wouldn't hurt anybody, would it?
"They're just dancing around in Narshe's mines... no problem finding Mog, he's the only one of those teddy-bears that talks. Funny thing, moogles that talk... isn't that very rare? What do you think?"
"I think that you should keep talking about your friends."
Shadow giggled again, as the drug shattered every thought that tried to hang on to his brain.
"Well, okay," he slurred, smiling dizzily, "if you insist..."
Lady Kanai leaned back in her chair, smiling to herself. The music and darkness was softly embracing her. Like Edgar did. And he was right there, to her left. She could feel the warmth of him, his arm just a few inches from her. If she only made a slight movement, she could touch him. And he could touch her. But none of them would, of course, even though they knew they both wanted to. This was their little game; driving each other crazy waiting for the wedding. Only short embraces and kisses as light as breaths. Only allowing themselves a small taste of their power for the time being. It was harder every time she moved away with a teasing smile or he winked at her with one eye and kissed her hand. And she loved it. She felt him love it.
She smiled to herself again. This was indeed a very pleasant situation.
Lady Kanai was twenty-eight years old, a very high age for an un-married noble woman. To tell the truth, she had been married. To a man named Sir Derek, a count of Jidoor. She had married him eighteen years old; he had been almost thirty. Reminded a lot about Edgar...
Derek had taught her about her sensuality and passion, powers she had kept within all her life. Kanai had loved him, indeed. He had been a wonderful husband. But...
She pressed her lips together at the painful memory.
Derek had died as the world crumbled, getting trapped and crushed inside their falling house. Kanai had happened to be in the garden in that moment, and she had survived by that luck.
She could still hear his scream, cutting like a knife through the other sounds of crumbling and screeching earth. Many had lost their beloved ones that day.
Kanai fought back a bitter sigh.
It had been hard for her to pick up the pieces and live on. She had been determined to survive, and also to help others to keep up. Therefore she had helped the auction in Jidoor to reopen. It was bizarre, of course. Bidding for stuff in a dying world... but people had gladly embraced the idea of getting something else to think about, even for a short while each day. And it had given Kanai a chance to move her mind from Derek.
Edgar had come to the auction one day, with some friends. Kanai hadn't noted any of the people in his company. She had recognized him, and him only. There was something about the way that he moved, and the look in his eyes.
She smiled again, the better memories pushing the dark aside.
One thing that she and Derek never had agreed on was the beauty of opera. He hadn't liked it. Kanai did.
"Leave the past behind!" the Chancellor of the West told Maria on the stage, "our kingdom is picking up the spirit of the East...!"
"Aren't you going to get ready for fighting a purple octopus, dear?" Kanai hissed to Edgar, smiling.
He grinned at her in the weak light.
"I'd love it," he said, "but I'm afraid that the Impresario would drag me out of this building and feed me to the chocobos in your lovely hometown if I tried to."
"How violent!" Kanai gasped, and they both laughed silently.
"Sabin should be here," Edgar smiled, "maybe he'll someday understand why everyone is singing."
She felt his hand on her arm, wandering to her cheek.
"On the other hand," the king of Figaro softly said, "being alone with you here in the dark isn't exactly unpleasant."
Kanai knew that she should draw back with a small smile, teasing him. It was a part of their game. But for the moment being, she didn't care at all about it.
"Did you think it would?" she said, bending towards him.
She was amazed that lightning bolts didn't fly from their lips as they touched. Edgar's hand sneaked over to the back of her neck. She had never dreamt that there'd be a man even more passionate than Derek, and so loving. That he was a king didn't matter the slightest to her. No, the way he moved her and what he had accomplished was the only interesting things, not his title. Kanai had been a lady almost her whole life, and been happy with that. Even the time as manager for the auction was kept with warmth in her heart. She had done what she could do in the World of Ruin, feeling glad about that she helped people a little. Of course she had been hoping, like everyone else, that somebody with greater strength than her would put things right and restore the beautiful world. And Edgar had done it, with his friends.
It had cost her almost all the money she had saved from the auction to shape up a little again and then go to visit him in Figaro after Kefka had fallen. It had been no secret who the heroes where, the story had went from mouth to mouth and reached all the world's papers as it had become clear that the madman and his power was gone.
Edgar hadn't recognized her, naturally. She had been in the audience, unseen, while he, Locke Cole and Cyan Garamonde battled Ultros. And the day when he'd been in the action house, she had been watching from the window of her office, on the second floor.
However, Edgar had sensed what kind of person she was; almost his mirror. People like them simply knew each other.
Not since Derek died had she ever been so happy to be alive. Edgar was breathing new life into her.
The king of Figaro hadn't been less thrilled when they met than she had been. He was still surprised that the woman even existed. Such a wonderful being, the embodiment of everything he'd ever sought for. Many women had the beauty, and the brain. Some had the passion and sensuality. But none had all of it, none could ever keep his attention. Except Kanai. She kept teasing him, always catching his interest in new ways.
Her name made her sound innocent. Yet another thing about her that thrilled him. He knew she wasn't, by no means. She didn't pretend she was, either. Not to him. It was fascinating to get seduced, for once. A completely new, and certainly not unpleasant experience.
"The survivors of the West attacks!" a soldier on the stage screamed.
"Impossible!" prince Ralse growled, grabbing Maria's arm.
Edgar drew back. A shiver of disappointment ran through Kanai's body. This time, he was teasing her. God, it was thrilling her to insanity! Edgar knew exactly what he was doing.
"I'm sorry, my lady," he whispered, carefully running his fingers through her thick, dark hair as he removed his hand, "I'd like to enjoy the ending of this opera this time."
"It went rather chaotic when I saw it last," Kanai mumbled, pulling herself together, "they removed the abducting scene from act I and placed it in act II, after getting the real Maria just in time during the pause."
On the stage, Ralse and Draco had begun their fight. After a "hard" battle, Draco sent the prince's sword flying out of sight, to the left end of the scene.
"The West will once again be free!" Draco triumphantly sang.
"I wish you good night for now," Ralse furiously replied, "but remember, you have not seen the last of me! Practice, petty hero, before me you shall bow!"
With a shriek Ralse disappeared into a black cloud. The soldiers of the East fell to the floor, as if dead.
"Draco!" Maria sang, rushing into his arms.
"Cry no more, my love," the hero tenderly sang, holding her close, "the East will never harm us again, sweet dove."
The scenes were hurriedly changed, everyone except the couple went off stage. Draco and Maria didn't move at all while the great hall of the castle was transformed into a garden. The background with its distant windows was replaced with an enormous picture of a pond encircled by trees, bushes made of wood were pushed onto the stage.
"Peace returned to the West," the storyteller announced, "Draco and Maria planned their wedding, forgetting about Ralse's vow. But forgetfulness would rob them of their happiness."
Kanai closed her eyes, leaning back. This was her favorite part of this opera; the sweet yet passionate love aria of Draco and Maria.
But as Maria began to sing to the slowly growing crescendo of the orchestra, the lady felt a cold hand over her mouth, pressing her head backwards into the back of her seat. It was definitely not Edgar's gentle touch. Panicking, Kanai tried to scratch at the attacker with her long nails, while fumbling for Edgar's arm. Where was he? Wasn't he there?!
There was a surprised "Ouff!" coming from her left. The next second the grip of her head was removed in panic, followed by a thump! and another groan of pain. She rushed from her seat, at first only staring in shocked paralyzation as Edgar sent his fist into the chest of a figure in a dark robe. A growl came from beneath the hood. Without looking, the king of Figaro kicked backwards and sent another stranger into the wall of the small terrace while lifting his facing foe by the shoulders.
"I'm not amused with these kind of games," Edgar growled, "and when somebody attacks my lady, I get really irritated. So you better tell me what the hell you are doing here, who you are and how you got past the guards, or I'll personally cut you into very small pieces with a chainsaw."
The other man got to his feet and leaped towards Edgar's back, but Kanai got in his way, holding her fist and knee in tactical places. It was obviously a man under the dark cloth, considering the fact that he didn't care much for the hit in his face. His groan was almost drowned in Draco's singing and the loud orchestra.
"I'll never make you irritated, love," Edgar grinned without turning around, understanding the situation by the sounds.
"Better not, dear," Kanai said, to her surprise finding an excited smile upon her lips.
On the stage Draco's song turned to a scream of pain. He fell to the floor with a black arrow in his back, disappearing before Maria's feet in the same kind of black cloud that Ralse had left through.
Maria's heartbreaking scream startled Edgar, making him turn his head at the stage.
Like an attacking snake, the man he held reached into his robes and brought out a thin dagger. Before Kanai had time to screech a warning, the attacker had surpassed Edgar a light cut in the right shoulder. The king of Figaro growled in surprise and dropped his enemy, staggering.
Kanai tried to scream, but all that left her lips was a croaking whisper as her beloved fell to the floor, unconscious.
"Sinner!" the hooded man snarled and attacked her.
Her arm turned into a flame of pain, even though the wound wasn't very deep. At once her mind began to fade away.
"Edgar..." she whispered, helpless, before the poison began to hastily bring her away from the wake world.
She fell to the floor just when Maria saw the demon that had been hidden behind a bush; the monster that had abducted Draco. Lady Kanai slipped into unconsciousness as the young queen swore to all the good powers that she would go to the underworld to retrieve her love from Ralse's clutches. Her holy vow drove the demon to flee with a snarl.
The dramatic scene on the stage had veiled the attack on the terrace completely to the other guests.
"We should go to Figaro castle first, it's close by..." Sabin said as the Falcon rose towards the night sky.
"Nope," Setzer said, shaking his head, "they were all going to the other side of the world this weekend. The opera house was setting up 'Maria of the West', and it seemed like Lady Kanai liked that piece of art."
"That's my bro for you..." Sabin sighed, shrugging his shoulders, "moving an entire castle just to impress a lady."
He nudged Setzer's side and smirked:
"Hey, why aren't you there?"
"I would have been, but..."
Setzer rolled his eyes and smiled tiredly.
"I had a feeling that Maria herself would have thrown a bouquet at me if I even got close to the rehearsal."
"Touchy, those celebrities, aren't they?"
"Sabin, we are the greatest celebrities in the whole world."
"Yeah, but we don't stand on a stage and sing for no reason at all."
The gambler chuckled with a sigh, shaking his head. He couldn't decide whether to find Sabin's lacking skill of enjoying fine theater amusing or tragic.
The prince looked around.
"Hey, where did Terra go?" he said, frowning.
"Chill, she went downstairs. I don't think there are any madmen onboard my airship, Sabin!"
He shouted the last thing at Sabin's leaving back. As the bodybuilder was gone from the deck, Setzer smiled to himself. Good grief...
Terra was sitting in a sofa, slightly frowning and staring at the opposite wall. When she heard Sabin's footsteps she turned her head and smiled carefully, dissolving the frown.
"Just trying to contact my father," she said and stood up, stretching her whole body, "no luck, though. I think he's sleeping."
"Well, we need to decide where to go first. Since my brother has moved his whole castle because of an opera, Figaro isn't as close by as I thought. So it's either Narshe, Doma or Thamasa."
Terra began to walk towards him, and he turned around to walk at her side as she reached him. They went up the stair side by side.
"I'd say Thamasa," Terra grimly said, "because..."
"We better tell Relm about Shadow and get it over with. From Thamasa we can go straight southwest to Doma, without getting too close to the fanatics' tower. Even if we don't know if they're there..."
"Right," Sabin nodded and ended the sentence, "should they be there and see us, they might realize that we know something."
Terra smiled at him.
"See?" she said, elbowing his arm, "you're not as stupid as you think you are."
Sabin smiled down at her, to his own surprise (and surely her too) wrapping his arm around her shoulders and giving them a soft squeeze.
"It's only because pretties like you tells me that I'm not that dumb."
"I've been around Edgar too much."
Terra had to laugh at that, even though his touch puzzled her. He had never done anything like that before. Was it important?
He probably only worried about that she hadn't practiced battling in quite some time, and lacked magic skill now. It worried her too, but she was determined to not let those facts bring her down. As soon as she got a little daylight she'd practice her swordsmanship a little.
They reached Thamasa about three o'clock in the morning, if that is to be named "morning" other than simply technically.
It was a very irritated and sleepy Strago that opened the door, with a candle is his hand and his grey hair in one single mess.
"You're awakening the whole town!" he snapped, "what in the name of goodness are you doing here in the middle of the night?"
He obviously didn't think that it was morning.
"Shadow is gone, probably dead," Setzer gravely said.
They had to trample on the grass by the door to stop the fire from spreading to the house. Strago picked up the candleholder and the half molten candle, glaring at his friends.
"Come on in," he growled.
As they went into the kitchen and sat down around the table to tell the story, a sleepy Gau crawled out from the room Strago had added to the bottom floor of the house as the boy moved in.
"Wha'z going on?" the young man yawned.
He was getting really tall. Sabin could swear that Gau had grown at least one foot since they had met last. On the other hand, he was almost sixteen years old now. A good age for growing like a tree.
A series of thumps and sleepy groans of pain from the stair announced that Relm was stumbling downwards.
"What are you morons up to?" the close-to-teenage girl grumbled.
The grownups exchanged glances.
Finally Terra stood up and walked over to Relm, taking her hand.
"Come on, you better sit down. You too, Gau."
"I don't like the sound of that..." the girl warily said.
"Me not either," Gau said as he went to a chair.
"Me neither," Strago absentmindedly corrected.
Terra placed Relm on a chair and then sat down, still holding the girl's hand. The green-haired woman hastily deliberated how she would tell her young friend. Beginning with some weak truth like "this isn't easy for me to say" would only stretch the pain of worrying. It was best to just tell her.
"Shadow is dead," Terra said.
Gau's jaw fell, Relm stared at her grown friend in shock.
"No!" she squealed, "no, no, no! He can't be dead! Not him! You're lying!"
Terra reached forward and pulled Relm into a hug, as she had done many times as her children in Mobliz had been sad and afraid.
"He sent Interceptor with this message," Sabin grimly explained and put the piece of cloth on the table while Terra slowly rocked back and forth on her chair, holding Relm tightly.
"Interceptor was badly hurt," the woman with green hair said, and continued mostly to the girl, "but he's recovering in Mobliz. I think that Shadow would be glad if you took care of him, Relm."
"He can't be dead!" Relm sobbed.
Gau jumped off his chair and walked over to the two females, placing his hand on the girl's wet cheek.
"Not cry, little sister," the boy gravely said, "I will cave those bad men's heads in!"
"What bad men?" Relm snarled.
"The message says that it was the Cult of Kefka is responsible, my girl," Strago grimly said.
Relm grabbed the piece of cloth, staring at it through her bitter tears. After reading it she threw the message on the floor with a growl of rage.
"Let's go!" she screeched, "we can't let them get away with this!"
"Calm down," Strago sharply said, "we don't know where they are, and anyhow at least you lack fighting skills nowadays."
"That's not true!" Relm exclaimed, "I can still handle daggers! I was ten years old when I began to fight, and that went well!"
"We had magic then, and you could use your talent of painting in battle," the old man pointed out, "but it's different this time."
"Shadow was my friend, grandpa. If you're going to fight, I'll fight too."
She had a much calmer voice now, and she looked stubbornly at her grandfather.
"I'll come too!" Gau growled, "Shadow friend! Me not forgive either!"
"Me forgive neither ..." Strago absentmindedly said.
He startled and shook his head.
"Sorry, my mistake. Forget that one, Gau."
"I've been thinking," Terra said, "that Interceptor made it to Mobliz in his condition must mean that he wasn't that far away when he started to run. I think it's quite possible that the cult still is around the tower."
"I don't like this," Setzer said, frowning, "if they still should be in their old place, they are either stupid or want us to come there... on the other hand, nothing tells us that Shadow wasn't attacked somewhere else, like in the field."
They all exchanged glances and shook their heads. No, that Shadow had been killed was one astounding thing. But it was absolutely impossible that he would have been captured in the fields of the serpent trench; one couldn't be attacked there. It was impossible to hide in the weak grass, so he couldn't have fallen to an ambush. He wouldn't ever do that, anyhow.
"But what about that forest south of Mobliz?" Relm said, "how about it?"
They all exchanged tired glances.
"Interceptor should be able to show us the way when he has recovered a little," Sabin suggested.
"Maybe we should get him from Mobliz," Terra said, frowning, "if those madmen should find out that he's there, they might do something. Now that we have the airship it shouldn't be a problem."
"Let's go!" Relm exclaimed, terrified at the thought of loosing the dog too, "we have to go right now!"
Strago said nothing for a moment. Everybody awaited his decision. Finally he sighed.
"I remembered what happened last time I forbid you to follow," he sighed, "I guess we have to go, all of us. But we have to pack some supplies and dress up."
He looked at the three guests.
"And you should get some sleep, children."
"Hey!" Sabin, Setzer and Terra exclaimed.
Strago shrugged his shoulders.
"You're children in compare to me," he said.
They had to retreat when facing such logic.
After sleeping a couple of hours in the beds the house could provide (since awakening the inn- keeper didn't seem healthy), the three guests had another meeting with their friends. It was a short meeting. Relm simply demanded that they should pick Interceptor for Mobliz. So it became decided that after getting the dog, they should hurry to Doma, Narshe and lastly Figaro castle to assemble their other friends.
"No feeling good that Locke and Celes not here," Gau sighed as the group hurried through the sleeping town, towards the airship.
"No, but I can understand Locke's reasons," Setzer said with a small smile, "he sure took his time understanding how much Celes meant to him. We'll take care of this anyhow, and they'll be safer where they are."
Setzer had yet to study the book "I'm a hero, and these are the things that I shouldn't say". It's the sequel to "I'm an universal villain, but these sayings bring me down every time".
"I think a good hit right here should do the trick," Gogo said, knocking at a piece of the machinery with a screwdriver, "Cyan, if you please..."
"Surely, Sir Gogo."
The swordsman took a deep, calm breath. Then he grabbed a hammer and with a terrifying roar surpassed the metal "a good hit". Gogo and Cid stumbled backwards, pressing their hands against their heads.
"Now it should work, press the button," the mimic nodded at his old friend from the empire, after rubbing the sides of his helmet for a moment.
v "Very well."
Cid went over to the control table and lowered his hand over a big, green button. At first nothing happened. Then the great machinery began to drone softly.
"Your hate for machines serves its purpose, Sir!" Cid grinned.
"My pleasure," Cyan said, bowing with a smile.
"Now lets just hope that it works in the right way..."
They left the great room and went into the other halls of the world beneath the castle of Doma.
"It feels a bit warmer, Sir," one of the workers that were waiting to check the result reported.
"Well, thou better stay for a while down here to see how well it works," Cyan said, "and report to me or my friends if it should begin to get unbearable or something else should occur."
"Yes Sir. Good night."
The man smiled tiredly of compassion.
"Or maybe good morning."
Cyan and his two friends chuckled and went upstairs to sleep.
Gogo had just crashed on his bed when somebody knocked on his door. Grumbling he got up again and went over the floor to open the small portal.
A young girl almost knocked him down.
"Gogo, Gogo, Gogo, Gogo!" she screeched in tears.
"What, Relm?" he said, astounded, "what's the matter?"
"They've killed Shadow!" she shouted, crying of rage.
He looked up in shock, finding Strago and Terra outside of the door.
"Sorry to awake you with such news..." the old man grimly said.
"I wasn't sleeping," Gogo said, blank-minded, "what the hell is this about?"
He couldn't remember when he had sworn last, but it felt good right then.
Half an hour later he was sitting with his friends in the meeting hall of the rebuilt Doma, with his gloved fingers silently but furiously tip-tapping against the table.
"I see," he growled, "Kefka is playing around again, is he?"
Everyone nodded, unable to look at him. The mimic clenched his teeth behind the veil. He stood up, and his eyes shot lightning bolts.
"Well, I won't let him haunt this world again in any way," he snarled, "I'm fed up with his games! And now this with Shadow...!"
"Calm down!" Strago snapped, "we'll all take care of this."
Gogo's palms hit the table.
"No, no," he growled, "you don't understand. I knew about Shadow going after those madmen."
His friends stared at him, jaws dropping.
"I tried to stop him," Gogo bitterly continued, balling his hands into shaking fists, "he came here a couple of weeks ago, remember?"
He said the last thing looking at Cid and Cyan, who silently nodded.
"He told me that he had found out about the cult still being around," the mimic snarled, "and I told him to not go alone. But that fool didn't listen. And now this!"
His fist hit the bloodied piece of cloth.
"I'm sorry," he growled, "I knew I should have told you. I'll never learn...!"
Rubbing his forehead, he sat down again.
"Did he tell you anything about where they were?" Setzer finally asked, carefully.
"No. I'm so sorry, Relm."
Gogo stared at the table, sighing.
There was a silence.
"Gogo," Strago suddenly said, slowly, "this might not be the right moment, but... did Shadow ever tell you his real name?"
The mimic looked at the old man in surprise. So did all the others.
"With him being the only one knowing your real name," Strago continued, "well, I'm just wondering."
Sabin thought that the old man's eyes flew to Relm for half a second, but wasn't sure.
"No, why?" Gogo said.
Strago shrugged his shoulders.
"I guess he'll take his secrets into the grave..."
He stood up.
"No, come on," he said, "we can't stay here until we start to grow mushrooms! Time to act, youngsters. We're going to Narshe and Figaro."
"I shall tell the chancellor that he is in charge while I am not present," Cyan grimly said, "I will see thee on the airship, my friends." "I'll come with you," Cid said, frowning, "at least to Figaro castle. There might maybe be something I can help you with."
"Better turn off the warming system while we're gone..." Gogo lazily said and stood up.
As the swordsman and the mimic walked towards the door, Relm jumped off her chair and ran after them. Gau followed her without a word. The other people around the table exchanged concerned glances before they also rose from their seats and began moving out to the airship.
Gogo didn't turn around as he walked down the stairs, even though he heard the light steps behind him. Scratching the cloth over his cheek, he simply continued downwards.
Not before they reached the bottom floor he faced the young boy and girl.
"I'm really, really sorry, Relm," he said, honestly.
She walked closer and threw her arms around him, only reaching his chest. Gogo put his hands on her shoulders, calming.
"I liked him, Gogo," the girl growled, "and he was too stupid to listen to you and common sense!"
"He wasn't stupid, he only wanted to do things in his own way."
Gogo sat down on one knee and pushed his veil downwards, for once fully revealing his scarred face.
"He made it through many times, even in the in the empire; got me out of my cell and to safety," he continued, "so Shadow probably worked with the belief that he could do it again. I know how you feel."
He bitterly shook his head.
"Even though he recognized me for my brother's face, he saved me. We never spoke much, but he was a close friend of mine. I swear Relm, we will make the cult pay for this. But, this is important, we must never fight in hate. Then we're no better than them."
"But they..." she began.
"Yes, I know. And it sounds like a clich‚, but it's true. Hate will only bring more hate. That was Gesthal and my brother's mistake, and mine too. At first I was so deeply into my own pain that I didn't care what happened to the rest of you. I could have put you all in danger if I hadn't reconsidered. You must remember that."
He straightened up and secured the veil again.
"Come on," he said, "we've got work to do."
The small teddy bear looked around, finding Kupan standing there with a concerned look in his cute face.
After the world's downfall, all the moogles had hid deep underground. All except Mog, who had waited in the old cave for his friends to show up. When Kefka had been defeated, he had gotten down and fetched his tribe-friends. Now they all lived happily in the mines again.
"What is it?" the only moogle who knew human language asked.
What really left his mouth was "kupo?", but Kupan understood anyhow. The moogles didn't communicate only with their voices, but also with movements of their paws and looks in their eyes.
"There are unknown humans in our tunnels," Kupan reported.
"Well, why don't you just ignore them?" Mog smiled.
"I would, but it seems that they have surrounded Umaro and are trying to kill him."
(Translation not needed, and anyhow it would have required censoring.)
Growling orders to his fellows to follow him, Mog grabbed his spear and nodded at Kupan to show the way. The small army of cute creatures rushed through the tunnels, soon enough hearing Umaro's distant roar of rage. The armed moogles entered a cavern, not bigger than the one they lived in, and found Umaro trying to fend himself against eight men in dark robes. Normally he wouldn't have any problem with the attackers, but he had just gotten out of his summer-sleep and was still rather thin and drowsy after the hibernating. The robed figures all held thin daggers in their hands, and Umaro already bled from several wounds.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing!?" Mog shouted, for the hundred time wishing that his voice wasn't the one of a small human child.
As a couple of the strangers turned around, the moogle recognized their robes.
"Cult of Kefka!" he growled to his friends, who began whispering nervously to each other.
"He said his cult..."
"Kefka scary... they are scary..."
"Come on!" Mog snarled, "we have to help Umaro!"
"It's only humans in robes!"
Mog almost jumped up and down in anger.
"The talking moogle," he heard a hoarse voice say, "just like the assassin said."
The white teddy bear spun around.
"What assassin?" he snarled, even though his snarls never were very convincing.
The dark depths of two hoods were pointing at him as Umaro clumsily sent another robed figure into the cave wall. The cavern didn't tremble, which clearly showed that the yeti wasn't at full strength.
"The assassin Shadow," the right hood said, "who is our prisoner. Like you and the yeti will be soon."
"You're out of your minds," Mog snapped and grabbed the spear in both hands, "but come on, then, if you think that you can fight me, kupo."
He wished that he still could use his dance to call upon the power of nature. And he definitely wished that his friends hadn't been so terrified of the name Kefka.
Umaro was swaying back and forth, and the cultist seemed to loose their interest in him, turning to Mog instead. Uh-oh...
"Grahh, boss!" the yeti growled as Mog hit his closest foe in the stomach with the non-metallic end of his spear, "feel much tired, careful!"
"What did you say, pal?" Mog shouted over the growling of the men that approached him.
Umaro swayed one last time and then hit the stone-ground with a loud crash.
Mog desperately looked back at his friends. They were still hesitating, backing in fear as they saw the great Umaro fall.
Tired? And those light wounds couldn't have killed him... sleeping poison?
They had said that they would take only Mog and Umaro captive, but if they could, they'd surely slaughter the moogles. If those daggers were...
Mog silently cursed the whole world, using moogle swearing (you'd be surprised...). He grabbed his spear tightly and blindly attacked the cultists. His sudden movement surprised them, and he managed to knock three to the floor. But that wouldn't help much.
"Run!" he shouted in moogle, "run, or they might kill you all! Try to warn my human friends if they come here!"
"But what about you?" Kuru yelped.
"Don't bother! Run, they're cheating!"
A fist hit his back, and he was thrown to the ground beside Umaro. The spear fell from his grip. With weak "kupo, kupo", the other moogles fled.
Dark robes surrounded Mog. He stubbornly looked up at them until a dagger glistened in the weak torchlight and blood stained his pure fur. Then the world began to become unclear, and he fell into unconsciousness.
With a groan Edgar opened his eyes, blinking at the darkness around him.
"Oh, look what the imp dragged in..."
The first voice was a woman's, and the other one... familiar...
Edgar sat up, raising his hands to rub his forehead. His heart froze as he heard a clinking of chains when he moved.
He looked around, finding himself sitting on a dirty cot in a prison cell. On his wrists were thick irons, attached to the wall via chains. His soul froze as he realized who was there by him, also a prisoner.
"Oh, God... Kanai? Are you alright?"
Her hands and bare arms were dirty, and the once softly yellow, fine dress she wore was probably not to be saved. She sat on the cot to the left of Edgar's, also chained. Her face was pale as death itself. But it regained some color as she saw that he seemed to be fairly fine again.
"I was so worried before you awoke..." she mumbled.
Edgar reached out his hand, forgetting about the chains. He couldn't reach her. Even as Kanai reached for him, a few inches were between their fingertips.
"What happened?" Edgar growled, "where are we?"
"We're going to be eaten by Kefka..." the familiar voice said, giggling exhaustedly.
Edgar's head snapped in that direction.
Lying on the cot facing his was a man in dark clothes. His dark blond hair was dirty and full of knots, and Edgar didn't recognize the face. But his clothes and the voice...
"Shadow? My God, what has happened to you?" Edgar almost stuttered.
His eyes were reddened, not by tears, but... something. It seemed as if he couldn't focus his gaze either, almost as if he was drunk.
"I think they've drugged him," Kanai muttered, pulling up her legs and hugging them as if she was freezing.
"That's such a funny thing," Shadow slurred, "I know I shouldn't drink what they give me, but I can't remembererer why..."
He blinked, trying to focus his eyes on the king of the three prisoners.
"Sorry, Edgar..." he mumbled, "I'd get us out of here in a minute, but for some reason my fingers are so numb I can't even hold a dirk... if I still had... have... had them."
"Shadow," Edgar sharply said, "where is this? Why are we here?"
The assassin drowsily smiled.
"We're in the Cult of Kefka," he said and giggled again, "no, no, no... I mean that they have locked us up here. I think they think that they think..."
He fell silent and shook his head.
"What was I saying, again?"
Edgar wished that he could have slapped the assassin's face. They would have needed it, both of them.
"What is the cult up to?" he asked, trying to keep calm.
Shadow weakly nodded.
"They seem to think that Kefka might be resurrected if they sacrifice all those who helped killing him. They have some strange ideas, don't they?"
Edgar buried his face in his hands.
"Kanai, I'm so sorry," he bitterly muttered, "I should have been more careful."
She shook her head, staring at the wall with empty eyes.
"It's not your fault, Edgar," she said in a low voice.
"Nope," Shadow groaned, "it's all my fault."
He rolled over on his back and laid his arm over his eyes, as well as his chains allowed. The drug seemed to have taken another turn in his poor body, removing the merriness and replacing it with depression.
"God, I've betrayed you all, Edgar," he groaned, slurring almost even worse than before, "they knew where Relm and Strago were, and Terra, and you, and Celes and Locke ... and Cyan... and even that Gogo is in Doma... but they wanted to know where to find Setzer, Mog, Umaro and Sabin and all... they made me drink something and I only talked... and talked... and talked... and do you know what the worst part is?"
Edgar sadly looked at him and shook his head.
"No Shadow, what?" he said.
The assassin waved weakly with his hands.
"The worst thing is that now they're going to kill us all," he said, "and I've been a worse swine than Gogo was... pha!"
His arm moved away, and there were tears in his misty eyes.
"I made Gogo talk, but I never talked myself... I never told Relm and Strago... never told anyone of you. What a swine..."
Edgar's elbows hit his knees, and he heavily placed his head in his hands.
"Told us what, Shadow?" he lazily asked.
"I think old man Strago had his suspici... susp... thoughts, but he never asked me... I'm an idiot, Edgar. I only watched her, never dared to tell her..."
He tiredly shook his head, falling silent.
"What are you going on about?" Edgar snapped, frustrated.
His sharp tone almost startled both him and Kanai, but Shadow didn't seem to mind at all.
"I should have told Relm before it was too late," he muttered, "told her that I'm her father."
Very slowly Edgar straightened up and leaned back against the cold wall.
"What did you say, Shadow?"
"I left Salea, left her in Thamasa when I had fully recovered," the assassin bitterly slurred, "I had to leave her, I would only have made them come after her too, the damn empire... had to protect her and find Baram... I never knew she was pregnant before I came back one day and found her with a baby... she didn't believe it was me first, but she saw Interceptor and even though I had my mask and all... but I couldn't return, I'd get her killed... surprised that Strago didn't go for a hunt... ugh... my head..."
He rubbed his face.
"God, what have I done... I even took jobs in the empire! Good gods..."
"Never knew you were religious, Shadow," Edgar muttered.
Edgar pursed his mouth and looked at Kanai.
"Don't worry, love," he grimly said, "our friends will help us. I'm sure about it."
She tried hard to smile a little, but the moment wasn't well made for it.
"We defeated Kefka," Edgar said, trying to be encouraging even though he felt rather cold inside, "they'll get us out of this."
"I hope you're right, love."
"What, you mean you finally found a lady for real, Edgar?" Shadow muttered, staring at the ceiling with empty eyes.
"Hold on to her, then... don't do as I did... Salea's dead and Relm doesn't know anything... oh, my poor head..."
Edgar tiredly rubbed his face, sending a silent prayer to all good powers that what he had told Kanai was true.
"Where are all the moogles?" Terra concernedly said, "they must be around here somewhere..."
"I hope nothing has happened to them," Cyan muttered, scratching his head.
"No, no more!" Gau growled, leaping onto a rock and wildly looking around.
But they had been down in the mines for three hours, without seeing as much as a small, cute ear. They had even been to the main cave, where the moogles usually always were, five times. Nothing.
"Have you found anything?" Setzer's voice called.
He, Cid and Gogo came up the left tunnel towards Terra, Cyan and Gau. Those who had been waiting shook their heads.
"Maybe Sabin..." Terra said, without much hope.
And as the prince, Strago and his grandchild joined their friends, they were just as empty-handed.
"Where could they be?" Relm said, frowning deeply, "they can't just disappear!"
"I don't get it..." Sabin said, shaking his head, "where could they have gone?"
He looked up at Gau, who still sat on the rock above all the others.
"Hey pal, can't you try to call them in their own language?"
The young man looked down, rather sheepishly.
"Me stupid. Sorry," he said, "should have thought."
"It's alright, just try it."
Gau cleared his throat. Everyone saw it coming and covered their ears.
"Kupo, kupopo!!" the boy shouted, sounding really, really cute even though he was almost roaring.
He sat down on his knees, looking around. His friend removed their hands and nervously listened to the echo.
The people in the tunnel looked up. A small, white and cute face anxiously looked down at them through a hole in the ceiling. As the moogle had seen the humans, he hastily drew back.
"Hey, don't go away!" Relm shouted.
There were a lot of "kupo, kupo" coming from the hole. Then suddenly, about twenty or so moogles fell down through it, landing on the stone ground and kupoing wildly.
"Calm down!" Terra shouted over the confused noise, "where's Mog?"
The moogles fell silent, looking at her for a moment. Then they all began yelling again, waving desperately with their paws.
"What are they saying, Gau?" Gogo helplessly asked, "can you understand them?"
Gau climbed down from the rock and kupoed carefully at one of the upset creatures. It jumped up and down, yelling at him. The boy began to growl.
"We late," he bitterly said, "he say Mog and Umaro taken by Kefka last night."
The moogles all stopped fooling around, turned at Gau and sadly nodded as one single being. Terra had to lean against the wall, Relm heavily sat down, Gogo rubbed his forehead, Setzer went even paler than usual, Cid lowered his head and Strago, Cyan and Sabin clenched their teeth.
"Kupo..." one of the moogles said, patting Gau's shoulder with his small, white paw, "kupopopo, kupo!"
"He say not kill," the once wild boy said, frowning, "only make sleep with poison on daggers and then bring away."
"Why would they do something like that?" Strago said, puzzled, "why wouldn't they just kill them?"
Gogo's head snapped up, and he stared thoughtfully at the wall. Then he shook his head and didn't say anything.
"Wait a moment," Cyan suddenly said, "if they can get Umaro..."
The friends stared at each other.
"Oh God, Locke and Celes!" Setzer exclaimed.
It felt as an eternity passed before they finally reached the daylight. Stumbling and sliding in the snow, with their legs and lunges burning after the desperate run, they rushed through the town of Narshe and down to the airship. The townspeople stared stupidly at the nine leaving visitors as they stumbled past.
Setzer fell as he reached the deck; his legs couldn't take it. Shaking he reached into a pocket and gave Sabin the key to the controls. The prince staggered over to the wheel and fumbled with the key for a few seconds before he finally got the engine to start.
The Falcon rose towards the sky while most of the passengers lay gasping on the deck, trying to regain their breath.
After a couple of minutes, Setzer more or less crawled over to Sabin.
"I'm fine... better now, I'll drive..." the gambler muttered, "you can sit down."
Sabin almost broke the deck as he fell to it, shivering.
"I've never run like that..." he muttered, working on getting his breath under control, "can't be healthy."
Setzer stared at the horizon. Terra managed to work her way over to the two men.
"What about Edgar?" she said, anxious.
"Nah, he'll be fine," Sabin muttered, "he's got an army standing between him and the rest of the world. Still..."
"We have to hurry to warn him, just in case."
Terra and Setzer nodded.
The evening fell as they soared through the sky, and it was almost midnight when they spotted the distant lights of street lamps in South Figaro. It was even past midnight when Setzer finally managed to land outside of town and they could rush off the Falcon. Most of them were so tired that they hardly could think after not being able to sleep well in two days, but the worry kept them up.
No lights shone from any windows this time; it was too late. But the street lamps shed their soft eerie light over the town.
Cyan hit the door of Locke and Celes' house so hard that the whole building shook, showing no respect to the neighbors.
They waited. Half a minute passed. Nothing.
The swordsman of Doma tried the handle of the door. It opened, unlocked.
The world was silent.
Finally Cyan unsheathed his katanas and grimly nodded at his friends. They nodded back, with their hearts pounding like mad of worries.
Slowly, the whole group entered the house, listening for the slightest sound.
"Celes?" Terra called, "Locke?"
"Up here!" Celes' voice screeched from above.
Her call was followed by another screech, the sound of metal against metal.
"Gotcha!" Locke's voice growled as nine pair of feet hit the floor and stair leading to the upper part of the building.
Cyan entered the bedroom of the house just in time to see Locke kick a loose limbed, robed figure off his sword, while Celes parried the attack of two other intruders with her own weapon. One of the men she was fighting stumbled backwards, into Sabin's reach. The prince grabbed the cultist and smashed the hooded head into the wall by the bed.
Hearing the crash and the growling, the last of the attackers spun around, finding himself surrounded and outnumbered. He didn't hesitate for a single second.
"I serve master Kefka," he chanted and dropped the dagger in his left hand.
Before anyone even had realized what he was doing, he had grabbed the last dagger in both hands and pushed it into his own chest.
He fell to the floor, growling in pain for a moment. Then he became quiet. Locke and Celes lowered their weapons, breathing deeply. She was simply dressed in a light night tunic, and Locke only wore a pair of loose, soft pants. Now was not a moment for embarrassment, however.
"Good to see you," the husband grimly growled.
"Art thee alright, my comrades?" Cyan gravely asked.
"I awoke of that there was somebody else in the house," Celes said, "we just had time to get our hands on the swords from the wardrobe before they stormed in."
"Must be something about being pregnant that make her that sensitive," Locke grinned, draping his arm around Celes' shoulders and giving her a calming squeeze, "but we could have been in trouble if you guys hadn't showed up."
The welcome guests exchanged glances.
"They've got Umaro and Mog," Gogo grimly said.
Celes and Locke stared at their tired, slightly relieved but mostly bitter friends.
"It seems as if they don't want to kill us yet," Strago concernedly said, "the moogles told Gau that our two friends had been drugged and brought away from Narshe unconscious."
"I think they used the same kind of daggers," Setzer said.
He held up one of the thin daggers that lay on the floor, pointing at the edge.
"It smells of something, I think that it's some kind of sleeping drug or poison."
"But why would they want us alive?" Locke said, frowning.
Gogo crossed his arms.
"My brother had a twisted mind," he grimly said, "and it's quite clear that his worshippers are a group of dangerous fools. I fear that they think in almost the same way."
He shook his head, bitterly.
"We can only pray for our two poor friends."
"Wait, if they want to have us alive," Relm slowly said, "then... maybe Shadow isn't dead? We don't have any real proof it, do we?"
"You've got a point," Strago nodded with a weak smile at the rising hope in the girl's eyes.
"Still, the query haunts us," Cyan said, "what horrors dost the cult hath in store for us?"
They all looked at him and shuddered, wishing he could have chosen to use other words. None of them was in the mood for such sayings.
"Hey, this one's still alive," Sabin said, holding up the cultist that he had knocked, "maybe we could ask him a few questions when he awakes. Let's tie him up and go to the Falcon, we have to warn Edgar."
Celes tiredly looked around on the bloodshed in the room.
"Great... what about those bodies?" she said.
"We'll just have to take them too. We haven't got time to clean it up better," Locke sighed, "just give me and Celes a moment to get our clothes."
Gogo bent down clenching his teeth, picked up one of the dead cultists and threw him over his shoulder. Cyan took the other without a word, while Sabin carried the living one. Celes hurriedly brought some proper clothes out of the wardrobe by the wall, and the guests moved out of the room to give the couple a moment to dress up.
"Heard you are pregnant, my girl," Cid said, trying to smile and fight back his exhaust as they walked out of the house a short while later, "congratulations."
Celes tried to smile back, but couldn't keep it on her lips. She locked the door and followed her friends through the sleeping town. Terra walked up beside her.
"How are you doing?" the half-esper carefully asked.
The blond woman sighed.
"I'll be fine. They had no time to hurt any of us, but we were pressed up against the wall as you first arrived. That was why we didn't shout as you knocked. Thank all good powers you came..."
The two women draped their arm around the each other's shoulders as they walked on.
Back on the Falcon Setzer found some ropes that he and Sabin used to securely tie the unconscious cultist with. Without his hood he showed to be a man in his forties, with thin, deeply brown hair. Sabin dropped him in the main room, where everyone could help out keeping an eye on him. The two bodies of the dead cultists were left up on the deck, until further notice.
By then Terra could have slept standing. She crashed on the sofa, heavily leaning back.
"Move..." Setzer muttered and sat down beside her.
"Could I have some room?" Sabin drowsily mumbled and placed himself between the gambler and Terra.
"Sure..." the woman muttered and fell asleep, leaning against the prince's arm.
Sabin didn't notice. He slept already. Setzer snored quietly, more or less lying on the elbow rest. Gau and Relm stole an armchair each, and Strago sat down on a chair.
"One of you will have to drive," he grumbled to the people left awake, "wake me up next week or so..."
Gogo, Cid, Celes and Locke exchanged tired glances as the old man also began to snore.
"I'll do it," the married man finally said.
"Wake me up in an hour," Gogo said and went to a free chair, "I'll take the next shift."
Cid also walked over to a chair, tiredly.
"Hey, somebody have to guard the man there," he muttered, "I'll try to stay awake. You should sleep, Cel."
She shook her head.
"No, I got the idea that me and Locke are the ones of this troop who's slept most in the past days. You just rest, grandpa."
Cid shrugged his shoulders with a tired smile and closed his eyes as he leaned against the chair's back. Celes bent forward and touched Locke's cheek with her lips as he was about to start walking up the stairs to the deck. He sighed.
"I'm sorry, princess," he said, bitterly, "I wanted to protect you, but..."
"I know, love."
She managed a small smile.
"You only wanted the best to occur," she said, calming.
Locke carefully hugged her.
"When this is over, I'll make it up to you," he said and gave a smile with a bit of mischief within, "I'll have you think that you're a queen. Don't strain yourself now, alright?"
She nodded, and he released her to go and start up the airship. Celes sat down on the only chair left, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. Waking up in the middle of the night due to intruders doesn't leave you very alert when the shock has worn off.
The engines began to drone softly, and the Falcon shivered a bit as it rose into the air.
Locke rubbed his eyes as he stood by the wheel; it felt as if there was sand in them. What a night... ugh. Well, he couldn't fall asleep.
He began flying west, towards the other continent. It would take the whole night to reach Figaro castle there, they wouldn't be there until close to lunchtime.
But as the Falcon flew by the coast, Locke just happened to look north and noticed that there were lights shining from the desert. With a relieved sigh he turned the wheel, seeing that the castle was on its original place.
Soon they'd have their charming king in the troop too.
"Hey Sabin, wake up."
The prince yawned and opened his eyes. His whole body ached after sleeping sitting in a sofa, yet it felt as if he hadn't got as much sleep there as he wanted. And his right arm was numb. As he tried to move it somebody mumbled something in protest, even as she was awakening. Sabin looked aside and to his great surprise found Terra's head on his shoulder.
"Come on, Sabin," Locke said, gravely, "we've landed by Figaro."
The bodybuilder looked up at his friend, frowning. Why didn't Locke comment the fact that Terra had fallen asleep like that, leaning at him? Why didn't the treasure hunter sneer something about "a cute couple"?
Something was terribly wrong.
"What's going on?" Sabin asked, warily.
Locke opened his mouth, but was pushed aside by the chancellor of Figaro.
"Sir Sabin, you must hurry to the castle," the older man grimly said.
"What's happening...?" Terra yawned and straightened up.
Nobody answered her.
Sabin's heart was turning cold as he looked at the silent chancellor.
"Edgar...?" he said, hardly able to speak the name.
"Come, Sir Sabin," the chancellor repeated, "please!"
Fifteen minutes later the prince's fists hit the table of the meeting hall in the castle.
"You can't be serious!" he exclaimed, "you can't loose a king like that!"
General Herath was about to recoil into the wall as he met Sabin's furious gaze.
"The guards were drugged," he stuttered, "the kidnappers shot needles with poison at them..."
"Their techniques are getting very old and irritating very fast," Setzer growled, "still they work..."
Sabin almost fell to his chair, rubbing his forehead.
"That cultist, the living one..." he growled, "I'll tear him into tiny bits of creep!"
The chancellor carefully cleared his throat.
"The prisoner has been put into the prison, still unconscious," he said, "however, there is another, more urgent matter to attend to."
Nobody liked the sound of that, warily turning to the chancellor.
"We don't know what has happened to His Majesty and lady Kanai," the man went on, feeling the landmines around his feet as Sabin very slowly straightened his neck again, "if, of course we don't know and we have to keep hope burning, but if..."
He cleared his throat again.
"Sir Sabin, what I'm trying to say is that you have to rule in your brother's absence."
"Oh, no. No."
Sabin's fists were shaking. His chair fell backwards as he exploded to his feet, making the chancellor and general Herath recoil on their seats.
"I can't believe it!" the prince roared, "it's just as when dad died, you only talked about who'd get the throne! It's pathetic! I loathe your cause, do you hear me?! Edgar's gone and you only care about the crown! Again! It's sickening!"
He stormed out of the room, with curses flowing from his mouth.
"Sir Sabin!" the chancellor helplessly called.
The assembled friends concernedly exchanged glances. After a painfully drawn silence, Setzer turned to Terra.
"Maybe you should talk to him," the gambler awkwardly said, "try to calm him and so..."
"Me?" the young woman said, confused.
But as Setzer nodded without another word, she stood up and hurried after the enraged prince.
There was another long silence.
"I'm sorry," the chancellor muttered, "but it had to be said. Sir Sabin has to face his responsibility."
"We understand that," Gogo slowly said to everyone's slight surprise, "but we all know that Sabin never wanted to be a ruler. And..."
His voice became so bitter that it was pure torture to hear it.
"Loosing a twin brother in any way, be he dead or not, hurts in a way that nobody can understand. Sabin might have problems facing the coming battles with his usual spirit."
"But he can't leave for battles, we need him here..."
"I would advice you not to push him, Sir."
The chancellor sighed deeply and lowered his head. Cid silently placed his hand on Gogo's shoulder.
There was a knock on the door. A guard carefully looked into the room.
"Excuse me," he hesitatingly said, "but the prisoner that Sir Sabin and his friends brought here has awakened."
"Well then," Cyan grimly said and stood up, "we shall ask him a few questions."
After hesitating about where she would look, Terra hurried to the room she remembered as Sabin's. There were no guards by the door, but she knocked anyhow.
"Go away!" the prince's voice growled from inside.
"It's me, Sabin," Terra said, "but I'll leave if you want to be alone..."
At first there was no answer. Then, very slowly and almost too silent for her to hear it:
"Come in, then."
She opened the door and closed it behind her as she had entered the room. Sabin was sitting in an armchair, furiously rubbing the back of his neck with both hands.
"I can't believe it," he snarled, "I just can't believe it! They don't even care about what has happened to Edgar!"
"You know that's not true," Terra carefully said, slowly crossing the floor, "they are only worried that something more could happen to the kingdom..."
"Father got killed by the empire," Sabin bitterly growled, "and now I might have lost my brother to a group of mad cultists of the same rotten cause! And the people here, they only see me as a damn heir! It's as if none of us really matter because we're royalty! We're just some kind of puppets to put on the pretty throne..."
He fell silent and sighed as Terra put her hand on his shoulder.
"I guess I was pretty childish back there," he muttered, "but I don't care. I can't find words for it... sickening."
Shaking his head, he put his hand over Terra's.
"I wasn't ever fit to be a prince, Terra. It was a mistake."
"No... I'm sure that you'd be a great king if you'd have to. But we'll find Edgar safe and sound, so that he can save you from it."
"I hope so."
Sabin shook his head.
"The throne is just dirt to me," he muttered, "but Edgar is my brother."
He looked up at his female friend, with pain shining darkly in his eyes.
"He's a part of me, Terra," he bitterly said, "we have to find him."
"We will," she ensured him, "I promise we will."
Sabin looked into her eyes for a moment, trying to sort out his inner pandemonium by searching for something to focus on in those green gems. Then he suddenly stood up and pulled her into a hug. It happened so quickly that Terra had no time to react. She just found her palms and cheek against his warm chest, with Sabin's arms encircling her back.
"Thanks, Terra," he muttered through clamped teeth, in a strange voice.
"You... you're welcome," she mumbled, slightly stuttering.
What was he doing? And why? Only to search something to lean onto? She didn't know. What was she supposed to do now? She didn't know that either.
She wished that she could have asked her father, but he wasn't talking to her mind for the moment, and she could by no means even try to contact him in her confusion. Maybe later... later? After what?
Should she be afraid? No, why? Sabin was her friend, so why would she be scared? But he had never held her like this, no one had. She hadn't thought anyone would, and... what did it mean?
There were so many things that she didn't know about. But maybe it wasn't really that important to know everything. She had felt unsure many times, worrying and uncertain about the next step.
It never became easier, though...
"Did I make you nervous?" Sabin muttered.
Terra hesitated for half a second. Well?
"I don't think so," she mumbled, "I'm not sure."
"I'm just so tired and worried and... there's been so much, suddenly, lately," Sabin said in a low voice, "and I'm the brute of the troop and definitely not a king."
She just shook her head without a word. Simply knowing that he didn't need more than that she was right there for him. That right then, he needed her and her support. Maybe even more than the support of any of his other friends.
Her arms went around his waist by themselves. Well, did that mean anything?
What is really important, of all this?
His fingertips moved carefully against her back.
'I'm just the brute of the troop. This is Edgar's area...' Sabin thought, almost lazily.
Have to find him.
The prince looked down, and Terra looked up.
"Thanks for coming," he sincerely said, "I appreciate it."
"Anytime, Sabin," she said with a small smile.
There was a knock on the door, and they hastily released each other.
"Yes?" Sabin called.
Gau looked into the room.
"Bad man awake," he grimly said, "friends ask him questions, but no answer. Come?"
Gau hurried off, slamming the door shut. Sabin and Terra exchanged glances.
"Talk afterwards?" she suggested.
"Yeah. Let's go," Sabin nodded. As they came to the castle's prison, they found most of their friends assembled around the bound cultist. It was just a question of patience and stubbornness.
"I will tell you nothing," the man growled.
There was something empty in his eyes, as if he had no soul or mind of his own. As if his mad belief spoke through him. A true extremist.
"We don't have time for this," Setzer coldly said, "where are our friends, and what are you planning to do with them?"
"You will find out that in time yourselves, sinners," the cultist sneered, "when you are together."
Gogo was leaning against the wall, behind the backs of his friends. When Sabin and Terra passed him, he reached out a hand and touched the prince's arm. There was a burning compassion in the mimicker's eyes, forcing Sabin to stand still. Terra also stopped as the two men watched each other for a moment.
"Gogo..." Sabin finally said in a low voice.
The clothed figure slowly shook his head.
"Edgar's alive, my friend," he said, "we'll find him."
Sabin took the gloved hand.
"Gogo, you must have had a Hell."
"I still have, but I'll live. Just remember what's important."
Sabin grimly nodded. He and Terra made their way past the guards and friends. The cultist met the gaze of the prince with cold derision.
"My brother," Sabin said, "where is he?"
"You will know, sinner," was the scornful answer.
"Am I a sinner?" the prince calmly asked.
"Indeed. You helped driving the great master out of this world."
"We didn't drive him anywhere. We killed him. Two times, even."
All those who knew about it had the nerve not to throw a glance at Gogo.
"The master did not die," the cultist spat out, "your words only push you deeper into the darkness, sinner."
"I think I'm as deep as I'll get," Sabin said, "and he died, trust me."
"You are wrong, sinner. He will return soon to claim this world as his."
"And how, good heavens, will he do that?"
"You will find out."
"If I'm going to find out, why don't you tell me right now to make it simpler for all of us?"
The cultist snorted.
"I shall tell you naught," he said, "you won't understand it all before the time has come."
"And when would that be?" Celes asked, frustrated, "it has all something to do with the fact that you've taken our friends alive, haven't it?"
"I think you hit the right button, love," Locke grimly said.
"Where are our friends?" Relm snapped, "is Shadow alive?"
"I won't tell you anything, sinners."
"What are you planning?" Terra stubbornly asked.
The cultist turned to her with a cold smirk.
"Ah, Terra Branford," he said, "your death will be the most painful of all. Master Kefka himself will see to that you get what you deserve, you little esper whore."
Many mouths opened in rage, but there suddenly was a loud crash of metal against stone floor.
"These silly games tires me," a screeching voice sneered, "it's time for the truth to be revealed, my follower!"
Quite a few people spun around to stare, only finding Gogo without his helmet. Unseen by the cultist, he made a desperate grimace and waved at his friends to back off. Seeing prince Sabin obey the move, the guards also did so, mostly in shock. As the bodies moved, Gogo put on a face of mockery superciliousness just before the tied up man got his eyes on him. The cultist's jaw was about to hit the floor.
"Ma-master Kefka!?" he harshly stuttered.
"It seems so, doesn't it?" Gogo screeched.
He crossed the floor and sneered at the stunned cultist, pointing at his marked cheek.
"Fresh and alive, with only this petty scar here as a memory of the battle against these fools. I am truly pleased that you have stayed true to me!"
The cultist opened his mouth, but Gogo stopped him by waving with a finger just in the way that Kefka always had done.
"However, sadly," he said, "I lost a lot of my power as I was... temporarily thrown down. I have regained some of it by now, as you can see."
He pointed at the other, silent people in the room. That they didn't make any attempt to attack "the master" was obviously proof enough for the cultist.
"Yet I had no knowledge of that you were still true to me, my follower," Gogo continued, "and I am most pleased to see your plans at work. As you understand, I wish to seek out the place of my trustful servants to join you and give you my blessing leadership, but my powers are still too weakened to find my way by myself. Here is why I let you get caught; I need your help."
"Of course, master Kefka!" the cultist said, almost breathless, "we have taken our hideout in the mountains south of the tower we built to your honor, the main entrance to our caves are two kilometers from the sacred ground where we once walked, sending our prayers to you. Then there are two smaller entrances on the other, outer side of the south mountains. All to confuse possible invaders."
"Good, good," Gogo nodded, sneering with satisfaction, "and I take it you've got a lot of traps there, considering your great victory of catching the assassin Shadow."
"Indeed, master Kefka. It's impossible to avoid all the triggers and the brothers guarding the tunnels, as the assassin Shadow found out and still grieves about in his cell. We have a complete labyrinth there, and none of us except the three high priests know the entire layout. It's made to only let you pass safety without help, master, because you are the only one who could make it. If your powers aren't enough yet, then I fear that I cannot help you further."
"I'll make it, trust me," Gogo sneered.
He thoughtfully pursed his mouth.
"Tell me, this should be juicy, what have you got in store for my enemies? I love new, fresh ideas."
"Our plan was to sacrifice them after taking them all captive, and thereby restore you and help you return to our world," the cultist explained, "but as you already are back, master, we could of course do it anyway to honor you."
"Thank you for your help," he said, "this have truly aided me a lot."
He turned around and dropped the aura he had put up, burying his face in his hands.
"There you have it," he muttered, "I leave the rest to you."
"Who'll have the honor?" Locke sneered.
"I will!" Relm grinned.
She scornfully bowed to the confused cultist.
"Presenting to you, mister," she sneered and pointed at the man standing in the center of the room, "the great mimic Gogo, your master's twin brother."
The roar following almost made the castle shake, until Sabin with great satisfaction gave the cultist a knocking out hit in the back of his head.
"Thank you, Gogo..." Terra quietly said and offered him his helmet, "you played his role well."
He shook his head and retied the veil to hide his face.
"I only did it to save time," he bitterly muttered, "and because I don't like it when people have sinister plans for my friends, especially not in my old name. Trust me, that was the first and only time I ever pretended to be Kefka."
She noticed that his fingers were slightly shaking as he put the helmet over his head.
"Excuse me now," he muttered, "I think I'm going to have a hysterical breakdown."
He stumbled up the stair, out of the prison.
"I'll talk to him," Cid said and hurried after his old friend.
Cyan crossed his arms with a concerned frown.
"Now then," he said, "how canst we proceed? With a labyrinth and traps, we face an ordeal."
"This task require careful planning, indeed," Strago nodded.
"Cyan, what you've got is contagious!"
'May I be of service?' a voice inside of Terra's head suddenly smiled.
'Father?' she thought.
Maduin gave a soft laugh. Then he turned back to business.
'Listen, Terra. I can't enter your world, but my mind can move around a small radius from you. I can find the traps, if you and your friends find a way of not getting lost.'
"My father says that he can somehow help us with the traps," Terra reported aloud, "but not with the labyrinth."
The group of friends exchanged concerned glances.
"Hey," Gau suddenly said, "me read about guy down in labyrinth! He had long yarn, tied by the entrance, not getting lost!"
There was a silence.
"Good one, boy!" Setzer finally grinned, "that's it!"
"We'll get them for sure," Sabin smirked and hit his palm with his fist, "all's set, then?"
"Hold it!" Strago sharply said, "this might sound cold, but we should rest at least one day before we go anywhere. Most of us are tired half to death; we're not fit to enter a dangerous labyrinth."
"But Edgar..." the prince began, frowning.
"They won't do him or anyone else of our friends anything before they have all of us," the old man calmly pointed out, "they're safe for now."
"But what about lady Kanai?" Sabin said, "she wasn't with us in the battle."
Strago shook his head.
"We won't be any match in these conditions," he said, "if we're going to help anyone, we have to sleep through a whole night and prepare well."
"It's no nice thought," Celes nodded, "but he's right. We need to rest and get ourselves proper equipment."
Sabin found that the mass spoke against him and gave up, really knowing they were right.
"Alright," he said, "we can surely find something in the armory for everyone, and we'll..."
A guard tapped on his shoulder.
"Excuse me, prince Sabin," the man helplessly said, "but, err... what's going on? Who was that... err... Kefka?"
Sabin turned around, frowning.
"Haven't you heard it already? I was sure that the rumor from that time when he revealed his secret..."
A lot of heads shaking was the answer.
"Oh. It's a long story."
"Please do tell it, Sir."
He turned to see Cid. Then he turned away again, staring at the desert from the top of the center tower of Figaro castle. The sand seemed to burn in the light of the rising sun.
"How are you?" the mechanic carefully asked.
"A bit sick, but I'll survive."
"Must have taken a lot of strength."
"Anger, actually. I couldn't take it that he called Terra an 'esper whore'. I guess I've got a weakness when it comes to her."
He sighed, idly scratching the cloth covering his scar.
"Please don't do that, it makes me nervous," Cid shuddered.
"Hmm? Oh, I've still got this habit, despite what happened..." Gogo absentmindedly mumbled.
They were silent for a while.
"Cid, I need to ask you for a favor," the mimic suddenly said.
"And what would that be, my friend?"
Gogo turned his head and grimly looked at the Falcon, which was resting below a sand dune about thirty yards from the castle.
"I need you to help me with something," the mimic slowly said, "because I fear for the safety of our friends."
There was a knock on the door. Terra put her hairbrush down.
"Who is it?" she called.
"It's me," Sabin's voice answered before the guards had any time to do it for him, "can I come in?"
A lot of thoughts passed through Terra's head during half a second. She wondered what Sabin really wanted from her, and what she wanted from him. And she wished that she could have spoken with Celes about all these new thoughts that had begun to spin in her head when she had pushed the cult out of her brain. When she'd had time to ponder it, she could hardly believe that Sabin actually had embraced her. Why would he do that? Was she more than a friend to him, just like that? And was he more than a friend to her? That "body builder escaped from his gym"... Sabin?
No, no. She was a half esper. She knew nothing about anything of that that Locke, Celes and Edgar had mastered. It wasn't her world. It wasn't for her. It would never be. She had the love of her children, and that was all she'd get. Besides, she didn't feel anything like that towards Sabin, nothing like she felt for her kids.
Are you nuts? Do you really think that would be similar?
How should I know?
Well, what is it, then?
What had Celes told her?
Umm... nothing. Terra knew nothing.
Did she feel anything special about Sabin, something that wasn't like what she felt for... say Relm.
Now you're back by the kids! It can't be the same! Back and try again!
Something that wasn't like what she felt for... Mog?
Get real! Someone of your friends as similar to Sabin as possible!
Something that wasn't like what she felt for Setzer? Or Edgar? Or Locke?
That's better. So, what's the answer?
None of them are like Sabin! They are all different!
Well then, how am I going to know?
But Maduin had left her mind for the evening.
"It's alright, come in!" she called, more by instinct than with a true feeling of being prepared.
What did he want, really? Why would he care more for her then anyone else, he wasn't that kind of man that...
Didn't you tell him to stop saying those kind of things to himself?
Sabin closed the door behind him, looking carefully at her.
'What are you doing?!' he thought, almost panicking, 'why are you here? Are you trying to make something up? Why did you have to hug her back there, it only made her nervous! A normal "thank you" had been enough! This isn't your kind of thing, it never was!'
What isn't my kind of thing?
It's nothing that has to do with "women", it's about Terra!
Oh, what about her?
He hadn't the slightest clue.
Terra wore her normal clothes, but had released her hair from the ponytail. Now her shoulders were hidden below a thin, green cloak.
"Hi," she said, carefully.
Sabin cleared his throat.
Face it. You're a brute, the Neanderthal man of the group. You're the one with the "stupid muscles" and the small brain. The only thing that makes any difference from Umaro is that you can speak a bit better and don't have any fur. Terra is a little fairy in compare to you. If you touch her, she'll break. And why would you like to touch her anyhow? If she was meant for anybody you know, it's surely not you! Now shape up and stop acting and thinking like a fool!
"I just... wanted to thank you for coming to talk with me earlier," Sabin said, trying hard to produce a smile, "I needed it."
"No problem," she said with the shadow of a smile.
They watched each other in silence for a moment.
"I've been thinking about Gogo too," Sabin said, keeping his mind away from what had happened in his room, "I feel awful enough with Edgar gone, but he was..."
He fell silent and sighed with a frown. Terra nodded.
"Yes, I guess he must have had a terrible time," she said.
"I can't understand how Kerr could do it," Sabin muttered, "twins don't betray each other like that! I mean, I wouldn't ever even lie to Edgar..."
He sighed again.
"But on the other hand, we all know what kind of person Kerr... Kefka was. It's just that... I can't grasp the thought of it, now that I face a risk to loose my own brother, I... I'm just babbling."
"No," Terra said and stood up, walking over to him and putting her hand on his arm, "you're just worried about Edgar."
Sabin slowly nodded.
"Yeah. And I thought that it's not fair. He had just found someone to really love, and then they both get captured by some idiots dressed in dark robes who thinks that an even bigger idiot ever cared about them."
"When it comes to Edgar you just drop that muscled, so called 'stupid' side and become something more than a warrior," Terra said in a comforting voice, "it's alright to be 'babbling'. I understand; we all do."
He looked down at her with a strangely hesitating expression in his eyes.
"Hey, Terra... you sure it was okay that I hugged you before?" he tentatively asked.
She watched him for a moment before nodding.
"We've been friends for a long time, Sabin," she said with a careful smile, "if you're afraid that you were rude, you weren't."
His tongue slipped away by itself.
"Would you mind if I... did it again?"
He felt his ears change color.
What did I say?!
Terra more or less stared at him at first, and that hurt. He didn't want to embarrass her, he hadn't even considered saying something that stupid. Of all silly things ever spoken, that must have been meant for the history books.
'What does he mean?' Terra thought, almost panicking, 'why would he like to do that? We're just friends, right?'
Was it important?
Stop asking yourself that all the time! Things are important if you think they are!
In that case... it was. More than anything before it.
"No, it would be alright," she heard herself say, "really, Sabin."
She reached up and put her arms around his neck, not knowing why or how or if it was the right thing to do. He stared down at her for a short moment.
God, he had always thought that she was pretty. From that very first moment she had called him an escaped bodybuilder. But back then, he had thought that she was merely a kid, and he hadn't cared much about women or similar things back then; only interested in training; free from his responsibilities as a prince. But Terra wasn't a child, by no means, and he had grown to change a bit. He knew nothing about these kind of things, whether he could name them or not. But on the other hand, neither did she. So maybe it wasn't really a problem.
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, carefully. Come on, you know she isn't a little fairy. You have seen her fight. And she's not just plain pretty. Just look at that flowing hair and the deep, gem eyes.
Feeling her warmth was... nice. He couldn't find a better word for it.
Maybe he wasn't on Edgar's area after all. His brother had his desire of passionate, direct relationships. Hunting. Hungry.
Terra rested her head at Sabin's chest. He had always been a cliff, nearly as strong as Umaro. Almost always able to drop a line which cheered everyone else up. She had always liked him.
Remembering that day when Katarin and Duane had been separated because he didn't know how to handle her being pregnant... they had come to try to get her, Terra, back again; Celes, Edgar, Setzer and Sabin. But she hadn't felt strong enough yet. And Phunbaba had attacked again. Terra had been hiding inside, feeling ashamed and weak, looking out the window. But then suddenly, the monster had sneezed Edgar and Setzer away, leaving the last two rather outnumbered. But they had kept fighting, even though Phunbaba had the upper hand. Terra hadn't been able to see her friends battling against such odds, she didn't want them to be killed! And rushing out to Celes and Sabin, she had desperately morphed into her esper form, filling herself with strength and power that she could control completely.
Sabin had thumped her back as they left Mobliz for the Falcon.
"Good to have you back, Terra!" he had said, breaking her newly built grim warrior's mask.
Good to be back. With him and all the others.
Good to be there, against his warm chest. And that tickling inside of her, was that... maybe...?
She knew that he thought that he thought that he was a "bear", that he was the brute standing in Edgar's shadow. Well, she had never fancied Edgar in the way that he had wanted her to. He had known it, but never given up. That was Edgar. He took up more space than all the other men in the troop did together. And he cherished knowing that. Maybe the king of the two had a more distinct handsomeness and well trained charm. But that was Edgar, and Sabin wasn't him.
Sabin was... sweet. He was gentle and caring and... well, sweet. You could always count on him, whatever happened. He'd even almost broken his own hand to cheer up a bunch of kids. Who, except him, would do such a thing?
Terra smiled to herself.
She felt Sabin move his head a little, exactly how she felt it she couldn't explain. But she looked up at him to give him a careful smile.
He looked down at her, still seeming a bit confused and surprised.
Then, all of a sudden, he lowered his head and his lips covered hers.
At first Terra froze completely of surprise.
Oh, come on. Didn't you want him to do that? Really? Didn't you want to know what love was, eh?
Why not? Thought you liked him...
Yeah, why not Sabin? Nothing's wrong with him. He's just as unsure about love as I am. So is this what I've sought and hoped for? This close, all the time?
She relaxed again and secured her grip of his neck, feeling that tickling inside begin to dance. Was it really true...?
He moved back after a moment, carefully looking down at her and searching for some kind of anger or blame. But Terra just smiled, a bit tentatively.
"I..." Sabin mumbled, but his brain had no information to give his tongue.
Suddenly he felt that somebody looked at him, and turned his head to meet Locke's stare.
"Am I seeing what I'm seeing?" the married man said, almost shocked.
"Oh, hi Locke," Sabin said, emotionless.
Terra also looked at the unexpected visitor, very unsure about how she should react.
Locke's eyes wandered between the two of them a couple of times before he cleared his throat.
"Well, I only came to ask if Celes could borrow your hairbrush, Terra... so I should..."
His voice trailed off, and he just watched Sabin and Terra for a moment.
Then he began to laugh.
He had to lean against the wall.
"Oh God, you?!"
"I think I'm going to break something inside of you," Sabin said, but he couldn't help grinning.
"Please, save that until tomorrow, when I've told everyone..." Locke gasped, trying to breath through the laughs escaping his chest, "then you'll want to kill me even more! God grief, my stomach..."
"Locke..." Terra began, but couldn't help smiling.
He tried to pull himself together.
"Alright, alright," he smirked, almost able to fight the laughter back but not fully, "I'll be nice, I promise... good night, love birds."
He left the room, still chuckling.
"He'll tell them," Sabin said.
"Yeah. Right away," Terra nodded.
"I can still catch him and ask him un-nicely to keep quiet."
"Break his arms or something..."
"I was considering something like that, yes..."
They exchanged glances and smiled, shaking their heads.
"Maybe tomorrow," Terra mumbled, leaning her head against Sabin's chest again.
Was this right? Sure felt that way, anyhow...
It felt good to allow all troubles to leave for a while. He had been about to got crazy before he went over to Terra's room. He'd known that if anybody could help him escape his private torture, it would be she. Because... well... and he had to apologize to her too. At least he had thought that he needed to do that. But maybe that apology only had been his final excuse to go visit her. He had hesitated for a long while.
But now it felt like he'd have to force himself away again. Why would he want to do that, anyhow...? Right, needed to sleep. Typical...
In a moment.
Not right now.
Celes looked up with raised eyebrows as Locke stumbled into their room, laughing.
"What's happened, love?" she asked, his laugh making her smile a bit by pure instinct even though she was puzzled.
"Ah...!" Locke gasped and more or less fell onto the bed as he sat down, "Celes, you won't believe this!"
"What?" she said and sat down beside him, already dressed in another evening gown than the one she had worn during the nightly attack.
That piece of cloth had been a bit bloodied, and she didn't fancy wearing things with that kind of stains when she slept. Oh, she didn't even fancy wearing that kind of stuff when she was awake, even though there had been a time when that had been an everyday thing. But she was trying to push that time out of her memory.
Locke opened his mouth but began to laugh again. It took him a couple of times before he could more or less choke the news.
"Celes, Terra wasn't alone there... Sabin was with her. And they were kissing each other!"
The blond woman's jaw dropped.
"What, Sabin?!" she gasped.
Locke began to laugh again, pressing his arms against his stomach.
"Oh, I shouldn't be like this now..." he grinned, "not with the cult and all running wild... but I can't help it! Ha!"
He stood up.
"Will you excuse me for a moment, love?" he said with an almost evil grin, "I must carry the torch of enlightenment to our other comrades. I shall return as soon as possible."
"Go on," Celes smiled with a laugh of her own.
As Locke came close to the door she called:
"But please, don't be to hard on the two of them, alright?"
He looked around and smiled widely.
Then he winked with one eye and left again.
Celes just sat there, smiling at the door for a moment. She had probably been the one of Terra's friends who had hoped the most that love would finally come to the half-esper, once as starved on that feeling as the green-haired one. And well... it was a surprise, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with Sabin. He was a caring and strong man. And when one looked closer, he was quite handsome too. The only thing that could be a cloud on the blue sky would be that he was more than a few years older than Terra. But, on the other hand, love between people born in different decades wasn't too uncommon.
It would surely work out fine.
A knock on the door disturbed Celes' ponderings.
"One moment!" she called and reached for a thin morning coat that she luckily had thrown into the light bag brought from her and Locke's house.
"It's me, my girl!" Cid's voice called from the other side of the wall and door.
Celes hurriedly draped the coat over her shoulders.
"Alright grandpa, you can come in!"
She frowned as he pushed the door open. His eyes shone with exhaust even though he fought to keep it down, and there were dark spots of oil on his hands and on the sleeves of his shirt.
"Have you been working?" Celes grimly said and hurried over to him to give him support, "you shouldn't do that when you already were so tired, grandpa!"
"Oh, I'll be fine," he said and tried to smile, "there was just a bug down in the machine room and..."
"At your age..." the woman of the two sighed and rolled her eyes, "well, what brought you here?"
"I just wanted to say that if there's anything at all that I can help you with, you just tell me," Cid grimly said, "I'll do all I can to stop those madmen."
Celes examined his tired eyes for a moment. Then she nodded.
"Yes, there is something that you can do," she said, "go to sleep and don't get up until you're truly well rested."
"Not exactly what I meant, my girl," the mechanic calmly said.
"I know, but it's the only thing I want you to do. Don't even get up to say good-bye tomorrow, we'll leave very early. I want you to take care of yourself now, alright?"
Cid gave her an exhausted smile and slowly nodded.
"Alright then. Good-bye and good luck, my dear girl."
Celes gave him a hug, ignoring the oil.
"We'll be fine, grandpa. Don't worry about us," she told him.
"No, I know you people can take care of yourselves," he smiled, "good night."
As Celes closed the door, she shook her head. That man, that man... he'd work until he dropped dead of age, and then his ghost would come back and keep working. He was just hopeless.
When Locke came back, still smiling widely, she told him about Cid.
"He's just worried about you, pretty one," the thief said with a shrug of his shoulders, "guess he wish that he could help us out more."
"Yes, you're probably right. But he's just impossible..."
"Aren't we all?"
Locke smiled and began to work himself out of his shirt.
"Mad grandpas and love stories or not, we should get to bed. It'll probably be a hard day tomorrow."
Celes laid down and draped the blanket around herself.
"Say Locke," she mumbled as he also laid down, "don't you ever get a feeling that you just want to scream at them to disappear, all our enemies?"
He removed his headband and threw it at the chair where he had left his day-clothes. Then he replied.
"Yes, I do," he sighed, "even though I know it won't help, it's tempting in some moments."
Celes silently wrapped her arms around him and got a smooth kiss placed on the tip of her nose.
"But let's skip the screaming and just kick their butts for the time being," Locke mumbled with a smile.
She managed to smile back and nodded.
"And then we'll go home, and we'll have our child," she said.
Locke's smile turned even softer and he wrapped his own arms around her.
"Yep," he said in a low voice, "and then we'll have at least two more, deal?"
Celes had to laugh and nodded.
"Deal. At least two more. But right now we have to sleep."
"Yes. Good night, princess."
"Good night, love."
Going down or through with it? Part 2 has the answer!