Before the Crown

By Andy Simpson


After two very long fanfics about Final Fantasy Tactics, I thought it prudent to write down some of my ideas about one of my other favorite Squaresoft Games: Final Fantasy Six.

Writing fanfics about FF6 is not as easy as it is for FF Tactics. Unlike FFT, FF6 does not have terribly many loose ends that are left unexplained or uncompleted. As a result, most FF6 fanfics are clichés, written about the same sets of events in the game and having many of the same themes (though many such fics are good all the same). Shadow’s sad past, Setzer’s experiences with Darill, Celes and Locke falling in love and getting married, the return of magic after the game, and descriptions of how Kefka went mad — all these are used perhaps too much. Final Fantasy Tactics, on the other hand, is flowing with unexplained plot elements, some of which have no stories written to describe them. The story that I have written has some of these cliché elements but it is at the same time more novel in that it involves a character having a pre-game adventure of the sort that I have not seen before in any fanfic. I do not want to spoil the story for you, so I will not expose any more. Happy reading!

Chapter 1 — The Airship

I spent many years in Vector, growing and coming to know what feeble picture of myself I could at the time. I also gained a picture of the Empire that those who brought me up never wanted me to see. It all started with an event about two years ago. I was sixteen — almost seventeen. I don’t think that I would be with you now had I not seen this event. One day I hope to find the survivor involved and tell him the truth.

I saw something that I think that hardly anybody in Vector saw. I have always known that I was somehow different from those around me. I have some strange powers that it seems that nobody else has. On top of that I apparently have nearly every physical ability augmented. I’ve studied biology, and I seem to work under normal principles, but… somehow enhanced. I only weigh sixty kilos, yet I can easily overpower the hundred-kilo high school bully (of course, the bully has friends, some of which have knives, so…). I’m more agile than almost everyone in sports at school. I suppose that whatever it is that seems to have augmented my physical abilities may have augmented my intelligence as well, but I have no reference point, so I cannot be sure. Anyhow, another thing that is heightened is my senses, which allowed me to see the ship get shot down.

It was a dirigible in the far off sky. It was incredibly fast; I’ve never seen a blimp go anywhere near that fast before or since. I saw a number of IAF robotic fighters pursue the thing and fire at it. There were distant explosions around it — distant enough that I could not hear, but I could see. I saw several of the fighters explode in flames and plummet into the sea south of this continent. Whoever it was who was flying the thing had something to either shoot or throw at the IAF. Whoever it was was also the best airship pilot that I’ve ever seen. The blimp evaded the fighters most expertly until one moment when the blimp went completely out of control — I think the pilot got shot. The ship plummeted to the ground on the eastern half of this continent — near… Thamasa, I think that it is called.

I went to the Vector Aviation library to look up that airship, hoping that it would not be secret. I think that I was fortunate that day, as there were so many people in the library that I was still quite inconspicuous. I went to the dirigible design section, and pulled out a large book titled "Palidor’s Blimps," named after a mythical Esperian avian and known as the source of information listing each flying machine in use today of the appropriate type. I had to do some fishing to find what I was looking for. Most of the drawings in here were glorious descriptions of slightly out-dated Imperial military blimps (the more modern ones would be classified for sure). I eventually found what I was looking for in a small corner of one page, with an unremarkable black-and-white sketch and a short description. The description had, however, precisely the information that I wanted.

There was only one of its type ever made. It was called the Falcon, and it belonged to Darill Gabbiani. Why would the Empire shoot it down? I knew that the Emperor dealt harshly with criminals. We had been told that they had betrayed the glorious Empire, and were evil people, and deserved what they got. But… why Mrs. Gabbiani? I wondered if the pilot had really been a fugitive that stole her airship, but then, why did the Empire not announce the glorious end of another criminal?

Not knowing what was driving me, I had to find out. I snooped probably a bit much for safety, but if anybody took notice, they never caught me for that (they might have for some of the things that I did later, but not for that). I managed to find some literature that gave me a clue as to what happened. Mrs. Gabbiani’s husband Setzer was a known enemy of the state. He was wanted on several charges of smuggling people who later turned out to be terrorists back and forth within Empire-controlled lands. Mr. Gabbiani was also the engineer of his own dirigible, the Blackjack (seems he is quite a gambler), which was second only to the Falcon in its aerial performance. Some of the same gadgetry that went into the Falcon was the same as went into the Blackjack. The Empire was probably worried about such airship technology being in the hands of somebody they could not trust. So, if they shot down the Falcon while it was testing out its full performance, far away from Mr. Gabbiani’s eyes, he would never know…

I was sickened. They did not like the technology that this gambler made simply because they could control it, and so the cowards go and kill his wife. I realized that I could never go on with my own life as I had been living it knowing what I knew then. I still didn’t trust some of the resistance groups that are fighting the Empire — they might be no better than those that they are fighting. I began to wonder why the Empire gave me special care, and I figured that it was probably to exploit my unusual powers. I considered the parents that I was being raised by. They seemed to be very caring, compassionate people. I knew that they received special government subsidies for raising me, however. If they were not raising me to… whatever the Empire wanted to do with me, I would soon be taken from them anyhow, seeing that I would shortly be officially be an adult. The Empire had another enemy. I would not submit to their iron hand.

Oh, excuse me. I’ve told you how my very first adventure against the Empire began, but you still don’t know who I am. My name is Terra… Terra Branford.

Chapter 2 — Dawn of a Heroine

I left the library and began to walk in the direction of home, thinking that I would say something to those that I knew before I left, to return, if ever, as an avenging, destroying flame. Then I realized that I might have already blown my cover. The Imperial Secret Police knew that I had accessed the records on airships and the wanted list for criminals. They might associate me with Mr. Gabbiani — there are security guards in every last corner of the library and you need identification to get into any section at all. I was not going to stay the night in Vector, no. I had to leave.

I gathered what belongings that I thought I needed into a small sack, small enough to hide under my cloak. My pendant from my real parents (I knew that I was adopted, but not from whom — I was very young), a picture of my family, and pictures of the few people in school that did not throw rocks at me when they got the chance, as well as some basic rations — these are what I took. My life had been a pitiful one up to this point. As I wrapped the dark red fabric around my body, I realized that I was unarmed. Magic would protect me only so far — I also needed something more permanent. I pulled the hood over my head and went on a roundabout route to the weapons shop. The merchant was not in the service of the government, but I had a feeling that he might tell the troops if he saw anything, particularly if they paid him enough. I couldn’t really be too cautious, although I had a hard time believing that the Emperor himself was even aware of what I had learned, much less that the entire force of the Imperial Army was out to get me.

A medium-length sword that would fit under my cloak if I strapped it right. Now, with that in my possession, I set out for Miranda, again taking an obscure route. If the Empire was trying to bring me up to exploit my abilities, they would be looking for me by now. After I was attacked by and fended off a weird, carnivorous bush that I encountered along the way, I made it to Miranda.

In Miranda, I noticed what seemed to be the usual situation: lovers kissing on the bench on the residential side of town, soldiers watching dogfights in the town square, people grumbling about Imperial occupation. I did not understand much of anything about the lovers — they were expressing an emotion that I have never felt. The dogfights, I think that I managed to get a little of what was the thrill, but I don’t think that I could ever enjoy watching two creatures snarl and tear one another to shreds. As for the grumbling, I would not have understood it before my fateful day in the library. Now, however, I had begun to realize that the Empire was not the liberator and the unifier, but the tyrant.

I went into the tavern to find out what the news was in Miranda. I hoped that there was a resistance movement here, but more I hoped that there was something that I could do. I thought that I was reasonably charismatic, but did not want to try to organize anything with all the soldiers in the square. I wondered how many that I could take on at once, with my magic, but did not want to find out for fear of losing. I also did not want the whole world to know what I had, not after civilization’s rocky past. I also did not want to set fire to most of the village.

I settled into an inn in a secluded part of town, and wore my cloak whenever I went around town in case somebody spotted me. I wondered if somebody would try to nab me or something. I wondered if it would be soldiers, or some bounty-hunter. That would be a sad fate.


Chapter 3 — The Realization

Imperial troops did end up coming after me. I still did not know why the Empire had wanted me, although I was now fairly certain that they had something planned. Although I sometimes supposed that I might have been a little paranoid — as though they simply wanted to take me home — I realized the better of it. They would not send soldiers and spies searching for somebody like me unless they wanted me for something.

I tried to imagine what they wanted to get their hands on me for. The answer was plainly obvious, of course: my unusual abilities. I did not really know what they wanted to do with those abilities. I almost wondered if I was sure that I wanted to know. Was I a test subject? Did they want to see if I could do what they had engineered me to do? Was I an unusual thing that they wanted to study to find out how I work so that they could duplicate my powers? Was I being raised as some sort of farm animal so that my powers could one day be harvested? Did they intend to breed me in the hopes of making more individuals like me? None of these were pleasant ideas. I did not want to be any of these things.

Somehow, the troops did not seem to be even on the verge of finding me, even though I was myself questioned more than once. They knew more or less what I looked like, and that I was a fairly introverted person. I guess that they were also looking for somebody with a dressing style unlike what I had been wearing at this time. They thought that I was a sweet little girl trying to do… well, they didn’t really know what. They did not expect to see me in my dark red cloak. I do not know what they thought of my sword — I’m not sure that they saw it. If they did, they probably thought me a merchant that had to brave the monsters out in the fields moving around.

As time wore on, the soldiers seemed getting more and more frantic. Whoever it was — Gestahl, his weird technological crony Kefka, or somebody that I did not know of — he or she clearly had plans for me back in Vector. They were evidently afraid that I might have gotten eaten by some monster out in the fields. I began to try to imagine what they were after. My powers, obviously. They wanted magic. The word "magic" wondered through my mind as I recalled a short legend immortalized in poetry that I had read in the library. The poem had been written in Figaro, a language with which I had only a vague familiarity, but still, I figured it out:

Long Ago, the War of the Magi Ruined the World, and Magic simply ceased to exist.

1000 years have passed, and gunpowder, the steam engine, and machinery have been rediscovered, and high Technology reigns.

At this point, I realized that I could add another verse to this ancient legend. The empire did not want my powers for knowledge — not seeing what they did to poor Mrs. Gabbiani for what she knew.

But there are those who would enslave the World by reviving the dread destructive power known as Magic.

Could it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a tragic and deadly mistake?

The return of Magic to the world? Sure. It was a reality. I was living proof of that. I shuddered as I remembered the legends about the great and terrible War of the Magi: cities bathed in fire, armies slaughtered by the millions, mighty sorcerers and wizards doing battle over the dominion of good and evil, of mercy, of justice, tyranny, chaos, and destruction. Espers — magical beings of up to godlike power — bringing clashes of the eight elements into confrontation with one-another. The three goddesses watching over it all with dismay as they were sucked onto their respective moral sides.

Could magic be revived without restarting that dreadful war? Without restarting a cataclysm that would destroy all of the progress that we had made since then? I began to realize that I had to find out. I was not simply somebody who had fled the empire to gain her safety or her freedom. I was not simply trying to help some resistance group survive. Avenging Darill or revealing her end would not in itself be enough. I had a world to save. I was the only one in the world that I knew of who could use magic for good, and somehow, it would be up to me and what friends that I made along the way to succeed — or fail. I had a quest at last.

Chapter 4 — Not the Only One

I decided to track down these soldiers and try to find out what it was that they wanted me for. They did talk about me being able to do surprising things with fire, although they did not say what. I decided to try and listen to them as they talked among each other as well as with others, and perhaps establish a few contacts with the people in the town who I had gathered were spies for the rebellions. The contacts would be hard — that’s not my personality to just talk to people. If they knew what it was that they wanted, I would try to deprive them of it. If it was my magic alone, their enemies would get it. If they had other sources of magic, I would try to deprive them of that.

I carefully listened to what the soldiers had to say about why they were after me. They apparently thought that I was ‘special.’ They knew that I could do weird things with fire. They suspected — but did not know — that what I had was, indeed, magic. They did not know anything about why I was so ‘special;’ they only knew that I could do some things that they could not. I was, of course, wondering that myself, and did not really have any real intuition concerning it at the time, though I suspected it to be something to do with my biology.

I did not get anything more about myself. The soldiers chatted about the resistance groups and about monsters in the fields, seeming only to know about orders to bring me back. They hoped that I had not fled the continent to join a group they called the ‘Returners,’ a group about which I knew practically nothing. I did, however, realize something that would again change my world forever. It seemed that such changes were occurring all too frequently those days.

The soldiers chatted about magitek. Magitek, I knew, was supposed to be ‘magic-like technology,’ or, as children at school sometimes guessed, technology united with magic. The soldiers, however, talked about essences that went into magitek. All of the magitek equipment made came from a factory of the same name, I already knew. The soldiers, however, talked about how the magitek armor suits could fire beams of ‘bolt, fire, and ice.’ I remembered from the legends that those were the names of the three series of basic elemental offensive spells.

I concluded that those beams were too coincidental to have nothing to do with real magic. Was it possible that the magitek factory actually was producing magical armors that could cast spells at the press of a button? That would be completely unlike me, as I can feel the power flow through me as I cast Fire or Cure. But, I decided, it could be real. Even if the machines were not magical, they would be an immense help to the Empire’s army. I then remembered the comment about the essences that went into the magitek and came to a shocking realization — the Empire probably does have access to some form of true magic that they infuse into their weapons. Could that be what I had been raised for? To have my essences drained to go into a… machine? I shuddered to think of what that would have meant for me — probably death, but in any number of ways. Others might have been being drained as I sat and thought about it, and even if the Empire did not cannibalize somehow ‘gifted’ (cursed?) people, they did have a source of magic of their own. I had to investigate.

As such, I set out from Miranda back to Vector, not knowing what I might find there. Would the soldiers be waiting for me there? I wondered if I could even get into the magitek factory. I also wondered if my cloak would disguise myself well enough to not be spotted by those who actually knew me. I would have to be very careful. One false step would cost me my life — or, as I shuddered to think of what the Empire wanted with me, maybe even worse.

Chapter 5 — Into the Factory

Night was falling as I reached the outskirts of Vector. Knowing that the soldiers watched the roads at night, I ducked into an irrigation ditch. At least, I assume that that is what it was — nothing had been farmed around Vector for some time. Too many monsters. Another shock hit me: the monsters around Vector were abnormally strong because of the guardian energy principal. The principle states that wherever there is a strong source of power, most often a magical one, monsters and powerful creatures tend to appear near the source. Nobody knows why this is true — it could be that such creatures are attracted to such a power source, that they are spontaneously created at such a source, or that ordinary people, animals, and plants are transmutated into these creatures. Nobody has seen this principle in action since the War of the Magi. Perhaps with magic rising again in the world,we will see it more often again? I then realized that Vector must actually have a fairly significant magical presence to create this effect and make it perceptible. I still did not have any guage on the urgency of the situation, but I could see that it was more and more dire than I had originally hoped.

I checked my inventory in my sac. The pictures of my family and friends I had left in Miranda, hidden in a secret bank account to which only I knew the number. I would come back and get them later. Some food and water rations were still in the satchel, including a little extra in case of a mishap. I also had a groundcloth. More importantly, I was carrying a few vials of tonic and another of tincture. Then, of course, I had my sword.

I decided that it would be a bad idea to simply go and have a look around in the Magitek factory at this moment, seeing that I was tired from walking all day and fending off a giant preying mantis-like creature. I decided to rest for the night after eating one of the rations. I spread the groundcloth underneath me and draped my cloak over me. I hoped that no more of those flying men with the umbrellas found me while I was asleep — that would have been an ignonomous end to my adventure. Fortunately, none did.

The next day, I made my way into the city, cloaked and disguised, as usual. I headed over towards the strange factory to the east side of town — presumably the one that I was looking for. Several guards, including a magitek-armored soldier, barred the only way in. Well, they thought that it was the only way in. A creek ran around the side of the factory. I snuck around the sides of the buildings and examined it. There was an unfamiliar smell issuing from the creek, and a dead pigeon or two floating in it. I backed away and ran back into the alley. The creek had probably been poisoned, and even swimming across would cost me my life.

It was then that I noticed the network of cables that went into and out of the factory. The cables carried electrical power into the factory, so they couldn’t simply be easy to break, and they looked sturdy enough (and wide enough) that I could run across them. I only hoped that fumes issuing from the moat would not lay me to waste as I ran over the barrier. This was the only way in, however, and I had to take the chance. I climbed up onto a dumpster, and then leaped and grabbed the cables, and pulled myself up. I took a deep breath, and then ran as fast as I could without falling off while trying not to breathe while over the moat.

I made it across and then ducked into a corner of the building, hoping that nobody had spotted me. I listened intently, and heard no shouting. Cautiously, I looked around, and saw that the guards that were on the road were still standing there, oblivious to the fact that their security had just been breached. I was also sickened to see the body of a girl, no older than eight or ten years of age, floating in the poisonous fluid. I climbed back up the corner of the wall, using the cables to brace myself, and then crawled in the ventilation duct into the factory.

I heard continual catchunking as one would expect in a factory. I looked through a grate and saw a line of magitek suits sitting on a conveyer belt. This was the place, all right. Most of the workers were out of the room, and I watched as one of them walked up to one of the magitek suits and began to fiddle with it. Suddenly an insect-like creature ran towards him and sprayed a fluid at him. There was a scream and an alarm. I was very startled and reached for my sword, in case I had been detected and it was not just this monster. Several men with weapons ran in and impaled the creature before it actually grabbed the ailing man, who was taken into a stretcher, his clothing tattered. I guess that the fluid must have been something very corrosive. The alarm stopped as the man was carried off — it was just the monster, not me.

I crawled through the ventilation, sword ready (in case I encountered something in the duct). I tracked where the man was taken and listened. A man in a yellow labcoat and hat stood at the ready next to another large machine with a sphere with several short tubes sticking out of it at the lower end (the tubes were about the width of my upper leg and about as long as my hand). The entire ball was sitting over a large, metal bowl. I heard the man in yellow, evidently the factory director, speak.

"Another monster attack? What is going on here?" he walked over to the ailing worker. "Acid burns. If we want him to live, we have to activate the tissue restoration device soon," he said. The men who bore the worker in on the stretcher began to carry the burned worker towards the metal bowl, when another individual walked in.

Chapter 6 — This be Evil!

This fellow was frightful to behold. He appeared to have albino skin (although it may have been face paint), with almost crimson lips that were several times the size of normal facial proportions (I guessed more face paint). His outfit didn’t help him either — gaudy colors, some red, some green. I can’t really describe it. He looked like a madman (an assessment that I later discovered to be precisely the case).

"Don’t use it. Save it for somebody useful. The thing will wear out if we use it," said the man in a rasping voice.

"General Kefka, this man will die—" answered the man in yellow before he was cut off. So this was Kefka. Come to think of it, I had seen him many years before, and although his presence was imposing, in my childhood he didn’t look anything like he did in the factory. My thoughts were broken off by what I then heard coming out of the… general.

"Silence, director Cid. He is not worth the maintenance!" Cid… I had seen him a number of times. He was supposed to have been a friend of my parents… My thoughts were cut off again as I heard a sound that was reminiscent of a very quick wind gust in a window. I then realized that the sound emanated from Kefka, who was… laughing. For a moment, my thoughts drifted back to Cid. This man was the contact that the Empire was using to watch over me, I thought. As Kefka began to leave the room, I began to move again in the ventilation ducts, trying to follow him.

I followed Kefka into a room with a number of chambers, the contents of which I could not easily see from my position looking through a grate. I decided to find out what those were. I crawled down the ladder to the lower level of duct and began to inch my way towards another grate to crawl out of to look around (I could see that there were no guards). Another one of those acid-spewing beasts began running down the duct towards me, and let fly. I ducked away into another duct just in time and saw a spray go past me. I brought it down with my sword as it reared the corner, and it made a soft squeal. I hoped that nobody had heard it. Pushing it out of the way, I then crawled around it and headed for the grate. Satisfied that there really were no guards or security devices in the room, I pushed the grate aside and crawled out.

The room was filled with cylindrical fluid-filled glass tanks. The one nearest to me held…

I took a closer look. It’s appearance at first was an aged, robed human, dressed in the style of prophets of old. An appropriate staff was being held in his hand. Unsettled, I proceeded on. The next one held a figure of a woman, blond-haired, scantily clothed, and possessing an elaborate, decorated lyre. Somehow, she and the prophet looked familiar. I tried to remember where it was that I had seen them. I did not know them, but… Siren and Ramuh!

Espers! The Empire had captured Espers and were somehow getting their magic. I looked around the room, and saw two more — Ki-rin and Stray. The other cylinders were empty. Still trying to be quiet and alert, I went over to the door to the room where Kefka had gone and tried to peerthrough the crack between the heavy metal slabs. The next room appeared to be a guard chamber — filled with soldiers, many in magitek armor, and apparently waiting to act if anyone came through them to get to this room. Apparently they hadn’t realized that this building was possible to infiltrate via the ventilation. However, I saw two men heading for the door to this room!

I ran back to the grate and slipped back into the ventilation system, pulling the grate back into place just as I heard the guards turning the massive wheels needed to open the metal doors. With my body safely concealed in the darkness below, I looked up and watched and listened as the two men approached. They approached, looked the hall up and down, and I listened to what they were saying.

One of them said "I can’t believe that the higher ups think that anyone would come through that door. It’s guarded by the other troop barracks, too."

Other troop barracks? I listened to the response. "Maybe, Wedge, but we gotta check. Who knows who might have gassed the other barracks."

"Oh well. All clear. Let’s go back to the guardroom and play darts, Biggs," said the other guard. The two walked back through the door. I have a feeling that those two were the soldiers that the people in Narshe say "escorted me" into town, but I don’t have any real way of knowing (I remember nothing of it). Meanwhile, I was alone in the room once more.

I decided that I would have to do something. Sooner or later, they would find me here. I also did not think that it would be safer after nightfall — the Empire was going to hold troops here at all times, regardless of holidays. Not surprisingly, too; even not knowing about the Espers, this was the perfect place for a terrorist to strike, right where all the magitek armor was made. I wondered if I was a terrorist by their definition. I suppose I could have been, getting ready to break their subjects out of their prison and cut off their source of magic. This was more of a rescue operation, in my opinion, although it didn’t turn out that way for a lot of people.

Satisfied that no more soldiers were going to appear and sound the alarm, I crawled once again out of the grate. I looked at the Ramuh, and he seemed to look back at me. A look in his eyes seemed to tell me that if I broke the glass… I wondered — would they die, or be free to escape? Either way, I had no other way of getting them out. The controls to cease animation I was sure were guarded a lot more heavily than this, probably with Kefka at their helm. If they escaped, they would be free. If they died… they would still be free from… whatever it was that was being done to them. I pulled out my sword, and threw it into the bottom of the chamber that contained the old prophet, careful to aim low so as to not hit the creature inside. The glass broke, the aqueous fluid poured out, and Ramuh was loose.

Chapter 7 — Lightning and Fire

The freed creature saw me, and seemed to draw in a sigh of relief. For a moment, I thought I heard him mutter my name. I was then conscious of the alarms that were now singing from the broken cage. I heard shouting in the room behind me where the troops were stationed. The next thing that I heard was a deafening thunderclap. There was also an extremely bright flash.

When I could see again, I saw that Ramuh had freed the other three Espers that were present. I also heard the wheels being turned as the soldiers tried to open the door. I realized that they must not get through, and prepared to weld the gears that held the doors shut with my own magic when I saw a lightning bolt zap past me and weld the door first. I spun around to face Ramuh again.

"Thank you… Terra," I heard Ramuh say. I was somewhat surprised — how did he know my name? True, he was a magical being, but was that all? Of course Ramuh was a prophet Esper, and so he might know for that reason. "There is much to tell you, child, but now we have no time for it." I saw another lightning bolt blast through the roof as Ramuh lifted himself, me, and the other three Espers through it. I wondered why he had been doing everything — were the other three weakened somehow?

"Tell me!" I cried. I then heard the rattle of a machine gun, and ducked behind a chimney as I saw flashes of bullets hitting the roof where I had been.

"Flee now, young Terra. Alas, I cannot carry you, having been drained." The voice of the prophet was very sad. Siren weakly indicated that herself and the other two were also unable to help me escape by air.

"Go!" I cried. "If they catch you again, they will do… whatever they were doing again! I have some means to defend myself, and if I don’t make it, I don’t want my sacrifice to be in vain!" Silently the three flew off, gaining an ethereal quality. Apart from Ramuh, the three all looked very weak, as if they would not live long even if escaped. I was jolted back to what was at hand as my sword clattered next to me behind the smokestack, and I heard another round of gunfire scatter off the roof.

I took a quick glance from behind the smokestack, and saw several legions of imperial troopers on that side of the building. I sprinted back over the side of the roof carefully keeping the smokestack between myself and the gunner. The troops had gathered on the other side, too, and were prepared to catch me if I leapt off the roof (particularly considering that I would probably break more than a few bones doing so). Instead, I slipped into a skylight.

The room that I entered contained a great deal of machinery, including a conveyer belt of suits of magitek armor. I hid behind one of them as a horde of soldiers ran through the room and out the other door. Sensing that I was alone again, I climbed up the back of one of the suits and tried to figure any of the controls. I then realized that although these controls were simple, the thing still had no engine! I decided to hide and follow the conveyer belt into the engine-installing room. This room was deserted, too. Apparently I had shut down the entire factory for that day!

Cautiously, I went as quietly as I could towards the door, and cracked it open. What I saw almost made me panic. I ducked out of the way just in time before some sort of beam fired from the active magitek suit in the next room and blew the door to pieces. I peeked around the side of the broken hinges, and saw a whole bunch of magitek-armored pilots. The lead one was charging up for another shot. I dashed farther away before the laser tore a hole in the wall. At this moment, a crew of soldiers burst through the door from further inside the factory.

I was hopelessly outnumbered — no degree of swordsmanship, ferocity, courage, or skill (of which I as yet had fairly little) could have saved me. I looked back at the magitek armor outside, and concentrated, hoping to get what I was trying to do to work before the sword-armed soldiers caught up with me. "Fire", I cried at last. That caused some commotion.

I went outside through the gaping hole in the wall to where about a dozen magitek armored warriors had just been singed. What I had wanted had not happened — they had not run away. Instead they charged and fired. I am thankful that their lasers were not well guided, or else I would have texture-coated the ground and some of the suits of armor. Alas for them, who blasted two of their own number with their own weapons. More magitek-armored soldiers appeared around the corner. There was nothing for it but to fight magic with magic.

I cast another area-effect fire spell, burning a number of the soldiers very badly. I never found out how many survived, since more kept coming and I didn’t have a chance for a few desperate cure spells. I was horrified at what I had to do — the B Magitek Company, a unit fifty strong, was charred to a crisp in about two and a half minutes. By the end, I was out of magic energy, and the infantry were still pursuing me. I hoped that as many of the soldiers that I had fried as possible would be saved from their burns so that they wouldn’t die. From what I had seen of Kefka’s treatment of the worker splashed with acid, however, I was not too faithful that the Imperial army would even care for their wounded.

I ran through the pall of dense smoke that was left from the burning suits of magitek armor. I found that the area that I was in was a storage area, and I would have to go out through the front of the building to truly escape. I ran for that door, hearing the bullets fly in front of and behind me. Finally I got in, and tried to bolt the door as best as I could with a heavy desk, but there was one more obstacle between me and freedom, for standing in the doorway was Kefka himself.

Chapter 8 — The Duel

"Yes, Terra? What do you think that you have done?" sneered the madman before he let out his chilling laugh. "You know that in your way you are more valuable than those Espers that you just freed?" Kefka laughed again. I was taken aback. Obviously, he had been paying more attention to me before I fled to Miranda than I was aware in order for him to recognize me. Somehow, it seemed to me that he was almost expecting me here.

I didn’t say anything. I did not hear any shouting from inside the yard behind me, either. It seemed to be just me and him. Kefka then made another comment. "If I were to burn your guts out, I could then take you and heal you with that tissue restoration device, and by that point you would be helpless and we could control you. You’re worth wasting that device on, you know. You’re valuable."

I then heard a soldier bang on the door that I had blocked with the desk. I grabbed a random paperclip on the desk and jammed it into the lock, hoping that the soldiers would not be able to get the door open. I then faced Kefka. "You’re fresh out of magic, you know. No more fire for you. Not that it would do you much good against a mage that could cast Flare. You’re already quite defenseless. Now do you want to come peacefully, or do you want your capture to be rough?"

"Why?" I finally managed to say. "Why do you imprison Espers and drain power out of them?" I was greeted only by that horrible laugh. "Why did you want me? Why can’t we just let magic be? Do you really want to rekindle the War of the Magi?" More laughter. Kefka slowly regained his composure, and a solid thud hit the door behind me. That door would stand up to blows a lot heavier than that, but…

Kefka did not answer any of my questions. He simply said "You’ll find out in due time, but first…" he began charging up a spell. I did not know what it was that he could have been casting, save that he at least knew Flare. I did not stand still and wait for it to hit me, though. I did something that he did not expect. He thought that I was truly defenseless. He was almost right. Almost.

I dashed forward towards the man, drawing my sword as I charged. Kefka was forced to break off his casting to deal with me. I made a quick slash across his costume, but he ducked aside so that I barely hit him. His hand manifested a visible electrical charge and he lunged at me, and I quickly dodged, making another swipe with my weapon. This one made a gash across his arm, and he squealed. He then kicked me, and sent me sprawling. I heard the sound of what I recognized to be a high-level Bolt spell. I was up and let loose another slash as fast as I could. I saw the streamers of lightning around me, and I knew that soon a great blue bolt would rip out of the ground and course the length of my body. I grabbed onto Kefka’s other arm as the spell cast, and it burned both of us, but it did not incapacitate me. At such close quarters, he was at a disadvantage using magic, and I let him have one more swipe with my sword, and Kefka dropped to his knees, a greater cure spell almost ready.

I did not stick around. Kefka’s cure spell would go off before I could hit him with my sword again, and then he would be unwounded, whereas I would still be burned from that lightning stroke. He would have an easy time bringing me down after that. I ran for the door to the outside and braved another spurt of machine-gun fire as I sprinted across the bridge and then ducked into the alleys and buildings of Vector. The entire town would be in an uproar that night, as soldiers went roving to and fro. Crouching behind a dumpster, I drew up a quick plan for my escape. If I made it, I could ponder what Ramuh had said later.

Chapter 9 — Starlight

The building rooftops were dark, and would remain so, unlike the streets. The Imperial troops hopefully wouldn’t find me up there. I peered out from the hiding place where I was, and watched three magitek-armored soldiers stroll past. I ducked back, and looked out again in a moment when all was quiet to see if the coast was clear. When it was, I moved.

There was a stairway up the side of the building, and I scaled it as fast and as quietly as I could, taking advantage of the trash cans on the levels with the doors to keep unseen when the soldiers ran by with their searchlights. Finally, I reached the top. It was dark on the roofs, lit only by the tiny pinpricks of light above me. Carefully, I walked to the edge of one of the roofs and looked down to see what the situation was below me. It was mostly quiet below, although the patrols that frequented the city at night continued at an increased rate. I wonder what the propaganda would be in the morning.

With stealth still in mind, I then walked along the cables that connected building to building. I was also very careful not to slip — a fall would not have killed me, but I probably would have broken a leg or at least sprained an ankle, and then where would I have been? Fortunately, I was more than able to see; my dark vision is about as good as my distance vision. I hoped that the Imperial soldiers were not so gifted.

I did not hear any shouting or gunfire that night, fortunately. A searchlight never illuminated me. Even when the magitek-suited troops clomped noisily beneath me, they did not turn their lights upward. I wondered how they thought that I had even gotten into the Magitek Factory, but they hadn’t thought of the cables. Did they think that I snuck past the guards on that bridge or swam across the poisoned creek? I wondered when it would be that they fished that girl’s body out of the creek for a moment, and then realized that they would probably be more interested in cleaning up the mess that I had made in the factory that day first. I wondered if they had any more Espers in storage there. I hoped not. I still hope not.

Finally, after several hours of walking across the broad cables that connected the buildings and rooftops in Vector, I reached the outskirts of the city. Vector has walls, but they are so filled with pipes and the like that I could easily scale them. Troops paced the outside occasionally. With patrols as sparse as this, only one every few hundred meters or so, I wondered if they really thought they would catch me. I suppose that they probably would have if I had been on the streets that night, but…

When I saw a wide gap between the soldiers, I climbed down off the building that I was on and sprinted out into the fields and hid in another irrigation ditch. I waited for the next patrol to pass, and then I ran for it, keeping inside the irrigation ditches as best I could. Nobody ever spotted me, thankfully, so I made it out of Vector. Safe? Well, if no monsters came, maybe. Of course, the Empire actually would be devoting most of its internal resources to catching me now. I couldn’t imagine what the propaganda newspapers would say — I was almost afraid to go into a town and find out.

I was left to ponder what Ramuh had said to me. The Empire had, it seemed, drained some of the magic from the Espers that they were holding. Now they were a bit weaker. I wondered how that Kefka got hold of them. I wondered what I had to do with all of this. I was "valuable." The only people I knew of at this point that really considered me valuable were myself and possibly my family, though I wondered how much they knew of what the Empire wanted with me. Were they bringing me up for government benefits? Or did they really care? I didn’t know. I still don’t. I’m not even sure that I’ll ever see them again. I wasn’t sure then, either.

What did Ramuh want to tell me? That’s the other thing that crossed my mind. I did not know whether Espers as a general rule were basically good or whether they were more or less neutral. Legend had it, that depended on the Esper, and Ramuh, Ki-Rin, Startlet, Seraphim, Bahamut, Odin, Phoenix, and Alexander were supposed to be basically good, whereas others like Ifrit were supposed to be evil. I did not know for sure. As far as I knew, there may have been more than one of any given Esper at a time, possibly even with different powers, or even with a fundamentally different nature (the legends do not agree on what Shiva was like at all).

Did I have something to do with any of this? Where did I get magic? Was I… Am I… somehow connected to the Espers? Or am I some test subject engineered by the Empire? I still don’t know for sure, save that the Empire wants to get its claws on me again.

That was my real adventure. Well, of course, it couldn’t have just ended abruptly like that. I’m not still a fugitive in the fields around Vector. It’s just…

I changed a great deal since then. I have always been a rather introverted girl, but I lost some of the courage and the resolve that I had back then. This isn’t just because of any crown or mind-control. My adventure in the factory was the most major thing that I did to the Empire during those few months, but… it all ended with an experience more traumatic than any that I imagine you or anybody else you know has ever had and been able to talk about it later. Not even that ninja that calls himself Shadow has had to deal with anything quite like this before. I guess I’ll tell it… It’s not like I have anything to lose by describing it. It’s just… painful to think about it.

Chapter 10 — The Hunted

Fearing that Imperial soldiers would have traced me to Miranda, I set out for Tzen. Located in the secluded mountains north of Vector, Tzen was, I figured, a better place to hide for the moment than Albrook or Miranda. I hoped that the Empire expected me to go to Albrook to get a boat off this continent, or back to Miranda where I had been based before. I also tried to set out as fast as I could before the news could spread from Vector to the other towns.

I encountered no monsters until I was about halfway to Tzen, when I heard something behind me. I looked, and saw a large group of magitek soldiers following me! I ran for cover in a nearby grove of trees, and looked out, trying not to remain seen. The soldiers drew nearer, and I felt my hand reaching for my sword. I wondered if that would be my last day. I certainly did not want to be taken alive for Kefka’s purpose that was probably worse than death. I silently waited as the troops approached.

Eventually the soldiers caught up with me. I was still dried up for magic, and a simple blade would do nothing against these brutes. But they clomped past me, not more than twenty meters away at the closest. They did not stop. They just kept going. I heard no shouting or anything to suggest that they were on my trail. They were not looking left or right, as if expecting to find me. As they passed my by, I realized that they were a force intending to search for me in Tzen, and to alert the garrison there that I was to be searched for. Maybe it wasn’teven me that they were after — maybe Tzen was revolting.

If they sent a company of magitek soldiers to Tzen, they probably sent one to Miranda and Albrook as well. I was going to have to be careful no matter where I was. After the troop was out of sight, I began to follow. Who knows what I would find? I just hoped that I hadn’t made some crucial mistake.

Tzen was in quite an uproar when I found it. Magitek soldiers were running up and down the streets at quite a pace. They seemed to be just patrolling. I did not know whether they were looking for me or for any other resistance or something in Tzen. Whichever, I’m sure those soldiers by now had my description and knew the clothes that I was wearing, so they would spot me if I came into town to find out. I decided that this town would not be possible to stay in, and turned and went south towards Albrook.

Albrook is clear on the other side of Vector from Tzen. Located on the southern coast, Albrook is the only significant port on the continent. I was sure that the Empire would be watching very carefully the traffic in and out of Albrook with the rest of the world, trying to catch me if I tried to leave by boat. Flight from this continent was still not my intention, but I was getting low on supplies. I would not have anything to eat for the last two days of the trip to Albrook; my rations were run out. I also needed a place to rest and heal — the wound that I sustained from Kefka’s lightning spell was stinging me, and if it got infected even magic couldn’t save me.

Exhausted and hungry, and slightly more hurt from some monsters that I encountered along the way, I reached Albrook. I was now truly out of supplies — I had no food, and I had used the last tonic that I had bought in Miranda. If I ran into any more monsters, I would have been easy prey. As I was afraid, Albrook was swarming with magitek-armored soldiers, too. I figured that Geshtal had sent a third to Miranda (I wondered how many Magitek suits the Empire had). Fortunately, Albrook is a bigger town than Miranda or Tzen, so I hoped that I could hide.

I tried to redo my hairstyle as best as I could to hopefully disguise myself. I also tried to hide the tatters of my cloak, so that that would not give me away. The first thing that I did was to go into a wardrobe shop and get some new clothing of a different color. Hoping the shopkeeper was not an informant, I then headed for an inn to get some extremely needed nourishment. The baked potatoes that I was fed were very welcome as I sat in the inn, always being weary of anybody who might have noticed or identified me.

There was plenty to be worried about — the inn was filled with soldiers. I tried to listen to what they were saying. I could gather that they were indeed after me, and they seemed now to have some rumors that made them very afraid of me ("I hear she fried fifty of our magitek-armored soldiers in under three minutes!"). I wondered if any of them realized how easily they could take me right now — probably not. I’m not sure Kefka knew how close he had come to killing me with that lightning stroke. After dinner, I went up to the room that I had been given and looked out the window. There were no cables that I could climb around on like in Vector, but I probably could leap to an adjacent building if I needed to — if the alley was filled with waiting soldiers. I closed and locked the door, then pushed the wastebasket against it in case any soldiers came in while I was sleeping. Satisfied that I had done all that I could do to allow for an emergency escape, I curled up on the bed and quickly lapsed into unconsciousness.

Chapter 11 — There is no Haven

I woke up still very tired and feeling slightly ill. I checked the burn that I had taken from the lightning, and noticed that it stung slightly. I also had a feeling of… well, you’ve probably never felt it. It was one of possessing some energy within me, but not of the sort of having plenty of sugar in my blood. I knew what it meant, and I went to a corner, and tried as quietly as I could. Cure. I saw the slight sparkles, the familiar tingling as the burned tissue was repaired, and then the stinging subsided. After a few minutes, my feeling of slight illness subsided, too. I lay back on the bed, relieved. That was close, I thought. The burn had begun to become infected. A half-day more, and even magic would not have been able to save me from dying of it.

I waited until it was starting to get light when I began to pack the sack I had been keeping everything in. I did not want to stay in Albrook any longer than I had to — not, at least, until the hordes of magitek soldiers went home. I tied the cord around the mouth of the sac when there was a light tap on the door. I went over and looked through the tiny eyehole in the heavy wooden door to see who it was.

As I was afraid of, it was soldiers. But it was not a whole mob of them clustered around my door; instead, there were a few all across the hall. I listened carefully to what they were saying. "We ask the people going to the inn every night if they saw or know anything, but I tell you, she’s not in Albrook — she’s in Miranda!" I heard one of them say.

"Good, ‘cause I don’t want to be the one who has to apprehend someone that dangerous," said another. I did not know whether it was good or bad that they were afraid of me. They were more apprehensive about searching for me, for one, but they might be more willing to panic if they were scared. I also did not wish any harm on any of them; they didn’t know (probably) what the Emperor was really about — they were just doing their jobs.

"Well, either the person in here is asleep, or the room is empty," said the soldier next to my door. "That’s what we get for asking people at seven in the morning!" I did not move an inch, and tried to be perfectly still. If they did not know that I was in here, I did not want them to find out. It seemed like forever as they paced up and down the hall, getting a few people to stick their heads out and say they hadn’t seen anything. Eventually, after about a half-hour, the entire mob went downstairs.

I very carefully walked over to the bed and lay down on it again. There were no more disruptions until the herald in the town square cried out that it was now eight in the morning, at which point I put on the new cloak that I had bought the day before and went downstairs. I had a small, unsweetened cake for breakfast, and then I left on my way. As I turned the corner to head for a supply shop, I saw a rather large group of soldiers storm through the front door. I kept going, and I heard some shouting inside. I couldn’t make it out, but I think that I heard my name. I thought that I might also have heard the sounds of a fight. I’m pretty sure I did hear a shriek or a scream or something. I picked up speed. They were still on my tail.

I got a few sets of rations, and then I set off, trying to keep as inconspicuous as possible. I left the town off the established roads and headed for a nearby forest. I made it, but I saw a patrol on chocobo head in my direction as I got into the trees. I spent much of the afternoon underneath some tree roots as the chocobo patrol made its rounds. I was getting sick of this by now. I think that the patrol had left by late afternoon, so I headed on through the forest. I still don’t think that that patrol was certain of who they saw, but they certainly had a pretty good guess. That night I considered very carefully what I should do next.

Chapter 12 — Plans and Reflections

I was now stuck in much the same situation as when I turned from Tzen to Albrook. Well, not quite the same situation — I did not have to worry about dying of an infected lightning burn out here now. I would still, of course, eventually run out of food. I recalled how it was only a month and ahalf or so ago that I had been living safely and happily back in Vector. And Ram uh and the others were in the factory being "drained." I still am not exactly sure what that does to an Esper, but it can’t possibly be good. I reflected on how this game of cat-and-mouse could not possibly last forever. Either, as I hoped, they would eventually give up their search and move on to looking for something else, or sooner or later, I would be caught. I did not know what would happen then. I wondered if it would even be better not to be taken alive.

The imperial troops were swarming around in Albrook. I wondered what had become of that sweet innkeeper after those soldiers had charged in. Had they wrecked his business… or worse? Did those soldiers know how close they had came? Did they think… that they had me when they didn’t? I shuddered to think of what would have happened to an innocent victim had they mistaken her for me. Sooner or later, of course, they would figure out that they had the wrong person, since I can use magic and she couldn’t. But would that be before or after they "interrogated" her?

I wondered if there was any place that I could flee to. I would be searched for just about everywhere. I don’t think that I could spend the night in a town again. They had good enough intelligence to figure out where I was, given too many hours. Of course, I could just get rations and go, but that would mean that I couldn’t restore any magical energy (well, except for tinctures, but I did not even have enough money on me at all to buy another of those). It’s also not like the local monsters carried that much at all. Only the fairly intelligent ones had any at all — the beasts had none whatsoever.

I tried to consider where to go to get more supplies next. I had enough to go just about anywhere on the continent, but then I would have to restock again. I considered for a moment. They did not see me going from Vector all of the way to Tzen and then back to Albrook. I suspected that they thought that I had either hid in Vector for a week or two and then headed south, or that I was simply a fairly slow traveler. If so, the soldiers probably did not expect me to turn up in Tzen again — I would stop in Vector first if going that direction. Tzen it would be, then. I hoped that Geshtal or Kefka did not predict that I would come up with that plan and be waiting for me there.

I still don’t think that they did second-guess me like that — not correctly, anyhow. But that still doesn’t change the facts.

I never did make it to Tzen.

Chapter 13 — A Terrible Waste

I set out north. The day I picked up and began to walk was crystal clear. The second, I could see the wispy icy clouds become replaced by a high, icy veil. A veil of the sort that Setzer might fly above, or Darill might have. The third day began cold and damp. I realized that I soon would be stranded here, and had to find some shelter. The rain began around mid-morning as I huddled under my makeshift blanket. It was not waterproof, so I got soaked, but at least the underside was kept warm from the heat of my body. I didn’t even have to use magic. The rain continued, and got steadily heavier. A fierce wind picked up. If I tried to keep going now, I would have gotten hypothermia, so I had to stay. The rain did not stop until nightfall, and then only because it had changed to snow. I managed to stay comfortable, but only because I had stopped traveling. The snow lasted for two more days — quite unseasonable for this time of year.

The Sun broke through on the fourth day of the storm, and I resumed my press northward. After several hours of travel, I realized that I was seventeen that day. My adopted parents must have been worried sick — that is, if the Empire did not execute them for raising me as such a ‘flawed’ child. I still don’t know what has become of them. The improved weather was a welcome present at the time. In retrospect, I almost wish that it had rained that day after the snow. I would probably have gotten to Tzen if it had.

It was the next day that…

I was walking past Vector that day. It was west of me. There were a good number of patrols around the town, and, of course, there were the lookouts on the walls as well. One of them — the lookouts or the patrols must have spotted me. I think that it was the contrast against the snow instead against the more normal settings. I first became aware of it when I saw a chocobo patrol of two men riding towards me from behind and from the left. I ducked into the forest and tried to evade them, but they were already too close. There was nothing that I could do but try to fight them off. As they drew near, I spun to face them, sword ready.

They charged, one of them with a mesh net ready. I cut through the net, and then attacked the nearest one. He fell off his chocobo — I never knew how badly I actually hurt him (although I could see his blood on my sword, so I know that I didn’t just knock him off). The other one grabbed my swordarm from behind, but was not prepared for my strength when I yanked him off his chocobo onto the snow. He let go of me as he fell. I hit the remaining chocobo with the flat side of my sword to get it to gallop away, and then I sprinted.

I came to the edge of this little patch of forest only to find a magitek-armored soldier clomping towards the edge of the wood, with two more chocobomen, one of which had a very mean-looking machine gun. As I began to flee from them, I saw Kefka materialize next to the magitek soldier. I didn’t stick around — I just sprinted. I heard the man’s awful laugh as I leapt over logs and mounds of snow. The chocobos, I hoped, would not be so able to follow in this region of low branches and logs on the forest floor. I knew that I was more maneuverable than they were, albeit not nearly as fast. I heard the magitek suit clomp along side of me as I ran, out in the fields beyond. I then tried to duck further inside the wood, realizing that the gunman could shoot at me from outside.

I noticed just in time that Kefka, who had seemingly cast Float on himself (or something similar), was right behind me, gliding effortlessly over the fallen logs and ducking the branches. I dove to the ground just as he sailed over me, then got up and unsheathed the sword again. Kefka turned around and prepared to cast something high-level. I hit him with Fire before his high-level thing finished charging up. He then used some sort of whip and slashed at me, still floating some feet off the ground. I reached down and tried to cut the whip, but it wrapped around my sword and Kefka tried to pull it away. I braced myself and managed to hold on to it. He pulled me of my feet instead, but as I was yanked forward, I impaled him (though not right through him — not even that deep). Kefka roared with rage as he cast Cure something (not just Cure) on himself. Taking the opportunity, I broke into another run.

I found the magitek suit and the two chocobo riders waiting for me when I reached the edge of this patch of forest, now on the northeast side. I ducked into a ravine just in time before an ice beam went right over my head and froze the trees to their heartwoods. I saw Kefka materialize again next to the magitek suit (I guess that he used a warp stone or something).

I ran down the ravine, and the rise between me and the chocobos sloped into the ground. I heard yelling and saw one of the chocobos ride along side of me. I began to duck back inward, hoping to find some ravine or something inside the forest to take cover. I heard shooting.

This time, the shots didn’t all miss. I felt three pass through me, and I hit the snow.

It was absolutely awful. The pain was indescribable. I can’t even imagine it now, even though I have felt it before.

It couldn’t have been long, because the soldiers and Kefka had not gotten to me yet.

I also couldn’t move much, and I was rapidly getting weaker. It was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe.

Weaker, and fainter, until…

…I died.

…There’s no mistake. I bled to death. That’s not the sort of thing you mistake when it actually happens to you.

I suspect that Kefka then used that ‘tissue restoration device’ to repair my carcass to such an extent that all that was needed to revive me was an electrical shock to get my heart going. By that time, of course, they had that slave crown in place. As far as I was concerned, I was still dead until Arvis took the crown off.

You know the rest of the story. I didn’t join the Returners easily at the start because for one I didn’t trust them yet, and for another I was still shaken from… dying.

I think that I’m getting my courage back now.