Author's Note: The characters of Final Fantasy VI have long been a fascinating part of my life. Of course, the characters of many of the older Square titles have given me hours of enjoyment and laughter as well as tears and irritation. One particular aspect of Final Fantasy VI that I felt to be left unspoken – reasonably so, perhaps – was the question of our young heroine. Shy and timid, yet strong and determined. Naïve and innocent, yet she'd seen and caused so much death. She was passionate and powerful, yet seemed to embrace and epitomize purity.
One aspect of her character that was left to itself was an unacceptable ending for me. So, in the following fic – the first piece I ever attempted – I took it upon myself to open her eyes and her heart to the possibilities. I gently opened doors and allowed her the discovery of who she was and what she wanted. I encourage reviews. J I love hearing about favorite parts/scenes/statements. I hope you enjoy reading it. I know I enjoyed writing it.
Terra Branford stared out at the fading sun with unseeing eyes. A tear slid down her pale cheek and she lowered her head as the breeze ruffled the light green waves of her hair. She could still feel the thrill of freedom when she let her memories drift to the days when she'd been free to soar.
"Mamma!" A young girl's wail was heard moments before she ran into the room. Her blonde ponytails were dripping wet, as was a large portion of her pale yellow jumper. "Mamma, R-Robby dumped his w-water on me," she sobbed.
Terra smiled and scooped the weeping six-year-old into her arms. The little girl snuggled into them and cried into her shoulder. "It's all right," Terra said in a soft voice. "It's only water. I don't think you'll melt."
The quiet, soothing tone quieted the girl until she was merely sniffling as she clung to Terra's neck. While at one time saving the world from Kefka's insanity had seemed a much easier task than taking care of so many children, now Terra couldn't imagine her life without them.
"Come on, Cera. Let's get you dried off, and then we'll go find Robby," she said aloud.
Cera sniffed a few more times as she peered at Terra with puzzled blue eyes. "Why?"
"Little boys love picking on little girls until... well..." Terra touched Cera on the nose with a slender finger. "I'll tell you when you're older. Right now, let's go dump water on him and see how he likes it."
"Oh goody!" And Cera's eyes twinkled with delight.
The little girl wriggled down from Terra's grasp, squealing with giggles as she streaked from the room. A trail of water droplets marked her path. Terra sent another longing glance over her shoulder toward the pink and lavender sky before turning with a sigh and following Cera's trail. It had been months since the long series of battles at the Tower of Kefka where her friends had defeated the tormented soul of its namesake. Those months since magic's existence faded had left her feeling strangely hollow.
Locke and Celes came to visit whenever they could, and she was always glad to see them, but they were so involved with each other that being in the same room with them usually made Terra feel worse. She knew Locke suspected something was wrong, but how could she tell him that seeing the two happy made her miserable? Locke would have felt guilty and taken it upon himself to try and help her, although she knew he wouldn't have had any idea how. She didn't even know what the problem was.
Terra released a deep breath, and then a reluctant smile danced on her lips. The children were thrilled when Shadow materialized in his ever-mysterious ninja fashion. She had no idea what to say to him when he did come, but he was always so content with the silence as he watched her and the children that she'd given up trying. Shadow sometimes stayed for dinner, where he would always be persuaded to tell a brief story before bed. Terra never knew whether the stories were imagined or painfully real, either. Then he would disappear into the night without another word. She tried so hard to understand him, but it grew harder with each visit.
Terra took hold of a few thick, handmade towels and helped Cera dry off and change her clothes.
"There." Terra turned Cera to face her. "Now. I'll get you a glass of water while you try and remember where you saw him last. Okay?"
Cera nodded; her eyes and expression were serious concentration and thought. Terra giggled and turned away, making her way into the back room that was set up as a functional kitchen. She pulled a glass down from the cupboard as Cera slowly made her way into the kitchen behind her, chewing on the end of one of her ponytails as Terra pumped the water into the glass.
Terra turned to Cera with the full glass of water and gave the girl a mischievous smile. "Okay, then. I've got the water. Do you remember where you left him?"
Cera nodded, still serious, and pointed out of the kitchen." He ran to the house where we all sleep."
Terra nodded and took hold of Cera's hand. "All right. Let's go get him."
Cera grinned, skipping along beside Terra as they exited the house near the entrance of Mobliz and made their way to the houses situated to the west. There weren't any signs of children anywhere, but Terra knew it was because they'd gotten quite good at the game of hide-and-seek. Shadow must be giving them pointers. And that thought brought a wider smile to Terra's face.
"I don't see him," Cera whispered.
"I know. Neither do I. Let's keep looking," Terra whispered back.
Terra's hand tightened around Cera's as she led her toward the back of the main house. The house where Sabin, Celes, and Locke had found her after Kefka ruined the world. She heard a whisper and sent Cera a grin as she handed her the glass of water. Cera nodded, took the glass carefully from Terra's outstretched hand, and then tiptoed around the house. Terra heard a shriek.
Terra laughed and came around the corner of the house. Robby was standing by the back porch with arms held carefully away from his body. His soaked hair dripped water into his eyes and his mouth was gaping open. "You won't be drenching any others now will you?" Terra asked. Robby shook his head. "Cera, why don't you go help Robby get dried off?"
"Okay." Cera grinned. She turned toward Robby and took his arm. "Come on, Robby."
Terra watched them leave as a smile danced on her lips and on her expression. Then the wind caressed her face and she turned. She took in a deep breath of the fresh air and released it slowly, sitting on a grassy patch of ground as the wind continued to tease her hair. She lay on her stomach and picked a strange white flower, staring down at it as the wind whistled in her ears and through her hair.
The world was finally recovering from Kefka's evil influence. She knew it would take time before it was the same grassy paradise she'd come to know and love in the presence of her friends. It would take time and patience. Time. She sighed. I guess that's what everything needs. Even General Leo had said she needed time. And hadn't he been right? Hadn't she learned to love these children who had no family of their own?
But there seemed to be some part of her soul that didn't feel… whole. A longing had started to grow over the past few months that she didn't understand, and she didn't even know who to talk to about it. She got so embarrassed when she tried to bring it up when talking to Celes, and she felt even worse when Sabin asked her what was wrong.
Terra sighed deeply and lifted her eyes to the horizon. What is it? What's pulling at me? It was as if an invisible hand held her heart and wouldn't let go until she discovered who it belonged to. But how will I know who it is? Mobliz has been deserted for so long that I don't think anyone but my friends realize it's even here.
Terra tossed the flower aside with a quick breath of exasperation and rolled over onto her back. She found herself gazing up into a handsome face with a full smile and twinkling blue eyes. She sat up. "Edgar!"
King Edgar of Figaro bowed deep. His typical lopsided smirk heightened his blonde good looks as he made a flourish with his ever-present cape. "At your service, my lady," he said with laughter in his voice. "Your wish is my command."
Edgar offered her his hand and she accepted it. Terra pulled him into a hug once she was fully on her feet, and she smiled with a slight sigh when his arms went around her. She heard him chuckle and pulled back, self-consciously wiping dust and debris from her burgundy trousers and ivory blouse. She occasionally lifted a glance up to see if anyone was with him. No one was.
She met his laughing eyes. "What are you doing here? And how in the world did you get the Chancellor to let you come alone?" Terra's lips rose in a smile. "Don't you usually have a 'bodyguard' with you?"
And that was a preposterous idea, too. He was one of the foremost minds when it came to mechanical battle weapons, and he'd always been able to hold his own in battle. She'd seen him in action enough times to know he didn't need a bodyguard.
"I have come to see you," he said as he gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "I had no wish to watch my entourage guard us guarding every word we say to one another."
Terra's cheeks flushed slightly as her eyes grew wider. "You came to see... me?"
His eyes twinkled. "You, my lady, are the light of my heart. How could I stay away from that?"
Terra saw the familiar glint in his eyes and smiled. "Edgar, why do you always have to be such a tease?" she said with a giggle.
He paused for a very long time and Terra's smile wavered. "Edgar?"
Edgar's lips finally tilted upward. "I continue to forget you knew me when. I am sorry, Terra. Running a kingdom well depends on a certain level of… smooth talk, and I am the king."
"In more ways than one," Terra countered.
He bowed. "Touché."
She passed by him and sat on the bench a few of the older boys had painstakingly built on the side of the house. She offered Edgar the space beside her. "Seriously, Edgar," she told him. "What are you doing here?"
He sat with a flourish of his deep purple cape and leaned back. Edgar's aura alone seemed to transform the dilapidated bench into a velvet lounge.
His brilliant blue eyes focused on the horizon. "As I said before, I've come to see you. Setzer and the others have made it the point of their existence to tell me how… different you've seemed lately. I suppose they believe I'll be able to change you for the better."
Terra leaned back against the chair, pulling her legs up to hug her knees to her chest as she stared at the patch of white flowers with an unseeing gaze. "I don't know what's the matter with me," she said softly. "But I'm glad they care enough to be worried."
Edgar's eyes moved from the horizon to an examination of her profile. "Terra, we love you. Of course anything odd in your demeanor will cause us worry."
Terra's lips lifted in a smile. It was good to hear that. It made her feel… nice and… different. She didn't remember much of her life with the Empire, but she certainly didn't recall any firm and close friendships like what she had with Setzer, Celes, Locke, Sabin, and Edgar.
"This life is much different than our time traveling together, isn't it?" he asked in a quiet tone.
She slightly nodded and adjusted her arms around her legs as her smile disappeared. "Yes, but I don't think that's the problem. I mean… I've been living here with the children for almost three years. Why would that start being a problem now?" She shook her head.
"This does begin a mystery, doesn't it?" Edgar moved his eyes from her profile and crossed his arms. "Have you thought much of the possible reasons?"
Terra sighed with a bit of a shrug. "It… it just feels as if… as if something's calling me. It won't let me go. It's always there and I can't ever really hear what it's saying."
Terra giggled and sent him a sidelong glance. "Yes, it is, and I've been trying to figure out a way to talk to someone about it, but it's so…" She looked away again.
Terra's smile widened a bit and she gave a slight nod. "Yes."
Edgar reached out and stroked her back once, twice, three times in comfort and encouragement before retracting his hand and tightly tucking it under his other arm again. "I apologize, then, that this visit has been so long in coming."
Terra released her hold on her legs and rocked forward a little to grip the seat of the bench instead. "It's alright, Edgar."
"No, it isn't. Terra, you're a close friend," he said softly. "You deserved the time, especially if you had need of it. Which you apparently do."
She faced him and placed a hand on his arm. "Edgar, you're here now. Don't feel so bad."
Edgar freed his right hand from his crossed arms and covered her hand with it, lightly stroking the top with his thumb. "I appreciate your unstated forgiveness." He sent her a quick glance before refocusing his gaze on the horizon. "I've been a cad," he admitted. "I should have listened to Sabin as he made it a point of reminding me of that fact each time he saw my smug face."
"You don't have a smug face," she protested with a laugh as she continued to watch his profile.
"This is what I have always thought," he said with mock seriousness as he released her hand. "In any regard, Sabin was sure that I had done you a great wrong. Now that I see I have, I am determined to set it right."
Terra watched him with a smile as he laid out the reason for his visit, loosing hold of her thoughts and letting them roam to memories of shared laughter and stories and adventures in the company of her friends. Those memories made the hold on her heart drift and fade to practically nothing. Setzer had been right about the visits of her friends being what she'd needed to chase away the oppressive pull. It was nice to feel the calm and peace again.
Terra leaned back against the bench as his friendly voice drifted in and out of her thoughts. It was soothing and… and she didn't really know. It just made her forget things like the nightmares and the press of each day, of her responsibilities, of her duties, and of life in general. His presence, in combination with Sabin and Setzer and the others, made her breathe on a different level. With the comfort of her friends she felt more… complete.
"...So, as you can see, I have a problem."
Terra flushed and changed her eyes to his. "I'm sorry. What can I do to help?"
Edgar looked over at her reddened cheeks and chuckled. "You weren't paying attention, dear lady. Here I was lying my heart at your feet and you didn't hear a word I said." He shook his head and brought a hand up to cover his heart. "My heart is broken."
A flash of something flushed her cheeks to an even darker shade as she stood from the bench and moved a step away to stare at the sunset. "I said I was sorry," she told him in a short tone.
Terra wrapped her arms around herself and chewed her lower lip to keep back the tears that burned at her eyes. She knew he'd only been joking. Edgar came to stand beside her, and the breeze ruffled his cape so that it gently caressed her leg. Terra took in a deep breath as she sent him a sidelong glance. His face was unreadable as he stared out at the distant mountains, and that made Terra's stomach knot up. She'd never seen him that way before.
"Edgar." She faced him. "Edgar, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snarl at you like that. I… I knew you were just joking."
"Perhaps it has been a long day for the both of us." His voice sounded strange.
Terra moved a little closer to her friend's comforting presence standing so firm and still beside her. "Yes. I guess you're right. I…" She found herself watching his odd expression. "I didn't mean to say it like that, Edgar. Really I didn't."
"I know, Terra."
Terra changed her gaze back to the horizon and bit on a fingernail as she crossed her left arm around herself. "Edgar, why don't you ever visit? Thank you for sending the flowers and the invitations to balls and whatever, but… I know things have been busy at Figaro …" She lowered her hand to her left elbow and sighed. "Everyone else has visited at least once. I… I guess I just expected you to visit, too."
Edgar remained silent for longer than she thought he would. When she looked over at him, his eyes wore an odd expression as he watched her face. "If I had known your distress was not the imagination of a mother hen, I would have come much sooner. Things have not been so busy at Figaro that I couldn't have made the time to visit you," he said in a quiet voice.
"But you didn't," she pressed with a catch in her voice. She gnawed her lower lip at a surprising tightness in her throat and looked away. "Maybe that's what's been bothering me?" Terra shrugged and moved her eyes to the toes of her shoes as she dug at the ground with her right toe. "Shadow visits more than you have. I guess that hurt my feelings. I mean… I mean I thought we were friends." And she couldn't believe she was whining about it.
Edgar reached out and brushed a lock of hair from her neck before resting his hand on her shoulder. "I meant to visit," he said softly.
She moved her eyes to his face and held his gaze. "Then why didn't you? You're king of Figaro. You could have come whenever you wanted. Couldn't you?"
He took in a deep breath and released it slowly. "I know. I am truly sorry that my not doing so has hurt you. I did not intend for that to happen."
"I'm not hurt, Edgar," she assured him softly. "I just… I just don't understand."
Edgar gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and sent her a regretful smile. "It's getting late."
The statement made a flutter of regret and desperation battle for the upper hand. It had been nearly a week since Setzer's visit. She was lonely for her friends. "Did you want to stay for dinner? I'm sure everyone would love to have you."
Edgar's expression darkened slightly, but then his lips raised in a smile and the look slowly faded as he lowered his hand from her shoulder. "Much as I wish I could, Terra, I cannot stay. I promised the Chancellor that I would be back to our camp before sunset and, as you can see, I have passed my allotted curfew. We're leaving for Figaro Castle quite early in the morning. If I don't get some rest, I shall be an absolute bear."
"Will you come by before you leave?" His expression softened somewhat and she glanced down, clenching her hands in front of her. "I-I'd love it if you would," she added. She would have given anything for him to stay and talk about old times. To stay and make her laugh like she had when they'd all been together.
"As much as your invitation tempts me," he said as he took hold of her hand, "I must decline." One side of his lips tilted in a smile when her eyes met his. He bowed and touched his lips to her hand. Then he straightened and tossed his cape over his shoulders with a flourish. "Again, I do apologize, but I must away. Take care, dear lady."
And with that, he turned to disappear around the side of the house.
Terra released a deep breath of disappointment that made her lips droop. She took a few steps forward, just to the corner of the house, and pressed her hands against it as she leaned around and watched him stride away. She leaned her forehead against the house with another breath as her lower lip slightly protruded.
King Edgar of Figaro clenched his hands behind his back as he stood on the top most battlement of Figaro castle. The slight breeze teased his tightly combed blonde hair. I should have said ‘farewell' before leaving for home, he told himself sternly. But her initial reaction to his visit had surprised him, making him feel guilty and uncomfortable because he knew she wouldn't have reacted quite so passionately if he'd visited more often. In fact, his lack of visits had caused a heated discussion with Sabin.
"Why don't you ever visit her, brother?" Sabin would hurl the question at him as if it was one of his infamous Blitz attacks, and then he'd expect an honest and just as rapid reply. How could Edgar admit that he didn't know how to talk to her anymore? Sabin would've found it uproariously amusing and worth repeating. He who had claimed to be the original ‘ladies man' had admitted to being uncomfortable in the presence of a lady.
Edgar frowned as he turned from the tower wall and made his way downstairs. His frown deepened to a glare when his conscience nipped at him at the memory of the way the two had parted. I should have stayed for dinner. No. I should have invited her to the campsite. Campsite? Bah! I should have... His frown deepened. I should have what?
Edgar grimaced. He should have stayed and comforted her. He should have coaxed more details from her about what pulled at her so, besides his infrequent visits. And if the reason for her misery is indeed her loss of magic? How does one talk of something such as that? It was still no excuse, he knew. During their adventures, when she'd seemed frightened of the future, he'd been able to deftly divert her mind from the terror and cause her to laugh. So why was I unable to give her the comfort she needed? As I have in the past?
Of course, he'd been arrogant and full of pride then. Sure of his own importance and blinded by his wealth, good looks, and charm. Terra's innocent oblivion now and before to all of these had reminded him of his own simplicity and the fact that he was, above all, a human being.
The Chancellor rushed up on him then, waving contracts and building plans. Edgar brushed him aside and strode past to lock himself in his bedchamber. To blame the Chancellor for Terra and his premature parting the previous week would've been too convenient, especially when Edgar knew that only he was to blame.
Locke and Celes had mentioned so many times how Terra seemed more withdrawn. Instead of following his common sense and visiting her to offer his help, he'd pushed his concern aside with the easy excuse that he couldn't leave his kingdom for such a long journey. Edgar had allowed his kingdom to come between him and a friend. He'd never done that before. Not even with Locke. Why did I not visit? Was I truly convinced that she would laugh in my face and scoff at my well-intentioned concern? Did I believe she would despise me for not visiting her, as I had once promised I would?
Again and again the others had voiced their concern for her, telling him that she seemed to get worse with each of their visits instead of better. Even Setzer had commented on it, pressing him to visit. Edgar shook his head now and threw himself into a chair to prop his feet up on the table. Either way, Terra Branford had been anything but fine, and it hadn't been because of the loss of her powers.
"Lost powers," Edgar muttered. "She's a woman and she needs a man. To protect her. To comfort her. To…"
Edgar glowered at his finely crafted leather boots and heard his brother's voice ring through his memory yet again. "You're crazy about her, brother. Why don't you admit it to yourself? She doesn't believe a single smooth-talking phrase from your over-active mouth and you still call her a friend. Normally you'd have lost interest a long time ago, but you and I know there's something about her you can't forget. You respect her silent strength and determination so much that it's obvious to 'naïve' little Relm, so how can you think it's nothing?"
And when had Edgar ever said he thought it was nothing?
The door opened, but Edgar didn't bother turning. "Locke, I wish you wouldn't do such things."
"If you don't want me to pick ‘em, don't lock ‘em. You know it's a challenge no self-respecting treasure hunter can pass up."
Edgar scoffed. "I needed some privacy. You have heard of that, I assume?"
"Of course, but now's not the time for that." Locke leaned against the table across from Edgar's armchair and crossed his arms as his steel-gray eyes pierced Edgar clean through. "So, what happened?"
"What are you talking about?" Edgar mumbled.
"I know that you went to visit Terra." Locke sounded annoyed. "What happened? Is she coming to the pre-wedding party or not?"
"She is not."
Locke pulled a dagger from somewhere on his person and ran his finger along the blade with a deep breath. "Edgar, what's the matter with you? Did you come out and tell her why you wanted her to come? Or did you not even get to the point?"
Edgar made a gruff sound and stood, stalking to the fireplace to stare into the flames. Locke watched him a moment before lowering his gaze to continue playing with the dagger.
"What did you say that made her mad?" Locke asked suddenly.
"Some of that smooth talk, I bet."
"I said never mind."
"Okay, okay." Silence fell over the two men. Locke sheathed the dagger. "I don't get it," he admitted. "You guys were as close as anything during that whole fiasco with Kefka. Why do you think I warned Terra about you before I went off to South Figaro that time? I was sure she'd fall head over heels for your charm because she was so... inexperienced, I guess. I didn't want the kid getting hurt."
"Apparently I hurt her without trying, Cole." Edgar sent a glance over his shoulder. "Just drop it."
Locke came to stand by Edgar and leaned against the mantle. "What are you talking about? Who told you that you hurt her?"
Locke blinked. "What? She told you that?"
"Not in so many words---"
"Excuse me, Your Highness," the Chancellor interrupted outside the door. "There's a young woman here to meet with you. She seems a trifle frantic."
Locke and Edgar exchanged a glance, and then he straightened with a deep breath. "Very well. I shall be there momentarily." The Chancellor's footsteps were heard leaving the area and Edgar turned. "Forget it, Cole. I appreciate what you're trying to do, but it would never work. Terra and I are from two different worlds. Literally. I was born to be a bachelor and she was born... Well, she was born Terra. Pair her with Setzer or Sabin. They seem taken with her."
"Yeah? You're the only one that really loves her."
Edgar clenched his jaw and straightened his royal cape. "Locke."
"Okay. I'll drop it, but only for a bit. Celes wants a double wedding and I'm determined to give her what she wants."
"Fine, then marry Shadow off. He's in need of a good woman to change his fashion taste."
Locke chuckled and followed Edgar out of his bedchamber. "Yeah. Like I'd be able to even bribe someone to marry that walking freak show."
"Stranger things have happened."
"Then maybe you'll marry Terra?"
Edgar sent Locke a dark look, but he ignored it as he stared down the hall with a smirk on his face. "Locke Cole," Edgar growled, "you smug old scratch. You always believe you know everything."
Locke chuckled. "Who says I don't?"
"Celes," Edgar snapped.
Locke threw back his head and laughed.
Terra gripped her hands together, clenching them again and again until her fingers were sore from the effort. What's taking him so long? There was a sound behind her and the Chancellor entered the throne room. Terra hurried up to him to wait for his answer.
"His highness shall be here presently."
Terra nodded with a sigh of relief. She shook her hands out in front of her, wringing them again as she desperately waited for Edgar. She fought the tears and paced back and forth in front of the empty throne where she'd first seen him. The pleasant memories weren't enough to calm her. How could this happen?
She looked up sharply. Her throat tightened with relief as Edgar and Locke filed into the throne room. "They're gone," she cried in a choked voice. Terra squeezed her hands together tighter and cleared her throat. The tears were still there when she tried to speak again. "They're all gone. All my ch-children are gone..."
Her voice cracked and she covered her face with her hands, emotionally unprepared for the strong arms that engulfed her. That firm but gentle grip made the tears come more easily as she hid her face in the soft, scented fabric of Edgar's royal clothes.
"What happened?" he asked in a soothing voice.
"I don't know," she forced out. "I was out gathering food from our little garden and heard a shriek. I think it was Cera. When I got there..." Terra took in a deep breath and gnawed her lower lip. "When I got there... Edgar, they were gone," and her voice faded into sobs.
"Could Setzer have abducted them in his airship?" Locke asked gently. "You know how they love that."
"I-I already asked him before I came here," she choked out. "Setzer thinks they've been kidnapped by a slaver."
Locke cringed and glanced over at Edgar. "We better take off as soon as possible. I'll send a message to Celes in Kohlingen and have her get the others together to start looking around Mobliz, but I'm going with you."
"Very well, Locke." Locke strode from the room as Edgar continued to comfort Terra. He tenderly stroked her hair and her sobs began to quiet. "All will be well, Terra. I promise. We shall get our gear together, I'm sure I still have it in storage, and set off in search of them. I'm sure they're fine." She pulled back and gazed up into his kind blue eyes. Edgar smiled down at her and absently brushed a strand of hair from her face. "There now. Tears were never meant to be in those eyes."
"It's nothing to apologize for. Now, I'll show you to a room where you may get ready for the journey. Then I'll hunt down Locke and Setzer and receive more details." He wrapped her arm around his and led her from the throne room. "Leave the details to me. You make yourself ready."
She nodded slowly. Her mind and heart oddly calm as she stared at the flagstones that moved beneath her feet.
"Here you are. I shan't be a moment."
With that, he kissed her hand and departed with a twirl of his cape. Terra turned away as the new and raw emotion of terror for her children hit her with numbing precision. She groaned, biting into her lip as she tried to concentrate on getting the right armor and weapon from the storage room. If only I hadn't left them... She'd done it so many times in the years that she'd raised them. What would have made this one time so different in her mind? In anyone's? Mobliz was a deserted town that no one thought of as home; no one save her and the children that lived there.
Terra's hand wrapped around a familiar feel, and she raised a sword from its resting place. She felt the memory of the age-old power rush through her arms as she recalled the many times she'd wielded it in defense and attack against enemies a normal woman would have turned from in horror. Its magic may have been gone, but the edge was still sharp.
Rage filled Terra's heart and she sheathed the Ragnarok with a harsh motion.
Edgar and Locke met her just outside the storage room.
"Terra," Locke said carefully, "Setzer thinks he knows who's responsible."
Terra pressed her lips together. She began slipping into her armor and strapping her scabbard and sword around her slim waist. "How can he be sure?"
"Because he was in a card game with him recently."
Terra looked up sharply and paused the slipping on of her gloves. "A card game?"
"A card game. In Zozo. It figures, really," Locke said. "Personally, that place gave me nightmares. I don't know what Setzer was doing there."
"Making money, I dare say," Edgar said with a grim look.
Terra strode through the castle and out into the dim morning sunlight. "Come on. Let's get going. Chances are he won't have taken them to a place like Zozo because of the danger to his own life."
"Meaning: he wouldn't want to get killed by someone wanting to squeeze their way into his sudden claim to fortune," Locke said in a quiet voice.
Terra cringed and nodded. "Exactly."
"What do you suggest?" Edgar asked with a strange look in his eyes. He adjusted his grip on a spear as they made their way out into the tangy air of Figaro desert.
Terra struggled to keep the feelings of helplessness out of her voice. "I don't know. Not yet. Let's go to Jidoor and see if anyone there has any information."
"And if they do not?" Edgar's question, again, was soft.
Terra gripped the handle of her sword. At the entrance of the airship she turned and locked gazes with Edgar. "Then we keep searching."
Locke stepped between them and gave Terra a nod. "You've got it, Terra."
Terra's eyes strayed to Edgar's again, and then she boarded the airship.
Setzer pulled out a chair as he sent Edgar and Locke a shielded glance.
"I haven't seen her like this since Phunbaba attacked her and the kids. Man, was she pissed that day," Locke was saying.
"As I recall, she beat him soundly," Edgar reminded in a quiet tone. "What do you suppose she'll do to-- What was his name?"
"Ledo. Ledo Grikea," Setzer offered.
Locke flung a dagger to the opposite side of the ship with a scowl. "I don't really care what she does to this guy. She can flay him alive for all I care."
Edgar raised his eyes. "Locke, there are laws to follow. If we don't abide by them, then we are no better than the criminals for which we search."
Locke wielded another dagger and sent Edgar a hard look. "That's a crock, Edgar. Stealing kids? That's about as low as anyone can get, in my opinion."
"I agree," Setzer admitted as he calmly shuffled a deck of cards.
"This slaver needs to be taught a lesson, and I think Terra is just the person to do it." Locke emphasized the comment with another dagger hurled across the room.
"You gentlemen do not seem to understand!" Edgar stood. His blue eyes were angry and annoyed. "If Terra does this she'll likely go mad, just as she did before. Remember the episode with the Esper in Narshe? She screamed off and destroyed many things because of her inability to control her power. It won't be exactly the same, I grant you, but close enough in any regard. She will be forever changed if she surrenders to the rage. She will become unable to control her anger." Edgar gestured toward Locke. "Don't you remember how it was when your friend was captured by the Empire?"
Locke clenched his fists. "That was different."
"Was it? Terra may go too far, and it's up to us to make sure that doesn't happen," Edgar insisted.
Locke and Setzer lowered their gazes to the table. Edgar turned and slammed from the room. Locke and Setzer stared after him.
"You don't think he may be right?" Setzer nonchalantly dealt a game of cards without glancing up. "After all, he's known her longer than I have."
"Yeah? Well I've known her longer than he has," Locke countered. "Deal, Setzer."
The gambler smirked and dealt the cards.
Edgar strode to the top deck and gripped the railing. Why won't they listen? Don't they see that who she is will be forever changed if she does this? Don't they realize that she will no longer be the quiet and compassionate woman of strength that we've come to love? Edgar was surprised that Locke was so oblivious to the problem. He'd always seemed to be over-protective of her. Like he saw her as a sister he'd never had. Why, then, is he being so blasted pig-headed!
Edgar let out a quick breath and turned from the railing to stride toward the bow of the airship. His eyes automatically searched for Terra's full head of light green hair. She stood behind the wheel with a grim look of determination as she steered their course. There was something in her eyes, though, that spoke clearly of the inner terror that one of her children was hurt.
He came to stand beside her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you all right?" Her grip tightened on the wheel and she silently nodded. "Did you need a rest?"
"I'm okay, Edgar. I've been through tougher times than this." Her voice sounded strained.
"But never alone, Terra. We were there."
She was quiet for a while before letting her guard drop. "And here you are again. It's been a long time."
Terra glanced his way. "Do you ever miss it?"
"The battles? Hardly," he said with a smile. He clenched his hands behind his back. "Kefka? Definitely not. But the constant companionship? The laughter? The good times? Yes, I miss that beyond a shadow of a doubt."
"Being a king is hard work, I guess."
"At times. Actually, most of the time, but," Edgar smiled fondly, "the people of Figaro are in my blood, Terra. On some days they're my only reason for existing. They help me through the darkest times."
Terra made a slight alteration to the course. "Your father would be proud of you, Edgar. Of both of you. You're helping put the world right again."
Edgar fell silent with only a slight sound of clearing his throat. He caught Terra's glance toward him and released a slight, uncomfortable smile. "I appreciate the comment, Terra, truly I do, but I'm of the mind father would be less than thrilled with my handling of Figaro's relationship with the Empire."
Terra's second glance was bright with surprise. "What? Edgar, you did your best in a bad situation. You couldn't have gone against the Empire in everything. They would've known you were a threat and kept a closer watch on what you did. That would've put the Returners in danger."
Edgar lowered his eyes as he clenched his hands behind his back. He rocked back on his heels and then flat-footed again with a slight pursing of his lips. "Yes. That's true."
"But you did charm the Empire. And you did sign a treaty. And you did make it possible for the Returners to do their job a lot easier than if you hadn't been able to freely help them." Terra sent him another glance. This time, she released one hand from the wheel and placed it tenderly on his arm. Her eyes met and held his. "You saw what needed to be done, Edgar," she told him softly. "You saw it and you did it. Never doubt that your father wouldn't have done the same."
Her voice and eyes seemed to work a miracle; repairing a void in his heart and soul that had been steadily distancing him from the memories of his father. Memories he had once feared would prove he hadn't lived up to his father's expectations. Edgar pulled his eyes from hers and covered her hand with his. "Thank you, Terra. You will never know what those words mean to me."
Her tender hold slightly increased, and the warmth that spread from her long fingers and through his arm made his soul tingle and his eyes see white.
"I think I do," she said in that still silk-soft tone. "You and your brother seemed to be defined and strengthened by family, duty, and honor. If you thought your father wouldn't have seen what you did as honorable or right or whatever, it would've toppled the foundation of who you are."
Edgar swallowed hard as he watched her profile. Her insight into his family… Has anyone seen through me so well? "You are truly a good friend, Terra," he forced in a calm voice, "to understand me so easily."
Terra giggled and the sound burst with innocence and joy. "It's been anything but easy, Edgar," she confessed in a bright tone. She pulled her hand from his with another glance toward his face before placing it on the wheel. "Three years with children and nearly five years relearning how to be human has been hard. Fun in its own way, but definitely a challenge."
"And a challenge that has dealt with you most kindly."
Terra sent him a slight smile that seemed to shine and twinkle in her violet eyes.
Edgar watched her profile as she guided the ship. Her high, delicate cheekbones. Her pure skin with a color of innocence and life in the cheeks. Her femininity and delicate spirit balanced with determination and strength. And a touch of naivety in the wisps of hair that curled and tickled her neck and ears. An intoxicating combination that made his chest tighten as he gazed upon it. Could someone such as she exist? he asked in disbelieving confusion. She must be of my imagination. This woman who understands my fears and comforts them away. This child of war who understands delicacy and kindness so completely. This Esper angel who protects those she loves with such dogged determination and fire.
Edgar moved his eyes to the horizon with a slow and deliberate inhalation of breath.
"I know why you're really here, Edgar," Terra said quietly.
Edgar changed his eyes back to the silhouette perfectly captured against the brilliant sky. "Do you?"
"You want a turn."
He chuckled and shook his head. "No, no. I came to be a friend, Terra. I haven't been a very able one of late, and I'm attempting to change that." She turned her head to look at him, and a strange emotion flickered in her eyes. An emotion Edgar didn't remember seeing before.
"Thank you," she said softly.
He placed a hand on her shoulder. "You're quite welcome."
Terra leaned against his hold for a moment before turning her head back to the view ahead of them. Edgar forced himself to release her shoulder and breathed in slow to relieve the burning tingle. She seemed so lost and alone. So afraid to face what she was feeling. How do I help her open up as she once did?
"What if I don't find them, Edgar?"
The strain in her voice was clear as he watched her delicate profile. "We will, Terra. We will. There is no 'I' when you're among friends; only 'us' and 'we' and 'together'."
Terra sighed with a slow nod. "I know, but... They're just so young. The oldest is only ten. What will this do to them?"
"Everything in life makes us stronger. You know that. Look at your own life. You were fearful and unsure of everyone around you at one time. You were even troubled by your own identity. Now look at you."
Edgar rubbed her back. His fingers burned at the warmth of her skin and, again, she seemed to lean against his touch.
"I don't feel I've changed," she was saying. "What if I do something that gets them hurt? Or... or killed?"
"Terra, during the pursuits, intrigues, and conspiracies of Kefka you were the consummate soldier. The reliable ally. The trustworthy leader. Don't doubt yourself now. Not when you need those skills most. You will be fine, as you always were."
"But, Edgar..." She turned her head toward him. "Edgar, I'm not the same soldier I was before. I can't use magic. I'm not as strong as I was then. What if that's enough to change everything?" Tears glistened in Terra's unique eyes.
Edgar's throat tightened around all the assurances he wanted to give her, and he choked on all the empty promises. Why can't I lie to her as I did before? Why can't I offer her the easy answers I know so well? All he could do was smile down at her in his most charismatic manner and lightly touch her nose with a finger. "Your beauty and charm are magic enough, my lady. The ruffians will have no chance of resistance."
Terra smiled, albeit a little reluctantly, and hesitantly placed a hand on Edgar's cheek. "I've missed you, Edgar," she whispered as she lightly stroked his cheek with her thumb. "I've missed you so much."
Edgar couldn't resist. He took her hand from his cheek and pressed the wrist against his lips for a long moment as his eyes continued to hold hers. Her eyes registered something, but Edgar wasn't sure what it was. The emotion seemed to be as unique as Terra herself. Don't hope for too much, he told himself. You are her friend, and that is all she believes to be true. Do not begin to hope that she feels more, for she doesn't understand any love other than the love she feels for her children. Be her friend, he told himself firmly. But the hope was so easy when she looked at him.
"And I you," he said softly.
Terra gripped his hand. "Don't stay away so long next time," she pleaded in a choked voice. "Please?"
Edgar lowered her hand from his lips and continued to hold it. He caressed her jawline with a finger and brushed some hair behind her ear. "This I swear, my lady. This I swear."
Edgar could tell Terra was hard-pressed to keep herself under control when the four arrived at Jidoor. A kind of quiet hysteria seemed to radiate from her. It even had Setzer champing at the bit. Edgar tried his best to be stable and controlled for her, even going so far as to stay as close to her side as possible without causing comment from Setzer and Locke. But Setzer and Locke were too busy arguing about where the best place was to start searching to notice anything.
"Gentlemen, calm yourselves," Edgar told them in his most authoritative voice. The two men sent him dark glares. "This constant contention is not helping anyone, and it will only serve to make it more difficult for us to work together when the time comes to face this–" Edgar glanced at Terra and repressed the curse. "This 'gentleman', and believe me when I say I use the term loosely."
"They're not here." Terra's sudden statement was so certain that all three of them stared at her in quiet amazement. "He hasn't been here," she said again with narrowed eyes. "Something just doesn't feel right about the place. It's too... I don't know. It's too relaxed. Too normal."
"That doesn't necessarily mean he's–"
Terra sent Locke a glare. "He's not here, Locke. He's not going to come here, either. Slavers aren't welcome in Jidoor. They never have been. Not even the upper class use slaves. Why would he come here when he knows he couldn't make a sale?"
Locke looked around a moment. "Fine. It makes sense. I'm still going to go ask some questions."
Locke took off with a grumble, and Edgar hesitantly decided to follow. "I'll assist Locke. Terra, remain with Setzer until we return." She turned away without a word. Edgar raised an eyebrow before sending Setzer a 'don't leave her for a moment' look. Locke was waiting by the entrance to the auctioneer's house when Edgar caught up with him.
"I've never seen her like this before, Edgar," Locke said in an angry voice.
"I know. Neither have I."
"Maybe you were right."
That statement meant a lot coming from Locke Cole. The treasure hunter never conceded to being wrong. Not in all the years Edgar had known him. "Locke, you must attempt to understand her position. Terra blames herself for their abduction because she wasn't constantly there. Until she is able to leave the guilt behind her, she will be a bear to work with."
"I kind of guessed that." Locke sighed and ran a hand through his pale hair. "So how are we going to do this? With her snapping our heads off we won't be able to work together without killing each other. Or her, at least." Edgar glanced away. Locke raised an eyebrow. "You've got an idea, don't you?"
"I don't believe I could do that to her. Not now. She's so lost. So confused. I can't but… but I feel I must."
"What? Do what?"
Locke stared at his longtime friend with a slack-jawed gaze. His eyes flashed with menace. "Edgar--"
"Let me explain," Edgar said, recognizing all too clearly the dangerous spark in his friend's eye.
"Oh, you better explain, or you're liable to find a dagger in your gut. Hell, you might find one there even after you explain. It better be good."
Edgar let out a deep breath and dug at the ground with the haft of his spear. "I don't mean seduce in the literal sense of the word, Locke. A distraction. That's what it would be." Right?
"Go on," Locke prodded.
"When I was on deck with Terra on our way here, I noticed the change in her. She was calmer. More controlled. She talked about how and why she felt the way she did. She seemed to be more... more like the Terra we knew before."
"So where does the 'seduce' part come in," Locke prompted suspiciously.
"It's the only way I know to keep her mind from the rage and lust for revenge." Edgar raised his eyes. "I've wooed and pursued ladies my entire life, Locke. I know just what to say to keep her off balance. I'll do nothing more."
"Edgar, buddy, I hate to break this to you, but you've never been a very good 'wooer'. Ladies never believed a single word of your sweet-talking choco-crap. What makes you think Terra will? You know she never did in the past."
Edgar leaned against the spear and finally caught Locke's eyes. "I believe Terra feels something for me that she didn't before."
"You're going to use that?" Locke made a disgusted sound. "That's low, Edgar, even for you."
Edgar glared. "Why? I shall do whatever it takes if it prevents her from going insane when we find this bastard."
"Sure, but are you going to follow through when this fiasco is over? You said so yourself, Edgar, that you were born to be a bachelor. You've certainly lived up to the standard. One problem: with Terra it's always been different. You've never walked over that line she drew when she first met you. You've never done anything to jeopardize how she looked up to you. Are you going to do that now? Are you really going to be able to walk away when her kids are found? Are you going to say to her face that it was all a plan to keep her under control?"
Locke crossed his arms and his steel-gray eyes sparked. "That's a bald-faced lie and you know it. You want to know what I think? I think you want her so bad that you're willing to risk a future with her just to score a couple easy nights."
Edgar clenched his jaw and straightened. "I thought you knew me better than that, Cole. Terra, first and foremost, is a friend. I would never do anything to hurt her."
"A friend?" Locke's question was disbelieving. "You'd treat a friend like this, Edgar? You'd screw with a friend's mind? You'd lie to them?"
"For the greater good, yes."
Locke clenched his jaw and ran a hand through his hair in aggravation before he continued. "This is easily the worst, most unethical idea you've ever had! Trying to encourage a feeling that might not be there just to distract her from what you think she'll do? I knew you were an arrogant old scratch, but this beats all!"
Edgar glared at Locke, taking in multiple deep breaths to control his anger. "I told you before I doubted whether or not I could go through with this. Remember?"
Locke slightly nodded.
"Well do you wish to know why?" Locke crossed his arms and Edgar continued. "My greatest fear is that she would not want me. Do you have any idea what that is like? Of course not," he said through clenched teeth. "You and Celes have been mad for each other since you rescued her from the Empire in South Figaro. You've never known the self-doubt that comes with the knowledge the woman you care for may want nothing to do with you."
Locke didn't respond.
"Terra Branford believes I'm nothing but a flirt. A rake. She truly believes that whenever I say something gallant I'm simply being a tease. Do you know what it's like to be haunted with that, Cole? Do you know how it hurts to have her smile at me with patience and understanding and not have the faintest idea I was sincere?"
"Then why would you even consider it, Edgar? If you're so sure she won't buy it, why are you going to do it?" Locke jabbed a finger in Edgar's chest. "Admit it! I'm right. You think this is the only chance you'll have of getting her in the sack! It's nothing but a game. Another conquest, and you know it!"
Edgar slapped Locke's hand away, barely restraining himself from throwing a punch. "You are wrong."
Locke glared at the young king with narrowed eyes. "Tell me, Edgar. Are you willing to marry Terra after this is all over? Are you ready to give up your bachelorhood if this plan of yours works? Will you throw away all your little black books and secret lists of female 'friends' for her? I'm warning you now, if she's truly your friend and you were telling the truth when you said you didn't want to hurt her, you'll marry her when this is finished."
Edgar was quiet for a long time. Then he lowered his eyes. "Cole, you were right before when you said I love her. What if this is the only chance I have to show her that love? What if this accursed kidnapping is the only opportunity I'll ever have of telling her I truly care? That I do honestly believe she's the 'light of my heart' and whatever other nonsense I've confessed to upon occasion. Would you be able to ignore the opportunity?" He raised his eyes and met Locke's gaze. "Truthfully, Cole, would you?"
"Whether you pass the opportunity or not isn't the point. Will you follow through with what you started?"
"I can only ask you to trust me."
Locke hemmed and hawed, scratching the back of his neck and running a hand through his hair as he gauged Edgar's open expression. Finally, he grudgingly conceded. "I still don't like it, Edgar. She's just a kid."
"Have you truly seen Terra?" Edgar asked in shock. "Besides being stunningly beautiful, she's one of the most mature and responsible people I know. How else were we able to defeat that blasted lunatic Kefka? Her skills have saved our backsides plenty of times, and well you know it."
Locke jabbed Edgar in the chest with the pommel of his dagger hilt. "She's still a kid, Edgar, and I don't like it. You just watch yourself. Carefully."
It was Edgar's turn at the wheel, but because of a previous incident with a prior airship Setzer wasn't too comfortable with the idea of letting him have that turn. So, Terra was left alone with Edgar for their entire trip to Zozo while Locke and Setzer went above to pilot the ship. Terra had to admit she didn't know whether the trip to Zozo would be too short or too long. There'd been something in Edgar's manner when he‘d returned from Jidoor that had made her wary. Then, when he'd said that Locke and Setzer take a turn at the wheel and conveniently leave the two alone… Terra hadn't known whether to be eager at the prospect of more time with Edgar or terrified because of how eager she was.
"Are you sure traveling to Zozo is wise?" Edgar came to sit beside her. "You mentioned before that he wouldn't set camp there for fear of losing his treasures."
"I know." She sighed as she rubbed her face and neck, "but I've had a chance to think." Terra looked over at Edgar and caught him watching her. It was a little disconcerting. "Doesn't it make sense that someone there would be willing to give us information about his operation if we offered enough money? Surely if Setzer was able to discover a name we could do even better."
Edgar stood with a smile and came to stand behind her. His hands gently massaged her shoulders. "That's why we always made you leader, Terra. Not only are you beautiful, but you're bright."
Terra waved his comments aside and looked down at the map of the newly formed world. "I just don't know," she said in an exasperated voice. "It's been too long, Edgar. I don't remember how to plan anything." His touch began to irritate her and she stood, pulling away from him to stand by a window.
"Terra," Edgar said as he came to stand behind her. "Terra, you mustn't be so hard on yourself." Edgar placed his hands on her shoulders again, but she shrugged them off and moved away. "You're pushing yourself too hard."
"If I don't push myself, who will? I can't just breeze through this and expect none of them to get hurt. I have to think everything through and get it right."
"Terra." He turned her around to face him, but she kept her head lowered. "We're a team. No one expects you to solve this alone. All of us are with you in this."
"You don't understand."
"Then make me understand. I wish to help, Terra. Whatever it is. Whatever you're going through."
Terra turned away. "It's my fault," she said in a choked voice. "If I had just taken them with me this wouldn't have happened."
"There was no way you could know that. You might have only been taken along with them–"
"There had to have been a way, Edgar. A way to stop this! A way to know!" Terra's voice was laced with guilt and pain. "I left them alone so that I could have some time by myself. Don't you understand? I... I left them. They look up to me for protection and I let them down. I walked away and let them get taken–"
The control broke and Edgar stepped forward to embrace her. "Terra, you're not to blame. Not by any means. You deserve time alone as much as any of us do. Besides, you trust the older ones to watch the younger because of the responsibility that they've learned from you. There was nothing wrong with trusting them further." Edgar pulled back and held her face in his hands. His thumbs caressed her tear-stained cheeks. "The fault was not yours--"
"It is my fault," she insisted harshly. She pushed his hands from her face. "All I had to do was watch them because they had no one else, and I couldn't even do that! How can you stand there and say it isn't my fault? You don't know what you're talking about, Edgar! You... y-you don't know..." She hid her face with her hands and felt his arms surround her again. Terra clung to him and sobbed.
"I know more than you think, Terra," Edgar said. "I understand that you're afraid you'll lose the only people you've ever loved. I know that you're terrified the anger you feel building will take control."
Terra wanted to believe him, but something held her back. Something dark. Something lurking in the back part of her mind. Something that scared her.
"Shh," he whispered as he stroked her hair. "Shh. It's all right to be scared, Terra. Even I have suffered the same malady upon occasion. I had acted such a fool during my first visit to you. Then there you were on my doorstep asking for help. I was thanking my lucky stars."
Terra looked up at him and reluctantly smiled. Her eyes glistened and her chin quivered. "Oh Edgar," she said as she wiped at her face. "Can't you be serious about anything?"
He smirked and helped her dry her face with a silk kerchief he pulled from his pocket. "When I'm holding a lovely creature in my arms? Don't be cruel." She shook her head with a reluctant laugh. "That's better. We cannot be having tears in a lady's eyes on an adventure such as this." He kissed the kerchief while her eyes watched in surprise and tucked it carefully back into his satin vest pocket. "Now, give me your hand and let's have a laugh or two before tackling the problem again."
She slipped her hand into his and he brought it to his lips for a long moment before smiling down at her with a strange expression. Terra turned her eyes away and let him lead her back to the table.
"A laugh, Edgar?" she asked when she sat in the offered chair. "My kids are gone and I don't know where. How can I laugh? Too much time's been wasted already."
He pulled a chair up directly opposite and took hold of her hands again. His grip was comforting and ushered that ‘something dark' a little further away. She clasped them tightly, feeling a surge of desperation to fully chase the oppression from her soul.
"No, Terra. We haven't wasted anything. I understand it seems we work too slow, but that serves to prove you care deeply for your children. Just as it keeps us pressing onward." Edgar's thumbs rhythmically touched and soothed away the trembles of her hands. "Let us laugh of old times, so that your heart will be more at ease."
Terra's throat tightened and her eyes continued to hold the vision of their clasped hands. "I-I can't, Edgar. I… I feel that thing pulling and pressing at me again."
"As you did at Mobliz?" Edgar's voice was as gentle and soothing as his touch and drew Terra's soul further from its protection.
"No. It's different. Darker." She finally raised her eyes to meet his. "Edgar… Edgar, it scares me. It makes me think someone's watching; waiting for me to make a mistake so they can punish me."
Edgar's caress on her hands ceased and the oppression reared, surging forward as her soul cringed away—the oppression vanished on the tail-end of a sudden ringing in her ears and Edgar's caress began again.
"Perhaps it is you punishing yourself, Terra. Too long in the presence of the Empire and its demand for perfection has damaged and timidified your sensitive nature." His expression and smile were oddly compassionate as he released her right hand and, almost fondly, touched and held her chin. "Release your mind to work, Terra. Allow yourself to remember and press on. Ignore the harsh words and oppression and focus on the goal."
And those eyes comforted her trembling soul and soothed a slight smile to her lips. "I'll try, Edgar."
The intensity of his eyes grew as they held hers, and then he slowly leaned forward to touch her cheek very briefly. "Well, my dear? Where shall we begin the search?"
Locke looked over at Setzer with a shake of his head. "I don't like it," he grumbled for the countless time. "I don't like it at all."
Setzer smirked and did some fancy shuffling of his cards. "Leave them alone, Cole. Life is a lonely mistress. Those two deserve what they're getting."
"She doesn't know Edgar like I do. The last thing she needs is Edgar putting the moves on her and kissing her so she can barely think straight. She's just a kid," he insisted as his hands gripped the wheel.
"Terra is a woman and Edgar is a man."
Locke rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."
Setzer laughed. "I thought you wanted them to be married, Cole."
"He hasn't exactly put a ring on her finger, has he? I don't like putting the cart before the chocobo, okay?"
"Do you truly doubt he will? Edgar is a man of honor, Cole. Don't trifle with that or you're liable to get your head cleaved in two. Besides," Setzer paused and palmed the Queen of Hearts, "I don't believe anything but a few passionate embraces are being shared. He respects her too much to rush her into more than that."
"You don't know Edgar."
Setzer seemed to get annoyed at that point. "Only Edgar knows Edgar," he said as he stood. "Trust your friends and leave it at that. I'm going below."
"If you come back a little pink around the ears, I'll know you were wrong," Locke grumbled.
Setzer chuckled despite himself. "It's nothing I haven't experienced myself," he tossed over his shoulder. "Besides, a little amusement would be just what I need right now."
Locke glared after him.
When Setzer made his way below, however, Edgar and Terra were sharing anything but a tender embrace. The two were gathered around the table examining maps and talking in low tones while pointing at different areas. Setzer smirked with a shake of his head. Terra didn't appear the least bit disheveled. Pity, he thought to himself. She's in need of some good lovemaking to make her a woman.
Edgar looked up and greeted Setzer with an easy smile. "I do believe we have solved the mystery."
Setzer raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? You two certainly have been busy." Terra didn't even flush a slight color of red. Hmm.
"Before this world of ruin there was a trade route from Nikeah to about here." She traced a line on the map. Then she pointed to a section where there was only polluted water. "The Imperial base was there but, as you can see, it doesn't exist in this world."
Setzer leaned over the map with a nod. "Right. Shall we all observe a moment of silence for the loss?"
"Hardly," Edgar scoffed. "But when Terra and I recalled that you'd said you believed slavers were responsible, we then remembered the fact the Empire once used slave labor in order to," he grimaced, "save money. Harvesting prime candidates for this less than glorious profession had become quite a problem in years gone by. Before Kefka turned our little world upside down, that is. People of all ages would disappear from their homes in the middle of the night and never be heard from again. Whole schools would disappear without a trace."
Setzer noticed something strange about Terra's face, but pushed it aside. "So, our Empire friends have indeed found a way to resume their charming way of life."
"Perhaps not the Empire directly, but rather some of the leftover scum who wouldn't know better," Edgar said.
Terra changed her gaze from Edgar to Setzer with a nod. "Do you know anything about this Ledo character? Do you know if he's had anything to do with the Empire in the past?"
Setzer sat in a chair across from her and leaned back to prop his feet up on the table. "Your typical Zozo slime. Arrogant. Ugly. Anything but charming, to say the least. A real piece of work. Money and power are that character's only real loves." A frown twisted the scar over his left eye.
"Do you remember something?" Edgar asked.
"It seems to me he was throwing a lot of money into that game. Throwing it and losing it without flinching."
Terra and Edgar exchanged a glance. "What does that mean to you, Setzer?" Terra asked.
"It means that he'd just been paid a lot of money. Not only that, he was more than likely expecting to be paid more. And soon."
Terra took in a slow breath and stared down at the map. "I don't suppose he mentioned anything about it?"
Setzer shook his head. "No."
"Blast," Edgar said.
Locke chose that moment to come in to the room. "You've got that right."
"Zozo?" Edgar asked.
"Zozo." Locke glowered. "I hate this place. Not only does it stink to the heavens, but all of them are the worst possible thieves."
"I'm sure you could give them lessons," Setzer chuckled.
Locke sent him a glare. "Ha, ha, ha. Very funny."
"I suppose we should go," Terra said as she rolled up the map. She set it aside and slipped into her scabbard. "We've wasted enough time."
Setzer stood and collected his razor edged cards and not-so-enchanted dice. "I'd like to think we've invested time, Terra. 'Wasted' is such a harsh word."
Terra sent him a small smile, which he returned. Ah. The Terra we all know and love seems to have returned. Bravo, Edgar. Bravo.
Terra's grip on the sword hilt tightened as the group of four entered the dark town of Zozo. It was raining and Terra grimaced at the stench of rotting corpses. The last time had been so different. She'd been drawn to the top of one of the buildings by Ramuh's power when transformed by the Esper, Tritoch. She'd been so afraid of her seemingly limitless power. So terrified that she'd hurt someone without meaning to. It had been Zozo where Locke, Edgar, Sabin, and Celes had found her. Zozo where all her friends had discovered her terrible secret.
She was only half human. Her father had been an Esper. Maduin by name.
Now Terra led the group further into the city. She pressed her lips together when she saw a group of residents closing in. "Keep your eyes open," she warned. "It looks like we're going to have company."
"Bring 'em on," Locke grumbled. "It'll give me a chance to work out some frustrations. Believe me, I've got a lot of frustrations."
Setzer chuckled. "You always do when you're away from Celes for any longer than a day."
Edgar gripped Locke's arm to prevent the impending fistfight, and then he sent Setzer a hard look. "Gentlemen, this is neither the place nor the time. Our goal is to locate Terra's children, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Sorry, gambler."
"It's quite all right."
Locke looped his thumb on his belt. "So, where to next?"
Terra shook her head. "I'm not sure. This place... This place..." She shook her head again and brought a hand up to her forehead with a cringe. A spark seemed to have shot out from the very center of her brain. It caused yellow and white spots to flash in her eyes. "Ohh. My head."
Edgar stepped closer, gripping her shoulder to steady her when she stumbled. He tilted her chin up and examined her face and eyes. "What's wrong?" He felt her forehead and glanced sharply over at Locke. "She's burning up."
"What?" Locke strode forward and touched her forehead as well. Then he checked her pulse. He shook his head. "Something spooky's going on, Edgar. We've got to get her back to the ship."
Terra shook her head feebly and tried to straighten. "No. No, we have to go on," she insisted.
"Terra," Edgar said firmly. She locked gazes with him. "Terra, you are not going on. Setzer will take you back to the ship while Locke and I discover what we can."
Terra pressed her lips together and dropped her hand from Edgar's arm to straighten under her own power. The pain surged through her body, but she forced herself to ignore it. She took in a slow breath and willed herself to ignore the burning agony that seemed to melt her brain. "We'll go on as a group, Edgar," she said firmly. Her voice didn't even quiver. "A group of four in Zozo is bad enough. Two is a suicide mission."
Edgar shook his head with a reluctant smile after a long pause. "Very well. We will stay together, but I'm only agreeing so that I may keep an eye on you."
Terra forced a smile.
"You've had your eye on her for long enough, don't you think? I'd say you need to get a little more physical than that."
Edgar's ears flushed pink and he shot Setzer a warning glare, ignoring Locke's loud laugh that even had the Zozo residents looking amongst themselves in confusion. Edgar pulled a small bottle from a pouch on his belt and handed it to Terra. "Here," he said. "Take this. It may not take away all the pain--"
"Edgar..." Terra took it with a grimace.
"Do not deny that you are hurting. I think it will help."
"Thank you. I'll save it for later–"
"No," Edgar pressed firmly. "No, you will take it now. I have plenty more, as do Locke and Setzer."
Terra removed the stopper and took in a deep breath as she prepared herself for the super-sweet taste of the herbal potion, as well as the bizarre effects that would linger for several moments afterward. With a last hesitation, she swallowed the thick greenish-blue liquid and grimaced as she handed the glass bottle back to Edgar. The liquid slid down her throat slowly, causing her whole body to shiver as its healing effects tingled and warmed her insides. The burning in her brain receded a bit, making it easier for her to ignore, and the sparks that had begun to cascade through her body from toe to fingertips all but disappeared. She swallowed several times, desperately trying to clear the remaining sticky substance from her mouth as her limbs began to feel a little heavier than normal. The heaviness was due to the effects of the potion and would pass quickly.
"Better?" Edgar asked.
Terra gave Edgar a small nod. "Better."
"Good, because our company is getting closer," Locke warned.
Terra sent them a look and carefully gauged the challenge. "Nothing to worry about."
Setzer smirked and lightly fingered his deck of cards. "Well said, but a challenge nonetheless. We have, after all, been out of the fighting business for quite a while."
There was a brief tingling at the base of her skull followed by a pop in each ear that quickly faded. Terra sent Setzer a smile. "Come on, gambler, are you telling me you've forgotten how to use those cards of yours?" She slowly pulled her sword from its sheath and sent Edgar a wink. "Come on. Let's show them how it's done."
Edgar tried to grab her arm, but she took off with a war cry that scattered the less assured ruffians while causing the more arrogant ones to gather around her. Their move blocked any avenue of escape she might have had. The trio stared after her in shock.
"What's gotten into her? She's never been this way before," Locke said in confusion.
Edgar holstered his chain saw and hurried after her. "It's the potion," he shouted over his shoulder. "It has to be!"
"What kind of potion did you give her," Locke asked as he followed. "Have you had that thing in your pocket your whole life or something?"
"No," Edgar shot back. "It's reacting to whatever is causing Terra to be ill."
Locke grit his teeth. "Remind me to tell you--"
"Save the Philosophy lesson. We've got work to do," Setzer said calmly as he palmed at least five cards. "She may be a good fighter, but she's not as powerful as she used to be. Not only that, I believe five or six Zozoians would be too much for any woman."
Locke's gaze followed Setzer's, and he groaned. "Man, we can't take her anywhere without some kind of trouble."
Setzer sent Locke a smirk. "What are you saying? Leave her home? That would go over well."
"It's a thought, okay? Take her flank, Setzer. Edgar, take the-- Edgar!"
Edgar had already begun hacking his way through the closest residents in an attempt to clear Terra's right side. Setzer flung his razor sharp cards at the Zozoians attacking her rear. They whistled through the air with a high-pitched whine before hitting their mark with a thud followed by a pain-filled cry.
Locke grinned. "Show-off!" He made his way to one of the last shrouded figures and readied his Gradius and Swordbreaker. Before he could attack, though, he was disarmed and staring stupidly at the black figure that had done the deed. "What the--"
"You need practice," the dark figure said.
Locke could hear the familiar cool detachment in the voice, and he sent the figure a shocked look. "Shadow, what are you doing here? I thought you were dead."
"Death and I have an arrangement." Shadow returned Locke's weapons and silently dispatched the last Zozoian with a shuriken to the throat. "Interceptor smelled trouble."
"Oh wonderful. Now we've got a psychic dog added to this crazy bunch."
Shadow knelt down to retrieve his shuriken from the gurgling throat of the barely conscious victim. Locke cringed and looked away. Edgar was making his way to Terra as she stood about 20 feet ahead of the trio.
"I suggest you go home to your woman, Locke," Shadow finally said. "Your mind is anywhere but here."
"My mind is just fine," Locke said as Setzer came to stand beside him. Locke sent Edgar another look. It looked like he was having a bit of a problem calming Terra down. "I knew it was you all the time." Setzer raised an eyebrow with a chuckle and Locke continued as he changed his gaze back to the ninja. "So where is your dog?"
"He picked up a strange trail and decided to investigate. He will know when he is needed."
Locke shook his head before turning to check on Edgar's progress. Terra was still anything but her usual self.
"There is evil at work here," Shadow told them in a somber tone. "The people of this town are uneasy and prone to fights amongst themselves."
"Aren't they always?" Setzer asked.
"Not like this. People act differently when here. I haven't yet been able to determine the reason, but it's evil. Of this I am sure."
Locke glanced over at Terra and rubbed at his scalp before sending the ninja a probing stare. "Have you noticed any kind of symptoms?"
"I know little of medicines. All I know is what I see and what Interceptor senses. Things are not right here."
"How come Setzer and I are okay then?"
Shadow was silent for a long moment before answering. "Are you?"
Locke and Setzer exchanged a glance. "We get your point," Locke said.
"We have been a little more short-tempered than usual," Setzer offered.
"Hey. I hate the fact that some low-life took Terra's kids, Setzer. It makes me feel helpless, useless, and generally hopeless because there wasn't anything we could do about it. I don't think it has anything to do with Zozo or whatever 'evil' is here."
"Perhaps it's reaching outside of Zozo," Shadow said.
"Doubt it. Terra was fine until she stepped inside here. Then, wham, heart beat going like mad and temperature through the roof."
Again, Shadow was quiet for a long time. "There is a connection between this evil and Terra."
"Then what's the connection between it and the people who actually live here?" To that, Shadow gave no answer. He simply turned and began making his way to Edgar and Terra. Locke followed with a slow exhalation of breath. "Didn't I say it before? A walking freak show, that's what he is," he grumbled.
Setzer smirked and pocketed his cards with a shake of his head.
"What is the matter with you?" Edgar asked harshly. "You scared me to death with your foolhardy charge into those brigands. Are you mad, woman?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Terra said, her voice edged with annoyance and anger. "I've been in tougher situations than that when I was on my own, and I lived through them just fine."
"Terra," Edgar said through clenched teeth, "you're not alone anymore. When will you finally realize that?"
"Well maybe if you'd visited me once and awhile I wouldn't feel as if I were," she shot back. "You ever think of that?"
Edgar pressed his lips together and let out a slow breath. The guilt he felt at the truth of her last statement helped him get his temper back under control. "We are not discussing me–"
"Of course not," Terra cut in sharply. "We can never talk about you. Something might slip out that would give us a clue as to what you really feel about something or someone. We couldn't have that, could we?"
He flinched at the venom in her tone.
"I mean, after all, if you started talking about yourself you might need to actually trust someone with something, and that just isn't acceptable for King Edgar of Figaro Castle! He has to be a mystery. He has to be a stranger to everyone who cares!"
Setzer, Locke, and Shadow had gathered around her by this time. They stared at her flushed face and wild eyes. Edgar was speechless, not even really hearing the insults being hurled at him because of the hatred that made her eyes burn. Had he ever seen her like that before?
"Terra," he began slowly, "what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," she snapped. "I am getting so sick and tired of you people running around under my feet like little bugs trying to figure out what's wrong with me when nothing is. Edgar, what do you take me for? Some kind of weakling? Some waif bawling for a handout?"
Edgar blinked. The calm, compassionate, overly sensitive woman he had known for – What was it? Years? – She was gone. Vanished. Disappeared without a trace to be replaced by the seething, glassy-eyed, and flushed-faced woman now before them. Edgar was at a loss for words, as were the others.
"Terra–" Edgar attempted again.
"No," she snarled. "No more, 'Terra, what's wrong?' No more 'Terra, don't cry.' I've had it up to here with your smooth talk and flirting. It's all lies and you know it! Just leave me alone and quit babying me!"
With that, Terra turned with a rage-filled screech and ran into one of the many dilapidated buildings that the citizens of Zozo had the misfortune of calling home. Edgar watched her go as a dead weight settled in the pit of his stomach. He felt more alone now than he ever had as a young king of Figaro. All the secret feelings and doubts he had ever told her had been thrown back in his face as if they'd been lower than imp slime. It hurt, and she seemed to like it that way.
Locke broke the shocked silence. "Who was that? It wasn't Terra, that I know for damn sure."
Setzer nodded and fingered his cards in thoughtful silence.
"I don't know," Edgar said in a quiet voice. "I don't know anything anymore."
"What made our dear Terra go off like that? I didn't think she had a hostile bone in her body," Setzer said calmly.
Shadow knelt down and studied the ground in silence.
Edgar shook his head. "She doesn't."
Setzer hesitated. "I believe you should re-think that. Apparently, she does."
Edgar looked off in the direction Terra had taken and narrowed his eyes. "Was it her?" he asked, almost to himself.
"What do you mean: 'was it her?' You heard and saw her with your own eyes. We all did," Locke said.
Edgar shook his head. "It wasn't Terra. I don't know who that was."
Locke's eyes opened wide and his mouth gaped in shock. "Are you on something?"
Edgar turned his head to meet Locke's wide-eyed gaze, and then threw his arms up in the air. "I don't know, Cole. I don't know. All the time I was trying to seduce her on the ship I didn't feel a thing. Not a spark, tingle, or blasted bit of warmth!"
"Pardon me," Setzer interrupted with a hand on Edgar's arm. "Seduce? What sort of game have you been playing with Terra's heart?"
"We'll tell you later," Locke mumbled.
Setzer raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms in silent protest.
Edgar's hands dropped to his sides as his eyes glazed with a faraway expression. "Before... Before there was light. There were flames. Passion. Everything I had searched for and never found. Terra and I didn't need to touch for the spark to be there."
"Maybe you're just getting over her," Locke offered.
Edgar gave Locke an incredulous glance. "Getting over Terra is as likely as getting over living or breathing, my friend. It simply does not happen. When I went to visit her for the first time since the battle with Kefka, my breath nearly left me completely when I saw her resting so innocently on the grass. The desire to spirit her away nearly overcame my reason. You know how it is, Cole, don't you? Just being by her side set my skin on fire!"
Locke turned his head away. "I remember."
"Even at the castle I was tempted to have the Chancellor put me in chains so that I wouldn't give in to temptation." He turned away. "Terra felt so good in my arms..."
"And on the ship?"
Edgar sighed. "As I told you before, on our way to Jidoor she opened up to me. She talked about how she felt and why. The passion and fire were still there, threatening to consume me."
"So when did it change?"
"When we left Jidoor," Edgar said miserably. "I wanted to kiss her so bad, Cole, but I'll be hanged if I felt a blasted thing when I touched her face or kissed her hand. There was nothing! Not a single spark!"
Locke turned to Setzer. "Was she in your sight the entire time that Edgar and I were in Jidoor?"
Setzer thought about it for several moments as he absently shuffled his cards. "Terra came aboard and immediately went below deck."
"Drat," Locke mumbled as he rubbed his scalp.
"I don't know what to think, Cole," Edgar went on. "Was it my imagination?"
"That tongue-lashing certainly wasn't of anyone's imagination," Setzer stated.
"So what am I to think? It's almost as if someone had Berserked her, but magic no longer exists. According to Strago, anyway. The statues were magic and we had to destroy them in order to battle Kefka. Conceivably, magic no longer exists. Isn't that correct?"
Setzer put a hand on Edgar's shoulder. "There are many things we don't understand about magic and Espers, my friend. Who's to say that Terra hasn't drawn a bad hand?"
Edgar clenched his jaw. "Don't you think I am well aware of the kind of hand she's been dealt? Her father an Esper and captured by the Empire. Her mother murdered by Gestahl. Terra didn't even know which race to call her own: human or Esper. To make matters worse, she never learned how to care for someone because of being raised by the Empire - the details of which still remain a mystery to us because of her memory loss - and then wearing that accursed Slave Crown most of her life–"
"Edgar," Locke gestured to the top of a building. "Edgar, what's that?"
A strange, purplescent glow lit up the sky and burned their eyes if they examined it for longer than a mere moment. Edgar absently pounded the ground with the haft of his spear before striding toward the building. I want some answers, he thought harshly, and I'm bloody well going to get them!
"I believe it would be safe to assume we're soon to find out," Setzer offered.
"No kidding." Locke followed Edgar with a shake of his head. "This whole thing just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Kidnapping, strange lights, stranger women.... I should have stayed at home and helped Celes make those blasted garlands for the wedding."
"How charming. Locke weaving flowers." Setzer chuckled under his breath and palmed a couple cards. "I would pay money to see that."
Shadow followed silently behind them. His eyes searched the alleys for danger.
Locke caught up with Edgar. "Do you have a Remedy you could give her?"
"No. I never cared for that powder. It always caused me to sneeze. Plus, it was always so expensive."
"Edgar, who cares? It might help better than that potion you gave her, or whatever it was."
"I have one," a voice said from behind.
Locke gave a start and sent Shadow a glare. "Don't do that! You're going to give me a complex!"
Shadow ignored him. "If it will help her, I will give it to you."
Edgar sent the ninja a reluctant smile. "Thank you, Shadow, but before we give it to her I'd like to know what's causing the problem in the first place." The others nodded. "It's just so strange," Edgar continued, almost to himself. "One moment she's fine and the next she's wild-eyed crazy and escaping for the hills. It couldn't be anyone but her because she's not been out of our sight long enough to do any kind of switch, or whatever they would attempt."
"I cast my vote for Esper intervention," Setzer said.
"Espers are dead," Locke paused and sent Setzer a strange look. "Aren't they?"
"Don't be so sure," Setzer said in a lazy tone of voice. "Like I said before, we don't know a lot about them. Maybe they simply... warped to a different dimension and now they're calling to her. It could be anything."
"Then why only the people of Zozo?" Edgar asked.
"Maybe it has nothing to do with Zozo," Locke insisted. "These people always were on the darker side of insane. Besides, living in a hole like Zozo the way the world is now? It would drive me insane." He sent Setzer a look. "Don't say it."
Setzer's expression was innocent. "I wouldn't dream of it."
"I hate to argue with you, Shadow," Locke went on, "but I really believe I'm right. I'm not saying there isn't anything 'evil' going on in Zozo. There always is. I just don't think it has anything to do with Zozo. Maybe that's why the guy who's doing that freakin' light show chose Zozo in the first place. Cover."
Shadow nodded and Edgar was surprised. "Locke, old boy, you must be on to something if Shadow doesn't argue with you."
"I try," Locke said with a grin.
Setzer smirked. "Try harder. Maybe we'll solve this before the day is over and get to go home to wine and women this evening."
"Here, here," Locke agreed.
I only want to return home with Terra, Edgar thought to himself.
They entered the building into which Terra had disappeared, and Shadow promptly froze in the dark hallway. He crouched, three shuriken in hand. Edgar didn't even hesitate before readying his spear and checking to make sure his chain saw was prepared for a quick change. Setzer was absently shuffling his razor-edged cards as his eyes narrowed to scan the distant shadows, and Locke was nonchalant as he pulled his blades free.
"What is it?" Edgar whispered. His eyes strained against the dimness of the hallway, but his untrained eyes couldn't detect movement. "What do you see?"
"An old friend," came Shadow's stealthy reply.
Edgar, Setzer, and Locke exchanged raised eyebrows before again searching the shadows. What they saw made their hearts freeze in their chest. The man was tall with eyes so evil they seemed black and endless. He wasn't muscular by any means, but there radiated such a power from him that the group took a step back before they realized what they were doing. All but Shadow. A firm determination emanated from him that heightened when the figure stepped from the blackness that he seemed to create by his mere existence.
"Ledo," Setzer and Shadow said at once.
"We meet again."
The voice was strange in that it didn't seem to fit with the rest of his body. It was almost as if the deep rumble came from the air instead of the man in front of them. Edgar didn't like it and sent Locke a glance that conveyed as much. Locke simply grimaced and adjusted his grip on his daggers.
"This is my home," he continued. "I don't take kindly to people barging in with weapons drawn."
Edgar took a step forward, carefully adjusting the grip on his spear. "As we 'don't take kindly' to people kidnapping children." A chuckle rumbled deep in the floorboards of the building and Edgar's stomach twisted. "Where is Terra and where are her children?" The chuckling began again and Edgar clenched his jaw to control his rising anger.
"Please, please," Ledo said in a sarcastic sneer, "let's not waste this precious time together by speaking of them."
"Then you do have them," Locke said sharply.
Ledo chuckled. "I didn't say that. You assumed that I knew whom you happened to be searching for." He changed his gaze to Shadow. "It's been so long. What have you been doing with yourself?" Shadow didn't speak and Ledo appeared annoyed. "Come, come. Are you still angry about that woman? It's been years. Let bygones be bygones."
Again, Shadow was silent.
"Mister," Locke spoke up in a careless voice, "we don't give a fig about your 'bygones' with Shadow. All we want is our friends. Tell us where they are or…" He lifted his blades with a smile. "Or face the consequences."
"You have the nerve to threaten me in my house," Ledo asked in an angry voice. "You should quake in your shoes at the sight of me, little man!"
Locke's cold gray eyes looked the man up and down before he adjusted his grip. "Sure, at first glance you'd curdle cream, but I can assure you we've seen worse. Beaten them too. My friends and me will give you one more chance. Terra. Where is she?"
There was a bright flash, several shouts as the group's eyes reacted violently to the sudden change, and then all was dark silence.
Locke sheathed his blades with a sharp motion and put his fists on his hips. "What a freaking pansy! I was looking forward to popping the guy once or twice."
Shadow was still cautious, but his stance relaxed somewhat. "Ledo is a techno-mage. He has never failed to see the importance of a well-timed retreat." The ninja knelt where Ledo had stood and touched the ground with a few fingers and then with his palm. Edgar and Locke came to where he was while Setzer hung back.
"What is it, Shadow?" Edgar sounded as if he were wary of the answer. "What's wrong?"
"He was never here." Shadow straightened, his eyes searching the dim hallway as his sensitive senses tested the air.
Locke slapped his leg with his cap. "I thought so," he mumbled.
"Locke?" Edgar asked the question with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't know how to explain it. After I got over the initial shock of the guy's ugly face, something wasn't right." Locke shrugged. "I don't know what it was. Maybe it was the way the shadows flickered on his armor or something. It's an instinct, Edgar. That's what I get for how I've lived my entire life. A sixth sense."
"It would have been nice if you'd let us on to it before challenging him in our name, my friend," Setzer told him. "There are still a few women I've yet to make love to."
Locke actually smiled. "Hey, Setzer, I'm not exactly in a big rush to check out either, you know. Celes would kill me if I missed our wedding."
Edgar had been watching Shadow as he examined the foreign technology in the room, and he didn't like the look in ninja's eyes. When the ninja was in the far corner, Edgar left Setzer and Locke to their jovial discussion and followed him.
"Shadow, is this techno-mage responsible for the kidnapping of Terra's children and her own strange behavior? Or even of that purplescent glow we saw on the roof?"
Shadow paused his examination of some strange wires and pierced Edgar's eyes with his own. "Ledo is capable of much, Edgar. He seeks power and will do all possible to receive this power."
Edgar knelt down and continued to hold the ninja's gaze. "But Terra and her children? Why?"
"We have not actually seen proof of the children's disappearance," Shadow reminded, "and Terra was much feared and hated by the Empire. He who controls her, controls much power."
"The Empire no longer exists and her power left her with the disappearance of magic." Shadow turned away without responding. Edgar took in a deep breath and nodded. "All right, Shadow. All right. I understand. Rebel forces always exist, whether evil or good. Unfortunately, it's a fact of life. One cannot have good without the presence of evil. As for the reality behind the lust for her power... Terra's Esper power was never understood. Who are we to say it still does not lay dormant? Hidden for safekeeping until it's needed."
"These wires lead upstairs," Shadow observed as he stood.
"Then let's go." Edgar returned to the others and tried to keep thoughts of Terra well hidden.
Terra cowered in a corner of a dingy room; her nose burned at the stench as she dropped her head between her knees. Her arms tightened around them and she stifled the sobs. Memories hit her like bombs of light. Memories she'd buried a long time ago. Terra felt herself slipping beneath them. Losing her identity in the bombardment of images from her time with the Empire. Droning voices of people telling her how to make every blow count.
Mysterious voices filled with hate accusing her of murder and acts too numbing to recall, even now.
Times on the battlefield, defeating yet another hopeless cause.
The charred bodies and spilled blood of innocent soldiers, killed by her hand.
Thousands mutilated and tortured at the simple request of a mad man.
Screaming children crying in the darkness of her mind. For their parents long dead. For their homes long since burned.
The memory that hurt her the most, however, was the one of Edgar.
"What is wrong with you," he'd snarled. His eyes had been so angry.
But why wouldn't he listen to me? Why did he keep accusing me of things I didn't do? She'd desperately tried to hold back the tears, but she hadn't been that strong. They had come and Edgar had launched a fresh attack. "No more 'Terra what's wrong?' No more 'Terra, don't cry.' Stop expecting me to baby you all the time," he'd yelled. And he'd said so many things while the others had just stared at her, as if they'd agreed. What went wrong? What happened to the Edgar I knew before... her thoughts stopped amidst the sobs.
Her friends no longer cared.
Her kids were gone.
She moaned as the pain began again. Throbbing. Streaks of fire and ice. Bright light. Voices. Pain. Terra gripped her head in her hands and screamed; her lungs and throat burned with the intensity of it. Even the crumbling walls seemed to shake with the vibration of the agony.
Terra screeched but the pain went on, growing in fury as she attempted to fight it. The voices didn't stop. The volume grew and Terra fell to her side, tucking her knees to her chin as her hands tightened their grip on her head. Voices. Whispers. Screams. Laughter... Terra screeched and screamed until her throat was raw and bloody.
Terra blacked out.
Edgar looked up sharply, his eyes narrowing. "What on earth is that?"
Locke and Setzer exchanged a glance, but Shadow examined Edgar's face and began to listen.
"What's what?" Locke asked. "I don't hear anything."
Edgar continued to listen, and then his face went pale. "It's Terra," He turned to the others and his eyes were desperate. "We have to find her," Edgar insisted. "They're torturing her!"
"What?" Locke listened again. "I don't hear anything, Edgar."
"You can't hear that?" Edgar gestured wildly behind him at the ascending stairs. "Locke, she's screeching loud enough to wake the dead!"
"No I can't hear it," Locke said again. "Where's it coming from?"
Edgar's complexion was close to green as he looked around the building. "I don't know... It's all around–" Edgar broke off and his eyes glossed over with terror. "It stopped."
Locke cringed. "I hope she's okay."
"What now?" Setzer asked softly.
Shadow stepped forward then. His gloved hand was resting on the massive head of the beast he called Interceptor. The dog's black hair was bristling and the growl that rumbled deep in his chest was threatening.
"Interceptor has found something."
"Don't stand there, man," Edgar said harshly. He gestured at the stairs behind him. "Where is she?"
"There is a trail leading out of Zozo--"
"No," Edgar cut in. "I heard Terra here. In Zozo. I will not leave to wander after some mysterious trail!"
"Edgar," Locke reasoned with hands outstretched, "we don't know that she's even still here. We can't search each building hoping we'll trip onto something. This is the best lead we've had all day!"
Edgar strode up to Locke with such a look of rage on his face that Locke actually took a step back. The treasure hunter, in all the years he had known King Edgar of Figaro, had never seen him like this. Well I'll be, he thought suddenly, he really does love her, doesn't he? And that shocked him. How many times had Edgar told him of his most recent conquest, all the while chuckling at the naïveté of the woman when she believed his 'I care for you' line.
"Cole, it doesn't matter to me if this is the only lead we receive," Edgar was saying. His tone was a harsh whisper. "I will not leave Zozo without her. Leave me. It won't matter. I'm bringing her out alive and in one piece."
"We can't leave you in a place like this on your own! That's a suicide mission!"
"So you would leave Terra?"
"I didn't say that," Locke protested harshly.
"Then you better say what you mean, Cole, and quickly. I'm leaving with or without you."
Locke glanced over at Setzer, who shrugged and turned away, and then changed his eyes to Shadow and Interceptor. Shadow seemed withdrawn, even more so than usual, and that made Locke uneasy. "What do you say Shadow? It's your dog. Do you think the trail is bogus or the real deal?"
Interceptor grumbled and sat on his haunches as he licked his chops; his black eyes pinned Locke's gray ones.
"It's real," Shadow said.
"Will it still be there, say, in an hour's time?"
"That I cannot say, but to risk it could mean losing the trail permanently."
Locke nodded and turned back to Edgar.
"You know I cannot leave her," Edgar said. He was more controlled and the hands gripping his spear were the only indication of his struggle. "I must find her, Locke. I must."
"Yeah," Locke agreed reluctantly and reached out his hand. "Yeah, I know."
Edgar took hold of Locke's outstretched hand. "I have cheated death many a time, Locke Cole. Do not be sure you have seen the last of me yet."
Edgar turned away and ascended the stairs, his cape fluttering in the breeze giving him a melodramatic appearance. When he disappeared around the corner at the top of the staircase, Locke finally turned away.
"Smug old scratch," he mumbled.
Setzer chuckled and followed as Locke led the group back out into the rainy afternoon. When Shadow took the lead, Locke glanced over his shoulder at the building once more before following them. He clenched his jaw. Good luck, old friend.
Blood trickled from Terra's ears and she awoke with a groan. The pain had faded but she could feel it waiting, perched at the outer edge of her brain biding it's time. Patiently gauging the appropriate instance to renew its presence and power. Terra stared vacantly at her hands, unbound, and numbly wondered why she didn't flee. Am I in danger? She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything. Disjointed images, blurred memories, and jumbled emotions were the only thoughts that greeted Terra. The effort required to make sense of them caused a muted throbbing behind her eyes.
Terra struggled to her feet, leaning almost her entire weight against the moldy brick wall. Rats scurried from under her and she moaned again, the sound of rushing blood all she could hear. Where... Where am I? She tried to remember and the pulsating in her brain stopped her. It hurt too much. I need to get out of here... But she didn't know why. When she'd first woken up there'd been an underlying sense of fear and desperation. Now a strange sort of calm replaced it. Peace. Belonging. Terra rubbed at her forehead with a frown of mild confusion. Something wasn't right. She felt disconnected and numb for brief moments, and then a drug-like feeling of peace followed.
Something warm trickled down her jaw and she rubbed at it with a cringe. When she pulled her hand away from her face, it was smeared with blood. She wiped the liquid on her leggings with an absent motion and took a few steps forward. A strange longing to be outside kept pulling her forward. Outside. I must get outside. Everything will be all right once I am outside... Fly. The thought struck her as familiar, and yet it seemed odd. I can't fly in a building, she finally reasoned. I'd hurt myself–
Pain seared through every corner of her brain. Terra screeched as she grabbed fistfuls of matted hair and collapsed to the floor. Sewer rats clambered up and over her, sniffing, scratching, and biting at her, but she could only feel the burning in her head. The melting... The boiling... The agony... She screamed again and the rats scurried away when she began to thrash.
Then was still.
Edgar rounded the corner and flinched at the repulsive odor that nearly made his toenails curl. He coughed a couple times, brought a kerchief up to his nose and mouth, and then fumbled around in his pockets for a match. Blast! Never a light when you need one– His foot rubbed against something and he knelt down to touch it as he squinted in the blackness. It was cold to the touch and Edgar shook his head. Another body, he told himself as he straightened. Edgar had found three already: two men and one woman. All of them had held such an expression of agony on their faces that it had nearly turned his stomach.
Edgar turned and left the room, closing the rickety door softly behind him with a sigh. Poor soul. To die in a place like that... He hoped he wouldn't find Terra in such a position, and his mind steered away from the possibility. But Terra persisted in fluttering in and out of his mind like a determined butterfly. Teasing him with memories of touches and laughter that he dreamed meant more than they probably had. Then there was the strange reaction he had felt toward her while on their way to Zozo. Feelings could not disappear in less than an hour either, but he knew his reaction couldn't be logically reasoned away. It was frustrating and did nothing to alleviate his growing rage. Terra wasn't to blame, but someone was and they were going to pay with their life.
There was a slight scratching to Edgar's right and he turned sharply, his spearhead instinctively poised at the point of origin. It was a door. The scratching sounded again and Edgar stepped closer, lifting the bar across the door with his spear. It dropped away and the door swung open, the hinges screeching in protest. Edgar rushed forward, dropping his spear and chain saw with a "Dammit!" as he knelt down by the bloody figure of a young woman. He pulled her into his lap and wiped the blood from her face and eyes as well as he could. Her opened eyes didn't react to the movement. Edgar dug in his pocket for everything he owned: potions, Eye Drops, Antidotes, Echo Screens, and others.
Edgar carefully measured two drops of the eye salve into her eyes and watched as they began to track motion and sound. He sighed but didn't dare let himself relax. Instead, he popped the cork from the potion and gently lifted her higher to ladle the honey-like mixture of herbs and roots into her mouth. Minutes passed but he continued his gentle ministration of the potion, keeping his eagle eyes on her staggered breathing that rattled in his ears and the ghostly whiteness of her clammy skin.
"Come on, Terra," he whispered close to her ear. "Fight. Fight this as I know you can." He gently massaged the liquid down her throat with a finger lightly stroking her neck, pausing long enough to wrap his cloak around her when her light tremors began to worsen. "I will not leave you," he promised softly. Edgar ladled more of the potion into her mouth and caressed her cracked lips with a finger. "I will not leave you ever again, Terra. You have my word."
When the last of the potion had finally trickled down her throat and her breathing had become less of a struggle, Edgar carefully lifted her into his arms and stood. If there is a God in charge of this detestable planet we live on, then let me get out of this hellhole without a problem. He didn't think it was too much to ask, but then again, what did he know of God and His schedule. Edgar pressed his lips together and stepped into the hall, not caring that his spear and chain-saw were still lying on the bloody cell floor.
He'd be hanged if he let anyone stop him.
An odd sound gurgled in Terra's throat and Edgar looked down at her pasty white face. The healing effect of the potion wasn't working. She needed an alchemist, or someone more knowledgeable than he at least. Edgar was at a loss as to how to keep her from drowning in her own blood, and that feeling of helplessness quickened his step.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry, mister?"
Edgar halted mid-step. His jaw tightened. "That is none of your affair."
"Well, well. Ain't we the King of Figaro with your high-falootin' way of yammerin'?"
Edgar didn't turn, nor did he think it wise to own up to how close the hoodlum was to the truth.
"Ain't you a pretty sight," the man sneered. "I'm thinkin' I want me some of those pretty clothes of yours."
Edgar gently laid Terra on the floor and shrugged out of his deep purple cape, his richly embroidered vest and jacket, and took off the gem-encrusted cufflinks on his white silk shirt. He put them in a heap beside him, still without turning, and then lifted Terra into his arms once more.
"Well I'll be," the Zozoian cooed. "That was easier than guttin' a stuck pig."
"If that is all..."
"Now don't be in such a rush there, mister. I sure could use a new pair of boots."
Edgar finally sent a look over his shoulder at the haggard, half-starved ruffian and raised an eyebrow. "If you keep me one more moment, I shall give you a boot directly in your ass, you swine. I have given you more than you deserve, and I shall take it back if you ask for more."
The Zozoian was so shocked at that response that Edgar was able to exit the building before he was even able to stutter out a reply. Edgar listened for his footsteps and let out a thankful breath when there were none. Now for the final walk through Main Street, Edgar muttered to himself. He knew that he didn't have enough to bribe the entire city and unless he found a weapon on his way out of town he was defenseless as well. I'm a fool for leaving behind my spear. But he knew that he wouldn't have been able to carry Terra and the weapon.
Terra moaned and began to thrash, so Edgar increased his grip on her as he continued to stumble forward.
"Do be still," he mumbled. She proceeded to unknowingly hit him on the side of the face and neck. "Stop it, woman. You'll hurt yourself more than you have already."
Terra groaned and whimpered, her arms still flailing while her upper and lower body twisted and writhed against Edgar's grip. He stumbled to a halt barely 100 yards from the exit of Zozo and desperately attempted to adjust his slipping hold.
"Terra, if you don't quiet down we will soon have many unwelcome visitors." She cried out and arched her back; her arms and legs suddenly rigid. Edgar staggered to keep his balance under the sudden change. "What is it?" he asked as he slowly knelt.
Her eyes drifted wildly, not focusing on anything, and her body remained stiffly arched. Edgar repositioned her in his arms, his eyes continuing to search for danger in the surrounding buildings, and gently began rocking her back and forth. He pressed his lips against her forehead. What do I do? Is she still under the influence of that blasted craziness? Is it Zozo? Edgar couldn't keep up with the questions and they were beginning to make him feel an odd sense of paranoia. An urge to flee and leave Terra to the mercy of the residents nearly overwhelmed him.
"No," he snapped. "I will not leave her."
Edgar stared down at her contorted and pale face and pressed his lips together as he pulled his arms out from under her. He took a firm and gentle hold of her face, took in a deep breath, and lowered his head to touch his lips against hers. There was nothing. No response. No spark. No emotion.
Then Edgar began to kiss her the only way he knew how: passionately. He kissed her the way he'd dreamed of kissing her for so many months… But her lips were cold, unyielding. He pressed on. His mouth becoming more coaxing as he desperately attempted to persuade the Terra he loved to come back to him. But her body remained rigid; her back arched in protest as her arms hung outstretched and partially bent, as if in a frozen state of horror.
Edgar encircled her with his arms, pulling her against him until he could feel the steady beat of her heart against his chest. Terra, please, his soul pleaded as his lips caressed hers. Come back to me. Laugh. Cry. Look up at me with those violet eyes and smile. Nothing. His lips gentled even more, teasing the skin of her cheek with his touch and his breath as he tried to pull her rigid form closer. But the steady beat of her heart didn't change. The rigidity didn't soften. His Terra remained painfully distant.
Edgar released a groan of agony and impending defeat as his lips once again touched hers. And then it happened. Her lips began to move with his.
Sparks burst behind Edgar's eyes and his lips turned to fire, the molten passion burning a trail of ecstasy through his entire body as her response continued to grow. She's back, his soul shouted. Terra's back! Her arms wrapped themselves around his neck and her fingers buried themselves in his hair. Edgar's scalp tingled as his mouth trailed down her neck. He pulled her so tight against him that she cried out in pain.
"Thank God," he said against her neck in a strangled voice. Terra began to sob and he scooped her up into his arms, holding her against him as he strode forward.
"Edgar," she sobbed in a rough voice. "Edgar, where am I? What's going on–" She broke off with a shudder and Edgar picked up speed. "It hurts... My head is on fire, Edgar–" Terra breathed in sharply and shuddered so hard Edgar's teeth were nearly jolted from his head.
"Hold on," he whispered between deep puffs. "Hold on, Terra. We're almost out of here."
"Why is this h-happening? Wh-why me?" She convulsed, throwing Edgar off-balance, and a sharp cry was ripped from Terra's throat.
"I'm sorry," he said through clenched teeth as he regained his footing. "Did I hurt you?"
"N-no. It's m-my–"
Terra broke off with a strangled scream as she began to claw at her face and ears. Panic made Edgar's heart skip a beat, and he began to run toward the exit of the dark city with her wails of agony ringing in his ears. When she went limp in his arms, Edgar could feel the blood drain from his face.
"Terra?" She didn't stir. When he jostled her slightly, her head and arms fell back with no resistance. "Terra? Terra, do you hear me?" His voice sounded panicky and his mind somehow forced himself to continue forward. "No," he said sharply as his eyes drifted to her body again and again. "Don't you die on me, Terra Branford. Not now, blast it all! Not now!"
Locke looked over his shoulder again and shook his head with a deep breath. The group was headed for Jidoor, much to Locke's surprise, and had left the airship near the entrance of Zozo for Edgar when he found Terra. Setzer hadn't been too thrilled with the idea of leaving it, but had given in to the common sense of the situation. After all, Interceptor was a miraculous beast, but he couldn't follow a trail that was on the ground when he was in the air. Not only that, Locke had wanted to leave Edgar a quick way to Figaro Castle in case Terra was hurt or dying.
"Cole, what's wrong?" Setzer asked.
"I don't like leaving them."
"The rest of us don't like it either. But we didn't have a choice."
Interceptor grumbled at Shadow about the noise and Shadow stroked the beast's head. "The trail is stronger. Prepare yourself for the unexpected," he warned.
"If it's unexpected," Setzer countered, "how are we to prepare ourselves?"
Shadow ignored him.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Interceptor sent Locke a dirty look, and he raised his hands. "No offense. It's just that we came here first and Terra was positive the guy wasn't here."
Shadow glanced at Locke sharply. "Terra?"
Locke examined Shadow's eyes before answering. "Yeah. She took one look at the place and said it was too quiet for anything to have happened recently. She also brought up a good point: why would the slaver bring his business here when they don't use slaves?"
Shadow refocused his haunted eyes on the town of Jidoor. "Ledo is no slaver, Locke Cole. His one desire is power, and that is what he wishes to receive from Terra."
"But what about her kids?"
"They are still at home."
"What?" Locke turned Shadow around with a hand on his arm. "What are you talking about?"
"I suspect the urgency of her children's disappearance was a ploy to lure her from the safety of her home."
"Are you telling me Terra wouldn't notice her kids still at home before leaving to get us?" Locke asked doubtfully.
"If Ledo is involved, many things will not be as they appear. He is an expert at deception."
"So you've said."
Setzer came up to the two and gave them an incredulous stare. "Are you hinting at brain-washing?"
Shadow turned and began walking for Jidoor once again. "I mean mind-control."
Locke and Setzer exchanged a glance and then hurried after him.
"Mind-control? Are you crazy? How? When could he have gotten to her?" Locke made a move to grab Shadow's arm but he turned sharply, a dagger at the ready as Interceptor growled with a snap of his teeth. Locke backed off with raised hands and shocked gray eyes. "Easy, Shadow. Easy."
"Do not doubt my words and knowledge so easily, Locke Cole," he said in tight tones. "I know this demon Ledo, and I know what he is capable of. I know he was once an Imperial dog who would have sold his own nation's soul to Hades for power. I know that Technology is his mistress and he is fully aware of what it can do. I know that he can toy with a person's mind using tools we cannot understand and thinks nothing of killing children and babies. I know all these things and more."
Locke examined Shadow's face as he lowered the dagger. "This woman Ledo mentioned..."
Shadow turned away without an answer and Locke sent Setzer a look. The ninja had always been a mystery to everyone in the large group of friends and no one had ever known how to talk to him about his past. No one had really thought about it much, either.
"What do you think?" Locke asked nonchalant. "Should we ask for an explanation now or later?"
"Either time would be a risk to our lives," Setzer told him. "He's like that, and you know it."
"We need answers, gambler. Stumbling along blindly is not my idea of a well-thought-out plan. Neither is trusting Shadow's twisted sense of justice. This whole thing stinks to high heaven. You know it. I know it. Hell, Interceptor even knows it! We can't fight as a team if we don't act like one."
Setzer absently nodded as he pulled out his cards and began to shuffle them. "What do you suggest? Shadow isn't a force to be reckoned with."
Locke turned to stride after Shadow. "Don't be too sure," he tossed over his shoulder.
Setzer stared after him in surprise before following. "What do you mean by that?"
"I guess you don't find it the least bit strange that good-old-Shadow took time out of his busy schedule to track Terra down by himself?" Setzer remained silent and Locke continued. "Sure, he said Interceptor smelled trouble, but wouldn't they have needed to be at Terra's home in the first place in order for the beast to smell at all? Wouldn't that explain him knowing the kids are safe?"
Setzer watched the ninja and his dog as they carefully examined a shack outside of Jidoor. "Go on."
"Didn't you notice Shadow's change of mood when he suggested we leave Zozo to follow this trail? That man cares what happens to her just like the rest of us."
"So?" Locke pressed his lips together. "So? What are you, gambler, a blasted ignoramus or something? If he has a soft-spot for Terra, that means we might be able to get the guy to see he's not doing her any favors by keeping the information a mystery. He'll start talking."
Setzer shrugged. "I doubt it, but it's worth a try."
The two strode up to the dark pair and Interceptor bared his teeth. Shadow didn't even pass them a glance.
"Shadow," Locke began, "if you know so much, why are you keeping it to yourself? Teamwork's needed to beat this guy and, right now, we've anything but."
Shadow sent them one of his infamous guarded looks and Setzer picked up where Locke dropped off. "We understand your obsessive desire for privacy, but Terra's life is at stake here. How do you expect to save her by yourself–"
"I have defeated Ledo before," he said coolly.
Setzer and Locke released an exasperated breath.
"Well, he's back again, isn't he?" Interceptor snapped with a dangerous growl. "Stay out of this," Locke ordered. He turned back to Shadow. "So you've got a score to settle. So it's a pride issue. Join the club, Shadow. Terra is our friend and this blasted techno-freak got to her through us. You can't get all the vengeance. Give us some information, Shadow. Trust us for once in your life!"
Shadow faced the two men with a cold stare, his presence distanced from them even though he stepped closer. A chilled breeze ruffled a gloomy, dark embroidered sash at his waist. "Don't try to understand what you couldn't possibly comprehend. My life is my own." Shadow paused, barely. "Terra is my friend, yes. I won't deny it. She's risked her life for mine many times, as I've done for her. I do this for the honor she showed me and for the welcome she always offered."
"Let us help, Shadow," Locke pressed. "We agree with everything you just said, so quit making us stumble around in the dark! Give us a clue!" Shadow pulled out a dagger and turned, slicing several snake-like wires that trailed from the side of the shack to a mansion on the outskirts of Jidoor. Locke sighed with clenched teeth and glared over at Setzer.
"Now what?" Setzer asked. Locke only shrugged. "That's no help. It was your idea in the first place."
"I never said it would work. Shadow exists. Period. No one knows anything about him, and he never offers any inside information."
"But what about that Relm connection?"
Locke shrugged again. "Who knows? We can't ask her because she'd have been too young to remember anything. We can't ask Strago because he never gives us a straight answer. And we certainly can't ask Shadow because... Well, because he just doesn't talk about it. We've just got to go with the flow, gambler. There's no other way."
"That doesn't help. Not a bit."
"I never said it would," Locke shook his head and strode toward Jidoor with a glare. "If he doesn't start giving us a clue as to what the plan is, I'm going to kill him myself."
"Setzer thinks Locke is crazy."
"Right now, I don't care what you think," Locke said. "If he wants to save Terra so bad, he can trust us with some info. You see him doing that?"
"You never know, Cole, he may be doing just that in his own way."
Locke let out an exasperated breath. "Yeah. Yeah, I know. It just pisses me off to know that he doesn't trust us after all we've been through."
"For someone like Shadow, trust is a hard thing to earn. Or give." Setzer squinted in the distance. "What the–"
Locke looked up and followed Setzer's gaze. An eerie glow of gloomy purple radiated from one of the houses. "That's not good. It's the same light that was in Zozo."
"Did you notice it here before?"
Locke shook his head. "No. No, I didn't. Do you think it could've been here when... you know. When Terra said the guy wasn't here? Do you think that same light had something to do with this mind-control Shadow was talking about?"
Setzer nodded slowly. "I think it does. Coincidences just don't happen to me."
They entered Jidoor at the back and caught sight of Shadow gesturing to them from behind another small shack similar to the one outside the city. They rushed over to him, skidding to a halt at the smiling faces that greeted them.
"Sabin! Celes!" Locke's face broke out in a grin. "What are you doing here?"
"We came to help," Sabin stated the obvious in his usual get-down-to-business way and gestured to Celes. "She got your note and had some pretty good ideas of what to do."
"Locke," Celes said carefully. "Locke, Terra's kids are still at home."
"Yeah, so Shadow just told us," Locke said somberly. "And when we saw the purple light outside... Well, we think someone's putting thoughts in Terra's head."
"Just like the thought about her kids being missing?" Sabin asked the question with a nod. "It makes sense. We don't really know what they did to her while she was with the Empire."
"Well…" Celes dropped her gaze. "I have an idea."
Setzer smirked. "Why does this not surprise me?"
Celes stepped forward suddenly and pulled Locke aside as Sabin went into further details of how the duo had tracked them to Jidoor. "Locke, don't leave me behind when something like this comes up. Okay? I'm anything but a helpless woman, and I think I deserve to be included. Besides, Terra is my friend too."
Locke flushed with embarrassment and glanced over his shoulder to see if the others were hearing their conversation. "Sorry, princess. I lost my head."
Celes smiled and caressed his cheek. "I'm not mad. I was a little annoyed, but the fact you sent me a note helped me get over that fast enough. You never thought you'd be doing that, I bet."
"Checking in with the 'misses' before running off on some glorious adventure."
Locke chuckled and planted a kiss on her upturned lips before grabbing her hand and leading her back to the group. "Hey, you're not the old battle-axe yet. Besides, there's nothing wrong with that. And the benefits are worth the change."
It was Celes' turn to flush, and she smacked him upside the head. "Not in front of everyone, Locke."
Setzer chuckled and shook his head. "Now that the lovers are reunited, can we get back to the business at hand?"
Shadow knelt and sketched a rough outline of the city of Jidoor, as well as the shack positioned on the outside of the city. "The lines from this shack run to this house here," He drew an 'x' on a square that represented the building across from them and then placed his palm on the shack they were using as cover. "This shack holds a power source, as well as the connecting lines from an additional power source in the shack outside Jidoor to Ledo's house there." Shadow gestured to the same house.
"Power source," Sabin repeated. "What power source? Like in Narshe?"
"No. Not steam," Shadow said.
Locke looked over at Celes and noticed her faraway expression. "What's wrong?"
Celes faded back into the conversation with a start. "Hmm? Oh. I'm sorry. I was thinking."
"You mention a power source, but the only ones we've ever seen have taken up rooms. Like the generator for the engine of Figaro Castle. Or the multiple steam-generators in Narshe."
Celes looked over at Setzer. "You have an ear for news, Setzer. Don't you remember hearing about some new type of power they'd been using in Vector? Something that took up less space than what had ever been done before."
Setzer frowned and stroked his chin. "Now that you mention it, I do recall something about that. What did they call it…? Some kind of new liquid fuel."
Celes nodded and looked down at Shadow. "If this is the power source, then we've got to make sure we know who we're dealing with. Only the Empire knew about this new fuel, and I'm talking the high-ranking officials like Kefka, Leo, and Gestahl."
"And you," Sabin reminded with a smile.
Celes grinned. "I kept my ears open. One never knew when their usefulness would be up in the Empire."
Shadow continued to stare down at his rough map. "I know whom we are coming against," he said darkly. "Ledo is the inventor of this new power."
"I didn't think any of the Imperialists survived," Celes stated.
"Ledo survives all things," Shadow's voice was different from its usual calm detachment. "Fire, disease, famine, disasters. Evil survives evil."
"Do stop being such a doomsayer, Shadow," Setzer complained. "Just get on with it."
"I cut his main power source."
"So we noticed," Locke said.
"One of you must remain outside, ready to cut his backup power source as a diversion."
"Diversion. Good idea. Who's going to stay?" Sabin asked slowly.
Locke looked at Celes, and she scowled at him. "Don't even think of asking me, Locke Cole. I've already missed out on the trip to Zozo."
"Celes, it's going to be dangerous–"
"Of course it's going to be dangerous. That's why I'm going. I was a General in the Imperial army, you know. I can handle myself as well as any others that get in my way. The last thing I need is an overzealous man telling me when it's too dangerous for me to do what I do best."
Setzer and Sabin chuckled under their breath.
"But you can't use magic–" Locke began.
"Is that the best you can do?" Celes' face hardened and she put her fists on her hips. "Locke Cole, I was a soldier first and foremost. Just because I can't use magic now doesn't mean I've forgotten how to swing a sword. I'm going and that's the end of it."
Setzer put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Locke, you better stop protesting or she's liable to leave you at the altar. And you…" He looked at Celes with a wide smile. "You should appreciate his concern. You mean a lot to him, Celes, and he's only protecting what he loves."
Celes smiled mischievously. "Setzer, for a lady's man you certainly don't know much about women." Setzer raised an eyebrow, and she continued in a lower tone as she leaned toward him. "Locke and I enjoy the make-up after a... disagreement."
Sabin threw back his head and laughed, slapping Setzer on the back. Setzer simply shook his head with a chuckle. Shadow sent Sabin a hard look, which made him quiet down, and Locke shrugged Setzer's arm from his shoulder.
"Fine. Fine. You can go. Setzer can stay behind, since he thinks he knows so much."
"It will be my pleasure," Setzer said between chuckles.
When Edgar cleared Zozo, he immediately knelt on the ground and set Terra down. He bent over her, placing an ear close to her mouth to listen for breathing as he watched for the rise and fall of her chest. There was nothing. Edgar clenched his jaw and tilted her head back, then pinched off her nose and covered her mouth with his. Once, twice he breathed air into her lungs. Then he watched for the rise and fall of her chest once more before beginning again. Edgar could feel the beat of her heart through the fingers he placed on her throat. She simply wasn't breathing.
"Come on, Terra," he whispered as he again bent close to her mouth. "Don't let this devil win. Come on."
Edgar tried to ignore the rising panic, but with each passing moment it became more difficult. Especially when he noticed the bleeding from her ears and nose. Blast! What did that man do to you? Again and again he breathed air into her lungs with no response from her. Edgar didn't know what else to do. He couldn't let her die. He couldn't give up and let her slip away from him. Edgar pulled her into his arms to rock her back and forth.
"No," he said harshly. "No, Terra, do not die. Do not leave me alone. Not now. Not when I have not yet told you I love you." He struggled to his feet, determination hurrying his steps toward the airship. When he boarded, he paused for the briefest moment before placing Terra beside the wheel. "Cyan?"
The Doma swordsman straightened with a grim look at Terra. "Does she live?"
"Her heart's beating, but she doesn't breathe."
Cyan knelt beside her and placed his fingers on her throat. "Hurry, highness. Time is of great import. Fly us to Kohlingen, the home of the alchemist."
"The one who assisted Locke with Rachel?"
Cyan nodded and gently positioned Terra on her side before carefully prying her mouth open, two fingers disappearing inside. "The very one. Be quick, highness. Her life is dependent upon thy speed."
Shadow led the three around the back of the house and knelt, touching the ground with his fingers as Interceptor searched the path ahead. The ninja searched the area with his eyes and then pointed at a small object with a red glowing center.
"A trap. Break the connection and a silent alarm sounds."
"Does that mean we can't get in this way?"
He shook his head to Celes' whispered question and made a sign at Interceptor who looked up, watched Shadow a moment, and then disappeared around the far side of the house.
"Where's he going?" Locke asked.
"He has a job to do. As for this simple trap, step over it. This is only for catching those who do not pay attention."
Locke, Celes, and Sabin stepped over the red light without a problem and proceeded to wait as Shadow searched the remaining distance to the door before following.
"Do you think Ledo knows we're here?" Locke asked.
Shadow didn't answer. He traced the frame of the door with his fingers before tapping a section twice. He removed a dagger from a hidden sheath on the back of his neck and drove the blade into the center of the section. Then he cut a deep gash to the floor. The trio watched Shadow's ritual in amazement, and then they shook their heads when he opened the door and stepped inside.
"What was that all about?" Locke asked.
Again, Shadow didn't answer. Locke clenched his jaw and Celes placed a hand on his arm as Sabin passed them to follow Shadow. She sent Locke an understanding glance when his angry eyes focused on hers. He examined her face, nodded with a deep breath, and then followed Sabin as Shadow led them further into the house. There was a strange and soft humming that was unfamiliar to the group and Shadow put a hand out to stop their progress.
They listened. After a moment more, Shadow knelt and began to lightly touch the floorboards beneath their feet. The trio was careful not to move. Just as he had on the door, he tapped a small area of the floor twice and inserted his dagger. This time, however, he left the dagger and stood to gesture to a far room. Locke, Celes, and Sabin followed him with hurried steps.
Machines and crystals, glass tubes and strange lights were arranged around the room haphazardly with wires spread snake-like throughout it all. Locke went to different areas and touched the machines with a shake of his head.
"What is this stuff?" Sabin asked with a harsh whisper.
"It's a laboratory," Celes whispered in amazement. "It's like the one I saw in Vector. Where people were... injected."
Locke looked at her. "What?"
"These are the same kinds of machines I saw when I escorted people to be injected with magic from an Esper. I'm positive–"
"You are correct."
The group turned sharply, weapons at the ready as they faced the owner of the voice. Dark, evil eyes. Tall silhouette radiating power and blackness. It was Ledo.
Setzer shuffled his cards as his eyes occasionally moved to the house while he waited for the signal. When he focused on a great black and brown beast running toward him, he palmed three cards.
Interceptor paused with a raised eyebrow.
"Sorry, my friend," Setzer said with a smile. He put the cards back in the deck. "No offense." The massive dog jogged the remaining way toward him and looked up at him expectantly. Setzer shook his head. "I'm working now. I can't follow you," If it was possible, Interceptor looked annoyed and gave a little growl. "I must wait for the signal and then–"
Interceptor grabbed Setzer's leg in his strong jaws, ignoring the gambler's shout of surprise as he proceeded to pull him toward a house.
"I should have known I wouldn't be rid of you so easily," Ledo said in a lazy voice. "Ah well. It doesn't matter whether it is later or now. You will be taken care of just the same."
Celes pressed her lips together and swiped the air with her sword. "I don't think so."
"Ditto," Locke put in.
"No doubt," Sabin agreed. "Is he crazy or something? Doesn't he know who we are?"
Shadow stepped forward from behind Ledo and the tall man turned to face him. "As you can see, demon, your power has come to an end."
Ledo chuckled, his arms tightly crossed. "So little you know of me and my power, Shadow. Even then your mind couldn't handle the truth."
Ledo leaned toward Shadow with a condescending sneer, his hard eyes pitying as they focused on the ninja's. "How does it feel to know you're the reason she died?"
A quietly building rage sparked from Shadow's veiled eyes as he held Ledo's gaze without a cringe. Locke and Celes exchanged a wary glance and took up better positions on either side of the techno-mage while Sabin absently clenched and unclenched his fists.
"You better not be talking about Terra, mister, or you're in a world of hurt," Sabin warned through clenched teeth.
Ledo straightened with an air of boredom as his black eyes took in Locke, Celes, and Sabin. It even appeared that he restrained a yawn before refocusing his attention on Shadow. "These children you spend so much time with... I often wonder what you hope to accomplish by it." Silence. Ledo began to slowly pace, the sound of his footfalls echoing like hollow laughter. "I often wonder if you are hiding from your past, Shadow. After all, it would be so easy for you to–"
"Be quiet, demon," Shadow snapped at the tall figure. "You've been the hell to my soul long enough. Your reign of terror has finished and I will be your undoing."
Ledo appeared genuinely amused. "Little Shadow," he chuckled. "Still you do not understand," The man turned and pushed a button. "Welcome to hell."
A glass box came to life and the group noticed an odd familiarity about it. Or rather, with the information displayed. There was a still picture of a young woman and then several graphs and meters that were strangely still. Another glass box displayed a single, red word.
Locke hurried to the console as he sheathed his blades, ignoring Ledo who smiled silently on. The treasure-hunter examined the screen and turned to Shadow with a pale face. "It's Terra. He's killing her."
"How?" Sabin asked harshly. His eyes never left Ledo's face. "How can he be killing her when she's not here?"
Locke shook his head and turned back to the console with it's many displays and odd-shaped buttons. "I don't know," he growled. "I don't know!"
"The Esper is mine, Shadow. If you wish her to die, remain. However, it will have been you who killed–" Ledo turned in surprise and his eyes focused on nothing. "You! What are you doing here?"
Locke and Celes exchanged a glance before he hesitantly reached out to touch the dark figure. It flickered. "He's not here! Again!"
Sabin examined Ledo's face. "Then, wherever he is, someone is there with him–"
"No," Ledo screamed; his hands raised in defense. The figure wavered and vanished. The group heard the tail end of a screech from somewhere outside the house.
Shadow gestured at the console. "Save Terra. I will find Ledo."
"What's left of him. I think Interceptor was pissed." Locke reluctantly smiled before he turned back to the console. The smile disappeared. "Blast! I hate this techno trash."
Celes came to stand beside Locke as Shadow disappeared from the room. "I know, babe, but you're the only one besides Edgar who understands this."
Locke looked over at Sabin. "You're his brother–"
"Hey, don't look at me. I don't get this junk either. You're the brains of this crew."
"I don't know jack about this techno--"
"Locke," Celes turned him to face her and held his gaze. "Locke, I know you can do this."
He let out a deep breath and nodded as he faced the console again. "All right, Lady Luck. Let's do this thing right," Locke examined the few instructional plaques, and then he flipped a few switches.
"Well? What do you think?" Sabin asked the question hesitantly.
"I think…" Locke's hand paused over an odd-colored switch highlighted by a flashing light. "I think it's this one."
He pushed it.
"Well, well. What do we have here?"
Interceptor's grip around Ledo's throat tightened and the mage tensed as he lay on the floor. When Interceptor had begun dragging Setzer to the small, abandoned house on the opposite side of Jidoor, the gambler had been sure the beast had finally lost touch with reality. Then Setzer had seen an odd assortment of wires snaking their way along the ground, hastily hidden under molded pieces of wood specifically designed to conceal them.
Coincidences didn't happen to him.
Picking the lock had been easy enough, thanks to Locke's good-natured tutelage, and then the mystery had been solved as soon as Interceptor had dashed through the gaping door into the technological wonderland to pin its owner to the ground with a death-like grip to the throat.
"Patience, my friend," Setzer told the growling beast now. "He won't be much use to us dead."
Interceptor grumbled his complaint, but relaxed his grip: barely. Ledo's gloved hands were held carefully away from the beast and his eyes were wide with terror. Setzer chuckled and came to stand by the mage, examined his dark metal gloves, and promptly pulled them off. Several multi-colored wires coming from inside his armor connected the gloves to the mage, though. Setzer retrieved a card from his pocket, cut the wires, and tossed the gloves away. Ledo watched every motion with glazed eyes.
"I must say you've been a cunning villain," Setzer remarked calmly. He propped one foot up on the seat of a chair and leaned his elbow on his knee as he stared down at the mage's white face. "But you do realize that it's highly unlikely you'll leave here alive, of course. You see, Terra is a part of our family. A sister to some, friend to most, but most of all a woman of quiet passion and sincerity whom we all love in our own way."
Ledo was silent and Interceptor adjusted his hold.
"Whether her Esper power is simply dormant and waiting to be released or lost forever we don't care. We love her for who she is and not what she can or cannot do. It's too bad you don't understand this, for you could have saved yourself a lot of grief."
Setzer shook his head and gestured at the high-tech consoles, monitors, and miscellaneous objects with a barely lifted finger. "At first, I wanted to know what you had in mind for our little woman, but you know, I don't really care anymore. I know you're slime and I know you'd do it again if we gave you half a chance. So tell you what. You tell me why Terra is acting so blasted crazy and how to fix it, and I'll persuade Shadow there not to kill you."
Ledo's eyes strayed to the ninja who had just appeared in the doorway. The panic made his muscles quiver. Setzer glanced over at Shadow and watched his eyes. A war was being waged beneath the ninja's calm exterior and Setzer knew there was no way for him to help. Shadow had chosen long ago to keep his past to himself. The group had guesses and half-solved clues, but nothing to prove that what they believed was true.
It was simply another mystery in the area of 'Shadow's Life'. They all knew it was off-limits.
"Any problem with me calling off your pooch," Setzer asked finally. Shadow only gestured. Interceptor reluctantly released Ledo's throat, but rested a foot on it instead. Setzer smirked and withheld a laugh for the sake of seriousness. "There now, wasn't that sporting."
Ledo's eyes switched to Setzer. "You are all fools–"
"None of that," Setzer cut in. "I'd say we have the upper hand at the moment. Tell us what we want to know and we'll let you bow out," Setzer paused, his pale eyes taking in Shadow's expression. "Perhaps. The house is still out on that."
Ledo's gaunt face hardened with hatred. "I shall tell you nothing."
"I see." He glanced toward Shadow again and shrugged. "I guess he's all yours, Shadow." Setzer straightened and strode lazily toward the door. "You sure picked the wrong card, mage. Shadow here is the card of death. He'll get you to talk, and it won't end pretty."
Setzer left the room just as the screeches began.
Cyan came below to find Terra fitfully sleeping as Edgar held her hands and watched her twisted face. The picture was anything but pleasant and brought back too many memories of his past love. Life had been hard in Doma, but Elayne and Owain had made it easier with their smiles and laughter. How would the young king of Figaro survive losing that which he held above all else? Would it break him? Would life cease to hold any importance?
Edgar turned to face Cyan with a forced smile, tucking Terra's small hands under the coverlet before following Cyan to the outer hallway. "She's so weak," Edgar said quietly. His voice was a little uneven. "I checked her ears while she slept and..."
They made their way on deck. Cyan nodded, his face grim. "No wound and yet so much blood. It does not bode well." Cyan's voice was forced calm. "Thou must prepare thy heart for the worst. Terra bleeds more than what is natural."
Edgar nodded very slightly.
Cyan scowled as his hand rested on the hilt of his katana. "This puzzles me greatly, for the bleeding continues though she shows no wounds. I have dressed her ears, yet I do not believe it has helped."
"We can always hope, Cyan. I need that much, at least."
Cyan nodded and stared down at the small village of Kohlingen. "Thou must bring her."
Edgar nodded absently and headed back for her room as Cyan 'parked' the airship. Don't die, Terra. Not now. Not when I haven't told you how much I do love you. He needed a little more time, but he feared her time was over.
"My, my," the alchemist crooned. Edgar carried Terra into his lower 'laboratory' and set her on the bed. "What have we here? A pigeon with no wings? A cloud with no wind?"
Edgar wrestled with his patience. "She's bleeding–"
"Yes, yes. I can see that," the alchemist laughed. "I'm not blind, you know. Just lost my marbles a while ago. If you find them - they're in a tidy little box - please let me have them in a hurry. My marbles, my marbles, tra-la-la…"
Edgar clenched his jaw as the alchemist danced around the room with his arms uplifted, twirling in graceful pirouettes like a ballerina before calmly beginning to examine Terra's ears.
"I'll need to take them out if you want her to live," the alchemist said suddenly. "Affects her brain, it does, and we can't have that. A brain is a horrible thing to control, don't you think? It must be free, not tied and shot."
The alchemist pointed at Edgar. "Go on! Shoo! Shoo," he screeched.
Edgar hurried out of the room and met with Cyan upstairs. "I had forgotten how crazy he was."
"That he is, yet a gifted man of medicine of which Terra is in dire need."
Edgar nodded and sat at a chair by a rickety old table. "I need to keep my mind off what happens below. Could you tell me what made you come to Zozo?"
Cyan crossed his arms tightly and dropped his head. "Celes, Sabin, and I discovered numerous disquieting facts while pursuing the villainous creature, Ledo Grikea."
"Why did you search for him in the first place? Locke said he sent Celes a note, but there was nothing including his name or location."
"Celes, being the seasoned professional trained by the Empire that she is, wished to examine the origin of the heinous activities before setting out on our exploration of the area."
"You went to Mobliz?"
Cyan nodded grimly. "What we encountered there was unsettling because of the urgency with which Locke had written."
"Cyan, what are you saying?"
The seasoned fighter took in a deep breath before continuing. "The children were participating in a rousing game of hide-and-seek."
"What?" Edgar's tone was sharp and disbelieving.
"I do not lead thee astray with my narrative, Edgar. What I have said is truthful."
"But... But Terra said they were gone. That she'd gone to the garden and come home to find them missing. She said that she heard a scream!"
Cyan nodded along with the telling. "Such is so. Celes allowed us to read the note."
"How can this be?"
Silence settled over the room and Cyan clenched his jaw. After a moment's pause, he gestured to the chair across from Edgar. "Might I sit?"
Cyan made himself more comfortable before speaking. "Celes is quite knowledgeable with respect to the darker transactions of the Empire."
"Meaning she knew of their fascination with the domination of the human mind."
"Domination of the---" Edgar cut off abruptly. "Mind control?"
"It is as thou says. We believed their first advancement was the designing of the Slave Crown. Of course we all appreciate Terra's less than agreeable emotional response toward that contraption."
"Most assuredly, but what do you mean 'we believed'. Are you saying that something had been developed beforehand?"
"Mind control on a different level than the Slave Crown? What happened? What was it called? Who began the experiments? Talk, man!"
Cyan took in a slow breath. "Of details Celes knows little, but she was certain of Terra's involvement in experimental surgeries and procedures done by a mysterious man said to be a wizard of an unknown magic. Superstitions, however, run deep and Celes set little store in what her counterparts had to say on the matter. After all, how could such abominations be true? Implanting tiny pieces of metal in the minds of 'loyal' Imperial soldiers? It was absurd. Until now, of course."
Edgar clenched his hands into fists. "Are you saying they put…? They inserted foreign…?" Edgar couldn't find the words through his rage.
"I am." Cyan rubbed at his moustache and shook his head. "Sadly, experiments such as these found little funding in Gestahl's Empire. The department was dismantled and forgotten."
"But these things were never removed."
Cyan nodded. "I believe thee hath hit the point of the matter directly."
"So now our crazy alchemist has to remove these things before they kill her."
"It would appear so."
"And these... These things they put in her had been reacting to Ledo's influence?"
"Again, I have no proof, but it would seem that he had either stumbled upon this technology, or designed it himself."
"Mind control," Edgar mumbled with a dark glare. "This takes the cake, Cyan. Even with the Empire being abolished for who knows how long, they still find a way of making our lives miserable."
Cyan nodded somberly.
"You've got that right, brother."
Edgar looked up and with a start. "Sabin!"
Edgar stood and hurried over to his brother, his arm extended. They clasped arms in greeting while Setzer, Locke, and Celes filed into the room. Shadow was nowhere to be found.
"Celes! What on earth are you doing with these brutes?" Edgar asked.
She smiled and came to wrap him in a hug. "I came to help. You should know better than to ask a question like that." When she pulled back, she sent him an understanding smile. "We came as quickly as we could. How is she?"
He forced a smile. "The alchemist is operating on her now."
"What?" Locke stepped up to Edgar with an air of amusement. "That old bat?"
Cyan held back. "Celes, did thee discover that which would be of use to her?"
Celes looked over at the Doma soldier and nodded. "I think so."
"Then thee had best hurry below."
Celes nodded, sent Edgar another comforting glance, and hurried downstairs while Edgar watched in confusion.
"Don't worry, brother," Sabin said with a smile. "We'll tell you what's been going on."
"Please do," Edgar sat at the table and looked at the four men with an air of expectancy. "You might as well start by how you arrived here so quickly. After all, you don't have the luxury of flight."
"Chocobo's run pretty fast, brother. Especially when you hold their favorite food out in front of them."
Edgar shook his head with a chuckle, the good times they'd once shared together flowing back into his memory by slow degrees. Yes, this is what I needed. Their support and friendship is what will help me through this torturous waiting.
Locke chuckled despite himself. "They ran so fast we had problems holding on. It was great. Maybe Celes and I should go into Choco breeding and bring up some racers."
"Don't forget that though they are cute, they smell quite bad," Setzer reminded.
Cyan cleared his throat. "Perhaps thee should remain closer to the subject at hand."
The group looked over at him with a grimace. Then they told Edgar of the second confrontation with Ledo, of the technical jungle Locke had to wade through, and the display that showed Terra dying. Edgar clenched his jaw through most of it, keeping his comments to himself, but once Setzer ended his side of the telling and Locke began again, he couldn't refrain any longer.
"Where is Shadow? Why isn't he here to tell us what he discovered?"
Locke and Setzer exchanged a glance, then looked over at Sabin who shrugged.
"Well, brother, Shadow disappeared soon after telling us about the little mechanical whatchamacallits that Ledo put in Terra's head."
"Why?" Edgar asked.
Sabin shrugged. "He said he had some unfinished business and then disappeared without another word. Just gave us a little metal thingamabob and said the alchemist would need it to save Terra's life."
"So Ledo is dead then?"
Locke and Setzer nodded while Sabin offered a more in-depth answer. "Yeah, you could say that. Shadow apparently had it out for the guy for a long time. Vengeance is a serious business and he takes it to heart. I don't think there's enough of the guy to–"
"I think that's enough information, Sabin. Thanks," Locke cut in.
Sabin smiled. "Whatever I can do to help."
Edgar stared at his hands a moment. "What was the reason Ledo wanted Terra?"
"Power, plain and simple." Sabin spoke up before anyone else could offer an explanation. "It seems our techno-freak wonder-boy wanted the cookies from her cookie jar and didn't care what he had to do to get them. He remembered the experiments he'd done on her and figured that would be his best chance."
"How in the world did he get her to believe her kids were kidnapped?"
Locke stepped forward with a shake of his head. "I'm not sure I really understand that. Something about the device in her head being open to certain kinds of suggestions. I guess that purple light we saw was a kind of output for the specific suggestion she needed. Once the idea was placed, the device in her inner ears ran with it with sound effects, visuals, and the whole nine-yards."
"That would be the reason she was certain he wasn't in Jidoor when he actually was," Setzer put in. "He suggested to her the logical reasoning why he wouldn't be and let his machine do the rest."
Edgar nodded absently. "I see."
"We're not really sure why you and her... I mean…" Locke flushed and glanced at Sabin. "You tell him. He's your brother."
Sabin chuckled. "You didn't get the hots for her after leaving Jidoor because the device inhibits some kind of hormone produced by the brain. It's the opposite of an aphrodisiac." Sabin looked real proud of himself. "Hey. That sounded downright brainy."
Edgar stood and stared out the window a moment before turning to leave. Sabin and the others watched him with a concerned expression before talking amongst themselves once he'd gone.
"I really hope she lives. It'll kill him otherwise," Setzer said as he dug some cards from his jacket.
Locke nodded and made his way over to the table. "You've got that right. I never really believed how much he loved her until I saw the look on his face in Zozo when he thought I was going to leave her behind. He nearly strung me up by my heels when I said that."
Sabin crossed his arms with a nod. "That's my brother for you. When he does something, he goes all the way. Sure, he tries to tell himself that it will be better all the way around for him to leave her as she is, just her and her kids, but he knows it's a crock. Deep down he knows. I just hope he admits to himself that he deserves to be happy too."
"I hear you," Locke said with a nod.
Setzer dealt a hand of cards and examined them thoroughly. "Perhaps it will be a double wedding yet, eh Locke?"
Cyan, who had remained extremely still and quiet, cleared his throat and made a surprising comment. "All of thee must comprehend a significant truth about our King of Figaro."
Locke, Setzer, and Sabin looked over at Cyan in surprise. "What?" They asked the question as one.
"He treasures her too greatly to appeal for her hand when he is of the opinion that she experiences naught but friendship for him. He would in no way deposit her into such an awkward position."
"That's nuts," Sabin objected hotly. "If he doesn't tell her how he feels, she never will. The poor girl doesn't really know anything about that kind of love, Cyan. You know that."
"Such may be," Cyan agreed, "nevertheless, this is the truth as I see it."
"Let's hope you're wrong," Setzer said.
"No kidding," Locke said roughly. "The last thing Figaro needs is a love-starved king."
"The last thing I need is a bachelor brother who never really wanted to be a bachelor in the first place," Sabin shot back. "If only we could talk to Terra before Edgar had a chance. We might get her to see..."
Locke noticed a twinkle in Sabin's eye and cringed. "I don't want any part of it."
"Aw, come on. We never get to have any fun," Sabin complained.
"Locke, let's at least hear him out," Setzer said with a smile. "What's your plan?"
"Simple. Make him jealous."
"What?" Locke shook his head and rearranged his cards. "All you brothers are the same. Poor Terra. If she agrees to actually marry one of you... I'll slow dance with Umaro at the wedding."
Sabin grinned. "Now that's a wager I can't refuse."
They weren't even the size of Edgar's thumbnail, but they'd caused more misery and heartache than could be imagined. Edgar handed the two devices back to the alchemist and stared down at Terra's pale face. The operation had lasted too many hours to count, but the wait wasn't over. Terra's body had to fight the adverse effects at having the foreign technology active in her body after so long a period of silence. The alchemist assured him she'd pull through; he just didn't know how long it would take. So he'd given her a blend of herbs that would let her sleep until her body believed it had healed enough.
Then, she'd either wake up or pass away while she slept.
Edgar caressed her cheek with a single finger. Terra… Please.
"You really must leave," the alchemist was rasping in his ear. "She needs quiet rest and you gawking at her would set my teeth on edge so you best leave."
Edgar gazed down at her for a long moment more, and then he made his way upstairs to wait yet another day.
"Brother, I've got to ask you something."
Edgar looked up from his book and examined Sabin's face. There was something odd about the expression in his eyes. "What is it?"
"It's kind of... Well, it's kind of a sensitive subject."
Edgar raised an eyebrow and set his book aside. He gestured to the seat across from his at the café in Kohlingen. "Have a seat."
Sabin looked at the manager of the café, ordered a glass of hot cider, and then sat across from his brother. "It's about Terra."
Edgar forced a calm expression. "Yes?"
Sabin had been visiting her still form nearly as often as he himself, and it had begun to plant a seed of jealousy. Especially when he knew how often Sabin had met with her and the kids in Mobliz. His visits there had always been the subject of the brothers' conversations when Sabin had come to Figaro Castle every other week. Sabin had never failed to inform Edgar of the littlest incident regarding the children or Terra, whether it was a lost tooth, lost pet, or new hairstyle. At the time, Edgar had thought Sabin was only trying to get Edgar to visit her for himself, but now he wasn't so sure. Perhaps... Edgar pushed the thought aside and tried to focus on what Sabin was saying.
"Well… Um…" Sabin rubbed at his neck, accepted the cider from the manager, and guzzled it in a couple swallows. "I think I'm in love with her," he blurted.
The confession had hardly been unexpected, but it still drove a spear through his gut with the force of anything he'd ever experienced. Edgar was sure his face went pale just by the expression in Sabin's eyes before he glanced away.
"I know I've been telling you you're crazy about her and that you should marry her... I guess what I'm saying now is that I want to do that."
"I see." Edgar looked down at his book. Thoughts wouldn't come. He forced a smile and met Sabin's eyes. "Well, brother, you're quite welcome to marry Terra. I can assure you that, much as you were positive I was in love with her, such was not the case. She and I were close, this I grant you, but not in love."
Sabin blinked. "A-Are you sure? I was so... Are you sure?"
Edgar presented his hand. "I often thought something was blossoming between you two simply by the way you spoke of her. You shall make her a wonderful... she shall be a lovely bride. Congratulations, brother."
Sabin took Edgar's hand, shaking it slowly before standing to leave the room with several backward glances. Edgar could feel every one focused on the back of his head. When the door of the café closed behind Sabin, Edgar placed the book on the table, paid his tab, and stood to go.
Locke met him on the way out. "What's this business I hear about Terra getting married to Sabin?"
"That's the newest bit of gossip, I hear," Edgar said jovially enough. "In fact, he just asked my permission."
"You said yes?" Locke was shocked. "Edgar, can you be serious about your feelings for Terra at least once in your life?"
Edgar frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Locke opened is mouth to reply, but then he shook his head. "Never mind. If this is your choice, then you're the one who has to live with it. See you at the damned wedding."
He strode to the north part of town. Edgar headed in the opposite direction.
"This was your big plan?" Locke sounded annoyed as he cornered Sabin outside the alchemist's house. "Now he's sure he's found her the perfect husband, you blasted muscle-headed moron! Do you think he's going to propose to her now that he believes you love her?"
Sabin put a hand on Locke's shoulder to calm him down. "Locke, take it easy. I know my brother. He believes it's a good idea with his brain, but it won't last. The alchemist says Terra should be waking up any day now. The minute she asks for him and not me... Zap, he'll be over his attempt at chivalry in no time. You just wait and see."
"That's what you said before. You were sure he would tell you to–"
"I said that's what I would do. I didn't say he would do it."
"Then what was the point?"
Sabin chuckled and shook his head. "To let him know there was competition. If there's anything my brother hates more than an unresponsive woman, it's competition for what he wants."
"What about what Cyan said?"
This brought a scowl to Sabin's face. "Yeah, I've been worrying about that too. Maybe Celes should talk to Terra before we tell Edgar she's awake."
Locke rubbed at his forehead. "My head hurts."
Sabin laughed. "Come on, Locke. We haven't even started having fun yet."
"Well where the hell is Setzer?" Locke asked as he looked around. "Maybe he can talk some sense into you idiots."
"Setzer split. Mumbled something about—"
"Let me guess. Unfinished business."
"Hey. How'd you know that?"
Locke grumbled under his breath and strode away.
"What are we going to do?" Celes asked Locke as she took his hand. "He'll be miserable without her and she'll never know what it's like to love someone other than her kids."
Locke squeezed her hand with a sigh as they exited the inn. Edgar still refused to go to Terra's side. He'd hoped that the sight of Terra's helpless and sleeping form would have inspired Edgar against Sabin and Terra's marriage. No such luck.
"I know, princess," he said now, "but we can't force them together. It's got to happen on it's own. As soon as she wakes up you just need to talk to her and try to find out if she really does love the old bum. Then we'll see what we can do about him."
They headed for the alchemist's cabin again, Sabin coming to walk beside the two as Cyan trailed behind. Sabin gave Celes a smile. "You know what to do, right?"
She frowned. "I'm going to be a friend, that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to plant any hints or ideas. I'm not going to coax her into thinking something about Edgar that isn't truthful. Or about you either. We'll talk about what she wants to talk about and that's that."
Celes sent Locke a loving smile and squeezed his hand; then she shot Sabin another glare before striding ahead toward the alchemist's home. Her blonde hair waved in the slight early morning breeze.
"I would say she does not approve of this intrigue thee has planned," Cyan remarked.
"No kidding." Sabin shrugged. "If it works, she'll take the credit. Just wait."
Locke groaned. He regretted any part he'd ever played in the whole scheme.
"Edgar," Cyan placed a hand on Edgar's shoulder.
Edgar turned from the window of his room at the inn. "She's awake?"
"Yes. She is asking for thee."
An initial hesitation flamed by a surprising ember of fear tightened his chest. "Is she well enough to receive visitors? Shouldn't she be allowed to rest?"
"The alchemist believes that refusing her thy presence when she insists so vehemently would be unwise. Thou must be brief, but it is recommended."
Edgar gave a brief nod and clapped Cyan on the shoulder once before exiting the inn and slowly walking toward the alchemist's house. He'd been hard-pressed to entice his mind and body to rest the entire time she'd been sleeping, remaining in his seat by the window of his room while everyone else made their way to the alchemist's house to sit with her motionless form. Sabin and Locke had both tried to persuade him to go, but he'd stood firmly behind his belief that it wouldn't do much good to over-exhaust her. He'd promptly told them to let him be.
Edgar entered the house and paused at the crest of the stairs that led to the basement where, previously, the alchemist had preserved Rachel's body until the Phoenix had released her spirit and used it to give itself rebirth. How lucky I am to not be in the same position. Would I survive her death? Would I have the strength to move on with the knowledge that she would no longer be beside me as friend and comforter? He didn't believe he would.
Edgar took in a deep breath, pressed aside the fear of what steps he was considering taking, and forced himself to descend the stairs. Terra's form seemed so slight and delicate in the bed, her pale face appearing even more innocent and… free from impurities. It brought to his mind his own past of sexual freedoms and twistings of innocent hearts so similar to hers. It made him cringe to know he had considered perverting her existence.
Edgar's chest tightened and he pushed away the possibilities and fantasies. Sabin was indeed more worthy of her than he.
He came to stand beside her bed. She opened her eyes and focused on his. "The sleeping beauty awakes, I see," he said with a gentle smile. Kneeling beside her bed, he took her hand and caressed her pale cheek. "You gave us quite a fright, my lady. You should be clapped in irons for terrorizing me so. You showed this king no mercy."
Terra's unique eyes glistened with tears as her lips trembled. She clutched his hand tighter. "The children. Are they alright?"
She struggled to get out of bed, but Edgar held her gently back without effort. "The children are fine, Terra. It's you that has us worried."
Terra blinked up at him. "Me? Why?" Her eyes suddenly glimmered. "A-Am I dying?"
The question hit Edgar like one of Umaro's fists, and he couldn't suppress the cringe fast enough. She saw it and closed her eyes, turning her head away from him.
"All the time I've wasted and now... Now what do I get? A death sentence by the Empire that destroyed itself years ago…"
Her words faded, replaced by the soft tears she attempted to hide. Edgar watched her and his soul hurt. For the first time in his life he no longer surrendered to the easy answer or the empty words of nonsense to comfort her.
He adjusted his hold on her hand. "While there is still a danger," he began carefully, "the alchemist has said nothing of an impending death, Terra. Don't trouble your heart with that fear, for it solves nothing."
Terra sighed, and the sound resembled a whimper. "It's not fair. All the things I've wanted to do..."
Edgar watched her face, so intense with the thoughts of the tomorrows she believed would no longer be hers. A desire to know and to help her fulfill her dreams rose so vehemently within him that he couldn't withhold the question. "Tell me what you wished to do with your life," he said quietly. "Terra, tell me of your dreams."
She wiped her tears away with a choked sigh. "Why? What's the point?"
The statement actually caused Edgar pain. She deserved truth, integrity, and passion. She deserved all he had never given her. Is there time for that now? Would the bittersweet emotion of a too-short romance be worth the pain of the memories? "I want to hear them."
Terra changed her eyes to his. Edgar held her gaze, even though he knew his own true feelings showed. Something registered in her face and her cheeks colored a little before she lowered her eyes to their clasped hands.
"I don't know about dreams, Edgar. And now it might be too late." She traced a circle around the knuckles of his hand as it held hers. "I wouldn't even know how to talk about them," she whispered in a choked voice.
"I know of that very well," he confessed. Edgar changed his eyes to her hand and fingers as they seemed to stroke and soothe the tension from his body. Truth… But what of Sabin's affections? Can I betray him in this way? His soul balked at allowing her to be taken from him, but his heart resisted the betrayal of his flesh-and-blood. Of course, whether she married Sabin or not, she still deserved the truth.
"Do you know why I didn't visit you after the final fight with Kefka?" Edgar's question was hesitant. Terra peeked at him out of the corner of her eyes before shaking her head. He took hold of the truth and plunged ahead. "I no longer knew how to talk to you."
Terra looked him full in the face. He looked up and met her eyes. They registered surprise and confusion.
"What?" she asked.
Edgar smiled and brushed a damp tendril of hair from her face. "You'd been through so much, Terra. I felt I'd lost the common ground on which we'd once stood. You'd lost your powers. I didn't understand how to move past that."
Edgar released a deep breath. His eyes retreated from hers and again focused on her slight hand in his. "People change, but I fought it as a rebel army fighting the Empire. I was comfortable with where I was and didn't want to take the risk. Not even once you and I became so... such close friends. It was easier to let you drift away than to admit I was afraid and ask you to help." Edgar caught her gaze again. "I am sorry for that. You deserved more than what I was willing to give, and I didn't see that until it was too late to change it."
"Y-you... Y-you didn't mean all those things you said?"
Edgar's brow dropped in confusion. "Things I said? What things?"
"You said you were tired of me hanging all over you expecting your help. Y-you said I was wanting you to baby me and you wanted no part of it–" Her voice broke off and she lowered her eyes.
Edgar's hands tightened on hers as he sought to deliver her from the hurt and confusion. "I never said such things, Terra. You said much the same to me."
Her eyes widened as they rose to meet his. "What?"
He smiled as he caressed her jaw. "From what Cyan and the others tell me, we were fooled."
"Fooled? By who?"
"By a techno-mage named Ledo Grikea."
"What?" Her delicate brows furrowed in a frown of confusion. "When? Why?"
Edgar kissed her cold fingers with a slight chuckle. "Much as I know you would enjoy the tale, the alchemist left explicit instructions that my visit was to be brief." He recognized the desperation he'd seen in her eyes that first visit so many days previous and smiled reassuringly. "You must sleep, Terra. Allow your body to heal, and then I shall tell you the story of your adventure. All right?"
She reluctantly nodded. Edgar stood and tucked the blanket around her, placing a kiss on her forehead. He straightened and gazed down at her innocence and intensity that was so intoxicating… "Rest, Terra."
She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes, but her hand gripped his. He allowed the hold to continue as her breathing deepened to sleep, drawing her persona into him though he knew he had to bid it farewell.
"Terra?" Celes smiled down at the pale face and gripped her hand. "How are you doing?"
Terra smiled sleepily and stretched her arms above her head. "I'm doing good," she said finally.
Celes smiled. "All that time in the Empire seems to come back and haunt the both of us, doesn't it? Don't worry about it, though. We got it taken care of and you should be back to your usual self in a couple months."
Terra slightly nodded. "How are the children?"
"They are. I believe I received a note from Relm saying she was having fun watching them. I think Shadow shows up and gives her a hand every once and awhile."
Terra nodded with a sleepy smile. "Shadow. That man is one walking mystery after another. I never know what to think about him. But he's good to the kids and they love his scary stories just before bed…" Terra's voice drifted.
"What's the matter?" Celes asked the question hesitantly.
Terra's eyes met hers. "Edgar's gone back to Figaro, hasn't he?"
Celes' heart skipped a beat with hope as she shook her head. "No, Terra. No, he hasn't."
"What about the ball he was giving to commemorate the building of the new power source in South Figaro? He was supposed to push the switch to make it start running. He was to give a speech."
Celes smiled. "He made the Chancellor find someone do it for him. He said he couldn't leave here yet. Of course, he also keeps saying it's too soon for us to be talking to you. That you need the rest as much as possible to help you recover. I suppose he's right, but we've all been so worried about you. We wanted a chance to talk to you too."
"I feel awful."
"Why?" Celes asked with a laugh. "Edgar said it was no trouble to reschedule his speech with someone else. He even said he wanted to find a way out of it anyway so he could visit you and the kids. After all, it would have been Cera's birthday."
Terra seemed surprised at first. "That would have been so nice... It's just my luck something like this would happen."
"Now don't start talking like that. It wasn't your fault at all, and those kids of yours still have plenty of birthdays left. You shouldn't worry about missing only one."
Terra picked at her fingernail and gnawed on her lower lip. Celes noticed, recognizing the hesitation with another twinkle of hope. Hadn't she had a similar hesitation so many times about Locke? About what to say; about what he felt; about what she felt?
"Celes, how do you know when you're in love with someone?"
The smile that twinkled in Celes' eyes lit the entire room. "Some people say 'you just know', but I always viewed that as a weak excuse to keep from delving into what ‘love' means to them."
Terra's glance lifted to Celes' face a moment, but then it lowered back to her fingernail. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it is true that when you love someone you seem to have an instinct about them, but it's more than that. You have an insight into what they feel, or why they act a certain way. You seem to have an uncanny grasp on what to say to make them feel better about themselves or a situation they find themselves in."
Terra's eyes lifted to watch Celes' face. Her mind grappled with the information, but Celes could see it wasn't enough.
"But how do you feel?" Terra pressed.
Celes reached out and took Terra's hand. She gave it a squeeze. "That changes with each person, Terra. What's true for me could be different for you."
"Tell me. Please." And her voice held a touch of desperation.
Celes took in a deep breath and released it slowly. "Let me see... It's so hard to put in words. There's just something there that wasn't before. A type of light happiness you take wherever you go. When I see Locke I can't help but smile because my mind wanders to something he's said to me, or a particular way he touched my cheek... Something silly like that. It's like he's another version of me because he seems to understand me. What he doesn't understand, he certainly attempts to."
Terra dropped her gaze with several slow nods. "I think I need to be alone for a little bit." Her eyes rose hesitantly to Celes'. "Do you mind?"
"Of course not." Celes smiled down at her as she stood. "You get as much rest as you need. We're not going anywhere until we can take you with us."
Celes left the room and gave Locke and the others the 'thumbs up'.
Terra stared at the door for several moments before she let herself really think about what Celes had told her. Everything seemed to fit, as if the final piece to a puzzle had been placed ever so carefully by an unknown part of her. I love Edgar? Somehow the thought wasn't strange, or foreign, or even the least bit unexpected. It was a little awe-inspiring. She, who'd been raised by the Empire and trained to murder and massacre with a simple command, had somehow learned to love. Terra didn't know when or how it had happened, or even how long she'd been hiding the feelings, but the truth was too much to ignore.
"I love him," she whispered.
Terra looked away from the door and stared down at her hands. She loved the king of Figaro who saw her as nothing but a child. A source of his amusement... But a memory nagged at the back part of Terra's mind. A memory of a look in his eyes when he'd asked about her dreams. What am I going to do? Terra was in an unknown world of emotion and didn't know how to communicate her feelings to her closest friend...
Terra took in a slow breath and decided to tell him the only way she knew how: very badly.
Edgar paced his room; he occasionally glanced out his window toward the alchemist's home to wonder why the others were still there. She needs her rest, he objected. How can they exhaust her this way? It was enough to drive him mad. Not only that, he was afraid Sabin was persuading her to marry him. Blast, he thought harshly, I go through all the trouble of getting her out of Zozo in one piece and yet he'll marry her!
He turned sharply and focused on Celes' unsure eyes. "Yes?" His tone was sharp.
"Edgar, I need to talk to you."
"Well, it's about Terra."
Edgar rolled his eyes. "Don't tell me you want to marry her too."
Celes looked surprised and sent him a confused frown. "What?"
He shook his head and threw himself into a chair. "Nothing. Never mind."
"I just had a nice talk with her–"
"How is she?" The question was out before he could stop it.
Celes smiled in understanding. "She's doing better, Edgar."
Edgar let out a deep breath as his mood began to change. "Good," he said absently. "Very good." His lips tilted upward in a slight smile before he remembered Celes was in the room. He changed his gaze to her and noticed her hesitant expression. "What is it?"
"What I have to say is hard to phrase right."
Edgar raised an eyebrow. "This is certainly a surprise. You, Celes, usually can tell anyone anything without a problem."
Celes smiled slightly. "It's about Terra and the kids living in Mobliz."
A warning went up in Edgar's mind. "Yes?"
"Do you think it's wise? If this happened once, it could happen again. She doesn't have anyone to look after her there. Everyone's so far away."
"I was hoping you could help me think of some way to present Terra with the problem. I know she loves it there by herself, and so do the kids, but we have to make her see reason. It's just not safe."
Edgar clenched his jaw. "Whether it's safe or not is beside the point. Mobliz is Terra's home. It's none of our affair whether she stays or not. I agree it isn't as safe as it once was, but the world is slowly changing. She's safer than she would have been a few months ago."
"I know, but–"
"Celes, Terra is a free spirit. We cannot take it upon ourselves to tell her where it's appropriate to live and where it isn't. Those are her decisions. I am concerned for her as well, but I won't be part of any plan to strong-arm her to another location."
Celes looked insulted. "Strong-arm her indeed! Of all the... I would never force Terra to do something she didn't want to do, Edgar. I was hoping we could help Mobliz become a town again and was wondering how to tell her what I wanted to do. After all, she's been on her own for so long. I was just hoping you could help me." She stood with fists on hips and glared down at him. "What's gotten into you, Edgar? Every time someone mentions Terra you get defensive. Someone would think you were in love with her."
With that, Celes flounced from the room.
Terra looked at Sabin with a smile. "Of course you should start a school, Sabin. I think Duncan would approve, don't you? You're silly not to."
"I just don't know if I'm qualified."
"Qualified?" Terra giggled as she gave a slight shake of her head. "Sabin, you've learned all you could from Duncan and made up some new techniques besides. How can you be anything but qualified? I'm sure Edgar would agree. He's so proud of you."
Sabin blinked in surprise. "Edgar? Proud of me? What for?"
"For your dedication to your way of life. It's hard work and he sees that. The discipline. The long hours of study. The control of your thoughts and body. Sabin, you've worked a long time to get where you are. He knows that, too. I'm sure if you proposed the idea of a school he'd agree to back you."
Sabin stared down at her in silence, and then he grinned. "I'd never thought to ask him. I was going to ask Setzer for a loan."
Terra giggled again. "Setzer? Loan you money? I don't think that's very bright. You couldn't afford to pay him back."
Sabin laughed and turned when there was a quiet knock. Edgar appeared in the doorway. "Hiya, brother. After so many days of insisting she wasn't strong enough, you're finally coming down again, huh?"
Edgar's face changed expressions when he focused on the two together. Terra didn't like it. It made her uneasy. She turned her eyes from Edgar and placed a hand on Sabin's arm, giving him a smile when he faced her. "Sabin, could you give us a minute or two?"
Sabin placed a kiss on her cheek, as had become his custom on his visits to her in Mobliz, and left after clapping Edgar on the shoulder. Edgar made his way further into the room, reluctantly it seemed to Terra, and eventually sat in the chair at her side.
She watched his face and felt a lump of concern grow in her throat. "What's wrong?" she asked.
His eyes changed, as did his face, and he sent her a smile that seemed fake. "Nothing at all, my lady. I was just concerned for you. It didn't seem wise to allow all these visits when you'd only just recovered after being in such a bad way."
"I'm okay. The alchemist... What's his name? Well, he said I'm a very fast healer. He's never seen anything like it." Terra remained silent as she tried to give Edgar a chance to voice what was bothering him. When he didn't seem about to speak, she pressed on. "Edgar, what's the matter?"
His eyes still didn't meet hers. "I need to ask you a personal question."
"Go ahead." When Edgar finally met her eyes, his were masked. Terra didn't like what it did to his face. He was usually so bright and handsome, but now he seemed haggard and alone. Something was terribly wrong. "Edgar?"
"Are you in lo–" He cut off and clenched his jaw; then he looked away with a shake of his head.
She intensely watched his face. "Am I in what?"
"Are you lonely?"
Terra blinked and leaned back in surprise and confusion. "What?"
He met her eyes again, and this time he reached forward and took her hand in his. "Terra, all of us agree that it's unwise for you to live so far away. Not when you have so many children to care for. Suppose something of this magnitude were to happen again? I want you to consider allowing me to rebuild Mobliz. To encourage growth. To have the city be as it was before Kefka."
Terra lifted a finger to her lips and absently chewed on the nail. Then she hesitantly lowered her hand. "I think that would be wonderful," she said slowly. "I'll try and be as helpful as I can, as will the children, but..." Come on, Terra. Push it. "W-Well, why don't you ask what you were going to ask in the first place?"
Edgar cringed slightly and stared down at her hand in his. "It's of no import."
Push! "Then you wouldn't look so miserable. Please, Edgar. Tell me what's wrong."
He clenched his jaw. "Sabin asked my permission to marry you."
Terra received the information with shocked silence and another blink. Sabin?
Edgar looked up to meet her wide eyes. "Was that not what you were discussing when I came in?"
"No," she said in a strange voice. "He was asking my opinion on whether he should start a school–" Her face puckered in a frown of confusion as she leaned slightly forward. "He asked you if he could marry me? Why would he ask you?"
"I don't know," he said quickly as he lowered his eyes.
But there was something about the tone of his voice…. "Edgar, you're lying to me," she said in a shocked tone. "Why?"
Edgar flinched and he stood. She gripped his hand, but he still pulled away. "Lie to a lady? Preposterous!"
Terra sighed and lowered her eyes to her empty hands. "Fine, then I'll ask Sabin why he talked to you about it instead of me. Then I'll ask him why he hasn't brought it up—" She cut off and pressed her lips together as she lifted her eyes to an intense perusal of his stance. His back was to her, so she couldn't see his face or his eyes. "What did you say to him?"
"I told him he would make you a fine husband. I told him that, although he supposed we were more than friends…"
The silence that settled was uncomfortable, and she almost felt like she couldn't breathe. She tried to adjust her position so that she could examine his profile, but he was standing wrong. "Friends, Edgar?" she finally asked. "I don't believe that, and I don't think you do either."
Edgar remained silent.
Desperation and a refusal to let things stay uncomfortable straightened her back and made a slight spark flash in her eyes. "So where do we go from here?" she asked. "Do we walk away like we did after the fight with Kefka? I didn't like how that felt. I thought you didn't either."
"Terra..." was all Edgar said.
Terra stared at his slightly hunched back and felt a strong wave of something so powerful that it opened her mouth and made her say "Edgar" in such a soft tone that she saw his stance change. She swallowed hard and pressed onward. "Edgar, I think I'm in love with you."
Edgar straightened sharply and turned. "What did you say?"
She tried to adjust her position, but it didn't work. She only grimaced in pain and smacked at the blankets in frustration before looking over at him again. He was still standing by the window.
The frustration blossomed to irritation. Why is he just standing there? Why doesn't he say something? Why doesn't he help me with this? "You heard me, Edgar Roni Figaro. I just told you that I think I love you. What are you going to do about it?" She crossed her arms. "Well? The ball's in your court, highness."
Edgar stepped forward, lowering himself into the chair across from her so slowly that Terra was sure the world was in slow motion. It's bad enough I'm messing the whole thing up, but does he have to stare at me like that-- One of his hands came up to stroke her cheek and Terra jerked back at the unexpected tenderness as well as the warm spark that rumbled within.
"It's all right, Terra," he reassured her. "Trust me. I'm not going to hurt you. I promise you this."
Edgar gauged her reaction to his words before lowering his head to brush her lips with his. Something like a lightning bolt seemed to strike her from the inside out, tingling from her toes to her lips. She pulled back, gazing up at him in surprise and a little fear.
Edgar examined her expression. "Terra?"
Terra brought a hand up to her lips. "You kissed me."
Edgar smiled, and his face relaxed into the expression. "I did, didn't I?" he asked with twinkling eyes.
Terra blinked up at him. "Why?"
Edgar's smile softened to something she couldn't put a name to, and then he reached out with a hand and cupped her cheek in his hand, stroking it with his thumb. The touch was so tender and gentle that it brought tears to her eyes.
"Because I love you," he admitted in a quiet voice.
"Y-You—" Terra blinked, but couldn't finish the sentence.
Edgar lowered his hand from her face as he turned his head away. "I should have told you before, but I didn't know how. You always thought of me as a tease. A flirt and sweet-talker without a sincere bone in his body. How could I prove otherwise when even Locke was against me?"
Terra watched his face as he continued. Little by little the haggard lines and paleness that came with exhaustion had begun to fade.
Edgar released a deep breath and brought his gaze back to her face. He gathered her hands into his. "You have been the light of my heart for what seems such a very long time, Terra. That was one reason I stayed away. I was afraid it would ruin our friendship. That's why I simply sent you the flowers, invitations, and gifts on different birthdays. So that you would know I hadn't forgotten you." A smile caressed his lips and danced within the blue of his eyes. "I would never forget you," he said as he brought each hand to his lips.
She tightened her hold on his hands. "Edgar, why didn't you say something?"
"I don't know," he said gruffly, as if he were punishing himself. "I, the ladies man of Figaro Castle, didn't know how to tell you I cared what you went through. So many times I tried, but..." Edgar released another deep breath and gave a slight shake of his head. "Fear is a powerful thing, Terra. It can grip the soul of a very brave man and make him a coward."
And the expression on his face twisted her heart. "So those times I thought you were teasing... You weren't, were you?"
He smiled, but the pain clearly showed in his eyes. "I was quite serious, Terra, but it seemed to come out wrong. Habit, I suppose."
Can he really be saying…? "Then you don't really want me to marry Sabin?" she pressed.
Edgar's smile lightened. "If you marry Sabin, I shall kill him myself. But I've a suspicion this was a plot to make me realize what an idiot I have been." He caressed her cheek with a finger, brushing a stray wisp of hair from her forehead and lightly touching a winged eyebrow. "All those nights of adventure against Kefka you were so close… How could I have been so blind?"
Terra's eyes twinkled at him as she reached up to take his hand from her face, cradling it in her lap between both hands. "How do I know you're not just being your usual self? Maybe I just present a challenge?"
Edgar chuckled. "There's only one way to prove my honesty, my lady," he said. Edgar bent down on one knee by her bedside and covered her hands with his. "Will you rescue me from my miserable existence, my Esper angel? Will you marry me?"
Tears flowed silent and steady down her cheeks as she gazed down at him. "I... I…" Terra threw her arms around his neck. "Yes! Oh yes!"
He gently pulled back, gazing into the unique eyes that had come to be a part of his soul. "Never again, Terra. Never again shall I allow you to be lonely or in need of comfort or companionship. Should you marry me, I shall forever be in your presence."
Terra held his face in her hands and smiled into his bright expression and twinkling eyes with violet eyes afire with love and renewed purpose. She caressed his face with her thumbs. "Just try to leave."
He swept her hands from his face, kissed each palm, and then drew her close to kiss her quite thoroughly.
"I told you it would work." Sabin elbowed Setzer and laughed. "Too bad Umaro couldn't come to the wedding, though. I really wanted to catch Locke's explanation to both him and Celes as to why he was going to have to slow dance with the brute. It would've been a riot."
Setzer shook his head and took another glass of the best wine Figaro had to offer. "You have a sick sense of humor, my friend. You should be glad Edgar found it in his heart to forgive you for toying with his mind."
Sabin made a face. "Edgar's on cloud nine, Setzer. He doesn't care what I did just as long as he's finally got a ring on her finger."
"And Celes is happy because she has her double wedding."
"And Locke is happy because she's happy." Sabin grimaced. "All this happiness is making me sick. I need to get back out in the real world and hit something."
Setzer shook his head again with a chuckle. "I believe I'll talk Locke into marrying you off as well. A steady woman would do wonders for your soul."
"What?" Sabin looked positively spooked. "You keep Locke away from me. I don't need any of his matchmaking to mess up my life. I like it how it is."
"Very well, but the Fates often have–"
"Spare me," Sabin cut in.
"Isn't this great?" Relm made her way up to the two men and gave them each a wide smile. "I love weddings. So many pictures to draw."
"Where's your grandpa?" Sabin looked around the crowd and raised an eyebrow when Shadow was seen coming toward them. "Hello, Shadow. Didn't expect to see you here."
"I'm here with Relm."
His voice was unemotional, as usual, but there was something different about his eyes. Sabin and Setzer both decided against a comment.
"Yeah, he's more fun than old fuddy-duddy. Besides, Shadow doesn't talk all the time." Relm made a face, and then she smiled wide again. "You should hear all the stories he tells at night, though. Much scarier than Grandpa's. Of course, I've heard his about a jillion times already," she said with another grimace.
Setzer and Sabin shared a laugh, and Sabin could have sworn he heard a sound from Shadow's direction.
"Come on, Shadow," Relm said suddenly with a tug on the ninja's arm. "We've gotta find your doggie and give him some cake. I promised I would."
With that, Setzer and Sabin watched in amazement as Relm grabbed Shadow's hand and led him away, cheerfully chatting up at him about the different things only a fellow pre-teen would have found interesting. Shadow took it in stride and continued to hold her hand. Setzer and Sabin exchanged a glance, and then they just shrugged. They both knew he'd be a mystery until time ceased to exist.
"So, where are the honeymooners bound?" Setzer asked nonchalant as his eyes surveyed the room.
"Don't know. Edgar refused to say and Locke told me to get lost. I kind of got the impression they wanted it to be a secret; so we couldn't pester them if the world went to pot."
"How long are they going to 'disappear'?"
"Don't know that either. Edgar just smiled, and I couldn't even find Locke to ask. If I didn't know my brother, I'd think they were going to camp as far away from civilization as possible."
"With Edgar being as dependent on the luxuries as he is? I highly doubt it."
Sabin nodded his agreement. "That's exactly what I thought, but he didn't admit to anything."
"Did you ask Terra? She's always been hard-pressed to keep a secret," Setzer reminded. "I think it's something about her face that a person can read like a book."
Sabin smiled. "Yep. That would be Terra– Say, she looked hot in that wedding dress, didn't she?"
Setzer chuckled. "Be careful of those thoughts, my friend. Edgar is liable to be a jealous husband with a gem such as she."
"Don't be silly. I love Terra like a sister. He knows that."
Setzer caught sight of a bluish-black-haired beauty and raised his hand to attract her attention. She smiled and brought a finger to her forehead in a slight salute. Setzer changed his attention back to Sabin. "Perhaps your comment about wanting to marry her changed that."
Sabin made a face. "Stop, Setzer. Edgar knows it was just a way for me to get him to wise-up."
"Then why didn't he tell you where they were honeymooning?" Sabin remained silent as he took a drink of his spiced cider. Setzer chuckled. "I'll leave you to your bachelorhood, my friend. Perhaps some unknowing dolt will start a fight with you?"
And with that, Setzer purposefully made his way toward the tall woman in the corner with the bluish-black hair and sparkling eyes.
"So what do you think?"
Terra stared at the newly rebuilt house in Mobliz with wide eyes. "When... How... Edgar, when did you do this?"
He smiled and lifted her slight frame into his arms to carry her over the threshold of the house. Once inside, he kept her in his arms and smiled down at her. "I've had my men working on it day and night since I asked you to marry me. I gave them strict instructions to change as little as possible... And to keep it a secret from Sabin."
She tightened her arms around his neck with a smile. "So that's why you wouldn't tell me where we were going. You didn't think I could keep it a secret from your brother, did you?"
Edgar began forward. "Your face would have given it away, my little Esper angel. I had to keep our getaway a secret. I wanted as few interruptions as possible."
"Surely Sabin wouldn't have come knocking on our door during our honeymoon?"
Edgar's eyes twinkled as he closed the door to the bedroom with his foot. "You don't know my brother as well as you think."
"There's only one Figaro I want to know that well," she told him with an innocent look.
Edgar looked down at her in surprise, and then he laughed. "You are always able to surprise me, Terra."
"Good. I wouldn't want your life to be dull."
He laid her on the bed, lying close beside her as he stroked her hairline with a finger. "I doubt that will happen for quite a while."
When he kissed her, though, his mind quickly amended the statement. If ever.