Edgar Figaro stifled a yawn as he listened to the Chancellor drone on about the expansion of Figaro. At first, Edgar was pleased with the thought of making the castle larger, quicker, and more durable to the pressure of the sand it was generally buried under. But now, the project just seemed more and more tedious. The newest idea was a thing called "eco domes", something that would house trees, crops and water, all within the castle's walls. It seemed to be a good idea, until the price of the eco domes sat staring back at you from a sheet of paper.
The king crumpled up the paper with the prices, and tossed it at the Chancellor. "Forget it, Bryant. We can't afford to create any environments within Figaro."
Chancellor Bryant caught the piece of paper that rebounded off his chest. "King Edgar, we've been through this, and it would benefit the people of Figaro..."
Edgar sighed, and stood up, pushing his chair away from his desk. "Yeah, and it would render us poorer than Zozo. As I said, forget it. I'm not about to put the entire castle into debt." He raised his hand as the Chancellor began to protest again. "Look, we have farmland near South Figaro that rakes in plenty of crops for both that city and for this castle. We also have our saline treatment plants to the northeast, and those cost enough to maintain. Figaro Castle is simply here for the protection of South Figaro, nothing more."
"But, the residents..."
"...the residents chose to live here, Bryant. They're all soldiers, or government employees and their families. If they don't like it, they can move to South Figaro. Concentrate on the expansion of the east and west wings. I believe this discussion is closed." Edgar walked out of the office, to leave Bryant standing there stupidly with a stack of blueprints and reports in his hands. Things hadn't slowed down for the young king of Figaro in the eleven months that had passed since Kefka's downfall. After he returned to Figaro, he had to manage certain details that simply couldn't be taken care of when he was on his little "quest" with the others. Bryant and his cohorts did a fairly adiquite job of managing things for the two years he was gone, but there was a certain comfort that many found when the king was nearby, and when the king was making the decisions. Since his return, he had plenty of work to do, but he had managed to draw up blueprints to expand Figaro, designed a few new devices, and even had the time to invite some of his friends from what he referred to as the "Kefka business". But now the Kefka business was over with, and that left plenty of time to do, well, kingly things.
Edgar walked into the throne room, and looked at the two high-backed chairs that served as the thrones for Figaro. He could sit down, it would seem appropriate; he hadn't done much of his ruling from a throne lately. Yet, it seemed pointless to the young king. Why? They'd just find him there. He was tired of being king at times. Many times to be exact, it just seemed to be filled with tedium, and the occasional stressful moment. Not only that, but it was a lonely job. He still played the flirtatious bachelor, but women never seemed to take him seriously. It didn't matter, he wasn't necissarily interested in them anyway. He flirted more for the sake of apperances than anything else. Only one women seemed to react differently to him, and she was in Mobliz...
Terra. Why did his thoughts wander back to her? While he could read other people like a book, she was a simple enigma to him. When they parted ways, they had said goodbye to each other the same way that the others had: smiles, a few laughs, a chaste hug and then that was it. He had made some effort to contact her, and to invite her up to Figaro afterwards, but her letters back to him told him that she simply couldn't leave the children. That was Terra for you: always thinking of those children. In some sense, he was proud of her. She had grown so much from the confused girl that Locke had brought to the very spot he stood on two years ago. He wondered how much she had changed since they parted.
The king of Figaro Castle sighed, and went back to find Chancellor Bryant.
* * *
"No fair...my back was turned!" The honey-haired woman giggled and pushed herself from his strong grip. Her companion was grinning at her as she turned to face him, his soft brown eyes alight with mischief. "Mr. Cole, one of these days I'm gonna manage to sneak up on you."
The thief's grin broadened. "Right. When pigs fly. You couldn't sneak up on me, let alone catch me if you tried." To prove his point, he reached in, jabbed her in the stomach with a finger, and jumped back before she could grab his wrist as she squealed with laughter.
"Stop!" The forest echoed with the sounds of their laughter.
He stuck his tongue out at her. "Make me."
Suddenly, she lunged at him with suprising speed, and the next thing he knew, Locke had her sitting on his chest, pinning him down. While she didn't weigh as much as he did, she was his size, and could hold her own while sparring against him. That's how the whole tickle business started: they began by sparring, to burn off the cabin fever. Then Locke started to play unfairly by rushing in and tickling her, and then ducking off someplace to hide. A couple of times, he would take an earring off her or one of her hair clips, and hold it up tauntingly in front of her face before she even knew it was gone. Oh well, that's what you get for hanging around with a thief.
Celes looked down at him. "Uncle?"
Locke smiled and tucked his hands behind his head. "I dunno, I'm kind of liking this..."
Celes opened her mouth for a retort, when a voice was heard from a nearby tree. "Would you two like to be alone?"
The two of them looked up to see a familiar figure, dressed in black and gold, leaning against a broad oak. His pale face bore scars and a fairly oboxious smirk. He pushed a piece of white hair out of his eyes. "Because, y'know...if you two lovers ever want time alone, I'm not one to impose..."
Celes jumped off of Locke, knocking the wind out of him in the process. "Setzer!" She flung herself into his arms to give him a tight squeeze. "What are you doing in Kohlingen?"
The gambler shrugged. "Visiting, mainly. I just wanted to see what's up in Locke and Celes land. Apparently, you two have been inventing little games to keep you busy."
Locke grinned as he shook hands warmly with Setzer. "Still the perverted wise-ass I remember, huh? It's good to see you, Setzer. Here, come back to the house. You never were one to stand around in the woods anyway."
Locke's house was one of the few that was burned during Terra's "attack" on the small town of Koligen, but since the fall of Kefka, he had plenty of time to rebuild it. It wasn't overly large, but it suited the treasure-hunter and Celes perfectly. As they walked up the stone steps, Setzer noted the hydrangas and the white picket fence, something that Locke himself probably wouldn't add, but a fussy woman like Celes would. He decided that if he ever had a home, it would be something like this one.
Setzer seated himself on the couch as Locke pulled up a chair, turning it backwards to straddle it. "So, tell me what you've been doing, Mr. Gambler."
The pale man leaned back thoughtfully. "Gambling, mainly. Also, I've been talking to Cyan about making a fleet of smaller airships for the Doma force."
Celes brought in a cup of tea for Setzer, and set it in front of him. "Oh, how is Cyan anyway?"
Setzer sipped his tea and looked at her over the rim of the cup. "Busy. He has Doma nearly rebuilt, and mostly repopulated. It's line of government has changed, though. They no longer have a monarchy, they have a democracy."
She cocked her head slightly to the side. "Really? Who's president? Cyan?"
He shook his head. "No, he refused the position. He's an advisor to the president, a man by the name of Fabon. So far, things seem to be turning out well there. To top it off, Cyan has Gau behaving like a human being."
The thief smirked. "You mean he doesn't run around saying "Aooouuu" anymore?"
Setzer set down his cup. "No, he actually is learning good manners, and good hygene for that matter. Just the other day--"
He was cut short by a loud gasp from Celes, who began rocking back and forth, clutching at her head. Locke jumped up from his chair to go to her side. "Celes! Are you all right?"
Celes nodded, swallowing hard. "I....I just....felt something."
Locke put an arm around her shoulders. "Felt something...? You haven't had any ability like that since magic died."
The ex-general shuddered, and then relaxed. "It felt...I can't explain it. Pain. Like something wanted something back. It felt like the whole world wanted something back. It was the strangest feeling..." She looked at Locke. "I don't fully know what it was, but it's frightening."
Setzer stood up. "Maybe you two should talk to Strago about this. If it actually is anything magical, he'll have some sort of explanation."
The thief helped Celes up. "Good idea. Is the Falcon ready?"
Gabianni grinned. "As always.
* * *
Bridget's yells of concern didn't seem to reach Terra's ears, there was only the pain that pulsated somewhere from the back of her skull. And the images she recieved, of hatred, of wanting filled her mind to the point where she started screaming. Then it suddenly stopped. Still quivering from the aftereffects of the tempest in her mind, Terra reached over to hug the now-crying little girl. "Shh....it's all right. Momma's fine."
"P-please don't scream like that again, Momma. It scares me." The child sniffled and looked up at her with large blue eyes.
"I won't again...I'm sorry....Momma just felt something scary for a moment. It's fine now."
"Scary? You get scared?"
She smiled, and picked up the little girl. "Everybody gets scared, Bridgie. If we don't get scared from time to time, nice things like laughter don't seem as nice."
The child pondered this over for a second, then seemed satisfied with the answer. Terra took Bridget and put her near her older brother. "Here, why don't you play with Thom? I have things I have to do." After the girl nodded to her, the ex-Esper walked into her own room, and shut the door. What WAS that feeling? It was...icky. Terra almost laughed at herself. Icky? She had been around these children too long. And yet, she felt almost...complete. It was such a warm feeling, it surprised her but filled her completely every time she looked into one of the children's faces. It sometimes saddened her that she couldn't leave for even a short while, even though many of the children were older now. She sometimes wished that she could visit her old friends. Edgar wrote to her from time to time, and his brother dropped by frequently. Occasionally she'd recieve visits from Locke and Celes, or even Cyan and Gau, but she never got the chance to pay them a visit. More like she chose not to. She never wanted to let these kids out of her sight, even for a day.
And yet, this feeling she recieved just now chilled her to the bone. It was danger. She didn't know how, or why it was danger, she just felt it within her heart. Since the Esper part of her "died", Terra's abilities had seriously been diminished. Still, she maintained the strength and speed of her old self, not to mention that sixth sense that all Espers had. The ability to sense power. To sense magic. Like the feeling just now.
Terra sat down at her desk, and began to write a letter.
* * *
Thamasa was pretty much as Celes had remembered it, although a bit greener than it was right after the apocolypse. More flowers bloomed, more birds sang in the trees, and it seemed that more children played in the streets. Like most towns, Thamasa was getting pretty close to getting back to normal, and while the grass and sky hadn't fully recovered in this area of the world, it sure beat Zozo. She looked to the left, to see the ocean, and the Falcon parked on the beach. Since Kefka tore the world apart, Thamasa had become an island. The strip of land to the south of it simply sunk underwater, and the island to the north of it rose, revealing the cave to a legendary monstrosity. Celes shuddered when she remembered seeing the Hidon. She had seen many horrors in her life as a general for the Empire, but that thing topped the list. She was grateful that Strago had put an end to it, although she had doubted the old man at first.
So did Locke. She looked at the thief, and he seemed absorbed in taking in the sights as well, his brown eyes examining every detail around him. He must of felt her eyes on him, since he turned to her and smiled with a wink. Whenever he smiled at her like that, she felt...safe. She didn't understand why, she just knew. He had said that he would never let go. And he hadn't. For a brief time after Kefka's downfall, the loss of magic had seriously effected them all. Celes was effected so directly that it interfered with her life. For two months she became nearly comotose, viewing life through a daze that barely saw and heard anything. While in that stupor, she could remember certain things, small images. She seemed to mostly remember Locke's face, Locke bringing her food, Locke talking to her kindly with a bittersweet smile. After she recovered from her magic withdrawl, he admitted to watching over her like a hawk while she was ill, and tending to her every need. He also said that he didn't tell a soul about it either. He knew that Celes wouldn't want the others to worry, so he kept it to himself. She was amazed and flattered by his devotion, since many men would of just left a woman in that state. She smiled back at him. In many ways, this so-called "treasure hunter" with his lopsided smiles and razor-sharp whiticisms was more of a gentleman than Cyan or even Edgar.
He looked at her quizzically. "Why are you smiling like that?"
She shrugged. "I don't know....I guess I'm just happy."
He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "And that makes me happy. C'mon, let's see if Strago is home."
Strago's house had recieved a new coat of paint since they had last seen it, and new rows of shrubs lined the sides of the house. The thick oak door was stained and laquered to a shiny deep brown, and it gave a loud booming noise as Locke pounded his fist on it. Promptly after, a hoarse barking was heard on the other side of the door, and some scratching sounds. A vaugely familiar voice spoke in firm tones. "Interceptor, sit!"
A whine was heard on the other side of the door, and then the dog was silent. The door opened, and the two of them found themselves face-to-face with a more mature Relm. She had just begun showing the signs of womanhood, and the promise that her beautiful face had as a child was beginning to show as well. She smiled at them warmly and embraced Celes. "You guys! What a nice surprise!"
Locke let the young girl give him a hug as well, patting her back. "Well, we had to drop by. Setzer came by us, and since we had an airship at our disposal, this seemed the best place to go. My my, haven't we grown up?"
Relm smiled, producing dimples. "I just turned thirteen a week ago. Grandpa says that this daisy is growing up to become a rose. He's such a flatterer."
Celes yelped and jumped as a wet nose was pressed against her knee. She looked down to see Interceptor looking up at her with red-brown eyes, his whiplike tail wagging slowly. She patted the doberman on the head.
"And Interceptor says hello, too." Relm giggled. "He's such a nice dog."
Locke reached out to pet Interceptor, but yanked his hand back quickly as the dog bared fangs at him. "Uh...to you. He never liked me much."
Interceptor produced a growl that ended when Relm shushed him. "I'm sorry, I forgot my manners. Come in you two, I have some coffee on right now."
The inside of the Magus' house was changed as well. It seemed less full of the tawdry antiques and dull-colored furnature that Strago owned, but more full of soft apolstry, whispy curtains, and bright paintings on the walls. Apparently Relm had something to do with the refurnishing of the house. She offered them a seat on a blue and white couch and muttered something about coffee as she bustled off into the next room.
Celes smiled as she looked around. "Well, our little Relm has really changed..."
The thief shrugged. "She's growing up, Celes. It happens to the best of us. Well, most of us anyway. I don't see myself maturing fully for a few more years."
She gave a wicked smile. "Maybe it'll happen when you turn 30. It's only a few years off."
"That's not even funny."
"Really? I thought it was."
Relm came back in with three cups of coffee on a tray. "Light creme for Celes..." She set it down in front of her. "...and extra strong, three sugars for Mr. Treasure Hunter." she said, handing a mug to Locke. She then sat down in a chair adjacent to them, her delicate little hands wrapped around a coffee mug. "So, what is this visit really about?"
Celes sedately crossed her legs. "I see we can't hide things from you at all, can we?"
The young artist smirked, making her dimples even more pronounced. "You'd be surprised what I can read by looking at a person." Her smile faded, and she looked seriously at them. "I know why you're here. It's that feeling you had yesterday, isn't it?"
The two of them exchanged a look, then Locke turned back to Relm and nodded. "Yeah. It was Celes. All of a sudden, she was in pain."
Relm closed her green eyes. "Pain, confusion, a feeling of hatred and wanting. And fear." She opened them to gaze at Celes. "Is that how you felt?"
The honey-blonde woman nodded slowly. "Yeah...it was a pretty scary feeling too. How...?"
She shook her head, her pale blond curls bobbing. "I know, because I felt it too. So did Grandpa, and most of the other people in this town. So did Terra, we recieved a letter from her this morning. Grandpa wrote to the others, and requested that we all meet here. I guess that there was no need for him to write to you, since you came here on your own."
"Which is good, since we have some matters to discuss." A voice said from the doorway. The speaker walked to his favorite chair, and sat down with a weary grunt. Strago was not looking good. His eyes seemed tired, and his face was even more deeply lined than it was before. He rubbed at his temples with a sigh. "Since you're one of the people this concerns, Celes, I may as well explain some things." He looked at her sternly. "Magic is not dead."
Celes shook her head. "That's not right...if it's not dead, then why haven't I felt it before?"
"You did. That's what your "withdrawl" was. It wasn't the feeling of magic dying. It was the feeling of magic shifting, and reforming."
She turned to Locke. "Did you tell him about that?"
He raised his hands defensively. "You know I promised not to tell anybody about that. Damned if I know why he knows."
"He knows, because it happened to me too. And Terra." Relm sighed. "We never brought it up, since everybody was getting on with their lives, and we didn't want to interrupt anything. Terra wrote to Grandpa when it happened, but it effected her differently, just as it effected me differently. Terra got severe headaches, and lost her temper often. I had trouble concentrating, and a lot of time things confused me."
"And I," Celes said. "was disoriented. I vaguely remember what happened."
"It seemed to only effect you three. I believe it has something to do with the Espers, seeing that you were the only ones conjoined with them." Strago scratched at his whispy hair. "When magicite disappeared, it effected you directly."
Locke frowned. "I used magicite too, and magic. Why didn't it effect me? Or Edgar? Or Gau? Or any of the rest of us?"
Strago waggled a finger at him. "A woman's body is different from a man's. Or have you forgotten?"
The thief actually blushed.
Leaning back in his chair, the blue mage glanced at the clock, and nodded. "Good. The others should be arriving in the next few hours. Make yourselves comfortable, you two. We may be here a while."