Django sniffed, frowning. The trail forked in two directions suddenly, as if it partially backtracked on itself.
"What now?" Edgar looked down at the silver-furred beast.
He licked his lips, flattening his white whiskers. "The trail splits off two ways."
Setzer swore. "Great. So now what? Which one do we follow?"
Django shook his head. "I don't know...both seem fairly recent...it's hard to tell. But at least one heads back towards the cells. Another one leads up to the top floor."
The king thought for a long moment. "You two go up ahead. I'll head back to the cells, and see if that's the right one."
"What about Caezin?" Setzer looked down at Django, and the beast nodded in agreement.
Edgar's expression was cold. "Oh, he won't give me any trouble. He won't have the opportunity." His icy blue eyes flickered up to Setzer. "Don't worry, I can take care of myself. You two go ahead."
Setzer clasped hands with Edgar. "Good luck." Then he turned and followed Django, who was already heading down the hall. Edgar sighed, turned, and walked back towards the detention block.
* * *
Mog blinked as a cool breeze hit him. This was it, this was the rooftop. He glanced around, but didn't see anything on the cold black gravel. "Psst guys...I don't see anything..."
Xain, Celes and Locke reached the top of the stairs, and looked around. A cold breeze blew from the ocean to the east, its expanse glittering in the distance. The moon shone down on the dark-stoned roof, casting shadows around the small structure at the center. Nothing stirred; nothing moved; nothing seemed to be there.
And then, he stood up.
The rest of the group, now all on the roof, watched as a man unfolded from the shadows of the structure, standing so the silver light of the moon could hit him. His face was hidden, the moon behind him casting shadows, but they all knew him. Interceptor let out a low whine, and laid his ears flat.
"Shadow..." Celes said in a whisper.
"Yes." The Ninja's voice was different, somehow. It wasn't the cold hiss that they were all familiar with. Instead, it was vibrant, strong, and deep. His hair wavered in the breeze that swept through the tower's roof, and he stepped forward. "I'm somewhat surprised to see you here."
Relm gasped, finally seeing his face with the others. Nobody had ever seen Shadow's face before, not since he assumed that identity. But long ago, he was another person. He was a husband with a wife and a little girl; a small girl that always remembered her daddy's face, and waited for him to come back. She always waited to see the face of her father...
"Clyde." Strago said. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Why do you ask questions when you know the answers, mage?" He took another step forward, his soft-shod feet barely making a sound on the gravel. "I should ask you that question, however. I didn't want to have guests here so soon, you understand."
Xain looked at Shadow squarely in the eye, suppressing the chill he felt by doing so. "I've come to reclaim my tower. It was never meant to belong to you."
The cult leader sighed. "Does it come to this, again? We have to fight once more? Why do you persist? Is it because you cannot escape destiny?" He turned as Setzer and Django reached the top of the tower. "Ah, more arrive." He flexed his long fingers. "Very well. I suppose we can start." He pointed at them. "Beta." Not waves of green but waves of red shot out from around his feet, stirring the stones around him. A large funnel cloud formed above them, made of pure fire, swiftly spiraling down to them. Sabin pushed Relm out of the way just as it pulled him up into it, even as the fringes of the spell touched them all. The blitz master's cry of pain was heard in the tornado, and then it dissipated. A singed and bleeding Sabin fell to the gravel with a grunt. Gau ran over to him, his father close behind.
Sabin raised himself up on one elbow. "I'm all right. Cure." He glittered green as the healing spell washed over him and the others. Shadow's voice broke through the hissing sound of the magic.
Electricity jolted out of the sky to form a swirling pyramid that bore down on all of them. Celes attempted to runic it, but to no avail. It hit her first, her sword acting like a lightning rod. She screamed in pain and dropped the weapon, falling over on her side. Locke attempted to run to her, but was caught up in the spell as well. When it passed, the two of them lay twitching on the ground in pain.
Setzer flung several cards at Shadow, but the Ninja stopped them in mid-air, catching them. He grinned and flung them back at the group, causing them to jump and dodge. Sabin muttered another cure spell, this one on just Locke and Celes, while Django lunged at Shadow, claws out. The Ninja crashed to the ground, the massive beast on top of him. Django snapped at his neck, but Shadow monkey-flipped him off, his strong legs sending the beast almost off the edge of the tower. The feline creature made a whimpering growl and clung to the edge of the roof, his hind feet dangling.
Xain chanted something in deadpan tones, and raised an arm above his head. Liquid fire rained down on the cult leader, hitting him numerous times. Shadow yelled in both pain and anger, and raised his own arm in response, green energy whipping around his form like a hurricane.
* * *
Terra regained her strength as she walked, if ever slightly. She didn't care where Caezin was leading her at this point, just as long as he would let her sit down to rest, if only for a few minutes. She obediently let him push her along, vaguely aware that he was taking her back to her cell.
"Do you know what's in store for you, my dear?" Caezin said gleefully in her ear.
"Not really." She admitted in a low tone.
Caezin giggled, a hideous sound. "You'll find out soon." He pushed her into the detention area, his breathing heavy. Why was he breathing so heavily? Terra knew that he had more stamina than she did, and she managed to walk here without any problem. She stumbled into her cell, looking at the bed longingly. Finally, she could rest.
Suddenly, Caezin grabbed her from behind, putting his hands on her breasts. Terra snapped out from her weary haze and cried out in surprise, forcing his hands away. The old mage's response was to push her into a wall, hard. Terra felt the wind whoosh out of her lungs as she slammed into the cold metal wall.
Then Caezin was against her. "If you don't fight, you don't get hurt. Got it?"
Terra glared into his eyes, smelling the stench of his rotten teeth so close to her, and snarled.
"Fine then. But it's all the same to me." He reached and grabbed her bodice, ripping it, exposing her breasts, and at the same time put his mouth on hers. She thrashed, trying to escape, but the mage was simply too strong for her to overtake.
* * *
...the scream echoed. Edgar heard it, and knew. He knew it was her. Suddenly he found himself running towards the sound, towards the detention blocks, running faster than he ever did in his life.
Another scream, this one mingled with a sob. Edgar's world turned red, his blood burning in his veins. They were hurting her...Caezin was hurting her. He simply couldn't stand for that. He rounded the corner of the detention blocks, and ran down to the one cell that stood open, towards the sounds of Terra's muffled sobbing and Caezin's grunts and growls.
Edgar burst into the room, finding the two along the opposite wall, his eyes taking in everything. Terra lay pinned against the wall, tears running down her face, her breasts exposed. Caezin pressed himself against her, fumbling with his own clothing as he roughly kissed her.
The king let out a yell of fury and disgust and raised the Autocrossbow. Caezin turned, easing up on Terra. She slid to the floor.
"You?" Caezin snorted, his skinny chest exposed. "What are you d--"
He never got to finish the sentence as Edgar pulled the trigger on the Autocrossbow. Bolt after bolt thudded into Caezin's thin form, knocking him this way and that with their impact. But Edgar didn't release the trigger; he kept firing, his face red with rage, blue eyes flashing with intense anger.
More arrows slammed into the old mage, ripping through his flesh and clothing, spattering his own blood all over himself. They ripped through his face, through his torso, through his weakly flailing arms, thudding in the wall behind him, leaving streaks of blood on the floor and the walls. They continued to rip through him even after his heart exploded in his chest, pierced by a bolt. They continued, even after he had died. Suddenly the hail of crossbow bolts stopped, although Edgar still held down the trigger, the Autocrossbow clicking from the lack of rounds to shoot.
What was left of Caezin remained standing stubbornly for a moment, and then toppled over in a bloody heap. Edgar released the trigger, slowly lowering the weapon, and then dropping it to the floor with a clatter. His shoulders rose and fell with a sigh as he looked at the remains of the man that had caused them so much trouble. Then he stepped over the body, and over to Terra.
She still sat on the floor in a partial fetal position, hugging herself. She stared at Caezin's corpse, shuddering.
Edgar knelt down next to her. "...Terra?"
She raised her green eyes to look at him, the occasional tear running down her cheeks. Her voice was little more than a whisper. "E...Edgar..?"
He gathered her up in his arms. "Yes, it's me. I have you now." He felt her body shake with sobs. "There now, it's all right now. I'm here to get you out of this place."
* * *
Shadow stood above them all as they writhed on the ground in agony. His laughter mocked them. "Is that all? Can't you give me any more?"
Xain raised his face to say something, but the cult leader kicked him in the face. "Shut up, pretty boy." Shadow watched as Relm stood, helping her grandfather up. "Oh how sweet. You mean to tell me this is going to be a family thing?"
Strago coldly regarded him. "Clyde, what you've done here is unforgivable. I always hoped you would make it back to care for Relm...but I see that's out of the question now."
Relm stood there numbly, tears in her eyes. "If you were my father...why didn't you ever tell me?"
Shadow's head snapped to her. "Clyde is gone. I merely inhabit his body. Any questions directed towards him would be in vain." He held up something red, round, and glowing. "I think I've had enough." Concentrating on the red material, he looked at his own daughter. "Meltdown Tempest."
Shadow's face switched to one of confusion, and he tried again. "Meltdown Tempest!"
Relm smiled in triumph. "Terra's too weak to answer your stupid summon spell. She won't come."
The ninja narrowed his pale blue eyes. "Fine, then. I can do things other ways. Shadow Fla--"
He was cut off by a rush of black and tan fur as Interceptor leapt at his former master. The dog's teeth dug into Shadow's bicep, ripping the flesh. The cult leader grunted in pain, and grabbed the dog by his head.
"You too? Fine. Aqualung."
The air around the canine suddenly became filled with fizzing moisture, bubbles snapping in the water. Interceptor let go and thrashed his head, his lungs starting to fill with water. The dog coughed, and fell onto his side, his breath wheezing. Relm cried out and ran to the dog's side, ignoring the fact that she was now next to the man that was her father.
Strago rushed forward. "Relm, no! Stay bac--" His voice cut off into a gurgle as Shadow gripped him by the throat with one hand. The old mage clawed at the Ninja's arm, but the grip wouldn't relent.
"That was stupid, old man. I wonder why Clyde would choose you to watch over the girl?"
The blue mage's eyes narrowed as he struggled to breathe. "...because...he..." He made a choking sound. "...Relm....run..."
Relm looked up at her grandfather, shaking her head. "Grandpa! No! Don't do it!"
Shadow looked at the girl, made a motion, and both she and the canine were flung back towards the others. "Didn't I tell all of you to shut up?"
Strago knew what he had to do. He had even more blue mage skills, far beyond others in Thamasa, but he kept this to himself. He didn't want them to know that a destructive force was housed inside an old man. If they knew, they would of never trusted him. Now was the time to use that power, though. It was the first and only time he could ever use it.
His gray-blue eyes locked with those of Shadow's, and his voice came out in a low gurgle:
The entire roof lit up with white energy, even as Relm screamed in horror and remorse. The light originated from her grandfather, the old mage's body being ripped apart by all the magical energy he stored within himself. The lights swirled around the two men at the center of the roof, and then suddenly bore into Shadow. One after another, they slammed into his form, each one causing him to scream in pain. Shadow's grip slackened, and the red material slipped from his hand to bounce away. Strago's limp form slipped from the Ninja's grasp to fall at his feet. There was a brilliant flash of light, and then when their vision cleared, Shadow lay on the ground next to Strago.
Relm sobbed and ran over to the two men, even as Xain stood up. The prince looked at the others and sighed, then walked over to Relm.
The girl kneeled next to her grandfather, rocking back and forth, weeping. The old mage's body lay twisted into a form of pain, but on his face was a gentle smile, his gray-blue eyes shut in repose. Xain put his hand on her shoulder.
"He did it for us, Relm. He knew that he had to do it."
She shook her head. "There was another way...there had to of been!"
"...no other...way..." came a weak voice next to them. Shadow stirred, barely, his eyes staring up, unseeing. "...Relm..."
Xain drew his sword, and laid the point on Shadow's chest. "Enough. You die now."
"...Clyde...I am...Clyde." Shadow stared around, blinking his eyes, which were a deep amber color. "...it's...gone. Fled my body."
Relm knelt next to her father, blinking away tears. "I'm here, father."
Shadow clawed at the air with a hand until he gripped her arm. "...I'm sorry...I should of come back." He sighed, his voice dropping lower as he continued to weaken. "...I never should of left...but I..."
Relm gripped his hand in her own. "Don't talk..."
"...afraid. I was afraid. Please..." His sightless eyes stared in her general direction. "...learn from me. I know your power. Through me, learn the ways..." He sighed, pausing to catch his breath. "...learn the ways of ninjistu through me."
The girl nodded, even though she knew her father couldn't see her. She gently placed her hands on his temples, and closed her eyes. Then she sat there for a moment, transfixed, occasionally spastimatically jerking. Towards the end her eyes flew open, and she stared ahead, unseeing. Xain started to reach for her when she came back to reality.
Clyde smiled, a genuine smile. "...thank you. It makes me...glad to have such a...dau..." He never finished the sentence, using his last breath to speak it. Relm lowered her face into her hands, and started sobbing again.
* * *
Edgar carried Terra through the hallways of Cosmo Tower, towards the bottom floor. At first, Terra had insisted on walking, but could barely move. Edgar solved the problem by simply picking her up and carrying her. She complained for the first few minutes, but then gave up and rested her head on his shoulder. She wore Edgar's blue cloak around her slim shoulders to conceal her nakedness, something for which a modest woman like Terra was grateful for.
He told her about their plans to come and rescue her, how they found Xain, and how they worked alongside him. She told him about her three days in the cursed tower, and about her captors.
"So Shadow was the one behind this. I knew I felt something funny from him when we saw him at that cavern." His face darkened in anger.
Terra gently touched his face. "Please, Edgar...don't let it get to you. It's not his fault, I know it. It was his body, but it wasn't Shadow." She sighed. "There was a spirit in him, taking him over...just as there was for Kefka. Shadow himself told me...that the spirit in him is always reborn to destroy...and we're always reincarnated to heal." She paused. "Kefka was sane once...I can remember, just barely. The same spirit that was in Kefka took over Shadow." She then went silent, watching as they rounded another landing to descend yet another flight of stairs.
"Are you going to be all right?" He asked, his voice full of concern.
She sighed, and rested her head against his silk shirt. "I don't know. I need time...just give me time..." Terra was silent again, and they continued down the staircase for a while without saying anything. Then she spoke again. "Thank you...for coming for me."
He smiled, and looked down at her, and moved his head to kiss her. Then he though better of it, knowing of Terra's trauma from the incident with Caezin, and kissed her gently on the forehead instead. "Anything for you, my lady."
They continued down the stairs, her head on his shoulder.
* * *
Locke walked down the umpteenth flight of stairs, bearing the inert form of Strago. Celes walked a few paces behind him in silence. Behind them, Setzer carried the body of Clyde, the gambler's expression unreadable. Xain and Django walked quietly with the remnants of Django's tribe behind them, their numbers significantly smaller. Mog and Cyan took up the rear, talking quietly in hushed tones. Interceptor kept in pace with Relm, every once in a while pausing to whine and lick her hand. Gau walked close to the girl as well, shooting looks of concern in her direction from time to time.
Relm walked with her eyes downcast, her face ashen. She hadn't spoken since the rooftop and showed no indication that she even cared where she was. She merely walked along numbly, putting one foot in front of the other, keeping in pace with the rest of the group. Never making eye contact with the others, she kept to herself. Gau attempted to say things to her from time to time, but she didn't respond.
Cyan watched, and sighed. "'Twould seem the girl's loss hath affected her thinking."
Mog nodded. "Yeah....poor Relm. She didn't deserve to lose both of them." The moogle sniffled, and rubbed at his eyes. He tended to get very emotional at times. "I just wish I could do something to make it easier on her..."
The swordsman sighed, and patted Mog kindly on the head. "I do not think anything would help her right now, my friend. Grief is a powerful thing, and it doth weigh heavily on the soul. Trust me, this I know." He looked ahead at the girl, who continued to stumble ahead. "All she doth need is time to heal her wounds."
They eventually reached the bottom of the tower, having collected more cosmo beasts and members of the Jidoorian army on the way. When they went outside, Edgar was waiting for them.
The king of Figaro watched as Locke approached him with Strago's body, and then sighed. "I see. Poor old fool...I know I'll miss him."
Locke nodded. "He gave his life for us, Edgar. He used up all his power to kill off Shadow." He looked around. "Where's Terra?"
"She's resting in the Falcon. She's all right...just a bit worn out."
The thief peered at Edgar, who still wore Maduin's amulet. "Why are you wearing her necklace?"
"Long story. Bring Strago inside the airship...and get the others to come inside as well. I think we need to rest, and share with each other what happened.
* * *
Terra awoke to see Setzer sitting there, next to her bed. She blinked the sleep from her eyes, and then sat up. "Setzer?"
The gambler gave a low chuckle, went over to embrace her. "I missed you, y'know. Do me a favor and don't get captured again." He smiled down at her as he sat next to her on the bed, his arm still around her shoulders.
She smiled at him. "I promise. Trust me, I didn't enjoy it one bit." She looked out the porthole window. "Where are we?"
"Jidoor. We've stopped here to drop Xain and Django off. Then we have to head back to Thamasa for a couple of funerals."
Her green eyes lowered. "Oh, who died?"
"Strago. And Shadow. Strago used his own life to kill Shadow."
Terra turned away to hide her expression, but gave up. She knew that at this point, she couldn't hide how she felt from a friend. Tears running down her face, she leaned against Setzer. "...they shouldn't of died, Setzer. If I would of only stayed in Thamasa..."
He tightened his arm around her, smoothing back her hair. "They didn't die in vain, Terra. Everybody knows that you did the right thing. If you didn't do what you did, who knows what state Thamasa would be in? Besides, Strago knew that he was doing the right thing; he died with a smile on his face...I saw it Terra. He knew that he was freeing Shadow from whatever force took him over."
She nodded. "I still miss them, both of them. They were both friends of mine...something I only have so many of."
The gambler smiled, pushed some of her hair out of her face. "I think you should go for quality, not quantity, Terra. There's not many of us, but we all would do anything for you. After all, I...that is, we came to the tower to get you back."
The half-Esper nodded and turned to stare out the window at the lights of Jidoor. "Then, I guess I'm grateful."