"They're so shiny..."
"Don't stare at them too long, Celes. You won't be able to look away."
She pouted. "But....shiny...! C'mon, they glow in the dark!"
Locke ignored her overly cute pout, and crossed his arms. "There was a legend once, of a gem that had a dark soul. It drew people to it, and when they became absorbed in its glow, the jewel would capture their souls, and their wills."
"That's just a legend."
"I don't care....I see you ogling at the Material, and I'm reminded of a kid eyeing up a dish of candy before dinner, or a Zozo whore that finds a horny well-to-do looking for a fun night."
She whacked him upside the head. "Don't you even compare me to a whore!"
"Ow." He rubbed at his head. "My point is you don't need to sit here and stare at it all day like you've been doing." Locke crossed his arms. "I mean, what happened to my damn girlfriend? I thought that she had a thing for me but ooo.....some shiny rocks came along and suddenly Mr. Cole's history."
She looked at the glowing green Material orbs in her hand, and then at him. "You're jealous of some magical rocks?"
Celes set the rocks back into the pile that they had made in the past few hours. So far the group had made "Fire", "Ice", "Bolt" and "Cure". Nobody tried any of the more complicated spells, since they only had so much lifestream to work with, although Rickart had dubbed the thicker version of the lifestream "Makoro", which meant "magic energy" in some obscure language that was nearly forgotten. They were now out of lifestream and Makoro, and only had a pile of Material orbs instead, which still gave off a cold green glow. She sighed. "I'm sorry, it's just that this fascinates me. I thought you'd be into it as much as I am, since it seems to be worth something..."
"Don't forget that I wasn't raised with magic powers. I'm not into the magical stuff as much as you are. Sure, I think this stuff is great, but I want to do other things, like talk to my friends."
"Speaking of, did you try to talk to Terra?"
"I would if I could find her, but she's made herself scarce ever since that incident this morning. I think she's embarrassed about it."
Celes rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes contentedly. "Tell me, have you ever seen her cry before?"
"No. That's why I think she's embarrassed, because she let a side of her show that she doesn't want us to see."
"What side would that be?"
Locke looked at the dish of Material on the table in front of them, and pushed it away with an index finger. "Her human side."
* * *
"How are you feeling?" Gau examined a bump on Mog's furry little head.
"Kupo.....it hurts a bit, but the Cure Material Relm used on us all seemed to help some. You were lucky you weren't there, the guy that showed up was real creepy."
Cyan stroked at his mustache thoughtfully. "'Twould seem that we missed the fun."
"Fun? Po.....yeah right." The cat-like creature snorted. "If you call being hit with flaming rocks fun."
"No, what I meant is that apparently we haven't disposed of all our enemies. I discussed the matter with Strago, and he told me that your friend is in some sort of organization."
"Organization? What kind or organization would hit them with meteor spells?"
"One that has a reason to hate us, Gau. One that hates Terra specifically....perhaps a cult of some kind, or perhaps a new brand of religion."
Mog covered his pointed ears. "Ugh, I hate theology...."
"I'd like to hear something about it, if you don't mind." A voice said from the doorway. Sabin walked in, a few bumps and bruises apparent on his bare arms and upper torso, evidence that even he was hit by "The Master's" meteor attack. The large man leaned against the wall near Gau, a look of interest on his face. "So, you think this was driven by some sort of religious leader?"
Cyan shrugged. "It is a logical assumption, my friend. The fact that Terra was once half-Esper is a somewhat well-known fact by anyone who reads the newspaper, seeing that our exploits were published world-wide. In any case, there were many that feared the Espers after their accidental attacks on towns, resulting in something of a prejudice against them....including Terra. It's no wonder she wished to remain in Mobliz with merely those children for company; at least they would give her the due respect she deserves. Anywhere else, she would be shunned."
Sabin frowned. "Bigotry against Terra? I don't want to believe it. Terra's such a sweet person."
"Prejudice and hatred know no good in people. What of Sir Leo? Many were opposed to him at first, simply because of his race. It took some time for people to realize that he was a model human being and a kind gentleman. They finally accepted him as a true hero, once they got past the color of his skin."
"So why not just stamp out the opposition against Terra, and get the world to like her?" Mog piped up.
"'Tis not that easy, moogle. It would take months, nay....years to put her in the good of the public's eye."
Mog smiled. "I got nuthin' to do for the next few years. Terra's my friend, and I'd like to help her."
"Thy heart is noble, as are thy intentions, Sir Mog, but would thou be one to commit himself to such an arduous task?"
"I sure would." Sabin said. "I think the little guy's got a point here. If some group is out to get Terra, we should try to find that group and eradicate it. I'm not gonna let something like this go on without notice, and I doubt that my brother or any of the rest of us would either." He looked down at the moogle. "So, you wanna bring your idea to the others?"
The white-furred creature jumped up with an overly-adorable squeaky sound. "Would I ever! Let's get moving!" He then winced and rubbed at the bump on his head. "Owww......kupo..."
* * *
"Trust me, brother....this is a good idea."
"Oh, I believe you Sabin.....it's just that I don't know if Terra wants help." The two of them were walking down the white cobblestone main street of Thamasa, which reflected back the pink color of the pre-dusk sky. Sabin, Mog, Gau and Cyan had gone about the town to find the rest of the group, and naturally Sabin went to find his brother first. Edgar had been standing in a spot where Terra could customarily be found: General Leo's grave. It was obvious that the blond king was looking for her, figuring that she would head there after her outburst. He hadn't found her there, but instead waited in hopes of bumping into her. After two hours or so, Sabin came to talk to him about stamping out this new faction against Terra.
"Don't get me wrong....I want to help Terra as much as anybody else; but I know her, Sabin. I know that she wants to be left alone. The only reason she's here is because something affected her so directly she couldn't even carry on with her life, the same reason why Celes came here to talk to Strago. She doesn't get involved anymore."
The larger brother sighed. "You might be right. Terra's not one to want help. But....that doesn't mean that we can't try, right?"
Edgar shook his head and grumbled something.
"Think, Edgar! What if this isn't something against Terra specifically? What if....well, what if this is another Kefka deal? That Caezin guy had a Master, we all heard him talk to him right before that meteor shower hit us. Don't you think this is a threat? C'mon, you're not one to stand nearby and do nothing."
"No, I'm not one to do nothing, but when it comes to...." Edgar stopped in mid-sentence and sighed. "Forget it, you're right. Terra won't like it, but we can always say that we're doing it for the good of everybody. We get to play superheros again." They stopped walking when they reached the massive spruce tree planted in the town square. "All right, go for it. I'm in to the end, as always. See if you can find Rickart, and tell him that he has orders to return to Figaro, and he should gather his men working on the Lifestream project, and get packing." Edgar turned on his heel, and started to walk west, towards the setting sun.
"And where are you going now? We have planning to do!"
Edgar didn't even slow, but answered over his shoulder as he walked swiftly away. "To find Terra."
* * *
The sun was just touching the dark waters of the South Ocean when he found her. She was at the last place he had expected to find her: on the beach of the western side of the island, right next to the area the Falcon was parked in. In the strange orangy-pink light of the sunset, her hair almost looked like it was the color of honey, not the customary green-tinted mass everybody was used to. Edgar silently wondered what she would look like if Maduin wasn't her father....would she be blond-haired? Or would she have the same gravity that drew people to her....the pull she had that made people want to listen, to understand her? He sighed and shook his head. Thoughts aside, he was here to talk to her, not to evaluate her. He took a step towards her, but stopped short when she spoke.
"I know you're there, Edgar." she said quietly, her knees drawn to her chest, arms resting upon them. Her chin sat lightly on her slender arms. "I thought I made it clear that I didn't want to be bothered."
The king sat next to her in the sand, and shrugged. "You did, but then again, I didn't want to be bothered on the deck of the Falcon that other night. You came to me anyway. I thought I should do the same."
She looked at him coldly, her eyes as green and stony as emeralds. "So I lick your wounds, you lick mine? Is that what you're saying?"
"No no no....please don't misunderstand, Terra. I'm here out of concern, not out of a 'payback' for a favor."
Terra lowered her eyes and focused them on the white lime sand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't of snapped at you like that."
"No apology needed, my lady." He looked at the sunset, the sun half-gone now. "Of all places, why did you hide here?"
"I wanted to just once watch a sun set on the sea. I've never seen it, as strange as that sounds." She traced patterns in the sand with an index finger. "Um, I suppose you want me to explain a bit more. I think your question was supposed to be phrased as 'Why did you hide, Terra?'."
Edgar said nothing, but watched the sun as it continued its slow decent, the orb looking like a poached egg on the horizon. Terra sighed, and he turned to look at her when she spoke again. "I came here because I'm afraid for my friends. I know somebody's after me, Edgar....and I don't want others to get hurt because of that. And....and also because I'm afraid I'll lose control of myself again."
"Terra, please don't be afraid of such things. We are your friends, and we'll stand beside you through it all."
"That's what Setzer said." she said morosely. "It doesn't help me much. I think I just need time. I need to..." She looked up at the sun again, her eyes glistening slightly. "I just need peace."
He put his arm around her shoulders. "You'll get it, Terra. I promise. Right now, Sabin and the others are planning to overthrow this plot against you. I know that's not what you wanted, but it's what your getting. Setzer was right, and I know I'm right here too....your friends will watch out for you, no matter what."
She stared at the sun, just over a sliver of it left, the small fraction of it seeming to hover waveringly over the ocean. "All right. But I don't want this....I don't want this magic anymore."
"What do you mean?"
She shivered, whether from fright or merely a chill Edgar didn't know. "Edgar....I just want to watch the sunset." she whispered. "Just once."
He nodded, and they watched it silently, even long after it had gone.
* * *
He stood upon the roof of the tower, staring at the setting sun on the mountains. This was moving too fast, they had already discovered Material....and were making it by the bucket as well. In no time they would realize what was truly going on, and that simply would not be acceptable. He needed that girl separated from the group; he needed that damn king and his friends to leave her the hell alone. So far, things weren't going with what he needed, let alone what he wanted. He sighed and pulled the dark-colored wrappings off his head and neck, baring his short unruly brown hair to the wind that whistled past the immense tower. This body suited him much better, it was more lithe and athletic than his previous one. Silently he thanked the three Goddesses for saving his ass at the last minute, and transferring him to another. He always knew that his prayers would be answered.
A soft shuffling noise was heard behind him, and the man turned his head, fixing his pale blue eyes on the green- and white-robed man genuflecting on the gravel of the rooftop. "Master....you wished to see me?"
The man frowned. "Fool....you would dare look upon my face uninvited?"
The man in the robe prostrated deeper, touching his head to the cold black gravel. "Forgive me, Master. It was an accident. I will bind my eyes in your presence from now on. No other shall know--"
"Shut up, Caezin." the dark man muttered irritably. "I'll get right to the point. You've failed me in one sense, yet accomplished something in another sense. I believe because of that, your mistake does not need reprimanding."
Caezin raised his face from the roof slightly, pieces of gravel stuck to his clammy forehead. "...Master?"
The Master crossed his arms, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Even though you didn't manage to obtain the Esper girl for me, you've opened up a doorway to her powers. I've seen them.....I saw them in my previous body, but since magic has been twisting beneath the world, her power has increased nearly tenfold. It is as if the new world that is forming from this "lifestream" has bonded itself with her, giving her strength." He smiled a malicious grin, one that didn't seem to fit the face of it's owner. "All Espers answer to the Goddesses." The Master looked down at his main disciple. "Do you follow me?"
"I understand that fact, master....but the three Goddesses are dead....remember?"
It came without warning. The brown-haired man's well-muscled arm shot out, a black blur as his silk-gloved fingers closed around Caezin's throat. Caezin quickly found himself dangling from his Master's grip around his neck, barely able to choke let alone breathe. The disciple clutched at the Master's wrist, but the viselike grip didn't yield.
"Imbecile..." The Master hissed through teeth gritted in fury. "Don't you own a brain? The Goddesses are within ME, not dead and gone. That is why I am here....or perhaps you have forgotten what all of the cult must know?"
All Caezin could manage were some wheezing sounds, his face turning purple. He struggled feebly for a moment, and then was flung onto the harsh gravel of the roof by a swift backhand toss by the black-clad man. He lay on the black gravel in a fetal position, clutching at his neck as he gasped for air like a fish. The Master looked down at him with disgust.
"And to think, I was going to give you a gift for your efforts." He pulled his black silk hood over his face again, making his features a mystery once more. "You have new orders. Take a group of men and surround the island of Thamasa, and flush out the Esper girl. You can dispose of her friends if you can manage it....or even burn the town to the ground if you have to. I want her out, and alive. When she's out, capture her as best as you can. Order the others to do it....do not interfere yourself, other to convey my orders."
"Master," Caezin's voice was hoarse. "How can we capture and Esper?"
For a few minutes, The Master was silent as he stared at the mountains surrounding the immensely tall tower. The only sound was the chill wind whistling past. Finally, he spoke. "When the time comes, I'll take care of it. Leave me now, and do not fail again, Caezin. You may not live through it."
The Master heard some scrabbling sounds behind him as Caezin hurried to his feet and rushed down the stairs. Then there was only the sound of the wind.
* * *
Mog twirled on his toes in delight. They had thought it was a good idea! Relm almost always thought things were a good idea, though. Ice cream for dinner? Good idea. A day at the beach? Another good idea. And of course, the whole "Mission: Terra" has he had labeled it was definitely a good idea in Relm's eyes. He continued to dance as the blonde-haired girl watched him, giggling.
Gau rolled his eyes. "Great, now he'll never stop."
"Oh, leave him alone....let him dance if he wants to." Relm giggled again. "Besides, he's so cute."
Gau smoothed back his hair, an action that he picked up from Cyan. "I think we should find my father and the others. He probably has them all together at the Elder's House at this point."
Mog stopped spinning, slightly dizzy. "Po...good idea. I bet that everybody's there, 'cept for Terra herself."
Relm looked at the stars, which had just begun to come out in the post-sunset sky. "I hope she gets there soon, it's getting late, and we have planning to do." She looked at her companions. "Why don't we get going?"
The moogle nodded with a squeak. "Good idea....maybe we can get some ideas cooked up before Terra even shows up."
Gau showed his agreement by starting to walk in the direction of the Elder's house. Interceptor trotted after him, claws clicking on the white cobblestones. The dog didn't usually like men or boys, save his old owner....but for some reason he and Gau got along fairly well. Relm suspected it had something to do with Gau's ability to communicate with the animal. Maybe someday she could ask Gau how to talk to Interceptor. Having a conversation with an animal might be interesting.
Locke was leaning against the doorway to the Elder's home, idly peeling an unfortunate blade of grass to ribbons. "Hey, there you are. Everybody else is inside, except for Terra and Edgar."
"Do you think he found her?" Relm asked.
The thief shrugged. "With Edgar...who knows? Maybe he did, maybe he's just watching her from a distance. Everybody knows how Terra affects him."
The young artist put her hands on her hips. "Then again, didn't Terra used to affect you, Mr. Treasure Hunter?"
He flashed a brilliant smile. "Nope. Always plutonic. Are you kids gonna go inside or do you plan on chitchatting all night?"
Inside, the others were seated around the large oak table that was generally used for town meetings. Sabin and Cyan were discussing something quietly, and Celes gazed at a Material orb that she held lightly in her hand. All other eyes looked up as the three "children" and Locke entered.
"Heya guys." Setzer said. "Nice of you to finally show up."
"Be nice, Setzer." Celes chided, pulling her attention from the Material orb.
"I am being nice." He said with a level expression.
Cyan stood up. "I guess we can start, even though Edgar is not here. The whole issue at hand doth deal with Terra, Caezin, and some sort of a cult. Apparently the cult is after Terra....whether they see her as a potential threat, or perhaps as some sort of weapon...remains to be seen."
"Kupo...weapon?" The moogle took a seat on a chair at the table, his beady little eyes peeking over the top of the table.
"That's what me and Cyan have been talking about." Sabin said. "It makes sense....we all know that Terra is half-Esper, right? What happened to all the other Espers? Their magicite either disappeared, or they were sealed away to their own realm. That means that most likely Terra's the only Esper left."
"An Esper with power, to boot." Strago added. "During that fight with Caezin she wasn't using Material to cast magic....she was casting it from her own body, the way we all used to cast magic. And the way that Espers cast magic as well."
"It's true." a tired voice said from the doorway. The group at the table turned towards the door to see Terra standing there, with Edgar close behind her. Her face had reverted to the usual calm expression it normally held, but her eyes said otherwise. Her green eyes seemed tired, and a little sad. She made her way to the table, but didn't sit down. "I still don't like the idea of this....I don't want all of you to get involved in trouble because of me."
Immediately a whole chorus of objections rose from the people seated around the table. Edgar raised his hands. "People! Listen! Hey, SHUT UP!!" The room fell silent. "She said that she doesn't like the idea....but she's going along with it. Tell them, Terra."
"I know you've helped me in the past....and I still feel in debt because of that." She sat down in an empty chair. "But still....I know that if anything would happen to any of you, I would want to help. I wouldn't just turn the other way, no matter what you said. So I think it's only fair that we get rid of The Cult of Kefka together."
The whole room started muttering things like "I thought we got rid of them?" and "Damn bastards....don't know when to quit." Terra shook her head. "I know, we thought that they died out with Kefka. Maybe they found a new leader....somebody pretending to be Kefka or something. But the point is, they're still out there."
Celes looked baffled. "How do you know it's Kefka's Cult?"
Edgar raised his hand. "I realized it. I knew that Caezin's uniform was familiar.....the green and white robes. But I remember finding Strago mixed in with the cult after were were separated by the apocalypse. He was wearing the same clothing, with other Cult members that were wearing the came clothes."
Strago sighed. "That's right. Caezin somehow duped me into joining that cult. Don't know how he did it....but he was definitely a member. Apparently he still is."
"So then we march up to that Tower of theirs, and eliminate 'em." Locke said. "Besides, I bet the tower's former owner wants it back."
Relm stopped drawing a portrait of the group, and frowned. "Who's that?"
"Prince Xain of Judoor. He built that tower right before the end of the world, and named it "Cosmo Tower". Then the cult disposed of him somehow and took over the tower."
"He's dead?" the telepath asked.
"I hope not." Locke replied. "He was a real nice guy.....helped me find out where the Phoenix Magicite was. Knowing Xain, he probably got away and is holed up somewhere."
Strago looked at the Treasure Hunter. "So you're saying that Kefka's Tower is really named "Cosmo Tower"?"
The blue mage looked sly. "...and, he's the one who had the tower built, and lived there himself?"
"Yep again. Where are you going with this, old man?"
Strago rubbed his hands together and grinned. "It's just that I know that tower. It's hard to lay siege to it, and it's hard to climb it without being noticed."
Locke fiddled with his bandanna. "Duh, I know....I was there."
The blue mage sighed. "You miss the point, Locke. Every tower, castle and even house as a way to get in where you can't be noticed. If Xain is still around, maybe he knows a way we can get in. We go in, kill the new leader, and the cult disbands. Then after that, it'll be as simple as finding the old members and imprisoning them."
"Doma shall offer her full assistance with this matter, then." Cyan said.
"Figaro too." Edgar added.
Terra looked around at her friends. "Well, it sounds good to me. Maybe this is the right way to go....and in the end, we get rid of a cult that could hurt others, and this Xain person gets his tower back. We probably should--"
Her sentence was cut short by a flare of red light that shone through the windows, and then a crackling sound. The group quickly rushed outside, nearly stumbling over each other in their haste. Outside, groups of men in green and black robes flew about on chocobos as black as night, raising their hands up as they called forth fire spells. Rows of homes were on fire, as well as the trees near them. Citizens ran about the streets in panic, some trying to fight back against the cult members, some trying to put out the flames. None of them were doing a very good job.
"Oh no..." Terra moaned. "I didn't think they'd slip this low...."
Celes immediately whipped out her ice Material, and started casting ice spells on the burning houses. The flames slackened a bit, but didn't exactly go out. She grunted in frustration, and then tried again. After a moment she was hit by a high-level bolt spell, and completely floored. Locke ran to her side as the others drew their weapons.
One of the black chocobos landed in front of the group, the rider wearing the same robes as the others. However, there was a certain cockiness in the way he sat in the saddle, and in the eyes hidden behind the mask. "I'm back." Caezin said almost calmly. "And this time I'll make it simple: I want that Esper witch."
Terra stared at Caezin, and froze in her tracks. She honestly didn't know what to do.
"Let me rephrase that." Caezin said. "I want her NOW."