A Man With A Plan

When Edgar, Relm and Interceptor entered the Elder's house, the usual familiar faces were gathered around the living room, all discussing things noisily. A large dish of glowing material sat on the coffee table, casting an eerie green sheen to everything despite the lamplight. The Cult's attack had put the power out throughout the entire town. A few citizens died, and a few houses were severely burned, but that was of no moment to the group. Thamasa could handle itself; Terra couldn't.

Relm sat down next to her grandfather, and looked up at Edgar. "Why don't you have a seat? You'll like this plan."

The babble in the room died down as Setzer stood to speak. "We thought long and hard about this...that is, after we all spent time feeling sorry for ourselves. Some, more than others." He didn't even glance at Edgar on that phrase, his tone clearly dictated to whom he was referring. "However, after we were done pouting, some of us started to get the gears in our heads turning, and formulated a good plan." He looked at Relm. "Our little telepathic artist friend assured me that she can communicate with Terra telepathically, because of her Esper heritage. All Espers are telepaths, so odds are Terra is too, unknowingly."

The artist nodded. "I think that if I can 'tap-in' to Terra's mind, I can figure out where exactly she's being held."

"The Cult of Kefka's Tower." Sabin said with a shrug. "Everybody knows that."

"It's a big tower, Sabin." Locke said from the chair he idly lounged in. "That's why I suggested that we find the man who knows that tower in and out....that is, we follow our initial plan." He adjusted the knot on his blue-and-white bandanna. "We find Prince Xain of Jidoor, trek up to the Tower, and storm it. We wipe out this nasty Cult problem, and get Terra back in the process. As simple as that."

"It sounds simple, but we all know it won't be." Edgar said dubiously.

Setzer grinned a wolflike grin. "And that's where you come in, my boy."

Edgar blinked. "Me?"

Setzer sat back down, and leaned back easily in his chair. "Yep, the King of Figaro is going to be the lead of 'Operation Terra'."

The blond king shook his head. "I...don't know if I'm okay with this..."

"Well, it's like this," The pale gambler started to idly toy with a die. "We have two groups. The one group will find Xain, go with him, and go into the tower and wipe out that cult. Celes will lead that one, since she's shown magnificent leadership before."

Celes batted her eyelashes. "Oh, stop...I'll blush."

Setzer fixed his gray eyes on the King of Figaro. "And you, the pride of the Figaronian Empire, the master of machinery, and the most persistent bastard in the lot of us will lead the group in to get Terra back, and get rid of Caezin."

Edgar looked around the room and found the face of his brother. "You're not even going to back me up, Sabin?"

Sabin shrugged. "Actually, I suggested that you head the group that saves Terra, since I figure you two will probably be overly happy to see each other."

The king's face assumed a flat expression. "Thank you, brother." He sighed, and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "All right, fine. I'm in....but if I'm leading this parade, I decide who marches with who." Edgar scanned the room with his blue eyes, making quick decisions. He was wrong to think that he couldn't handle the situation....he knew he was made for situations like this, and so did his brother. As he picked his companions, he wondered why Sabin didn't suggest he go get Terra himself earlier.

"All right." Edgar said. "Sabin, Gau, Relm, Setzer and Interceptor come with me. Locke, Strago, Mog, Cyan and this Xain fellow go with Celes." He looked about the room at his friends. "Any objections?"

Strago raised a thin hand. "Actually, yes...I might need Relm's ability with magic and telepathy when fighting the cult."

Edgar thoughtfully ran his tongue over his teeth, and nodded. "Fine then...she pinpoints where Terra is, and then she goes with your group."

"It's always nice to be wanted." Relm giggled.

The king of Figaro fixed his eyes on the large heap of material that sat with a cold glow on the coffee table in the center of the room. "And what about this stuff? It seems we have more than we did before."

"That's because we were working on it." Celes said. "Sabin, Gau and I went out and made more material."

Edgar frowned. "We only had so much lifestream. Where did you get more?"

Celes smiled a bit slyly. "Well....Rickart didn't exactly obey your orders. He packed up and left...but he went straight to the Veldt to get some more lifestream. He came back right after all the fires were put out, and after you decided to go off and pout. We made at least thirty orbs tonight, with a good variety of spells.

"Which ones?" the blond king asked.

Celes ticked them off on her fingers as she ran across the list. "Well, we have Fire, Bolt, Ice, Quake, Cure, Sleep, Bio, Haste and Ultima. Some spells, like Vanish, Pearl and Merton just wouldn't work. Things changed though....Ultima isn't as effective as it was. Instead of an expanding ball of blue energy, it's a green mist that's nearly as destructive, but not exactly. I only made one of those, because creating the one made me tired. I also changed the name of Remedy to "Esuna"....since it was the name of the spell I learned when becoming a knight. And not only that, but we can't cast "Sleep" exactly..."

Edgar frowned. "Why not?"

Sabin coughed apologetically. "Uh, that would be my bad. I made a Sleep material, but instead of saying "Sleep", I accidentally mumbled my words and said. "Sleepel"."

His brother actually laughed. "Sleepel? That's interesting. So we'll just say "Sleepel" when casting the spell. All right, so we have all this there enough to go around?"

Celes nodded. "I figure that everybody can have at least three material orbs. I think the extra ones should go to me, Strago, Relm and Gau, since we were always the most proficient with magic."

"There's a problem, though." Edgar said a bit ruefully. "Material only seems to work when you're holding it...or at least physically touching it. Are we supposed to whip it out of our pockets when we need it?"

"Brother, don't's been taken care of." Sabin extended an arm, and indicated a strange metal bracelet that had several round holes in it. "Rickart also had your lab boys come up with these things....they're steel armlets made specifically to hold material." He tapped the bracelet around his wrist. "Material is sort of magnetic, so when you put a material orb in one of these slots, it doesn't fall out. Not only that, but material's energy is conducted by metal, just like electricity is. By putting the material orbs in these bracelets, and having the metal in contact with your skin, you can use the magic without having to hold an orb in your hand."

"Does it work?" His brother asked.

"I tried it, so did Celes. It works really well."

He nodded. "Good. That detail is settled, so let's move along. So tell us," the blond king went on, facing the Locke. "where do we find this friend of yours, Locke?"

The thief sat up straight in his chair, removing his leg he had cocked over the one chair arm. "Remember that art nut, Owezer?"

Setzer laughed. "Oh that tank ass..."

Relm stamped her foot. "He's not a tank ass....he's a very nice, very intelligent man."

"Whatever." Locke went on. "He's actually the Duke of Jidoor. He rules in Xain's place."

Edgar frowned. He had never approved of Dukedoms. "So you're saying that since he does Xain's job for him, he probably would know where Xain ran off to?"

The thief gave a sly smile. "He'd better know, he's Xain's uncle...and Xain always made sure to keep in contact with his relatives, if only to know how well his little rich man empire is running."

* * *

They reached the top of the tower after what seemed to be ages. Terra fell to her hands and knees, panting. Even Caezin seemed a little winded, although he didn't show it very much. He stood next to Terra and patiently waited until she caught her breath.

"Not that I feel sorry for you, but I want you in good condition when you meet my Master." he explained.

Terra slowly stood, brushing black gravel from her knees. "I'm probably not permitted to know who your master is, am I?"

"Not exactly, no. However, if you're lucky, you'll be able to see his face. Seeing The Master's face is considered a privilege, and an honor."

Terra decided not to comment on that one, but instead fixed her eyes on the wooden temple that stood on the rooftop, a little to the left. It seemed a little more ornate than the last time she had seen it; there were strange sigils and the faces of what appeared to be spirits or maybe even deities, all carved into the wood of the temple itself. Faint candlelight inside made the rice-paper windows glow slightly, but that was the only light on the rooftop, save the moon. Her cold glow illuminated the walls of the structure, but kept the terrace-like structure in shadow. Terra, however, easily sensed a man within that pool of shadows.

Caezin went to the foot of that terrace, and kneeled down on the harsh gravel, nearly pressing his forehead to the cold stones. "Master, I have the Esper witch, as you wish."

"Good job, Caezin. Keep this up, and you'll be a young man within a month." His voice was quiet, and somewhat cold, and yet... was familiar. Terra stood up slowly, taking what energy she had left to focus her attention on Caezin's master. He continued to stand in the sanctuary of darkness provided by the terrace's roof, yet Terra could clearly see his lithe outline with her sharp eyes. He wasn't a massive man, but he was somewhat tall, and stood with his arms crossed lightly. Even the way he stood was familiar, although it was on a different man. A man that was dead, or so she thought...and hoped. "Who...?" she ventured.

The man took a few steps forward. "I didn't give you permission to ask me questions, Esper. Keep quiet, or you won't live much longer."

Terra sighed. "I think that it's only fair that you let me speak occasionally. I came willingly, you know....Caezin didn't get me to come here out of any wonder from the Goddesses."

Caezin raised his face. "Well, I DID use Thamasa, and her little friends as a bargaining chip, Master. I thought it was a fair exchange, don't you?"

The Master's shoulders shook in mute humor. "Too bad, though...since I won't uphold my part of the bargain."

Terra looked up at the man concealed in shadow. "You can't do that! Caezin gave me his word!"

Caezin stood and laughed, a particularly ugly sound. "I said that I wouldn't harm Thamasa, or your friends. I never said that my Master wouldn't."

Terra took a threatening step towards Caezin, her green eyes ablaze. "You dirty bastard! I should--!" She was cut short as the man in the shadows raised his hand slightly, palm towards her. Green waves of energy shot out from around his feet, and suddenly her body froze up completely, her joints locking. Terra stood there helplessly as the Stop spell held her prisoner.

"Please, behave yourself." The Master said. "I can't stand guests who can't mind their manners." He took a few steps down from the terrace, to stand next to Caezin on the gravel, his soft-shod feet making no sound. Terra managed to make a startled sound as she saw her captor's face. She had never seen the entirety of it....just usually the face around the eyes and nose. But it was familiar, as was the rest of the body of its owner. He was still slim yet muscular, he was still light on his feet, and he still wrapped himself in skin-tight silk as dark as night.

Shadow smiled at her, a smile that held no warmth or emotion, one that held dark thoughts behind it instead. "Caezin, tell my technicians to put the finishing touches on the room, and be sure to have them check that the equipment is working. Our Esper guest will be staying a while, and it would only be fair that we accommodate her." He snapped his fingers, and Terra heard footsteps come up behind her. She struggled to even focus her mind for magic, but couldn't do anything but stand there helplessly. The half-breed felt a sharp jab, like a needle in her arm, and then a sudden woozy sensation.

Then the world went black, with Shadow's orders to his men drifting to her with her last few moments of consciousness.

* * *

Setzer frowned as he looked around Jidoor. "I hate this place."

"Why?" asked Mog, as he gripped his Pearl Lance. The weapon seemed comically large when the white-furred creature held it, but the way he held it indicated that it was not only a large weapon in his hands, but a deadly one as well. "I thought you liked all that glitz and glamour stuff."

The gambler sighed. "It's one thing to make your way up, and earn your wealth. It's another thing to get there by riding on other people's backs. That's all Jidoor's a town full of yuppies that get by only because they constantly look down their noses at Zozo and other towns. They're so overstuffed, they can't even see their own feet." He grunted. "Besides, this is my home town. I hate it like a bitch."

"I always thought you'd be from Zozo, Setz." Locke said as they walked up the marble stairway that lead up to Owezer's manor....otherwise known as the "palace" of the town. It was large enough to be a palace. Then again, most of the buildings in Jidoor were. "You seem more like a "rough cutthroat" sort of guy to me."

"Don't judge a book by it's cover." Setzer looked down the staircase and waited as Relm caught up. The rest of the group remained on the Falcon, still planning the intricate details of rescuing Terra. The tall gambler wanted to ditch this whole Xain idea and rush to that tower just as much as anybody did, even Edgar....but Locke had raised a point: how else would they sneak in? They didn't have powerful magic at their side like they did the first time they stormed the place. Stealth would be the key here....move swiftly and move quietly.

Relm reached the top of the staircase, and continued towards the door. "It'll be good to see Owezer again. I have a picture for him, too."

" you're just gonna waltz in?" The moogle shook his head. "Doesn't he still have weird monsters as guard animals in there?"

She frowned down at Mog. "You're a weird monster too. Aren't moogles supposed to have some weird powers to keep their enemies away?"

Mog blinked his beady blue-black eyes. "Oh yeah...I forgot about my keep-away doodad thingity."

Setzer sighed and rubbed at his scarred face with a hand. "You mean your Moogle Charm, idiot." If it wasn't for the fact that Mog could keep all the monsters and the like away from them, Setzer would of insisted the little beast remain on the falcon. Either that, or send the cat-eared rat back to Narshe.

Mog puffed up his fur angrily, flapping his wings to fly up to Gabianni eye-level. "Don't call me an idiot, po! I'll have you know that I'm darn smart for a moogle my age!"

Locke took the creature out of the air and firmly set him down on the stoop before the massive white-and-gold door. "That's nice. Can we go inside now?"

Relm attempted to open the door, but it was locked. Locke eradicated that problem in approximately three seconds, and then they were all inside. As it was before, the main hall of the mansion was nothing more than an expansive art gallery. Mog reached up to flick on the lights, and then looked around.

"Po..." He said. "Looks like that guy's gotten more artwork since the last time we were here."

"Of course." Relm said in an offhand way, as they ascended the staircase to the main art gallery. "He loves art, it only makes sense that he'd collect it constantly. I don't know how he gets the money, though..."

"Taxes." Locke said as they walked towards a particular painting, one of a doorway. It was a simple picture, of a door in what appeared to a kitchen from medieval times. On the other side of the door, was what appeared to be rolling hills, but the artist didn't seem too concerned with putting too much detailing in the background. He seemed more intent with the door.

Relm looked at the painting, and sniffed. "Grazou. I never liked his stuff...mainly because he was an egotist...and then later in life, he was an insane egotist. She pressed the small panel underneath the painting, and the wall below it slid away, revealing a staircase up. At the same time, the painting slid into a hidden compartment behind the wall, revealing a real door. The young artist took a few steps up to it, and opened it easily. "It's not locked..."

Locke grinned. "If you had a secret door, would you take the time to lock it?" He and his other two companions followed Relm into the dimly-lit hallway. "Uh...Relm? Do you remember the right way there?"

"I think so." She said. "If not, we can always mill around in here for a few days."

Nobody said anything on that subject, although they did all think about it. The way to Owezer's living areas was a hell, since it was a maze of doorways, twisted halls, and dead ends. The whole thing looked like something from an Etscher drawing, which is probably where Owezer got the idea from.

Relm lead them almost confidently through the bizarre passageways, apparently sure where to go. Sometimes she would stop before several doorways, and then seem to pick one at random. Whether it was luck or maybe that she really knew her way though the maze, they made their way along without running into dead ends, or without going in circles. Eventually, they reached a large doorway to what appeared to be a study. A large mahogany and silk chase lounge chair sat before a roaring hearth, a hearth that had a familiar picture of the beautiful Esper Starlet hung above it--the picture painted by none other but Relm herself. Various other fine works of art, both sculpted and painted, lay scattered about the room, as if the owner of them didn't know what to do with them all. The owner of all these art pieces sat in the mahogany and silk chair, reading one of the many leather-bound books that the study contained. Owezer was still dressed in rich silks, still pale as a ghost, and still grossly fat. His hair was perhaps a bit more gray, but that was the only real indication of his age, his weight making it otherwise a mystery. The fat man raised his eyes from his book when Relm entered the room with her entourage.

Owezer's broad face split into a grin almost as broad. "Why, if it isn't little Relm Arrowny! My dear, come in! And don't tell your friends to be shy, either....they're welcome as well. I think I see some familiar faces among them." He sat up a bit more in his chair, and set his book aside. "What brings you all this way?"

Relm was admiring a sculpture of what appeared to be an all-male orgy. Apparently, as long as it was art, nothing shocked her. "Well, we're here because of the guy over there in the bandanna."

"Locke Cole, the self-proclaimed "Treasure Hunter"?" Owezer looked shrewdly at the man in question. "Yes, I've heard of him."

Locke suddenly pulled off a fluid bow. "Your grace."

Owezer laughed, his vast belly jiggling. "And he's just as bright as I've, know about my title."

"Only because I know your nephew. Consequently, he's the reason we're here....we need to talk to him about something important."

The fat duke grunted. "As do I. See all these lovely bits of art? Most of them are supposed to go to him, so he can move them to his new "Cosmo Tower". The only problem is that insane cult is still up there. Ever since they moved in, Xain has been scarce."

"We know the whole cult issue, your grace." Setzer said. "That's why we're here...we were hoping to talk to Xain about getting into the tower safely and stealthily. They've stolen something very valuable to us."

"What is it, my boy? Maybe I can buy you a new one. I have no real purpose for all this money I get, anyway."

Relm sat in a chair next to Owezer's. "They took a friend of ours...the one that I told you about....she's the one who's half-Esper."

He grunted, and folded his hands on his paunch. "So they've taken your friend, and you want to assault the tower to get them back?"

"That's about the gist of it, Owezer." Relm apparently ignored titles.

The fat man stood up with some difficulty, and waddled over to a bookshelf, carrying the book he was reading prior to Relm's entrance. "Well, I really would like to help you. I heard that Esper girl is a real sweet person, but I don't have the damnedest idea where my nephew would be."

Relm sighed. "Don't lie, Owezer. You know where he is, you're just afraid that if we find him, he might decide to take this villa back from you, and then you'd lose all your art."

He peered at her shrewdly. " did fully become a telepath, didn't you?" He sighed, and shelved his book. "I guess I should apologize for lying, but it's just that I'm afraid my beautiful collection will be taken away from me. When I was just plain duke, I could barely afford the that I've taken over Xain's job here, I have, MORE than enough to expand my collection."

Setzer looked down at the bronze male group-sex sculpture. "Is that why you have this...thing?"

Owezer looked at the offensive piece. "Oh, that. It was a gift...believe me, I didn't want it." He looked over at the large painting Locke was examining. "Careful.....that one cost a lot of money, since it was apparently painted by an Esper."

The painting was an intricate one done in oils on a velvet background. It wasn't the mere beauty of the painting that caught the thief's attention, it was the subject. A bird that seemed to be made of pure flames spread its pinions and raised its elegantly pointed beak in repose. Within the form of the fiery animal was the life-size figure of a woman in a cream-colored robe. Her hair was long and black, and her expression kind yet sad, almost of regret. She clutched one hand to her breast, while extending the other gently to the viewer, almost as if she wished to share something.

Locke stared at the painting with a hollow expression. " Esper?" His voice was solemn. He reached up to the painting, as if to hold the hand the woman was so kindly extending to him. Setzer looked up at the painting, and it only took him a moment to recognize the woman in it, and the fiery beast she was contained in.

"It's a lovely piece, painted by some Esper long ago named Harsghalt. Apparently he was a time-element Esper with the ability to see the future, so he painted this long before Phoenix was reborn. Although the woman inside the Phoenix is a mystery to me." He waddled over to the two men standing in front of the painting. "Are you all right, Mr. Cole? You look a bit pale."

"This woman..." He looked up at her face with eyes that held sadness and perhaps a bit of self-contempt. "...this woman died years ago, in a town to the north...Kohlingen. Her name was Rachel...and I loved her." He turned to Owezer. "About a year ago, I found a stone that could restore life...the magicite from the Phoenix. But it was damaged. When I tried to use it to revive her, she gave her own life and essence..." His voice trailed off, and he picked up again, a few seconds later. "She gave herself up so that the Phoenix would be healed, and so she and Phoenix became one." He lowered his eyes. "That's why I'm a bit pale, your grace. Not many people know about Rachel, or Phoenix."

Owezer patted Locke kindly on the shoulder with a chubby hand. "Don't let it bring up any bad memories, my boy. Sometimes paintings can draw us in, and bring out the laughter in us...or the tears." He looked up at the exquisite picture. "I would offer it to you, but it belongs to Xain, since the Phoenix is the center of his life." He sighed, and turned away from the artwork. "That's why he's been gone...he has been praying for Phoenix to return to him. He hopes that when it returns, he can take his tower back, and take a select few from this miserable high-rise town and move them to Cosmo Tower. That is his plan." He grunted, and tapped at his chin. "Although, this might be a fair trade-off for you and him."

"Trade-off?" Setzer asked. "What sort of trade-off?"

Owezer made his way back to his chair, and sat down. "Well, Xain hopes to take his tower back, and you want to take over the tower as well. I think he might help you in your little quest, if you give him something in return."

Setzer leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "What would he get, anyway? I think getting his own tower back would be enough payment."

"You don't know Xain." the fat duke said almost gloomily. "He's the most complex man I've ever met, and he isn't even thirty yet. I think that if you give him the Phoenix Magicite you were talking about, he'd gladly help you get your Esper friend back."

"That'll be hard to do, your grace." Locke said, sighing. "All the magicite disappeared after we defeated Kefka....including Phoenix. Sorry, but I can't give him something that isn't there. Besides, he's the guy who gave the magicite to me."

Owezer gazed levelly at the thief. "Excuse me?"

Locke sat down in a chair. "I've known Xain for several years now...I even ran some errands for him...ones dealing with Banon, anyway. When the apocalypse came and my friends and myself were thrown apart, I was flung to a far corner of the world, like the rest of them. I also hit my head pretty I was knocked out for several days. When I came to, some weird gray beast was watching over me."

"That would be Django." the duke offered.

"Yeah, him. Anyway, he told me that Xain was the one who saved me. Sure enough, Xain came along, and I told him my story...the whole deal with Kefka. We got to talking, and I told him a little more about my past, including Rachel. He then mentioned that he had a rock that could restore life, hidden in a star-shaped volcano range. I eagerly jumped on this opportunity, so when I was well enough he took me to the cave, and the rest is history." He leaned forward. "Look, I would love to sit here and chit-chat about my wonderful adventures, but my friends and I really need to find Xain. I think he's the only one who can get us into that tower safely, and he's the only one that can guide us out of it. Knowing Xain, he'll help me out. He doesn't turn his back on friends."

Mog silently sat off to the side, and exchanged a look with Relm. Mog had heard the conversation between Celes and Locke the previous night, and he knew that Locke wanted Terra back as badly as Setzer or Edgar did. Relm nodded in response; she understood.

Owezer drummed his chubby fingers on the arm of his chase lounge. "All right...but tell him that I'm happy with my job in stuffed peacockville. Despite the snooty citizens, I can have my art. That is, I can have the one thing that makes me happy." He stopped drumming his fingers. "You'll find Xain in the same cave you mentioned, Mr. Cole. He's in the Star-Shaped Mountains, in the volcanic Cave of the Phoenix, no doubt trying to call Phoenix back again. Good luck in getting him out of there."

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