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FFVI: Rags to Riches - 14 short stories





0
 09.09.2011 3:45pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



Another great entry in the Rags to Riches series - this was was painful for me... because all that's going through my mind while reading this is the poisoning of Doma's water supply. This hurts because you never meet Cyan's wife or child in the game... by the time you know of them, they're already gone... and it doesn't hurt you, the player... but now, reading this brings a connection to them... and it's painful. Reading this passage, I feel like you could write an entire story about Cyan and his family, and the events leading up to FFVI.

Excellent work... I want more on this one, if you have the presence of mind or desire to continue!Also - I relish the opportunity at a "Chapter-a-Day" re-read of Sands of Time!



Now, as I look back I see the crooked path that I had been set upon all those years before, leading me inexorably to this moment. I can still see her face in my mind's eye, poor dear Laura, such a sad tale is ours. A tale of heroes who strove to save humanity only to lose our own.




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0
 09.10.2011 6:09pm
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



With the new increase in character limits, I should be able to post an entire Chapter of Sands of Time each day, so it should only take me eight posts to put the entire story on here. They'll be huge, though!

<p align="center"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Celes~</span>

"Get out of Miranda, you monster!"

Celes awoke with the crash of shattering glass. A rock had been thrown through the window of the inn she had commandeered for her stay here in this hate-filled town. The cruel lump rolled harmlessly to the foot of the expansive bed its Imperial target slept in. With delicate fingers, the startlingly young general plucked the stone off the floor, turning it over in her pale hands. With sadness she placed it in a drawer alongside the other tokens of appreciation her admirers had sent her since she came to this town a month ago, bringing blood and fire with her.

Another wonderful day in the blackened city, it would seem. But Celes had no one to blame but herself for the situation she found herself in. Her bare feet walked across the wooden floor as she rose from her bed, gathering soot and ash as she moved. No attempt was made to clean this building after the fires, and Celes made no attempt to wash the black reminders of her actions from her body now. She dressed herself half-heartedly, caring less and less each day how she looked. If her soldiers noticed, they obediently said nothing.

"Get away from there, you piece of trash!"

Celes winced as she heard another familiar sound, fists on flesh, outside her broken window. The sound of harsh military might against the frustrated body of the down-trodden civilian. What sound did she despise the most? The hate-filled cries of the oppressed, or the hate-filled cries of the oppressors?

I hate this war. I hate this new Miranda I have created. I hate the Empire!

Celes put her hand to her mouth in shock, as if she had actually spoken her traitorous thoughts aloud. More and more these days, ideas and fantasies of leaving the war behind and denouncing the Emperor rose up in her mind, unbidden. It was all she could do not to strike the soldiers that saluted her as she left her private quarters. Could they not see the hell they had brought to this place? Were there even human beings at all underneath those helmets?

Enough wallowing. I am still a General of the Empire, a warrior. As much as I loathe what has become of my Empire, I must fulfill my duties. General Leo...how do you do it? How do keep your honor in such a meaningless war?

"Good morning, General Celes!" One of the soldiers guarding the inn greeted his commanding officer with a care-free salute as she passed. The gluttonous glow of the victor still hung on him, sickening Celes.

"There is nothing good left in this place," Celes said, sharper than she intended. She could see the soldier wilt slightly at her unexpected tone. It was gratifying.

Celes's mood only darkened when she emerged onto what was left of the streets of Miranda. Smoke rose lazily from various charred heaps that might have once been buildings, shops, homes, people. Fire still raged at the corners of the city, threatening to flare up and engulf the defeated realm a second time if this heat wave continued.

What a dreadful mess.

She had done this. By her orders, the stubbornly resistant town of Miranda had been torched. It had nearly been burned to its foundations in the ensuing madness as soldiers filled with bloodlust tossed fireballs long after she had given the orders to cease their attack. The soldiers who had defied her orders to stop had been court-marshaled on the spot, and the town had been saved from total destruction. But the damage had been done, to the homes as well as the hearts of Miranda.

As an elite Magitek Knight with the power to control ice, Celes had done her best to stay the fires and control the chaos. She used every last ounce of her magical energy to cool the flames of war, but the townsfolk didn't see that. They didn't want to see it. All they saw was the war-monger General of Fire. Would the young, fair-skinned woman who had once been called the General of Snow because of her peaceful temperament and gentle appearance now forever be known as the great destroyer of Miranda, the General of Fire?

No! I must atone for this. I will not go down in history as a fiend who reveled in destruction. I will not be lumped into the same category as that so-called General Kefka!

Miranda was all quiet as Celes walked carefully through the streets. No one spoke to her, everyone glared at her. As long as her troops roamed the town, no one would raise a hand or a voice to her directly. But she knew their thoughts well enough. They were her own thoughts, after all.

Monster. Demon. Murderer. Destroyer.

Yes, she felt like all of those things as she picked her way through the rubble and averted her eyes from the painful stares of the people. She would right an overturned crate here, silently cool a persistent ember there. Little things. Nobody noticed, nobody wanted to notice. She was the face of the Empire, the Enemy. She could do no good here.

How much longer? How much more of this can I take? I must get away from here, from the Empire, and soon, or else...

Despair rose up from her breast and threatened to choke her. She was forced to stop in the middle of the nearly empty main street and catch her breath. A soldier that had been trudging along behind her stopped and asked if she need assistance.

"Get away from me!" she spat, quite unexpectedly. The venom in her voice surprised them both, and the soldier backed away as politely as he could. None of the civilians paid any mind to her outburst. Just another monster growling. Ignore it.

I must not let this negative energy consume me. I am not a monster...but the longer I stay here, the longer Gestahl forces me to do heinous acts like this, the closer I become to a heartless killer, a mere tool of war. Just what the magnificent Emperor Gestahl wants, I suppose.

"Gestahl, what do you want from me?" Celes murmured as she recovered her bearings. She had reached the red-rimmed edge of the town, where a thick phalanx of soldiers, Magitek Armor, and other assorted Imperial forces kept strict watch over any and all comings and goings. Several soldiers ran up to her to give their morning reports, and ask for her decision on a thousand unimportant trivialities. It was such a disgraceful bore, but she must continue, just as she had for as far back as she could remember.

Why was I brought into this world? Was it only to serve the Empire? Surely there must be more to life than this. Where are all the other things Cid spoke of as he would put me to sleep each night? Where were the things called "love" and "family" and "hope" that he told her were so important?

Celes had not led a normal life, she knew that. She had been groomed almost since birth to be the finest warrior the Empire could produce. Yes, "produce" was the right word for her upbringing. If it wasn't for Cid, she would never have known what it was to be human at all. Despite being an Imperial scientist, and the very one responsible for giving her the strange power of "magic", it was the warm-hearted Cid that had taught Celes about life.

She had still led a sheltered, battle-filled life thanks to Gestahl and his constant speeches about the necessity of war to bring about true peace, and how Celes was a vital part of his plans. He never let her out of the capital city of Vector, never let her really see what this "peaceful war" of his was really about. The crafty old Emperor wanted to make sure his special project was properly indoctrinated before he unleashed her onto the world.

The Emperor had since decreed it was time to show the world the power of Magitek, and so Celes was sent forth, as a herald to the new age of Gestahl. But it was thanks to Cid that she could see the true nature of the acts she was committing in the name of "peace". With each successive battle across the continent, she saw more and more how she was being used, and lied to.

And now, Miranda. She had become the perfect weapon Gestahl had designed her to be. She had become what Cid had taught her to hate most.

No more. I will not be remembered for this. I will not give up on my humanity just yet.

"General, sir!" Another soldier. Would the precession of pointless obligations never end?

Celes tried her best to behave while she suffered through the endless stream of problems the soldiers brought her. She had almost made a complete circuit of the town now, and had seen nothing to give her that thing called "hope". Miranda was in ruins, and as long she stayed here, it would remain in ruins. She was a blight on these innocent people.

Just a little longer. Maybe tomorrow I'll make my move and quit this war.

Celes sighed. She said this almost every day now.

Maybe not. Why am I so weak? I hate this life I've been forced to lead!

It was hard to just abandon something that has consumed a person's life since birth. All Celes knew was how to be a soldier of the Empire. If she quit now, what would she be? Was there anything beneath the mantle of "General" for her? She didn't know, and it was this uncertainty that kept her locked into a life she despised. The question now was, how much more could she bear before she finally snapped?. Would she be like Kefka, then? Twisted and heartless, but a perfect killing machine nonetheless. Exactly what the Emperor wanted.

She shuddered at the thought of becoming the next Kefka, and the current soldier with his petty problems stopped his litany of woes and looked at her curiously.

"Are you cold, sir?"

"Never mind." Celes said tiredly. "Just get on with your report. I want to get back to my quarters in time for lunch." But she wasn't hungry.

By the time Celes had managed to disentangle herself from her soldiers and return to the husk of an inn she called home, it was well past lunchtime. She forced down an insignificant bowl of soup, no better than what the citizens ate, and went back outside. The fat, shining sun overhead added its pitiless heat to the already parched landscape, promising even worse conditions to Miranda for the day.

The dry air caused some of the lingering flames to flare up outside her quarters, and Celes quickly dispatched them with a frigid flick of her fingers. She watched the townsfolk's eyes grow wide at her display of magic. They were wide with fear, with suspicion. Would she use those powers on them next?

She tried to smile at them, but not one returned her smile. She could see on their lean faces that they were starving for water. Much of the town's water supply had been used to douse the flames, and reports of attacks on the Imperial water tanks were growing with each oppressively hot day. Perhaps she could do something after all. As she looked into those angry, parched eyes, she saw the faint glimmer of her own salvation.

With as much confidence as she could fake, Celes strolled over to an empty water basin and conjured a large block of sparkling ice in it. In a few minutes that ice would melt into water, precious life-giving water. It wasn't much, but perhaps she could do more.

This is all I can do for you. Be patient, and maybe I can come back someday and do more, not as a General, but as a fellow human being.

The people said nothing, their accusing eyes shifting from the ice to its creator, wondering what it all meant. Celes didn't think they would even approach her gift until she was out of sight. Perhaps they would just tip it over into the street in defiance. She didn't think so. These people were too thirsty for that. They would drink her water, and hate her for it.

Quietly, she left the scene she had created, and tried to find something else meaningful to occupy the remaining hours of this dreary day with. Soon, something found her.

"General Celes! Come quick, there is an emergency at Water Tank 3!" Yet another soldier, but this time with a real problem. Celes could already see where this was going. She had waited too long to start being a good samaritan, and a riot surely had broken out over the water.

But it was far worse than that. The clashes of fighting could be heard, and Celes was prepared for that. What she could not have expected was the completely uncalled-for use of Magitek Armor against the defenseless rioters. Celes watched in horror as multi-colored beams of magical energy obliterated Mirandans one by one. It was beautiful, and disgustingly ugly. It was war, and the disillusioned general had had enough.

"Cease fire! Cease fire, you fools!" Celes yelled with all the strength her small frame could muster.

The general knew how to command with her voice, had been drilled in it for years, but she was finding that a soldier mad with power could not be controlled by mere words. The hand-to-hand combatants stopped at the sound of her voice, but the operator of the Magitek Armor continued his crazed massacre. Beams of red, gold, and blue shot outwards, instantly annihilating their targets with mechanical accuracy. Sadly, Celes had seen this happen before. Some soldiers just could not be trusted with the enormous power of Magitek. There was nothing to be done but fight magic with magic.

"Soldier in the Armor, I command you to cease fire! Do you hear me!" Celes tried again, knowing it was futile. The man wildly fired more blasts from his hulking armored suit, blind to all but the crimson haze in front of him.

Celes had seen enough. She raised her sword high in the air, and closed her eyes, feeling the flow of magical energy around her. Almost instantly, the Magitek Armor stopped functioning, its magic firing device clicking harmlessly. Celes glowed with the same colors as the beams of magic, channeling their deadly power into herself. This was her unique gift, the reason the Empire had sought her out as an infant, the reason she had been chosen for the experiment that had cost her any chance of a normal life. This was the power and the curse of Runic.

Celes had always been in tune with the flow of energy around her, ever since birth. This odd ability to detect and direct the innate power that flowed through the world had brought her to the attention of the Empire's scouts, and she had swiftly been brought to the newly constructed Magitek Research Facility, where she would remain for the rest of her childhood.

With this unique power of hers to control energy flows, it was quickly discovered she could benefit from the magical infusion process like no other. She would not be a failure like Kefka, warped by more magical energy than he could control. She would be able to control it, use it like no one before her. And thus, her ability to control energy was applied to the newly discovered energy of Magitek, and Runic was born. Celes barely remembered the process, but she felt in her soul that the innocent baby that had been brought to the Facility had died that day.

Celes did not like to use her power, especially against her own men, but as she watched the rage-contorted face of the man inside the now dead Magitek Armor, she knew it was the only thing to do.

The mad pilot of the Armor struggled with his unresponsive controls for a few more moments before he was forcefully dragged from the vehicle by the surviving rioters. Celes made no attempt to stop them, and ordered her own troops not to interfere, either.

The mob's justice was swift and brutal, but effective. The once-mad soldier was now torn apart by the now-mad victims of his own senseless brutality. Celes did not like the sight, but she felt it was necessary, both for the townsfolk and her own troops.

Let them have this moment of freedom. Let the Empire see it cannot keep pushing and pushing, and expect nothing to ever change. People can only take so much abuse. I am no different. How many more scenes such as this must I bear witness to before I have had enough, as well?

"Pull out!" Celes shouted after the grisly battle was over. "Leave this tank for the people."

"What? But, sir..."

"Silence! We have enough water, and I can supply whatever extra we may need myself. Now pull out! That's an order!"

"Y-yes, sir!" At least these soldiers knew how to obey. They scrambled to collect the wounded and fled back to their posts, leaving Celes alone with the sorely mistreated civilians.

The coveted water tank had sprung a leak during the fighting, and was losing gallons of its precious cargo every minute. The people scrambled to gather as much of it as they could, but were losing ground to the intense heat of the sun, now just beginning to set, but still full of fury.

Slowly, softly, Celes stepped towards the crowd. She wasn't sure what to say, if anything should be said at all. She had to say something, though. This was her moment to redeem herself. At least a little.

"I am sorry for my soldiers' actions. Please-" Celes started, but the crowd turned their backs on her one and all, and Celes could hear threats and curses from over their shoulders. They continued to try and save the dwindling water, ignoring her presence completely. It was a clear signal that she was not wanted.

Am I too late? Is there no hope of redemption for me now?

Celes turned away from the crowd in despair, biting her lip in frustration.

No. No!

She stopped. She turned around and faced the crowd again. Without a word, she raised her hand and sent a wave of freezing energy at the water tank, turning the spraying fountain of leaking water into a solid plug of ice. She added a little extra magical power to the spell, ensuring that the ice would not melt quickly. Whatever water was left in the tank was safe now.

That is all I can do for you. Maybe tomorrow I can do more.

No one in the crowd thanked her. No one even looked at her directly. They busily gathered all the water they could from the stoppered tank, then left silently and sullenly. Too many had died for this water for anyone to celebrate.

Celes watched them go until she was left alone with the empty tank, the dead bodies, and the powerless Magitek Armor, now driverless and stained with blood. The sun was slowly setting over her head, and she had never felt more alone in her life.

Is this to be the way I'll spend the rest of my days? Surrounded by nothing but death and war? Even if I quit the Empire, I will still be alone. Only Cid ever showed me real kindness, but he was only allowed just enough to let me know I wanted more of it. If this is all that is left for me, whether I stay here or flee, then I might as well just end it all. No one would miss me.

"Thank you, miss."

Celes was startled out of her spiral of anguish by a cracked old voice behind her. She whirled around and came face to face with an old man hunched over a cane, his shockingly white hair blowing in the warm evening breeze. Who...?

"I saw what you did there, and I've seen you do similar things elsewhere. The rest of the town wants nothing more than to see you hung from a pike, but I can see the pain in your eyes. You're suffering here more than any of us."

Celes tried to hide from his words, and put on as strong a front as she could in this vulnerable state he had found her in. "I don't know what you're talking about. I am a General of the Empire. War is my life."

The old man laughed, further shaking Celes's resolve. "Hah, you try to act tough, like nothing phases you, but I see right through you, my dear! Come now, you're human, just like the rest of us."

"Human, me?" Celes stumbled, her guard shattered by this simple man.

"Look at you, barely twenty years old, and already hurt so much," the old man said with such kindness it made Celes want to cry. But that was impossible. Soldiers couldn't cry.

"Why are you saying all this to the enemy. Am I not the General of Fire?" Celes said carefully, trying to control her emotions.

"I don't see any fire around here at the moment, now do I?" The old man stated matter-of-factly.

"I..." Celes found herself undone.

"You know, I lost my son in the firebombing." The old man said this without rancor. Just another fact.

Celes said nothing, could say nothing.

"And I lost my granddaughter to the Empire sixteen years ago. She would be about your age now, I guess. She just vanished one day. I got a report back from someone I had never met saying she had fallen off a cliff and drowned."

Why is he saying all this? Is he playing me for some weak woman? Does he want me to fall at his feet and admit my guilt?

"You look a lot like my daughter, you know."

"What do you want from me, old man?" Celes was becoming extremely uncomfortable now.

"Oh, nothing." The man said pleasantly. "Just prattling on. It's a bad habit of mine."

"I...I have to go."

"Sure, sure," the curious man said without a care. But his face suddenly turned serious, and the look in his eyes was intense. "But I want you to know you're not alone. There are people here who see the real you, the one you try to hide from the world. We will continue to think of you as the General of Snow, miss Chere. You just keep on doing what you believe in, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Celes blushed and turned her head fiercely away from the persistent old man. It was like he could read her thoughts.

"I will."

She smiled. She couldn't help it, the man stirred up strange emotions in her she had thought lost. Before he could say another word, she laughed and walked away as proudly as she could. But inside, she was exhausted, nervous...and happy. It had been a long day, but she had done good. Maybe tomorrow she could do more.

I don't know who you are, old man, but thank you. You gave me exactly what I needed. I'm through with this stupid war. Tomorrow, definitely.

As night rolled over the city and brought its brief, cooling respite, Celes wandered the dark streets unhindered. Hidden eyes watched her go, some full of hate, but some full of admiration. She had not been as forsaken as she thought by these people. When she slept this night, she would dream of freedom and peace, and strangely, of the family she had never known, and the love she had been deprived of all these cold years. Tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of her life.

Back at the scene of Celes's rebirth, the old man walked quietly around the scarred earth. He carefully and solemnly buried each of the bodies that still lay there, whether they were soldiers or citizens. Even the remains of the mad pilot were treated with equal respect. We are all human, after all.

As he looked up into the star-filled sky, the old man was reminded once again of the starving eyes of the General of Snow. You could never forget eyes like those.

"I'm proud of you, Celes."




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0
 09.12.2011 3:24am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



And now we're up to date!
<p align="center"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Edgar~</span>

"Time to wake, Sire."

Edgar rubbed his eyes. Was it morning already? He looked out his window at the dark blue sands outside, then back at the woman who was patiently waiting for him to rise. It was still pre-dawn twilight out, the sun just beginning to rise, and he had only slept four hours. A king's life was not a life of leisure. But, there were perks, even out here in the deserts of Figaro.

"Good morning, my beautiful desert rose." Edgar said as casually as if he were talking about the weather.

The woman laughed unfazed, well used to her young king's flirtations. "Oh Sire, enough of that. Please, the Chancellor is waiting."

Edgar grimaced. "The Chancellor is always waiting, my lady." He continued taking his time, admiring himself in the mirror as he braided his long blonde hair in a single royal lock. While he prepared himself, the woman patiently waited, various papers in hand. Edgar would glance at her reflection in the mirror and wink every once in a while, just to let her know she wasn't forgotten. She smiled politely.

Let them wait. I am a king, but I am a still a man, too. It seems with every passing day I spend less time with the ladies and more time with the Chancellor. I'm turning into a regular old politician before my very eyes!

Edgar tied a pair of blue ribbons into his ponytail and smiled. These were his father's ribbons, hand-made by his mother on their wedding day. The long, golden hair of the Figaro family line was a hallmark of the kingdom's rulers, as were the traditional blue ribbons to complement the blue Figaro eyes. The former Queen had made these, and Edgar wondered if there would ever be a new Queen to make his own set of ribbons.

Time for that later! I've got plenty of time to settle down, but precious little time to live it up!

Without warning, Edgar spun around and reached out to the woman in waiting. He deftly put his arm around the shocked woman's waist and pulled her towards the mirror stand. Laughing, he spun her around like a dancer and let her go. The papers fluttered to the ground and the woman bent down quickly to pick them up, blushing.

"Sire!" It was all the woman could do to keep her cool while the king fooled around. Such a wild stallion! He needed a firm hand to keep him in check, a wife to cool him off. Oho, but certainly not her!

"Alright, alright," Edgar said good-naturedly. "I guess I am ready for the day's morning conference. Tell the Chancellor I'll be there in a moment, Elisa."

So he did know her name, she thought sarcastically. Sometimes she wondered if he was on a first-name basis with every woman in the castle. But that was her king, a real lady's man. She supposed there were far worse traits that a king could possess, and luckily, Edgar was a fine king for all the womanizing he did on the side.

As Edgar took the papers from Elisa's hands, he slipped a paper of his own into her pocket. Bowing, he took his leave silently and graciously. After he had left, Elisa looked at the paper, and smiled as she read the quick scrawl in Edgar's flowery hand.

"Shall we have tea later? I will be free for lunch, meet me at the west tower."

Oh King Edgar, will you never grow up?

 

I hope I never grow old and boring, like the Chancellor.

Edgar thought as he shook hands with the dusty old man. The desert seemed to flow in the Chancellor's veins.

"King Edgar, how nice of you to join us this morning. I hope you have ready this week's reports?" The Chancellor's voice was dry and sharp, but his eyes twinkled with vitality and kindness. He poked fun at his king's youthfulness, but he knew he could trust the kingdom in his hands. The noble blood of the Figaros ran deep in King Edgar, just as it had in King Stewart. And Prince Sabin, wherever he was...

"Of course. There's nothing here I wasn't already aware of, though. More bad news coming from the Empire." Edgar tried his best to be good-natured, but it was too early in the day to talk of war. Unfortunately, there was talk of little else these days.

The Chancellor narrowed his eyes at Edgar. "Ah yes...your Returner spies I assume?" He did not trust the shady characters that occasionally visited the castle unannounced and in brigand's rags, all under the protection of the King. Why, just five days ago, one of them had let a known criminal and wolfkin into the castle! What was next, a moogle? Soon their jail would look more like a zoo!

"My friends in the Returners are as trustworthy as any of these flimsy, watered-down reports. There isn't even any mention of the possible traitor in South Figaro in here." Edgar tried to be fair, but he was on edge seeing the reports. When Locke told him something top secret, he could be sure it was still safe from the Empire's own network of spies. When he read it in a report, he knew that it was already common knowledge to those in the upper echelons of the Empire. The reports were typically four days old, and filled with information Locke had told him already, but seeing Locke's words on paper only made Edgar even more aware of how precarious his kingdom's situation was.

"Report 265.4 - Regarding the movement of troops north of Tzen on southern continent over the past month. 50% increase in M-tek Armor, 70% increase in ground troops. General Celes sighted briefly before heading for Miranda. General Kefka sighted briefly before returning to Vector. Signs of preparation for movement on South Figaro imminent. Fortification of eastern wall advised."

'Repot 265.5 - Regarding Imperial assault on Miranda last month. Town torched by General Celes due to continued resistance. Heavy casualties reported. No signs of Imperial occupation lessening in immediate future. With the fall of Miranda, entire southern continent now under control of Empire. Now entering critical phase of Gestahlian War. Expansion into world war inevitable. Movement of Figaro Castle beyond western mountains and out of current Imperial range strongly advised."

"Report 265.7 - Regarding the movement of troops east of Doma over the past month. 100% increase in M-Tek Armor, 25% increase in troops. New flying armor, codename "Telstar", being delivered via Blackjack along with regular supplies at time of writing. Battle capabilities still unknown. Several crates of volatile material delivered along with weaponry, contents unknown. Possibly biological. General Leo still in command of battalion, and appears to be waiting the Domans out with a drawn out siege. Prediction: Under current Imperial strategy, Doma will fall within six months. Emperor seems displeased with timeframe, lending weight to rumors of command change. No action advised. Alliance with Doma determined as too risky."

"Report 265.9 - Regarding rumors of secret mission to Narshe. Empire seems interested in northern coal mining town, reasons unknown. Possible connection with Magitek research and rarely sighted female M-tek rider, previously given codename "Green". Still no information on identity of Green. Possible new General, based on observed battle capabilities. As Narshe persists in remaining neutral, no action is advised. Will continue to watch Vector for new developments in this area in the coming days."

"Disgraceful." Edgar saw nothing but bad news in the current batch of reports. He had tried to avoid war by forming an alliance with the Empire, but it seemed his new allies had no sense of honor.

The Chancellor nodded in agreement. "I think this farce of an alliance will be coming to an end soon. How much longer do you plan on letting them think we're on their side?"

"As long as we can. Every day we spend in peace is a precious gift, not to be wasted." Edgar reflected on the past for a moment, then added, "We will not be the ones to break the alliance, no matter what."

"Taking your father's words to heart, I see. A wise choice."

My father knew the price of peace, and he paid it with full knowledge. Sabin might have gone to war as soon as Father had died, and how many more lives would have been lost then? We had no idea what the Empire had created. No idea something like Magitek existed ten years ago. Ah, Sabin, your heart was in the right place, but sometimes you have to wait and see what your enemy is capable of before you strike. Albrook learned that the hard way, and look how fast they were overpowered. The first domino to fall...

"My father was a wise man, Chancellor. I only hope I can live up to his legacy."

"In time, my young King. I am afraid you face a far more turbulent time than your father did, though." The Chancellor's face darkened as he spoke. "King Stewart was a man of peace and had a peaceful reign, but we need a man of war in these troubling times. Remember, we're dealing with fiends who would stoop to any tactic to win this war."

Edgar knew full well what the Empire was like. How could he forget? The sickly, unnatural pallor of his father's dying face haunted him to this day. They had poisoned his father, and made countless attempts on his own life over the past ten years since his father's death. Thanks to Locke and Banon, all of them had failed. And thanks to Locke, Edgar now had a very interesting prisoner to interrogate this evening.

Edgar sped the meeting along to its conclusion as best he could, reviewing all the reports, and adding the vital information Locke had brought to the table. The traitor in South Figaro would have to be found, and Lone Wolf might know who it is. No obvious movements of troops would be made in South Figaro just yet, to keep the Empire off their backs. Figaro Castle would remain at its current location, as such an overt movement would be seen as an act of war. The situation in Doma would be watched carefully, in hopes that Figaro could learn from the Empire's tactics on that front. Lastly, spies in Vector would watch for any new sightings of Green, but who was this mysterious new arrival in the war?

This "imperial witch", as the rumors sometimes called her, must be part of the coming strategy, and Edgar must learn everything he could about her. Information on the subject was extremely scarce, and all that was known was she was a young girl, similar in age to General Celes, and with similar abilities. Rumors were flying about how she obliterated an entire squadron of Imperial troops in under a minute during a training exercise gone wrong. How many more like Green were waiting in the shadows of the Empire? Could Figaro really hope to stand up against an army of super warriors like her?

Ah, Gestahl, of all the crimes you've committed, forcing beautiful young ladies to fight is by far the most shameful.

After the meeting, Edgar made his way towards the west tower, thoughts of war put aside for a moment in favor of thoughts of pleasure. He looked out over the golden sands of the vast desert that surrounded and protected his castle, wondering how many more days he had left before even these brief respites came to an end. The forbidding desert had provided a natural barrier against the Empire's machinations, but that wouldn't last forever. He would savor every sip of tea with Elisa today.

When Edgar arrived, he found the woman already waiting at a quaint table with two chairs. Her mouth turned in a scowl when she saw Edgar ambling towards her with a wide smile.

"You're late, King."

My apologies, my desert rose!" Edgar said with mock horror. "The Chancellor has no sense of time, and the meeting ran late."

"Are you sure you weren't with another woman?" Elisa said half-jokingly. She knew the King routinely saw a dozen or more women just like this throughout the day. Although recently it seemed he was focusing more on his duties and spending far more time squirreled away with advisors and strange visitors. Was the situation with the Empire getting worse, as many feared?

"I assure you, my lady, that you are the only woman I shall lay eyes on this day," Edgar said with as much charm as he could put out.

The sad thing, is that this is probably the truth. My carefree days of cavorting with half the woman of the castle before dinner are long gone, I'm afraid.

"Now then, how about some tea?" Edgar said, taking a seat and pulling out a bottle of thick, white liquid.

"Is that our tea?" Elisa was a little wary of the bottle in her King's hand. It looked like...

"Antlion's venom," Edgar said, casually confirming her suspicions. "Oh, I assure you, it is quite harmless when it's distilled and mixed with herbs," he added, seeing the look of disgust on his companion's lovely face. "This is a rare delicacy of the desert. I thought it would be appropriate for our date."

The last one I'm likely to enjoy for quite some time.

"Oh, so this is a date now, is it?"

"Of course. Drink up. I think you'll find the flavor surprising."

She took a sip of the tea. It was smooth, and sweet like honey, with a bite of heat thanks to the venom.

"It is...delicious!" Elisa gasped, impressed.

The two enjoyed innocent banter for a while, talking of everything but war and being king.

Edgar sipped his tea and stared across the table at Elisa's eyes for a moment, taking in this simple joy of companionship. There was nothing like a quiet spot of tea with a beautiful woman under the yellow sun of the desert. But, it couldn't last all day. He had other tasks to carry out before that sun set.

With a look of exaggerated pain, Edgar wrapped up his date with Elisa, and excused himself to his duties.

"A king never stops being a king, unfortunately." Edgar said with a smile he didn't feel, and made his way to his second date of the day. He was not looking forward to this next date nearly as much as the first.

With a heavy step Edgar made his way across the castle and towards the dungeon. There was no antlion tea waiting for this guest, although Edgar thought it would be amusing to bring along a slightly less distilled variety of the drink to help the conversation.

As Edgar entered the jail, he was greeted with a low snarl from one of the cells.

"Let me out of here, you tyrant!" The growling voice snapped from the farthest cell.

Inside the cell was a half-man, half-wolf creature, fangs bared, and clearly on edge about something.

"Ah, Lone Wolf, how are you finding your accommodations?" Edgar said pleasantly. He could see this feral wolfkin was agitated, and practically climbing the walls in a nervous panic.

Lone Wolf ran up to the door and stuck his long snout through the bars with a snap of his jaws. "Let me out, or you'll regret it!"

"Oh? I think I would regret it much more if you were free to spread your lies and rumors all over the countryside, my friend."

"You mean about your alliance with the Returners?" The wolf barked in feigned laughter. "If you think the Empire doesn't already know about that, you're a bigger fool than I thought."

"And I suppose you had nothing to do with the spreading of that information, hmm?"

"Hmph. It doesn't matter now. Don't you understand? They're coming here! They're going to attack! If you set me free, I can try to stall them with misinformation." Lone Wolf licked his lips slyly, hoping Edgar would take the bait.

He didn't.

"No chance. You've been a thorn in my kingdom's side for years, and I intend to keep you right where I can see you. Don't you worry about what the Empire may do. This castle has a few tricks in store for any would-be attackers. Now, perhaps if you could shed some light on the rumors of a traitor in South Figaro, I may see if I could ease your conditions a bit. Maybe a little more fresh meat with your meals?"

The predator tried to hide the look of stark hunger in his eyes at the mention of real food, but his own bestial side betrayed him. The thought of meat set him drooling, and he shouted in anger, "Damn you, Edgar! Figaro will burn because of your inaction, and I don't intend to be here when it does!"

"If you give me what I want, then perhaps you can save your own hide as well as mine. What do you say, old friend?"

"Never. Even if I knew who the traitor was, I wouldn't tell you. I'll get out of here myself, and I'll watch happily as your precious castle is destroyed. It's shameful that you would trust that low-born thief Locke over me. He should be in a cell right next to me!"

Edgar had heard enough. This was going nowhere, and he was getting angry at the wolf's persistent bad attitude.

"That's treasure hunter," Edgar said in disgust, and turned away from his prisoner before he did something rash.

You're lucky I'm not Sabin, Lone Wolf. If he were king, you would be a bloody pulp right now. Ah, brother, what has become of you? I've tried giving you the space you wanted, but I feel like I should be doing more for you. Locke tells me you're still alive and well, but nothing more. If there was ever a time our kingdom needed your honest courage, it is now. The time of hiding behind politics and alliances is crumbling around me, and I need a strong hand by my side to lead Figaro into war. Sometimes I wish I had never used that coin. If it truly was a matter of chance, then maybe I wouldn't feel so guilty about our fates.

Another day was quickly passing Edgar by, and he felt like he done nothing. Lone Wolf might be right. He should be gathering his army, his navy, every last man should be arming themselves for the inevitable fight. But he must keep up appearances! To make the first move would only make the Empire strike back all the harder. Let them come when they will, and he will use every trick he can to prevent bloodshed. For now, let the people of Figaro enjoy this false peace. To them, at least, it was real.

Lost in thought, Edgar nearly ran into the elderly Matron of the castle on his way back to his private quarters.

"Excuse me, Sire!" She wheezed as she moved out of the way.

"No, excuse me, Matron. Today has been a long day." Edgar said humbly. Matron Francesca was the oldest woman in the castle, and was like a grandmother to the young King.

"I see you're troubled, my young King." Francesca said with a piercing gaze. She was old, but she was not blind. "These are difficult times, but I know you will pull us through safely. You are just like the old King in that regard. You both care deeply about the people. With your machines and wits, I am sure we can win."

"Matron, I fear this time it may not be enough. The Empire is coming, and we are no match for their weapons. Even with all my mechanical knowledge and all the lore of our scholars, we still have no idea how the Empire is doing what it's doing. It just seems like magic, the way they've advanced across the world."

"Perhaps the most obvious answer is the correct one, my King," Francesca said simply. "Remember your father's credo."

"Peace is the greatest weapon of all," Edgar cited from memory before Francesca could finish.

"Remember that, and you will win in the end. As long as you fight for peace, and not blind ambition, you will have the edge."

"I wish I could believe that, Matron," Edgar said sadly.

"King Stewart believed it, even as he lay dying. I know you'll do the right thing, when the time comes."

"I will try. Good night, Matron." Edgar bowed and continued towards his quarters, the weight of the world hanging on his shoulders. He knew Figaro was the last real power left in the world to oppose the Empire's onslaught. A straight war would end in disaster, but perhaps he could stall them long enough to find a weakness, some tiny defect in the war machine that would give him and the Returners the advantage. They needed a miracle, and he knew it. All he could do now was wait. Wait for that last ray of hope to appear over the horizon.

Alone in his room, Edgar put his hands on his head as he sat down at his private workbench. He usually ended each day tinkering with whatever current tool he was working on. Automatic crossbows, high-powered drills, blindingly brigt flash bulbs, even sonic weapons. Edgar's keen mind and talented hands were capable of crafting almost anything he could think of. But compared to what the Empire was creating, Edgar felt like a child. There had to be something he could do...some way to balance the seemingly insurmountable scales.

As he aimlessly sifted through the pile of odds and ends in front of him, a stubborn image of a city nestled in between a snowy valley kept intruding into his thoughts, its lights twinkling in the distance like a beacon. Was that his ray of hope? Was that the tipping point? Could the answer to this war lay in that quiet town?

What does the Empire want with Narshe? I must find out. Something tells me that is the key to unlocking this war. And Locke is the perfect person to find that key. When I see him tomorrow, we will discuss our own secret mission to Narshe...

As Edgar disappeared into his lonesome quarters for the evening, Matron Francesca watched him go. She knew the burden he carried, but was confident he would lead them all to victory in the end. The young King had a mind for tactics, and could maneuver his way out of any problem. If peace had any hope at all of thriving, it was in no better hands than the well-loved King of Figaro.

Praying silently, Matron whispered to whatever powers there were, "We believe in you. Never give up on your ideals. Never give up on peace. Never give up hope. I will pray for you and for our kingdom, Edgar."




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0
 09.13.2011 4:19pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



Celes - This entry is filled with WOW. I really enjoyed reading this, and seeing through the tough exterior of Celes - showing the weakness and longing buried deep within her. Between you and I, I'm still looking for the connection between Celes and the characters of "The Sands of Time," and this passage did not fill any of those holes... but I will wait. I love how you show "THE POINT" where Celes decides she won't be the Empire's killing machine, and you show a good deal of reason behind it.
Celes is another character that has some vast backstory that could be expounded upon in furhter fanfics... but I have a feeling she will be seen again in a later entry.

Edgar - A nice look into the inner workings of Edgar's mind, and the troubles he is going through building up to the war with the Empire. As womanizing as he is portrayed in the game, I love how you've toned it down in this entry - his mind is frazzled with the goings-ons in the world and all around his kingdom, and he shows that his mind is truly in that place - not with the beautiful women. A well written entry, and I look forward to the next passage!




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0
 09.22.2011 12:48pm
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



And here's Chapter 11, a bit later and quite a bit larger than usual. I could have made an entire story out of this one, despite the character being a seemingly unimportant joke character at first glance. As such, this entry is much larger than the others, but it deals with pretty much every character in the game!
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 24px;">~Gogo~</span>





"You're a master of what?" A weak voice, almost a whisper. The sun hasn't risen over the town of Mobliz yet, and all is dark in the small house.

"Simulacrum." Another voice, muffled and oddly toned. Gender, age, accent? Impossible to tell.

"And just what the hell is that?" The whisper tries to rise to a yell, but can't.

"Mimicry, if you will." Definite note of boredom.

The same questions all the time, the owner of the impossible voice thinks to itself.

"So you're a mime?" Whisperer curious.

"If that's what you want to call me, yes." Impossible voice bored. This is going to be too easy, but it's for a good cause.

"And you really think you can get these troops off my back?"

Now onto the meat of the mysterious voice's offer.

"No."

"But..."

"The troops will stay on your back. The only difference is that I will be you. Your back will be my back. Understand?"

"Uh..."

The impossible voice is impatient. The lights flick on in the small room and a strange sight presents itself. There are two young men in the room, identical down to the last freckle. One is gravely wounded and in bed, the other is standing at the foot of the bed, next to the lamp.

"Understand now?" This is the voice of the standing version of the young man.

"Amazing!" The exact same voice comes from the bed-ridden man, but weaker.

"This is the plan. You will stay here in Mobliz until you're healed. I will let myself be captured as you, getting the Empire off your trail for good."

"But what about you? You can see what the Empire did to me for defecting...they'll just finish the job they started when they get a hold of you...er, me, again."

"Don't worry about me. I've been in far worse situations than this. You're from Miranda, correct?"

The bed-ridden man is surprised that this person knows where he's from. Just how much does he know?

"I was, before the Empire drafted me and shipped me to Doma."

"And you're girlfriend is a woman named Lola?"

"How...?"

"It's my job to know who I'm impersonating. Don't worry about it. I'm you, remember?"

The fake youth gives a flip of his hair in exactly the same way the real youth tends to. It's quite unnerving.

"Don't get any ideas about Lola!"

The fake youth laughs. It's exactly the same way the real youth laughs, but has a strange tone to it all the same. Something uncanny behind the confident smile.

"Of that, my young man, you need not worry yourself. I do not plan on traveling all the way to Miranda today."

"She'd know you're a fake right off the bat, anyways. Nobody knows me better than her. We'd be married right now if the Empire hadn't come..."

This is taking too long. The troops are near, and I need to be in the right place at the right time. This is the essence of simulacrum.

"Enough. If you want to live, be quiet and stay in bed for the rest of the day. I will leave, pretending to be you."

"I couldn't leave this bed even if I wanted to. Go on, and good luck."

"A good actor does not rely on luck. If I need to improvise, then I will. Now rest."

The fake youth turns to leave, but the original raises his withered hand to stop him.

"Please, before you go...do you think you could write a letter for me? It will only take a second, and I can have it delivered myself later."

"Very well. Seeing as I'm you now, I guess I can write your letter, too."


A few moments later, the youth leaves the house, a perfect picture of health and confidence, just like the original. He had come to this town after hearing rumors of a strange child on the Veldt. It was said he could mimic the abilities of the many beasts that migrated across these plains with perfect accuracy. The child had been a fickle thing, and refused to show himself.

To see another master of my art would have been a true delight. Perhaps this wild child is just a myth. Then again, some people call me a myth, too.
The youth walks down the center of the small town of Mobliz, making no attempt to hide himself as he thinks about his missed chance at seeing the wild child. As he is swaggering down the main road, he bumps into an oddly dressed old man.

Definitely not from around here. What is he wearing, behemoth hide? Only one place people wear that. This could be a rare chance to see how far my talents can go.

"Excuse me, I didn't see you there," the youth says happily. "Long way from Thamasa, eh, old man?"

The old man's bushy eyebrows shoot up in surprise. He wasn't supposed to be recognized!

The youth nods and winks. "No worries. I can keep a secret. Tell me, how are things there? Care to show me a magic trick while you're here?"

Now the old man nearly falls over in shock. Who was this?

"I don't know what you're talking about."

The youth laughs loudly and nudges the old man. "Like I said, I can keep a secret. Now, how about a little magic, eh? No one's looking, and I want to test my skills."

The old man didn't have a clue what this loud young man was talking about, but he had to shut him up somehow.

"Fine, just a tiny one. You didn't see this, and I don't even want to know how you know."

The old man raises his hand furtively, and snaps his fingers. A small orb of fire swirls into existence above his open hand and hovers there. The hand shuts, and the fireball vanishes on command.

"Excellent!" The youth claps his hands eagerly, and then does something strange. He raises his hand just like the old man, and snaps his fingers in exactly the same way.

The old man thinks he's being made fun of, and starts to protest. "Now see here, you know you can't..."

But the old man never finishes his sentence. As impossible as it seems, hovering in front of him is an identical ball of flame to the one he just made. The strange youth closes his hand and the magical fireball vanishes, just like before. There is a wide grin on his face.

"Who are you?" The old man asks nervously. He knew everyone in Thamasa, and this man definitely wasn't a Thamasan.

"Just a traveler, like you. It's been a long time since I've seen this stuff. Magic, I mean. Thanks for the light." The youth talks casually, as if he had just lit a match, not conjured a magical ball of fire.

"But, what you just did...was it really true magic?" The old man is scared. Magic wasn't supposed to exist outside of Thamasa. Perhaps the rumors of what the Empire was doing were true, then? "That wasn't blue magic or pictomancy, was it? Do know Strago or Relm?"

"Never heard of 'em," the youth answers offhandedly. "Like I said, I'm just a traveler. Don't you worry about how I did that. Remember what I said about secrets? I'll keep yours if you keep mine. Okay?"

The old man tries to keep as calm as the youth, but he's quite flabbergasted. He just stands still for a moment, unsure of what to say or do.

The youth looks up and down at the old man, then clears the silence. "Look, I've gotta get going. Got some people to meet. If I were you, I'd change out of that behemoth suit. It's a dead giveaway that you're from Thamasa. This place sells magus hats and white capes. I suggest you put something else on before someone else pegs you. See ya!"

The youth gaily walks away from the old man with a wave of his hand and a smile on his face. Imagine running into a Thamasan here? Today was going to be a good day.

"Halt!"

Two soldiers appear in front of the youth, barring his leisurely stroll through the town. The youth had heard them arrive by airship shortly before leaving his house, and knew exactly why they were here.

Right on time.

"Are you Jared of Miranda?"

"Why yes, I am."

"You're coming with us, traitor!"

The two soldiers study him for moment, confirming the description they have in their hands. Without any formality they grab the man named Jared and drag him away from town.

"So, where are we going?" Jared asks politely.

"We're taking you back to Vector, where you'll be hanged!"

"Ah, I see. That's no good."

The soldiers look at the strange youth curiously, then at each other. "Hey Biggs, what's up with this one?"

The soldier known as Biggs looks at Jared again, the same question on his mind. "Don't know, Wedge." He yanks the young man forward harshly, trying to impress upon him the situation he was now in. "You're going to die, you hear me? Aren't you a little worried?"

Jared grins and tries to shrug his shoulders as he's led towards the bluff where the giant airship sits and hums patiently. "We all have to die sometime. I'm resigned to my fate, I suppose."

Wedge shrugs his shoulders as well. "Crazy."

Biggs nods in agreement. Sometimes they snap like that when they know the game's up.

The two soldiers take Jared right underneath the airship's shadow. He can feel the warm breeze of its propellers on his face as he looks up at the massive blimp-like balloon attached to the actual airship.

The Blackjack! Looks like I'll be leaving in style today. Haven't ridden this thing in ages. Should be fun!

"What's going on here? This isn't a prison barge!"

An angry voice falls from the deck of the airship like a thunderbolt. It's the voice of the airship's silver-haired pilot, and he is not happy.

"Sorry, it's Kefka's orders. We're to transport this traitor back to Vector for sentencing."

The pilot curses, but waves his hand in disgust to let the three on board. Just another day in the service of his majesty the Emperor, he supposes.

Biggs, Wedge and Jared get on board quickly, just as the Blackjack is taking off. The pilot isn't waiting around for them to get comfortable, that's for sure.

Wedge barks at his captive. "You, get in that room over there, and don't even think of trying to escape. There's nowhere to go up here."

"Sure thing, boss."

Jared obediently strolls into one of the cabins, and watches as Wedge locks the door and walks away. Biggs stays behind to guard the door.

I think I've seen enough to work with. These two will be easy.

Jared waits a for a little while, until Wedge is long gone and Biggs is alone. Then he knocks rudely on the door, shouting in a different voice than usual. It's deeper, and gruff. The voice of an angry soldier.

"Biggs, open this door, now! The prisoner's escaped!"

Biggs instantly recognizes his comrade's voice. But what is he doing on the other side of the door?

"Wedge? Is that you? What are you doing in there?"

"Let me out! That sneaky rat climbed out the porthole and up onto the deck. I spotted him and chased him back here."

Biggs doesn't understand what's going on, but that's definitely Wedge's voice. He opens the door and is greeted by Wedge himself, standing right where the prisoner had been standing when he had locked the door.

"Where'd he go?" Biggs asks, slightly confused at how things could have gone wrong on an airship.

"I don't know! He scampered off again before I could catch him." Wedge yells in frustration. "Let's split up and look for him. He can't get away while we're in the air."

"That crazy fool," Biggs sighs. This wasn't supposed to be a difficult assignment. Kefka would have their heads if they came back empty-handed.

Once Biggs is gone, Wedge smiles to himself and starts whistling as he looks for Jared half-heartedly.

Too easy. Now I just have to stay out of the real Wedge's sight until we land, and I'll be good to go.

The false Wedge, formerly Jared, spends the remainder of the flight back to the dreary capital of the Empire playing cat and mouse with his two oblivious captors. Every once and a while he changes back into Jared to give the pursuers a false glimpse of hope, only to frustrate them a minute later when they run into each other.

When the Blackjack finally lands in Vector, two very disheartened soldiers leave to report to their superior what happened. Shortly after them comes another soldier in a rush, very angry, and very confused.

"Dammit, Biggs! Where did you go? I told you to wait for me..."


When Biggs and Wedge arrive at their superioer's quarters, they are greeted by a cold glare from the man, sitting at his desk and fidgetting like a bored schoolboy. The man looks like a joke with his frilly robes and face paint, but the murderous glint in his eyes dispels the clownish illusion instantly.

Hmm...this one could be trouble. Too unpredictable. Biggs thinks to himself, feeling a rare pang of concern. Better not go too far, or he'll slit my throat where I stand.

"Well, did you bring that little swine back here?" The unpleasant voice is high-pitched and coarse. The man's stark white face twitches in impatience.

"Uh...we're terribly sorry, General Kefka, sir!" Wedge stammers, unable to hide his fear from the man in front of him. "We were, uh, unable to, er, capture the fugitive, sir!"

Biggs remains silent, unsure of what he should say. I may have been better off going to jail.

"What?!" The curious general twists his head sharply like a bird of prey and turns one wide eye on the hapless Wedge. "You were unable to capture the fugitive, you say?"

Kefka jumps up from his desk and circles the two soldiers like a vulture, his hands behind his back. His eye never leaves Wedge. As he paces around the two men, he occasionally smirks to himself, as if he just told a good joke. No one in the room is laughing, though.

"So, so, so...you two bumbling idiots let our little fly get away. What should I do about it, hmm? Should I hang you two instead? That would be fair, wouldn't it?"

Wedge turns pale and starts apologizing. Biggs holds up better, but inside he is quite afraid of what this prancing man is capable of.

Now Kefka turns his manic eye onto the seemingly stolid Biggs.

"Nothing to say for yourself? Speak up! I want to hear your pathetic voice beg for mercy. Or are you not afraid to die?" Kefka looks hard at Biggs, and holds his long finger up to the soldier. A sharp shard of ice begins to form at its tip, like a long, frozen nail. It just grazes Biggs's chin, and does not melt as it touches his hot skin.

"I am sorry sir! We will find him!" Biggs spits these words out automatically. He's half tempted to excuse himself, change into Jared and let himself be caught again, and hope for some other way out of this mess. He might be able to run circles around the two soldiers, but there was something about this Kefka he couldn't put his finger on. And that never happened with him. This man was an unknown.

Kefka keeps staring at Biggs, staring right through him, right through the facade, and into the real eyes of the person beneath the disguise.

Does he know who I am? He's looking right at me, like he knows I'm an imposter. Impossible! My imitations are perfect!

Kefka smiles thinly as he studies Biggs. "You're made of sterner stuff than the rest of the riff-raff around here. I have a good mission for you, keheheh!" Kefka quickly steps back and sits back down in his seat as if nothing had happened. He proceeds to scrawl a nearly illegible order on a sheet of paper, smiling wide the entire time.

Both men breath a sigh of relief as things cool down. There's nothing fake about either man's emotions. Perhaps the mad general is in one of his better moods today?

As if seeing their reaction, Kefka's head jerks up from his writing and his pale face shines back at them malevolently.

"Oh ho? Don't think I'm letting you two off!" He points a crooked white finger at Biggs. "You! Gibbs, or whatever. You will be on special assignment for the next three days."

Biggs doesn't correct him, and only gulps down his growing fear. The fact that he is not really Biggs, or a soldier of the Empire, and has no reason to even attempt to follow whatever orders this man gives him seems to be forgotten.

"General Celes seems to have gotten it into her pretty little head that this war shouldn't continue," Kefka spits out angrily. "She has written several nasty letters stating her opinions on the course of the war, and especially my own plans, and we cannot have that, now can we?" Kefka's mood darkens as he talks of his fellow general, and his smile grows thinner. "You will go to Miranda and bring her back here for questioning. By me. Understood?"

Biggs salutes. "Yes, sir! I will bring General Celes back to Vector at once!"

I will do no such thing. As soon as this meeting is over, I am leaving for greener pastures. Vector is a hive of lunatics!

Kefka practically rips the paper he is writing on as he signs his exaggerated signature. As Biggs watches in fascination, the Imperial general carefully folds the orders into a paper airplane, and shoots it at Biggs. He catches it wordlessly.

"Take this and see to it you don't mess things up again! You have three days, and then I want both you and Deweg back here for another even more important mission. You will be babysitting a very special friend of mine, hee hee hee!" Kefka waves his finger at them as if he were scolding a pair of naughty children. "Screw that one up, and I will kill you both with my own two hands. Now scram!"

Finally. I feel sorry for these soldiers. I can see their deaths in this madman's eyes, clear as day. He has no intention of letting them live, regardless of how well they do.

The two soldiers leave the messy general's quarters and breath a pair of audible sighs of both relief and frustration as they recover their senses in the open air of Vector. The air is greasy, stale, and filled with sooty dust, but compared to the crucible of Kefka's room, it might as well be a field of roses.

"Wedge, I need to go get ready for my mission. I'll see you in a bit." Biggs says, taking his chance to get away from his enemy turned ally. After what they went through in Kefka's office, Biggs can't help but feel a little warmer towards the soldier that had just an hour ago been his jailer.

"Right. Sucks being under General Kefka's command. Every mission is a life or death mission, even if the mission itself is perfectly safe!" Wedge spits and curses his superior officer.

"How does a man like that get to be a general?" Biggs asks, genuinely curious. "He's obviously insane."

"You'd have to ask Emperor Gestahl that. Apparently, the goofball gets things done. And that's what Gestahl likes. You've heard the rumors about Kefka replacing Leo at Doma, right?"

"No."

"Well, I've heard Gestahl is very unhappy about General Leo taking so long. Leo claims he's up against a formidable mind inside the walls of Doma, and that it will take time to break such a mighty warrior's resolve. Six months at least. Kefka claims he can do it in one week, maybe less."

"Can he really do it?" Biggs asks, interested in the goings-on of the Empire, despite not having anything to do with either side. He had always been only a watcher of events, but at the moment, he seemed to be part of them. Strange!

"Kefka can do anything he puts his twisted mind to." Wedge says, with no little awe.

It's like this Kefka isn't even human. And that was definitely real magic he used in there, same as the old Thamasan. Just what's going on in this Empire?

"Well, at least he'll be off our backs if he is moved to Doma." Biggs says this with a real note of relief.

"If we live that long."

He knows Kefka has him marked. He may not realize just how badly Kefka wants him dead, but a soldier always knows death when he sees it.

"We will. Take care, Wedge."

"You, too."

Biggs leaves Wedge, and heads back towards the airship. As he sees the leathery black bulge of the airship rise ahead of him, he ducks down an alley, and vanishes from sight. He has another appointment to make, and a message to pass along.

This is one performance I won't enjoy. Some things there should never be two of in this world...

Out of the alley a new man appears, the persona of Biggs left behind. The man now walking rapidly towards the Blackjack is covered with flowery green robes and pale white make-up. An ostentatious feather trembles from his greasy blonde hair as he arrogantly tromps down the street. As he sees a soldier approaching, a grimace of great displeasure fills the man's pale face, but a gleam of sly pleasure still tingles at its edges. However, the eyes aren't quite right...

I will never be able to simulate that empty stare. And I never want to. Stare into the abyss to deeply, and it may just stare into you.

"General Kefka, sir!" This is Biggs. The real Biggs, desperately searching for his ally.

"You there, Gibbs!" Kefka shouts in a whiny voice, like an out of tune violin. "I've already met with your incompetent partner and he told me everything. You're both lucky to be alive after that screw up!"

Biggs winces as if struck, but tries to keep his composure. "I am sorry, sir! We will find him! He must still be in Vector!"

"Forget about that nobody! I have something more important for you. Take this, and see to it you bring this one back, understand?" Kefka's voice is harsh, but not quite so murderous as the real thing might have been. Sometimes an artist has to take liberties with his work for the benefit of the audience.

"Yes, sir!" Biggs takes the letter, still folded like a paper airplane, salutes, and runs for his life. He feels lucky Kefka was in such a good mood today.

You don't know how lucky you were, at least for today.

Kefka watches for a moment and waits for the soldier to vanish, then makes his way towards the airship.

Time to leave this lovely little dump. I'm sure the Blackjack's pilot won't mind giving the good General Kefka a lift.

As Kefka walks towards the airship's hull, a flash of silver hair appears over the railing, and a pair of angry eyes stares down at him.

"And what do you want? It's 10,000 gil per flight, even for you, General."

"Ohohoho! But of course, my friend! Catch!" Kefka takes a 10,000 gil note from his robes and folds it into a plane, just like before. He flings it up at the pilot, who catches it with one suspicious hand.

"Not putting it on Gestahl's tab this time? Good. It's about time you paid up. Get on."

The silver hair vanishes over the railing, and Kefka quickly gets on from below.

A small price to pay, and smaller than that man thinks.

The airship roars to life and is gone in a plume of dust. Kefka watches from a porthole as the giant industrial complex of Vector's central structure shrinks from view. It looks like a massive, metal pyramid, towering over the smog-filled city streets around it.

What a miserable place. Doesn't even look habitable. Now, where shall I go next? Nikeah? Figaro? Back to Mobliz?

"Is this some kind of joke, clown?"

Kefka turns around surprised, seeing the airship pilot staring back at him, angrier than ever. In his hand he's waving the unfolded 10,000 gil note.

"This note is fake! Did you think Setzer Gabbianni wouldn't be able to tell fake money when he saw it? What kind of fool do you take me for?"

Remember, this is Kefka he's talking to...

"I take you for a very fine fool," Kefka screeches indignantly. "Who do YOU think you're dealing with, eh?" Kefka raises his hand and creates another sliver of ice at the tip of his finger, like a talon. He has no intention of actually using it, but he hopes to call this man's bluff.

"That's a neat trick, but it won't get you very far up here. Someone has to pilot this thing, remember?" Setzer's eyes are as cold as Kefka's talon of ice, and he doesn't waver at all.

Hah, this one's tough, alright. Or perhaps I just don't have that true killer's look like the original. I like this man. I think it's time I put this charade to an end. Besides, it's not very fun being Kefka. I can't imagine what must rage through the real one's head.

"Fine, you got me." Kefka says with a strange un-Kefka like smile.

"You're damn right I got you. We're turning around and heading back to Vector immediately. You and your immature little games. Gestahl will hear about this."

"Wait, wait!" Kefka says in an unusually deep voice. "I'm not who I appear to be."

Setzer turns around and looks at him closely. "What?"

"I'm not Kefka."

Setzer doesn't show surprise, and only smiles. "I had a hunch. You acted too...sane. And Kefka's never even attempted to pay for anything in his life. But that's a damn good disguise. And the ice...nice touch."

"So you believe me?"

"Sure. But that doesn't change the fact that you're on my ship for free. I don't know who you are, and I don't care. I'm on my way to Kohlingen at the moment, and I'm dropping you off at the first town I can."

Kefka doesn't seem to mind. After all, anywhere is better than Vector. "So, where is that?"

"Zozo."

Uh...almost anywhere.

"W-what?!" Kefka blurts out nervously. "You can't drop me off there! That place is filled with nothing but criminals, thieves, and liars!"

"And that's exactly what you are." Setzer says smugly. He liked this man's guts, but not enough for a free ride. Sometimes when you gamble, you lose.

"Fine...I guess I can make do." Kefka says sadly.

Back to Zozo, again. And I had thought I'd left that place behind.

"If you'll excuse me, I have an airship to fly. Don't try to run, there's nowhere to go."

Setzer turns to go, then looks back with a grin. "Oh, and if I were you, I'd change out of that getup. If you go in there looking like that, they'll eat you alive."

"I know."

After Setzer leaves, Kefka quickly decides on his next impersonation. It's his old stand-by for Zozo, and his typical choice for tough crowds.

When in Zozo...

The man that steps off of the Blackjack and into the rainy streets of Zozo, the crime capital of the world, is not Kefka. Setzer looks on in admiration as he watches the strange man leave. He's got guts, alright. Let's just hope they don't end up all over the streets.

The mountain-ringed city of Zozo is not a pleasant place. Vector is dirty, grimy, and filled with steam, smoke, and soot. Zozo is dirty, grimy, and filled with rain, garbage, and evil intent. They say it was founded by wandering thieves and the poorest, lowest dregs from Jidoor, and it only takes one glance at the wildly built city to believe these claims.

Within one minute of stepping foot onto the poorly maintained road, the man that was Kefka is instantly accosted. But one look at who he appears to be, and the would-be mugger backs off.

"S-Siegfried! I didn't recognize you! I'll go, I'll go!" And he goes, crawling back into the dark alleyway he slithered out from.

Glad to see Siegfried is still as feared as always here. Perhaps I can leave town quickly, before anyone else notices me.

The large man that now walks through the streets of Zozo is covered in sleek, jet black armor, and carries a massive sword on his back, and a gun at his side. His obvious swagger and flowing cape give the air of a king out for a stroll. There is no mistaking this man for anything less than a master warrior. And that's exactly what Siegfried wants them to think.

Let's just hope the real Siegfried isn't here as well.

Just as Siegfried is preparing to exit the overcast city for brighter fields, he's stopped in his tracks by a rather unpleasant sensation. Something slimy is stuck to the back of his leg, holding him in place.

Ugh, figures.

"Siegfried! What a surprise! I was just thinking about you, you know. Check this out!"

Siegfried turns around and meets the wide, inhuman gaze of his hidden companion. It's dark, as always in the gloomy city, but the glowing yellow eyes peering out from behind him are unmistakable. As is the sickening touch.

"What is it now, Ultros?"

The yellow eyes bulge with pride, and a bulbous creature slithers out from the shadows. It's a large purple octopus with a wide toothy grin that never seems to end. Zozo is known for its odd characters, and this creature is one of the more misanthropic miscreants to occasionally roam its streets.

He waves a tentacle in Siegfried's face, pleased with himself. "I stole this from Figaro Castle's armory! Doesn't it look dangerous? And valuable? Hm, what do you say?"

"It looks like a can opener to me, Ultros." Siegfried doesn't have time for this. He is well aware the real Siegfried is a connoisseur of weaponry, but he is not the real Siegfried.

"Aww, come on buddy! This is a first class, weapons-grade chainsaw! One of a kind! I'm sure a master of death such as yourself can see the value of something like this, eh? Eh?

"Nope, afraid not. Now, I am in a hurry, so if you would be so kind as to buzz off."

Ultros seems hurt by his would-be customer's words, but his grin doesn't show it. "Ouch! Well, I guess I'll just have to find something better. Just you wait, I'll impress you yet, Mr. High and Mighty!"

Ultros tucks the chainsaw away and bobs expectantly in front of Siegfried. He's not sure what the octopus wants now, but he doesn't really intend to find out.

"Well?" Ultros pipes up with his gurgling voice after a moment of being ignored. "Aren't you at least curious how I got this thing? You might find it more worth your while if you knew the story behind it, eh? Eh?"

This ball of blubber just isn't going to let me go, is he? Fine.

"Fine."

"I knew you'd want to know! I knew it!" Ultros bubbles enthusiastically. "Well, I'll have you know I snuck into Figaro Castle the other night with a group of bandits, the Crimson Robbers. I'm sure you've heard of them."

"I have." Siegfried says, suddenly interested.

I most certainly have, my obtuse little friend. More than you may know. Listening to this story might be good for me, after all.

"Anyways, we managed to sneak into the castle, and I snagged this thing from the armory, but we were caught! The entire band was put in jail, but I managed to escape, being the master thief that I am."

"Of course." Siegfried says pleasantly, wondering what the truth really was.

"This must be a valuable weapon if the entire Figaro guard was sent out to find who stole it, right? You should have seen them that night! Everyone everywhere! I was the only one to escape."

Siegfried is about to say something snarky, but is interrupted by a low voice from the shadows.

"Now, now, Siegfried, you know better than to believe a word of anyone in Zozo."

A behemoth of a man steps out into the murky street lights, a smile on his dark face. He looks like a dark-skinned giant, covered in a mountain of muscles, and wearing only a pair of crimson red fighting pants.

"Ultros, you little imp, you know full well you were nowhere near Figaro Castle that night. I was the one who barely escaped with my life, and it was my band of thieves that were captured." The dark man's voice booms with authority, but is strangely pleasant despite his accusations, and menacing appearance.

Dadaluma, now? I seem to attract all the worst people of Zozo whenever I come here.

"Aw, Dads, you know I was just having fun. Can't I take the spotlight every once in a while?" Ultros pleads, his yellow eyes bulging for sympathy.

"At my expense." Dadaluma growls. "You will put that item back where you found it, if you please, and then kindly get out of my sight, before I do something ungentlemanly. You know how I abhor fighting." The man smiles peaceably, but his eyes tell a different story.

There's nothing peaceful about you, Dadaluma. Getting out of here may be trickier than I thought. I have a feeling I know why the leader of the Crimson Robbers is showing his ugly face here.

Ultros takes the hint, and squiggles off into the darkness to follow Dadaluma's orders. Yes, Ultros knows full well there is nothing peaceful about Dadaluma.

"Now then, my old friend," Dadaluma says pleasantly, turning back to Siegfried. "I have a favor to ask you, one I am sure you will not turn down."

I knew it. Looks like this day is going to be longer than I thought. If I were as powerful as the real Siegfried, this wouldn't be a problem. But some things can't be copied, and that kind of talent is exceptional. Well, I chose this guise, and I can't let Dadaluma know I'm a fake.

"Of course. You know I owe you one for getting me out of that jam back then."

"Glad you remember. I hope you weren't trying to climb Ramuh's tower again today?"

"Once is enough for me. I learned my lesson the first time."

I most certainly did. Whatever that old man up there is, he's not human, that's for sure. I tried to impersonate him, and practically killed myself using his power. There's a lot more to the old hermit than some senile fool who pretends to talk to moogles and yetis, that's for sure.

"Good. It's time for you to return the favor, then. I want you to help me spring my band from Figaro Castle. The two of us together should be more than a match for them. After all, I'm the son of the great Duncan!"

Such a liar, Dadaluma. You may look a little like Vargas, but I know a fake when I see one. You may have secretly watched Vargas and that Figaro princeling train, and studied with Duncan for a while before quitting, but you're still nothing but a brigand.

"As you say, Dadaluma," Siegfried says appeasingly. The man likes to talk, and calling him out on a lie would only lead to a fight. "Shall we be off? I did not intend to stay here long."

"Indeed. I have a chocobo standing by. We can be in Kohlingen in a few hours if we hurry."

Without another word, the two false warriors speed away from the vile streets of Zozo, and onto another adventure.

Two in one day. Either I'm getting careless, or my personas are taking on a life of their own. It may be time to take a long vacation after this.

As the sun reaches its peak, the two strange companions reach the quiet hamlet of Kohlingen far to the north. There is not much to see here, nor is there much to do. Dadaluma skulks in the shadows as is his wont, and Siegfried goes to the bar to get a much needed drink. He knows this town well, like most towns, and is familiar with many of its inhabitants.

"What'll it be?" This is Lucky, the bartender. He most certainly doesn't recognize Siegfried, but Siegfried knows him. Lucky has served Siegfried under a dozen different names over the years, and has never suspected it was the same person.

You think he would have caught on by now. I'm sure I'm the only one who orders this particular drink.

"One Regole Ale, please."

"Sure, comin' right up. Y'know, I never heard'uh this drink until some fellow showed it to me years ago. Nowadays, it seems all manner o' folk ask for it. I probably make it at least once a month. They're all strangers, though. How'd you hear about it?"

The man is a friendly fellow, and likes to talk. He's always trying to find out where the drink came from, and doesn't realize he's asking the very person who gave it to him every time.

"Just heard the name floating about. Thought I'd try it out." Siegfried says nonchalantly. This is the excuse he usually gives, and it always works. Maybe someday it won't. That would be interesting.

"Ah, someday I'll find out where this drink comes from. I never heard'uh Regole before. Wonder if it's a place?"

"Could be."

Lucky finishes mixing the drink, and slides it down to the armored gauntlet waiting at the end of the table. Siegfried gladly gulps it down after his long and dusty ride with the irritating Dadaluma. The only thing the man talks about is how superior he is to everyone else, and Siegfried hates that.

I wouldn't be worth a simulacrumb if I couldn't appreciate the different skills and talents that other people bring into the world. If it was all about me, I'd have no reason to impersonate people!

As Siegfried drinks his personal brew, he notices a strange man at the end of the bar. He has seen this man a few times before in his travels, and has always wondered just what he is about. The man seems like a wanderer, like himself, but barely speaks, and never shows his face. And that dog...

"That's quite the pet you've got there," Siegfried asks the black-clad man, hoping to get some information this time.

"He's not a pet." Short, as usual.

"My apologies. So what brings you to Kohlingen?"

"Business." Shorter.

"Oh? What do you do? I'm a famed swordsman, myself. Allow me to introduce myself..."

"I don't care what your name is."

Siegfried stops short, not surprised. He still doesn't even know the man's name, even after trying to talk to him for several years. He only knows the name of the massive dog, Interceptor. Strange name.

Well, I tried. Even this formidable warrior's disguise doesn't faze him. He's as hard as they come. I'd try to impersonate him, but I think that dog would sniff me out in a second, and I doubt all the tricks in the world would get me away from him.

"Siegfried! Let's get going. I want to reach the castle before dark." Dadaluma calls out from just inside the doorway to the pub. He doesn't like to enter buildings, and he definitely doesn't want to get tangled up with the man Siegfried is talking to. Dadaluma was a hardened criminal, but that one...he was even harder.

Siegfried pays for the drink(with real money this time), and says good-bye to the man in black. He doesn't get a response, and the dog only growls at the suspicious character that bothered his master.

Someday I'll get your story, my shadowy friend.

The two quietly leave the town behind, and head for the Figaro mountain range. Siegfried picked up a second chocobo at a stable along the way, and the two are ready to cross the range before nightfall. Unbeknownst to either man, there is a third member of their party, following just behind them. This man is also thief, and recognized Dadaluma instantly the moment he stepped foot in Kohlingen. It would seem all three are headed for the same place.

As the desert sands begin to shimmer over the horizon like a mirage and the mountains fade away, the two travelers go into stealth mode, making sure they cross the desert undetected. Unfortunately for them, the third traveler is still with them, and already has a plan in mind for them.

As the men cross the desert, they feel a low rumble, and then see a giant, deep blue back crest over the sands. It's one of the famous sandworms of the vast Figaro Desert, and it looks hungry. For a brief moment, the gaping hole of a mouth appears, rows of yellow teeth shining around a single cold abyss.

"Just ignore it," Dadaluma says. "They like to make a lot of noise, but if you steer clear of them, they leave you alone. That one is a big one, though! Strange color, too."

"I've seen them before," Siegfried says, a little worried. He has seen that particular one before. There's no mistaking the size and color of it. The deep blue carapace is a dead giveaway, compared to the more greyish hues of the regular sandworm that are seen in this region. The deadly Zone Eater, a wandering worm that can travel from region to region by burrowing far deeper than a regular sandworm.

It must have smelled a familiar prey when I entered the desert, and is surfacing just to let me know it's still around. I barely got away from it the last time I was here. Let's just hope Dadaluma is enough to scare it off for now.

The two continue past the surfacing sandworm, breathing easier once it disappears under the sands again.

A few hundred feet from the isolated castle, Dadaluma stops. This is as far as he will go.

"Siegfried, you go on ahead. I'll stay here and watch for the guards while you break my men out. I'll whistle if they suspect someone is in the castle."

"Chickening out already?" Siegfried asks angrily. He knew the coward wouldn't risk his own neck, even for his own men. Everyone in the castle knows who Dadaluma is, but Siegfried is a stranger.

"Look, they know my face. You could probably walk in there claiming to be a tired traveler. It wouldn't even really be a lie, now would it?"

Siegfried sighs. Dadaluma doesn't know how easily Siegfried actually could sneak into the castle, even disguised as Dadaluma himself. He's pretended to be the leader of the Crimson Robbers before, and could easily do it now. Wait a minute...

This will be one of my finest performances, I think. It's taking one of my personas a little farther than I'd like, but it will be interesting to see how far I can take my talents. Remember - right place, right time.

"You're right." Siegfried says, changing his mind. "I'll go on ahead, and you stay here."

"Glad you see it my way. You know how I detest violence." Dadaluma smirks.

Siegfried races off along a large dune, hiding himself from the castle's watchful eyes. He knows these sands and their inhabitants well, having impersonated Figaro guards on more than one occasion.

Right behind him, the hidden pursuer follows intently and silently. He ignores Dadaluma, and focuses on the man attempting to sneak into the castle. The sun is setting quickly, and soon it will be dark. That is when he'll make his move.

When the unknown man attempts to corner his quarry at sunset, he is surprised to find that the man has vanished. But now who is this lurking about the castle instead? Large build, dark skin, blood-red garb? Dadaluma? Strange, seeing as the man was left back in the desert. Something must have changed, and he must have missed it. No matter, the plan is the same, no matter who he catches.

"Halt!"

Dadaluma turns around quickly, surprised that he's been spotted already. He had only just managed to enter the side door of the castle. No matter, the plan is the same, no matter who gets caught.

"Come back to get your men, I presume?" The voice floats confidently from around the corner of the castle wall, and Dadaluma has no idea who has spotted him. He never heard any whistle, but he suspected he was being lied to anyways. Never trust a man from Zozo.

"That was the idea," Dadaluma says calmly to the shadows. He squints in the fading light, hoping to recognize the man that bested him.

"Stay where you are. I've already alerted the castle guards. They'll be here in a moment, and you'll be reunited with your men soon enough."

Dadaluma can't make out anything in the dimness, and before he can move several powerful hands clamp down on his shoulders.

"Dadaluma, you're under arrest for the theft of Figaro royal armaments. Come with us, and do not resist. The king is watching."

Oh? King Edgar, eh? The more witnesses, the better. But who is the man that found me so soon?

"No worries. I hate fighting, so you win," Dadaluma says pleasantly. Always be a gentlemen, even if you're lying through your teeth.

As Dadaluma is led away, he catches a glimpse of his mysterious pursuer meeting with the king. The man looks like a thief, dressed all in coarse leather and wearing a bandanna, but he carries himself like a world-class adventurer, and seems to be on friendly terms with the king.

A noble thief? How quaint. Maybe the king is paying him his reward for capturing me. If only he knew the truth...

Soon, Dadaluma finds himself in the Figaro dungeon, where it looks like he will be spending the night. He had expected this, and plans to be out by morning. Guards were all the same, whether they were from the Empire or Figaro.

As he passes the various cells, he sees the rest of the Crimson Robbers locked away. They let out shouts of anger and defeat when they see their leader being locked up beside them, but they are also glad he came back to rescue them, even if he did fail.

Too bad. These guys aren't really that bad. They just happen to have a real loser for a boss. I bet their trusty leader is already halfway back to Zozo by now, and I doubt he'll be making another attempt after this. Poor fools. They'll be better off with me leading them for a little while, I think.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Mr. Fancy Pants himself!" A low voice growls from the farthest cell from the entrance, and Dadaluma cringes at the feral sound. He knows that voice all too well.

"Got yourself caught did you? How convenient."

Dadaluma looks down the row of cells and sees a filthy wolf's snout poking through the bars.

This could complicate things.

"Be quiet, Lone Wolf! That's our boss you're talking to. He'll bust us out no problem, just you watch."

"I wouldn't be too sure," Lone Wolf barks noisily. His animal laughter echoes through the jail, causing the guards beside Dadaluma to tense. They quickly stuff Dadaluma into his cell, right next to Lone Wolf's, then leave. Having a werewolf within their walls does not sit well with many of the denizens of Figaro Castle.

"Nice to see you again," Lone Wolf says quietly through the bars.

"I wish I could return the sentiment," Dadaluma says a little nervously. He knows where this is going.

"How long do you think you can fool them?"

"What do you mean?"

"You can't fool my nose. And they'll figure out you&rsquo;re not their real boss eventually. You're good, but you're no scoundrel like he is. Sooner or later they'll realize you're a fake. You're just too...good! Hahaha!"

The sad thing is he's right. I couldn't be Kefka, and I won't be able to be Dadaluma forever. Maybe just long enough to get them out of here.

"How about we make a deal, eh?" Lone Wolf's tongue licks the bars in anticipation.

"Let me guess, I'll take your place, and you'll escape?"

"Look, this place is going to be attacked by the Empire any day now. I don't want to be here when that happens. Someone like me, the Empire gets rid of, you know? Loose ends and all that. You take my place, and then you can easily turn into an Imperial soldier or something and escape yourself in the confusion. That's what you do isn't it?"

Lone Wolf has a point. That was exactly what he did. And with Lone Wolf out of the picture, his secret was that much safer. Yes, this might work out after all.

"Alright, I agree."

As soon as Dadaluma says the words, he hears a click, and the sound of a cell door sliding open. In a moment, Lone Wolf leaps in front of Dadaluma's cell, and is quickly and deftly picking the lock with a glittering hairpin. The doors swing open, and now both thieves are free.

"You were just waiting for the perfect time, weren't you?"

"Of course. And the time has arrived!" Lone Wolf stifles a howl of joy as he stretches his long, hairy legs and runs quietly from one end of the row of cells to the other on padded feet.

While Lone Wolf is busy enjoying his freedom, Dadaluma takes the opportunity to make the exchange complete. When Lone Wolf returns to his cell, he finds an unsettling sight waiting for him, but it is one he had expected.

"You really are good." Lone Wolf says with a rare note of appreciation. He is looking at an exact duplicate of himself, standing right where he had been holed up for almost a week.

"The best." Lone Wolf replies to himself in the same throaty growl of a voice.

"Alright, I'm outta here." Lone Wolf says, turning to face one of the walls of the hallway.

"How do you plan on getting out of here?" Lone Wolf asks himself.

"I'll dig. The wall right here is thin, and with my claws I can dig my way right back into the desert."

"I am a clever one, aren't I?" Lone Wolf complements himself. "Just watch out for sandworms. An especially big one has been seen poking around recently. It'll swallow you in one gulp if it sees you."

"Hah, you too, old friend," Lone Wolf says sarcastically. "Later."

And Lone Wolf is gone in a cloud of sand and rubble.

Now I wait for the right time and right place. With me here, they'll think Dadaluma is the one that escaped. When I see my chance, I'll change back to Dadaluma, and rescue these hapless thieves of his. I think I'll even use the same tunnel Lone Wolf used. I just hope that sandworm doesn't find me on the way out. Ah well, I guess spending my time in a jail cell, or even a worm's belly is better than some places I've been cooped up in. Beats a tower at the bottom of the ocean, that's for sure!

As the fake Lone Wolf contemplates his plans, the shaggy head of the real Lone Wolf pokes back up from his hole, covered in sand.

"Don't forget to lock my cell door. Seeing as you're me now, you should have no problem picking the lock when the time comes." Lone Wolf laughs, and flicks the golden hairpin in his fingers before pocketing it again. "You'll need to get your own pick, though, hahaha!"

The fake Lone Wolf reveals a shining hairpin, seemingly identical to the one the real Lone Wolf used. He nods and winks, then sits cross-legged to wait out the long night. The real wolf is visibly impressed.

"Damn, you are good. I bet it's not a real golden hairpin, but it will pick a lock just as well."

Both Lone Wolfs look at each other for a moment, a curious connection hanging between them. These are two wanderers lost in a strange land, and they've made the best of it over the years, making new friends and enemies along the way. But the winds of change are blowing harder than ever now, and they both feel a familiar sense of urgency and impending crisis, just like before. It is in this strange mood that Lone Wolf says a phrase he rarely ever uses on his fellow man before turning and vanishing back down his hole.

"Be careful, Gogo."




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0
 09.22.2011 1:54pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



You certainly had a lot of story to tell on Gogo - and a lot of repeating characters appearing here. I never had the idea during the game that Gogo had been a part of all the characters (or several of the characters) lives during the game, but, at the risk of sounding redundant, that is the mark of a good mimic.

One area that confused me was at Biggs and Wedge... I think you may have mixed up who Gogo was mimicking - when he's in the cell, he's Wedge, but when he goes in front of Kefka, he's Biggs...

The short is very good, and as you said, you could probably write an entire story on this character, and how he plays out throughout the game, up until the point of joining the party. Nicely done, you slid into the role of Gogo very well, and made it feel very much like a man-on-the-run, or someone who does what he does out of necessity rather than desire. As always, I'm looking forward to the next entry!




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 09.23.2011 5:34am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



I see Gogo gave you the slip, as well! He switches between all three, Biggs, Wedge, and Jared, during the chase on the Blackjack, and happens to be Biggs when he leaves with the real Wedge. The real Biggs leaves afterwards alone, unable to find either Jared or Wedge on the airship.

And the more I think about it, the more I feel like just starting a new thread here for Book 2 of The Sands of TIme, instead of reposting the entire thread and then continuing the story on both FFO and FFS. Once I am done with Rags to Riches, Book 2 will be on FFS only with a link to the first book at the beginning, and Book 1 will remain on FFO only, with a link to the second book here at the end. Posting and reposting Rags to Riches has shown me that it will be quite an arduous task reposting 250,000 words, and one I don't think I really want to do.




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 09.23.2011 4:15pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



Indeed, Gogo fooled me on the Blackjack.

I just don't want Book 1 to be lost if FFO ever actually disappears. (We've had a couple scares the last year or so.) I know you still have a copy backed up, but you lost your hard drive at one point, also... a perfect storm, and that entire story could be lost. I'd go over to FFO, C&amp;P it, but I don't want Book 1 to show on FFS under my name... I wouldn't want any confusion as to who the author of that is.

Of course, it is entirely up to you - I'd just love to see the entire collection in one place once it's all finished 30-some years down the road.




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 09.24.2011 6:28am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



No worries about losing the first book. I also have it backed up online on my site, on a CD, on both my back up external harddrives, and I've been posting it on fanfiction.net for a while now. It would take the fall of civilization to lose the story at this point.

I may gradually get it up here at one point, but honestly, it's not on my to-do list at the moment.




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 10.04.2011 10:23am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



And now, the last main character...


~Terra~



"Good morning, Terra."

Words. She hears words, and her eyes open.

The blank silence of night ends, the white noise of day begins.

The never-ending series of incomprehensible images and sounds rises up before the young girl once again. The days are all the same to her, for she remembers nothing of each previous blur of events called "day" and "night". She is born from the womb of complete ignorance every day of her life. This is the way it has been for all time, as far as the poor soul is capable of reckoning it.

"Does she really understand what we're saying?"

More words. She does understand them. She does not understand how she understands them, but her subconscious mind puts them together and gives them meaning all the same. A relic of a lost life before the only life she is aware of now, she might suppose, if she could suppose anything.

"She obeys commands quite well. Tell her to kill, and she kills. What more do you need from a weapon?"

This voice brings pain to the girl, and she does not know why. Has she heard the voice before? It is a harsh whine, pitiless and cruel. She does not like the man it belongs to. Sometimes the voice slips softly into her bound mind while she sleeps, like a silken dagger in the dark. She does not remember the voice when she wakes, but she remembers the pain.

"Kefka, I think this has gone on long enough. The mental damage we must be inflicting on the girl with this device must be devastating."

This voice is softer, gentler. She likes this voice. If she could put a word to the feelings the voice gives her, it would be "parental".

"Shut your mouth, Cid. She's my plaything, and I will do as I please with her. Or would you like to take it up with Gestahl?"

When the harsh voice speaks, she cringes. She sees the strange white-faced man laugh at her discomfort, and is confused. She cannot make sense of many of the things the white-faced man says and does. It might ease her fractured mind a little to know that she is not alone in this, and that even normal people feel the same discomfort she does in the man's presence. But she cannot know this, and remains in a haze of unease.

"I wash my hands of any further involvement in this project! I cannot disobey the Emperor, but I will not be party to the inhuman methods you employ. You're on your own from here on out."

The kind voice does not sound quite so kind now, and the girl is afraid. She watches in dumb silence as the kind man storms out of the tiny room she calls home.

What is this feeling in her stomach? She does not know its name, but it is sadness. She is being abandoned, and her primitive instincts know this. The memories of previous days are lost to her, locked away by the wretched thing on her head, but each loss of a comrade etches itself into her psyche permanently, untouchable and inviolable.

One by one all the good people around her have been forced to flee in disgust before the irrepressible force of the white-faced man. Now she is truly all alone, and the deepest parts of her being are acutely aware of this. Her eyes cry, and the horrible man laughs.

"Uweeheehee! Now you're all mine, my magical pet!"

She hates this man, even though her memories of him only extend back no more than an hour. Just as the kindness of the ones who have gone is etched into her psyche, so, too, is the malice of the one who remains. The countless years of torture have left their mark on the girl's soul, and as her eyes cry their futile tears, the magical energy inside her flares up. The heat of anger that has no name fills the room, but still the horrible man laughs and laughs.

"Yes, yes, burn everything! Just a couple more days, and then I will unleash you on the world!"

As the endless laughter tears into her mind like a scythe, the overwhelming pain causes her to black out. This is a defense mechanism, and keeps her sane through the long years of confinement.

What really happens during these episodes of nothingness she does not know, and does not want to know. Sometimes when she comes to after an episode, she is covered in a thick, red liquid. It smells bad, and feels sticky. The sight of it makes her want to scream, but the device on her heard prevents any unwanted outbursts. She is the perfect soldier.

Every once in a while, while she is blacked out, another voice drifts through her mind, soothing her like a loving caress. It is unlike the voices she hears while waking. It echoes through her head, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. If it is even a voice at all, she does not know, but it feels like it protects her, keeps her whole. Keeps her human, if that is what she even is.

You are safe inside your own mind. Inside your mind, you are free.

Remember my voice, Terra. Remember the voice of your father. Remember who you are.

I am always by your side, even now. As long as there is life in my body, I will keep you safe the only way I know how.

As long as you wear my pendant, your mind will never truly belong to anyone but you. It is a powerful talisman, and embodies all the hopes and dreams of this world. It is my gift to you, and it will protect you as it has protected this world for millennia.

Do not fear your power. Do not fear your heart. As your power grows with time, so too does the compassion I know you possess. Soon, a time will come when the power inside you will become too great to be fettered, and then you will truly be free to live, and to love.

Never give up hope, for you ARE hope.

Inside your mind, you are free...


An eternity passes, the bodiless voice fades, and light fills the world again. She will forget the words soon, but not their power. Strength fills her veins, and she is renewed, reborn. The white-faced man is still there - he is always there - and she does not care now. The man sees a serene face, devoid of emotion, and is pleased at her supposed obeisance.

Little does he know that this serenity is his greatest enemy. Behind those quiet eyes is a growing power, beyond anything he could hope to control. Someday he will meet the real woman behind those eyes, and he will not be laughing then.

"Uwahaha! Splendid! Magnificent! More blood, more destruction! Soon you will be ready! So very soon, I can barely stand it!"

The man quivers in an agonizing ecstasy of bloodlust, completely enraptured by his own fantasies. He is as much a prisoner of his twisted world as the girl, and he does not even know it.

A rare feeling of satisfaction washes over the girl as she watches the man dance to his own machinations. Her subconscious mind sees the squirming of the man, and knows by instinct that she is above him. He is her captor, but when she looks down at him from atop the strange machine he makes her ride, her animal instincts tells her that he is less than her.

It is in these rare moments that she feels the freedom the internal voice hints at.

The man stops laughing, then scowls, pouts, and rages obscenely. His own instincts have told him he is being measured, and found unworthy. She senses this, and knows the fear of the white-faced man once more. He is a wild animal, and her instincts tell her she must be careful.

"Grrr...stop drooling over your controls and fire! Kill that wyvern in one shot! Obey me, you little wench!"

Something inside her clicks dully, and she obeys, like always. The red corpse of the flying reptile drops instantly as it is hit by a barrage of magical energy from the machine she rides. Another life vanishes from the world, and Terra feels the loss deep down. She will forget this death, just like all the others, but her body will remember. How much longer until her core is as cold and dead as the white-faced man?

"Kill, kill, kill! That's it! Blast another one! The soldiers may have learned to keep away from us, but these stupid beasts will never learn. Just like you, eh?"

Her anger flares up again, and a blaze of fiery rage erupts all around her.

Several more dead wyverns drop from the skies, charred beyond recognition. The earth is scorched all around the training area, and the horrible man laughs and laughs.

The machine amplifies her own powers, and can cause great carnage when she is stressed while riding it. She does not like this, but the horrible man knows how to push her. He revels in her suffering, and does everything he can to ignite the flames of her darkest emotions. And he is very adept at it.

"Good! Narshe won't know what hit them when you bust into that filthy little town. You are quite the beautiful monster! I love it! Uwahaha!"

Oh how she wants to destroy that voice! But no matter how her blood boils, she cannot strike the owner of that harsh voice. His power over her is undeniable, and no matter how angry he makes her, he always manages to focus and aim her outbursts exactly where he wants. She hates it! She hates him! She hates the powerlessness he instills in her!

"I hate you, Kefka!"

Flames explode around her, even greater and higher than before, scorching the heavens in the girl's courageous efforts to shake free. But it is to no avail. As the clouds burn and the air trembles, she sees that the horrible man known as Kefka is still there.

The unexpected second of coherence surprises them both, but the man only laughs. As the throbbing haze of incognizance settles on her once more, the girl is baffled by the strange words she just uttered, but the white-faced man does not seem bothered.

"And that's my cue! Today was fun, my little pet, but you're getting cranky, and it's time to put you to bed! Remember, tomorrow will be exactly the same, and the day after that, and the day after that. You can throw all the tantrums you like, but all your struggles mean nothing to me. You are mine. MINE! Uwahahahahahaha...!"

The laughter trails off into an incoherent blur of sound as the girl sways and begins to lose consciousness. The device on her head whirrs and clicks with increased effort as it forces her back down, down, down.

The moment of freedom was brief and glorious, like an exploding sun. Now she feels as downtrodden and lifeless as when she woke. Fighting this man's control, fighting her own wild powers and emotions, fighting to remain sane...these endless battles take their toll on the innocent young girl's mind and body. She is utterly exhausted by the time this current cycle of light and darkness ends.

Tomorrow will be the same, and she knows this now, but will not know it when the next day comes. For now, she fades into the welcome silence of night, the short life she led today obliterated by the daily cleansing of the device on her head. In a few moments, the person she began to develop into will be killed, and she will be a clean slate for the next day, and the next, and next...

Once more as she fades to nothing, just as she thinks all hope is lost, the voice of her dreams speaks its mantra of support...

You are free inside your mind. Never forget. I am here with you.

The time will come when you will be free truly, and the world will be yours to enjoy.

Do not fear. Do not give up hope. Kefka can try as hard as his black heart wishes, but hope will always survive, deep down in your heart - in the hearts of all good men, women, and children. He will not win. He cannot win.

Remember. Remember who you are, and what you stand for.

You are my daughter, my hope, and my life.

You are my beloved, my precious Terra.





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 10.05.2011 3:57pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



Much shorter than I'm accustomed to seeing lately, although in this particular case, it's easy to see why - there's no backstory that Terra knows of to tell.  This really is a sad entry though, and really highlights the craziness and bloodlust of Kefka.  It's sad to see the innocence of Terra being battered by the maniacal clown just because of her esper powers. 

It was also good to see the kindness in Cid here, although even I felt abandoned when he left... how did everyone in the Empire just stand by and let Kefka do that to her...?  People just turned a blind eye to it in order to protect their own conscience... it's cruel, but unfortunately, a pretty accurate depiction of our own world.

Nicely done, and as always, I look forward to more.




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 10.06.2011 5:35am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



Yes, Terra's was necessarily shorter due to her not really having a "life" to live at this point in the story.

And I have always wondered why people like Cid, and especially Leo, just let things go on the way they did with Terra.  They both knew about Terra, and Leo even states at one point in the game that he knew how she was being used, and still did nothing, and said that made him no better than Kefka. But the fact remains  - they really did turn a blind eye to Terra. It just shows how much power Kefka must have really had over the workings of the Empire.




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 10.11.2011 3:52pm
Thread Creator (Edited on 10.11.2011 at 4:01pm)

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



And now for the second to last chapter! Everyone's favorite goody-two-shoes!


~Leo~

"General Leo, sir!"

What time is it? Did I fall asleep?

"Sir, I have a fresh report from the front lines!"

Leo woke from his brief rest with a quick snap, his eyes reddened and sunken from lack of sleep, but his face alert and cheerful. He had only slept for fifteen minutes at most, but that was all he could afford during wartime. The sun was still hours from rising, but there were far too many decisions to be made, problems to handle, and crises to avert. Sleep would have to wait for another day.

"What is it, Kay?" The tired general asked with no pomp or formality, as was his way. Everyone was on equal footing in his regiment, and he knew the names of every man under his command. The Imperial base was more like a family than a battalion, with Leo the honored patriarch.

"Sir!" The officer, Kay, saluted sharply, delivering his pre-dawn message quickly. "The Doman civilians have completed their evacuation of the castle, and only the soldiers remain inside. What is to be our next move? Should we follow the refugees and stop them?"

Despite Leo's lack of formality, his soldiers respected him far too much to treat him the same. No matter how friendly he acted with his troops, he was still treated like some sort of benevolent god of war, untouchable and unknowable. For every inch he made towards camaraderie, the soldiers would step back two more, always keeping him just out of reach. He understood their position, but he wished he could just be "one of the guys" again, like he used to be back when he was still a grunt.

As Leo rolled off his hammock onto his feet, he lifted his long green general's coat off the hook next to him and back onto his broad shoulders. It felt like he never took the coat off nowadays. Inside, his tent was no different from any of his soldier's tents, and there was barely enough room for the officer and himself. The moment Leo stood up, the officer stepped back to give him more room, practically pushing himself out the tent's flaps. Leo only smiled, knowing any attempt to usher the man back in would be futile.

"Let the civilians escape unharmed. Even if they flee into occupied territory, make no move against them. Aide them if they let you. Our target is the castle, not the people. The only people I plan on engaging are the ones who wish to fight."

"Yes, sir!" The officer saluted again, then turned and left as quickly as he came. No arguments, no explanations. Whatever General Leo said was followed, absolutely.

Leo chuckled to himself. It was nice to be obeyed, but sometimes he wished they would at least stick around for something to eat or drink. Breakfast was such a lonely time for a leader, and Leo didn't waste more than the bare minimum on it. He quickly grabbed a chunk of bread and a piece of dried meat from the bedside cooler, gulped down a few pints of fresh water from his tin cup, then walked out into the dark, damp air of early morning. Dew still clung to the sparse grasses struggling to survive the harsh dry landscape where the base was located.

"Good morning, sir!"

"Good morning, Ector."

"Good morning, sir!"

"Good morning, Bors."

"Sir, if you have a moment, our squad needs your approval on an urgent order!"

"Of course, what is it, Tristan?"

Leo saluted and smiled at every soldier he passed as he made his way to the base headquarters. He had greeted over a dozen men and given just as many orders before he finally made his way to the large tent that served as the meeting place for all the senior staff. The base never slept, and Leo tried to keep up with all of its goings-on as best he could. Working on only a half hour or less of sleep a day and dealing with a never-ending stream of soldiers in need of his input was the only life he had known since the war began. Peace and quiet were as foreign to Leo as the strange land he now found himself struggling to conquer.

None of this bothered him, though. Fighting for his country, for his Emperor, that was all Leo felt he needed to be satisfied. Just as the soldiers worshiped and respected Leo, so too, did Leo worship and respect his Emperor. The loyal soldier obeyed every order from above, absolutely.

Emperor Gestahl is a true visionary, and soon the world will see an era of peace unmatched by any previous time in history. Let the naysayers gossip about warmongering all they want. Time will be the true judge of our country's great achievement.

Leo knew many people, including the stubborn Domans, reviled the Empire, and especially Emperor Gestahl. He had heard all sorts of rumors of atrocities committed by his fellow generals and commanders, but believed very few of them. He knew General Celes personally, and knew she was as noble and pure a soul as anyone, and he could personally vouch for almost every high-ranking soldier in the army. Unfortunately, it only took one bad apple to spoil the people's opinion of this war of peace. And that apple went by the name of Kefka.

Ah, Kefka. Why do you have to act like such a child? Don't you realize your antics are casting a pall over the whole war effort? I must speak to the Emperor about curbing his impulsive tendencies soon, or he will undo all we have worked to achieve. The Emperor will know what to do with that man.

Leo mulled over his fellow generals while he approached the long tent that served as central command. He knew there was nothing he could do while he was stranded so far away from the capital city of Vector. For now, he must focus on the proud Domans, and find some way to neutralize their forces with as little bloodshed as possible.

As Leo walked into the tent, he was bombarded by a trio of officers, each with their own problems for him to resolve.

"General Leo, you're just in time! The Telstars are fully operational, and just need your approval to be activated."

"General Leo! What should we do with the crates General Kefka sent here? They are unmarked and we aren't sure how to handle them."

"General Leo, sir! The Doman soldiers have begun their counterattack, and are fighting more fiercely that ever! Should we deploy the Magitek Armor?"

Leo listened patiently as each man struggled to get his attention first. He was aware of each man's concerns, and answered each of them in turn, slowly making his way to his seat at the long meeting table as he talked.

"Percival, keep the Telstars locked up and powered down until absolutely necessary. I don't trust a heartless machine that follows programmed instructions over a human being who can react, improvise, and listen. Our troops are more than adequate to handle the Domans for now. They have nothing like our technology on their side, and using the Telstars would be overkill, if not downright barbaric."

The officer known as Percival looked disappointed at Leo's orders as he took his seat again, but he would obey them without comment. He was the head of the Magitek Research and Development on the base, and was always eager to try every new gadget Vector sent them, even if the situation on the front lines deemed them unnecessary. Leo was still old-fashioned, and didn't trust anything that wasn't human. Most of the heavy armaments that had been delivered were still locked away in the supply tents, seemingly forgotten. But Percival trusted Leo, and knew that when the time was right his general would use whatever was appropriate for the situation.

"Lamorak, put the crates into deep storage at Supply Tent 4. I have no idea what Kefka was thinking sending his own personal supplies here, but I want nothing to do with them. This is my front, and I will not tolerate his interference. It's thoughtless actions like his that are giving this war a bad reputation."

Lamorak nodded and gave the order to a soldier next to him to move the crates to their designated area. Lamorak didn't mention that the dogs on base stayed away from the crates like frightened puppies, or that soldiers that had come with the crates on board the Blackjack wore gas masks and handled the crates like live explosives. Whatever was in them was Kefka's business, and he agreed with General Leo. This was their war, not Kefka's. Keep those things as far out of sight as possible and forget about them. Supply Tent 4 was the most isolated tent on the base, and whatever went in there never came out again. Good riddance.

"Galahad, not yet. Keep the Magitek Armor ready and fueled, but do not deploy until we can do so without heavy casualties. The Domans are a proud warrior class, but they cannot hold out against our numbers much longer. Just keep them penned in, and we will emerge the victors. If it looks like they are gaining too much ground, you have my permission to deploy just one small group of Armor to show the Domans what we can do when we are pressed. Magitek energy is like nothing they've ever seen before, and should scare them back inside the castle if it comes down to that."

Magitek energy truly is like nothing any of us have seen. It seems horribly unfair to even use it at all against our enemies. To think, Cid actually wanted to turn me into some sort of magitek weapon! All I need is the Scion and my soldiers, and I can accomplish all the Emperor requires of me.

Leo fingered the ever-present sword at his side, the crystalline blade Scion, uneasily. War was meant to be fought hand to hand, blade on blade. All these innovations that had been pouring out of Vector these past few years disturbed him. As soon as Cid had unveiled the marvels of the new power source known as Magitek, scientists around the Empire began furiously implementing it in every way they could think of. Even using it on human beings to augment their battle capabilities! Kefka might have been willing to take such an unfair advantage, but Leo would never dream of it, especially after seeing what it did to Kefka. His father and his father before him had fought using nothing but the Scion and their own innate talents, and Leo would do no less. The Christophe legacy would not be disgraced with cheap tricks. He loathed to even use the Magitek Armors for intimidation purposes, but he couldn't deny the impact they would have if things really did turn against them.

After taking care of the initial problems of the three officers, Leo sat down at his chair at the head of the lengthy table, and smiled affably at the gathered men.

"Now then, down to the business of the day. Galahad brings up a very good point. Now that the Domans have safely evacuated their civilians, they are redoubling their efforts to regain the surrounding farmlands. Their strategy seems to be to take advantage of their superior knowledge of the land, and give themselves the better position whenever possible. So far, it's working."

"Sir, they are being led by a truly fierce warrior," Galahad said with reluctant admiration. "The man fights like a dragon, and inspires his troops to do the same. I say we should do everything we can to eliminate him now, while the Domans are still building their offensive."

Leo grimaced at the word "eliminate", but he had to agree. "I have heard stories about this mighty warrior that leads the Domans back from the brink of defeat. The reports say he is a Garamonde, perhaps the most skilled to come from that line in centuries." Leo smiled as he saw the faces of his men slacken in dismay at the mention of the name Garamonde. The name was practically as revered on the battlefield as Christophe.

"Are you sure we shouldn't deploy just one unit of Armors to take this Garamonde out of the battle, sir?" Percival piped up, hoping the feared name would push his general to agree.

Leo remained adamant in his position. "No. This leader of men is still just a man himself. We will continue to press his troops with our numbers while our blockade around the castle lands remains secure. We will wear him out eventually, and he will have no choice but to retreat back into the castle to renew his forces."

"What then, sir?" A large man spoke from the corner, his gruff voice muffled by the heavy armor he insisted on wearing. Leo knew him well, and knew he was one of the fiercest warriors on the base.

"Once it is apparent to the Domans that they cannot break through our lines, they will try to wait us out inside the castle. That will be our opportunity to strike a crippling blow." Leo studied the armored man's half-hidden face, knowing exactly what he was thinking.

"You, Lance, will lead a special unit straight up to the walls of the castle. Don't give them a chance to get comfortable in there. Your unit will be small, no more than a dozen soldiers. Just enough to sneak under their fortifications and engage them directly at their front gate. You can confront this Garamonde yourself if he shows himself, which I believe he will. I'll leave the choice of men up to you."

Lance smiled and nodded. He was a man of few words, and usually let his giant axe speak for him. This kind of mission was his specialty, and he was glad General Leo trusted him to carry it out. He would not let his commander down.

"Gaharis, Gareth, Gawaine, you're with me," Lance rumbled from his chair. The three men he named stood at attention. Lance rose slowly, and left with a nod to Leo, his three chosen warriors behind him.

"Remember," Leo added as the four men left, "wait until they retreat, and then strike. For now, we stand our ground and tire them out."

After Lance had left, Leo continued going down the list of daily affairs with his officers. With each passing hour, the importance of the topics dwindled, until finally Leo reached the last topic on the list - a request for additional waste removal units from Vector. The sun had just fully risen above the horizon by the time the meeting was over. For most people, this would mark the beginning of their day.

Leo squinted as he exited the tent into the bright sunlight. He felt like he had already spent an entire day inside the dimly lit tent. The scenery on the base was dismal at best, and Leo wished he was on the front lines with his men, sword in hand. He remembered the wide grassy plains outside Doma, a stark contrast to the near-desert conditions on this side of the Doma River. Doma was a beautiful country, and he felt saddened at the strife he had brought to it, but orders were orders.

Once the war is over, I will see to it personally that the fields and forests that we destroyed are replanted. Such a magnificent landscape should not be lost.

"Sir Leo!"

Leo was jarred out of his green reverie by the all too familiar sound of a soldier in need.

"Yes, Agravaine?"

The smallish soldier seemed nervous in Leo's presence. "S-Sir, I hate to bother you but..."

Leo smiled disarmingly. There were many soldiers like this one. "No bother at all. I was just going to grab a quick bite before inspecting the camp. Care to join me?"

"I couldn't!" Agravaine said, shocked.

"Of course you could, but I won't twist your arm," Leo said kindly, but a bit saddened. That barrier between him and his soldiers was truly impenetrable. "Now, what did you need?"

"Sir! A report just came in from the capital! General Kefka has been scheduled to arrive here in a few weeks!"

Leo couldn't hide the frown on his face at the mention of that man. "Kefka? Why would he come here?"

Agravaine frowned exactly the same way Leo did as he handed Leo the report. Rumors had been flying around camp that Kefka was to be the next general in charge of the Doman front, and no one cared to believe it. A report like this only heightened their suspicions, and their fear.

Leo scanned the report quickly, his frown deepening as he read.

"One week?" Leo burst out after a moment, surprising the young soldier beside him. "The man must be mad, to make promises like that to the Emperor. Doma will never fall that quickly! Let Kefka come here and assist me if he must, but he will be sorely dismayed at the difficulty of dislodging a worthy opponent!"

Leo was visibly angered by the report. Seeing the general out of temper was a rarity, and did not sit well with the poor Agravaine.

"Surely you have more pull than General Kefka with Emperor Gestahl, sir? Can't you just send a report back declining his assistance?"

Leo sighed. "I'm afraid not. The Emperor has taken a strange liking to the man. It's as if Kefka can do no wrong in the Emperor's eyes. I don't understand it, but I am a soldier just like you. We must have faith that our superiors know what's best for the Empire. That is the duty of a soldier."

"Yes, sir." Agravaine said.

"Yes, indeed," Leo added. "Are you sure you won't join me for a drink?"

"Sorry sir, but I could never waste your time like that! I'm sure you have much better things to do with your time than watch after me."

Unfortunately, the young soldier was right. Leo would have to eat while he inspected the camp. The little time he had allotted for his meal had been taken up while he received the unpleasant report from Agravaine.

"Some other time then, alright?" Leo said as affably as he could.

"Uh, y-yes sir!" Agravaine stuttered, then excused himself.

"Time...," Leo mused as he trudged quickly back to his tent to grab another piece of bread and a gulp of water. "Never enough time."

Once this war is over, I'll have all the time I want, I'm sure of it. This will be the last war, and then the world will be at peace. Maybe then I can settle down and find a wife. Hah, I'm so out of practice, I doubt I could ever convince anyone to marry me! But that is one battle I will be glad to fight.

Leo spent much of the rest of the morning marching from one corner of the base to the other, making sure everything was functioning smoothly. No one was forgotten, not even the lowliest trash collector. Several times he tried to make friendly conversation with the workers, but it was always forced on their end. He knew his presence was unnerving, and tried to calm the men down, but it was impossible. As soon as the great General Leo appeared, everyone worked twice as hard, and acted twice a polite. The men respected him just too much to bring him down to their level.

Eventually the tired general had to make do with the pack of doberman hounds near the back of the base. The dogs were huge, and looked vicious, but they were exquisitely trained. On the battlefield they were fearsome beasts, but here in their pen they were harmless and playful. Leo petted one of them without fear, letting it lick his hand freely.

At least the dogs aren't afraid to be around me. Perhaps I should take one of them as a pet, something to keep me company while I strike fear and awe into everyone else.

Leo took as much time as he could with the dogs, soaking up their innocence as best he could. Inevitably someone came to find him with another concern.

"General, there you are!"

Leo smiled his tireless smile. "Ah, so you found me, Bedivere. What can I do for you?"

"The Domans are mounting another attack, we need you immediately!"

Leo stopped petting the giant dog behind the pen's fence and nodded gravely. "I expected as much. From the western hillside, where the trees overhang a small valley, correct?"

Bedivere's mouth popped open briefly in surprise, but maintained his composure in front of his general. "Y-yes, sir. How did you know?"

"Based on their last attack, I figured that's where they'd spring from next. It's what I would have done in their situation. They're spiraling around the base, getting closer with each surprise strike."

"What should we do? Should we deploy the Magitek Armor now?"

"No!" Leo said more forcefully than he intended. "No. There's no need for them yet. I'll go and survey the battlefield right now, and make sure this attack ends before they have a chance to build any more momentum."

Leo stood up straight and marched in the direction of the attack at a rapid clip. He didn't run, and remained completely calm as he strode up to the western edge of the base. Smoke was rising from the small grove of trees that had hidden the Doman strike force. The glare of the noonday sun obscured the battlefield from the Imperial side, exactly as the Doman warriors had intended, Leo was sure. This Garamonde leader was a shrewd one.

Good. As long as we keep destroying the places they attack from, they'll have less room to maneuver for future ambushes. Another week of this, and they'll be out of places to hide. It's a shame we have to scorch this beautiful countryside, but it's better than taking lives.

"General, glad you made it!" It was Percival, the Magitek R&D officer. "What are your orders, sir? I've already sent out flamethrowers to cut off this new ambush point, just like last time."

Leo covered his eyes from the blinding sunlight as he looked across the small valley where his soldiers were engaged with the enemy. The hillside they had erupted from without warning was a wall of flames, and Leo knew the Domans had to be aware of their hopeless situation. They were trapped in the valley now, and if Leo wished it, his men could slaughter the brave, but foolish Doman warriors with little effort.

No, this new leader of theirs is smarter than that. Something is wrong here. But what?

"Keep an eye on that hillside, Percival, and keep the remainder of our troops up here."

"But sir, we've razed it to the bedrock. There's nothing there to hide in now."

"It seems that way, doesn't it?" Leo said, thinking to himself. "Just watch that hillside, and let me know if anything, anything at all, happens over there. Understood?"

"Yes, sir! But what about you?"

"I'm going to have a look around. Something is not right here. This is too easy, too predictable. Hold that line in the valley, but do not deploy any Armor until I order it."

"Yes, sir..." Percival said glumly. He was hoping this would be the battle to show the might of Magitek energy to the Domans.

Leo walked carefully around the western edge of the base, his keen eyes on the surrounding areas.

Now, where would the next place to attack be?

"General Leo, look!"

Leo's eyes darted to where the officer next to him, Galahad, had pointed. Sure enough, another group of Domans was emerging from a second hidden location. This time, it was a large outcropping of rocks, the result of a recent landslide. Leo was beginning to suspect that landslide was no accident, and had been set off purposely in advance to create the next stage of the ambushes.

Clever, Garamonde.

Leo ordered Galahad's regiment to meet the second wave of Domans, and once again reminded his officer not to deploy the Armor. Not yet.

Now then, is that all?

Leo continued his leisurely stroll around the edge of the base, peering into the distance for anything out of place. He was convinced the surprises were not quite done yet.

I'd better return to Percival. I have a feeling something is about to happen back on that hillside.

By the time Leo had returned to the initial surprise attack, things were looking grim in the small valley. Apparently, the leader of the Doman warriors had made an appearance while Leo was away, and decimated the troops.

"General, thank god you're back!" Percival said, holding the side of his arm tightly. He had been forced to join the fray himself, and had been wounded badly by the leader of the Domans. "As soon as you left, that Garamonde showed his face, and began cutting through our troops like wheat! I tried to stop him, but I was no match for his blade. I am sorry, sir..."

Leo couldn't help but smile, despite the injured officer and the worsening situation down in the valley. "Where did he come from?"

"Just as you predicted, from the hillside. He must have been hiding out of sight, waiting until you were gone to attack. There must have been a hidden cave or fissure we missed. He just appeared out of thin air, like a demon!"

Leo peered down into the valley, and caught a glimpse of shining blue armor turning and spinning through his defenseless troops faster than his eyes could follow.

That would be our Garamonde. Such fine swordsmanship! I would like to cross blades with him someday. Christophe against Garamonde - Scion against Masamune. Which family's warrior blood flows the strongest? Which legendary blade is the keenest? Ah, this is why I became a soldier!

Leo took a step down towards the path into the valley, sorely tempted to join the clash despite being a general whose place was safely away from the battlefield. Before he could take more than a few steps, he was stopped cold by an unexpected and unwelcome sight.

As quickly as the Domans had gained the upper-hand, now they were being routed back against the stone walls. Someone had disobeyed his direct orders, and sent a single Magitek Armor into the valley. Just one of those mechanical monstrosities was enough to wipe out an entire regiment at full power.

"Who sent that thing in there?" Leo roared, looking directly at Percival. The fire in his eyes wilted the officer like a dying flower.

"I'm sorry, sir!" Percival whimpered. "It looked like we had no choice! Our entire regiment was being taken out by that man, I had to do something!"

Leo was furious, and as he watched the multi-colored beams of Magitek energy blast out from the hulking Armor, he grew even madder. What was left of the Doman strike force was huddled at the end of the valley in a tight knot, shields raised in a dome of metal to defend against the undefendable. The only warrior still standing outside the barrier of shields was their leader, his blue armor dented and blood-soaked and his shield cleaved in two, but his spirit stronger than ever.

"Stop that pilot at once! You've proven your point, and shown the Domans our power quite brilliantly. This will not be a massacre!"

Leo's voice was as piercing as a blast from the Magitek Armor, and it sent Percival running to the messenger to deliver the order to cease fire at once. While Leo fumed over his officer's disobedience, he watched the lone warrior of Doma stand his ground against the Armor.

It was a curious sight, watching the tiny man face off against the mountain of metal slowly clanking towards him, its metal claws clacking together dangerously. The machine must have been ten times his size, but he stared it down the same way he would a normal soldier. Surely he wasn't going to attempt to fight it? No matter how strong this Garamonde was, he was no match for an Imperial Magitek Armor alone.

Amazing. Absolutely fearless. That man is the perfect warrior, no doubt about it. We must have a match someday. Unless he gets himself killed in this foolish act of bravado. Hurry, Percival...

But Percival's order never made it to the pilot of the Magitek Armor. As Leo watched in silent awe, the man lunged at the wall of steel, dodging its beam attacks like a dancer. His lightning fast sword first sliced one claw off, then the other. As he spiraled around the vehicle, he delivered a third strike to the beam cannon's barrel, slicing it off neatly. Without claws or beams, the machine was nothing more than a giant suit of armor.

Before the pilot could react or eject, the man was behind the Armor and climbing its back. With a laugh the man delivered a fourth powerful blow to the cockpit, shattering the controls, and cleaving the poor pilot's helmet in two. His job done, the man nimbly jumped back down and crossed his arms with a smile, waiting to see what the pilot would do next.

Bereft of armor and helm, the pilot leapt from the devastated cockpit and ran as fast as he could away from his humiliating defeat. The battle was over in the span of a few seconds. As soon as Percival's messenger saw the carnage, he turned tail and fled back up the rock wall to safety alongside the pilot.

Unbelievable. The man really did it. Even my Shock technique would have been hard-pressed to finish off a Magitek Armor that easily. This man is a Garamonde through and through. If he weren�t my enemy, he would surely be my friend.

The splendid performance by the master swordsman helped to quell Leo's mood. By the time Percival returned, the general was beaming, despite being on the losing end of the battle.

"I'm sorry sir...I never expected that man to win! It was impossible the way he moved!"

Leo only smiled. "Well, Percival, I guess we showed Doma just what our Magitek Armor was made of, literally!" He laughed, then added, "The cost of that Armor will be taken out of your pay, understood?"

Percival paled, but saluted his general. "Yes, sir."

100,000 gil per Armor...that's an entire year's pay! Percival thought as he shamefully excused himself from the battlefield.

Leo watched the remaining Doman warriors regroup and try to finish their attack, despite heavy casualties. The Garamonde was nowhere to be seen.

I would guess that little battle exhausted the man more than it would appear. He won't be back for a repeat performance today, I think. He knows he's a target now, and I doubt he could take out a group of Armors, even with his skill...

But his victory had given renewed strength to the surviving Domans, and they were pressing forward again, hoping to finally breach the walls of the base. All the remaining Imperial soldiers had fled when the Magitek Armor arrived, assuming the battle was as good as won.

Not today, my proud warriors. There is still one Imperial soldier left to face.

Leo quickly made his way down the rocky path into the valley to head off the invaders before they reached the base. The mass of Domans saw the general stop in front them, but showed no signs of slowing down. He was just one man, after all.

"Noble Domans! Hear me!" Leo called out as he stood his ground at the other end of the valley. "You have fought well today, but this is where the battle ends. Turn around and go back to your castle, and no harm will come to you!"

Several soldiers laughed, and none ceased their march forward.

Leo drew his glittering sword and took up a battle stance as the group of men approached his position. "This is your last warning, Domans! Before you stands General Leo Christophe, and I will not let you pass!"

Now the soldiers stopped laughing. The name of Christophe was as feared to the Domans as Garamonde was to the Imperial troops. But they did not stop. They had been trained by the best, and were the finest warriors Doma could produce. Even if they knew they were facing certain defeat, they would not surrender and would not run.

"Very well," Leo said calmly, pointing his sword directly at the oncoming line of warriors. With a flash of crystal light Leo swung his sword blindingly fast in the practiced motions of the ancient Shock technique. His sword drew an arc in the air over his head, and for a brief moment, nothing moved. Time seemed to stop while the latent energies of the Scion built up in the air around its wielder.

Just as the men thought they were safe, the super-charged air exploded around them, sending up a roaring inferno of light from which nothing could escape. The blast shook both the earth and atmosphere around the trapped men, flattening them like toy soldiers all at once. When the wall of light subsided, the entire regiment lay on the ground, unconscious and beaten senseless by the fury of the Scion.

"This is the real enemy you face, proud warriors. Remember it."

Leo sheathed his sword reverently, and left the battlefield. By the time he reached the top of the valley, Galahad had returned to report victory over the second wave of Domans.

"And you did not use Magitek Armor?" Leo asked sternly.

"No, sir. It was a close call, but we managed to fend them off with the remainder of the troops that survived the first wave here." Galahad took a brief glance down into the valley, where the shocked Domans were just beginning to gather themselves up. "What happened over here?"

"Something that shouldn't have. Thank you, Galahad, for obeying my wishes." Leo patted the surprised officer on the shoulder, and walked away from the valley, twice as exhausted as when he first arrived. The sun was setting, and Leo hoped he could make it back to his tent without being interrupted this time.

It was almost dark when Leo saw his humble tent waiting for him at the other end of the base camp. As he continued his slow walk to his waiting hammock, he heard the familiar call of duty behind him. He sighed, but when he turned to face the soldier, he was smiling that same smile.

"General Leo, before you go, I have one last requisition to be filled!" It was Kay again, from the beginning of the day.

"Of course." Leo said happily, taking the paper from the soldier and signing it quickly. It was a simple thing - more food for the dogs. "There you go."

"Thank you sir, every little thing counts!" Kay smiled nervously and saluted.

Leo smiled at the man's attention to detail. "You're absolutely right. Say, how would you like to join me for a quick drink before we put in for the night?"

Kay's nervous smile faltered, but he remained at attention. "I-I couldn't sir...it wouldn't be proper..."

"Nonsense!" Leo said quickly, before the man could run off. "I insist. Right now. Don't make me give you an order!" Leo laughed, and the nervous subordinate laughed despite himself.

"O-okay, I guess it's alright, since I'm technically off duty now anyways."

"Excellent!" Leo clapped one of his hands on the soldier's shoulder, and the two went inside his small tent.

As Leo poured some of his personal stock of Gabbiani wine for the two of them, he talked about the day to the bewildered youth. He hit a note when he began talking about the dogs, which were a shared interest between them.

For a while, Leo wasn't alone anymore. He knew the soldier would never be a true friend because of his position, but it was close enough for now. They talked and laughed, sharing stories about home and about the beauty of the rolling fields of Doma. The soldier even opened up enough to make a few jokes about Kefka, which pleased Leo despite his better judgment. Proper soldiers didn't mock their fellow comrades, but with Kefka, Leo was willing to make an exception.

As the night wore on, the soldier yawned and excused himself, thanking his general for the drinks and the conversation. "And sir, please don't tell the other soldiers about this. I don't want them to think I'm sucking up or anything."

Leo laughed at the idea of playing favorites. "Kay, if I could I would ask every officer, soldier, worker, and cook to join me for a drink every night. My door is always open to anyone who wants see me."

"Of course, sir." Kay said, the barrier of rank slowly rearing its ugly head again as he realized where he was and who he was talking to.

Leo saw it, and sighed inwardly. "You're excused, Kay. Good night, and thank you."

"Yes, sir!" Kay smiled and left the tent.

Alone again, Leo took off his general's coat and hung it carefully on its hook. He climbed into his hammock and snuffed out the lamp. It was late now, almost midnight. There had been a few hiccups today, but overall, he was happy. He had taken a small step towards breaking down that wretched wall of deference that separated him from his men, and perhaps word would get around that he wasn't such an unapproachable person. Perhaps someday when war was a thing of the past he could throw away that general's coat, and just be plain old Leo, a man, nothing more. Someday...

Leo closed his eyes, preparing to rest for hopefully a few hours without being disturbed.

In a moment he was asleep. But only for a moment.

"General Leo!"




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 10.23.2011 1:13am
Thread Creator

Free Spirit
Zetta Member



The end comes...
~Kefka~


"General Kefka, sir!"

Too early. Kill him.

"Too early...go away!" The sleeping general said waspishly from his large bed.

The soldier stepped cautiously into the private quarters of his commanding officer, who was making no attempt rise from his luxurious surroundings. It was almost noon. This was the worst part of his job - delivering the morning reports to Kefka.

"Sir, I have a fresh report from Tzen!"

Kill him, kill him, kill him!

Kefka poked his head out from the thick, brightly patterned covers of his bed. Without the gaudy make-up to reduce the seriousness of the murderous intent his features usually wore, it was an even more frightening sight. Right now, the only thing keeping the soldier alive was the fact that Kefka did not want to get out of bed.

"Why are you still here?" Kefka groaned, turning under his covers to look into one of the many tall mirrors placed around his room.

The soldier stepped back into the doorway, but did not leave. He had his orders, and knew if he left without giving the report, Kefka would just kill him later for that. It would not be the first time.

"S-Sir!" The solider stuttered, trying with all his might to do the relatively simple task of delivering a report. "Our forces in Tzen will be ready to depart for South Figaro in less than a week. Your private ship will be ready tomorrow ...And, your man has returned from Miranda with General Celes. W-what are your orders?"

Who cares about these trivialities? Just kill him and go back to that lovely, bloody dream we were having.

Kefka ignored the soldier, and continued studying his face in the closest mirror. He picked at his teeth with one spindly finger as he tapped a daub of white paint onto another finger. While he greased his disheveled blonde hair back and painted his face, he hummed something, out of tune. When he was done preparing himself, he plucked a long white tail feather from the small, stuffed white chocobo next to his bed and stuck it behind his ear. A rarity, the white chocobo. It had been fun hunting it down.

You look perfect. Now, do something about that annoying grunt.

"I'll worry about Tzen when I get there," Kefka spoke through a yawn. "Where are my robes?"

Kefka rolled out of his bed and onto the floor feet-first, exposing his startlingly pale flesh to the cool air of his room. His body was thin and sickly-looking for a man of such high rank in the Imperial army, but he was stronger than he looked. That much everyone knew. He was a Magitek Knight, after all.

And a cold-blooded killer. Everyone knew that, as well.

Hurry up and get rid of this pest! You know this day is an important one.

"Hurry up and dress me, you fool!"

The soldier ran to the other side of the room and grabbed the lush, green robes from Kefka's wardrobe. On the way he tripped over various scattered odds and ends. Dolls, dismembered toy soldiers, broken mirrors, and various other artifacts of childhood that were absurdly out of place in a general's room lay everywhere. The soldier said nothing, and just grabbed the clothes and ran back to the impatient Kefka.

As the soldier rushed to put the robes onto Kefka's back, he felt a stab of icy pain. Looking down, he saw a rose of blood blossoming out from his left side. A shard of ice like a spear was sticking out from his body. He collapsed just as the robe fell into place on Kefka's bony shoulders.

Yes, yes, yes! A beautiful start to this glorious day. Now we are ready to begin.

"Don't ever approach me from my back. I don't like being snuck up on." Kefka's voice was calm and his face beaming as he watched the unlucky soldier struggle to breathe, his lung pierced by the quickly melting spear of ice.

The last thing the soldier heard as his consciousness faded was Kefka's high-pitched, maniacal laugh just above him. How could he have forgotten such a simple rule? Too late now. Too, too late...

Kefka stopped laughing abruptly and stepped over the soldier's body to examine himself in one of his many mirrors. The act of murder he had just committed was already forgotten amidst the flurry of thoughts in his twisted mind. Yes, this was an important day, the last day of waiting! Today was the launching of his much-anticipated secret mission to Narshe.

Another Esper to add to the collection awaits us there. My men alone will find it and bring it back to Gestahl, and maybe extract a little magic essence from it along the way. You can never have too much power.

Kefka smiled broadly as he looked at himself in the mirror and continued dressing. One more final touch and he would be ready. His smile widened to show sharp feral teeth gleaming in a deep red mouth as he turned back to the dying soldier. Blood was spurting onto the floor around him, staining the various oddities that lay there, but Kefka didn't seem to mind. Someone would clean everything before he returned, as they always did.

Kneeling down like a child peering into a lake at his own reflection, Kefka looked at his face in the glistening pool of blood and saw what he was missing. One long finger dipped into the blood and twirled around, soaking up as much red as it could. He streaked the bloodied finger in a vertical line below one eye, then the other, leaving a dot below each streak. With a last flourish, he touched his fingertip to his lips and puckered, savoring the familiar flavor of death. Now he was done.

"You there! Get in here and clean this mess up!" Kefka shouted to no one, but he knew there was a second soldier waiting outside. There always was, just for these kinds of "accidents."

Within a second, another soldier rushed into the room, his eyes hidden and face averted. He knew what had happened, and knew that now he would have to be the one to deliver tomorrow's report. Such was life under the command of a madman.

Just one more day! the soldier thought, sadly. If he had lasted just one more day, Kefka would be gone for Tzen, then Doma, and I'd be safe! Curse my rotten luck!

The soldier tried to remain calm, quiet and unobtrusive as he dragged his comrade's body out of the crazily decorated room and out of his general's sight. Just one more day!

Where are our pets? We have much to discuss today!

Kefka marched haughtily down the hallway from his room, his head held high and his mind elsewhere. Passing soldiers and scientists dodged out of his way like he was a stampeding bull. No one said a word to the general, and Kefka remained oblivious to the meaningless people around him.

His first order of business was greeting his fellow general, fresh from the blockade at Miranda. Celes had been busy, spreading all sorts of anti-war and anti-Kefka sentiment down south, and Kefka could not have that. The Emperor could not have that.

Whatever Kefka did, he knew the Emperor would allow it, and rarely even consulted the old bag of wind anymore. The two had a mutual understanding about Kefka's antics. As long as Kefka got results, it didn't matter how he did it, or who he had to get rid of along the way. Even General Celes wasn't immune to Kefka's wrath, and the sooner she learned this, the better.

She must die. All who stand in our path must be destroyed! Destroy, destroy, destroy!

"Uweehee! This will be fun!"

Kefka was in high spirits when he reached his private meeting room, deep in the bowels of the Vector Imperial Palace. The room was its usual clutter of papers and books, food and drink. As per his standing orders, there was always a sumptuous meal waiting for him upon arrival. Killing so early in the morning always made him hungry.

If only he knew how to fill that hunger.

Destruction is all we need. Must destroy more! More, more, more!

Kefka was alone in his meeting room as he scribbled out the first orders of the day. There was no consulting with the fellow officers here, no strategies for the coming war, no trivial talk with the worthless rabble that filled the Imperial forces. Kefka's orders were his alone, and he was obeyed, or else. Fear was the greatest power of all, and it was Kefka's weapon of choice.

We will show them all true fear. Fear will rule this world, and we will be its absolute wielder!

The lone soldier outside the room waited patiently while Kefka scribbled and muttered, laughed and cursed. The soldier's name was Biggs, and he knew not to disturb the mad general while he "worked." Biggs would wait outside the door all day if that was required.

Besides, he did not relish the completion of his task. He had just returned from Miranda with General Celes within the three days Kefka had ordered. The famous General of Snow had been expecting his arrival, apparently, and had made no attempt to argue with Kefka's orders. She surely knew what kind of man she was dealing with, but seemed remarkably calm as Biggs told her his orders. The hardened soldier had seen that look before, in the eyes of the condemned who were ready to die. Biggs was not a praying man, but in the face of a devil like Kefka, he couldn't help but say a few words for an angel like General Celes.

Finally, Kefka emerged from the room and barked an order to Biggs. It was time for his "interview" with his fellow general. The impossibly cruel smile on his face said all Biggs needed to know about the poor woman's fate. As he ushered the somber woman into the stuffy room, she quietly thanked him, and wished him well. She surely knew she may die today, but she also was acutely aware that the wretched soldier next to her might very well die by that same hand today as well. The two briefly shared a gallows’ glance, and went their separate ways.

Kill her.

"Ah, General Celes. How nice of you to join me for my morning meal." Kefka was as polite as could be, and even offered the silent woman a hank of well-cooked wyvern meat. If she had known how this meat was acquired, she would have been appalled. As such, she still refused any food or drink from her would-be interrogator. She had no hunger for this man's food.

She will bow before us! And we will slice that pretty head right off her pretty shoulders!

Kefka made no sign that he cared one way or the other what Celes said or did, and tore a large chunk of blackened meat off the massive wing-bone in front of him, chewing loudly and messily.

"Delicious," Kefka said, smacking his blood-soaked lips. "I will have to pay the cook a compliment later, ha!"

Celes remained silent. She would let Kefka do all the talking here. She had said everything she wanted to say in Miranda, and she knew the rest of the Empire had heard her.

"So. I have heard disturbing rumors that you are unhappy with this war, and especially with the way I have been conducting my end of it." Kefka looked at her with wide, too-bright eyes, eager to snap her up if she made one wrong move.

Go on! Tell us you hate us! Stoke our appetite for your death, and see what you get!

Celes looked straight into the madman's glowing eyes, matching will for stubborn will. She would not beg for mercy, nor would she admit she did anything wrong. She would say nothing.

We will make you squeal! We will make you scream!

"Nothing to say?" Kefka's voice was still polite, but his eyes were wavering with barely contained hostility. "Fine. Then I will tell you what is going to happen here, general."

Kefka stood up from his meal and walked slowly around his room, circling Celes like a vulture. "You have made your desire to end this war immediately quite clear. You have also made your desire to see me locked up as a war criminal perfectly clear. You even went so far as to begin removing your troops from Miranda...without the Emperor's orders." Kefka stopped and smiled wider at his captive. "I assure you that I put a stop to that presumptuous order, and have since doubled the troops stationed in Miranda, using my own personal favorite soldiers."

"What?" Celes said despite herself. She did not know anything about this.

Kefka laughed gleefully as he toyed with his plaything. "Ohoho! You thought you could be everyone's darling Snow Angel, and the people would love you for it, am I right?" Kefka's smile vanished. "Wrong. My soldiers will destroy whatever hope you gave those filthy Mirandans, and they will do it in your name. You will be hated, feared, reviled." Kefka's smile returned with a vengeance. "Just like me! Isn't it grand!? Uwahaha!"

Hate, hate, hate, hate! It makes the world go round!

Kefka nearly fell over in a fit at his own cleverness. Celes's snow white skin went a shade paler.

"You demon...," she said through clenched teeth. It was all she could do not to lash out at the lunatic and end his reign of terror right here in his own quarters. She may die, but she would take this monster with her.

Kefka must have seen the look of murder in Celes's eyes, for he recovered himself and looked at her kindly, like a brother in arms.

We know that look, don't we? So it would seem the General of Snow has some fire in her after all. We will destroy you, but first we will break you. The only thing more satisfying than the death of the body is the death of the spirit.

"You came here thinking you would die a martyr's death, the lone hero who stood up against the evil Empire. You were wrong. You will not die today." Kefka smiled beneficently, and pointed his finger rudely in Celes's face. "You will live to see the world hate you. You will watch as MY army covers this world and rules with an iron fist of fear. You have no hope, general."

Celes was shaking with fury, but would not let this man have the satisfaction of subduing her by violence. She knew he could win in a battle between Magitek Knights, simply because he would not hold back or show even the smallest sliver of mercy or human restraint. Without a sword, her Runic technique was useless, and Kefka was the more powerful mage.

While she had feared her own power, Kefka had embraced it, let it flow into him and control him from the start. Sometimes she wondered just how much the foreign energy controlled Kefka's actions. How much of Kefka's inhumanity was not his own doing? She had no memory of the man he was before his own infusion of magical energy, being only an infant at the time. She had heard rumors that he had been cruel, power-hungry, and self-absorbed, but not insane. Just...unpleasant. Would she turn into another Kefka if she kept using the power of Magitek?

"What are you going to do with me, then?" Her voice was suddenly tired. She had come here expecting to die a hero, and once again she had become a villain. The old despair and self-loathing crept back into her soul as she stared into the eyes of her oppressor.

We are going to destroy you, utterly. And there is nothing you can do about it.

"Do?" Kefka mimicked in his screechy voice. "For starters, I am going to strip you of your rank. You're an ex-general now, mon Chere."

"Only the Emperor can do that!" Celes blurted out. She was shocked, and hurt. She may have despised the Empire and this war, but she took great pride in her status as a high-ranking female general among a mostly male command structure. Kefka knew how to cause pain both gross and subtle.

"A mere formality, I assure you!" Kefka chuckled. "As soon as I tell the Emperor that you were planning to lead your Mirandan forces against us here in Vector, he'll be calling for your head as a traitor. My word's good as gold with the old man, as I'm sure you know."

"You're insane," Celes snarled, feeling an icy cold grip her heart. Was it fear, or anger? "You'll never win this war without me, and you certainly won't win it against me."

We don't need you! We don't need anyone or anything! We are power!

"I don't need you or anybody else to win this war," Kefka snarled back. "All I need is the magical power of the Espers, and the fear that power spreads, and all I desire will be mine."

"And what is it you desire, Kefka?" Celes was genuinely curious. What does the lunatic howl for?

We desire everything, and nothing! Whatever feeds our appetite for destruction. As long as this hunger exists, we will continue to destroy.

"That's for me to know and you to find out. The hard way." Kefka said with a smirk that did not reach his eyes.

"You're a child," Celes replied softly. She could read the uncertainty in his face. This man-child had no idea what he wanted, and just flailed about in the darkness of his own soul hoping to find something meaningful. When he came back up empty-handed, his only response was to take that frustration out on others, the world itself. For the first time, Celes felt a small pang of pity for this fool who would be king, of nothing.

"You act big, but if you ever came up against a force you couldn't control or intimidate, you wouldn't know what to do."

Destroy you...we will destroy you!

Kefka recoiled as if slapped, whether in exaggerated jest, or because she had actually stung him, Celes couldn't be sure.

"There is no force greater than fear," Kefka snapped. "As long as I have this power," Kefka conjured a deadly blade of ice at his fingertips, pointing it directly at Celes's heart, "people will fear me. By the time this war is over I will be the most powerful force in this world." The frozen dagger pricked Celes gently. "You are the only one who could even hope to stand against me, and I am seeing to it that you never have the chance."

"You're not worth the effort," Celes said calmly, pushing the blade of ice back with her bare hands. "Others will follow my lead, even if I am vilified. This war cannot last, and neither can your empire of fear. The people of the world won't stand for it. We're not all insane like you."

Enough. Get rid of this impudent brat and her idle dreams. Her hope will die with her in obscurity!

"The people are fools, and are worth less than nothing, and you have said quite enough." Kefka yawned loudly. "Now then! You're boring me, ex-general. It's time I shipped you off to your next post. An iron post! Uweeheehee!"

Celes moved to resist, but she felt a powerful grip on her arms from behind, wrenching them backwards.

"You, soldiers! Restrain this self-professed traitor of the Empire and lock her away in the hold of my private ship." Celes felt cold steel on her arms, and knew there was nothing more she could do. She had missed her chance to end this war right here and now, letting herself be goaded by Kefka.

"She will accompany me while I finish the next phase of the war in the north. I will show her first-hand how futile her little resistance really is."

The trio of brutish soldiers, different from the kinder one who had brought her in, dragged her out of Kefka's study and to an uncertain fate on unknown shores. She had failed after all. In the end, her defiance was less than useless. Miranda would suffer because of her actions, and she would be forgotten as a traitor in some foreign dungeon. Despair wracked Celes as she was led away. But she held her head up high, and did not shed a single tear for her miserable fate. She would not give Kefka that satisfaction. She was still a soldier, and had a soldier's pride.

Kefka watched his former comrade fade down the dreary hallway and out of his sight. He was neither happy nor sad at her downfall. He had destroyed another innocent life, and felt nothing more than a gnawing hunger to finish his meal. He would simply have to try harder next time.

We will crush all who oppose our plans. There will be others, and they will fall all the harder the next time.

Kefka finished his grotesque meal of roasted wyvern and belched. He still felt empty. Celes's stubborn refusal to show him the fear he knew she must have been drowning in frustrated him. A plaything that wouldn't play back was no fun. He needed someone he could enrage, someone he could control, mind and body.

Yes, yes, yes! We must prepare our pet for tomorrow's mission! One last inspection before she leaves for Narshe.

Kefka grinned at the thought of another session with his favorite plaything. Ever since she had reached adolescence, she had been so much more interesting. Such wild emotions flaring up inside that shell! The slave crown made it almost too easy to manipulate her, but she was far too dangerous otherwise.

Perhaps after a few more Esper infusions Kefka could match her power, and the slave crown would no longer be needed. The worn out husks they had bottled up in the facility were growing less useful by the day. This fresh new Esper discovered frozen deep in the Narshe coal mines might be just the rejuvenating power he needed to bring this interminable war to a head. The constant back and forth sallies the Emperor indulged in bored Kefka to tears. A decisive strike to obliterate any hope of resistance was needed now, and Kefka was convinced this new Esper would give him that power.

More power. We must always seek more power. More power is more control, more fear, more destruction! Destroy, destroy, destroy!

Kefka hummed to himself pleasantly as he marched down the dim halls of the Imperial Palace, dreaming of the wonderful Empire of Kefka he would someday create. An "empire of fear" the traitor had called it. Yes, he liked the sound of that. For now, Gestahl's Empire would have to do. Until he gained more power.

Even the gods themselves will tremble at our power soon!

"Kefka, sir!"

Kefka was jarred out of his crimson reverie by the all too familiar whine of a soldier in need.

"What is it? Can't you see I'm busy?"

The young soldier standing at attention in front of him was too new to know how unstable Kefka was, and was eager to give the general his news. The look Kefka gave him at being interrupted visibly shocked him.

"I...I'm sorry sir...," The soldier faltered, but pressed on with his message courageously. "I just wanted to let you know General Leo received your letter, and we just received his response."

Another peace-lover like the traitor. We'll crush him just like her soon enough.

"Go on."

"He says he is grateful for your offer of assistance, but it is not needed at this time. What should I tell him?"

Kefka laughed uproariously at the oblivious newbie. "Tell him? I've got better things to do than play pen pal with Leo! Once I'm done with South Figaro, I'm heading to Doma to finish the mess Leo started whether he 'needs' it or not. Don't tell him anything. I'll tell him myself when I get there."

"But sir! The Emperor hasn't officially signed off on your plan yet!"

"Who cares!" Kefka shouted impatiently. "Once he sees the results, he'll have no choice but to let me have my way. Let Leo cry all he wants."

The soldier was left speechless by his general's audacity. He was getting a crash course in Kefka 101 today.

Kefka lunged at the soldier while he was trying to respond to his general's outburst. "Get out of my way! I have nothing more to tell you, so scram!"

The youth let out a yelp and ran down the nearest hallway.

"Idiots." Kefka laughed happily as his subordinate fled.

Kefka did not need the Emperor's approval for his actions. He did what he pleased, and the Emperor always turned a blind eye. As long as Kefka kept bringing him ridiculously lopsided victories in the name of his precious Empire, the old man didn't care what he did. In fact, the Emperor had not made any plans to remove Leo, despite his impatience with the Doman front. Kefka had forged a few of the letters claiming his right to take charge there, and would probably forge a few more before all was said and done. Wouldn't it be nice if Leo was unexpectedly called away by his Emperor just as Kefka arrived to save the day and take all the glory himself? Yes, it would be quite nice.

This war is ours to control. Gestahl is old and weak. We are still vibrant and powerful, and growing more powerful every day. Let the good soldiers think there is honor in this "war of peace" all they want. We know the truth. We ARE the truth.

"Uweeheehee! War is so much fun!" Kefka laughed all the way down the hallway and continued laughing as he strode out of the palace and into the open, stale air of Vector. He was still laughing as he passed the pen where the trained armored dogs known as Fidors were pacing restively. Despite being as large as horses and built like tanks, they cowered as the strange man passed. He had played more than a few tricks on the hapless beasts in the past, and they knew the freezing touch of his hand well.

Kefka passed the pen where the Vector attack hounds were kept, and continued onwards past the training ground for the soldiers, and finally to the testing ground for the Magitek armors, where his pet was still sleeping. Man or beast, all shrank back from the laughing man as he passed. Even the mysterious girl still unconscious in her small room at the center of the testing ground winced in her sleep at the sound of fanatic's voice.

Fear us! Yes, we feel all that fear, and it feels wonderful! Fear is power!

As Kefka happily approached the place where his pet slept, he was interrupted once again by two vaguely familiar soldiers. He scowled at them, but they stayed where they were. Apparently he was supposed to know why they were standing there like a pair of buffoons.

It was Biggs again, with another soldier named Wedge beside him. They both looked anxious. "We're reporting for the special mission you assigned to us the other day, sir!"

Failures. Kill them, slowly.

Kefka remembered the two pitiful grunts now, and their miserable failure at recapturing the Mirandan deserter. What were their names, again?

"You, Vicks, and...uh, whoever. Yes, a special mission. Very special! You will be overseeing a top secret raid on the coal mining town of Narshe. Reports confirm a frozen Esper has been discovered there. I want the two of you to accompany my little pet there and see if you can't bring that thing back here. Alive, understand? A dead Esper is no good to me."

"A live Esper, just the two of us? How are we supposed to take on a live Esper?" Biggs said, then grimaced at his stupidity. Did he really just speak to General Kefka like that?

KILL KILL KILL!

Kefka shot him a look that would have made a younger soldier faint. But he did not strike out, as badly as he wanted to. These two men had one more purpose to serve. He trusted his pet to carry out the mission by herself just fine, but two more disposable bodies to make sure she didn't get out of control wouldn't hurt. And if she did lose control? Nothing of value would be lost, and he would come along to take back his pet...and whatever pieces were left of the two grunts in front of him.

"Take that tone with me again, and I'll rip your tongue out of your mouth!" Kefka snapped ferociously. "Now, shut up and listen to me."

Both soldiers snapped taut at Kefka's rebuke, wondering when the deathblow would come. Surely it wouldn't be long now. They were lucky to survive their previous failed mission, and they doubted Kefka's patience would hold out a second time.

"You won't be alone," Kefka continued. "Like I said, you will be accompanied by my pet over there. I'm sure you've heard about her. She is more than a match for any half-frozen Esper. If things get hairy, just let her go wild. She'll do whatever you say as long as she wears that slave crown. Just remember to turn her off when you're done, heehee."

The soldiers had heard rumors about the green-haired witch Kefka was grooming. Unsettling rumors. Kefka claimed to have complete control over her, but who knew for sure? One thing they both knew - they had no choice anymore. Either Kefka would kill them here, or he would have his pet do it later.

"Yes, sir." They both saluted mechanically. So this was to be their fate. Perhaps if they were very lucky, they could manage to escape this trap yet.

"One more thing," Kefka spoke up as he reached the door to the girl's room. "There is a giant whelk called Ymir that the Narshe miners have bred to guard the mine from unwanted prospectors. It's slow, but powerful. Don't act stupid around it or you'll get fried, even with the Magitek Armor. If you value your worthless lives, make sure you ask for our intelligence reports on it before you suit up. I don't have time to give you the specifics now."

As Kefka spoke, he turned the lights on in the small room and pressed a small button beside the door. The sleeping girl was released from the restraints that kept her subdued while she slept, but did not wake.

"Good morning, Terra."

At the sound of those words and Kefka's voice, the girl's eyes slowly opened. There was no sign of understanding in them. Just dull acceptance.

"Now, my pet, say hello to these two fine men beside me. You're going to be traveling with them for a while, and you will do everything they say. Understand?" Kefka's voice was sickeningly sweet as he carefully looked over the slave crown on her head. There was no time for any outbursts like the other day, as enjoyable as the experience had been.

The girl stood at attention like a soldier, but did not speak. She merely nodded her head dumbly like a puppet on a string.

"Good!" Kefka cackled. "The three of you will be leaving for Narshe as soon as possible. I will be following you in a few days, so don't think you can just run away with such a valuable weapon. I will find you no matter where you go with her. The slave crown also has a homing beacon built in. Remember that."

"Yes, sir."

"Enough talk. I want you to take the girl and meet Cid immediately. You will make your preparations with him at the facility, and will be suited up and ready to depart in three hours. I will be watching your send-off personally, so don't screw this one up like you did the last mission!"

"Yes, sir." Biggs and Wedge looked at their strange companion as she awkwardly moved towards them. Both men were surprised at how young, and beautiful, she was. What had Kefka done to turn her into this...thing? Orders were orders, though, and they wasted no time in leaving Kefka's presence with the subservient girl in tow.

"Behave yourself, my dear!" Kefka cooed after them, breaking into laughter again. Things were finally beginning to move now. Tomorrow would be the beginning of a magnificent adventure, and he couldn't wait for the carnage that he knew was coming.

Destruction is inevitable. It is inevitable because we will make sure it happens, no matter what. We will destroy everything! The gods will tremble!

Kefka often wondered just what the gods would say to his plans. How far could a mortal reach before his hand was slapped down by the powers that be? That there were gods above, Kefka was sure. Just how much of creation would they let him destroy in his quest for power? He intended to find out.

Kefka had never been a faithful man to say the least, but ever since his Magitek infusion, he had felt deep, deep down something greater than himself stirring in the back of his mind. He had no name for it, wasn't even aware of it most of the time, but he felt an otherworldly presence in him every so often, urging him on, calling him forwards into his grand destiny. If there were gods, they were gods of destruction and hatred, kindred spirits, and he would seek them out.

Yes, find them. With their power, we would be as gods ourselves. Then nothing in heaven or earth could deny our rage! The gods will tremble!

There was another interesting facet to Kefka's numinous feelings. The captured Espers agreed with him. Cid had said the feeling was just a side effect of having the magical essence of the drained Espers forced into him prematurely, but the Espers told a different story. He had managed to coax bits and pieces of their long history out of them while he tortured them. What they cried out as he offered them false hope of freedom was positively mouth-watering.

Perhaps there was time for a quick stop at the Esper storage tanks before he saw his mission off. The storage site was on the way to the staging area for the Armors, and he still had much he wanted to learn while he was here. He would grab a quick lunch, and then have a little chat with the Espers.

There was one Esper in particular he wanted to speak with before he left for Tzen tomorrow. This Esper had been the easiest to manipulate, since this Esper happened to be the father of his precious pet. One mention of the name Terra, and the Esper was ready to burst from his tank, wires and all.

"Hello, Maduin."

Kefka pranced in front of the massive holding tanks inside the Magitek Research Facility. So many strange creatures, straight out of legend! A flying whale, a unicorn, a great boar with a single stony eye, a glowing blue fox with a red stone lodged in its forehead, a transparent form that could very well be a ghost...these were just a few of the specimens the Emperor had brought back from the other world where raw magic still existed.

And then there was Maduin, and his half-human daughter, Terra. The Esper was a hideous scaled giant with horns, fangs and claws, and yet had somehow produced a delicate and perfectly human-looking little girl. But that monster's boundless destructive power still dwelt in his offspring, as Kefka had seen countless times.

An indomitable Esper warlord and his hybrid daughter - these were the two prize samples, treasured above all else. Of all the Espers, Maduin alone still had enough energy left to speak and fight back at this point in the draining process. His impressive power was truly that of the gods.

And that was exactly where Maduin claimed the power of Espers came from. Kefka knew the foolish beast meant that as a threat, but it only served to drive both him and the Emperor to seek out higher and higher levels of power. Even now, scholars across the continent were scouring the old records left behind after the War of the Magi to find any hint of what happened to these mighty gods and goddesses the Espers worshipped and feared. The "Warring Triad" the Espers called them.

A fitting name for gods of destruction. Seek them out, and make their power our own!

"What do you want, fiend?" The Esper's deep rumbling voice echoed oddly from inside the tank he was sealed inside. He was submerged in a magic-draining fluid that kept him sedate, mostly. Cid had chastised Kefka constantly about provoking the Espers, but when did Kefka ever listen to that man?

Besides, these Espers were just about used up, and Kefka felt he could take them on easily if they actually managed to escape. The last batch that escaped had been weak enough that they had barely managed to escape, and that was many years ago. The Emperor had been furious at the incident, and blamed Kefka at first for inciting the rebellion with his endless taunts. It was a simple enough matter to create a flaw in the holding systems and blame the outbreak on the soft-hearted Cid, though. Cid had never been allowed as much freedom with them since then. Such a good scapegoat!

"Oh, nothing my fanged friend," Kefka said conversationally. Most people were deathly afraid of the "godbeasts" that haunted the facility, but Kefka had no fear of them. They were just animals, freaks of nature, nothing more.

"Leave me, then. I grow tired," Maduin said with effort through his tank. The other Espers turned slowly to face the two, but said nothing. They were too weak to make more than the smallest of movements anymore.

"Don't worry, you'll get your wish soon enough. I leave for Tzen tomorrow, and it will just be you and Cid for quite a while, I think." Kefka savored his next bit of news for a moment before revealing it to the weary prisoner. "...Your daughter will be joining me."

The Esper slammed his body against the thick glass between him and Kefka. Several other Espers tried to calm him with words, but could not find their voices. Only a few strangled sounds of despair emerged from the surrounding tanks.

"You will pay for your crimes against this world, Kefka!" Maduin shouted with renewed vigor, his claws scraping against the glass. "There have been others before you who thought they could tame the power of the gods, and they have all turned to dust."

Never! We will never be dust! I will survive forever!

"I will never lose to a bunch of losers like you," Kefka shot back, a strangely familiar anger filling him. This Esper had a way about him, something that always made Kefka even madder than he would expect from their encounters. It infuriated him, yet the strange emotion kept him coming back for more "talks" with the creature. There seemed to be some connection between them. Perhaps a part of this Esper dwelt inside him. Only Cid knew which Espers were used for each individual infusion, though.

"Lose to us? No...," the Esper chuckled in spite of his condition. "We lost our battle a long time ago. We had forgotten how power hungry humans could be, and we paid for it. But one thing we've learned is that there is always hope for those who seek it. You will lose."

No! There is no hope for you! I will destroy it! Kill it! Annihilate it! This world will be bereft of all but fear. Of me!

"No! I will seek it out myself, and eradicate every last trace of it. My rule will be the only salvation for this world. People will worship ME, fear ME, or die by ME! The gods themselves will tremble before me! I will never forget what they did!"

Kefka burst out with this tirade without even realizing what he was saying. But Maduin's quiet gaze said that he had heard such megalomaniacal speeches many times in his long, long life. Was the War of the Magi really so far away now? To look into this man's eyes, it felt like that tragic war was only yesterday. Or perhaps it was the future he was feeling in his bones now. Was another great war coming?

"You sound much like a man I once knew, ages ago," the ancient Esper sighed. "He felt abandoned by humanity, by the world, by the gods themselves, and sought answers to questions he couldn't even begin to ask. In the end he got what he was looking for. I suspect you will, too."

And what is that, beast?

"And what is that, beast?" Kefka's rage was peaking now, and he couldn't tell where his own anger ended and that unknown anger began. It was all the same, anyways. Death, life, destruction, creation, hate, love...he would see an end to it all, and then would fashion his own world, by his own rules from the meaningless ashes. It would be a monument to non-existence.

"It would be pointless to tell you," Maduin said weakly, sinking back into the haze of his tank. "You'll find out the answer the same way he did. I only pray that the world doesn't pay as heavy a price this time as it did before. One cataclysm is all I think this tired planet can take."

There are no answers, only despair, only fear!

"There is only despair, only fear," Kefka intoned, as if he were repeating lines from a poem. "You'll be dead soon, anyways. Just know that I will take good care of your little Terra. We will build a wonderful new world together. You should be proud, heeheehee!"

Kefka's laugh was the saddest thing Maduin ever head. With a look of longing he glanced at the remaining Espers still struggling to survive. He was exhausted now, too exhausted to show the seething hatred for this man that had abused his daughter for so long. It would all be over soon, for all of them. And then the true nightmare would begin.

So far they had managed to keep the secret of their true power hidden from these ignorant humans. But they had been lucky so far. As soon as the first magicite remain was discovered, everything would change, and the rest of them would be slaughtered without question. Who would be the first to betray their secret by dying before they were discarded, forgotten but still clinging to life, into the bowels of the factory below? It would not be him. He must keep their secret for as long as his body could hold out.

His thoughts wandered as his consciousness failed him...

Elia, Altimus, Gaeus, Uranos, Janus...all the gods I know, if you still care about this world, give me strength. All the gods with no name, give me strength as well. We must not let the War of the Magi be repeated. Too much was lost last time. Another war would push this world past its limits.

Is this all still part of your plans, Altimus? Must the world be destroyed for the Balance to truly be restored? Was that your real plan all these millennia? Why hasn't Eden returned? Where is the new garden of hope we were promised? Were we all deceived by your words?


"Have you ever looked at the sky, Kefka?" Maduin whispered from the back of his tank, an odd look of defeat on his emaciated face.

Kefka stopped laughing for a moment. "What are you talking about?"

"The sky," Maduin repeated, fading fast. "Doesn't it look like something is missing? Like there is a hole in the sky? Surely you feel it in your soul."

"I feel nothing in my soul. The sky is the same as it has always been. Don't play mind games with me, Esper." Kefka had no idea what the Esper was babbling about. Or did he?

Ignore him. We are done here.

"Remember the sky, Kefka. That hole in the sky that you don't see is the hole in your soul, the hole in all our souls since the War of the Magi ended and magic was ripped from this world. We all paid a price for the dark dreams of people like you and the Emperor. We can't afford to pay it again. It was far too steep."

"You're mad," Kefka said, unsettled despite himself. He turned to leave, eager to get this day over with.

"When you're sitting alone on your throne of destruction, remember the sky, Kefka. That hole will always be above you, beyond you. Untouchable, unknowable. You are not a god."

Destroy! Destroy, destroy, destroy! I'll destroy it all!

"Then I will destroy the sky! I will destroy, destroy, destroy, until there is nothing above me. There is nothing I cannot reach, nothing I cannot destroy!" Kefka howled at the dying Esper, banging his fists on the glass impotently like a child. Spittle flew from his bared teeth as he attacked the tank like a wild animal.

Destroy, destroy, destroy!

"Stop that!" A voice echoed from the elevator shaft behind the tanks. It was Cid, the head researcher, and he was not pleased to see Kefka up to his old antics again. "How many times do I have to tell you to quit bothering these poor creatures!"

"Leave me alone," Kefka growled wearily. Cid's voice had snapped him back to semi-sanity, and he was worn out from his meeting with the damnable Esper.

Cid rushed towards the tank to inspect it for damage, and Kefka stepped back, not wanting to look at its contents anymore.

"Leave me alone," Kefka repeated, stumbling out of the storage area. "Leave me alone!"

I am always by your side. We are one. I am you and you are me. You cannot deny the hole in your heart. Fill it! Fill it with despair, death, destruction! We hunger for it all, and our hunger can never be sated! Our hatred can never be quenched!

"I hate you! Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate you!"

Yes, hate us! Hate me! Hate yourself, and the world that created you! Hate the gods that abandoned us! Hate, hate, hate!

"Aagh!" Kefka gasped, bursting with an intense aura of pain, despair, loneliness, and unstoppable hate. Giant chunks of ice rained down around him, smashing into the walls. Great arcs of lightning streaked over him, tearing holes in the hanging machinery. Towering flames gushed from beneath him, scorching several unfortunate soldiers.

Kefka lay in a dead heap for several minutes, recovering himself. No one paid any attention to him. He was alone, utterly alone, and no one cared in the slightest. Who would want to help this man who had hurt so many? When he was quiet and still like this, it was the only time anyone felt safe around him.

Slowly, a small gurgling sound rose up from the heap of discordant robes. The pile shivered, and hiccupped. A tiny note of laughter burbled up from the mess, then turned into a hacking laugh. The pile picked itself up, the laughter rising higher and higher in pitch and volume. The laughter stopped for a brief moment, then a diabolical howl of glee exploded from the man-shaped pile of robes.

"AHAHAHAHAH! UWAHAHAHA! UWEEHEEHEE!" The crazed sound carried on and on as the heap carried itself to the upper balcony of the factory, shaking with violent spasms all the way. It watched with a grin to split hell itself as its greatest plan for the war unfolded on the staging area below.

Three massive mechanical machines unhooked themselves from the refueling lines and roared a deep grinding sound, completely inhuman. At the front of the pack was a green-haired girl, guiding her uniquely outfitted suit into the light of the open tract of land outside the factory. The endless laughter from above reached the ears of the silent girl, and she winced in intense pain, not knowing why.

The heap gripped the banister tightly as it watched the three vanish into the fading light of sunset, still shaking with the frenzy of the moment. Letting go one finger at a time, it danced back into the shadows, laughing madly all the way into the darkness.

By dawn tomorrow, the three would be well on their way to the frozen wastes of Narshe. When they reached the defenseless town, it would be a rude awakening for the sleepy inhabitants. It would be a rude awakening for the entire world. The time had come for the world to know the power of Espers, of Magic, and of Magitek, and to know the bottomless hate of Kefka Palazzo.




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 10.31.2011 5:07pm


SplittinAdam
Eu sunt Dracul



Sorry, my friend, I was on a brief hiatus - and was welcomed back to the final two entries of Rags to Riches, the later of which leads right into the opening of FFVI!

As for General Leo - a noble man, reminiscient of Draco from Sands of Time - and not just because of the Scion - his mannerisms, his acceptance of his fellow man, and his moral code are all outstanding representations of his lineage.  This was a well written passage, and makes me question even more how Leo allowed Kefka to get away with so much - it's somewhat sad to think that Celes stood up against Kefka alone, while Leo, (although disapprovingly,) stood by and watched it happen.  Granted, by the time he stands up to him, it is far too late, and Kefka has too much power.  The glimpse into the chivalry and nobility of Leo is refreshing, though - especially leading up into the final entry.

Kefka... what a fucked up human being/monster.  I love the interactions you have here - showing absolutely no bounds for his evil - pulling him off as a true sociopath - although, after reading Sands of Time, it seems Kefka has a piece of Doom inside of him - he's obviously not alone in his head, and his penchant for ice, and his connection to Maduin makes me believe that Doom is the driving force behind Kefka.  Perhaps that is something that will be revealed in Book 2 - which, if memory serves, you should be writing right about... NOW!




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