The Fire and The Light- Part One, the World of Balance
In the beginning, there was the cold and the night,
Prophets and angels gave us the fire and the light,
Man was triumphant, armed with the faith and will,
That even the darkest ages couldn't kill.
Too many kingdoms, too many flags on the field,
So many battles, so many wounds to be healed,
Time is relentless, only true love perseveres,
It's been a long time and now I'm with you,
After two thousand years...
Chapter One: The Beginning
"And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness"
The world spun slowly out of blackness. She was dizzy, disoriented. What had happened? Where was she? How had she gotten here? She couldn't remember *anything*! Her eyes flew open, and she hovered on the verge of mindless panic. Across the room, there stood a middle-aged man with fading blonde hair. He was facing away from her, oblivious to her wakefulness. Who was he? Why was she in his bed? Had they...?
She leapt to her feet, consumed by panic...and then fell to her knees as a wave of intense dizziness swept over her. She must have cried out, for the man was by her side in an instant, helping her up.
"Whoa! Take it easy there, hon! You've been through quite a bit."
"Quite a bit? Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?"
She was possessed by a nameless fear, and the man seemed to understand why,
"Oh no, hon, you and I didn't... we weren't, I mean uh..." the man almost blushed, then he coughed, "I found you in the caves."
"Yes, under the mountains. Do you know where you are?"
"No. I don't..." she began to panic even more, "I don't even know who *I* am! Who am I?" she clutched at him, her almost bony fingers digging into his arm.
"Calm down. Calm down, hon. I don't know who you are. Try to remember... Can you remember anything?"
A swirl of memory... and something else, something her mind shied away from,
"I am... Terra... Terra Branford."
"Good... Good. You're recovering more swiftly than I thought. You were wearing a slave crown. The others had total control of you while you were wearing it. This memory loss is normal, but more severe than usual. Do you know what happened to the men you were with?"
"You were found beside the bodies of two Magitek soldiers"
"Magitek?" A sudden flash of memory. Big, ugly soldiers with unearthly strength, piloted by men who's hearts had gone cold, "Magitek...." There was a sudden pounding at the door,
"Open up!! Give us the Imperial Witch and the Magitek armor! We demand justice!!"
Terra looked around, panic beginning to seize her again. Were they talking about her? What had she done? The man looked at her then at the door,
"I had hoped they wouldn't come so soon. They'll never believe me about the slave crown. They want blood. They'll kill you before I can explain"
"Kill me? Oh God..." Dear god, what had she done?
"Aye. But I'll help you get out of here. There's a man on his way. His name is Locke. He'll take you somewhere safe, where you can lie low for a while until this blows over. He should be here any time now. All we need to do is buy some time until he gets here."
"Open the door, Arvis!!!"
"Damn!" Arvis swore, "Here! Hide in here until you have a chance to escape."
Thus saying, he shoved her into the closet. A closet? How was she supposed to run from a closet when she had a chance? And what was everyone so upset about? What had she done? Her 18 year old mind couldn't quite deal with all of this. And then, if that weren't enough, a door in the back of the closet opened up and dumped her unceremoniously out into the snow. She sat up, confused. What kind of a man had a secret door in the back of his closet? Disoriented, she wandered off into the snow, crossing a bridge. However, her legs gave out from under her on the bridge, and she fell, causing a loud noise. The men looked up at her,
"There she is! After her!"
She picked herself up of the ground and fled into the mines of...Narshe, she was in Narshe. Her memory *was* coming back, it was just coming back slowly. She needed more time ... and she didn't have it. The Narshe soldiers were gaining on her. She rounded a corner, and almost ran into another group. She turned, only to run into the first. They backed her into a corner. A man brandished a very deadly looking sword and advanced, a maniacal gleam in his eyes. She backed up until her back touched the wall, eyes filled with fear,
"So... Who's afraid now, little Imperial witch? Without your armor and your buddies, you're nothing! Just a sniveling coward! I bet you don't even bleed the same color blood as we do... Shall we find out?" And he raised he sword. She screamed as loud as she could, bringing her hands up to shield her face. What had she *done*? "Screaming? Who's gonna hear you? The Emperor? Kefka? The Esper? Who?" She could have choked on her fear. Suddenly, she felt something inside her twist. She would *not* die like this! Not knowing what she was doing, or why, she held her arms out straight in front of her, then turned them to the ground, palms spread. Pink sparks shot from the center of her palms to the ground. Cracks spider-webbed outward from where those sparks hit, creating delicate patterns. Then, the ground trembled, and fragmented. Terra screamed yet again, and plunged downward into the darkness.
She landed in a cavern several meters below, miraculously unharmed. She rose unsteadily to her feet, preparing to run some more, but the shock of her awakening, her recent running, and the fall, all took their toll and she tripped forward, falling into unconsciousness.
The world was a sickly greenish color, like she was viewing it through old glass. The landscape was warped, unfamiliar, but she knew what *that* thing was- Magitek Armor There were several soldiers also standing around in what had to be Magitek Armor, and she herself was sitting at the controls of her own, as was... some man, she could call up a name. He barked orders at the men, and at her, but she couldn't understand him. But something he said must have been an order to attack, for the men leapt at her. Reflexively, she brought her hands up to shield herself, and the men erupted into flame, turning into charred corpses in a matter of moments. She looked down at her hands, and though she herself was horrified, she felt her lips curl into a cruel smile, eyes burning with excited fire. And the man in the remaining Magitek armor laughed maniacally.
* * *
A shadow quietly detached itself from the roof of the house the moment the soldiers were gone. It dropped silently to the ground and eased open the door without a sound. Damn Banon for making him come all the way out here. He was supposed to be on vacation, not following this Imperial witch around. According to their sources, she had come here with an escort looking for the frozen Esper that had been discovered in the mines here in Narshe. An Esper... A creature left over from the War of the Magi. He shook his head. I hope we're not about to make that same mistake all over again...
He eased the door shut silently behind him, and walked towards the man sitting in the chair by the fire. As he moved, he studied the man. His hair was blonde, but already fading into grey at the temples. He looked too old to be 47.
"Arvis. I'm here."
The man whirled around, clutching at his chest,
"Locke! My god, you scared me! I didn't hear you come in," Arvis chuckled, "that's not unusual for you though, is it?" he paused while Locke laughed. That was indeed, not unusual.
"So Locke, it's been awhile, how goes the plundering trade?"
Locke turned a brilliant shade of red,
"That's TREASURE HUNTING!"
He hated being called a common thief. He was a collector, a treasure hunter. It just happened that, occasionally, the best treasure belonged to other people. Arvis laughed,
"I know Locke, I know. Ah, the impetuousness of youth..."
Lock drew himself up to his full, if not that impressive, height,
"Youth? I'm 28, well past my prime!"
"I hate to think where that puts me, I'm old enough to be your father!"
The two old friends shared a laugh together for a moment before Locke grew serious,
"Arvis... did you get word from Banon?"
"Yes, but all he said was that I was to be expecting you."
"Well, you'll never believe my orders... I'm supposed to find this Imperial witch everybody's talking about, and try to turn her over to the Returner cause without getting my butt busted. Isn't that crazy?"
Arvis looked away, paling,
"Were those your orders? Locke... the situation has just become more complicated than that..."
"More complicated than a suicide mission? You've gotta be kidding me!"
"No, I'm not. Our ragtag little force here tried to keep the Imperials from coming, but we weren't strong enough. They made it all the way to the Esper. But then, something happened. I don't know what. All I know is, when I got there, the two escorts that were with her were dead, and she was unconscious, and badly burned. I brought her back here to protect her from the Narshe guards, you know how they can be, and I discovered something that changes everything. She was wearing a slave crown."
"A slave crown? They were controlling her?"
"Yes, apparently. I don't know how long she's been wearing it."
"You think that she could have been the reason for that mass Imperial massacre two years ago?"
"Perhaps. It certainly wasn't a Returner."
Locke fingered his ear cuff nervously,
"No, I guess it wasn't."
"And Locke... there's one other thing you need to know... and you aren't going to like it."
"Well... the slave crown does something to it's wearer's head and..."
"...she has amnesia..." Locke looked like he was going to be ill, "doesn't she."
Arvis placed a hand on his shoulder,
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Complete amnesia. But Locke... you'll be fine. She doesn't look anything like Rachel."
Locke nodded, though he still looked a little pale,
"I know Arvis... it's just that... Dammit! I went adventuring to *avoid* that."
"I know. But you're still the best man for the job. She's in the mines somewhere, hopefully hidden away. Please Locke, you have to go and find her."
Locke nodded, gave a clumsy salute, and walked silently out the door.
* * *
He found her quickly. The soldiers were still searching the mines for her, but Locke knew back ways that they did not, and he soon stood above her unconscious form. He gazed down at her, speculatively. She looked awfully small like that, awfully innocent. She was fairly short, and young, he would guess about 18 or so, maybe even younger. She was wearing a strange sort of camouflage body suit and some strange armor over that. The armor glowed with an odd purple light and it seemed to swallow her, making her look even smaller. *This* was the Imperial witch? She had (according to rumors) fried 50 Magitek soldiers in under 10 minutes? It didn't look possible. He picked her up. She was light too, and her skin looked rather tight over her bones. This girl had been run ragged by someone. Everything about her screamed that she was merely a waifish little girl, someone to protect and try to keep innocent. Could she really be a demon?
He had no more trouble getting out of the mines without being caught as he had going in. He was soon outside of the gates of Narshe with his precious burden. He laid her down in the snow and built a fire to keep them both warm until she awoke. He didn't have long to wait.
"Uhhnnn... Oh.... Where am I?" her eyes opened slowly and focused on Locke, "Who are you!" she tensed, as if she meant to flee, but she fell back onto her blanket, exhausted, "Don't hurt me... please..."
Locke stared at her a moment. He had thought that upon waking she would once again become the devil he had expected her to be, but she showed no signs of it. Her eyes were purple (purple... Rachel's eyes were purple... don't think about Rachel... Don't think about Rachel....) and clear, untainted by the life that she was said to have led. So she really didn't remember then...
"My name is Locke Cole. I'm a treasure hunter, and don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to take you somewhere safe. Arvis wanted me to."
"Arvis? The man at the house? You're his friend?"
"Yes. Who are you exactly? I mean, how much do you remember?"
"Not much. I'm Terra Branford. I used to... I'm not sure... Blow things up?" she sounded so much like a little kid that Locke smiled slightly, "That's all I know. I can't remember anything."
Locke hung his head. This was too much like Rachel for his liking. But he had to do something. He'd been ordered to.
Terra looked up, surprised at the hurt in Locke's voice. He was certainly a strange one. A treasure hunter? Wasn't that just another way to say a thief? She studied him a moment. When she'd first woken up, he'd seemed almost afraid of her. There had been a barely concealed gleam of hatred in his eyes, which were the exact color of chocolate. But now, he seemed almost over protective of her. He was nice, she decided, even if he was a little scruffy looking. He continued,
"Don't worry. I promise I'll find you somewhere safe to stay, and I won't leave your side until your memory returns." He may not have been able to help Rachel, but he could help this girl...
"Thank you. I have the feeling I'm going to need all the help I can get. Can you tell me anything about myself?"
"Well... all I know about you is from stories. I suppose I could tell you, but I think right now it's more important that I get you somewhere safe. The Empire will be looking for you soon, if they haven't started already, and if they find you, it won't matter what your past is, they'll just steal it from you again."
"Where are we going to go?"
"Well, I'm thinking at the point we have no choice but to head for Figaro Castle. I'm hoping I can get you a place in there, and believe me, once you're there, no one will ever find you," Locke chuckled lightly, "you'll blend right in...."
* * *
As they headed towards Figaro Castle, Locke decided that he'd better bring up the subject he had been ordered to bring up.
"So... What are you going to do now, Terra?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... you've been freed, and you have your whole life ahead of you. What will you do?"
"I... I don't know. I don't remember anything about myself. I don't really know what I'd like to do, or what I'd be good at. All I know is, if the Empire controlled me once, I can't go back there again."
"What about the opposition...?" Locke pulled on his earcuff nervously.
"They would be just as bad, wouldn't they? I mean... they'd just be another group of people who'd use me, right?"
"Not all groups are as bad as others. Anyway, it's always your decision. Maybe your mind will change."
"Why do you sound so sure of that? *You* aren't from the... other group... are you?"
"The Returners..." he corrected, a bit too swiftly, then added in a hurry, "and I already told you, I'm a treasure hunter."
They both fell pensively silent until they arrived at Figaro Castle. A female guard barred their way,
"Halt in the name of- Oh hi Locke. It's you. Brought a new "trinket" for the King, I assume?"
"Yes," he rubbed his ear slightly, "a new trinket..."
They walked in.
"Trinket?" Terra inquired as soon as they were out of earshot, a hint of trepidation in her voice.
Terra sighed, but fell into step beside him. As they walked along, Terra began to notice something peculiar. There was the usual hustle and bustle that was befitting of a castle, but something was wrong, something was a little bit off. And then she saw what it was. They were all women! Every person she saw was a woman, and not just any woman, either. They were beautiful, exotic, or unusual women... like herself! She was beginning to get a picture of what this King Edgar was like... and she wasn't liking it one bit. It didn't help any that she had been called a trinket by both the guard and by Locke. On the other hand, she'd been given no reason to mistrust Locke, and she *would* be very well camouflaged here. But if she had to play concubine to this capricious King, she'd just as well take on the entire Empire by herself! She opened her mouth to protest this course of action, but Locke was already leading her into the throne room.
"King Edgar of Figaro, may I present Locke Cole and Terra Branford."
And Terra got her first look at the King.
He was not at all what she had expected. For starters, he was younger, and far more handsome. He had (obviously) aristocratic features and long blonde hair that was pulled into a braid that fell most of the way down his back. He was wearing some very obviously kingly blue and green silk garments and he rose as they approached.
"Ah Locke, my friend. It has been a long time since last I saw you. May I present to you Commander Blankenburg of the Empire," Locke nodded to the man in the corner, and Terra felt a thrill of fear go up her spine. Had she walked into a trap?
"Commander Blankenburg was sent here to assure Emperor Gestahl of my loyalty to the Empire. But enough of that. Let me see this girl you've brought me. Is she the beauty you told me about?"
"Yes, she's the one."
The King leaned over and gripped her chin in his hands, turning her face back and forth while he examined her like she was a bug under a microscope. She tried very hard not to squirm.
"Hmm... yes... quite lovely. Purple eyes... how unusual. And green hair... She'll do perfectly. You have served me well once again, Locke," he clapped his hands and a young woman appeared out of a side hallway, "Katerin, show this exquisite beauty to her new rooms. Thank you."
"Right this way, Ma'am."
What choice did Terra have but to follow?
Once in the hall, the girl's subservient air dropped,
"Sorry if Edgar alarmed you like that. Ever since that Commander came, he's had to do stuff like that to keep up his image," she giggled, "Of course, he's always been a bit of a womanizer, but he's not that much of a lecher when he's really around women."
Terra must have looked confused because Katerin explained,
"Oh... I guess you don't know. Edgar doesn't really work for the Empire, he works for the Returners. I thought for sure Locke would have told you that, he's our main connection to them. Almost everyone in this castle is a member, but the Empire doesn't know that, and that's how it's gonna stay. Oh, here are your rooms," she unlocked them and bustled inside to turn down the bed and open up the windows, "I'm not really a member yet, mama would flip if she knew I had joined the resistance. I live in Koholigan. I don't even really work here, but my sister does. Her husband was drafted into Imperial service shortly after she became pregnant and there's no one to take care of her but me. Oh, but look at me, I've talked up a storm and you haven't said anything! Oh well... I have to go now! Just ring me if you need anything, okay? Bye!"
And she was gone, leaving Terra alone with her thoughts.
So, this was a Returner stronghold, and Locke worked for them, as did King Edgar. She'd been captured by the other side. But Locke seemed nice, and Edgar was obviously brave to attempt a double cross like that, even if he did have the image of a womanizer. So maybe they weren't all *that* bad... she just didn't want to be here. She wanted to go home (wherever home was) and lead a quiet, normal life. This was all very exciting and all, but she'd much rather be settling down somewhere. And she had a feeling that this wasn't about to end. Would she be on the run the entire rest of her life?
She yawned. She'd been on the move almost the whole time since she'd woken up in Narshe... she needed sleep. This place looked safe, the door was locked, and the bed was extremely comfortable.... She was soon sleeping peacefully, unaware of the dangers which were even now approaching.
* * *
Dangers that had sand in their boots.
Kefka scowled as he rode in his private vardo-like room, pulled behind two chocobas- giant, yellow ostrich-like birds that were used for transportation of all kinds. They'd been headed out across the desert towards Figaro Castle and they had gotten lost, and had stayed lost for almost a week. Kefka was rarely in a good mood anyway, and this heat and the sand storms were not doing wonders for his disposition. Everything he'd brought with him was coated in a fine layer of sand, and it had been ages since he had taken a decent bath. In a futile gesture he raised his fist to the heavens,
"Damn it, Edgar, why do you have to live out in the middle of bloody nowhere!"
* * *
The city of Narshe loomed in the horizon. The three Magitek armored warriors paused for a moment to gaze at the skyline, then spoke, eyes still focused on their distant objective,
"The instruments indicate that it's down there somewhere."
"Wedge... Why were we sent here? Why only us? Why not a whole platoon or something?"
"Ours is not to reason why, Vicks."
"I know... I just have the odd feeling we aren't coming back."
"Vicks, listen here. I've been your buddy for as long as either one of us can remember, right?"
"And if I really thought something was wrong, I'd tell you, right?"
"Well, then, I'm only gonna say this once. This isn't a suicide mission. If they expected us to fail they wouldn't have sent *her*. She *is* a whole platoon!"
Both of them turned to observe the silent green-haired woman. For a long moment, no one moved, or spoke, the air eerily silent as they contemplated her. Finally, Wedge cleared his throat,
"I know. I think too much. I'm just a little nervous... and she's not helping any. You think she can hear us?"
"No, I don't think so. Don't worry Vicks. We *are* coming back, and when we do, they'll name some monuments after us!"
"I hope you're right Wedge, I hope you're right...
* * *
Terra woke up, fuzzy-headed. Had that been one
of her missing memories, or merely a bizarre, stress-induced dream? She climbed
woozily out of bed. How long had she been asleep? Just as she reached for the
door, still rubbing her eyes, Katerin came rushing in like a miniature
"Oh, my goodness, you're up already! Good. Edgar wants to meet with you out in the main-"
Everyone in the castle heard the insistent pounding on the door.
Of course, none of these characters belong to me. But the story does. Feel free to send any and all feedback to Lucretia@jenovaproject.com