The Magic Within
The wind howled in the darkness, its violent screams shaking the dry, brittle leaves from the trees and causing them to tumble lifelessly to the ground. The cracked earth stretched out further than the eye could hope to see and denied life any chance to thrive. Remnants of houses lined abandoned streets; crumbling memories of a time when the town had been more than just a fading dream. Out of the hopeless obscurity came the light of a single lantern. Its glow pierced the darkness, illuminating the form of a young woman carrying a large bucket of water. Shivering, she quickened her pace, not daring to stop and wrap her heavy cloak closer to her.
She slowed when she reached a small side street and looked about anxiously; there was no telling what sort of creatures now prowled the night. Turning off the main road, she headed down the alley. After what seemed like an eternity, a small house with illuminated windows came into view. Of all the houses in town, this shack was the only one in good enough condition to live in.
When she finally reached her destination, Terra carefully placed the bucket on the ground beside her and knocked loudly on the wooden door three times. A moment later it opened and she was pulled inside the house.
"Are you alright?" the young woman asked nervously, taking the water from Terra and carrying it over to the counter.
"I'm fine, just a little cold is all."
"Go sit by the fire, I'll join you as soon as I give Kas his soup."
As Terra removed her thick cloak she heard Katarin muttering about how the young boy had refused to eat all day and became hungry as soon as it was time to sleep. Hanging her cloak on a hook, she maneuvered her way around the children who were sleeping on the floor and took a seat in a large armchair next to the fireplace. Leaning forward, she stirred the flames back to life before allowing herself to sink into the soft cushions.
She looked over at Kat who was busy feeding soup to the frail young boy lying on the couch nearby. When the bowl was empty, she covered him up with another blanket and set the dish next to the wash basin in the kitchen.
Just as Terra had done before, Katarin wove her way among the sleeping bodies to join her friend by the fire. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Terra in the chair and Katarin on the floor next to her.
"Thank you for doing that," Kat said, looking up at the young woman beside her.
Terra merely shrugged, uncomfortable with the subject. "Somebody had to," she said, leaning forward to add another log on the fire.
"Still I appreciate it. You do a lot around here."
"It's not just me, everybody does their bit."
"I know, but you've been a big help around here."
They fell silent once again, listening to the crackling of the fire and the soft snoring of the girls and boys curled up on the floor.
Katarin closed her tired eyes for a moment then slowly got to her feet. "Goodnight," she said, turning around and heading for the stairs.
Terra watched her leave, and then looked back at Kas who was sniffling quietly. Sitting there looking at him, she inadvertently thought back to the horrible accident that had caused her to give up her magic for good.
Terra had gotten her powers from her father, the esper Maduin. Her mother had given her to Emperor Gestahl in an act of desperation; unaware of the horrible consequences that single act would have on her daughter. When she woke up in Mobliz after the cataclysm, she had tried to use her powers to help the people of the village and protect them from the monsters. Needless to say, their reaction was not what she had expected.
Katarin had explained how fanatics from the tower in the north had come to the village shortly after everything had calmed down a bit, trying to get them all to worship Kefka as a god. In their speeches they blamed the Returners for the cataclysm, saying that it was their stolen powers that had caused all the disasters. Though she had called it 'petty propaganda', Kat did admit that the idea gave the people someone to blame for their problems, even if the consequences refusing to deify Kefka had only caused more.
Despite that, most of the village people were grateful to have someone with her abilities around in the beginning. She turned back to the fire and closed her eyes, the memories returning despite her efforts to suppress them.
The sky had been gray, as usual, but a few stray beams of sunlight could be seen poking through the clouds. For awhile it almost looked as if the sky would clear up for the first time in weeks. All the children were running around outside, almost encouraging the sun to come out of hiding and reveal itself.
Terra was busy scavenging for fruits and vegetables and Kas, always curious, was tagging along. Together they had succeeded in finding some wild strawberries. As they crouched on the ground, carefully plucking the delicate berries off the bush, a great shadow fell over them. Instinctively, Terra raised her energy in preparation for a spell. She handed her berries over to Kas, and stood to face her enemy.
Wave after wave of horror flooded over her the moment she first looked upon the demon king. He was standing before her, club aloft, chewing on the bone of some animal he had killed earlier. When Terra looked up into his eyes, his mouth, which had been twisted into an awful grin, opened wide and roared at her.
That one roar was all it took to send Terra into panic; in his eyes she had seen nothing but a savage hunger for blood and death. Kas forgotten, she could think of nothing but getting away from the demon that stood before her. She couldn't remember when she had made the decision to cast a spell, but she would never forget the feeling of endless flames consuming everything around her.
By the time she was out of her trance-like state, Phunbaba had retreated, and Kas was lying on the ground curled up in the fetal position, trying to protect himself from the flames. On the ground beside him lay the precious strawberries, completely ruined.
She had learned during her stay in Vector that magical fire never left a permanent mark on the flesh, but for awhile it looked as if Kas' wounds would never heal. Though they did eventually disappear, nobody in Mobliz had ever treated her the same since. Mortified that another spell would destroy everything she cared about, Terra had since given up the art of magic.
Absorbed in her memories, Terra drifted off into the realms of sleep.
It was late morning before she awoke, roused by the tantalizing smells of breakfast. Yawning, she stood up and stretched before heading over to where Katarin stood at the stove cooking.
"Good morning!" she said, greeting the green-haired woman with a smile.
"Morning," Terra replied, grabbing another log to add to the fire in the wood stove.
You didn't need to go outside to know that it was anything but warm out. A soft drizzle fell from the familiar gray clouds that covered the sky, concealing the sun just as they had every day since the cataclysm. Nobody in the village knew what had caused the earth to plunge into ruin; all they knew were the consequences.
Only days after the Great Calamity, fanatics had descended from their hastily built tower to try to convince the villagers to worship Kefka. It was said that when Kefka heard of their refusal he unleashed upon them the Light of Judgment. Most of the town's adults had died trying to protect their children. Others died either from their wounds or from trying to defend the town from the strange creatures that had overrun the village shortly after. Some speculated that the monsters who now plagued their everyday lives were really demons that had been sealed away long ago and had been freed when the world was broken.
But it was not the minor beasts that frightened Terra; with them had come a demon that dwarfed the tallest of men. She had heard the children whispering about how it was really Phunbaba, the Demon King of legend, and Terra had to admit that he fit the description perfectly.
His hard green skin was half covered by rags of brown fur. On his head he wore a headdress made of bones, and his great spiked club never left his hand. Horrible screams could sometimes be heard from across town; and in the morning, you could never be sure what sort of barbaric massacres would have taken place.
The children had not been allowed outside since his arrival, and for good reason; Phunbaba had single-handedly slaughtered the few adults that had survived the Light of Judgment. They wouldn't see him for days at a time, but he always came back, with some sort of gruesome killing to mark his arrival. It was almost as if he was the embodiment of a curse set upon the village for leading peaceful lives.
Shaking the morbid thoughts from her mind, Terra helped to set the table for breakfast. By then all the children had woken up and were pushing and shoving in line for what was commonly called "Kat's Mystery Food". Terra looked from the line of hungry children over to Kas, who was still lying on the couch under the mass of blankets Katarin had piled on him last night. He was just as pale as ever, which made Terra nervous. Unlike the Katarin and Duane, Kas had never been afraid to look her in the eye since the incident, forging an unspoken bond of trust and forgiveness.
Grabbing a plate, Terra had Katarin serve her up some extra food and walked over to where Kas lay sniffling on the couch. He smiled at her when she sat down next to him and put a hand on his forehead. Without realizing she was doing it, Terra began raising the energy to cast a healing spell. Just as she was about to say the word needed to direct her energy, she realized what she was doing and abruptly cut off the flow of power. She looked down at him and patted his head, hoping he hadn't felt anything. A flash of disappointment crossed his face, but was quickly erased as he began to nibble at his breakfast.
Everyone had finished eating when the door flew open and Duane rushed inside. He stood with his back against the door breathing heavily, a forgotten bucket of water clutched tightly in his hand.
"Tried to lose him." He looked over at Katarin, fear evident in his eyes, "He's coming."
It took a moment for those last two words to sink in; Phunbaba had been around for months, but he had never actually hunted them. Any people he had killed had always been outside at the time, in what was generally considered his territory. The rundown little house with the lit windows had always been a safe haven, somewhere where the creatures outside couldn't get you. If Phunbaba was really coming, as Duane seemed so certain he was, then the only sanctuary left to them would be in the cave complex under the village. She hated the thought of cowering in the converted sewer system like animals, with no way of knowing if the sun decided to shine again.
Katarin and Terra exchanged looks across the room, saying with their eyes what they could not say out loud. Instinct took over immediately and soon the children were being rushed towards the basement. The fastest had reached the door already when the first roar was heard. Duane panicked at the noise and automatically began herding everyone into the basement, Terra and Kat included. They were halfway down the stairs when they heard him approaching the house. The fearful footsteps were followed immediately by Kas' frightened shriek.
The three looked at each other in horror. "Oh Gods, Kas!"
"Terra you can't go up there!" Duane said, grabbing onto her arm as she turned to go back up the stairs.
"Kas is up there!"
"So is Phunbaba."
Terra looked over at Katarin pleadingly, but the younger woman refused to make eye contact. Shocked that they would abandon one of the orphaned kids, she jerked her arm away from Duane and headed determinedly back upstairs.
Kas had rolled off the couch to go downstairs with the rest of them, but had gotten wedged between the couch and the coffee table and was now stuck on the floor, the demon king seconds away from the door.
She reached the frightened child just as Phunbaba broke through the door with a vicious growl. He smashed the table with one mighty swing of his club and made his way towards the two frightened humans.
Focused only on getting Kas into the basement, Terra pushed the coffee table away and pulled him to his feet. However when she turned around to make her retreat, she bumped right into the growling Phunbaba.
Before she could do anything about it, instinct had taken over and Terra was preparing for a spell. Letting go of Kas' hand she backed away from the demon lord, her energy level rising with every breath she took. Phunbaba approached her, drawn to the energy, but Terra was ready. Before she had even decided which spell to cast, a searing white light shot from her hands straight towards the demon. He screamed, his horrible face twisting in agony.
Not able to stand the onslaught of power, he dropped his club and stumbled towards Terra, trying desperately to end his torment. Stepping quickly out of the way, Terra watched as he fled the house.
When his footsteps could no longer be heard, and the last of his screams had finally faded away, Kas walked over to where Terra stood and gently slid his hand into her own. The door to the basement opened just a crack and Katarin poked her head out. One by one they all filed out, gathering around the two in awed silence.
Through the gap where the door had been, fragile beams of sunlight filtered through the clouds.
All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition
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