SquareSoft: Generations Chapter 13
Old Friends; New Enemies
By Dawn Wilkins
I never thought I would suspend this way...and If I dont make it...know that, I loved you all along...Just like sunny days that we didnt know because...And I hope to God I figure out whats wrong... (4am; Our Lady Peace; Clumsy)
It expanded for miles and miles. It wailed with a wind so prevalent that one must think that even thoughts become substance, levels of texture. It clutched at vulnerable eyes and parched mouths. It squeezed the last drop of energy from already life-drained limbs. It seemed to have no beginning; no end. It was, in a word, hell.
Or at least the two figures that struggled through this no mans land certainly believed so. A desert is no paradisenot even by Kefkas stretch of imagination (or maybe especially not by Kefkas)but this particular wasteland seemed singularly cruel. Theyd seldom had a moment to breathe and less time to rest. Ordinarily some form of vegetation or animal life would grace this deadly plain but neither found so much as a hint of existence but their own. Like a massive net, the sand swelled before the duo and weighed like lead on limbs and spirit.
For a guy who loved adventure, Locke found home a refreshing alternative.
Oh, Edgar would laugh if he knew that...I wonder where he is...where Celes is...where they all are...Locke found the rippling of his minds lake disturbing. He was normally not so anxious. But the treasure hunter couldnt help himself. It had been an arduous battle against the demented Kefka and hed expected rest from the save-the-world-adventure...but this was one quest that was determined to last eternity.
Do you...do you...know where weare!? cried Rosa, staggering beside him. Her lambs wool cloak and sun-kissed ponytail flared in the merciless wind. The beautiful oval face blurred in his vision, only the glittering of a marble necklace crowning her forehead distinguished her at all.
Beats me, lady...I cant see...much... He paused for a breath and found it disconcerting that little more than five fingers were visible. I literally cant see past my hand.
The sweeping assault did not abate, only inflating until the treasure hunter felt the whole of creation must be a desert. Lockes own attirevest, boots, trousersfused with his body as if the treasure hunter were a sword and his clothes sheathed him. Speaking of which...did the hilt-less blade still remain beneath his sand-clogged outfit? Unfortunately, hed had no opportunity to ascertain its presence for quite a while since survival predominated Lockes thoughts.
Things just werent getting any better...
After the devastating loss of Celes, Rosas enigmatic appearance, and the mishap at sea, both white wizard and treasure hunter agreed to head for a port city. As with the province of Bancock the situation went badly. More mobs demanded for the surrendering of the steel and when Locke answered negative the crowd become ugly. REALLY UGLY. Again, it was flight or fight.
When youre courageous you fight.
When youre wise you turn and run.
Locke opted for a bit of bothhe fought while running.
Miraculously, both escaped with only minor injuries and with the sword intact (sort of, anyway). But that was only the start of an even more appalling march through a dreadful wasteland.
Thus, their presence in no mans land.
The march continued steadily for a period, Farrell and Cole both gasping for air with lungs that only admitted sand. Heat came from every angle possible, as if they stood amid a scorching edifice. Lockes vision revealed, in some distance, a shapeless mass. Before two grit-besieged brown eyes, he could see the shadow it cast, indicating no mirage. Joy surged in his heart and up his throat.
Rosa!...Theres...Rosa?! But his words found no answer.
Oh, no...I dont think that can be good...
Beside an amber dune lay the huddled form of the healer, inert. Now fear rushed the once domain of cheer. Yanking more sand off his visage, Locke spun on a heel and dropped to a crouch by Rosa. His hand on a shoulder prompted no response. He repeated the gesture, this time with additional force and a second hand. And, again, no favorable reactionhell, no reaction at all. The white wizard remained inanimate and only the exhaling and inhaling of her chest eased his worry.
Tentatively, the treasure hunter scooped the lithe woman in his arms, wooden staff and all. Forcing a breath from his parched lungs, Locke proceeded toward their destination. Each step was torture. But, mercifully, the shape drew nearer and he sighed in relief. No illusion of wishful thinking. Though the winds slammed into him with enough pressure to halt a caravan of chocobos and certainly any normal man, Lockes stride remained true.
Amazing what you can accomplish when its either do or die.
Not a hundred yards from the shapea castle, as far as he could figuredid Rosa awaken and discover her situation. The white wizards caramel eyes contorted comically. Her struggle availed her none, though, because Locke was convinced shed never make it.
But, Locke, youll get along farther without me.
He snorted with a conviction the treasure hunter didnt genuinely feel. Look, were not that far from shelter now. Besides, the only way Ill stop carrying you is if I can no longer carry myself, either. End of story.
Her whisper barely constituted human tenor and, thus, Locke had to bend an ear to note her words. Rosa murmured, soft as the rustle of silk over skin, Such a noble heart. Just like Cecil. Aloud, the white wizards real response was a mere, Thank you. A grunt from him and the wind regained imperial seat of sound. This continued for some time as neither spoke; the journey continued uninhibited. The mass became nearer still.
For once, some good luck.
Then Rosa cried out, laced with pain.
What? What? Are you okay? Locke asked, his words raw from wind.
Dont feel right? How?
The white wizards eyes clouded with internal analyzation. Softly she sighed. Those eyes squinted shut. Oh my...I cant believe this! Im having a baby!
What?! Right now?
Rosa rolled her eyes. No, not now. Im pregnant.
For a full minute and a half, Locke remained quiet. Then his voice arose, insubstantial, Listen, Ms. Farrell. I dont know what youre thinking but we
Laughter filled the sand-brimming air. Hers.
No, dont worry. I know who the father is.
Hmm? Maybe this Cecil guy you speak so frequently of?
Now she crimsoned, her lovely porcelain cheeks a slight shade of a rose. Tatters of her cloak and ribbons of hair concealed Rosas face but despite that, he could easily imagine. The expression was answer enough. Locke proceeded with the atrocious trek, chuckling to himself. With shelter so close, hed unearthed more endurance and the stride that placed them a few feet from the shapeindeed, a fortresswas swift.
It was then that the treasure hunter noticed the bizarre sandstorm had all but vanished.
Now I KNOW that cant be good...
Like darkness swallowed them up, a long shadow passed over both. The white wizard sank in his embrace as if exhaustion had been reinforced by that murky touch, muttering things he could not decipher. Brief moments a blackness so immense when there had only been sand, stole his breath and forced Locke to halt. Looking up, he gasped thinly.
High in the air, a mounted dragon soared. Its rider beared all blue-plated battle gear. Gaunt streams of light rippled over the metallic form as it rose in the saddle and heralded a warcry. A lone silver lance rested in a gloved hand. That sigh the treasure hunter expelled inflated to a shout.
All around him was war.
It chilled like glacial water to the treasure hunter that he hadnt observed this before.Flecked over the nondescript sand dunes marched metallic abominations, some in straight lines, others in eccentric curves. Armored individuals climbed out and made rapid-fire discharges at Lockes intended shelter. More dragon riders permeated the skies now, like multi-colored sharks in an azure sea of clouds.
At first, he wondered if his fatigued mind was playing games with his sight, but the smell of smoke and gases and the shrieks of gunfire immediately doused the flame of that notion. No, battle had been engaged and should Locke continue his progression to the fortress hed discover himself either blasted into oblivion or torn to shreds. Needless to say, that didnt appeal to him.
Agility, fortunately, had ever been his element and weaving this way and that, Locke conveyed both himself and his beautiful burden at the side of the castle, unharmed and under its refreshing shadow. Its massive walls nearly blocked out the blazing sun. His breath rattled in his lungs. Sweat streaked his temple.
Glancing heavenward again, Locke saw the initial rider, the one in blue gear, swooped down in their general direction. Ribbons of light rippled his navy form and his mount, a lovely marble dragon, stirred the dust about them. Locke hesitated, knowing that he should reveal himself to the city otherwise theyd never admit him, but fearing his lack of judgement could cost him his life.
That decided him. Until the treasure hunter could be assured of the inhabitants nonviolent intents Locke would remain a third party. More firearms erupted sending up pillars of dust. Theloud shrills of artillery and shattered stone drove into his temple like a hammer. Still, he must penetrate the fortress from some side entrance and determine shelter.
But time to think is limited and Locke found that out the hard way as the dragon rider landed a mere few feet from them. The treasure hunters keen chestnut eyes panned the scene. No where to run. No where to escape. No where to hide.
Do or die.
Carefully laying a half-comatose Rosa against the wall, Locke brushed his bronze hair aside. Twisting out a slender dirk in one hand and the massive Ragnarok in another, he approached the dismounting enigma. The treasure hunter wanted no part of a fight, but if the mans intentions were ill, Locke would fight until the very blood in his veins ceased circulation.
His opponent leapt down in a fluid movementan indication of years of skill. He made a short advance to Rosa, caught Lockes warning eye and crossed his arms contemplatively. The only weapon present, as far as the treasure hunter could detect, was a pure silver lance that remained strapped to the wyrns side. The sounds and sights of battle continued around the two as they gazed at one another. The dragon rider made no motion for attack. Neither did Locke.
Well, began the plated man, I can see Rosas taking up new friends. Not uncommon for her. Is she well?
The dragon riders non-threatening stance and conversational manner perplexed Locke. Though unarmed, he instinctively knew the man to be dangerous. Hell, Kefka looked nothing more than a harmless, demented clown...demented, yes, clown, maybe, but certainly not harmless. No matter the friendliness, Locke would be on guard.
Who are you? demanded the treasure hunter, almond eyes ablaze.
His question had little effect on the man who proceeded toward Rosa. However, Locke blocked his path and reiterated the inquiry. All he could see of his face was a hard square jaw and the muscles tightening at the base of his neck. A smile? A sneer? A rowl? Locke could not tell.
I dont mean any harm. Im only here to help a friend.
Really... doubt tinged the treasure hunters voice.
How do I know if hes friend or foe? Wake up Rosa and tell me!
Like the gates of heaven and hell collided as one, an enormous eruption sent both clear into the stone wall. Each landed with a painful crash. Rosa came to her senses, crying out Cecil!. Locke, breathing harshly, grabbed her hand to pull her away from crumbling embattlements. The white wizard seemed half-lucid as he dragged Rosa from the dragon rider.
His opponent looked to have had the wind knocked out of him but he recovered soon enough. He whistled to the dragon and it eagerly came to his side, ducking with a white head. The dragon rider then turned a sharp eye on Locke and his weakened burden. Listen, you can trust me or you can be a fool and die. Either way Im taking Rosa to safety. Do you want to be here when the welcome community arrives?
That welcome community or a collection of metallic abominations, proceeded to the fortress with startling efficiency. Cannons belched firepower and more smoke, heralding ear-wrenching noises. Light rippled on the ebony forms and seemed only to enhance the demonic machines. It reminded Locke horribly of the Magitek-armored soldiers whod crushed town after town in the World of Balance.
Between a rock and a smart ass...
Making his decision in a breath, Locke loaded Rosa onto the crystalline creature. The dragon rider handled her carefully as one might a child. Her blond-brown hair tangled in her lovely face as the woman attempted unsuccessfully to say something. Sheathing his weapons, Locke mounted as well, albeit reluctantly.
Jerking a chin upward, the navy-clad man wordlessly bid the creature fly. Explosions rent the air, so loud it must drive them all mad if it prolonged. Sand swirled at the ascent. Soon they were in the bleak sky. Flares trailed their right and the dragon rider instructed his mount to evade. It was no pleasant ride.
Worry marred Lockes face. Rare though he fretted, the treasure hunter knew that should his judge of character proved erroneous he would not be the only one to suffer this time. He gazed down at the faint Rosa. Locke didnt understand his fervent need to protect her...only that the remembrance of a blond warrior in chains reinforced that feeling.
Through the sun-assaulted skies, the three soared over the castles parapets. They hung there, like the scales of balance, near the columns of fog and tongues of birthing flame. Hundreds of feet below the hideous contraptions proceeded in a systematic, brutal fashion. Then, the dragon rider flicked a hand and called out, I have brought allies! Come, retainers, receive them.
Dozens of individuals poured out of various residences. Some wore armor, like the mystery man, others donned ivory or ebony cloaks. They marched up stairs that ascended the castle wall. The marine-donned man turned to Locke and announced, Heres your stop. Follow the retainers and take good care of Rosa. With that, he helped a white-robed man half-lift, half-assist Rosa off and instructed Locke to dismount also.
The treasure hunter did so, intent on accompanying the white wizard wherever they should take her. Unburdened, the armored man again rose in the air, white gold of dragon contrasting sharply against the oceanic of his garb. His warcry was that of an avenging angel. Startled, Rosa, whod been rested against the parapet, seemed to come alive at the voice.
Oh, God! Help him, Locke!
Hands returning to his weapons, Locke stared up at the mystery man and saw him engaged with another dragon rider. Something about that second rider seemed vaguely familiar...
Half-turning to the attendants, he hoarsely asked, Where are we?
Several of the retainers helped Rosa down the decrepit stone steps. The last tried to force him to descend but Locke refused. His eyes, as brown as flaming bronze, set to a cool determination. Sighing, the woman answered, Locke Cole, I say you are the most difficult man Ive ever had to deal with.
The voice lightened down the treasure hunters spine.
Spinning on a heel, Lockes eyes confirmed his ears. Indeed, it was Rachael, caramel hair fluttering like a living thing in the breeze. The confusion reeled in him so hard he found thinking a complex activity the treasure hunter was completely unaware of.
Rachael? RACHAEL! How...Why...Wha...
The girls beautiful eyes widened wildly and she dove at Locke. Stumbling at her momentum, he landed, hard, on the parapets with her landing over his chest. Like a dark sheet had been flung over both, a shadow blocked out the suns mercilessly blaze. Locke struggled to stand. Finally finding his footing, he saw a long piercing of silver plummet.
It came to stop with a clank a inch from his feet.
The dragon riders lance!
Thrusting aside confusion and questions, the treasure hunter deftly snatched up the beautifully-crafted spear. Rosas plea returned to himaid their rescuer. He waited until the navy-clad man made a dive in his direction and eyed carefully. Should something go wrong, Locke might end up impaling the unfortunate soul. Letting it rip, he direly wished he had Shadows throwing proficiency.
Mercifully, the lance flew true. The dragon rider snared it in an expert hand and nodded his appreciation. Immediately, he whirled in a daring arc at his foe. Locke clucked in relief. As he watched the two opponents clash vehemently he noted a pennant of liquid platinum hair peekingout from the second riders helm. Familiar...very familiar...
A tug and a harsh whisper partially dragged his concentration from the dueling duo. Locke, we must get away from here! Theres a battle going on! Well be killed!
A minute, he murmured, Just one more minute...
Both riders drew nearer, their spears colliding in a violent embrace, glinting like argent moonbeams. Metal sparks flew as they clanked heavily. After a few charges at one another, they discarded the unwieldy weapons in close-range combat and produced swords. The navy-clad rider bore a fine silver blade while the golden-haired rider flashed a sword that flared a brilliant azure blaze. That, too, sparked familiarity.
But of what...or whom?
One plain motley adornment screamed out a name.
Celes!! he cried, stunned beyond mortal comprehension.
The golden-haired rider revolved her head and landed two green-blue eyes on Locke. Those pupils dilated in mirrored astonishment...and triumph. She immediately yanked the helmet off of her head and flung it aside. It was Celes alright. Of that, he could not be more certain.
...Locke? Locke, is that really, truly you? The words came almost inaudible, tinted in hope. She extended a white-gloved hand to him and with the other ribbonated her fine flaxen hair.
Yes, its me, having the time of my life! What are you doing there?
Me? What are you doing there?
Before either could answer another massive leviathan of a scarlet hue sailed in their midst. Two individuals, sharply contrasted in attire and attitude, sat astride it. In front was a night-haired man with piercingly-cold eyes in a lavish outfit. The second was barely distinguishable in a nondescript ebony cloak.
Both Celes and the navy-clad dragon rider pulled their mounts in opposite directions to admit the oddly-matched duo. Locke didnt recognize the blue-eyed rider but the plainly-robed individuals identity sprang into his memory like a slap.
The crude, blade-demanding man from the sea ship!
Locke rolled his eyes. You, again!
His only response of Blade informed the treasure hunter that the individuals objective hadnt changed, either (nor did his vocabulary, apparently). This was becoming a day of encountering people he hadnt imagined hed see again and seeing individuals Locke wish he hadnt. The situation was dire. Not the physical situation (well, with explosions bent on rendering the earth apart, maybe it was) but in a mental state Locke found himself as a leaf in a cruel wind.
Okay, Locke, solve the problem...find a solution...
But the problem seemed to have no solution.
Locke, Celes, the dragon rider and the eccentric duo hung in times suspense, neither willing to shatter the stillness. Wind, tempered by some unforeseen force, yet managed to whimper with a scattering of sand. Finally, the navy-clad rider broke formation and engaged with another mounted dragon. With that, Celes spoke again, in grave urgency, Locke, please. Come and bring the sword. Hurry!
Torn by frustration, he cried, Are you friends with them? Them?
Youre on the wrong side of this war! the rune knight exclaimed.
Me? Youre the one who never could tell the difference between the good and evil sides! Inwardly, Locke groaned. The moment the words left him mouth, the treasure hunter wished he could eat them. But it was too late; the words drew their blood as smoothly as a knife slash. Celes lips ashened. A fist clenched in thinly-concealed rage...and hurt.
I thought you knew me better, Locke, I really did. I thought Id found someone whod understood mebut now I know it was all a lie! Let me do something worthwhile for once and you crucify me... Each word trembled, but from rage or sorrow, he could not tell. She continued, now more composed, These two, Celes indicated the cool-eyed man and his companion, saved my life when I would have drown. What have you donetaken up with a pretty woman?!
Does she mean Rosa or Rachael? he mused, annoyed.
Not giving the treasure hunter a breath to counter, the former Imperial general laid a hand on her cream-colored beast and addressed the individual attired in a garnished outfit. Nightmaster, please, spare the city until I have an opportunity to discuss this with him.
All too hastily the man answered, Certainly, my dear. He immediately called a retreat to the contraptions below and to all the ariel combatants. Wings, headed the way theyd come, sliced through the afternoon sun and those rays glistened on the withdrawing abominations. Naturally, the opposing side, that of the fortress legions, could only observe in paralyzed elation. For now, the battle was over.
Think about it! I shall return. were the last words Celes uttered, disjointed, and vanished into the clouds. Quick to follow were the two mismatched duo. Like someone had run him through with a spear, the treasure hunter flinched in pain. Indeed, the situation was disintegrating rapidly. It crushed him to think that by a mere misunderstanding he and Celes would be cleaved asunder once again. Locke rubbed a hand down his face and squinted his eyes.
Love goes away...like night into day...its just a fading dream...
No. He couldnthe wouldnt, let it end that way.
Another tug at his arms revived the treasure hunter to the physical world. Locke lowered his arm, heaved a sigh and turned to Rachael. Her almond eyes glittered...Worried? Mournful? Delighted? Again, he could not tell. Her hand lifted to hover over his shoulder and landed and she whispered, Im sorry, Locke.
Locke pulled away and headed down the stone stairs. His lips were set in a thin line. Im not. Celes is gonna do what she wants and damned be me! Then Locke speedily leapt over each step with the agility of his profession...treasure hunting, of course.
By the time both had approached the inner courtyard the two detected the presence of the armored dragon rider. Hed glided onto the cobblestones with ease and dismounted just as effortlessly. His crystalline creature proceeded beyond, a glittering icicle in a cloud-congested sea. The relic hunter saw Rosa emerge from one of the brick edifices. Her face shone with glee. Before his shocked expression, the white wizard and the dragon rider embraced.
The famous Cecil, perhaps?
When Rosa broke the hold, she gestured with a sweeping hand, Locke, this is
Cecil, right? Minus a hesitation, he patted the armored man on the back. Congratulations. Youre going to be a father!
For the second time that day, the treasure hunter dearly wished he could take back his words. Rosa instantly crimsoned while the dragon rider registered a blank expression. Even Rachael seemed unsettled. Finally, the man uttered a forced chuckle and added, No, not me. Cecil, of course. Something in his eyes, a navy to match his garb, betrayed his halcyon countenance. Betrayed it with acrimony.
Speaking apprehensively, the white wizard corrected, This is Kain Highwind, master dragoon...Cecils best friend.
Thankfully, Rachael stepped forward to announce herself, plain blue-and-white robe rippling like a ocean wave, And my name is Rachael. I can see you have traveled far, Locke and Rosa. Come. We have food and a place to rest.
And talk, Locke added. Because God knows Im confused!
Rachaels laughter twittered through the air as she grabbed his arm and propelled him forward. Kain and Rosa came behind, the Highwind hoisting the white wizard in his tree-trunk arms and carrying her with a gentleness that belied his brawn. She protested, once, but his Dont deny me this pleasure... plea forced her to acquiesce.
The white wizard, dragoon, treasure hunter and copper haired woman, passed under low hanging branches as they transversed the populace-swarmed veranda. For once, the crowd didnt turn stark berserk and chase him insanely. Locke was immeasurably grateful; he didnt know how many more civilizations he could run from before his energyand luck, as Setzer would sayran out on him.
Halting them in front of a beautiful building, Rachael acquired their admittance with the residents and then beckoned them to enter after her. All stone, the edifice reflected the suns rays with a hundred faces. Though unlit as of now, a pair of scones flanked the curved doorway. Much of the wall had been colored with azure, crimson, ivory, and black.
Swift, Locke snared Rachaels hand and stopped her mid-step. His lips opened, preparing to ask of her rather peculiar appearance. Hell, it was more than odd. Rachael...
She brought a index finger to his lips and pointed with the complimentary digit.
Following the gesture, the treasure hunter witnessed Kain planting a delicate kiss on a slumbering Rosas forehead. He evidently thought himself unseen as Locke was under the archway and Rachael some distance beyond. As he straightened, the relic hunter pretended not to notice.
And then he felt a hand grip his....
Way too many complications...
And none less than the fact that Celes was wearing his bandana...