SquareSoft: Generations Chapter 4
Schemes and Suspicion
By Dawn Wilkins
"And you're feeling hopeless...when you're feeling homeless...it's a heart, a heart without a home...Someone else has put the blame on you." (Homeless; Love Inc.;Love Inc.)
<Unknown to Cecil, Terra, and Magus, another trio, in a tower far away, that has had a significant impact on the world, has converged to discuss them...and much more.>
"Darkness, Nildemar, it is the one essence that pervades the light..." Tarus smiled fiendishly.
His servant, drapped in ebony accoutrements, offered no response. Tarus didn't care. Nildemar rarely answered. And not that Tarus needed a response anyway.
Tarus flourished a hand. Light sprang in the iron braziers of his tower. He, Nildemar, and one of his high-ranking Nightstalkers, marched up the precipitous stairway. Like the tower that contained it the stair well was ancient, dark, and crumbling. It spiralled heavenward like a coiled snake. It was colossal, extending up hundreds of feet, and worth no small awe...
...considering all the crevices in the wall.
A sigh touched Tarus' lips. His home.
"These holes are much too large! I'll be playing poker with the devil if they get any bigger," he snapped with irritation.
For once Nildemar offered an opinion. "Master...playing with the devil?"
Tarus stabbed out with a hand. His other companion, the Nightstalker, flung into the air. He disappeared into the wall's behemoth of an aperture. Screams, enough to make the devil blanch, seared the blackness. It echoed momentarily.
And then only silence.
Grinning, Tarus turned to gaze into the gapping chasm. After a gesture Nildemar obediently stood parallel to him and glanced down as well.
As black as the soul of Tarus himself, the gorge plunged into darkness infinite. Nothing pierced the still gloom, not Tarus' sight, not Nildemar's.
Again a rare comment by the black-cloaked mystery. "Bottomless..."
A roar of armageddon magnitude surged upward. Flaming, molten liquid screamed as it soared. Its brilliance could blind for a thousand yards. Once it reached the duo who stood the scorching heat sent them slamming against the opposite side, against the banister. It continued in this violent vein for a moment more then swelled down just as swiftly. Again, more silence.
"Almost bottomless..." breathless came Tarus' voice.
Once more Tarus darted over to the abyss and Nildemar followed without a word. Together, they looked down and what they saw was what neither had imagined. Scarlet flames sprouted from the "bottomless" bottom. Magma gurgled, belched, exploded.
Tarus sighed, his tower was crumbling. It reminded Tarus of himself...powerful, fearsome, but losing eminence. The sorcerer would not permit his effort to attain power be all for naught simply because he was old! Oh no, he had plans...great plans.
He snapped two fingers and his silent servant instantly followed him up the seditious steps. Up and up they climbed finally arriving at a large metal door. The grand wizard barked an arcane word and the entrance opened.
Inside, huddled against a grey wall, cringed a lithe woman. She was dressed in rags, clothes that revealed far too much for anything decent. The diaphanous material swayed as she rose to greet him. Feebly, she smiled. But Tarus didn't notice that of her.
"What in the infernal void are you doing clothed!?" shrieked the sorcerer. "I said you could wear nothing. Nothing at all! "
No chamber, anywhere, could have had such unparalleled blackness and still be visible. A nocturnal darkness suffocated the room perpetually. Sight was limited, to say the least. Not that there was much to see: an expansive table and a silver-rimmed mirror was the only furniture. However, Tarus was so livid, his fury so powerful, one might think the mere flames of that fury could light up brighter than hell.
Tarus stalked toward the terrified woman. Advanced on his prey. He didn't even seem to breathe. A statue exhibited more signs of life...and compassion.
His hand snatched her violently. She shook like a rag doll, incorrigible in his grip. He shredded the sheer fabric which clothed her.
Rip, rip, rip.
It was all over. The poor woman was naked.
"Get out, you whore!"
Nildemar watched the cruelty without word (as was his custom). It did not surprise him...why, he had witnessed such brutality a dozen times. And would behold much more, he knew.
The woman immediately did as she was bid and not without glee. Glad she was to be rid of his loathsome presence. As she descended the stairs outside of the smothering chamber she muttered, slaughter in her eyes:
"I serve you now, Master," she spat the title distastfully, "but the tide will turn. And then you will serve me!"
Meanwhile, inside, Tarus' murderous demeanor had dissipated. He faced the mirror, a beautiful artifact, and gazed at his appearance. Shoulder length midnight hair flowed down his neck, streaked with silver. His eyes gleamed blue and cool.
He is a man of eminence and stature, the majestic Master Tarus, handsome and charming. Or rather at one time was. Age had marred that beauty, ebbed that power. Now he was but a shell of himself, a mockery of what once was.
But that would all change.
Tarus smiled and waved a hand before the mirror. A simple light encompassed the reflective glass, rebounding in the sorcerer's soulless eyes. He watched the reflection twist and writhe and reappear not as himself but another scene.
They were there. They were coming. Coming into the darkness.
He smiled. The embodiment of hell.
He saw the trio of wanderers. A blue-haired wizard, a beautiful woman, and a chivalric warrior. They sat around a fire, the flames casting shadows on their faces. Conversation travelled among them, sparse and forceful.
With a gesture Nildemar was at his side.
"Watch what I do," Tarus whispered, "and the results."
<Cecil poked at the fire, jolting it alive again. It persisted on blowing out, a symbol to his hope. He missed Rosa dearly, his beloved bride to be. Her warm smile and compassion. He missed Kain, and Rydia, and his friends. He missed them all.
A hand rested on his shoulder. He started and glanced up. Terra. She squezzed his shoulder. No words were needed. Comfort. Bending forward, she proceeded to coax the flame to life. She tossed all manners of vegatation to force it to survive. Suddenly, the crimson light source burst out. Terra wtihdrew her hand in the nick of time.
"Sorry," muttered a voice, devoid of any genuine concern. Terra glared at that voice then away, something Cecil witnessed rarely about her. He curled his fingers over hers and rubbed. Again, that unnatural glow in her sea-inspiring eyes appeared making the warrior feel unnerved.
Magus groaned. He lay, umcomfortably, on a fallen log. One leg drapped across a branch and his head was propped up by the heel of his hand. Shadows played on his face, concealing his expression. Not that one couldn't surmise what it was anyway.
"Love, how repulsive," he muttered.
Cecil looked up. Terra didn't, he noticed. She had an odd sort of aura about her.
"What are you talking about?"
Again, a groan. "She loves you."
Silence. A cool brezze blew, whistling through the trees. It sounded of moans and other things indefinable. As it was night, darkness blanketed them, making all the trees smothering.
Quietly Cecil spoke, almost without breath, "Who?"
A finger gestured to Terra.
The wizardess let out a strangled cry, born of disappointment. Cecil's head spun to see her. Her face descended into her tiny hands and accompanied a moan. He stared, his voice failing him, air evading him.
Magus sighed. His eyebrows drew down. "If you're going to be doing that you might as well find some quiet, comfortable place. Preferably far away from me."
Plently of air came to Cecil's lips this time. His indrawn hiss sounded harsh against the relatively silent woods. Angerily he repiled, "That is increibly rude. I don't know what made you think you had the right to be so disrespectful. Didn't anyone teach you any manners?" A snort was Magus' only answer.
Terra leapt to her feet. She snapped. With a quickly-weaved spell she flung the sorceror into the mushy grass. A string of vulgar language initiated the fray.
The situation deteriorated rapidly from there. Magus and Terra argued vehemently. Insults came from all sides. Compromise, appeasement, even threats couldn't bring order to the choas, Cecil was quick to discover.
At one point during the violent exchange Terra slapped the wizard. Silence again descended on the dysfunctional band. Terra lowered her hand, red with friction. Even she seemed shocked with herself. Tears welled in her eyes. Cecil stepped forward to embrace her but he wasn't prepared for Magus' reaction.
One minute the warrior was on his feet, and another, he was sprawled in a grassy slob on the ground. He realized Magus had somehow tossed him aside. A cry wretched from his throat as he watched Terra being savagely hurled to the ground. Maybe he was wrong about reviving this vile man. Maybe he wasn't such a good judge of character afterall.>
Tarus' venomous laughter echoed cruelly. "Just watch."
<As Cecil stood to interfere and halt this fight before it escalated out of control the fire burst high into the sky. Jets of crimson flashed, engulfing the makeshift fire barrier. Momentarily distracted, the trio darted back to escape the flames.
"Magus! Why are you trying to kill us!?!"
The wizard's purple eyes flashed, the fire illuminating them with a chilling effect "I am not! I had no control over that!"
Terra slid into the woods. Her hands shook as her entire body trembled in sympathy. Fustrated, Cecil turned to encourage her to return. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the controversial sorceror slip like a shadow into the night. It was acutely reminiscent of those shadowy monsters who attacked them, Cecil was swift to note. One might be forgiven for believing Magus was at home in this despairing land. He was gone before a heartbeat.
Cecil sighed as watched both wizard and girl disappear. This was going to be a long day, he mused.>
Tarus erupted into laughter, chill and mocking. How remarkably hilarious!
"Prepare the chamber, Nildemar," he said after the guffaw died out. "Soon, I will be ready."
Wordless, Nildemar nodded.
A harsh breath came from the wizard. "My master is waiting to be revived." His eyes returned to the mirror, deprived of any of the wanderers. "And I have much to do."
As Nildemar yanked an indigo curtain to shroud the mirror, he heard the heart-curdling laughter of Tarus.
Great plans. More plans than even Tarus knew.