SquareSoft: Generations Chapter 8
By Dawn Wilkins
"And when the stars are shining brightly in the velvet skies....I'll love you more with every breath...Oh, can't you see it, baby...You don't have to close your eyes...'Cause its standing right before you...All that you need will surly come..." (Truly, Madly, Deeply; Savage Garden; Savage Garden)
CRASH! Like a stroke of midnight lightning he launched himself into the air. Objects scattered far and wide. In his direction braced a ravishing woman of flaxen hair. When he landed more ropes, rigging, and sheets darted akin to scattered toys. The ship's cabin would appear, to the average eye, a victim of a particularly murderous maelstrom. Not that that mattered to Locke. Brushing her gold strands aslant, the self-proclaimed treasure hunter stole a swift kiss on his beloved's nose. Her beautiful eyes flared. "If you don't get off me this instant, Locke Cole, you'll live to regret it, hear me!? This is the most ridiculous stunt you've ever pulled. "
Locke leapt to his feet, his own pupils dancing. "Now, how about the bandanna? I KNOW you took it, Celes. You're nuts about it."
"A soiled strip of mismatched linen! How dare you accuse me of something so childish!" Her voice was low with heat. As certain as Locke was that the rune knight had nabbed his bandanna he also knew that she would die before admitting it. She was a warrior's warrior.
"Hey!" he cried as he spotted it. "That's my bandanna!" So she did take it! Maybe I'm helping Celes rediscover herself, helping her find innocence in her soul she thought she never had, Locke thought curiously.
With feline grace Celes ducked his muscled hand. She scrambled up the double bunks, ivory cloak spreading like threaded snow. But she never got that far. Locke weaved to snatch an ankle. Celes squealed very un-Celes-like and the two collapsed into a heap. Now he managed to recover the bandanna, wrinkled as it was.
"Ah, landlubbers, I tends to t'ink that clothes are better off for that kinda t'ing. Less interference, aye?"
Celes eyes became tiny globes of fury as her head whirled to see the speaker. He was an ordinary low-ranked sailor with an unshaven jaw and hard eyes. As a trained warrior Celes easily shoved Locke aside and prepared to say some clever retort. Before that disaster had time to come to fruition the treasure hunter slapped one hand over Celes' mouth and waved the other at the foolishly grinning seaman.
"What is it?" asked Locke with an interested frown.
"The captain wants taw see ya both," was the curt, if laughter-twisted reply.
Locke's eyebrows arched. "Okay. We'll be up in a minute." As he relinquished his darling's lips he heard the naval officer's harsh voice responding to another. "Stupidest job I'd ever eard. The Nightmaster wants some dumb blade without no ilt. Did ya ear that? Ill-minded I t'inks e is." He received a reply. "Yeah, probably. Don't make no sense to me neither. Seafarin' ain't for me. Go sailing they said. See the world they said. Rather be with them house women..."
The shrewd treasure hunter might have dismissed those words as idle sailor chat but not when they mentioned the hilt-less blade he and Celes had recently acquired. Celes stretched once than plopped herself on the bottom bunk. Twining her arms she muttered, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" She curled her feathery eyebrows to emphasis her unspoken theory.
"The blade?...Yeah." United they remised the last few days.
Two days, three, maybe more, had past since their separation from Edgar and their voyage on this undesirable vessel commenced. Once moment they were accompanying Edgar, who had exhibited a staggering interest (far too abnormal from Celes' perception), in their mission to recover the absent Terra. The next, an ominous portal, the likes of which they would be hard-pressed to define, sucked the trio in. It transcended them through inconceivable sensations then dumped them, unceremoniously, into a bustling port city.
And that was morning coffee compared to what occurred after that. As they struggled to survive in what could be claimed the most unfriendly populous in existence a mysterious woman bestowed Locke a gift. A magnificent and undeniably ancient hilt-less blade. She demanded to join them and guide the three. They agreed but that didn't matter much. Upon seeing the blade a riot ensued and Edgar and the eccentric female vanished. Celes and Locke, plus sword, were forced to flee for their lives.
Now the situation was thus: rune knight and treasure hunter managed to obtain passage on a sailing vessel (adequate if not luxurious). It would convey them to the main continent, for a price, and then land them at another port. There they could either head north, to Avida City, or west to the Dragon Forest Palace. Neither promised immediate relief in the form of answers nor aid, as both were several days journey but options, they came to discover, were not premium.
And what to do about this mysterious blade? What to do, indeed...
"Why do yo suppose this Nightmaster' wants it so desperately? Why is it so significant? And why did that odd woman give it to you anyway? And why!"
Locke jabbed his arms in the air. Sighing, he replied, "I don't know. Those townspeople literally knocked each other over as they tried to rob that thing. A mere blade! Granted, a glamorous one but I can't make heads nor tails of it!" A few steps he took than finally he settled into a quiet pace up and down the cabin, absentmindedly scrutinizing the rotten beams, and decrepit nails which consisted their world for the past few miserable days. The shameful quarters could be a prime example of this demented dimension. He was trapped in a demented world.
Trapped. That's what it felt like. Nothing made sense, so true the words of the sailor. Locke glanced up at his exotic warrior love. A spark of illuminance she was, there to defy the darkness of this dimension...far too sacred for this damnation. At least I still have her, he comforted himself, as his eyes absorbed each fluid movement.
Celes, having finished wiping her sword, the powerful Atma Weapon, smiled at him. "Maybe it's a good thing Edgar isn't here. Poor old ladies man would be ripping out that fine hair of his deprived of any female companionship'."
A frown took the treasure hunter's face. "I used to think so, too. But now I know differently," he answered. "I know Edgar and I've never seen him so torn up about any woman. His feelings for Terra are true. I just wish she knew it."
Hair swirled in a golden cascade as Celes shook her head in wonderment. "Edgar in love? The world MUST be ending!" In unison they laughed heartily. But a crude clank and a wind-scratched voice concluded their merriment.
"What yea doing, bys? There's time later for that. Captain wants to see you...NOW!"
Instinctively Locke's fingers curled around his own weapon, Ragnarok. The weather screamed its notorious sea squalls, as water sprayed on the one window, a circular peephole. Celes straightened, tossed her lovely hair aside, adjusted her sword belt then ascended the plank steps that lead to the deck. Eyes ablaze, Locke followed. Buried beneath his various accouterments the blade stowed away surreptitiously. Something about that artifact definitely attracted undesired attention and he was determined to uncover why.
Upon deck both warrior and treasure hunter clung desperately to the rain-slick steel railing. Water sprayed on them, soaking the two to the skin and nearly paralyzed them with the freezing temperature. Ebony clouds boiled overhead, nocturnal demons impaling them with the liquid from above as well as below.
The ship rocked unsteadily, permitting a godly amount of seawater to douse the deck. Sailors darted all over the place to ensure they wouldn't go under. It hadn't been easy obtaining passage on the ship but Celes authoritative nature helped them. Plus, his smart talking with the sailors earned them a cabin to themselves.
"I can see why that filthy riffraff would rather enjoy some women than sail in this horrid weather," growled Celes. All Locke could do was grunt in agreement. Though the treasure hunter's vision blurred in the watery inconsistency, he could decipher a naval officer approach. The man hollered, "The captain ll see yea soon at the poop deck, kay?" Locke confirmed with an awkward nod then steered the rune knight to the rear of the vessel.
Breathing laborishly neither could speak for more than a brief moment. Celes expertly strained her expansive strands while the treasure hunter squeezed water from his vest. Both joined hands and then wrapped the other on the railing. Celes eyes sparkled with fire and her hair danced like one. Locke didn't speak. He just stared. She stared back. And their eyes met and he knew she loved him. With her he could greet the end of the world and not be afraid.
"What is it?" Her sweet voice sliced through Locke's love-induced trance.
"You're so beautiful. I remember when you wore Maria's gown. It was so you."
"Oh, no, not again," she moaned. "I HATED that frivolous thing! I hated that and the stage and the singing and everything. I looked like some over-dressed maid with far too much makeup."
Locke kept his laughter soft. But still he laughed. Oh, how nice she looked, all dressed up like a princess and singing that wonderful song. If only...
"Celes...would you sing that song again?"
Celes must have gone mute because not a word came out. He could see her smooth skin crimson. He knew she did appear stunning in that dress. He also knew that he needed to say something before she exploded. "Celes, how about a...trade? I give you the bandanna and you sing for me. You have a lovely voice."
Silence. The only voice that spoke was the wind and the rain that cried of damnations of eons ago. Finally the rune knight responded. "Just a minute of singing? And the bandanna would be mine?" She contemplated. She thought. She added, "Oh...alright! But you better not say a word to anyone about this, got it!?!"
Locke was elated. "Not a word, love! Here." He handed her the drenched bandanna. "It's yours. Now sing."
And sing she did.
Locke's entire world halted before this heavenly cascade of something that was too beautiful to be called words. Every note rang clear and true. Her luscious lips, rich in seawater, expelled the voice of an angel.
"Oh, my hero," she smiled at him. "So far away now, will I ever see your smile?"
For her he'd smile a hundred smiles. Which, of course, he did.
"Love goes away, like night into day, it's just a fading dream."
If it was a dream let him sleep forever.
"I'm the darkness and you're the stars. Our love shines brighter than the sun."
He grinned at her and received a warning glare for that.
"For eternity, for me there can be, only you my chosen one."
"I should hope I'm the only one," he dared to comment verbally.
Celes cheeks mantled, apparently she had heard him. "You utter another sound, Locke Cole, and I'll song not one more word!" He shut up.
"Must I forget you? Our solemn promise? Will autumn take the place of spring? What can I do...I'm lost without you, my chosen one." Sparse shadows and light played on her face as she lifted her face to the clouds. And lifted her voice.
"We must part now, my life goes on. But my heart won't give you up. So come what may...I won't age a day. I'll love you...always." Her hands erupted into the sky in the gesture of the flower-toss. Bloodstained, travel-weary, and water-saturated, she still looked majestic. Their hands on the railing intertwined and now their eyes were solely for each other. He bent forward in a kiss...
"Now, now, none of that."
The two reluctantly broke apart and the treasure hunter heard Celes whisper, "Damn. They always do that! Rude bastards!"
The captain approached, flanked by four burly sailors. As hideous and unpleasant as the sailors were they were nothing compared to their captain. He was a repulsive brute, hair massed like vines and tattoos ubiquitously covered his body. A single ring adorned his nose and a silk sable patch concealed his left eye. Yeah, he was an ugly brute. And he had a disposition to equal to appearance.
"Now me maties it's time me and the boys ave a ittle fun. I'm sure this lovely lass ere would respect the duty of the passage women on the ship, aye?" His eyes gleamed hungrily.
Locke and Celes exchanged eyes. Sky-blue flashed against mild-green. There had been no mention of a duty'. The treasure hunter started to speak but Celes beat him to it. "What duty?" Locke heard the sailors mutter among themselves something about another ship in the vicinity but he was too busy to bother with that just now.
The captain's cheek drew back in a gap-toothed smile. "Why amusing' us. The boys and me ave been awfully lonely. How bout accompanying me to ma cabin? I'll show you a time that wimp could ever," he laughed, glancing back at his sailors who nodded eagerly.
"I should have known we got on this boat a little easy," Locke murmured. His hand slide to his sheath, Ragnarok waiting to be unleashed. Again he contemplated an effective manner to deal with this unexpected crisis. And again, unfortunately, the warrior woman managed to speak first.
Cloak billowing in tune to her radiant hair Celes strode to face the captain and his grinning crew. Such was the air of confidence and conviction she exhibited that the men took notice. "If either you or your nasty-smelling crew lay one hand on me you'll suddenly find yourself handless. I am not some raving slut you can amuse' yourself with! Do I make myself clear?!"
Time for a little Ragnarok. Time for a little Ultima. And time for a lot of luck
Locke flashed Ragnarok menacingly. Celes prepared for the pre-spell meditation of Ultima. The captain revealed a massive rusted broadsword. His crew exposed equally decrepit rapiers. Each waited for the other's move. But when the move came it was not the couple nor crew nor captain who acted.
One enormous sphere of pure energy arched over to land at the sailor's feet. It destroyed a portion of the poop deck and captain and crew darted back lest they be consumed in the flaming light. All eyes turned to the newcomer. It was robed woman with vast blondish-brown hair and a will to match her power. Where she came from was anybody's guess. A beautiful staff rested in her hand while the other gestured at Celes and Locke.
"You will accompany me. We must leave here and go to the Avida City and the blade you carry must come with us," she declared. Though strong her voice sounded soft at the same time and rich and full. The captain, though bewildered, smiled. He made a grab for the woman's long hair and she nimbly stepped back. "Ere to join us are yea? Well, I'm mighty pleased. Now get over ere." He made another languid attempt to seize the woman but she evaded him and strode to Locke instead.
"Who are you?" the treasure hunter asked, astonished.
"Rosa Farrell of Baron. We need to get away from here and take that sword, too."
Celes replied, "I don't think so. How can we trust you?"
God, Locke thought, I'm surrounded by two stubborn women. Now what can I do?
But he didn't have time to formulate a plan because the captain and his unsavory crew approached obviously intent on taking his beloved Celes and this mysterious Rosa without their consent. Rosa didn't appear to like their offer because she sent another white ball of light at them that slowed the sailors down. But they didn't halt. Swift as an arrow Locke tossed a dirk and it landed in the gut of the captain bowling him over. Celes relinquished Ultima and a huge cascade of azure power enveloped the crowd. As rain continued to savage the sea vessel the planks exploded beneath their feet.
Unfortunately, the spell was too powerful and it severed the ship asunder. The rune knight found herself hurled over board. "Celes!!!" screamed Locke. He threw out his hands but it was too late. She landed with a crash of liquid. Just as he managed to near a lock of her flailing hair a hand snatched him arm and yanked him away.
"You bastard! My ship!" It was the captain. He tried to cleave Locke in half but the nimble treasure hunter's thief-like agility gave him the edge and he dodged. A swing of Ragnarok and the captain was sliced diagonally. He died immediately.
"Oh, god, no!" Rosa cried. "The opposite ends of magic are having a reaction! White is going to explode!!"
Locke didn't have time to reply (and not that he knew what she was talking about, anyway) for his part of the ship, near the railing, disintegrated and he was forced to abandon his rescue of Celes temporarily. Rain streaked his face, blurring his vision. But even through that he saw another figure hurry to them. Now who's he? Does everybody just appear randomly around here or something? Locke asked silently.
No matter. He had to save Celes. Again he dove for her but received no favorable results. Now he couldn't even see her. His stomach bunched unpleasantly. He kept his eyes on the water willing her to appear. A battle of magic and might raged in the background but Locke's attention was riveted on the drowning Celes. "Celes, sweetheart, answer me! Please!!" He could feel his heart drowning in despair with his voice.
A gloved hand grabbed his hair and yanked his head back. It was the mysterious being who had just appeared. His voice was lethally soft, "Give me that blade! Now! Or die!" Locke's answer was a punch in the midsection. Rosa's amazing white light erupted at the man and the magic's opposite reaction shoved them both back.
"No? Is that your answer?" He waited a moment. With a waggle of his fingers and the crew exploded into a mass of blood and guts. He didn't even turn around. "Very well." His hands swirled in hypnotic patterns and Locke could tell he was going to cast some heavy-duty spell. He grabbed Rosa by the elbow and dragged her away from the figure all the while still looking for Celes. "Damn it! I'm going in!" he yelled, torn by fury and desperation.
The treasure hunter doubted he would ever remember exactly what occurred next. It felt like he was ripping apart all at once, in different directions. Blackness abducted him. After that...silence.
"Are you okay?"
The voice came at him disjointed but it came at him nonetheless. Pinpoints of light fragmented the dull grayness and Locke could finally open his eyes. Hovering over him was a woman. "Celes?" he asked hopefully. When she shook her head his heart sank.
"Lie still," Rosa commanded. "I'll do my best to heal you." And saying so an exquisite cascade of green healing light enveloped him. He instantly began to feel better. At least physically. When he straightened he could see they were on some large rocks, near a long beach. In the distance hustled another port city. Grey morning beams sliced through wafer clouds. Locke judged it was early dawn and they had landed near the city they had originally planned. Apparently the gigantic explosion didn't blow them as far off course as one might have believed.
"Where's Celes?" He couldn't keep the concern out of his voice.
"You mean the woman who was with you?" When Locke nodded she answered, "I don't know. Do you still have the...sword?"
Locke stood up, his face flushed with anger. "The sword!? What's so bloody important about it?" Rosa's eyes lowered, ashamed. She answered, "I'm sorry. I wasn't being sensitive. You've lost you friend and I'm sorry...but the sword is very important." Her words, soft and understanding, yet strong and stressed, cut through his anger. "Without that sword many people will die. It will be disastrous. You must listen. I understand your pain...believe me, I do...but you must put that aside."
A sigh emanated from his lips. "Alright...I'm listening." The treasure hunter didn't see the point to any of this, all he wanted to do was find Celes and Edgar and Terra and leave this place but he knew he couldn't. Though they had fought their wars and bled their blood, they were now a part of this dimension's design. When she gestured for the hilt-less blade he produced it from his tunic and gave it to her. She reverently handled it. "Thank you. This means a lot. This blade has a unique power once joined with the hilt. And that power is needed to stop this war," whispered Rosa.
She looked up. "A man named Tarus has intentions to destroy all our worlds. Not just mine, but yours and mine and others. This sword can halt his power. Then Cecil can use it against Tarus and then you can go home."
"And what about Celes?" His voice had stilled. All she did was shrug helplessly and apologetically. "Alright. Let's head to that city. Celes knew it was our destination if she's not...detained, she should meet us there."
As they leapt from the boulder to boulder he kept his eyes peeled for Celes. Oddly enough he couldn't find his bandanna, either. He hoped that was because his love had taken it again. His face lowered in disheartenment. To keep his mind off his worry and grief he periodically asked Rosa questions.
"So, your name's Rosa? Haven't heard that before."
She smiled benevolently. "I'm from another dimension. I doubt you would. And you are?"
They trudged along for an hour or so, moss making squish noises beneath them. For the most part they walked in silence. The sun started to peak out from under the smoldering clouds and shone illuminance on Rosa's beautiful face. Beautiful and heart-ravaged. And he didn't know why but he sensed she was thinking forlornly of someone. "Who are thinking about?" he asked at the same time she did.
They spun to face each other and he answered, "Celes," while she replied, "Cecil." And in a heartbeat they sighed and each knew the other shared an understanding. The absence of a loved one. They smiled in unison. And as he gazed out at the sea the breathed milky foam he was certain Celes lived.
And had his bandanna.