DK sighed and wrote desperately at his computer, trying to get the ideas to come. Locke stood behind him, smoking a hookah and shaking his head.
You silly bastard, the treasure hunter said. First off, Id never talk like this, secondly, youre not supposed to insert yourself into your own story. You have a lot of faithful readers and youre turning this whole thing into a farce.
No Im not, Im just trying to put some narrative on here so this chapter fits in the FF.Net fiction rules, you know. Its only covering my bases.
Ah, I see. Locke said. Then he ran and punched a moogle and the moogle fell down and then got up and ran OMG.
Now, seriously, I think I have a bit of explanation to do.
First, I always intended to finish this story. Never would have started it if I hadnt, but somewhere along the way, I lost it. Its not that I think my ideas of what was to happen dont have merit, or arent somewhat interesting, but they just dont grasp me anymore. After a long period in my life where I was unable to work on this and burdened with outside concerns, I found myself feeling, well, like a different person. And a person who, for one reason or another, wasnt in touch with this story on a visceral level anymore. I knew what was going to happen, as I have for a long time. The only matter was writing it, and I simply couldnt. The story, I think, would have turned out far worse if I had decided to force things when the spark just wasnt there. I dont excuse my not finishing this, and I hate to leave the loyal fans of the story hanging (Im sure some of you are still out there somewhere). I expected Id just let the story slowly fade out of my memory, but that isnt right.
So, to prove to you that I actually did know what was going to happen, Im going to give you a narrative summary of how everything was going to turn out. Right here, right now. Yep. Its not great prose, but it is prose, and itll fill you in on the total plot.
Again, I apologize. This certainly has taught me never to post something before its completed, since I dont ever want to leave my faithful readers in a spot like this again. This summary isnt as much as you deserve for reading, and sticking with the story, but at least its something. And so, let us take things up with Edgar, Locke, and Cyan, languishing in that cell of theirs in South Figaro
Cyan, Locke, and Edgar escaped from Figaro Prison due to a crafty scheme of Locke's - before they were captured, he swallowed a small lockpick which he regurgitated in captivity (ewww). As they left their cell, they ran smack into Sabin and Duncan. Brotherly discussions were put off for the moment in the hurry to escape (As for Vargas, he had, unfortunately, already left home in a rebellious huff). Along the way, they found Celes being tortured and saved her. She accompanied them through the warren of tunnels underneath Figaro as they were pursued by the Empire's magically enhanced dobermans. Before they could completely escape, they encountered the Empire's new superweapon, the TunnelArmor, and destroyed it in a difficult battle. Celes, her magic finally returning, proved to be a great asset, and she was accepted into the group despite Cyan's intense reservations. The group decided to head over the Sabil Mountains to Returner HQ.
Meanwhile, in Thamasa, the mages sensed the intense magical waves of energy released by Terra's contact with the statue. Strago volunteered to investigate, and the other mages constructed a teleportation circle which would take him to the source of the initial disturbance. Relm ran into the circle at the last minute and was inadvertantly carried along with him.
But Terra had already left Returner HQ and taken the most important part of the statue, its central red orb, with her. She returned to Vector and planted the orb in the Magic-rich ruins of the Magitek Research Center, where it sprouted tentacles that tunneled into the magic storage vaults and began to drain them dry. The orb began to gain mass magically, growing more tentacles that wound round and around each other, forming a great organic tower nearly a mile tall. At the base of the tower, among sinuous rootlike growths, were empty cocoon pods. And so Terra knew at last the mysterious power of the statue. It was the Malk, the tool which the goddesses had first used to create the Espers from humans. She rounded up the few humans still lurking around in Vector and tossed them into the cocoons.
Cyan, Locke, Edgar, Sabin, and Celes continued their journey to Returner HQ, leaving Duncan at his cabin. Along the journey, Locke and Celes began to grow closer and revealed a few things about themselves. Edgar and Sabin did not exactly bury the hatchet, but also shared a bit of discussion.
The gang arrived to find Returner HQ completely demolished. Banon and a handful of the Returners still lived, but they would have to abandon the area entirely. Imperial Spotters had already seen the massive fires from the air and ground forces would be arriving shortly. There was, at least, some clue as to what had happened. Strago and Relm had arrived out of nowhere and nearly been gunned down, but cooler heads had managed to prevail. A dying Esper named Maduin was found nearby and he inadvertantly explained some things in the midst of his fatal delerium. The Returners now knew where Terra had come from and that the Empire had both produced her and fallen into ruin by her hand. Things got even worse when Strago saw sketches of the stolen statue and recognized it for what it was. It was decided that an expedition to the Southern Continent would have to be mounted immediately.
First, however, there was the small matter of escaping the Imperials. The only way was for the remaining Returners to head down the River Lete. Along the way, they woke a strange, ancient being from his slumber. Ultros attacked, destroying most of the rafts and killing dozens. In the battle, Edgar managed to fire up his newly engineered Drill and shove it into Ultros' eye, but the beast swatted him away. Locke ran up to grab the still embedded drill and cruelly shoved it onward through bone and brain. Ultros retreated to the riverbed, spraying ink, but Locke grimly fought on underwater until the creature died. Celes then saved Locke from drowning, returning the favor he had paid her earlier. During the battle, Cyan also saved Relm from drowning, forging the beginning of a closer relationship between the two (EW, NOT LIKE THAT, GUYS).
A new day was dawning in Maranda, which had successfully overthrown the few straggling Imperials left in their town and spent the night before wildly celebrating their independence. The morning was disturbed by the arrival of Terra and a flock of monsters, which quickly swooped down, laying waste to the town and taking its people captive to fill the cocoons in Vector. If anyone's interested, this was a Lola POV chapter, and I had sort of toyed around with having her boyfriend (the deserting Imperial soldier mentioned in Leo's first POV chapter) encountering her Esperized form, but I don't know if that ever would've really happened.
The gang made it to Narshe more or less intact and left Relm and the Returners there. Rumors had said that an airship still flew out of Jidoor sometimes, so the group set out for Figaro castle. Before they left, Cyan and Relm had yet another talk about what happened to his family and her own. A quick jaunt to Figaro and under the mountains, and the story moved on.
The group stopped in Kohlingen for supplies and the townspeople spat in Locke's general direction. It was revealed that Locke got Rachel to join the Returners and she was killed in one of their operations. (Honestly, the phoenix shard/amnesia/comatose body in a cellar was just too weird a plot to work with. The really mischevious part of me simply wanted to leave Rachel alive and a member of the Returners, but one that had no interest in Locke anymore. It might've been an interesting change, I suppose. Anyway, onward.) These revelations of course made Celes more sympathetic to him and they drew yet closer.
Albrook fell victim to Terra's wrath, but she did lose some of her forces in the process. She came to realize that the process of Esper creation was imperfect and unreliable; twice as many died in the cocoons as gained new life, and lacking the pure power of the goddesses, her creations were somewhat deformed and stunted. Still, her "Esperoids" were powerful, and they were growing exponentially as she continued to convert entire towns.
In Jidoor, Daryl was drinking and thinking, of course, of Setzer. It was the anniversary of the airship crash that both took his life and destroyed both their airships. Her melancholy mood was spoiled by an attack on Jidoor by the residents of Zozo, who had of late grown far more militant under a new leader. There was a battle with much carnage and ultra-violence, and Daryl was taken captive along with many of the town's other women. The men were strung up on the eaves of their own palatial estates.
The intrepid party arrived in Jidoor to find the place devastated and Daryl missing. They pursued her attackers to Zozo, where they were set upon by various bizarre hoodlums and taken captive. While in captivity, Sabin learned that Zozo had a new, aggressive leader who had seized control of all the warring gangs by beating all the leaders in single combat. He challenged this King of Blood to a duel and in the course of the battle he discovered that his opponent was Vargas. The other man refused to surrender and Sabin was forced to kill him, making him the de facto ruler of Zozo. Sabin, never one to relish authority, demanded the release of the prisoners from Jidoor and then walked away from his new responsibility.
Daryl agreed to take the party to the Southern Continent in exchange for some dough, and they set off for the tomb where she had interred Setzer's airship, which she had restored after his death. The party boarded the airship and departed for the Southern Continent, with the exception of Edgar, who returned to Figaro to rally his people. On the way there, they stumbled upon a horde of Terra's Esperoids attacking the Jidoor Opera House and a short, violent battle ensued before the creatures were driven off. The airship continued on its way.
Meanwhile, a massive number of Esperoids attacked South Figaro, but the Imperial Occupation Forces there held strong, their Magitek weapons allowing them to inflict vicious casualties on the monstrous creatures.
The airship arrived at Vector and Terra's tower, where Terra pounced upon them immediately. Terra proved to be far too much for the party and in the resulting battle Strago was (seemingly) killed, Locke and Celes were separated from the others, and the airship only barely escaped and headed back for the Northern Continent. Locke and Celes were believed dead.
Boaz Almeda and the Imperial Occupation forces made overtures of peace to the powers of the Northern Continent, and an emergency peace conference was called at Narshe so that the surviving human city-states could consider a coordinated response to Terra and the Esper threat.
In the meantime, Locke and Celes found themselves alone in the hellish, monster-haunted ruins of Vector with no one to depend on but each other. They faced an arduous trek out of the city and across the barren, blasted plains around it. They only grew closer as they took cover from Terra's horrible creations, and their relationship was finally consummated in the most unromantic setting of some wild creature's abandoned cave. In the course of this journey, Celes comes to realize that she no longer needs drink to cope, that she can manage by herself, that she is a strong person, and that the past is the past. Complete redemption may be impossible, but she can at least try, can at least love.
Almeda was not playing things entirely straight - while he realized that the Imperials would need the help of the Northern Powers to survive, he did not intend to negotiate from a position of weakness. Therefore, he requested that Shadow (dun dun dunnn) assassinate King Edgar Figaro, head of the most powerful nation on the Northern Continent, during the negotiations.
The airship arrived in Narshe and the party shared the sad news with the members there. Edgar was upset over the loss of his old friend Locke, and Relm nearly inconsolable at Strago's death. Cyan, who broke the news to her, was perhaps the only other person in the party that could understand the pain of losing everyone near and dear - when Relm, nearly crazed with hysteria, claimed that there was no one left in the world who cared about her, he told her that he did. (awwwww) Edgar paid Daryl and told her her part in this was over, but she told him she wanted to stay on, that it was good to have a purpose in life and a meaning to other people again, even if she was just a glorified chauffer. Edgar told her she was more than that. (I considered really working a romance angle with these two, as it seems like their personalities would fit pretty well (granted, we only see a little of Daryl's). I wasn't sure if I wanted to go with it or not, but as I'm being complete here, I'll leave the moments with them in this summary).
As for Terra, she had been saving her powers for weeks in order to "reach beyond" and break the ancient Seals. At the end of the chapter she did so, releasing the Dragons, Doom Gaze, Phunbaba, and Atma Weapon into the World of Balance - and under her control.
Celes and Locke, reeling from days without rest or nourishment, stumbled upon a patrol of men in Magitek suits and were taken into custody. They were brought to the Imperial Encampment on the eastern end of the Southern Continent. There, they met General Leo (bet you were wondering where he went!), who filled them in on the situation. He and his men had arrived to find Vector in ruins and had immediately set out for Albrook. By the time they arrived there, however, the town had been laid to waste and their Magitek machines had been breaking down. They retreated to the Eastern Base and had since been holding fast there while making periodic patrols to gather supplies and refugees. Leo also revealed that he and the rest had been in contact with the Espers behind the Sealed Gate, who, warned by the other Espers that escaped the research center with Maduin, were expending every ounce of their power in keeping the gate's magic resonance shielded from Terra. While she must know dimly about the Esper world, she had killed everyone that knew its location. As long as they kept it shielded, she would never be able to find it... or the Goddess statues within, which truly would give her the power to destroy the world.
...except there was Strago, who knew the old stories. Who knew of the gate. And he was not dead. Instead, he lay in one of Terra's esper cocoons, maturing into one of her creatures...
Negotiations at Narshe began. In attendance were the Imperial Expeditionary Force, Edgar, representatives from the Miner's Guild of Narshe and from Nikeah, ambassadors from Doma and Jidoor, and even the Elder of Thamasa. Immediately, friction developed between the Empire and the other parties - Figaro demanded withdrawal from South Figaro, but the Imperials claimed they had no where else to go. The day was wasted mostly with arguments which I won't bother to go into here. The interesting events came later that night, when Shadow crept into the manse where Edgar and friends were staying... and bumped right into Cyan.
And so, the rematch that I'd been working up to since chapter four went down. No bravado, no cursing, no words at all, just two men filled with hatred, fighting to the death in a small, quiet study. The battle went on for a long time and both opponents did quite a lot of damage to each other, but again, it was Shadow who won, this time through a freak accident - Cyan's sword broke in half at a crucial moment and a kick to the temple felled him. But then Relm, who had been searching for Cyan and heard the commotion, ran in, taking the blow that was meant to kill him right in the chest. The shock at what he had done to his own daughter was enough to stun even Shadow, and Cyan had just enough time to hurl the splintered remains of his own sword, taking the assassin right through the eye and killing him. Cyan felt no joy, however, as he was too concerned over the badly wounded Relm.
Relm was saved by the Thamasa mages on hand, and as she lay recovering the next day, the negotiations continued. Almeda's trusted subordinate removed him from command, having discovered that he plotted to sabotage the peace talks with assassinations. Almeda however escaped from custody with the help of his loyal Red Falcons and hijacked some Magitek armor, plotting to tear his way into the peace conference and kill the assembled leaders. Before he could do so, however, Terras Esperoids attacked the town.
The resulting chaos saw Narshe guards, Returners, Samurai, Mages, and Imperials taking on the attackers in a battle that raged from the citys gates to the mines themselves, where the moogles, the Whelk, and a certain sasquatch emerged to aid the defenders. The Esperoids were driven off, and the power they displayed only underlined the need for mankind to join together to defeat them. During the attack, commander Almeda was wounded and fled into the tunnels where he met up with a tribe of Tonberries.
The invasion plans were made. Figaro castle was hastily reinforced and outfitted with a Magitek Cannon by the Imperials. Armies from Doma, Thamasa, Nikeah, Narshe, and the rest of the surviving towns were gathered and marshaled for the final awesome battle. During the preparations, Edgar and Sabin spoke of responsibility at last, and Edgar told Sabin that if anything happened to him, Sabin would have to lead the people of Figaro. Sabin brushed it off. Edgar also talked with Daryl, and they hinted at the fact that their feelings might run deeper than either admitted. They decided to wait until after the coming battle to discuss such things.
Even as the invasion force set out for the Southern continent, Terra learned of the existence of the gates and the statues from the newly created Strago-Esper. As he had previously known magic , he was now the most powerful of Terras own personal creations (she had harnessed the dragons and other monsters, but they could not be trusted to obey her out of anything other than force). Leaving Strago in charge of her forces at the tower, she headed out for the Sealed Gate, taking only Atma with her.
At some point in the story, I wouldve introduced the Espers at the Sealed Gate discussing giving the Atma sword to the humans, who were the only ones who could wield it, so as to not make it a total Deus Ex Machina. In any case, sensing the approach of Terra, the Espers did just that. The weapon attuned itself not to Leo, but to Celes, due to her inherent magical ability.
Terra arrived at the Sealed Gate, tearing through the Imperial Camp in a streak of fire, smashing Magitek suits like cheap toys in her wake. Leaving Atma to finish the survivors, she went below. The Espers there, weakened by their efforts to hide the power of the Gate from Terra, were easy prey. She defeated them and entered the Esper World.
The attack on Terras tower began with Daryls airship and the Imperial Air Force sweeping in to confront the flying Esperoids and Doom Gaze. Magitek armor cut in on the ground from the east and the west, hammering into the main mass of the creatures in twin wedges. Samurai and mages from Thamasa shored them up, slipping into the holes the Imperials punched in the teeming mass of Esper creatures. The center of the attacking force appeared in a thunderous earthquake as the towers of Figaro Castle tore through the earth, surfacing on the battlefield. Its first act was to fire the mammoth Magitek cannon Imperial and Figarian Engineers had installed, incinerating thousands of Esper creatures in one blast and rocking the foundations of the tower itself. Then the wings of the giant mechanical fortress extended, the main gates thundered open, and hordes of troops rushed forth: Narshe guards, Nikeah merchant-princes, Jidoorian pikemen, Returners, rabble from Zozo and, in the lead, Edgar and the main bulk of Figaros cavalry.
Meanwhile, Atma was still tearing his way through Leos troops, reducing the base to ruin. He was confronted by the general himself, strapped into the prototype suit of Magitek armor that the base housed (I actually foreshadow this at one point in the existing chapters, believe it or not). Leo ordered his few surviving men to retreat as he threw himself into the fray. Atma, for his part, welcomed the challenge, and the ultimate weapon of the old world faced off against the ultimate weapon of the new.
Celes and Locke had been in the Imperial Base when the attack started, but quickly set out after Terra, racing through the perilous Cave to the Sealed Gate and through it into the Esper world. They arrived at the Goddess Statues just in time to see Terra activate them, wrenching the surrounding spur of land free of the ground and into the air.
Back at the ruins of Vector, all order of the battle had vanished, replaced by a chaos in which it was every man, woman, and creature for themselves. Spells flew back and forth on both sides, killing man and beast alike. The Blackjack fought an extended aerial duel with Doom Gaze that ended when the airships jury-rigged gatling guns shredded the membranous flesh of the creatures wings and sent him crashing to the ground below in tattered ruin. The Ice Dragon was put down by a joint force of Magitek Armor and Samurai. Edgar and his chainsaw took care of the Red Dragon in an excessively gory scene. Scout armor carried the Returner Sappers to the base of the tower in a doomed attempt to bomb it even as hordes of half-formed Esperoids, coaxed out from their cocoons prematurely to do battle, climbed up from the Malks roots, mewling and rending. Jidoorians and citizens of Zozo fought side by side to stop the screaming spiderlike creatures surging up Figaro Castles walls.
Phunbaba gored Edgar, grotesquely impaling him on his shoulder spikes. Sabin, enraged, leapt into battle and finished the demon, but it was too late for his brother, who implored him to take care of their people even as he apologized for the need to burden him with it. Edgar died in Sabins arms, his last words meant for Daryl. The battle raged on, heedless of this personal tragedy.
Within Figaro Castle, the Magitek Cannon had almost recharged, and the Chancellor ordered it aimed at the center of the massive Malk tower itself. At the same time, in the central chamber of the tower, Strago drew upon the power of the central orb, charging up its own magical batteries. The towers organic tendrils shifted and writhed, unfurling like a grotesque flower, and it spit a lance of red fire at Figaro Castle even as the Magitek Cannon fired in return.
The blast from the Magitek Cannon scythed across the Malk, boiling through thousands of tendrils and sending the upper third of the tower tumbling free to crash into ruin. Their connection to the central orb severed, the cocoons began to sizzle and wither, inhuman screams welling up from their depths.
The blast from the Malk crashed into Figaro Castle like the fist of a giant, killing everyone inside in an instant, blowing the entire fortress into chunks of steel and stone that crashed to earth as far as a dozen miles away.
The battle raged on.
As the floating continent rose into the air above them, Leo and Atma squared off, exchanging spells, tekmissiles, and experimental weaponry in a massive brawl. Leo at last found that he was working towards redemption, fighting an opponent who was literally the embodiment of war, conflict, and suffering. After a grueling battle, he managed to smash his suits fist through Atmas teeth and halfway down his throat before unleashing every weapon he had remaining, boiling the creature from the inside out.
Celes confronted Terra and the two fought amongst the statues of the goddesses. Celes attempted to talk reason to the girl even as they battled, but quickly gave up in the face of such obvious, intense insanity (this would have of course mimicked the final battle with Kefka, with similar sentiments coming out of Terras mouth). The odds were evened somewhat as Celes had the Atma Weapon and could use her Runic ability to absorb most of Terras attacks (yes, I know Runic doesnt work with the Atma Weapon, shhh). Also, being so close to the goddess statues produced intense fluctuations in the areas magic, increasing her own abilities and throwing off Terras concentration. Still, Celes was heavily outmatched and after a long battle, she found herself with a set of painfully broken ribs and a lack of energy.
Locke threw himself in front of her before Terra could strike, catching the Esper by surprise with his boomerang and actually hurting her. She batted him aside like a flea and set him afire. Celes found the strength to stagger to her feet and launched herself at Terra, striking the final blow and impaling the Esper. Terra died quickly, the rage on her alien face lapsing into sadness as she lost her Esper-form. Its not fair, she said, and died.
Celes rushed to Locke and held his horribly burned form against her, weeping as the floating continent began to break up and crash to earth. Desperate, she attempted a healing spell, which actually worked considering she was so close to the statues, the sources of all magic. Locke began to breathe again, and though his left side was horribly burned and his hair was gone, he managed to crack a smile. Still, it seemed they would die there until Leo arrived in one of the bases transports and evacuated them.
Back at Vector, Terras creations all collapsed screaming to the ground, filled with anguish at the loss of their mistress. They were swiftly eliminated by the surviving human forces.
After the battle, Sabin found Daryl and told her about Edgar. She told him she should be used to losing people she cared about at this point and just felt numb. The sun was coming up again on a battle that had raged a full day and a night, and she wondered what the future would bring, and if she wanted to see it.
How Things Ended Up
Terra was defeated, the Malk orb was destroyed, and the Espers were extinct.
Locke and Celes were married a year after the horrors of DE. Aside from a limp and a missing eye, he made it out just fine.
Relm and Cyan lived on as father and daughter, neither of them ever knowing of Shadows true identity, or caring.
Daryl returned to Jidoor and much of her old way of life, but strangely she felt stronger, toughened by what shed seen and gone through.
Sabin took over the rule of the kingdom of Figaro. His first step was to order the reconstruction of Figaro Castle. As he waited, he daringly moved the temporary government to Zozo instead of South Figaro, dedicated to cleaning the city up, and taking care of his reluctant subjects. It was a move that he thought Edgar would have approved of.
The Empire, as per the terms in the Treaty of Narshe, left South Figaro and the Northern Continent, reorienting its government in the only surviving city on the Southern Continent, Tzen. General Leo was appointed its temporary head.
The Second War of the Magi is over.
And yet the world is far from a safe place. The Empire still holds great power and people with the willingness to use it. Not all will easily accept Leos leadership. Many of the worlds cities lie in utter ruin. And on the bottom of the ocean where the floating continent crashed lie the statues of the goddesses, artifacts with the power to destroy the world if wielded by the right hands.