While Magus recovers from a near-mortal wound, Zarok plots to recapture him--which sets the stage for our thrilling finale...
Final Fantasy III: The New Returners Part 4
By Loren Leah
Zarok brooded in his chambers. His master plot--which, as he proudly recalled, was his most mischievous one yet--could never work without Magus. A magic user was, of course, essential when dealing with such things as he wished to do...
He cackled, a spine-tingling sound. His plan would go over yet, and he knew just the way to carry it out.
* * *
Come on, Lucca said as Magus tried to walk toward her--and stifled a giggle when Terra caught him, just as his legs folded under him for the third time.
I feel like an imbecile, he muttered to himself as Terra helped him to his bed.
Hey, its not your fault, Lucca said as she came toward him. Im actually surprised that you can even sit up. Someone without your stamina probably wouldnt even be conscious yet. As a matter of fact...
Magus covered his ears, and managed to suppress a groan. Luccas long-winded explanations made him sick to his stomach.
...so anyway, your rehabilitation might take a while. He caught the last of it just as he took his hands off his ears.
He sent her a look that said without words Im in no mood to cooperate, so just leave me alone or youll be sorry.
A rather nervous look crossed Luccas face, and she hurried away.
Magus was satisfied. No one escaped his influence for long...not even a friend.
* * *
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! screamed a rather unlucky soldier as the general strangled him.
Thatll teach you to call me an old hag, she said after his dying shrieks had ceased.
Funsworth, after a considerable amount of time spent upchucking beside her, turned back toward her. Dont you think that was a bit...harsh?
She was already walking away, toward Zaroks lab. Absolutely not, she called back. Now, come on. We dont want to be late for Sir Zaroks big to-do. Funsworth ran after her, hoping that Zaroks new Project: Magic, as he was calling it, would be as effective as he had heard.
Watch out, warlock, he thought as he entered Zaroks lab.
* * *
Cyan sat outside a room in the infirmary, reading a book. Terra, relieved of her duties with Magus for a moment, walked toward him.
How is he? she asked gently. Worse, Cyan replied. That healer girl says hes not going to make it. He frowned.
Terra went into the room, and Cyan followed. Celes and Marle, who were supposed to be tending Percy, stood silently at his bedside.
A tear slid down Marles cheek. Theres nothing more we can do for him, she said, and quickly left the room.
Celes looked equally sad, though she wasnt crying. If magic cant help him, she said, I dont know what will.
Cyan moved over to the bedside, and looked down at the pale, motionless form of his best friend of seventeen years. They had faced so much trouble together...the Phantom War, when Cyan had earned his position as the King of Domas retainer...the Ketteran Wars...the war with the Empire...and now, the first battle of the Zenobian War.
He--he never recovered from that arrow he took in his shoulder, Celes said, her voice breaking for the first time. She sobbed. Cyan put his hand on her shoulder.
Terra leaned over, and felt Percys pulse...
That night, Figaro Castle rang with sobs of mourning.
* * *
Interesting...yes, this is ingenious, said the general, as she studied the newest of Zaroks many inventions in his spacious laboratory.
The huge triangular room, accessed from either the dungeon or Zaroks own quarters, was relatively clean. On the left side, near the mahogany-
board walls, were the cages for the subjects of his genetic experiments, and near the right wall was a table with chemistry equipment. Except for some other assorted tools and experiments-in-progress, everything else had been put away in a nearby storage room.
Hes been doing his spring cleaning, Funsworth said to her.
She walked over, closer to the huge contraption, which was attached to the wall. It was a gigantic mess of tubes, wires, and other assorted components, all of which converged at a chair on the floor--one with fastened-on shackles that looked as if it might once have been part of an electric chair.
Zarok strode over to them from the entrance which led to his quarters. What do you think of it? he called to them.
As he got closer, Funsworth said, Its interesting...but...what is it?
Im calling it the Interpersonage Magic Transferral and Siphoning Device, or the IMTSD. It drains magic from whoever is hooked up to that-- his furry, clawed hand pointed to the chair with the attached shackles-- and then the magic can either be stored for later use, or be transferred to another person.
Understanding dawned on the generals face (though no one could see it, since shed put her cloak back on long ago). I see. You want to give our troops magical ability, and use it to conquer the world. Very clever.
Very clever indeed, she thought to herself. I will have to keep Zaroks plans in mind if I ever attempt to take over Vehs.
Exactly. Zarok rubbed his paws together greedily. Of course well want the most powerful magic-user we can get our hands on, so our plan is clear. He cackled, and nearly howled.
Crystal clear, the general thought, as an evil grin spread across her face. Now, young prophet, you will feel my wrath at last...
* * *
I asked Crono to take this letter to you. Dont worry, Im safe and in good health, but right now my old friends (remember them from the Heroes of the World awards banquet?) and I are exploring an entirely new dimension. Also, Magus (you know, the Ice Age prince-turned-wizard?) got hurt pretty badly, so Im stuck here in Figaro Castle helping tend to him and some other wounded people after a big battle we just helped the locals win. Also, King Edgar (the king here--I did say we were staying in a castle, right?) sends his most cordial greetings and wishes to meet you if at all possible. (Thats an exact quote.) Theres a lot more to tell, but Im afraid I dont have time. Bye for now!
Your loving daughter,
King Guardia read the note with an expression of extreme relief on his face. He looked up from the letter and said to Crono, who was standing before his throne, Tell Nadia...to be back soon.
Crono smiled uncomfortably. Okay. I guess Ill go now. The king nodded.
Crono raced back to the Vortex.
* * *
In the blackness of midnight, a solitary figure flew toward the dark, hulking shape of Figaro Castle. The figure reached the gate, and, finding no guards, entered.
The figure--the general--let down her hood. No guards at all, she observed as she looked around. This is entirely too easy.
She started across the large courtyard, over to a door which read Infirmary. She pushed it open, and went in.
I wonder...is he here, or has he recovered already? she thought to herself as she looked into the various rooms. She peeked into one and saw a coffin, lying on a low platform beside a bed.
She scowled. That better not be him, she thought as she walked over to open it. She stooped over, lifted the lid, and...
The pale, dark-haired figure was definitely not Magus. Good, she thought. I wont have to bring Zarok a corpse.
She continued to search each room, until she came to the very last one. Youd better be in here, prophet, she thought as she entered.
She looked around the room. Even with the dark of night cloaking everything in blackness, she saw that the only furniture in the room was a bed. In it, a sleeping figure could barely be seen among the encroaching shadows.
She moved closer, and murmured a few arcane syllables. The little ball of were-light she had summoned cast a pale greenish light; with its help she was able to see that the person had blue hair and large, pointed ears.
She couldnt help but cackle softly at her triumph.
* * *
<Masa! Mune! I need you...>
The telepathic cry woke Masa from his dormant sleep. He immediately reverted from his sword form, leaving only half a sword in Glenns sheath.
<Janus, is that you?> he called out.
<Its me,> Magus answered. <Zarok has me again. Right now Im faking unconsciousness, but I dont know how long that will fool them.>
<Why do they want you?> Masa asked.
<They want me for some experiment,> came the reply, this time fainter. <I think theyre going to try to drain my magic...>
After a long pause, Magus continued, but this time his thoughts were fainter still. <My strength is going...have to break off the connection...see y...lat..r......>
I hope hes okay, Masa murmured to himself. He must be weak if he cant even keep up a telepathic connection.
Masa worried long into the night.
* * *
Zarok howled happily. Now that Magus was in his possession, he could go about his work without any trouble.
Of course, he hadnt forgotten what had happened the last time hed captured Magus. Those Returners and their new allies had easily overpowered Funsworth and the general. But this time, when his newly hired guards reported for duty, no one would be able to get past them.
The guards--one man and one woman--were extremely credible. They had numerous references as mercenaries, and it was said that theyd only failed at one job--their first one, working for some wizard/warlord, whose name Zarok couldnt remember. He heard a creaking behind him, and turned just as his newly hired guards came in through his chamber door.
Slash, Flea, Zarok said. Welcome.
* * *
Slash scowled. Get to the point, he said. We dont have all day.
Slash, you dolt, Flea thought to herself. Dont get us fired again!
Life had been hard for the pair lately. Since Magus had defected to the humans and Ozzie had disowned the two of them after their defeat at his fort, they had been working as mercenaries, taking jobs wherever they could get them. Then one fateful day, Slash had fallen into a strange portal, pulling Flea in with him--and their lives had changed forever...
But at the moment, Flea didnt have time to reminisce. I have a prisoner I need you to guard, Zarok explained. Some allies of his have attempted to break him out once before, but we recaptured him. I have some...special plans for him. He grinned evilly.
Id like to see this prisoner, Flea said.
All in due time, said Zarok. In the meantime, Id like you to meet my two generals...
* * *
Terra, dressed in a black sheath dress instead of her pinkish-red armor, let her jaw drop open.
How could they do this!? she finally exclaimed.
I dont know how they did it, Edgar, who was wearing a simple black tunic and trousers, said. But I do know that my night watchmen arent going to keep their jobs very much longer.
Wait a second, said Masa, who was standing beside Mune. When he contacted me, he said they were going to try to drain his magic.
Celes frowned. Is that possible? Glenn wondered.
In theory, yes, said Lucca, but the parts needed to build a machine to do that would take up a space at least the size of the Epoch. Could Zarok possibly have that much room to spare?
But wait a second, said Edgar. What if he mounted all those parts on a wall...
Of course! Lucca exclaimed. Then there would be enough room!
That wouldnt...hurt Magus, would it? asked Marle.
It depends on the amount of time allotted to drain the magic, Lucca said. If they drain it too fast, the pressure caused by the moving force of the magical energy could cause his heart and lungs to implode. In other words, hed be toast.
Everyone groaned, and this time Luccas scientific explanation wasnt the only reason.
* * *
Funsworth watched as Zarok strapped Magus to the IMTSD. Magus, forever rebellious, attempted to bite Zaroks right hand.
He hit his target.
Oooooowwwwwww!! Why you *%#$@!!! Ill turn you into a gargoyle after Ive stolen your magic! Well see how rebellious you are after I take control of your mind, expletive deleted !!!!! Funsworth, get me a bandage!!!
Funsworth quickly did as he was told. When he came back with a gauze bandage, scissors and bandage tape, Zarok was sitting in a chair and looked a bit calmer, though he was still muttering swear words. Slash and Flea were watching Magus, who seemed to be both fascinated and horrified by their presence.
Here you are, sir, he said as he handed Zarok the things. Zarok growled in Maguss direction. Turn on the IMTSD, he said.
Again, Funsworth did as he was told.
* * *
Deja vu, Marle whispered as they snuck through Zaroks dungeon.
Tell me about it, said Crono. I wonder how many times well have to do this?
Hopefully thisll be the last time, said Celes, who was in front of them navigating with her maps.
Shush, said Terra, who, knowing the way, ran on ahead until she was out of sight.
Shell likely get herself into trouble, said Lucca. Crono, why dont you go after her? Crono ran after her.
Lucca smiled at no one in particular. That works every time.
* * *
Once Funsworth switched on the IMTSD, all Magus could sense was pain. Pain filled every inch of his being. He turned to his memories, as if the pain in them could overpower what he was now feeling......
All Janus could think was that these Mystics would kill him. They were magical beings, and he had no magic to give.
One of them, an ugly, very obese green-skinned one, turned around in the little carriage and spoke to him. Hey, kid, it said, Im Ozzie the Second, and were takin you to see the Grand Master. You got a lot of magic potential, ya know. Whats yer name?
Janus summoned up all his courage. J--Janus.
The creature who was Ozzie the Second laughed heartily. Well, kid, it aint no more! When we get through with you, youll be the next Magus.
Janus gulped. Hed once heard someone say that a Magus would someday be summoned to lead an army of Mystics against the humans.
But how could that be him? He didnt have any magic. He couldnt use a weapon. He wasnt a Mystic. He wasnt even royalty anymore! What could he do?
Somehow Ozzie the Second knew what he was thinking. Youll see, he said, with a laugh that was more evil than it was anything else. Youll see what well do with ya...
Magus opened his eyes. He was sweating, his vision was blurry, his breathing was fast and shallow, and the pain seemed worse than before.
From what he could tell, Flea--who was still watching him--seemed nervous. Probably worried that Ill teleport away and shell lose her paycheck, the traitor, he thought, anger and empathy welling up within him at the same time.
That brought on another memory......
The Grand Master will have my hide if he finds out Im here--not to mention that Ozzies son will tell on us every chance he gets, Janus whispered to Flea as he plopped down on her bed.
Well, this wont take long, said Flea. Remember you told me today was your birthday?
She grinned as she pulled a small, flat package out from under her pillow. Open it, she whispered as she handed it to him.
Janus eagerly took the package and pulled off the brown wrapping. Secret of Evermore! Ive been trying to get a copy of this for a month! Thanks! He hugged her.
Friends forever, right? she said, holding her hand out in their usual secret handshake gesture.
You got it, Janus said, doing the same. Friends forever.
* * *
Flea shuddered. Are you all right? asked Slash.
I cant watch this anymore, she said. Lets go over here. Ive got something to discuss with you...
* * *
Cronos long-legged stride quickly brought him down the wide corridor, into the spacious laboratory where Magus was being held. As he came in, ignoring Terra clashing swords with a soldier right in front of him, he gazed up at the huge magic-draining contraption on the wall. Amid the mess of tubes and circuits, he saw Magus attached to it. He rushed around Terra to try to help Magus, but stopped as a blue-green bolt blew up one side of the machine.
The spellcasters came rushing around from the right, ready for battle. Crono couldnt believe his eyes.
It was Slash and Flea.
* * *
As Flea ran, she noticed Crono. Well take over here, she called to him. You and your friends better stop the general and Funsworth before they can warn Zarok!
Good advice, said Celes as she and the rest finally caught up. Come on! Crono called to them. Terra quickly vanquished the soldier and ran off with Crono. The others followed suit.
Flea ran up to the IMTSD and frantically began trying to pull the mess of tubes and wires off of Magus. Let me give it a try, said Slash as he unsheathed his sword.
I dont think so, said Funsworth from behind them. Put down your weapon, he commanded, or suffer the consequences. Slash and Flea slowly turned around, and Slash decided to put down his sword.
They were surrounded...
* * *
Got them! came a shout from the corridor leading to Zaroks private chambers. Slash moaned. What are we going to do now? he said. I should have known not to go along with this cockamamie plan!
A group of soldiers, along with Zarok and the lady general, brought out Celes, Crono and the others. Were dooooomed, Lucca groaned, sounding a lot like a certain golden droid in a galaxy long ago and far, far away.
Zarok sneered. Well, look how brave you are now, he said. Youre all fools, you know. Now that I have you here, I can invade Figaro, and nothing will stand in my way. He guffawed. And, I now have several new candidates for my IMTSD!
Speaking of which, he continued, now that I have an audience, let me show you just what is going to happen to your little friend.
He walked over to a panel beside the IMTSD, and examined a meter which was rising by the minute. His magic is almost completely drained, he said, and turned back to them. Of course, Im sure you realize that he depends too much on his magical energy to lose it. When Im finished, hell be nothing more than a lifeless husk! He cackled.
<No. I wont let you do this...>
Zarok jumped. What was that!? The general looked alarmed.
Marle grinned. One word, dogface: telepathy.
A figure, a familiar one, appeared in a shimmering mist. Magus summoned all his strength, and raised his head to look.
Leave my friends alone, said Schala.
* * *
Schala! Crono exclaimed.
The lady general sauntered up to her. I should have known youd come along and ruin everything! At this rate, Ill never get my revenge!
Schala narrowed her eyes. Stop pouting, Schala.
Marles jaw dropped. You mean shes Schala too? Whats going on!?
The general, Schala, ripped off her cloak and drew her scimitar. I am Schala the Knightress, former bodyguard and namesake to the Great Princess of Zeal. When this...this...pig of a prophet arrived at Zeal Palace, he took my place!!! I was exiled from Zeal, all because of him, and I swore revenge! And I would have gotten it-- she glared at the other Schala --if you hadnt shown up!!
But...why does she look so much like you? Marle asked.
I dont have time to explain now, Schala (the princess) said. Look up...
Zarok howled unhappily as tremors began to shake the ground. The IMTSDs computer is overloading! he said. The whole placell come apart! As he spoke, large chunks of the ceiling began to fall.
Somebody get Magus and lets get out of here! Crono yelled as they all scrambled for cover. Slash and Flea quickly rushed out and retrieved him, barely dodging pieces of the IMTSD as it folded in on itself. Get that blue vial! Lucca called to them. Its got his magic! Flea grabbed it, and everyone ran towards the dungeon exit.
Gimme Magus! Crono yelled to Flea over the noise of the collapsing palace. Flea gave the unconscious Magus to Crono, who had a much easier time carrying him. Where do we go? he yelled to Celes. Everybody follow me! Celes yelled. I know the way out! The entire dungeon collapsed, just as they reached the end of it.
Lets go! yelled Celes.
* * *
Crono laid Magus on the ground, still within hearing range of the deathly rumbling of the collapsing Grand Palace. Terra, holding the blue vial, rushed over and kneeled beside him.
Magus coughed and sputtered, and managed to speak in a wobbly, hoarse voice. I...Im...dying, he said, then fell silent, as if he could hear Deaths footsteps.
I know, Terra whispered. Schala knelt down beside her, and as Terra poured the liquid magic into his mouth, Schala began to sing:
Tree and leaf and vine and twig,
All forces that give life,
Your power we now need,
Bird and beast and fish and fowl,
All forces who courage know,
Your bravry we now need,
Asputo, sigana, tialchis, narexa, logu...
Magus, and the blue liquid, began to sparkle. When the last of it was poured into his mouth, he started to hover--clearly not by his own power.
Then he slowly dropped to the ground. His feet touched soil.
He smiled at Terra, and for the first time in his life, it was a genuine smile. Thanks, he said. I needed that.
* * *
The huge crowd, gathered in Figaro Castles courtyard, cheered as Edgar stepped up to the podium.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Returners, he said, the battle is won!
A gigantic cheer welled up from the crowd.
Today, he continued, I would like to recognize ten special people who tipped the odds of this conflict in our favor--Crono, Marle, Lucca, Glenn, Ayla, Robo, Magus, Schala, Slash, and Flea! The ten, who were standing to one side of the podium, were handed certificates by Terra.
Then, Magus stepped up next to Edgar at the podium. I would also like to give special recognition to Magus, without whom I wouldnt be standing here today. He placed a medal, hanging on a colorful ribbon, around Maguss neck. The crowd cheered.
Magus bowed a suitably princely bow. It was my pleasure, even if you didnt deserve it, he said with a smirk. Terra covered her giggles with her hand, and most of the crowd laughed as well.
Edgar smiled. And now, it is my pleasure to announce that these ten heroes will be joining a new force of adventurers, dedicated to fighting evil across all universes: meet the first official members of the New Returners!
The cheering could be heard for miles.
* * *
Cold and miserable, Zarok stood on a barren hill not far from his ruined palace. He assumed that none of his soldiers or generals had survived, though he couldnt be sure, and he knew that none of his possessions could be salvaged.
He burned with anger...toward the Returners...toward Edgar...but especially toward Magus.
Ill get you!!! ALL OF YOU! he screamed.
ILL BE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!
* * *
So, the story of the first meeting is ended.
But the Final Fantasy never ends, and there are many stories yet to be told......
Final Fantasy III: The New Returners