A Square Deal Chapter 15
Salvos Into the Unknown
Recap: Okay, Okay, okay! It's been almost a year since I've done a chapter, but this has probably been the busiest year that I have EVER had! So, I've had some time to think, and I think that I'm keeping my chapters at a maximum of 20 pages. 25-30 is waaay too many. Anyway, I think that this is a good length and whatnot to this chapter. Oh, recap? You should remember that Relm had a prophetic seizure and that Locke, Nivea and Gaspar are headed off with Tora.
Relm felt a hand stroking her forehead gently. It moved down to her cheek, where it felt her cheek with the back side of it. She moved, and the hand abruptly left, spurred into flight like a startled bird. Her head felt like it had been trampled on by a stampede of chocobos, but she wanted to get up. The dreams that she had were frightening, she wanted to get away. In her sleep, she understood everything that was being told to her, but when she would awake, the insight that she had would be rendered down to nearly nothing. But this time she remembered a few more words than before: Messenger of Mana, Prophetess.
"I don't want the gift..." she moaned aloud. Mana answered her back silently. "Why can't I just see it then? No, I don't like the voices, they scare me. I wouldn't rather be without you there. Then just do it up straight! Grr... wait, don't go yet, I'm not through with my questions!" Relm sat up, suddenly awake.
Palom was sitting there, smiling. "Good, you're awake. The Elder said that you should be fine pretty soon."
Relm looked at him and rubbed her eyes. "I'll never be 'fine' again... I was supposed to tell you something, but I don't remember now..." she held her head. "Why is he doing this to me? Why me?! I knew a moment ago, but now..." she sat up, angered.
"I'd tell you if I could, but, well, I can't," he said, at a lame attempt to console her. Relm looked over at him, her face still angry. He had such a look of earnest kindness that she had to calm down.
"Sorry... this is frustrating. Just yesterday I was simply Relm Arrowny. Now I'm supposed to be some sort of... Prophetess? Sheesh... a Prophetess who can't remember her prophecies..." she swung her feet out of the bed, and looked at Palom again.
"You mean, you don't even remember what you said?" he asked.
"I said something? When?" she looked at him as if he were crazy.
"Yes! Right when your little spell came over you, you spouted out some stuff like, sickness spreading in Baron, and saving light, and some other cryptical statements. The Elder was hoping that you would be able to shed some light on to what they mean," Palom sounded disappointed. "And it looks like you are as clueless to it as we are."
Relm shook her head and rubbed her still-pounding temples. "I really don't know. I know that I knew when I was asleep, but now, as if it were just a silly dream, I've forgotten everything that I knew. Is this making any sense to you?" she asked, still frustrated.
Palom shrugged his shoulders making the universal, "I'm not going to even answer because I'm so clueless," gesture.
Relm sighed. "I don't know what I'm going to do..."
She forced herself to just take it, and let Palom off of the hook. She found out that she had been asleep for the rest of that day, and it was currently the morning of the next. She took another shower, still feeling a bit dirty from the day that she had spent in the woods, then rejoined Palom at about brunch time. She found him in the main hall with Porom, and the Elder.
"Um, were you waiting for me?" she asked, feeling humble again in front of the Elder. She could sense a certain power of empathy and clairvoyance from him that was so subtly strong that she wasn't sure if it was as strong or stronger than it seemed.
"Actually, I was preparing Palom and Porom for their next journey," said the Elder. There was a book of spells laid out on the table, and the twins had probably been reviewing to make sure that they had each and every spell down to the exact letter.
"Journey?" Relm asked, coming closer.
"Yes. I picked up some images from you while you were having your prophetic episode, and something tells me that you are all needed at Baron. Something is going to happen there, and happen soon. I have had a black mage re-open the Serpent Road to Baron so that no time will be wasted," he continued. He stopped to rummage through an old chest, and emerged with two robes: A black robe with a blue mantle, and a white robe with a pink mantle. He gave Porom the white and Palom the black, and went back into the chest one more time. This time, he pulled out a strange looking staff. It was made of ebony wood, inlaid with rune-shaped jewels near the handle.
"What's that?" asked Palom, with a look on his face that sowed that he was hoping that it was for him.
"This," he held the staff up in his hands, "is the staff of Eblana. As you know, Eblana was the legendary sorceress of antiquity. This has been passed down through the years, looking for the right owner."
Palom squinted and scratched his head. "But, wasn't Eblana the founding Queen of Eblan? Shouldn't that be in the treasury of Eblan?" asked Palom.
Porom frowned. "Dummy, don't you remember your history?" she bopped him on the head again. Palom rubbed his head, and then had a look of recognition come over his face.
"Oh yeeeah! They intrusted it to us because we had all of the Magical studies here. Anyway, I wouldn't like to see something like this under the watch of that letch, Edge, anyway..." he looked at Relm, who was following little of what they were talking about.
"Sorry, this stuff is all Mysidian lore," apologized Porom, "we sometimes forget that you don't know a lot of this."
The Elder looked impatient. "Please, we must get you to Baron as soon as possible. Now, Relm, hold the handle of the staff. We do this with every eligible mage who ever comes through here, and you are no exception," he held it out to her.
"Um, okay," she said, opening her hands in front of her, waiting for him to place it in her grasp. When she had it, before even having time to examine it up close, it emitted a green glow, and the jewels shimmered in a strobing pattern. The staff turned to energy, and wrapped itself around Relm's forearm, solidifying into an ornamental bracer.
"Aggh! What is it? Get it off me!!!" she screeched in surprise, trying to slip the bracer off of her, but it wouldn't budge past her wrist.
"No, it's ok, Relm. The staff has accepted you as its new user," said the Elder with a grand smile. "I knew there was quite a bit of potential for you from the first moment I laid eyes on you. I think that when you press a different runestone on the staff, it turns into a different useful object, such as the staff or the bracer," he told her.
"Oh... okay," Relm, hesitantly pressed on a rune shaped like a stick, and the bracer glowed, turned to energy, and then was the staff in her hand again. "Kewel, I like this."
"Now, with that done, you must hurry. Baron awaits," the Elder said, walking to the door. Porom and Palom followed him, and Relm scurried after.
He led them out of the Wishing Tower building through the town. Relm admired how quaint and clean this place was. In the daylight, the small pond and the stream shimmered a clear translucence, the water clean of algae and pollution. The little houses made of masonry and thatch were cute. She smiled; it reminded her of her home back in Thamasa... she missed Thamasa, and her neighbors -- her father too, now that she got thinking about it. She began to fear if she would even see him, Strago, Birdie, Interceptor and Roland again.
They approached an ancient building that was covered in moss and worn by time. It had a heavy iron door with a simple lock on it that had been opened before. This must be the way that led to the Serpent Road. The Elder led the trio into the old structure, with Palom slightly hesitant to go in. Relm knew what would happen now, and couldn't help but giggle when she saw Porom whack him over the head again. As Relm herself entered, she wondered if Palom would have become a smarter man if his sister had not beat him over the head so frequently.
Inside, there was another walled-in hall with a gate on it and a black mage guarding it. The outer atrium's walls were lit with magic glows that kept the place dully illuminated with a yellow light, under which one could see large runes painted on the walls and floor, probably meant for protection.
The Elder had a word with the mage guard, and then opened the gate leading to the inner atrium. He gestured for them to follow. Now was Relm's turn to be anxious; she gulped, then entered the gated room, coming upon darkness, except for one yellow panel in the middle that glowed even more faintly than the magic lights outside.
"This is the entrance to the Serpent Road," said the Elder from somewhere in the darkened room. "All three of you now, stand on the panel in the center," he ordered them, and they complied. "Now, I'll press the switch. Remember, do not be afraid; this is merely an ancient form of transportation put here by the Lunarians. It will feel a little strange, and you may experience some fatigue once you emerge on the other side. Are you all ready?" he asked. Palom, who had looked frightened before, now seemed to have gathered his courage, and stood up straight and tall. He nodded. Porom, who looked as if she were meditating on somewhere else to be, nodded.
Relm looked at each of them, then the waiting Elder.
"Let's go," she said adamantly, and grasped the staff in her hand harder.
The Elder pressed the unseen switch on the wall, and the room lit up. In the moment before they disappeared, Relm could have sworn that she saw a ton of flashing machinery in charge of the road.
Locke heard the most annoying whining moan that ever pierced his sleep.
"Loooocke! Come one, I wanna go see him again!! Get your ass in gear!"
It yelled at him again. He winced, trying to make it go away, but nothing he did would help. Finally, he forced his heavy eyelids open and looked up. Once again, right above him was the sultry face of the purple-haired Nivea J. Tag, the Lunarian who had tagged along with Gaspar and him. Her lips were pursed into her cute little pout, which usually meant that she meant business.
"Nivea..." he raised his wrist to his face. The watch that was around it said 5:30. "Why are you waking me up so early?" Locke grumbled, wishing to return to his sweet slumber.
"I told Tora that we would meet up with him bright and early the next morning. That was last night, and now is that morning, and it's bright and early!" she stated, pulling the curtains behind her open to the sun peeking over the distant hills.
"I'd say that it is gray and early. Go back to sleep," he told her again.
She scowled and leapt away, cooking up something in that devious mind of hers. Locke heard her leaving, and felt a pang of relief, but upon realizing what that woman could do, he was then overcome with this feeling that she was up to something again. He tried to take his mind off of it, and thought of Celes dressed in a skimpy swimsuit. He smiled and gathered up the warm blanket to his face and settled down.
Nivea marched back into his room, carrying a bucket.
"Oh Loooocke," she said musically. He tried to ignore her, pulling the blanket up as far as it would go. "Okay, you can't say that you weren't warned!" Locke was unnerved.
Nivea snatched the blanket off of him, exposing an underwear-clad Locke. In a fluid motion with the removal of the covering, she lifted the bucket and dumped its contents on him from head to genitalia.
"GAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!" Locke screamed, leaping up, shaking himself off, and rubbing his sensitive equipment.
Nivea smiled in contentment for her work.
"It's my own formula! You see, you add normal water to a bucket, then cast a light level ice spell! It has little shards of ice all through the water, so I call it 'Ice Water'! Isn't it just the greatest?" she smiled and clapped her hands.
Locke shivered in anger.
"Yes! We have ice water where I come from too, it's just that most people have enough decency not to dump it on a sleeping guy's face and nuts! Gah! I'm f-freezing!" he said, standing in the middle of the room, shivering.
"Well, go take a nice, warm shower and then we can get ready to go and meet Tora as soon as you're done," she advised him, handing him a fuzzy, white towel.
"I h-hate y-y-you..." he said under his breath, taking the towel from her and tromping off to the bathroom.
"Right, right, whatever," she said, still smiling. "Nice undies," she pointed to his tiger-striped briefs. Locke grumbled even louder, and slammed the door behind him.
Gaspar strolled in from the hall.
"Young men just don't know when to listen, do they?" he said in his customary droll tone.
"Nope, they don't, but that's what makes them fun!" Nivea said with a wink.
In about twenty minutes, Locke finished his shower and dressed. He found Nivea in his room, waiting for him.
"Can we go now? I've been waiting like a good girl!" she asked him, pouting once again.
"Good girl? Hah," Locke mumbled to himself. "Fine, let's go. I've got my stuff together anyway, and you did a good job at disrupting my sleep. So, if Gaspar is ready," he looked at the old man, who nodded, "We're checking out."
Locke marched through the hall and down the stairs with Nivea prancing close at his heels, and Gaspar, who was never in a hurry, taking the rear. He went to the counter, which was already manned by the owner's son, paid up with a few pieces of gold, and set out.
The air was briskly cold and damp, the kind that would wake up the sleepiest traveler, (though Locke had no problem with being sleepy this morning...) A light veil of mist covered the water and fields of the town, making it glow softly in the early light. Toroia was truly one of the most beautiful towns that he had ever seen, rivaling Maranda back in its heyday. Maranda... that reminded him of home. How long had it been now? Weeks? He had no clue to the actual amount of time that he and Celes had spent in the End of Time, and it could have been much longer than they had felt. Though Locke had no permanent home these days, he missed the world that he had lived in; he knew many people, and he was comfortable with the familiar places he would often visit.
"I shouldn't get so sentimental... I'm a Treasure-Hunter, and I should be up for any new adventure. There are probably many new and exciting places to explore in this world, but here I am thinking of the familiar, mundane places of home... Locke, you've gotten soft..." his inner monologue continued in such a way, for Nivea was looking about the scenery in an awestruck way. Locke smiled; she was so child-like at times, and at others, well, she would make a sailor blush. It seemed a bit enigmatic at times, but the way her personality fit together was correct. She was crafty and clever in the ways of sexuality, for that was all that she knew. Otherwise, she was as spunky, curious and, daresay, naive as a child.
They followed the road out of town and saw the longer road that forked off to many places. There was a marker sign, pointing to places called 'Baron', 'Fabul', 'Damcyan' and 'Mysidia'. The way to Fabul and Mysidia went in the same direction, but Baron and Damcyan were two separate forks. Where would they go to now?
Locke felt a harsh tug on his jacket that almost sent him sprawling to the floor.
"Looocke!" Nivea whined, "I'm supposed to meet Tora on the road to Baron!" she pointed down the windy road that headed to the city Baron.
"I don't know... We need to find Celes, and she could be anywhere. I think we would have a better chance going to Fabul and Mysidia, since the road looks more traveled," Locke said, snatching his jacket from her grasp.
Nivea scowled. "Alright, if you wanna be that way, then fine! I'm going to see Tora, and that's that! I don't need you anyway!" she clenched her fists and stormed off down the road to Baron. Locke stood there, scratching his head.
Nivea stopped, and sat down on the side of the road. She put her knees up to her face, and began to pout, then put on a display. She made the most sour expression she could muster, then she stuck out her bottom lip, making it tremble, then shake. Her eyes were ready with tears, then as melodramatically as she could, she burst out with the loudest sobs ever heard in the region.
"WAAAAHHHH!!!! I'm all alone already! Abandoned in this harsh world by a man who I thought was my frieeeend... boo hoo..." she wailed, with buckets of tears streaming from her eyes. "What is a poor, defenseless, beautiful young Lunar-Remian to do?"
Locke, being the gallant, gullible type that he was, felt bad. He sighed and walked over to her, with Gaspar still following him not uttering a word; the old man was getting serious entertainment from these two and was not about to spoil any of it by telling Locke that she was fooling with him.
"Nivea... if you really need me that much, I'll go along with you," he said, giving her his hand.
She looked up at him, her eyes red and puffy, still milking her act for all she could. "-Sniff- R-really? You would do that for... little me?" she said in a shaky, small voice.
"Yeah, come on, get up," he said, feeling a little guilty.
Nivea took his hand, and let him pull her up. She stood for a moment, her body stll shaking with tears, wiped her eyes, then smiled.
"Okay! Let's go, time's a wastin'!!" she leapt in the air, clamping her hand over Locke's wrist and began to lead him down the road.
"You were --! You little sneak! You played me like an old tune!" Locke bellowed, finally realizing what she had been doing, and feeling incredibly stupid.
"I know a lot of old tunes! I can sing you one right now! Oooh... I'm looking for a maaan, a man to loooove! He'll be handsooome, oh so handsooome! I'm dreaming..." she sang loudly, in-key, but not with the best voice. Locke could do nothing now but just clench his teeth and let her lead. He'd been taken again.
Some time down the road, they entered a forest, which figured because Toroia was surrounded by a lush wood on three sides, and a lake on the other. Nivea continued to sing songs that she knew, mostly old ballads about love and men, the only things that she seemed to care about. Suddenly...
"Screeee!!!" the shriek of a hawk in dive came from above and buzzed over the trio's heads, so close that it tipped Gaspar's hat off.
"Good grief!" Locke shouted, ducking to the ground as the bird came back for another pass.
"Eh? A bird? Hee hee, we'll see how it likes this!" Nivea, instead of ducking, spun around and whipped her four and a half-foot long hair up at the incoming raptor. It saw the hazard, but was coming at such a speed that it could not direct its course away in time. The bird flew right into the mass of hair, and remained there, its wings, beak, tail and talons caught in the long strands. it struggled and flapped as much as it could, only making itself more entangled. Finally, exhausted, it gave up and looked at Nivea.
"Silly bird. What are you doing dive-bombing travelers?" she said to it. The hawk looked back with frustrated eyes.
"Maxus! You stupid bird, why are you attacking people on the road?" a masculine voice shouted from the brush on the side of the path. To join the voice, a man rushed out and proceeded to try and untangle the bird from Nivea's hair.
"Tora! It's you!!!" Nivea shouted, and joined him in the untangling. Locke stood, scratching his head.
"So, this is the infamous Tora we've bee looking for?" Locke quipped, giving the man a good looking over. They had finally released the hawk from Nivea's purple hair and the bird sat on the man's shoulder, looking as dignified as one of these sort of birds usually did, but with a wary glance in Nivea's direction now and again.
"Um yeah, that's me. You must be the help that she said that she was bringing," Tora offered his hand forward for Locke to shake, which he did lightly. "I was kinda hoping that there were more of you... or that you would be bigger, but we do need all of the help that we can get," he finished saying.
"Hey now, I may be small, but I can get the job done," Locke said in a slight protest, his arms crossed.
"And what might your name be, sir?" Tora asked Gaspar, not hearing Locke's last comment.
Gaspar, who had just picked his hat up off of the ground, dusted it off and said, "I am the Guru of Time, Gaspar of Zeal."
"A pleasure to meet you," Tora shook his hand as well. "Now, if I may ask what can you do that will benefit us? I don't really want to get anyone involved who can't take care of themselves on the battlefield," he furrowed his brow slightly, in a manner of being serious.
"Well, young man, if you must know, I possess some rather impressive magic skills, most of them being over time, but I have other tricks up my sleeves... and I'm also quite skilled with electronic magic equipment," Gaspar said in his normal, unimpressed, un-fazed manner.
"Electronic magic equipment? I may sound a bit uninformed, but what are electronic magical equipment? I don't even know what the word 'electronic' means..." Tora asked, genuinely interested in this new idea before him.
"Well," Gaspar began, "it is rather complicated... Electronic equipment wields the power of electricity, which is what you see in lightening; very powerful stuff. In something electronic you usually have diodes and silicon chips and metal wires, all connecting together in a certain way so that when the electricity flows through it, it performs a certain function. Now, the magical part is when one inserts magic into the process, either powering it by the magic, or the magic augments the deivice's functions. Is that a good explanation?"
Tora stood with a rather blank look on his face, and Nivea, who was behind him, made yawning faces.
"Yeah, yeah, old man, I know about this stuff... Us Remians had the best of that stuff, except we had a kick-ass name for it: E-Mag!!" she leapt up and shouted the word, then giggled giddishly.
Locke was becoming impatient. "Could we get a move on here? I want to get done with this as soon as possible. It's not like I don't have my own things to worry about... like Celes," he said grumpily.
"By all means, follow me! I'll take you to my camp; we were just getting ready to go anyway, so you won't have to wait that long," Tora said, heading off to the side of the road again, pushing through tree branches and thick shrubs.
"I'm coming!" Nivea leapt again and lightly skipped her way after Tora. She made sure that she was always close enough to him that she could flirt at every given chance.
"That woman... C'mon, Gaspar," Locke grinned, "I hope we get into a battle so I can see that magic of yours in action," he said in a challenging manner.
"All in good time," Gaspar replied.
They followed Tora through the woods for a time until they made it to a large clearing where a moderate camp was being dismantled and loaded onto a large wagon. There were a few people there, who were all doing the loading onto the wagon, except for two women, who were preparing a meal in a big kettle over the fire.
Tora stopped before they entered the area fully.
"This used to be my traveling circus, at least before the Rogues blustered their way into town. We used to be a full sized circus, but now, as you can see, there are only a few of us left. Over there," he pointed to a couple of men by the cart, "is what's left of the tumbling act. They're brothers, Liam and Sach, and the only reason that they are still here is because they were better fighters than the others. That's pretty much why anyone is still here. The two large women," he pointed to a duo of ogre-ish women, "are Rin and Mir, who used to be the sideshow called 'The World's Toughest Women', which proved to be a true epithet when it came down to it. They even protected their, um, runty brother, Neas, who used to run the candy booth," Tora then continued to walk into the camp.
"Who else is left... My own young sister, Lark, who is ten years old, is here as well. She survived by the use of her enchanted pet, Racc, who can morph its body into many different kinds of animals. Both she and I have animal-related powers, she has her pet, and I can tame wild animals. My own silly bird here, Maxus, has been with me for fifteen years, ever since I found him in an abandoned nest," he paused to scratch Maxus' head, which the bird loved.
"Who is she?" asked Locke, pointing to the woman who was carelessly throwing bits of meat and vegetables into the boiling stew. The other was a girl, presumably Lark, since there was a dog following her at every step.
"Oh, that's Meghan," Tora said as if she were an afterthought. "She remains by chance. She appeared in our camp one day about five years ago, and has always been a spoiled brat -- never really does anything useful. The only reason that she's survived the last year is that she is extremely good at hiding herself during a fight. Little coward..." he said, the last bit under his breath. "But, we are still fighting! The Rogues hate us because we will not give in to them, and we never will. We renamed our group as the Brotherhood C.U.P.!" Tora finished saying.
"What does that stand for?" asked Locke and Nivea in unison, with Nivea sticking her tongue out at Locke afterwards.
"It stands for Courage Upholds Peace. As long as we have the courage to keep going, we make life more peaceful for others, and maybe one day for all."
He took them around the entire camp, introducing them to everyone, including those whom he had already spoken of and others. They met Juan the Clown, who's gimmick was using chickens in his act, and his partner, JT, otherwise dubbed 'The Sloth', for reason that in his act he would move extremely slow and eat a lot. There were the twins, Jake and Mindy, who were what were left of the trapeze act, and another person they met was a middle-aged woman named Phyllis who used to be a bareback rider in her youth.
At midday, they all gathered together for the lunch that had been prepared by Meghan and Lark, though most of the work had been done by Lark, Meghan got recognition because she had stirred the pot.
"Okay people! Come and get it, I made white chocobo stew and brown rice!!" Lark shouted from the mess area, banging the big wooden mixing spoon against an unused pot. Most of the people got up and scurried over, grabbing their mess tins and spoons. Forming an uneven line, each made their way past the pot, with Lark standing by it, scooping out an even portion for each.
Tora had waited behind with Locke, Nivea and Gaspar.
"You should get a good meal. We're going to be heading East towards the Rogue stronghold where some of our members are still held captive. After the rescue, we're going to destroy the base and whatever many Rogues that we can find," he said as he headed off towards the aroma of the stew.
"That's fine," said Locke, following Tora, "I'm always up for a good adventure, and this sounds promising."
"FOOD! Egad, I'm soooooo hungry I could eat whole chocobo -- no, a BIG chocobo! In one bite, too! And the food smells so yummy... yummy for my tummy..." Nivea said, hurrying in front of Locke, but slowed her pace when she reached Tora's side. "Would you sit by me?" she asked him fluttering her supple, dark eyelashes.
"Sure Nivea, I'd be glad to sit by you," he said in a friendly manner. Nivea latched on to his arm until they came to the stew pot and Nivea decided that it would be better to latch on to a plate and spoon for her rice and stew.
"Umm... food! And it smells so good! Did you make this?" Nivea asked Lark, who was wearing an apron and a white chef hat atop her brown-haired head.
"Yes, I made this," she glanced at Meghan, who was filing her nails in a folding chair a small distance away, "With a little help. Taste it, is it good?"
Lark first dished out some of the steamed rice onto Nivea's plate, then topped it off with a generous amount of the stew. Nivea took a long whiff of the steaming scent coming off of it, then spooned a bit into her mouth. She chewed for it bit, thought for a moment, then smiled widely right after she swallowed.
"Dee-licious! I give it a "Nivs' A+ magic star delight award"! Umm, so yummy..." Nivea then, with a flash of her Lunar magic, sent a cute little sparkly star around lark, who giggled.
"I'm glad that you like it!" Lark shouted as Nivea was walking to the eating area. "Hi Tora, I see our guests are staying with us for a little while?" the girl asked her brother.
"Yes, they're going to help us with the siege on the Rogue base," Tora told her. "Mm, very good job on the stew today, Lark! Um, and how much did Meghan help you?" he said in a softer voice.
"She threw in what I chopped up and stirred it for about five minutes," Lark replied, still smiling. "I don't mind her; any little help is appreciated when I have to make food for so many people."
"Okay, if that's how you feel about it," Tora replied to his sister, smiling. "Do you want to come and sit with everyone?"
"No, not today; I have a lot of dishes to clean. Now, you just make sure our guests are having a good meal!" Lark smiled again, shaking her head.
Lark served food to Tora, Locke and Gaspar, then began to clean the area where she had prepared the food.
"Your sister is a very agreeable girl," commented Locke as they walked to join the others in eating.
"Yes, and it's a good thing for Meghan that she is," Tora said, sounding slightly annoyed, "Otherwise, I'd have kicked her out months ago. She's been a real drag on the team, but Lark insists that her 'help' is enough. Sigh... and I've never been one to go and tell my sister that she's wrong."
"Toooooraaaaa! Come and sit by meeee!" called Nivea from the other side of the mess area.
"Sure thing!" he shouted, waving back. "Wherever did you come up with that interesting woman, Nivea? She's so beautiful, beguiling and... assertive," Tora stared at her for a moment. Nivea, never letting a good flirting chance go by, blew him a kiss and giggled cutely, then went back to talking with Jake, whom she was also flirting with.
"Well, um," Locke began, "I don't really know much about her. We were traveling, uh, and we stopped in a cave, yeah... and when I woke up from sleeping she was there," Locke said, going around the part that they had been deposited in the cave as well; he didn't want to have to explain everything that they had done and been through.
"She's from the moon," Gaspar piped up, startling both Locke and Tora for actually saying something. "You've heard about the exploits of Cecil, correct?"
"Well, yeah, everyone knows about that. The thing about the crystals and Golbez, and all of that stuff. I was still a kid when that all happened," Tora reminisced.
"Well, Nivea is of the same race that Cecil, Golbez and FuSoYa were from; the Lunar Remians. They were all sleeping on the second moon together because of the evil Zeromus had corrupted their minds. After Cecil killed Zeromus, many of the Lunars began to wake up and come back to Earth; others stayed on the moon to watch over the corpse of Zeromus, to always make sure that it would never wake up again. Nivea is one of the Lunar Remains to come back down to the planet after she woke up," Gaspar concluded.
Tora gave Nivea another glance. "She had said something like that to me back at the inn. Makes a bit more sense now... also why she's wearing those funny pajamas..."
"Don't let her get too close to you," warned Locke, "If she catches you off-guard, she may try something... she has multiple times tried for me," he grumbled.
"Oh, come now, she can't be that bad. A creature like her, so sweet. She's just a little over-friendly; we can't condemn her for that, can we?" Tora stated. Locke rolled his eyes and declined an answer.
The mess area was simply another part of the open area where the people sat down on the ground in bunches and ate their food. The feeling was much like a picnic, and the weather was nice; a very pleasant way to have a meal. Nivea spent the time that she was not gobbling her food flirting with Tora and various other men in the camp. Locke and Gaspar had sat down in a group next to Liam, Sach, Neas, Rin, Mir and Mindy.
"So, where are you people from?" Liam asked Locke. Liam was a young man of about the age of twenty-one, the same age as Tora. He had light brown hair that stuck up and was a gawky six-foot three. With a comical, rubbery face he grinned, waiting for Locke to answer.
"Well... I'm from somewhere a long time from here... I don't think I can really tell you anyway..." Locke answered uncomfortably.
"Aww, pleeeease?" asked Liam again, clasping his hands in a silly way.
"Dammit, Liam, don't force people to tell you stuff that they don't wanna!" Sach scolded his brother, giving him a punch to the shoulder. Sach, Liam's older brother, had red, curly hair and was much shorter than Liam; he seemed to be a good deal more mature that Liam was as well.
"Owwie, don't hit me!" Liam whined, now changing his voice to sound like a mentally retarded child.
"You don't have to tell us nothing you don't want to. We all have our little secrets, right Liam?" Sach turned to his eccentric brother, who had just pulled up some grass and threw it on top of Sach's hair.
"Ho ho ho... merry Christmas! It's snowing green snow!" Liam said, using another strange voice.
"Dammit again! Liam!" Sach punched Liam again, this time with Liam punching back, breaking into a brother's brawl.
"Um... guys?" asked Locke. The two ignored him, too into their punching of each other.
"Don't worry about it, Locke," said Mindy who sat beside him, "They always do this, at least once a day... at least," she groaned. Mindy was a short woman, by the looks of it about twenty-five, though she could have been older. She had dirty blond, curly hair that she kept tied back in a fluffy pony-tail. Her upper body was very muscular, which probably came from swinging around with her brother on the trapeze for many years.
"Okay," said Locke, attempting to ignore Liam and Sach, who were still fighting. "So, you all used to be a circus until the Rogues came through?" Locke began, trying to start a conversation.
Mindy nodded. "Yeah, we did. The Rogues started attacking about a year ago now; we were one of the first to get hit. They killed most of our animals, and quite a few of our friends. Jake and I used to have an older sister, Sage, and our parents in our trapeze act... The Rogues killed our parents and captured my sister," she stopped for a moment, drawing angry circles in a dirt patch beside her.
"Of course, we weren't the only ones to lose somebody. Tora's own parents were slain about a half a year ago... terrible. His mother was sick and bedridden, and his father refused to leave her side. So, when the Rogues attacked, his father tried to fend them off as much as he could, but there were so many, and they killed him, then killed Tora's mother where she lay."
"That is terrible... I can see why you all have it out for them," Locke commented.
Mindy nodded. "Yes. I want to know if my sister is still alive. They do take prisoners every now and again, but they only use them for slave labor, or... well, other things. The most recent fiasco was really the straw that broke the camel's back, for Tora. See, Tora has a fiance," she told Locke in a lowered voice.
"A fiance?" Locke asked, then glancing at Nivea who was trying as hard as she could to get Tora to notice her.
"Yes. She's Carly, Phyllis' daughter. A very nice, pretty girl. The Leader of the Rogues in this area wanted her very badly, but for the longest time, Tora would always be protecting her as his first priority. But, about a week ago, they came in the middle of the night just to kidnap her, and they did; took her right form her bed. That just pushed Tora too far, and he finally has decided to take out to the base," Mindy finished, then took another mouthful of her stew.
"Wow... that's a good reason. Then, I don't think that I will have any problem in my motivation to help you all! For I, Locke Cole, Treasure Hunter extrodinaire, shall help you rescue the beautiful Carly from the clutches of the evil Rogue leader!" Locke announced, liking the ring of hearing himself in such a dashing way. He looked about him, seeing that no one much cared about what he had just proclaimed, and hunched over his food again. "Well, I thought it sounded good..."
They finished the meal in about an hour, including the time it took to clean up the plates and spoons. Neas had gone around and gathered everyone's stuff and took it over to a large washbasin where his large sisters were cleaning the dishes at an amazing speed, though they would stop from time to yell at their spindly brother to hurry up with the plates. Poor Neas, being so small, would get overloaded and not be able to move with any speed. But, the job got done, and it was time to get moving.
Having only one wagon for the tents and equipment, the entire crew, except for Meghan and Phyllis, for Phyllis drove the chocobo-powered cart, and Meghan refused to walk. This normally lively crew was uncharacteristically silent and somber, for the task ahead of them was incredibly decisive. If they succeeded, they would rid this part of the land from the Rogue scourge, and if they lost, they'd have to all be dead! Not one of them was willing to go on another day with the torment of the Rogues.... well, maybe one, but Meghan hardly counted.
During the walk, Nivea stayed close to Tora, asking him questions, latching on to his arm, pretending to trip now and again so that he would help her up, and she would smile innocently in thanks. Locke watched this whole exchange for a while, amused.
"Nivea has no idea that she's setting herself up for disappointment. Tora is too nice and trusting of her to suspect anything... she's gonna get a big surprise. No matter what, I've gotta help rescue Carly, not only because I know what it's like to be separated from the one you love, but also to see the look on Nivea's face when... Heh..." Locke thought, watching the girl trip on a stone again, just to have Tora catch her in time.
"Thank you... I'm so clumsy -- it's my ankles; they're so weak," she said in the sweetest tone of voice that she could make.
"It's okay, Nivea. I don't want to see you get hurt," he said to her, patting her on the back. She smiled wryly, then latched onto his arm again.
"You know something, don't you?" Locke heard a voice from behind him. He looked, and there was Lark, riding atop a brown bear.
"Aggh? Oh... it's just your pet... What do you mean?" Locke asked the girl, who was looking at him suspiciously.
"I think you know about Carly, and you know that Nivea has her eyes on Tora all of the time. You have this look about you... you should let her know, save her the humiliation later," Lark said to him with a glance over to Nivea.
"Uh, what are you talking about?" Locke said, not even realizing at first that he was lying to the girl. He wanted Nivea to feel dumb; perhaps it would teach her something.
"Fine, if that's they way you're going to be. But if you feel guilty about it later, don't tell me about it. I warned you," Lark said in parting, then steered her animal off in another direction.
Locke felt uncomfortable for a moment, and exchanged glances with Gaspar who was walking to his left. The old man gave Locke a simple look, but no more. Gaspar didn't wholly approve of what Locke was doing, but wasn't going to say anything about it either. He didn't see it fit for himself to get involved.
After about three hours of walking, the cart pulled to a halt, and Tora went out to the point of the group. Up above was a rock face of a cliff, and there were large holes in the upper part of the face. At the bottom was one entrance which was heavily guarded by a trio of mechanized Rogues. They were atop some armor that looked remarkably like Magitek armor...
"This is the Rogue stronghold...." Tora said from where he was, gazing up at the formidable place. "No one has infiltrated its walls... until today. Tonight we're going in," he said, his voice dark and heavy.
"How are we going to do that? You said that it's never been infiltrated, which must mean that it's guarded better than anything else," said Neas, who cowered back down when his sisters gave him a threatening glare.
"No one has ever tried. They've all been scared off by the mechanical guards and the sheer numbers of men. But I have a strategy, which I will clue everyone in to before nightfall. But, for now, we're going to rest up; we have a long night ahead of us."
They set up camp within a safe distance away from the base. Tora stuck to his tent, with Liam and Sach by his sides, going over the strategy plan, and over possible problems and alternate routes. The rest of the Brotherhood CUP was at an attempt to rest up, but the tension in the air wasn't letting anyone relax. Even Nivea, who was usually the person to be lighthearted, seemed to have something on her mind.
Nivea had felt something strange from the first time that she had laid eyes on Meghan. She wasn't sure what it was exactly, if it was that she was just annoying in a snotty way, or the way that she never said two words to anyone, or even how people never spoke well of her. It was just something -- familiar. She hadn't had a chance to talk to her, but now that Tora was secluding himself, and everyone else wasn't in much of a mood to talk to her, so this was an ideal time for her to have a chat with Miss Meghan.
She took her time wandering through the encampment, but she still couldn't seem to find Meghan anywhere.
"Hey, Jake," Nivea said, finally deciding to ask someone about her whereabouts, "Have you seen Meghan around here anywhere?"
"Why are you looking for that useless baggage?" Jake asked cynically. He obviously shared the popular view of the crew.
"Well, I wanted to ask her about something..." Nivea said wryly.
"I think that she went off by herself like she usually does when something important comes up. The little coward... always disappearing at the most inopportune time. If you see her, tell her not to come back if she's not going to help us," Jake said, with steam almost visibly coming from his ears.
"Thanks anyway, Jakey-poo!" Nivea gave a parting smooch to the cheek, leaving Jake with a red face.
Nivea wandered off into the forest and looked around as much as she could. The woods were dense, with many kinds of pines and a few types of deciduous, leaving the forest floor carpeted with fallen pine needles, dead leaves and bark leavings. She shuffled through the ground debris, dodged trees and branches, but found no trace of any other person. After about a half an hour of aimless search, she decided to take a new approach.
"She's gotta be around here somewhere," thought Nivea as she stood with her hand up to her chin. "If she won't come out by normal seeking, I'm just going to have to force the little tart out of hiding!"
Still standing in the same spot that she had been, Nivea raised her hands up to her forehead, and with a fluid downward motion of her arms, began to concentrate her magic. The crescent moon on her forehead went from a crescent, to a waxing gibbous, to a full moon, which meant that her powers were at their peak for the moment. She was now ready to cast her spell. Silvery light surrounded her and enveloped her body, swirling like a whirlwind, then finally finding a spot to concentrate right above her forehead.
"MOON MAGIC! Seek me out the woman who evades my eyes by sealing her lesser sorcery!" she shouted up to the sky, and then with another swift motion screeched, "GO!"
The bolt of moonlight shot out from her grasp and ricocheted across the forest, bouncing off of whatever got in its way, traveling at the speed of light. Before Nivea could even utter another word, the magic had found its target, and had it surrounded. Right behind Nivea, no less than three meters away, stood the outline of a young woman, silhouetted by the magic of the moon.
"Meghan, I thought that you might have had sorcery; how else could you have always made yourself so scarce on such short notice?" the purple-haired Remian said proudly to the figure.
Nivea's magic began to fade out, for the other woman, now that she had been found out, had no use for her disguise anymore. "You're a sharp cookie, Miss Tag. No one else has even thought of sorcery as my escape. I've been through every battle, except I've just sat there and watched. But there's nothing new about the use of sorcery on this planet, so why have you sought to speak with me?" Meghan was pretty, as most girls go, with sand-colored hair, which she brushed back after her words to Nivea were spoken. She was hardly as well-endowed as Nivea, but was wearing a dress that tried to enhance what she did have.
"Frankly, my flattened friend," Nivea began, to which Meghan gave an absent look down her own shirt, "You just struck me as a suspicious character. Why do you hang around with these people here? Don't you have some place to go to? A family perhaps? You just showed up, but you don't help them with their problems."
Meghan frowned. "Just what are you implying? That there is some reason that I'm here with them other than for the fact that I might just want to?" she turned her gaze away from Nivea's direction and crossed her arms. "I have my reasons for being here, and I don't have to tell them to you!"
"What a snot," quipped Nivea, who proceeded to thumb her nose at the other woman. "I bet that you're just following one of the men in the group around, aren't you? Hee hee, I bet that it's someone like Liam -- no, Neas!!! HAHAHA!" she sent herself into a fit of convulsive giggles.
"YOU--!! You... you bitch!!!" Meghan cried, clenching her fists and shaking them at Nivea. Nivea, though, ignored her and kept right on laughing, which provoked Meghan even more, and she threw herself at the purple-haired one and tried to hit her. Nivea stopped laughing, sidestepped Meghan's advance, and Meghan went flying right into the floor, but got right back up and threw another punch at Nivea. This time Nivea caught her arm, and twisted it in such a way that Meghan could not move herself in any direction to free herself without experiencing serious pain.
"Would you just calm down now--" Nivea spotted something shiny on Meghan's wrist. "Whatever might this be?"
"No, no, don't look at that!!" Meghan said, making an attempt to twist herself away, but relaxed herself when her arm began to hurt. Nivea held Meghan's wrist closer to her face and beheld what was imprinted into her skin there: a silver crescent-moon.
"Well, well, well, Meghan, what do we have here? A mark of the moon. No wonder you haven't left these people; you have nowhere else to go. The moon and your family is far, far away, still sleeping on the moon, but you woke up early and were sent back to this planet, right?" she smiled in a perverted satisfaction from forcing Meghan's secret out into the open so easily. In the back of her mind somewhere, Nivea had been suspicious of this, and thusly came at less of a surprise, and actually, contained more of a calming effect upon her, for now she knew that she was not alone in the group that had returned to the planet.
Meghan held tightly to the scowl on her face and answered to Nivea, "Yes, that's exactly what happened to me, as to you, I suppose. I recognized you; Zemus' slut--" Nivea continued to smile, and twisted Meghan's arm sharply, "--ow! But it's not simply when you wake up, it's whose chosen to Remian on the moon as it drifts off into space. Those people are the special ones -- they get to start anew and become the guardians against Zemus' evil influence for eternity -- we're the rejects."
That cut at Nivea deeply, making her eyes widen at the notion: she had never taken the time to think about why she had come back down to the planet; she simply assumed that everyone else would come back down to the planet on their own accord. "Listen, you bratty little frump, I'll not believe any of your lies! Everyone from the moon is going to come back down to this planet! This is where we truly belong! The place of our ancient ancestors, and also, the moon is dead. How can anything become of it? Even though Golbez and FuSoYa returned... and... and how do you know all of this anyway? You're simply a little commoner with marginal magic skills; no one would ever entrust someone like you with the secrets of the Remian leaders," Nivea huffed each sentence out with anger and disbelief, ready to break Meghan's arm off.
"Damn it, you! I was a member of Remian aristocracy! I'm surprised that you never recognized me! My father was one of your father's best friends. My full name is Meghan Nyallina Veneres, my father was Gallund, and your father was Tiburtine Taginas, or simply Tag. I know all about your family, now that I'm sure that you're the very same person who used to throw rice crackers at me when I was small," the sandy-haired Remian said glaring into Nivea's eyes with a look of long time-disgust.
"You... you're Uncle Gallund's daughter? Dogface?" Nivea squinted with one eye and almost broke out of her mood of seriousness, she was so surprised and astonished.
Meghan sighed. "Yes, that IS what you used to call me... But holding that aside, I knew about what they planned to do after the day Zemus would be suppressed, for my father was in charge of the planning. During those last few weeks before we all were put into the sleep, they planned for what was going to happen if we ever actually were released from stasis, and he let me in on the plans. The Moon only has so much room to sustain any more of us, so the most proficient ant intelligent of the Remian people were allowed to stay on the moon; all the rest of us will be systematically shuttled back to the planet over time. That's why I'm here -- I was lower on the list. They'll try to bring along as many as they can, but if they find that they can't sustain others, they'll be sending back some of the better magic users too."
Nivea finally released Meghan from her grasp and could no longer keep up her will against becoming emotional over the revelation that had just befallen her. She was a reject? She, Nivea Juliana Taginas, who was meant to be a queen of Remians, she who had the greatest Lunar Remian skills of her generation, had been one of the first to be rejected back down to this planet to live among the untalented, un Remian earthlings.
"How could I be down here! I had the greatest skills, the greatest beauty, and my smarts weren't anything to sneeze at either!!! Dogface, why did they send me down here? There had to have been a mistake!?" Nivea pleaded to Meghan, who was rubbing her arm, with all despair.
"Well, I think I can conjecture," Meghan said drolly in response the the name she had been addressed as. "Aside from you being not only the most tactless, the most egotistical and deluded of the Remians, you were the darling of the big bad Zemus himself. And though most of us knew that you had been brought to that position by his mind control, you had also played a part in that. Only someone who has some secret desire for what Zemus has could be manipulated by him. You were too much of a risk to keep with the rest of the Remians left on the moon, so they jettisoned you. I can't say that I'd blame them, either. So what was it, Miss Tag, what was your secret little spot in your heart that left you susceptible?" Meghan had turned the tables on Nivea, and now it was the other Remian doing the questioning.
"Shut up. What difference does it make now..." Nivea said, having already turned on her heel to head back to camp.
"Hey, hey now, let's not leave angry," said Meghan with a smile on her lips, "It doesn't matter now! You have a good group of people there, you can hang with them, and they won't make you leave. It's pretty cool, actually." Nivea have no response and kept walking. "Come on Nivea, who need the rest -- what was the word for "the rest" in the old language? Oh yes, who needs those Cetera now. Let them do whatever strange mission they have on their little moon, okay?"
Nivea stood completely still momentarily, making Meghan all the more uncomfortable.
"HAHAHA! Truly! This world is blessed with my presence!" Nivea finally shouted, turning around and gripping Meghan by the wrists, jerking her around into a bouncy victory dance. "Nivea J. Tag shall never be daunted, or at least for an extended period of time! Who needs those rather grave old Cetera! Hahaha! Oh, and Dogface, the people at camp are ready to kick you out if you don't start participating in daily life. Heheheh! Bai!" Nivea shimmered with her Moon Mana Magic and skipped off back to camp.
"DOGFACE? Don't call me that, you goddamn purple slut!!!! Get your egotistical ass back here so I can give it a good kicking! Nivea Taginas, you deviant!!!" Meghan screeched, flailing her arms about as she chased the other Remian back to camp.
Tora was grave. In his tent he had the layout of the interior of the Rogue base. Over and over again, he looked; up and down, this way and that, making sure that he could divine every tactical advantage that there was a chance of getting. He sighed as he slammed his hands down on the table, frustrated.
"The only way I'm going to be able to pull this off is with stealth..." he muttered under his breath as he began to go over the chart one more time. Outside the tent door, Locke Cole and Gaspar had been standing, and overheard his statement.
"Um, Tora, is okay that we come in?" asked Locke gingerly, for he expected Tora to burst from stress any time now. Tora glanced to him and nodded. Locke came in with the old man behind him and took a look at the chart. "I heard that you needed steal for this mission?" Tora nodded to him. "And how many people do you have whom you think has the skills to go inside and save your friends?"
"There's me," he began, "and probably Sach, maybe Liam if he puts some effort into it. I won't risk taking Jake and Mindy, since we need the numbers out here, and they are both optimal fighters. I need another person... and I need some help," Tora scratched his head and looked up at Locke earnestly. "See, getting the people out only solves part of the problem; we still have the Rogues to destroy, and I have no idea how I'm going to do it with this small band of people."
"For stealth, I'm your man!" said Locke encouragingly, "but I'm at a loss to what you should do for that second part as well," he stroked his chin and begin to think.
"Hey," Gaspar said, clearing his throat. "Now that I have your attention, I have a proposal to solve your infestation problem," he tipped his hat to one side with a sly look to his wise old eyes.
"I'm listening," Tora said, giving the old guru his attention.
"If you can get in and out quickly enough, and have enough time to set something inside of this stronghold, you'll have your solution. I was just glancing over this deplorable structure, and there is one serious weakness to it. The inner pillar to the cavern is the only support to the whole thing; if that goes down, the whole mountainside will collapse.
I can build a high explosive device that, when placed at the weakest point of this pillar, which is right here," he pointed to the second floor right next to the pillar, "will destroy the support, and the place will crumble within minutes. This will lead up to minimal Rogues to fight on the outside and a more thorough sweep. Do you approve?"
Tora was looking back at the old man with the most amazed, most astonished, most energetic eyes. "Gaspar, I could kiss you! You're a GENIUS!" he gave the man a hearty slap to the shoulder, and Gaspar cracked a smile.
"Well, I am a genius actually, but this plan is simple enough for any idiot who can program high explosives," he said casually. Locke and Tora exchanged glances momentarily over Gaspar's quip, then turned back to him.
"If you can start on the explosives right away, I'll get the group together," he was about to run off, when Locke caught his arm.
"Say, I thought that you told us that no one had ever infiltrated this base before, correct?" Locke asked.
"Yeah, why?" Tora replied.
"Then where'd you get the layout plan?" Locke pointed to the paper that was on the table. Tora grinned widely.
"I said that its never been infiltrated, but I never said that I haven't ever pilfered anything from the Rogue soldiers, did I?" he winked and hurried back off to the crowd. Locke liked this guy; he had wit and strength -- a good combination for a leader. He and Gaspar went out after him, and saw that the crowd was already forming.
"Friends!" Tora began with excitement in his deep voice, "Our plan is set! Within the time it will take for Mr. Gaspar to create an explosive device, we will begin our attack upon the Rogue stronghold! Locke, Liam, Sach and I shall go into the base beforehand to retrieve our captured comrades. Right before we leave, we shall set the device to explode inside the base, which will make it collapse upon the Rogues inside. Then, when it is safe to do so, we shall dispatch any remaining Rogues in the area. You have all followed me so far, and now, it comes to our defining moment: are you all with me? Can we do this?!?" he shouted.
"YES" the crowd cheered back.
"Excellent! Be ready, for we shall begin at a moment's notice," he finished, the crowd cheering immensely.
"This is gonna be great!" Locke cheered, in anticipation of action.