Fade To Black Chapter 5
Kohilegen. Locke felt safe already, though the inhabitants of the town around im felt anything but safe. The women wept. The men grieved. The children slept away the state of the world as their parents busied themselves in comforting whatever waking moments they were with them.
A simple glance around told him all of this at once.
Downtrodden from what he was seeing, his advancement towards the town tavern was disrupted in seeing a group of hoodlums gather tightly in the alleyway. His suspicions of swapping liquor for cigarettes faded in hearing an ear-piercing scream for help. Back to the old hero routine, he thought.
"Hey!" he bellowed, drawing their attention instantly. "Leave that girl alone or face the consequences.
The tallest and most burly of them all, evidently the leader of the pack, approached menacingly, flipping out a switchblade and holding his victim at knifepoint. Locke scoffed and pulled out his own weapon: a bastard sword half as long as their rape gang's leader was. The treasure hunter grunned as his trailblazer turned to the others for assistance. They all looked closely at this man who was trying to make a hero for himself. Even the woman, whose clothing was in tatters, stared very carefully at the bandana wrapped around this man's forehead.
"You're Locke Cole," her deductions forced her to say.
His own smile was enough to provoke the gang of rapists to hightail out of the alley and clear from Kohilegen altogether. Locke was then left to help the girl out with composing what clothing was left for her to wear.
"It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Cole," she importuned, comporting grace even as she tussled with the ravaged garments around her body.
"Locke will do just fine, miss. . ."
"Oh! Ariana. Ariana Stygian. I know all about you and the rest of the Returners. I'm kinda like a historian."
"Stygian, huh? Well, I'd to call it a nice name, but I can't."
She smiled as the glimmer of lanterns shone through her dark chestnut hair. Though Locke would never tell her (and that she probably already knew, being a historian and all), she reminded him a lot of Rachel.
"It's okay," she returned. "I get a lot of that, myself."
He paused, noticing that sheepish look on her face. He returned it.
They liked each other.
"Does it feel good to be home. . .Locke?"
He sighed happily.
"It does now."
The two of them spoke at great lengths about each other's lives. Ariana was the one doing most of the talking, but Locke Cole was the one who was learning about the life of another that night. It was strange but pleasant to get to know someone who was the saved for once and not the savior.
"So, tell me another thing about you," Locke pestered this time. "About how long have you been a historian?"
She took a sip of her drink, adjusting with discomfort on the barstool in the tavern. It was hurting now for Locke. She was so much like Rachel that he didn't even think about Celes anymore.
"As long as there's been reason for one."
Locke inched his own stool toward her.
"The Returners. . .when they defeated Kefka."
The treasure hunter picked up his glass and proposed a toast. Ariana was all the more eager.
"To hope," they rooted, throwing back their drinks, making faces from the alcoholic jolt.
So, what are you doing later on?" she asked, her fingers now fidgeting around the tag of an Inn key.
"Well, I came here in hopes of finding one of the Returners, but I don't think I'll ever see any of those guys again," he summarized, thinking of the fate which had befallen the Figaro brothers.
She smiled, not at all concerned for the time being about his Returner friends.
"How about you meet me up in room 66 in five minutes, and I promise to take your mind off of all that pain?" she whispered cryptically into his ear, slow to leave the tavern on him.
"That's the best idea I've heard all day," he said to himself, quickly tipping the bartender and throwing back the last drink of the night.
"I'll make away with him, tonight," came the infernal voice of Stygian to her master, Rivalin. Evidently, she was not alone before Locke.
"See that you do, because if you don't, my armies will. Just like everything else in this burned-out burg of a town, he will be ashes come morning."
"I know. Relax. He won't. . ."
He held her tightly in his hands, his fingers suddenly gliding along the contours of Ariana's breasts. She gave him a faint moan, expressing to him how much lust her conscience fed on.
"See that he won't, Stygian. See that he won't."
She whipped her head around, finding that Locke was in the doorway. She had nothing to worry, however. Rivalin was gone before she knew it.
"Is everything okay?"
She immediately dropped whatever apparel was still around her and began working the magic she had over him.
"Close the door, please," she asked of him.
Doing as she asked, Locke felt her grab him by the collar, rather forcefully, and threw him down onto the bed. Holding a position just above him, in the traditional style of satanic seductiveness, she kissed him fully on the lips, going even further as she pinned his arms above his head and tying them down with restraints from the bedposts. When she was sure that he wasn't going anywhere (and judging from the look on his face, he definitely wasn't!), she pulled a dragon blade on him.
Locke's bliss turned to wide-eyed terror.
"Sorry, Locke, but you can't be allowed to interfere."
"Interfere?! I save your life and this is the thanks I get?!"
"Nothing personal, Locke. Just living up to my name."
"Yeah? Live up to this!"
Doing something that he might possibly regret later, Locke brought his foot up to Stygian's belly, throwing her backwards off the bed with a thrust kick. He burst his wrists clean of their restraints and pulled lose the bastard sword he had hoped would not be used against her of all people.
"Don't do this, Ariana. What happened to the Ariana I knew not twenty minutes ago?" he commiserated.
"She never existed in the first place. I'm sorry."
Curving the blade inward to her right arm, Stygian eyed him with chaotic irises that were, at one time, sweet and inviting. The room, was set ablaze to a wrath Locke was pressed to experience back at Figaro Castle.
She was one of them.
"I'm the one who's sorry, Ariana."
Saying this, Locke drew back his blade and with a single swipe, Ariana's head bound free from her body, sending her to a place where the deceitful were always welcome.
Locke Cole was a whirlwind of bad emotions. No one would dare set foot in his way, for he was terrible in his swift rage, drunk with anger bursting free from every orifice exemplified through each swipe of his blade. The anger and anguish ultimately threw him into the shambled housing west of the town where he embraced the darkness with open arms. Insanity threatened to engulf him as he asked himself how tings could have gotten so bad lately.
And that's when a candle sparked its iridescence in the dark.
"You shouldn't do that," came a very familiar voice. "You might open another Pandora's Box."
"Setzer!" Locke cried reminiscently. "You old son of a bitch."
"Locke, I'm not here to be a fucking guide or anything. It's just that Cyan the Man is up to his old rebellious antics and he wants us in on them due to some goddamn hunch of his. Says the world's coming to an end."
Setzer clearly sounded drunk, but not having anything to reply with (because he knew Cyan was right), Locke accepted a brandy from him and sat down beside the faint glow of the candle.
"Then, tell me <<guide>>. Who told you this?"
"Cute little carrier pigeon, that's who. It's good to know that someone still makes good use of his wings, cuz I sure as hell don't."
"And I suppose he wants me to come alone for the ride, right?"
"You are the most experienced Returner of them all, and perhaps you have a few tricks of the trade still interred inside of ya."
Locke suddenly shot up from the crate he was sitting on.
"I don't have time for this, Setzer."
"Locke, just listen for a sec."
"Forget it. My adventuring days are over."
"Celes is dead."
The news struck his heart like a death blow. He sat back down, robbed of the time to show emotion of any kind, throwing the brandy back hard.
"What happened?" was all he said.
"Mog and Umaro found her body in the Narshe mines. Her neck was broken. They were thinking she just tried some kind of Imperial tactic and it went wrong."
Locke could have cried. Her neck was broken. It definitely didn't sound right, especially for a general.
"Tactic? Bullshit. It was foul play."
"He's jumping to conclusions. So typical of a Cole who craves adventure, but that isn't you, right?"
"It's not about adventure. It's about revenge."
"What about you? How's Daryl pride and joy doing?"
"For future reference, the Falcon has been dismantled. Okay? The skies are now the property of Father Sky only."
"Well then, we better do something about that," Locke said for Setzer.
"Now, he's speaking for me, too," Setzer retorted, feeling that his plan was working. "That sounds more like the Locke I remember."
"So, what are we waiting for? A grave invitation! We got friend to find!"
"Finally. A sign that the real Locke Cole is still alive."
As they both exited the decrepit housing, Setzer and Locke noticed that there was still a flurry of Kohilegen folk screaming, all running south. Were they still scared after what the treasure hunter had done before meeting up with the gambler?
"Tell me something, Locke," Setzer said, barely able to hold his finger up towards the northern mountains. "How's that for a grave invitation?"
They looked and beheld a firestorm consuming the mountainsides as a jet black legion with burning amber eyes amassed the inferno's tyranny. In the eyes of both Returners, their physiques reminded them of someone, but only to Locke were they cognizant of Figaro's soldiers, as well as loved ones that were long thought lost.
"This is not right," he spat. "They're our friends! Jesus Christ, how could they do this to us. Celes. . ."
"She's changed, Locke!" Setzer tried, though he too was taken in by her shadowy image. Her evil eyes dourly contrasting the blazing holocaust that would be quick to consume Kohilegen.
Powerless to act, the Returners left their township wholly at the mercy of the Shadow. And in the hours prior to dawn, the army of darkness flattened the village until it was nothing but a seething cloud of ash and smoke, just as it had been foretold by Rivalin himself onto Stygian.
The End of the World had begun.
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