Some Enchanted Evening Chapter 2
Most of what the young woman told me went in one ear and out the other. It was either Expel this or Sorcery Globe that. All of it came out as a ramble, since the time she spent talking with me was time being taken away from her frantic search. At the very least, her name - Rena Lanford - was enough to get my attention, chiefly because it held a strange likeness with Terra's birth name. Strange hair. Lanford and Branford. Coincidence?
"If you're referring to the woman whom you spoke with in your room earlier," she replied, "I assure you we're not related."
"No argument there," I told her, "Terra has the common courtesy to knock."
She sighed irritably.
"Now, what exactly is it that you're looking for down here?"
"Heraldry," she said, sounding more worried than ever.
"Heraldry?" It was probably the only other part of her account that I had bothered to listen to, since Heraldry was the Expellian equivalent of magic. "Well, you're about five years too late. All forms of magic left with the espers."
"By your narrow definition, perhaps." Her attempt to assert herself verbally prompted me to hold my sword an inch or two closer to her jugular. She swallowed hard. "Our scans of this planet, however, have revealed that Heraldry still exists."
I squinted at her. "Planet? What are you talking about?"
This I asked as she glared down at another of the many trinkets on her belt. After a series of harsh sounds, she switched the device off and stared back up at me, her expression trapped between amazement and fear.
"I'm sorry, Celes," she said.
"What do you mean, 'sorry'? And how did you know my-"
"Star Flare!!" she cried.
And all at once, I felt myself fly backwards through the chamber door, smashing it to splinters. The blast hit me with all the force of a comet, driving the wind from my lungs and filling the whole world with fire. Never in all my crazy encounters, not even when I had fought Kefka, had I experienced something so powerful, so dreadful . . .
I must have passed out, because the next thing I knew I was lying face up on a medical stretcher, straining to recognize all types of arcane sounds filling the background. My eyes wandered for what seemed like forever, yet I could find nothing indigenous to Figaro Castle. Everything was so metallic, like something out of a Magitek refinery. There was also an unfamiliar droning sound that seemed to come from all around me.
"Tru cleesa cu rabba tzu."
That voice. That nettlesome voice! Rena! Oh, how I wanted to kill that bitch for what she did! On impulse, I moved to sit up when my head began to spin, forcing me to lie back and wait for it to stop. When it did, the sounds around me began to change from a rapid, pulsating tempo to a much more controlled pace. Vital signs, I concluded. They must have hooked me up to something. But it couldn't have been anything Figaro in origin.
Was I somewhere else?
"Ouc taba creba ca?" said a voice, masculine and coming toward me.
"What?" I struggled to sit. A handsome, brown-haired man in a labcoat helped me up off the stretcher. "Uh, I'm sorry. I can't understand you."
"Ouc drek." He began to fiddle with a device on his belt, one that was almost identical to a contraption of Rena's. "Also. Wie geht es Ihnen?"
Again, I shook my head. "Uh, no capische."
"No capische," he said confused, and gave the apparatus one last tuning. "Okay, how about now? Can you understand me?"
"Uhh, yeah," I said intelligently. "So, you 'do' speak my language."
"Actually, you're still speaking your own." He patted his gadget proudly. "You see, this is what we call a 'universal translator'. Noel invented them. They allows us to communicate with species not indigenous to our homeworld."
"Homeworld?" I paused for a minute to let his words sink in. "Then, you really 'aren't' from my world, are you?"
"We're not even native to your solar system."
I turned just in time to see the medical bay doors whir shut behind Rena as she entered to join us. Nothing would have thrilled me more greatly than to throttle her.
"You!" I said.
"Yes," she replied frankly, "it's me. How are you feeling?"
"How do you think I feel?" I growled at her. She took a step back. "I oughta pound you! You nailed me with a . . . with a . . ."
"Star Flare," she finished with a grin. "Anyway, you didn't give me much of a choice. You weren't exactly being cooperative."
The one in the labcoat must have assumed that we would probably be arguing for a while, since he decided to busy himself with an unrelated task elsewhere in the room.
"I have cause to be uncooperative when I find others hunting for something that doesn't belong to them."
"In this case," said Rena, "it's someone, not something."
"Someone?" I squinted at her. "You mean . . . me?"
"That's right." She sat down on the stretcher across from mine. "As I mentioned before, we've come to your planet looking for Heraldry or, as your people call it, magic. But it was only after my proximity alarm went off that I realized 'you' were the source of Heraldry we had been looking for all along. That probably explains why you were still mobile in our time frame."
I allowed for an instant to let the new information settle, then said, "But that isn't possible. Magic has been gone from our world for more than half a decade."
"Not so. We gathered from our database that, at the peak of your Industrial Age, there was a hierarchy called 'The Empire'. They were known for fusing magic with technology, something you dubbed 'Magitek', and in some cases those experiments entailed human subjects. You were one of them, were you not?"
Despite myself, I swallowed. "You know me too well."
"It was never our intention to know you at all," she said, fidgeting on the stretcher. "You just kind of fell into our resource gathering. But now that you're here, we need all the help we can get."
She smiled, but it was weak. "I'll try my best to answer all of your questions, but only if you promise not to garrote me first."
I remember hearing a chuckle, though I couldn't be sure if it was mine or hers. "You have my undivided attention, Rena. What is it you're trying to do?"
"We're trying to save the galaxy."
* * *
"I'll do my best to orient you with the crew and surroundings. Having spent most of your life with the Empire, you'll probably find it a walk in the park."
I didn't know whether to feel proud or insulted. Rena and I had both left the medical bay only a few minutes earlier, and she had already begun to alienate me with my history as a Magitek Knight.
"Most of the people you'll find on this ship are native to Expel. You've already met Dr. Jean Bowman, our chief physician. Sadly enough, all that remain of our kind are on this ship. But like everyone else out there, we all fight to honor the memory of the homes we've lost. You could say that it's kind of made us into a family."
A lump caught in my throat when she said 'lost', and I stopped our walk in the corridor. "What do you mean by lost? What happened to your world?"
"The same thing that will happen to your world," she said gravely, "unless you can help us prevent it."
"I need more info than that."
"We only have bits and pieces of information ourselves, Celes." She stopped to collect her thoughts before continuing. "What I can tell you is that, our mission begins with one man. His name is Indalecio, one of ten who sought to control not only our home but all the cosmos as well. There was a time when I believed that my friends and I had defeated him. But we were wrong, and we lost our home because of it. Now, he seeks to erase our very being from history."
Rena stopped to find her breath. Then, she went on.
"This man has all of time at his disposal because of technology we were responsible for creating. He travels further and further into the past to try and find us because he knows that we are the galaxy's only hope. Thousands of worlds have been destroyed in his wake. Spira, Hyrule, Filgaia, beautiful places. Billions of lives have been lost, some my closest friends . . ."
She couldn't help but trail off. Painful memories had begun to surface on her face.
"Well, we have every hope that defeating him here, in the past, will wipe him out before he ever has a chance to destroy those worlds and their people. This is what has kept our crew together for so long. We may yet see our loved ones again if we truly believe it."
We continued our walk through the vast ship. Her words jarred me, rendering me incapable of speech for a good ten minutes or more. I couldn't help but muse over an adversary that powerful. Could it be that I might soon be coping with the undoing of my home, too?
Somehow, our stroll through the ship managed to keep a lot of my fears at bay. It had a stout crew, apparently bustling with activity. The ship's many corridors seemed to trail off for miles on end, long and dimly lit tunnels complete with the white noise of preparation from its many crew members. I suppose it made me feel secure, if only for a little while.
"You must forgive me," she said suddenly. "I was expecting to find a crystal, or a staff. A person was the last thing I was anticipating. But perhaps this is better. A personification of magic, one who can bring order to a universe in chaos."
"I wouldn't go that far," I told her, "I can barely sort my own life out, let alone that of the universe. And all this is . . . well, quite overwhelming."
"I know. I'm sorry. The last thing I'd want to do is overwhelm you at such a vital juncture of our mission. I'll arrange some quarters for you, then. You must be very tired."
"What happens then?" I asked her. "Where will this mission take us?"
"To a distant planet," she answered, "to Rezonia, where our last stand begins."
* * *
Farfetched yet? I thought so. This isn't to say I'm done though, not by a long shot. There's still a universe to save, after all. I can't imagine how crazy that must sound! If someone were to say that they were on their way to save a colony or small nation from slavery, one would think 'My, that's extraordinary!'. But for one to say that they were on their way to save the entire stellar universe was just . . . well, stupid.
Apparently, for people like Rena and her friends, saving the universe was anything but. Missions such as these they embarked upon on a daily basis: traveling to distant worlds; making first contact with alien species; gathering forces strong enough to rival the last of the Ten Wise Men. It was a quest beyond Kefka, beyond esperkind even. The adventure of a lifetime!
If only my friends could see me now, I thought.
Our ship, the Calnus, was a wonder beyond belief. Every corridor, every bulkhead, every control panel seem to hum or coalesce with a life of its own, a million ingeniously laid components working together as a whole. Stylish as well as functional, the vessel was crafted much like a gigantic airship, complete with almost three hundred fully furnished rooms to accommodate its crew. The ship was so big that I almost got lost on my first day aboard.
"It's bound to happen once or twice," Rena explained while she and I were on our way to see the Admiral. "It happened to me too when I first came aboard."
"I feel so much better, now."
Which was true, of course. Even a seasoned veteran like Rena had trouble adjusting when first departing on her tall-tale journey. It meant that there was still hope for me.
"So, why does this 'Admiral' wish to see us? Is it just to meet me, or does it have to do with these Rezonian folk?"
"A little of both, perhaps." We stopped at the end of our corridor, where Rena pressed a control that eased open a set of metal doors for us. We both stepped into a small booth as she gave the command for 'main deck'. "He never mentioned it to me, either. Just let me do all the talking. He's very impersonal."
"If you say so. Who am I to . . . oh, uh . . ."
I suddenly realized that decks were racing past us in a matter of seconds. After that, it was all stars and planets flying by the ship in the blink of an eye.
"I . . . I think I'm going to be sick," I muttered, having a strange feeling come over me.
"Don't worry," Rena replied, "It's bound to happen sooner or later. You're just not used to the space travel, that's all. The feeling's superficial, though. It doesn't even last long."
"Well, that's a relief." But of course, her words were a dull comfort. "So, does this, mmm, Admiral have a name?"
She grunted. "Ronixis J. Kenni. He's native to a planet called Earth, which was where the Calnus was first commissioned."
"Does it still exist?"
Rena hesitated. "No."
"It must have been hard for him - for all of you."
She turned to face me. "The important thing is that, he hasn't lost his objectivity. He's gotten this family through a lot of tough times. I don't know where we'd all be if it wasn't for him. One day, 'you' may find yourself thanking him."
I tried my best to change a grim subject. "He must be a wizened old man."
"Yes," she said, "he knows more about us than we do."
"So, he knows everything about you too, hmm?"
"Knows when you had your first tooth..."
"...your first kiss..."
"We're here!" she growled.
I stifled a laugh as our lift ground to a halt. But no sooner did the doors part before me did my humor turn to sheer amazement all over again. The main deck, as Rena had called it, was beyond anything the lower decks could have shown me. The main nerve center of our vessel, the bridge was an elaborate chamber filled with blue light, holographic starcharts, and dozens of senior officers scuttling from one station to the next, no doubt conducting their endless resource gathering and keeping tabs on stellar phenomena.
"This is quite an operation you have," I remarked, and suddenly realized that I was talking to no one. "Hey, wait up!"
Already halfway down the stairs to the dais, Rena replied without turning, "Our only hope is that this 'operation' is enough to finish off Indalecio."
We walked down around the main viewing globe, where a seemingly endless array of planets and star systems danced endlessly about. Rena acknowledged none of her colleagues, save the odd nod of a head. Indalecio's name floated from one part of the bridge to the next. Many appeared at wit's end trying to find a more effective means of escaping the 'inescapable'.
"Time is always against us," Rena went on to say. "Every day that passes is another day that Indalecio gets closer to destroying everything we've accomplished."
"You're starting to sound like a broken record," I told her.
Rena grunted. "Well, it just seems important to stress, that's all. We can't afford to make any errors in judgement, not when we're this close to succeeding."
I nodded. "So, where to now?"
"This way." She pointed out a door with 'Ready Room' labeled on it. The doors parted with a whir and we both entered.
The first thing I saw was a middle-aged man with his back turned to us, apparently gazing out at the stars. He wore a dark uniform lined with gold and had gray hair cropped out around his hat. Even after the door slid closed behind us, the man's view remained fixed on the stars that passed the Calnus by.
"Admiral," Rena finally said, "I'd like you to meet Celes Chere. She's a resident from the M-Class planet in spatial grid 532 and, as it turns out, the source of the Heraldry we were scanning for all along."
I took a step towards him. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, sir."
But he remained as still as a mannequin. From what I could make out of his reflection, the Admiral was bearded with a face that was creased with stress. There was something foreboding in his expression as well, something that pained him greatly.
He took a deep breath before finally turning around. "My apologies, Ms. Chere," he answered. "I had hoped for our first meeting to be a happy occasion, even hopeful. But unfortunately, something terrible has happened."
Though his voice was directed at me, his eyes wandered to Rena. Her disposition changed in a heartbeat.
"What is it, Admiral? Does it have anything to do with our survey team?"
He nodded and took another deep breath. "They were met with a Rezonian raiding party en route to Rezonia. They were taken by surprise and they-"
It didn't seem like the Admiral would get much else out. I looked over to Rena, who was quickly crumbling from the new information.
The Admiral shook his head.
Tears filled Rena's eyes, then, as she stumbled weakly toward the Admiral's desk. When I offered to help her, she simply shook her head angerly.
The Admiral swallowed hard before continuing. "We cannot allow for their deaths to blind us from our mission. Our mourning will have to wait."
An awkward moment of silence followed before the Admiral abandoned his ready room for the bridge. Somehow, I felt like I ought to be sharing in Rena's sorrow. But, having never lost one so cherished before, I was unsure as to how to proceed.
"Rena, I . . ."
"Celes," she sobbed, the agony overwhelming her, "you mustn't . . . you can't ever take your friends for granted. There will come a day when you will no longer have them, and not in ten lifetimes will you be able to rid yourself of that burden."
Her words were adamant, even pleading. I knew little about the person she was, and even less of the friends she had, but none of that seemed to matter at that moment. We were both out there in space for the same reason, fighting to save the same people. But ultimately, not all of us would be there to finish the fight. Time, after all, waits for no one.
Not even me.