"Well? Any luck?" Locke's bride looked at him with worry thinly veiled in her face. He sighed.
"I'm not sure. Gau went after her once I told him the news. That boy can run faster than a spooked hare so hopefully he'll be dragging her back any moment." He glanced over to Strago with a kind smile as he shared the news. The blue mage nodded and stared into the now cold cup of tea and Terra reached over to gently grab hold of his hand.
"Gau will bring Relm home safe, Strago. I promise."
"I would like to know what the devil is so important in South Figaro?" Setzer slammed the front legs of his chair back to the ground and stood. He boots fell loudly as he began to pace in the otherwise quiet house. "Does anyone have any clues?"
"A library?" Terra looked to Locke as she suggested this. "You know the town better than any of us, what do you think?
He shrugged. "South Figaro is more a town of commerce than learning. Any important documents in the kingdom are likely to be housed in Figaro proper."
"If she were looking documents that belonged to Figaro why not just wait and fly back with us?" Celes slumped down in her seat, looking very unlike the former general she was. "We're in company of the charge of the prince. She could have had access to anything within the week if she'd waited." No one seemed to be able to disagree with her.
After some moments of silence, Terra rose from the table and began to clear away the dishes that had accumulated. "Well, if Gau does not return with her, what shall we do? She'll be at sea for weeks. Did she even take the time properly prepare?"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but all ships bound for South Figaro from Thamasa make port first in Maranda do they not?" Setzer looked to Strago for clarification. The old man nodded slowly in response.
"They do indeed."
"Well then, I propose that we meet the ship in Maranda. I'm sure Relm can manage to take care herself for such a short amount of time. The ship should make port in roughly two weeks assuming the weather is fair."
"I would be eternally grateful for your assistance in this, my friend." Strago offered a slight smile, his eyes warming up a tick. "I know should not worry so, she is nearly an adult in her own right, yet I have an ill feeling about this excursion she has run off on."
"Well he's not going alone!" Celes straightened up, direction once more lighting up her face. "Locke and I will be joining him, of course." Her husband smiled and nodded in agreement.
"I wouldn't trust Relm not run her mouth off to the wrong person without someone there watch over her," he said with a laugh. "Terra? Will you be accompanying us?"
She bit her lip and looked at her hands, now wringing in her lap. How she longed to once more join her friends on an adventure, however slight it might be. "I'm sorry," she began. "I'm afraid I shouldn't be away from Mobliz for such a length of time. They really do count on me to help with the school and the orphanage." Terra sighed low and long. "I'm…sorry."
Celes leaned over to place a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. "Don't worry. We understand your duties and responsibilities. You should feel no shame in not being able to dash off at a moment's notice with us." Locke nodded in agreement, giving Terra a handsome smile.
Setzer smiled as well, pleased with how quickly plans were forming. "Well, we've two weeks to get you to Mobliz and be in Maranda in time to meet the ship. It's been a hard day, what say we have a bit of a drink while we wait for Gau to return?"
"Wait, let me get this right," Relm stared at her companion incredulously. "You're lecturing me about taking off from my home with only a note about my plans, whereas you literally left with Locke staring after you. Sabin is going to murder you."
Gau laughed loudly, feeling his heart lighten as he did. "I suppose I wasn't thinking clearly." He cocked his head and grinned at her. "I'm sure they'll put two and two together."
"You better hope Locke's good at math." She turned to lean on the railing of the ship and stare out at the ocean. "Although I do have to admit I am very grateful you came after me and not him." Gau perked up at these words and attempted to sound casual as he inquired further as to wait she meant. Relm laughed. "Do you remember Locke on a ship? He couldn't even keep a glass of water down. He'd have spent the entire time staring over the side and…well, you know." Her nose wrinkled at the thought. "No, having you along is much more agreeable."
He nodded and looked away. "Of course." He was silent for some time, a fact that was lost on Relm, so wrapped up was she in her own thoughts. He was at a loss as to what to say to her. He had so many questions building up inside of him, but he was quite aware that she didn't seem keen on answering any for the time being. In the end all he could do was nod when she finally informed him she going to go below to the berth. Gau decided to stay on deck and watch as the sun rapidly began its descent to the horizon.
He found himself thinking of her, which was admittedly not too unusual. He saw her so seldom, but she occupied a rather large portion of his daily thoughts. It had been like that since he'd met her, he supposed. At first it was merely circumstance. Although already a young man by society's standard when he'd impulsively joined Sabin and Cyan on the Veldt, his unrefined ways had prompted the Returners to treat him rather like a child. When Strago and his foulmouthed grandchild had joined up with the team, Gau gained an automatic companion. They were oftentimes left alone aboard the Falcon, and Relm frequently amused herself by painting his portrait and watching the two wrestle until the portrait's magic died away. After Sabin and Cyan, he always felt closest to Relm during those days fighting Kefka.
…Kefka. It had been so long. He could remember feeling elation as the Falcon raced from the collapsing tower, the world returning to green and blue below them. Life came once again to the barren fields and oceans. Rain fell, the sun rose. Flowers bloomed. It had seemed so long since Gau had seen vegetation it was almost as if each rose was the first. In a way it really was all new to him. The desert kingdom of Figaro was a far cry from the Veldt of his youth. At first he had been shocked that gardens even existed in the climate. He soon learned of the scores of royal gardeners working tirelessly to ensure the beautiful gardens never faltered. The idea of this forced plant life so fascinated that he was often caught staring out the window when he was meant to be focusing on his lessons.
These sessions had started immediately upon his arrival. Initially, they primarily centered upon becoming literate. Over and over he was forced to mimic the tutor's perfectly crafted letters on a small slate. For the first year he was completely baffled. Soon, however, the pieces began coming together. He attributed this largely to two things. First was Sabin's diligence. Every evening, without fail, the prince would sit with Gau to help make sense of the seemingly endless strings of letters and what they represented. His personal experience with the boy helped immensely, as he tried whenever possible to use examples from the Veldt or their time together as Returners to aid in the learning process. Apart from Sabin were the letters that Relm had insisted on sending via carrier pigeon, and later by the airship mail service. It was a promise she had made upon Gau's departure from Thamasa following Shadow's funeral.
"I'm going to write you everyday! Well…perhaps not every day, but at least once a week. And then you'll learn to read! Since we'll live so far apart we won't be able to see each other very often. This way we can keep in touch. Only, promise you'll learn to write as well, so I can hear what's happening with you also!"
It was the first time since the funeral that he'd seen his friend smile, and so he readily agreed, although he was not entirely positive he had understood everything she had said. But she followed through with her promise. Once a week, and often times twice, letters arrived from Thamasa as she detailed even the most minute of details. In the beginning Sabin had helped him decipher them, and then to compose a reply. Slowly Sabin went from translator to transcriber to editor until he was scarcely needed. And then one day, Relm's letters stopped coming. Gau continued for some time after, but it soon became apparent that she was simply not going to answer. That was the year he grew ill from a bout of flu that had plagued the kingdom and was unable to journey to Thamasa for her birthday. His own letters stopped soon after.
Gau inhaled deeply, feeling the sea air seep into his lungs. It was refreshing and helped to soothe his mind. A deep sense of foreboding had settled over him, and he could not pinpoint why.
It's only a sea voyage. We survived much worse when we were much younger.
Unsure in his own thoughts he finally turned away from the railing, and headed down below.
"My coin purse is gone!"
This was Amy's cue to quickly, yet inconspicuously exit the market place and make for her room in the boarding house along the wharf. Her hand discretely secured her days work in the pouch looped to her belt. She paced her gait to appear relaxed, her dull brown clothing fading into the buildings. The day had been successful, yet ended sooner than she would have liked. The sun was not yet below the horizon, and the young bourgeoisie were still milling about. However, the death sentence had been uttered, and it would not be wise to linger.
As her feet carried away from the gathering scene, she silently wished that this could be the last time. She wanted to be done picking pockets forever. She found no joy in taking from others what they had earned. But life for a single girl of her age and status was hard, and she wasn't willing to turn to life in a brothel or dance hall.
You could have had a safe life…but you gave that up.
She tried to shake the thought off immediately, but it haunted her as she ducked into a familiar alley shortcut. She had been in South Figaro long enough to know the quickest paths to and from almost anywhere. Deep down, though, she knew she could not rightfully call it home…
"Oy, girlie! Spare any change?" The voice came from the shadows to her left, gruff and low. She turned to see a figure almost hidden in the growing darkness, a cap pulled tight over his head. His eyes glinted in a stray ray of sunlight for the briefest of moments. Amy could have sworn they flashed red. "Well?"
"Oh, no. I'm sorry I've nothing to spare." She turned to move on, but found her way blocked by the man. Amy was taken aback, she had not seen him move. In fact, she was quite sure no human should be able to move so fast. Her hand immediately went to her dagger.
"You sure?" He tilted his head up towards her, his face visible from underneath the cap. "What about that pretty face?" Blood red eyes slanted as fangs revealed themselves in a wicked smile. "Those are some mighty pretty eyes you got there, Amethyst."
Trying not to allow the shock of this….creature knowing her name overwhelm her, Amy quickly began backing away as she pulled her dagger free from its sheath. She only made it a handful of steps before she felt something wrap itself around her ankle and jerk her to the ground. Just as she swore she saw a tail slinking away, the creature was suddenly kneeling on her chest. The air was forced out of her lungs as clawed hands wrapped themselves into her hair.
"Oh the mistress is going to be most pleased." He gripped her head and slammed into the cobblestones below. "Most pleased indeed…." She didn't have a chance to scream out in pain before everything went dark.
"Gau?" It had been several hours since the sun had gone down and Relm had not seen her traveling companion since she had left him at the railing. She'd gone above deck to search but had had no luck. Curious, she went back below and asked a few of her fellow passengers if they'd seen him. An older gentleman informed her that he'd seen heading towards the stern some time ago. She nodded and thanked him, then turned towards the stern. The farther back she went, the more difficult the walk became. It was clear that this area was not meant for passengers to meander, and yet no crew members had stopped her. It was simply cluttered with barrels, burlap sacks, crates…all measure of things. A few rats scurried hither and thither, which Relm did her best to ignore. Vermin were an unfortunate reality of sea voyages.
"Hello?" She had come as far as she could. "Gau?" She exhaled deeply, frustrated. How hard could it be to find someone on a ship!
"Yes?" The nearness of the reply caused her to jump in shock. She turned to her immediate left. There he was, seated in perfect stillness with her eyes closed, his legs delicately cross and his hands laying lightly on his knees.
"Oh! I'm sorry…I'm interrupting you while you're…well what are you doing?"
Gau opened his eyes, clearly amused. "I'm meditating Relm. Freeing my mind of chaotic thoughts. A habit I picked up from Sabin. This was the quietest area I could find."
"I see. Well, I apologize. I'll leave you be." She turned, intending to depart.
"No, no, that's alright." He stood swiftly, dusting his clothes off. "I think I have finished. It must getting late, yes?"
Relm nodded in agreement. "The sun has been down for some hours now. I was going to go to bed, but I hadn't seen you for several hours." She paused as Gau moved a large crate out of the way to make the way easier. "Thank you."
"It's no trouble. I suppose I should getting some sleep as well. It's been quite a day." They had reached the stairs that lead to the deck. "However…I think I'll enjoy some fresh air first." Slowly he turned to look Relm in the eyes. "Would you…would you care to join me?"
She shrugged, unsure as to why the question had sounded so awkward. "Certainly. Some fresh air does sound nice."
He smiled and held his arm out, "After you." She laughed and obliged him, relishing the rush of salt air on the naked skin of her face.
"I forgot how lovely the open ocean could be." She tilted her head back to glance at the night sky. "And so many stars. Do you know any constellations?"
"I knew them all back on the Veldt. Well, that is, I recognized them and could use them to help guide me. I didn't know any of the names of course. Now I know most of the stars above Figaro but…these are different." He smiled. "But no less lovely."
There were few people left topside this late in the night. Several sailors were still busy at work, bustling about their work with an easy efficiency. The sails above billowed lightly in the steady breeze. A woman's laugh lilted musically in the air, and Relm's attention was suddenly drawn to the couple nearby. The man was leaning dramatically over the rail, reaching into the sky.
"You don't believe me?" He was shouting joyously, as the woman continued to laugh. "I swear, I'll grab one of these beauties right out of the sky for you."
"Edward! Get down, you've had too much port after dinner!" The woman, dressed in a very fine gown of linen reached out for her lover.
"No! Odile, I shan't rest until I've plucked a star from the sky for you!"
"Quit being melodramatic! You're going to fall straight into the sea," Still laughing, she managed finally to grasp at his waistcoat and pull him down next to her, a gem on her hand catching the light. As they kissed, Relm heard Gau sigh next to her. She turned to see he was also watching the couple.
"Is something the matter?"
"Hmm? Oh. No, no. I suppose not." His glance was far away, almost melancholy. Abruptly he turned to look at Relm. "I've had enough fresh air, I think. I'm going to head down and get some sleep."
"O-ok. I'll follow shortly. I want to look at the sky a bit more." Trying to lighten his suddenly dour mood she added, "Maybe I'll see a shooting star." Gau gave no sign of having heard her words as he hurried down below deck.
Puzzled at her companions drastic change of mood, Relm turned her attention not upwards, but rather back to the couple who now locked arms and was walking towards her. They seemed very happy indeed as the woman laid her head gently on Edward's shoulder. As they passed by the former artist Odile gestured for her fiancé to stop. She smiled at Relm, her lovely face glowing with a tender emotion.
"Your beau is quite handsome. Are you to be married?"
"Oh!" She flushed, quite embarrassed at the woman's assumption. "No, it is nothing of the sort. He is…accompanying me on a journey." Relm was suddenly aware at how inappropriate it was for the two of them to be journeying together without a chaperone as young as the two were. "He's a family friend."
Odile gave her a knowing look and Edward chuckled low. "Well dear, pretty little thing like you… best watch yourself!"
"Oh Edward! You're such a devil sometimes." She playfully slapped him in the arm. She turned back to Relm and addressed her kindly. "Well dear, my name is Odile, and this beast is Edward."
"Relm Arrowny, it's a pleasure."
"Relm darling, we must sit down together. A lady cannot subside on male companionship alone on such a long journey." She laid a delicate hand on Relm's arm. "Especially if your gentleman is anything like my Edward here." With another smile Odile began to lead the effervescent Edward away. He in turn nodded jollily and offered a good natured, "Take care!"
And then Relm was alone with the sailors and the stars.
It was dawn and the birds were chirping their greeting to the waking sun. Celes sat on the deck of the Falcon with her eyes closed and face turned to the rising sun. A soft wind blew her hair away from her face as she listened to the wildlife of the countryside. They had landed outside Mobliz the previous afternoon. Despite Terra's generous offer of hospitality Celes and her companions had spent the night on the airship. After everything the poor town had been through during their time as Returners, she was ill at ease to stand before the townsfolk as a reminder. The simple nearness of Mobliz made her restless, and she had not been able to sleep. As she lay in bed her mind filled with memories of pleading with Terra, and the horrified screams of the orphaned children as the demon had attacked…
"Celes? What in the blazes are you doing awake at this hour?" Jumping at the sudden voice, she turned to find Setzer standing near the stairs, sliding his elaborate coat on to his shoulders, his hair loose around his scarred face. "I thought you'd be in bed with that rascal you call a husband for some hours yet."
"I…couldn't sleep. I came up to watch the sun rise." She sighed. "And I didn't want to wake Locke."
"Speaking as someone with experience in matters of luck, there's small chance of that if I recall Mr. Cole's sleeping habits." The gambler sat with a wry smile, which Celes returned. "Trouble sleeping, eh? I hope it's nothing serious."
Perhaps due to her initial introduction and subsequent misgivings about Setzer, Celes was always vaguely surprised when he showed concern for others. Somewhere along the way he had proven himself to be a steadfast friend and she suddenly realized how grateful she was for that.
"Nothing horrible, no. Just memories of this place. I hate to leave Terra but I must admit…I will be glad to get away from here." She suddenly looked at Setzer as though only just realizing something important. "Wait, what are you doing up at this hour?"
"Me? I'm always up this early. Sleep is for the lazy." He chuckled. "My my this is rather early for you isn't it? I've got to get the Falcon flight ready if we're to set out today. If we want to be on our way before midday preparations have to start as early as the light allows. Which means I'm already running late," he finished with a glance to the sun, growing higher in the sky each moment.
"Can I help you with anything?"
"No, no. Just stand here looking beautiful, all the help I need." He winked roguishly at Celes as he turned and went along his way. She laughed to herself and found herself once again alone with her thoughts. It was some time before she went below to rouse Locke from his sleep.
"Ow….was the pillow to my face really necessary?" Her husband sat up rubbing his nose and looking drowsy.
"Morning love! It's time for you to join the rest of the adults." She offered him the glass of juice she had brought and ignored his objections to her chosen waking methods. "We'll be leaving before long. I expect Terra will be here soon to say farewell."
Locke took a long sip of the juice. "And then on to Maranda to wait on Relm and Gau?"
"And then on to Tzen. Setzer has something to drop off to the Magistrate, I'm not sure what. The ship isn't set to make port for over a week, so we should have plenty of time for Tzen. We'll fly directly over it either way."
"What could Setzer possibly have to deliver to Tzen? Is it for Edgar?" He stood and began to dress.
"I'm not sure, but I doubt it. If it was official business from Figaro I imagine he would have sent a royal messenger." She handed him the bandana from the bedside table and the two made their way to the deck. "I assume it's private business."
"Hiring the Falcon to act as a carrier pigeon? Seems a bit pricey..."
"Well it isn't any of our business, is it? Oh look, there's Terra now." Celes turned away from her husband with a knowing look and went to greet their friend.
Locke waved to Terra but hung back for a moment. Something felt wrong about the upcoming stop in Tzen. He knew that Setzer was no stranger to getting mixed up with less than scrupulous types. At the same time he trusted Setzer with his life. So why was he so worried over a silly package delivery?
"Locke! Are you just going to stand there or are you going to come goodbye to our friend?"
Shaking his head he walked toward the women. He was worrying over nothing, he told himself.
It was nothing.
"I think I see land!"
Gau looked up from the book he had been halfheartedly reading to see where the woman was pointing. Sure enough, in the distance to the north the faintest hints of a continent could be seen.
"Surely we cannot be so near to Maranda already?" Odile turned to Edward with a questioning look. He merely shrugged and went back to examining the pistol he was cleaning, more out of boredom than anything as far as Gau could tell. With no answer forthcoming from her beloved fiance she turned to their companions.
"That'll be the Litworian Peninsula, just to the south of Albrook." He stood to join her at the rail. "Look close, you can just make out the tops of the ships in the port." Indeed, tall masts and stark white sails could seen looking oddly like ghosts in the daylight at such a distance.
"If we pass so close to Albrook, why do we not make port there? Why wait until Maranda? I could certainly use the reprise to stretch my legs."
Gau merely shrugged and went back to his seat. "I don't set the ship's path. I expect though, that so soon after the Empire many are still wary of Albrook." He looked over at Relm, whom he was surprised to see was staring very openly at him, an appraising look on her face.
"How do you know what port that it is from such a distance? It can't be the only one along the south side of that continent." She set her own book down.
"No, there are 3...maybe 4 others, that's the largest though. You wouldn't be able to see the others from this distance." This answer didn't seem to satisfy Relm but before she could speak again Odile chimed in with another question.
"Have you spent much time on the Southern Continent, sir?"
"Not as such," Gau answered with a smile. He would never grow used to being called sir. "I...traveled through the area when I was younger but only briefly." It was an unspoken agreement between he and Relm that neither wanted to bring up their involvement in the Returners with strangers. "However after the Destruction a few friends decided to undertake mapping the new continents. Occasionally my benefactor would join them and take me along. I spent hours studying the maps they drew up."
"I had forgotten you joined Locke and Celes during that..." Relm seemed to be saying this more to herself than anyone else.
Edward chuckled and placed the pistol in his lap. "What a strange task! Mapping the world...you never think of someone actually setting out to do that. It seems like something that should just...exist! The things we take for granted in this day and age." He turned to Gau. "How exactly does one go about doing that? Mapping continents?"
"Well," Gau sat back down, picking his words carefully. "Having lots of time to spare and a love of walking are necessities. And...I suppose an airship doesn't hurt."
"Oh!" Odile turned from the railing and sat very near to her fiance, leaning in close to Gau. "Have you ridden one? Father was able to secure us passage on a Figaran ship in spring. It was marvelous!" From there the woman went into great detail about the excitement of the journey, helped copiously by Edward who it seemed had been equally impressed with the technology. They talked at such length that dinner stole upon the group faster than seemed possible. Here the lovers took their leave of Relm and Gau to go change into some more "appropriate."
"More appropriate? Her gown was finer than anything I've ever owned!" Relm shook the thought from her mind and looked to Gau. "If that was the Litworian Peninsula we should be at least halfway to Maranda, shouldn't we?"
"I expect we have another 6 or so days before we make port."
She gave him another searching look before continuing. "So you know the Southern Continent well?"
"As well as I know the other continents. Which is better than most I'd wager, if that's what you are really wanting to know." He raised from his seat and offered a hand to help her to do the same. "I don't think I want to know why you are asking. There's no need for knowledge of maps and terrain on a sea journey to South Figaro."
"Indeed there is not," was the simple response and the topic was dropped as they went to join the other passengers for dinner. They had not interacted with many of the small group in the week they had been at sea, though their self appointed traveling companions appeared to have met them all. When the meal was complete Relm went to her berth while Gau stayed amongst several of the other passengers enjoying a glass of wine and conversation about Jidoor's planned airship port.
"Well the town is quite split on the idea themselves," a man to Gau's left was saying. "On the one hand they quite welcome the commerce it would bring, any chance to deepen their pockets you know." Several at the table chuckled. "However, many worry about introducing such access to the town. They've always been a bit...private to put it politely. I don't think they fancy Jidoor becoming the next South Figaro."
"And that is why they will never have the financial stronghold that South Figaro has," Gau replied. "They squire their money away, building grand houses yet never joining in the rest of the world. I say let keep them to themselves. Who even likes the opera?"
The conversation continued much along these lines, growing louder with each bottle of wine that was opened for several hours. Few noticed the storm that steadily growing outside until the sea gave a great heave beneath them and more than one gentlemen was thrown from his seat. A sailor rushed into the room at nearly the same moment, drenched to the bone.
"Sirs, I apologize but the captain has requested that you all return to your berths as quickly as possible." He gestured rapidly behind to the doorway. "Please."
"Well men, bottoms up!" Edward finished off the wine in his glass before standing from his seat, only to promptly fall with another churn from the sea. Gau reached to help him upright once more.
"Up you get, I'm not so certain that was the storm."
Outside the storm was lashing about so hazardously Gau wondered that they had not noticed it sooner. Sensing his question, the crew man who had alerted them shouted over the wind and rain, "We'd have sent you down sooner, but this storm brewed up out of nowhere!" He tipped his hat as best as he could and then hurried off, presumably to report back to his post.
Though he had been out in the elements for less than 5 minutes Gau was as drenched as though he had been swimming in the ocean itself. He struggled to reach the stairs that would take him to his berth. He wanted to check to make sure Relm was holding up all right as he beginning to fear the boat would capsize at any moment. The walk to the hold was proving downright treacherous as the ship tipped this way and that. Gau seemed to have made no progress at all when his ears just caught the sound of his name being called above the waves and wind.
It was Relm, standing at the top of the stairs, a cloak thrown hastily around her shoulders. Odile was behind her, throwing her own cloak around Edward's shoulders in an attempt to dry the worst of the rain and sea water off. Heartened that Edward had managed to make his way to the hold Gau steadied himself. The hair on the back of his neck began to raise as he clumsily put one foot in front of the other in an attempt to reach the steps.
And then ship exploded in light and sound.
Suddenly, he was in the sea, being tossed about like a piece of driftwood. There was debris all around him and it was impossible to tell which direction the surface lay. It was so dark he could barely see his arms flailing. His lungs were aching with lack of oxygen already. Kicking with as much force as he could muster, he picked the direction that seemed most likely to be the surface. He seemed to propel himself for hours, and as he began to think he had picked the wrong direction, his head broke through to the surface.
There was havoc all around him. The storm was still lashing the sea with rain, and screams could just be made out above the roar. The ship was tilting noticeably in the water as it took on water from a large hole in the hull. Lifeboats were being lowered into the water, and several others were bobbing in the waves, having been thrown free. Gau began swimming as quickly as he could toward the closet boat, but each stroke only seemed to be countered by a mighty heave of the ocean.
Struggling against the current, he was glad when a large piece of debris appeared before him, and he heaved himself onto it. His head was throbbing and he suspected he had struck it against something. He attempted to call out to the nearest lifeboat but his throat felt as if it was on fire from the amount of sea water he had swallowed and subsequently coughed up. The piece of wood he lay on seemed to drift in place in the water, while the lifeboats moved farther and farther away. Soon he had only enough energy to focus on stay on the piece of wreckage. As he watched the last of the lifeboats lower in to the water only moments before the great ship finally succumbed to the seas. Gau lay drifting in and out of consciousness for an indeterminable amount of time. After sometime he awoke as his debris ran into a crowded patch of wreckage.
"Gau..." The voice was weak, but recognizable.
"Relm?" His own voice was hoarse, barely discernible. He tried to find her but it was too dark for him to make out anything but vague shapes. He heard splashing and then felt a hand close over his own.
"Hold on...we're in a current. We should make it to shore..." She sounded unsure, yet hopeful and her hand stayed tight over his own as he finally fell completely into unconsciousness.
"Now that is just unfair!"
"Not sounding so confident now, eh gambler?"
Setzer stood, flabbergasted, in front of Locke. The younger man was grinning broadly, hands on his hips. They were due to land at Tzen within the hour. There they would spend one night before making their way on towards Maranda. They would arrive with three days to spare, just to be safe.
"Anything else. I'll wager anything else."
"Oh come off it! It's not so much. Not like I'm asking you to put up the Falcon."
Celes, who had been sitting quietly to the side now chimed in, "This is stupid. You both realize that, don't you?" Setzer gave her a frustrated look while Locke laughed merrily and tossed a coin pouch to her.
"Just for that love, I say you do it."
"Hold on now, I don't trust her! Let's not forget what happened on the Blackjack!" Setzer seemed at wits end. He'd never turned down a bet but this was really too much...
"You can inspect the coin to your liking, master gambler. Although now I think you are chickening out."
That seemed to do it. Setzer only glared and gave a tiny nod, and then reached to grab the pouch from Celes. He took nearly ten minutes to pick out a coin he deemed worthy. He handed the chosen coin to Celes and the pouch to Locke. The two men shook hands.
"Ah ah ah." Locke shook his hand, still smiling. "Not yet." He turned to his wife. "Darling, if you will."
Sometime later they touched down just outside of the bustling city of Tzen. It was almost unrecognizable from the last time Celes had been though. It had expanded and most of the buildings that had been damaged by the Light of Judgment were now gone. Although much of the earth still bore scorch marks, plant life was growing once again. She and Locke walked a short ways behind Setzer as they entered the heart of the city.
"Are you sure it will be all right if we come along?" She asked him. He gave only a noncommittal sound in response.
"Now now, let's not be a sore loser there Setzer." Locke seemed beside himself with happiness. The trio continued on their walk until they came upon a small restaurant. A very tall man stood outside, dressed in faded canvas trousers and a long overcoat. A hat was pulled low over his face, but not so low that they could not see his look of surprise as he registered the sight before him.
"Gabbiani!"The stranger took a step forward. "Is that you? I hardly recognize you."
Setzer sighed and ran his hands through his newly shorn hair. It was roughly the same length as Locke's. "Product of a hastily made bet I am afraid." His hand dropped back to the large bag he had slung near his hip. "Shall we be off?"
The man gestured behind the gambler, his green eyes questioning. "Aren't you going to introduce your friends?"
"Oh yes," he turned behind him. "May I introduce Locke Cole and his lovely wife, too lovely for him in fact, Celes Cole." An unforeseen advantage to Celes marrying Locke had been the changing of her last name. Now few people were able to connect her to the former general of the Empire. "Old friends, they are traveling with me on the Falcon. Locke, Celes, this Miles Garrett. He is the employee of the Magistrate of Tzen."
Miles tipped his hat to Celes. "It's a pleasure, I assure you. However, I can't let you folks come with us. The Magistrate is a private man." He turned back to Setzer, his face serious. "I'm sure you understand."
"Of course!" Setzer turned back to the Coles. "Forgive me, this business should take no more than two hours. Why don't we meet back at the Falcon then?" Without giving them a chance to answer he turned away and walked off with Miles.
Locke watched the pair disappearing down the busy street, his smile gone. The situation still seemed strange to him, and he did not trust the manner of Miles Garrett. As he stared after the two, his wife took hold of his hand.
"Come along dear. Why don't we get some lunch. I haven't had a decent meal since we left Thamasa."
He turned to look at his wife, who was giving him an odd look. He knew when not to argue.
"Of course, love."
Figaro castle was enjoying a blissfully cool day. Edgar Figaro sat in his study, dictating to his personal secretary. It had been a long day, although it was only mid-morning. In his experience, which despite his young age was quite expansive, the king rose with the sun and rested when the moon was well into the sky.
As Edgar was beginning to consider calling for a brief break, his study door opened and his brother entered the room. Sabin was the only person who was allowed to interrupt the king during his work. Without being told, his secretary quietly set his pen and left the room.
"Brother, how may I help you?" Edgar looked to Sabin. The prince seemed upset, a very rare thing.
"Edgar, I apologize for interrupting your work, but I wanted to know if you'd had any messages from Setzer or Locke?"
"Ah." Edgar knew immediately what his brother was upset about. Gau had been due back at the castle two days previously on the Falcon. "I have not. Although I am certain will receive word today, or perhaps early tomorrow. Don't forget Sabin, Celes was with them. She'll keep them on their toes."
"I suppose." Sabin sat across from his brother. "I still worry. You think he is all right?"
Edgar nodded, "He was traveling with those we trust most in the world to Thamasa for a young girl's birthday. A young girl we both know Gau to be quite enamored of. I imagine Gau has convinced the others to stay a bit longer so that he might spend more time in Relm's company."
Sabin laughed lightly. He had been aware of his charge's infatuation with the young woman for some time, perhaps even before Gau himself.
"I'm sure you are right. I only wish I could settle this uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach."
Edgar offered his brother a lighthearted smile. "Brother, I am sure he is fine."
Author's Notes: It's been a few years shy of a decade, why not pick this back up? I've taken down all the previous chapters that have yet to be rewritten. The story is nearly unrecognizable now, although it's following the same path. Hope to hear some feedback if anyone takes the time to read.