Things suddenly slowed down so fast. Like when you've fallen and hit your head and you're left dazed for a few minutes. That was the recovery process by the time reality had snapped back to. I found the earth my head had been resting against to be uncharred. Rather, live with flourished pigments of greens and luscious hues of yellows and violet petals. Some sort of clearing, left in peace by the sounds of tweets and scavenging. Blades of light cut through the canopy above, indicating daytime. Where was I? What time is it? Where was Cid? Lethargic legs pulled me up but I was left addled by a feverish headache. It was chilly here. Drafts of cool wind danced in the glade beside me. I had to find out where I was.
"Ah, glad to see you've regained consciousness." My attention pivoted to meet the stony-carved eyes of a jester. He stared back with a perplexed gaze. "Are you alright?" I hesitated for a moment, but curiosity folded with nervousness into a stuttered remark.
"You... the jester...!" Abruptly he broke out into an affable cackle, the kind that was kindled only uniquely by the same bout shared over brewed ale.
"I am not the being you claim to have seen." He kept laughing for a little longer, which by all means agitated me by no end.
"Shut up!" His laughing lagged a little, and soon it came to an abrupt halt.
"Dear boy." His hands came out in such an innocent gesture. "We've never met before." His mask guised his face, but I saw right through it that he had smiled so coyly the expression could've ripped his cheek bones in two.
"Don't play stupid!" I stood up on command, taken aback by just how befuddled my body still was from before. The attempt to audaciously mark my presence was, for the most part, futile in my current condition. "Answer me you demon!" I reached for my blade, but I found that inconveniently it was vacant from my waist.
"Crude, Veritas. Crude." The jester erected into a tall pose, tossing a scabbard at my feet. Just by the way he had arisen, pushing down on his knees and raising his buttocks from the stump, one could tell he was no novice to this world. He had that sagely aspect to his movements. "If I may suggest, you should consider actually opening your eyes." The mask vicariously smirked in place of his face. "Rayn." He let his arms out, as if to let the world gaze upon his otherworldly garment. But after a few moments, it became apparent. The details began to filter through my head, and I had begun to see the subtle differences that made this joker one different from the sinister one from before. A mellow verdigris fabric embellished his rather frail torso, as opposed to a fiery crimson. The mask he bore had engraved a sneer of cold command, rather than the tears of a ghost. The differences were subtle, and yet they were apparent, even in the voice. The hostile jester had a seemingly agonized voice, in contrast to this one's blithe temperament. "You see? Not the same!" His chortle left me more confused than reassured.
"So... if that's the case then who are you, and who was the other jester from before?" I hadn't realized it but by this time I was leaning against a rather slender maple.
"Well!" He returned gracefully to his seat from before, gaily skipping as such a child in a springtime meadow. I slid down the grainy husk against my back and planted myself on a snug sod patch. "I suppose we should get down to business." I nodded in agreement. There were a lot of questions, and I should start at some the basics. He slid a finger against his chin, reaching for words. "My name is Jade, at your service." Momentarily he stood to take quite the vainglorious bow. "Next question." It felt like there was a lump in my throat, which made annunciation awkward.
"Where am I?" As if offended, Jade's hands planted against his hips.
"You're in Astrub Meadows! Did the whole warped experience evoke amnesia or something?" The insult went right over my head, but it did bring up a whole new set of questions.
"Wait, that's right! What the hell just was that?"
"Was what?" There it was again; that same beaming gesture.
"The whole shenanigan! The vision! The dead soldiers!" I hadn't realized it but I had my arms flailing around trying to help explain myself, which actually just made me look even more of a baffling imbecile.
"Look, look." He tried to calm me down. "You're a bit fuzzled up there. There's a lot of questions that I cannot answer right now. But I can point you off in the right direction." He pointed down a untouched stone pathway through a clearing to what I could see in the distance as the walls of a city. "Cid went that way." Involuntary curiosity forced my body to lean forwards, as if yearning for him to repeat his last utterance. He simpered a bit, tittering.
"I would depart as soon as possible, were I you." Jade muttered. "Cid is currently on his way to the northern gate, where he will encounter two individuals who will recruit him to their expedition. You must join them, before they depart." Inquisitiveness had led me to further inquire.
"Depart where?" The jester had posed motionless for a few moments before snarling a name underneath his breath.
"Goultard's Gorge." And at that very instant, Jade had melted into nothingness in the mere blink of an eye, leaving a depression where he had rested upon the stump. This destination marked the commencing of the most perilous odyssey known to the history of Twelve.