"I swear this is not what I meant when I said I wanted something interesting to happen last night while at dinner!" Sabin exclaimed to Jackson.
"Are you sure about that?" Celes asked as she rose to her feet and walked across the study that had become their regular gathering spot to converse. "I seem to recall a certain monk eager to battle against monsters." A hand found her hip as she looked at him.
Sabin looked away and remained silent for a moment. "You're right," he said quietly. "I need to fight."
"On the contrary Your Highness," Jackson said. "It would not be wise for you to join on the front line at this time."
"But I can't leave Figaro undefended."
"That is far from the truth Your Highness. Figaro's soldiers are still well equipped and well prepared."
Cyan rose from his seat. "If it will ease your mind, I shall go in your place."
Celes glanced at Cyan then looked at Sabin. "As will I."
Sabin nodded. "Very well. Meet with Captain James in the courtyard," Jackson informed them.
Celes and Cyan quickly left the room. "I'll need to retrieve my armor and shield first," Celes said, touching the sword resting on her hip in its sheath. Locke rose from his seat and practically ran after them.
"Locke!" Sabin called out.
Locke shrugged and looked over his shoulder. "What can I say? I'd follow her anywhere." He winked and continued walking. He was halfway out the door when Sabin told him he'd better hurry up to her then.
"How big is this attack?" Setzer asked as he looked out the window.
"Smaller then the first," Jackson answered. "Significantly so according to our scouts."
Sabin looked between Jackson and Setzer, feeling slightly lost as their conversation continued. "And… monsters you say?"
"It would appear that way. So far reported are Grasswyrms, Devoahan, and Cactaurs."
"Cactaurs?" Terra asked. "But I thought they only traveled alone."
"Normally that's true," Strago answered. "But if they're appearing with Grasswyrms, then they're especially acting peculiar." Eyes on the room set on him. "What? If Grasswyrms venture into the desert they prey on Cactaurs."
"I wasn't aware anything ate Cactaurs."
Suddenly Gau jumped out of his seat. His eyes darted frantically around the floor. "There's five."
"Five what, Gau?" Sabin asked.
"Zone Eaters. Beneath us."
Sabin rose and look to Jackson. "Okay, what do we do? What do I do?"
"There are many options. I suspect I will be unable to persuade you to stay inside out of harm's way. But we can go to the balcony above the throne room."
"But… what if those manta rays?" Terra nearly shouted.
Jackson drew a breath to begin an answer, but Gau looked at her with soft eyes and interrupted him. "No… Sky safe."
Setzer glanced from the window. "Doesn't look like anything's off in the horizon."
Jackson nodded. "Our scouts informed us that none have been located as part of this enemy squad. Should we sight them, I assure you Lady Terra, there are many windowless rooms hidden away in that area of the castle. I will keep your prince safe." Terra blushed, recognizing her outburst as unnecessary. She was too embarrassed by it to look Sabin in the eye.
Gau darted across the room and knelt in front of Terra. His hands suddenly reached up and grasped her shoulders. She looked at him, her widened eyes staring at the teenager. A wild grin she recognized cross his face. "Gau… I will protect Mr. Thou!"
Terra couldn't help but smile as she heard Sabin sigh. She put her hands on Gau's wrists and paused for a moment with the realization of how much bigger his hands were then hers now. "Okay Gau. But you be safe too."
Just as quickly, Gau moved away from her and stood next to Sabin who was already addressing Strago. "Would you be willing to come with us? We could use your knowledge."
Strago exhaled audibly through his nose. "Hmph, now I'm just an old man. You'd put me in harm's way?" Silence fell across the room momentarily before he laughed. "Besides, my knowledge is limited to normal monster behavior. Someone who knows more how monsters think and understand their instincts may help you a bit more, but surely, I'm just an old man rambling."
"Yeah, yeah," Sabin answered. "Use the old man excuse now."
"Well I'm certainly the only one qualified here to use it, now aren't I?" Strago replied and settled more into his seat while Setzer bit his lip.
"Well," Jackson said with a small grin. "I believe that is settled. Shall we?"
"Yeah," Sabin answered. He looked to Setzer. "You'll take care of them for me?"
"With a sword in her hand, anything should be more afraid of Terra then me," Setzer answered as he leaned back against the wall, spying out the window again.
"True," Sabin said with a smile. "Let's go then." Jackson held his arm towards the door, allowing Sabin and Gau to exit before nodding to take his leave.
They walked quickly through the castle and while there was a small buzz of adrenaline that could be picked up on through the maids gossiping, little else seemed different in the castle. It surprised Sabin slightly and he wasn't entirely sure why. Maybe he expected the castle to shake, but unless the Zone Eaters acted up, that wasn't likely to happen. Was an alarm supposed to be going off throughout the castle? Should he be worried there wasn't a little bit more chaos?
Before Jackson and Sabin had even finished climbing the last few stairs to the highest balcony, Gau had already bounced across the balcony.
"They're coming from the south," Jackson said to Sabin, motioning to the south side of the castle. Gau perched himself on the narrow lip of the balcony, crouching low.
"Okay," Sabin answered as he placed his hands on the balcony lip and leaned on them. "Where are they?"
"Here in a couple minutes," Gau answered without looking at him.
"Fair enough," Sabin said as he shifted his weight slightly. He glanced at Gau who was hyper focused on the horizon. Then he looked to Jackson who was watching the Castle's guard closely. It made him feel incredibly uncomfortable again - a feeling that had been following him since he and Terra arrived. He couldn't help but wonder when that feeling would finally leave. Did Edgar ever feel this way? Had Dad felt this way when he first took the throne?
What Sabin wouldn't give for Edgar to give him advice in that quiet, calm tone of voice that indicated he was being serious. He wanted to hear Mom assure him that she believed in him. Dad's wise words of wisdom would be helpful right now. Feeling completely lost, Sabin looked to the last man who could give him guidance right then. "Jackson," he said quietly, all formalities lost from his voice. "Really, where do I go from here?"
Jackson put his hand on Sabin's shoulder and without a beat began speaking in a directive tone that was comforting all in its own way.
"Hey! Hey look! It's Sabin and Gau!" Locke shouted as he pointed to highest balcony and waved. "It's weird not having them down here with us."
"It's weird just imagining Sabin as a king," Celes said.
"How unfortunate a man with his abilities and talents be coerced into staying back," Cyan added without looking at either Celes to his left or Locke walking backwards in front of them.
"True," Celes answered. "But you surely see why."
"All too well."
"Fifty gold pieces says he'll come down and join the fight," Locke said with a grin. Silence fell between the three of them. "C'mon. No one?"
Celes glanced over her shoulder up to the balcony. "Not this battle. This is too insignificant of a battle at this point." Her eyes moved to the regiment of soldiers behind them. "Although it may just be the three of us at this rate." Locke caught the icy glare towards the soldiers that were trailing behind them. "Haven't they been training in the sand? Pray tell, how are we moving faster then them?"
Cyan drew his katana. "They approach."
Celes looked forward again and drew her long sword. "That they do." Locke turned around and fell behind Celes and Cyan, holding a boomerang in his right hand and a dagger in his left.
"Man, it's been so long since I've seen monsters like this," Locke said with a grin.
"It has," Cyan agreed.
Celes sighed. "He's attempting to be funny Cyan. We were out clearing fields no more then a month ago."
"That makes my joke less funny," Locke grumbled.
Celes suddenly looked back and yelled at the soldiers. "They're approaching. You boys going to pick up the pace or just watch?" She let her stare linger on the unit leader for a moment longer before sharply snapping her head forward. A smile crossed her face as she heard the leader of the unit begin barking out orders.
A group of 5 Grasswyrms was the first to be seen. "Archers!" The commanding officer shouted. "Ready!" The sound of six crossbows loading was heard, but Locke didn't hear it as he focused. It had been a while, but a well placed shot could knock these things out of the sky and into the sand where they'd be far more vulnerable.
"Shoot for the wings!" Celes ordered.
Locke grinned upon hearing Celes' order. There was something in the tone of her voice that made adrenaline rush through his system. Instincts kicked in and just as the commanding officer signaled for the archers to fire, Locke threw his boomerang with such an incredible force that the sound of it cracking against the carapace echoed over the desert. While it began its descent, Celes ran to where it would fall. It kicked up sand when it landed. She looked away for a moment but stomped and twisted on one of its wings in hopes of keeping it in shock for another moment longer while she stabbed into its shell. It made a sickening hiss and twitched as it quickly died.
The archers released their arrows into the air. Celes watched two more of the Grasswyrms fall to the sand. She turned her head down in an attempt to protect her eyes from the sand that flew through the air. When she looked up she saw Cyan already onto the second Grasswyrm. Locke moved further out into the desert, watching the last two Grasswyrms in the sky. Celes looked over her shoulder to the soldiers. The archers were reloading and re-aiming their crossbows, but the soldiers with close ranged weapons seemed to be hesitating. "Aim and fire!" Celes yelled sharply. "The rest advance after the next round is fired!" Celes spun her head back and watched Locke run backwards. He ducked around, dodging an attack from one of the Grasswyrm's wings. The other let out a shrill yell, which made Celes hesitate in her step for a moment. She knew she had to keep her focus else the cry could make her lose her wits.
Celes stabbed her sword into the third Grasswyrm and pulled it down the length of its body with a yell, though it seemed to be barely moving from the arrows in it. She grimaced as some of its green guts splattered into the air. Though she dared not look, Celes was pretty sure some of it landed in her hair.
"Celes! Watch out!"
Her head snapped up when she heard Locke call for her but her eyes immediately noticed that a few Cactaurs made their appearance on the field. And then she recognized the tell-tale sign of -
"Son of a -" Celes cursed as she dropped to one knee and held her kite shield in front of her. She braced herself and steadied her breathing, but it still startled her when she heard the first ping against the shield.
It had been a long time since she had to hold a shield and endure this many hits, but it was better then getting hit by the thin needles. Too many hours had been spent pulling the needles out. They never managed to dig deep, but Celes had seen someone even as gargantuan as Sabin succumb to the sheer number of them. Above the pings on her shield she heard a pained yell. She couldn't tell entirely who it was from and she dared not try to look past her shield.
The pings finally stopped but by that point Celes's ears rang and her left arm ached from the vibrations. She wasn't sure how long she spent trying to recover, but Locke came over and helped her up. "You okay?" He asked, pulling something from her hair.
"Better than if you hadn't warned me."
"And better than at least one of the soldiers."
"Unfortunate. Have we checked on him yet?" Celes asked as she walked slowly just to get herself moving and the adrenaline flowing again.
"They've pulled him to the side. Another two couldn't hold their own to the Grasswyrm's shriek."
"And I see Cyan's doing quite well taking out the Cactaurs. On his own."
Together they looked out to Cyan. He clutched his katana with both hands and moved so quickly between the three Cactaurs that Celes and Locke could barely keep up. Cyan sliced through one with an upward slice, then moved to another with a clean horizontal cut. Each attack was accompanied by a loud but short yell that echoed across the desert. He stopped in the center of the three and snapped his wrists. As a pale liquid jumped off his blade, the three Cactaurs fell apart into small chunks and fell into piles on the sand.
"He likes to show off," Locke said. Celes didn't respond as she forced her legs to run towards the last Cactaur on the field. While it was mildly comical to watch a berserked soldier repeatedly attack and subsequently miss the Cactaur, she figured she should help before it got too upset and launched its needles.
While she was approaching the Cactaur, she noticed the Devoahan moving onto the immediate battlefield. There was still one Grasswyrm being a general nuisance, but it looked like Locke was moving in on it. The second berserked soldier was rushing towards the incoming beasts. It seemed like finally the soldier unit was focused and took off towards the Devoahan.
Celes got behind the Cactaur, but as she swung her sword, it disappeared into the sand beneath them. The still berserked soldier swung wildly again, but it was sloppy enough for Celes to hold her shield up and take the attack. "Stand down soldier!" She ordered. When it was obvious he wasn't going to, she knocked him to the sand with her shield.
Celes felt the sand at her heels move just slightly. She whipped around and brought her sword down, which the Cactaur dodged again. She used her own momentum from the first swing to step forward and impale the monster on her sword. The Cactaur let out a small shriek and slumped over. Celes pulled her sword out swiftly. She didn't watch it fall to the sand though as she just as quickly turned back to the soldier she knocked down. Upon seeing his eyes shut, she sheathed her sword and knelt near him. "Can you hear me?" She asked him grabbed his arm.
"Yeah…" The soldier mumbled, moving his head a little.
"Then open your eyes." After a moment of no response, Celes squeezed his arm, attempting to wake him without jostling his head in case of a severe injury. "Open your eyes. That's an order soldier."
The soldier opened his eyes, but then quickly narrowed them while they adjusted to the sun.
"Tell me your name."
The soldier's eyes focused on Celes. "Laurence, Sir."
"Laurence, the battle is not finished and we must press on. Can you join us?"
Laurence gave Celes a worn smile, knowing it was not a question but an order. "To fight alongside you would be an honor, Sir."
"Then for Figaro we fight," Celes said as she rose and extended her right hand to him. When Laurence reached up, she grabbed onto his wrist and helped the dazed soldier up. While he regained his balance, her attention moved to assess the current situation of the battle. All the Grasswyrms were now accounted for and she had taken care of the last Cactaur herself. That left only the Devoahan left in the field. Celes wasn't sure how many came into the area, but from what she could see there were five left.
One of which Locke had just grabbed by the horns and swung himself onto its back. "Almighty Heaven," Celes sighed. "With me soldier!" She commanded as she drew her sword again. She did not need to look back to know that Laurence caught up and moved alongside her.
Locke yelled out and Celes knew he was clearly enjoying himself in the ridiculous situation of riding a Devoahan. Suddenly it bucked but Locke stabbed his knife into the back of its neck and clung on that way. While the beast was focused on Locke, Celes forced her sword into its skull. It let out a cry and attempted to buck one more time, but fell lifelessly. Locke pulled his knife out and jumped down, the sand taking the impact. "You're ruining my fun again," he whined.
Celes put her foot on the dead Devoahan's head and grit her teeth as she yanked her sword out. "I know. My poor dear." Locke gave her a quick smile and winked.
Celes heard a small cheer and the groan of one Devoahan after another. She wasn't sure if the monsters managed to knock any of the soldiers out, but at the very least, they had bested two more.
The small battle ended shortly after that. It didn't take many more hits to take down the last two.
"You are unharmed, I hope?" Cyan asked as he approached Celes and Locke.
"I fear my shield is in desperate need to attention, but I am uninjured. Though I do not believe the soldiers are able to say the same," Celes answered.
"And you?" Cyan asked, looking to Locke.
"Yeah I'm good," he answered while looked away, watching the unit deal with their one berserked soldier and three severely injured soldiers. "I think they might need help," Locke said.
"I think they need better training and better focus," Celes answered before turned and heading back towards the castle.
"If you don't stop fretting you'll start going white like me," Strago said in a mildly scolding voice.
The hem of her dress continued to sway even as Terra stopped near one of the bookcases in the room. She dropped her hands by her side, clenching them still. "I know," she answered. However, the room remained quiet for a moment too long and Terra continued to pace.
Setzer leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. 'Terra, I haven't seen you this worked up in years. This is only a handful of monsters. You think with Celes and Cyan on the field they'll even make it to the castle gates?"
"No, I… No, Setzer, I know," Terra's hands flailed slightly, mimicking the pent up frustration in her voice. Setzer and Strago watched her carefully. "I… I just don't know what to do. I came here and left what's been my home. I worry about those kids, but how could I just leave Sabin…" Terra sat back down on the couch and clutched her knees, leaving her question unfinished.
"And now dear, you finally understand all the facets of love," Strago said quietly.
"Is that what this is?" Terra stared at the rug, as though it might provide valuable insight to her.
A hand slid into Setzer's pocket. "Losing it's even worse," he said distantly.
"The fear of losing it too…" Terra closed her eyes for a moment. "I've faced hundreds of soldiers in combat. We've been at odds against some unbelievable powers. But I've never been as frightened as I am now," she confessed.
Strago leaned back in his chair. "And you'll need to find a way to overcome it, the same as you've had to do with every other challenge you've faced in your life." He continued before she had a chance to possibly say anything. "And you've certainly had plenty of times since that crown was removed to do so."
Terra inhaled slowly. "You're right."
The room remained silent for a while, but Terra didn't notice since she was too lost in her thoughts. Facing an unknown battle was one thing. She knew her strengths and weaknesses in battle and how to adapt battle strategies to any fight. It had even been helpful when first learning how to discipline the children. At first she tried to approach it in the only way she had been disciplined, in a strict way from the Empire's military. Once Katarin recovered from her injuries from that day, Terra found that she was a fantastic guide on teaching the younger children.
Advice. Guidance. Terra was sure she was in terrible need for it again. As much as she trusted Strago and Setzer, she wasn't sure they were the best for this advice.
A short while later, Cyan came through the door and announced their victory on the battlefield. Terra was still deeply lost in her thought and barely realized that she had excused herself from the room. Even though Cyan would have been a good person to ask advice on her dilemma, she found herself walking to the Castle's temple. She remembered that Figaro burned their dead friends and family to allow their spirits to be free. Edgar would be a wonderful person to get advice from now. She'd even love to ask Sabin's mother what she thought.
Terra quietly stepped into one of the rows of the temple and sat. She closed her eyes and brought her hands into her lap, clasping them gently as she had seen Sabin do. From there, Terra wasn't quite sure what to do. Was there something special she was supposed to say? Should she ask aloud or keep it to herself? Terra felt suddenly more lost in the temple than she had in the study.
But she stayed, in hopes that she might hear advice from Sabin's family. Maybe she was going crazy. But if Sabin believed it, it was worth a shot.
Terra remained in her thoughts for an hour or so. She only realized she had been there that long when a large figure sat down next to her. "I didn't think to find you here," Sabin confessed.
Terra looked to her right, her eyes startling up. Sabin smiled at her expression, a mix between a child caught somewhere she shouldn't and happy to see him. "I… I'm sorry," she stuttered out.
"Sorry? Don't be silly," he answered. "I'm just surprised and wondering why you're here."
"I…" Terra began but wasn't quite sure where to continue. Saying nothing wasn't an option. "I was trying to ask your family for advice," she confessed. "I feel so lost."
Sabin wrapped one arm around her and clasped his hands over hers. "I was going to do the same," he said. As he pressed his lips against the crown of her head, Sabin realized just how grateful he was for her innocent honesty. It was one of the things he had always liked. Frustrating as the day might have been, he found great peace in that little fact.