Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters likely belong to Square Enix, as I do not plan on including anyone else's characters, though I'll be sure to note if I do
"Clint! Wait!" cried the little black haired boy as he stumbled over rocks and twigs, ducking under the fresh branches of the forest that, after more than two years, was finally coming back to life. "Mama said you're not supposed to leave me behind!"
"Well, hurry up!" cried the other boy, Clint, whose longer legs and ability to brush the spindly branches aside carried him faster. "I want to know what that light was." He slowed to a stop and waited for the younger boy to catch up.
"B-but what if it's a monster or…or…" He glanced from side to side and whispered, "Kefka?" as if being overheard would somehow make the murderous harlequin leap from the brush.
Clint gave the boy a stern look. "Danny. You know Kefka's gone. He can't do anything else to us or anyone else. Mama and her friends made sure of that."
"Yeah, but—" Danny protested.
"No buts!" He grabbed the boy by the wrist and pulled him forward, so as to be sure he didn't fall behind again.
"But Mama said—Oh, Clint, what is that?" he squeaked, digging his heels into the dirt and refusing to move another inch.
Clint squinted at the form lying ahead of them on the forest floor. It was hard to make out exactly what he was looking at, for it looked like little more than a mangled mass of hair, cloth, and blood. He pried Danny's hands from his shirt and crept forward for a better look.
"I…think it's a person," he said, though his voice revealed his uncertainty. He stuck his foot out and bumped the mass with his toe. It groaned, and he leapt back with a yelp. "Uh…uh…MAMA!" He turned and sped past Danny, tearing through the woods to get back to town.
"H-hey, wait! Mama!" Danny squealed, following Clint's lead.
As the boys fled, the man they'd left behind twitched. Though he'd been conscious, his pain had put him into a stupor that he'd only just come out of at the sound of their voices, though he'd found it hard to understand what they were saying. All he could determine is that they sounded frightened and were moving away from him, a wise action.
Clint threw the door open so violently that it slammed into the wall, frightening the group of children and the pair of young women sitting in the kitchen.
"Mama! Mama!" he gasped, doubling over in the doorway to catch his breath. "There's a—AHK!" Danny slammed into Clint from behind, sending them both tumbling forward.
"Goodness!" the older of the two women, Terra, cried, dropping her ladle into the pot of stew that stood on the stove and hurrying to the boys. She lifted Danny by his arms and set him to the side before helping Clint right himself. "What's wrong?"
"Flash…flash of light…went to investigate…"
"Okay, breathe first, and then tell me."
Clint took a few deep breaths, then said quickly, "There was a flash of light in the wood so we went to go check it out and we found some guy laying on the ground and he's all bloody and I thought he was dead but then I kicked him and he ground and then we ran and now we're here."
Terra stared at him a moment, his jumbled words taking a bit longer to register in her brain. "There's a…Oh!" She hopped to her feet, untying her apron and throwing it on a hook by the door. "Katarin, take the stew off and boil some water."
The other woman nodded, placing the infant she held into a crib the stood nearby and setting to work on Terra's request.
"Danny," Terra continued, stepping to a chest of drawers and pulling out the topmost one. "You go find Duane and then come find Clint and me." She reached into the draw and withdrew a roll of bandages. "And you, Clint, take me to him."
Danny scurried out the door ahead of them, taking off in the direction of the newly planted garden rather than the forest.
"What were you even doing in the forest?" Terra asked Clint as she jogged behind him.
"Uh…I already told you," he said nervously. "Investigating."
"How many times have I told you that—"
"—It's dangerous! I know. Can we worry about this later?"
Terra was startled by his biting tone. Clint had been getting more irritable over the past few months. But Katarin had told her this was normal, that all boys act like that when they go through puberty. Even so, it still concerned Terra. Perhaps she just wanted him to stay a little boy forever. Ah, well, she'd best get used to it, for Nick, Matt, and Danny would be going through the same phase in due time.
They entered the forest. Clint charged through just as roughly as he had before, a contrast to Terra's careful avoidance of the smaller saplings.
After several minutes, Clint called out, "He's over here!" He circled around the fallen man and crouched next to him, looking up at Terra as she sunk to the ground opposite him.
"What could have happened to him?" Clint asked her.
"Clearly, he was attacked by something." She glanced up at the boy. "Because the world is still very dangerous."
"Feh," was all the boy said.
"What I want to know is," Terra said, carefully lifting a scrap of white fabric, the remains of a sleeve, to get a better look, "is where he came from."
The man's clothing was rather tattered from his ordeal, but Terra could still tell it was like nothing she'd ever seen before. She'd once traveled the world, and she'd seen the variations in clothing styles in different regions, but never before had she seen something such as this.
She unrolled a length of bandaging, tore it off with her teeth, and handed to Clint. "Find the worst of his wounds," she instructed. "We patch him up as best we can here, then we'll do it properly back at the house." She unrolled a bandage to use herself and set to work binding a gash in the man's thigh. She'd learned much about treating wounds in the year since magic had disappeared from the world, and now would be the test of her skills.
With his leg taken care of, she moved to his torso. A large swath of fabric that seemed as though it would normally hang from his hips had wrapped itself around his middle and been soaked in blood. She carefully peeled back the cloth, gasping at the slash across his ribs.
"Got it." Clint grabbed the man by the shoulders and, with a bit of difficulty, pulled him forward to allow Terra to bandage his ribs.
The man moaned. He'd slipped back into stupor not long before, but was being roused once again, this time certain that he was moving, but why?
"Are you awake?" Terra asked him, pausing in her wrapping but briefly.
The man didn't answer, though that could mean either that he simply wasn't, or that he was unable to speak. Terra had leaned across him to pass the bandage behind his back once more when she felt something furry snake around her ankle. She squeaked in surprise and snapped her head to the side to see just what had wrapped itself around her leg. She knit her brows together and cocked her head at the serpentine creature she saw, covered in fur of the same white-lavender color on the man's head.
"Uh…nothing," Terra lied, even as her eyes followed the creature's length to the man's body, where it disappeared beneath him. Was it some kind of pet or some kind of appendage? She shook her head lightly, deciding not to worry herself with it at the moment.
Rocks and twigs crunched nearby, and the young man Terra had been waiting for emerged between the trees, Danny clutching his hand.
"What's going on? Duane asked. He took one look at the scene before him and stepped back, eyes wide. "Wha—Danny! Why didn't you tell me?"
Danny just made a few incoherent noises. It seemed the child was too frightened to form words anymore.
"I need you to help me get him back to the house." She pushed the man's hair from his face and froze, momentarily stuck dumb but how, even in his current state, how shockingly beautiful this strange man was.
"Uh, right!" Duane nodded and stepped over the man.
Clint scrambled out of the way, and Terra helped Duane pull the man onto his back, watching the strange appendage swing limply and disappear behind tattered garments. The man groaned again.
"I'm sorry," Terra said gently, leaning close to his ear. "You'll get to rest soon."
'Rest?' The man wondered vaguely if the voice he'd just hear was that of some kind of otherworldly spirit promising that death would finally take him. He couldn't be sure; he'd been unable to discern what was real and what was only happening in his head for some time now.
"Be careful with him," Terra said, walking ahead of Duane to push branches and brush out of Duane's path. "He's in horrible shape."
"Don't worry, Terra, I've got him. Don't give me at look." He smiled at her, trying to ease her frown. "We're all going to help out. This guy's gonna make it."
While Terra did worry for the man's survival, that was not why she frowned. For a brief moment, she'd sensed something from the man. Duane failed to notice it, for it was not something he'd once lived with his entire life. As impossible as it was, she was certain she'd sensed magic.