A/N: Again, very sorry for the delay, but I've been cooped up with pre-exam results release stress, uni preparation etc.
Disclaimer: I don't own FFVI.
When the party arrived in Doma, the weather was beautiful. The sky was an inviting blue and the hills, peppered with stones and blocks of building wood, were a rich green. To Edgar, who had sealed himself away in his desert castle for years, the sight was a refreshing one. It reminded him that, all around, people were still rebuilding their lives. Even if Figaro were to fall, people will build again, he thought. Similar thoughts had allowed him to cling to the hope that people would still thrive in Kefka's ruined world, but now they were unsettling.
"I could just lie down here and cloud-gaze all day," Locke sighed happily.
"Don't you get this kind of scenery in Kohlingen?" Setzer asked.
"Only the construction work bits."
"Don't relax just yet, Locke," Celes said. "Our mission still isn't complete."
"Oh, yes. Mission. Righty-ho, let's go," Locke said, springing to his feet. Celes was still on edge from her tactical slip-up in Figaro. Although no one talked about it, everyone felt the angry aura radiating from her being. No one wanted to stoke the flames further.
They made the short walk from the airship to Doma, which had expanded to encompass a medium-sized village. In the marketplace, a boy ran straight into Sabin.
"Run, run! Can't you see that Figaro's burning down?" he shouted, completely unaware of the man he'd collided into. Ducking and rolling sharply to the right, the boy ran into an alley. A group of street urchins followed him with excited cries.
"They're just playing," Locke said. But Edgar felt uncomfortable nonetheless.
Walking on, the well-defined pavements slowly tapered off into a marsh.
"Just keep going straight and you'll get there. They don't have proper roads so invaders can't find the stronghold easily," a woman said when they asked for directions.
"What invaders would Doma have to worry about? These are times of peace," Setzer said. But the woman rushed off without another word. The gambler sighed. "Well, thank goodness I didn't fly the airship into this marsh."
"It's strange how they used the word 'stronghold' instead of 'castle'. You'd think that the Domans are still fighting," Edgar observed.
"Maybe they are, but they don't want outsiders to know," Celes said. "In any case, we can ask Cyan when we see him."
The party slogged its way through the marsh, but the going was tough. By the time they reached the castle, everyone was muddy and tired. At the castle gates, two sentries approached them.
"What is your business here?"
Edgar straightened himself. "I am King Edgar of Figaro, and I request an audience with your king." He flashed the sentries a badge to prove his identity.
"And these people…?"
"They are my companions," Edgar said.
"King Cyan is out at the moment, but if you will be so kind as to wait…"
"That is no problem," Edgar replied. One sentry escorted the group into the throne room. Compared to Figaro's throne room, this throne room was small. Although brightly-coloured rugs and glittering chandeliers had been put in place to make the throne room more welcoming, the coldness emanating from the stone walls dampened the effect.
"When will King Cyan return?" Edgar asked.
"He will return in due course," the sentry eyed the guests, hesitating. "Would Your Highness like to take a bath in the meantime?"
Sabin roared and Edgar smiled; it was clear that they both liked this bold, brazen sentry. "Yes, a bath – for all of us – would be lovely," the king of Figaro said.
"I am sorry to keep you all waiting," Cyan's familiar, deep voice rumbled, and the party turned to see him enter. He was still the same Cyan from before, but with extra creases on his forehead. His eyebrows, originally furrowed into a natural frown, had now lengthened, shadowing his eyes.
"It's been a long time, Cyan," Sabin said. "You look…tired."
Cyan nodded. "We've been having trouble with Paladeo lately."
At mention of the mysterious kingdom Edgar jumped. "You know about Paladeo?"
"Everybody does," Cyan gave Edgar a strange look. "It's a recently established kingdom to the east."
Somehow, they were closer to their goal than they thought. "Paladeo lies to the east?" Celes asked.
"Yes. They call themselves a kingdom, but really they are just a small village," Cyan said. "Even so, there have been uprisings daily, and the villagers are discontent with us."
There was a short silence as everyone digested the information. "I don't think I'm the only one who's confused. Paladeo, even as a poor village, wants independence?" Sabin questioned.
"Thou hast stated the situation correctly," Cyan said.
"And I thought you'd corrected your manner of speech," Sabin groaned, as Gau happily began a series of 'Thou's.
"Cyan, speak honestly. Did you take Paladeo forcibly?" Celes asked.
"Guard your tongue, woman!" A guard barked, but Cyan silenced him with a look. Celes' hand hovered ominously over the hilt of her sword.
"Paladeo established itself independently of us, but they were having a hard time doing so because of the evil monsters that still lurk about. As the King of Doma, I could not stand to see them suffer. At the first request from the village elder, I dispatched troops and weapons to Paladeo for military protection. That was five years ago. But somehow, the situation has not improved, and suddenly the people are accusing us of forcibly occupying their land," Cyan's brows furrowed. "They want to force us out…"
"But they have nothing to offer you, so why don't you withdraw your troops?" Celes continued, pushing a little further.
"On the contrary, General Celes, they have something we desperately need that they now refuse to give," Cyan said. "Supplies."
"They offered us supplies in exchange for military protection. The land to the east is fertile, but there are many evil monsters out there."
"So where did the Paladeans come from? Surely they didn't just spring out of nowhere," Locke said.
"According to the village people, a straggling group of soldiers from a destroyed empire managed to fight off the monsters and settle down, and they laid down the foundation of the village there. The people you see there now are mostly the descendants; the soldiers themselves have disappeared altogether. I could not find a trace of them."
"This sounds fishy…a group of legendary soldiers creates a kingdom and then disappears, leaving their legacy of descendants behind? It sounds like something that happens over thousands of years, not five!" Edgar exclaimed.
"You forget, King Edgar, that we are talking about a village and not a kingdom. What is thy business with Paladeo?" Cyan turned to the King of Figaro. "Thou showst a great interest in the village."
Edgar hastily narrated his tale up to the point of Terra's capture. When he had finished, Cyan rubbed his temples wearily.
"So that is the true situation. King Edgar, my original intention in inviting thee to Doma was to persuade thee to withdraw thy troops from South Figaro and put aside thy military plans, but it seems that we face something much more sinister and underhanded in nature."
"Rumours do spread like wildfire, true and false alike," Edgar managed a tight smile."But King Cyan, if it is not too much trouble, I implore you to take us to Paladeo. I want to see the village that causes our kingdoms so much trouble."
Cyan made a doubtful noise in his throat. "It is hard to believe that such a small village could extend beyond borders and trouble a large, powerful kingdom such as Figaro," he said. "Relations between us are unstable at the moment, therefore, I may only take you to the outskirts of the village. You will have to enter yourselves, as they will recognize me and my guards all too easily."
"We are much obliged –" Edgar began, before correcting himself. "Thank you, Cyan. Let us leave before dawn then." The King of Figaro rose, bowed to his Doman counterpart, and thus brought the discussion to an end.
Edgar's skin prickled under the hot sun, and he glared at a stall selling ratty blankets and worn out leather shoes. Under his cloak he fingered his auto-crossbow. Where were the impersonators? This village was full of old geezers, squawking women and bawling children, not rebellious young men! A young girl dressed in rags approached the king, her hand outstretched. Edgar pressed fifty gil into her sweaty palm with one hand. With his other hand, he pulled her close.
"You have a family?" He asked.
"I live with my mother and younger brother. My papa left for the land of the heroes," she answered firmly.
"And where is the land of the heroes?"
"To the north." Edgar released the girl, and she scampered off. Locke, who had been listening from a nearby stall, shook himself free of a gaggle of giggling women and approached the king.
"The land of the heroes?"
Edgar shook his head. "Trees line the northern border. There is no land to the north. At least, not where a large army of soldiers could hide."
"But there's land beyond," Locke said. "Maybe the 'land of heroes' is there."
"So you're saying the able-bodied men of this land just upped and left their families for even more barren, hostile land?" Edgar retorted. "What is the use of that?"
Before Locke could reply, there was an explosion, followed by loud cries.
"The sound came from the village square. Let's hurry!" Locke said. Both king and thief ducked and dodged dexterously through the crowd, both hoping in their hearts that their comrades were not involved in the drama to follow. But a surprise was waiting for them in the village square.
"King Edgar!" a triumphant voice cried. Locke stopped but Edgar stumbled on, knowing that stopping meant acknowledging who he was.
"King Edgar! Why do you run so? Do you want the world to see you are a coward?" There was laughter, and the king knew there was no way out. He slowed down and turned to face his caller. It was an old man with unnaturally large eyes and a wicked grin. He wore a dark green robe that strained to contain his bulging stomach, and on his left wrist he wore several gold bangles. His bloated neck was choked with ruby and emerald necklaces.
"Forgive me, I did not hear you the first time." Edgar was pushed from behind until he stood on the platform beside the old man. He was now in front of the smoking cannon. If it were to go off again, he would be blasted to bits.
"So the king of Figaro is deaf!" There was more laughter. "Deaf to the cries of the forsaken."
"There are women and children in this village who have only the rags on their backs to call their own," Edgar said. "While you, with your fine attire and extravagant jewelry, feast every night in your house and spend wantonly. Think! Who exactly is forsaking whom?" The old man's face went pale, and his lips quivered with anger. He looked about at his audience.
"Listen to this self-righteous fool! We are the people of Paladeo! Five years ago our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers battled monsters and fought the soil to build this kingdom. Today we still battle monsters and fight the soil for our livelihoods. We battled however we could to survive…and here is the mighty King Edgar of Figaro, who is about to hand us over to Cyan of Doma on the grounds that there is no hope left for us! Why would he do that? Because he abandoned us. Isn't that right? "
The crowd shifted uncomfortably and made no response. The elder, seeing his appeal had no effect, gave a signal, and an army of guards wielding clubs collected from the shadows of the streets and poured into the village square, beating and abusing anyone they came into contact with. Edgar watched the scene with horror. He looked at the elder, who was looking back at him with expectantly.
"Stop this right now!" He shouted. "What good do you think you're doing by torturing these people into accepting your twisted ideas?"
The elder gave a signal to stop the guards, but did not respond to Edgar's question. The crowd gathered slowly about the platform again, supporting their injured.
"Isn't that right?" The elder exclaimed once more. A guard started the cheer, and the crowd slowly followed suit. It was a pathetic cry at most, but the elder seemed satisfied with it.
"And now, for the survival of our village and the good of all, we must kill this king! Hold him still!" Two guards pinned Edgar at the sides and forced him to face the cannon. The king struggled, but his efforts were futile.
"Release me!" He shouted.
"Fire the cannon!" The elder shouted. "Where is the cannoneer?" He demanded.
Hushed whispers broke out amongst the crowd; nobody had seen the cannoneer, as everyone had been busy scrambling to protect their lives in the guard assault.
"He comes!" A voice suddenly announced, and a figure made its way through the crowd and onto the platform. Edgar glared at the elder.
"You won't get away with this," he said firmly, trying to still his shaking hands.
"Light the cannon, you big buffoon! We haven't got all day." The elder snapped. "I want to hear him scream as he's blasted to smithereens!"
"But village elder, I don't know how to operate the cannon."
"How can you not know, Ranon? You've been the chief cannoneer for years, how can you –" he whipped around, saw that Ranon was not at the cannon, and paled for the second time in five minutes.
"Sorry, I'm not Ranon," Sabin grinned, and performed a series of punches.
The village elder screamed as the cannon exploded into thousands of fragments, littering the confused crowd with debris and chunks of metal. The guards fell away from Edgar as they tried to restore order. The king heard Locke's whistle from the crowd and leapt off the platform, heart racing from the close encounter with death.
"Quick, back to the airship! Cyan and Setzer are waiting for us there."
"Where are Celes and Sabin?" The general had also been in the village, but was nowhere to be seen in the village square. Sabin had disappeared into the chaos.
"They'll be fine," Locke said, gritting his teeth. "Come on, this way!"
They turned into a narrow street and were halfway down it when a guard suddenly stepped across their path, blocking their way. A shadow from behind told them that they had been surrounded. Edgar whipped around, auto-crossbow in hand, and turned to face the guard behind. Then his gaze fell on the contraption in the guard's hand, and a flash of fear shot through him.
"I wouldn't shoot that if I were you; if you shoot, we all. Go. Boom." The guard grinned and pointed at the bomb. "And you wouldn't want that, would you, King Edgar?"
To Edgar, it wouldn't have mattered if he died. But with Figaro in danger, he couldn't afford to lose his life here, or now. The guard inched closer. "Why don't you drop your weapon and turn yourself over – "
"Only the guard you're facing has a bomb," Locke muttered over his shoulder. "We should target him first."
Edgar didn't need to be told twice. He shot the guard in the foot, causing him to drop the bomb in surprise. The second guard lunged, but was brought to the ground with a kick to the head. It was the young beggar girl. Crouching down by the bomb, Edgar disarmed it quickly with dexterous fingers.
"This way," she said, nodding to the two men. "We haven't got any time to lose!"
Edgar stepped forward. "How do I know to trust you? You're probably the one who handed me over to the village elder, for all I know."
The girl turned her back. "Suit yourself, but just know that this village is better defended against invaders than you think." She ran off into another alleyway.
Locke grinned. "She sounds like Celes. Let's follow her, what's the worst that can happen? We know how to get back to the airship anyways."
Locke and Edgar followed the girl without much further action, and in due course they arrived at village border. Beyond the trees was the Falcon.
"Your friends are waiting for you," she said. Edgar turned to the girl.
"Thank you," he said. "Will they know you helped us out?"
She shook her head.
"Come with us," Edgar said. "You deserve to live in a better place."
"And leave my mother and brother? No way," she said.
Edgar hesitated. "Then just know that I had no intention of hurting you, or your village. And that King Cyan has no intention of invading Paladeo."
The girl nodded impatiently. "I know all that, we all do. Some just don't want to believe it, that's all." Then, "Will you really go to the land of the heroes?"
Edgar nodded, and the girl laughed shrilly, a hysteric look in her eyes.
"The land of the heroes is what it is. Non-heroes will only wither and die in that land. But if you are a hero," the girl looked into the king's eyes. "Please, please, please…bring my father back."
A horn blasted through the village, snapping the trio back to reality. "Time is running out, you should go," the girl said. "I must return to my family." She leapt nimbly over a pile of rubble and blew a kiss in the king's direction. "Goodbye."
Back on the Falcon Locke nudged Edgar. "For the first time ever, you won a girl's heart without being an arrogant sod. Think that one over now!" Edgar scowled at his friend, but it was hard to stay serious.
"I wasn't trying to flirt with her!"
"Oh yeah, of course you weren't," Locke snickered as Setzer prepared for take-off. "Was it because you had somebody more…permanent…in mind?"
If there was one thing Edgar hated more than teasing, it was truthful teasing. He cuffed Locke roughly about the ear, and even after Celes had heard about it and confined him to his cabin like a child, he did not regret it.
"There's nothing in it but to investigate the land to the north," Setzer said when they gathered in the drawing room an hour later. "From the way that girl talked, it seems as if all the men are there."
"Training to be good soldiers of destruction," Celes murmured quietly.
"Yes, perhaps that is where the soldiers are hidden, after all," Cyan said. "They must be the ones stirring up trouble."
"Gau can be our hunting dog," Sabin said, and laughed heartily.
"Thou is mean!" Gau protested, as the monk's words were not lost on him. "I help find Terra, just like all of you!"
"Of course you will Gau, we're going to save Terra together," Setzer said, raising an eyebrow at Sabin. "Although we should perhaps head back to Doma to get more weapons and supplies?"
"No, time is of the essence," Edgar interrupted. "It would be impractical to drag an army of men here, and we have all the weapons we need. And doing so would leave Doma open to attack and let Paladeo know that we've found their whereabouts."
"I'm with Edgar," Celes said, glancing at Cyan for an opinion, but the King of Doma remained silent. "Let's head north, Setzer."
"Roger that," the gambler replied, turning the airship sharply. A large body of water lay before them; just over the horizon was the 'land of the heroes'. Nothing was said as the Falcon approached its destination; the few words exchanged within the party were tense and strained. If they could not find Terra there, their greatest lead would be lost.
Two hours later, Setzer spoke. "We've arrived," he announced. Edgar, who had been making bad jokes and sighing impatiently all the while, rose promptly and looked over the side of the airship. The land below was a narrow plateau. There was no vegetation save for a few tufts of wild grass here and there.
"It seems safe to land here," he said. "We can explore the area on foot."
"Shouldn't we circle the area before landing?" Locke asked. "You know, do a bit of ground-truthing while we've got time."
"But we don't have time!" Edgar snapped, still somewhat affected by Locke's earlier teasing.
"Terra's in danger, but we can't save her unless we make sure we're safe ourselves," Celes said. "Be patient, Edgar. I'm sure that Paladeo wants her for a reason. They wouldn't kill her just to kidnap her."
The king paused. "You're right," he managed finally, and sat back rigidly in his seat. He felt frustrated and angry, but knew he had to appear calm before everyone. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.
The land below sloped upwards and then flattened out, forming a yellowed prairie. At the end of the prairie was a forest, and at the end of the forest, a mountain. The party had hit a dead end.
"We'll have to turn back," Setzer murmured, turning the wheel.
"That's strange, though," Sabin said. "We haven't seen anyone – watch out!" A cannonball shot out from the woods and blazed a path through the sky, narrowly missing the Falcon.
"They're hiding in the woods!" Locke exclaimed, as Gau began to growl. "We'll have to land before we can catch them!"
"But where? We can't land with the forest on one side and the mountain on the other, it's too narrow and dangerous!" Setzer yelled as another cannonball flew past them. "We'll have to make a large detour around the forest before we can land safely!"
"Fly lower, Setzer," Celes said. "The soldiers won't dare use their cannons if there's a chance of hitting the mountain's base and destabilizing the rock. We can use ropes to lower ourselves to the ground."
Setzer lowered the Falcon, and as Celes predicted, the assault stopped, giving the party enough time to find their footing and collect their weapons. Edgar's fingers hovered over his chainsaw before latching swiftly onto his crossbow. Even if they'd caused him much agony and trouble, they were still human, and did not deserve such torturous deaths.
"I'll stay with the Falcon, in case anything goes wrong," Setzer said. Locke nodded and whistled softly. Edgar nodded, clutching his crossbow tightly.
"Everyone ready?" At a signal from the thief, the party entered the forest, ducking behind trees and treading carefully with each step. They had not been in there for ten minutes when Edgar heard a voice.
"Edgar, save me!"
"Terra?" The king called before he could stop himself. He turned frantically to the others. "Terra is here!"
"How do you know?" Sabin asked. "Did you hear something?"
"Pipe down, you two," Celes hissed sternly. "You're giving us away."
"Can't you hear her?" Edgar insisted. "She's in danger, and we've got to get to her!"
"What are you on about?" Locke said. "I can't hear anything."
The king scanned the faces of his puzzled friends and scowled. "You may not hear her voice, but I can. I'm going after Terra!" He sprinted further into the woods, his hands drawing his crossbow.
"Edgar, hold thyself!" Cyan shouted.
"We can't leave him by himself," Celes said with an edge to her voice. "Stay close to Edgar!"
With his friends hot on his heels the king ran, following the sound of Terra's voice. Shriek after shriek assaulted his ears; with each scream, his heart skipped a beat. An image flashed into his head: Terra, chained to a chair, attached to machines; Kefka, beating and torturing her slowly; the lowering of the slave crown onto her bruised, bloody head. Why am I getting these images? I wasn't even there when this happened to her! Edgar shook his head to rid himself of the images, but his blood remained cold.
"Edgar!" Terra's voice was much louder now. Ahead the king could see a clearing, and he knew he'd find her there. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of his friends' footsteps.
"Hurry up, we're almost there!" Edgar called over his shoulder.
"Edgar, stop running!" Celes shouted. "Don't get any closer!"
But Edgar was already out in the open. Sunlight streamed over his flushed, sweaty face and he looked about, panting, crossbow at the ready. There was nobody here.
"Edgar!" Celes, Sabin and Cyan entered the clearing. Celes strode over to the king. "We have to get out of here at once!"
"There's nobody here," Edgar said, confused. His voice broke as he spoke. "I don't understand, I'm sure I heard Terra."
"Or did you?" A voice cackled, and Edgar felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder. He released the tension on his crossbow, and at the other side of the clearing a man collapsed, an arrow lodged firmly in his stomach. He gasped at the pain and fell to one knee, his life force gushing to the forest floor. He felt Sabin at his side and heard footsteps approaching.
"Locke, Gau!" Edgar heard Sabin called. "We're over here!"
"Don't come closer! There's a force field!" Celes called urgently, and before Edgar's eyes Gau sailed through the air and fell to the ground with a heavy thud. The thief stopped in his tracks, hesitating, and then sprinted towards the boy, checking his vital signs.
"Gau's alright, he's just out cold," Locke said after some time. Then he spotted Edgar, blood flowing freely from his arm wound.
"Edgar, hang on! We'll get you out of here somehow!" Locke shouted.
"Go ahead and try, but I don't think you'll have much luck," the same voice from before called. A group of soldiers marched into the clearing.
"Paladeo rogues, be gone with thee!" Cyan shouted.
"Cyan, don't," Edgar said hoarsely, and groaned as a fresh wave of pain flooded his brain. But Cyan took no notice. Wielding his Masamune, the warrior hacked and thrust at the soldiers. But with each soldier that fell, two more appeared to take his place. Finally, there was no more space to maneuver, and it was all Cyan could do to maintain his personal space. It was then that a man sporting the all-too-familiar colours of blue and gold made himself known.
"It's been a while, King Cyan, King Edgar. Somehow, I knew Paladeo would be honoured by your dual presences today." Lord Barron's voice rang out in the silence. "And you've brought friends..." He nodded at Sabin and Celes, his lips curving upwards in a menacing grin. Outside the force field, Gau had come to. He was snarling and throwing rocks at the barrier in vain.
"What do you want?" Celes stared coldly at Lord Barron, who threw his head back and laughed.
"I could tell my men to kill you all off slowly and painfully. But I'm here to make you a deal. If you come with us peacefully, we'll spare the boy and the thief."
"Where's Terra?" Celes asked.
"Come with me, and I will show you," Lord Barron answered. "Or you can leave. Then you can rest assured that you leave Terra in most capable hands."
Celes' eyes flicked almost imperceptibly to her worn out friends and back. Edgar gritted his teeth with the pain. He felt the humiliation of being brought to his knees before his enemies, and knew that in his condition, he couldn't save Terra. But even if he died in the process, he knew he had to see her through this safe and alive. He caught Celes' gaze and held it briefly, trying to send her his message. But in a split second, Celes had torn her gaze away, leaving the king disconnected and uncertain that she'd understood what he was trying to say.
"Don't go with them, Celes!" Locke shouted, running circles around the force field. "They're deceiving you! I won't let them take you!"
"Locke, take Gau and go," Celes said. "Go back to Setzer, and get out of here!"
Locke, shoulders slumped and eyes brimming with tears of humiliation, nodded to Gau. Together, they disappeared into the forest the way they came.
Celes watched them until they were gone, then she turned to Lord Barron and addressed him, her tone frigid. "Terra had better be alive, or there will be dire consequences."
"Rest assured, she is safe with us. Come with us and see for yourself," Lord Barron gestured to the soldiers, who cleared a path into the forest.
Celes walked in front while Sabin and Cyan trailed behind, supporting Edgar on either side. As the soldiers closed in on them, Celes turned back to look at Edgar.
Do whatever you want to now, she said, before turning back to face forwards. Edgar's smile turned into a grimace of pain. His vision blurred, and darkness claimed him.
A/N: Please R&R and tell me what you think I can do to improve the story!