Terra’s world has been destroyed three times; with the weight of a crown, the sealing of a gate’s legacy and a Triad of statues. All of these things are pieces of memory she’d rather leave behind for wont of nothing but the cleansing heat of fire and the distant, quiet stars above her head at night.
Beneath those stars she sits in a dry, rutted field just shy of newly-formed shoreline, alone. She traces paths in the dust of scarred earth with her fingertips, and smoke rises from the heat of trails they leave. She burns patterns into the earth here with the barest touch of magic, a summoned hum in her skin warmer and more intimate than any human touch she’s yet experienced.
She is alone with it now, this magic, and she has been alone, all of her life. She knows what it is like to be caught, eternally etched on two sides of a doomed coin, a half-breed with no home to speak of in which her very existence has not triggered a violation.
But she has chosen this solitude, in this new, ugly world; this inward life amongst children who ask nothing more of her but to be mama.
They know nothing of who she was. She does not let them know what she is.
In the daylight, she often watches pigeons fly overhead and wonders if one will ever touch down with a message of hope. Not much correspondence happens in and out of Mobliz, these days; carrier pigeons are rendered useless, as most of the children here have nothing left but one another. But Terra hopes, sometimes, that she’ll hear from them again—the ones she turned away after her uselessness, after Humbaba, after that moment in which she felt her will to fight fall to dissolution.
Terra washes dishes in the sink with ritualistic solemnity, the cleansing a catharsis, the water always hotter than any human could stand without burns. She has watched her reflection in the surface of the water grow thinner over the past year, witnessed a new tiredness in her eyes, has watched herself diminish. She lets the steam rise and dampen her face, and during these times she allows tears to come, though she can’t quite understand them.
It is not a pigeon that arrives at the village. It is Celes.
Terra finds her standing just outside the doorway, one hand on the hilt of her sword, her cape fluttering ragged behind her in the ocean’s breeze. She has also grown slimmer, toned somewhat; the taught etch of her collarbone holds a tension Terra had not previously seen, in the other world. Celes’ eyes soften when Terra emerges from the reconstructed shack Terra inhabits, and Terra stops dead in her tracks, mouth falling open.
“She said she wanted to see you,” Katarin says, and Terra only then notices the girl’s presence. She’s standing just besides Celes, looking as if she is hiding a hopeful smile. “I think she misses you.”
Celes visibly starts; she has known discomfort in revealing interactions such as this, just as much as Terra has. She bows her head slightly, and the glare of the sun against her long hair turns it a flash of golden-white. Terra thinks of flame, feels something inside of her catch.
“Terra,” Celes says, and there is nothing more to it than that, because her voice holds every possible note of emotion that could come from her in this reunion.
“Yes,” Terra blurts out, breathless, off-guard. “Come in.”
Celes’s sword lies across the table between them, and Terra studies the worn hilt, the scratched and dented sheath; the weapon truly looks, now, like a relic. Its craftsmanship, she notes, may now be obsolete. The thought weighs upon her for reasons she can’t quite identify.
Terra places a cup of tea in front of Celes before sitting down across from her with her own in hand.
“Oh,” Celes says, hands fidgeting in her lap. Celes had never been one to fidget. “I’m afraid I—“
“It’s not hot,” Terra says. “I cooled the water for you.”
Celes looks up at Terra and nods with a smile, lifting her cup. “Cheers, then,” she says, and smiles warmly at Terra, looking for a moment like the nineteen-year-old girl that she is, rather than the hardened, cold persona she wraps around herself like a suit of heavy armor. “To old friends.”
Terra wraps her hands tightly around her mug; her tea is hot, scalding in fact, and when she takes a sip the molten scorch down her throat is strange comfort, a pleasure.
“Why did you come back?” Terra asks.
“It has been several months, and Sabin and I had not heard from you,” Celes says. She places her cup down and stares at it, tracing her fingers absently around the rim. Her hands are scarred, sword-calloused, rough with what Terra assumes can only be the scars of frostbite.
“Setzer restored his lady’s airship—you do remember hearing about Daryl?”
Terra nods, recalling a story of lost love she could not identify with, and then the statement actually hits her—
“Setzer?” Terra asks, and she feels something like light rise from the pit of her stomach.
“Edgar as well,” Celes says softly.
“Oh, Sabin must have been so happy,” Terra says, and she feels a tightening in her throat. “The both of them. Must be so happy, to not be alone.”
Celes drums the fingers of one hand rapidly against the table for a moment, and then there is silence. “That being said,” Celes says, “I figured I’d come here, and—try again.”
“Try to convince you,” Celes says, and she looks up at Terra with a cold gaze that nearly causes Terra to flinch. It’s almost as if Terra can feel the ice in Celes’ eyes, a cold press into her skin. She can feel Celes’ energy, a hum just slightly off, indicative of artificial infusion.
“I don’t know,” Terra says, immediately. “I just don’t know.” She runs a hand anxiously over her hair, looking at the table, the wall, anywhere except Celes’ face in front of her, solemn and sharp.
“It’s hard for me too,” Celes says in a calming tone, stretching a hand out across the table as if to take a hand that has not been offered. “It has always been hard for me. And I know it’s hard for you. But our friends—this world, we could do something—“
“I don’t understand what exactly it is that any of us can do,” Terra replies, her tone sharper than she meant it to be. Celes’ brow twitches.
“Terra,” Celes says, and pushes back from the table. The legs of her chair scratch against the floor, and she stands. Her face is expressionless as she takes the two steps around to Terra’s side of the small table, and it is there that she leans forward.
Celes puts her arms around Terra, slow and gentle and hesitant, as if Celes herself is not quite sure of what it is she is doing. Celes’ hair falls across Terra’s face, as Celes leans closer, smelling of cold and ice and dust. Celes’ hands fists the cloth of Terra’s simple shift dress, pulling her closer, tighter.
“Please,” Celes says, and Terra can hear it through the grit of Celes’ teeth, the softness of a plea backed by a warrior’s resolve.
“I remember,” Celes continues, her voice a murmur against Terra’s hair. Her breath is cold there, soft against Terra’s skin. “In the Facility.”
Terra does not move or speak; she merely lets Celes hold her, waiting.
“I know you don’t remember, but I do, and I remember you—before I really knew you, I knew you. I saw you before. And you are human, Terra.“
Celes pauses; Terra hears her swallow audibly, then voice again, a low tremor. “You are more human than I.”
Terra raises a hand to rest upon on Celes’ arm. She doesn’t know what to say, in this moment; she can only sigh, close her eyes and feel the slow thrumming of magic between them like a breeze below flesh; Celes’ skin, cool to the touch.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Celes says, abruptly, releasing Terra from the embrace to pull back, place her hands on Terra’s shoulders and look at her.
“Do you feel this, still?” Celes asks. She puts a hand, rough and cold, against Terra’s cheek, and that rippling chill alights there, coaxing the heat of Terra’s innate magic to surface.
“Yes,” Terra sighs. “Sometimes, when I am alone—” Terra doesn’t finish her sentence, preferring not to reveal the pathetic nature of a solitary girl drawing pictures in the dirt with flame.
“And I as well,” Celes answers with fervor. “I like to freeze things,” she says, and then laughs, a soft noise short and manic. “The others think it strange. They don’t understand it. They only know what they know through the use of the Espers; it’s not the same. They don’t feel the urge for this, as we do.”
Celes lets her hand fall away, back to Terra's shoulder.
“It belongs in this world,” Celes says. “Magic belongs here. As do you. And you belong with us.”
Terra looks up at Celes again, into eyes wide and almost unnaturally blue. Terra thinks of Setzer, and Edgar, and Sabin, and all the others she has know, perhaps somewhere out there still, waiting.
“That tower—” Terra begins, and hesitates.
“We have an airship now.”
“But the children,” Terra says, and sighs. “Katarin is with child.”
Celes withdraws her hands from Terra’s shoulders; she feels suddenly ashamed, because she feels next-to-nothing in regards to this reveal, curses herself and her attachment to the stained bandana in her pocket, because its owner is more than likely dead and where could any of that have gone, anyway, with someone so monstrous as herself—
“I don’t know what to do about it,” Terra says, quietly, looking away. “To help.”
“You can help us find the man who made the world this way.”
Terra finds she cannot bring herself to speak Kefka’s name aloud, either.
“He made us this way, too… in a sense.”
“In more than just a sense,” Celes says, a quiet rage filling her with the closest sensation she’ll ever get to the raging heat that Terra feels.
Terra closes her eyes, then; she thinks, and she thinks hard, and she lets herself go. Her world has been destroyed three times, and each destruction has been more devastating than the last. She often feels like nothing more than a fragment, a piece of flesh set upon the earth like so many useless others, powerless, left with nothing more than the scant comfort of her magic.
“I’ll have to say goodbye,” Terra says, eyes still closed. “To the children.”
There is no response from Celes, and Terra opens her eyes to find Celes staring at her, intent, expectant, a hand now resting upon the hilt of her sword as if she intends to spring into action at Terra’s word.
“Celes,” Terra says, and she leans forward, gives in to what has always been most difficult for her as she wraps her arms around Celes’ waist and buries her face into the thin leather of Celes’ tunic. Celes takes a moment to respond, then threads her fingers into Terra’s hair. She remains upright, thankful, relieved; she grits her teeth as feelings she can’t easily express wash over her, and for the first time in a year she really sees the sun, the rays through the window, and it and the earth and everything are all still alive.
Terra has hugged each child at least twice; she has been reassured countless times by Duane and Katarin that everything will be fine, and please, come back to meet the baby, when you are ready.
Terra looks up at the anchored airship and feels a sudden fear creep into her chest; she remembers the crash at the end of the other world, and sometimes dreams of it still wake her at night—the sound of the entire world as it screamed, ending. But then she sees Setzer, leaning over a railing, wavy hair glinting silver in the wind and light, and when he raises a hand to wave at her she can’t wait to get back on board.
It is where she belongs.
She is damaged, still; leaving behind fields of dust with patterns etched into them by flame, piles of dishes and scalding water, children who come to her. Terra’s world has been destroyed three times, but not until now has she realized the willingness of her friends to try and help repair it.
The others are waiting on board for her, and despite this world’s ruin, in this moment they are all that matters.