“It has to be tighter!” the head maid hissed, yanking harder on the corset strings of the newest addition to the Fiagro castle serventry.
“Can’t I—breath!?” the young woman gasped, bracing herself against the wall of the alcove the others had shoved her in for some sort of privacy.
“The whole point of doing this down here was so that you wouldn’t have to!” the first maid said, giving the strings another good tug before tying them.
“She will need to speak,” another pointed out from her post down the hall, holding a tray laden with tea for one and watching for anyone that might come down the hall and spy the young maid in her undergarments.
“She can speak fine!” the head maid said, helping the girl back into her dress. “Can’t you, deary?”
“I think so,” she said a bit breathlessly.
“We’re going to all be caught if you don’t lower your voices!” hissed the maid at the other end of the corridor.
“And it’s your job to make sure we’re not! Go watch that door!” the first maid retorted, earning a huff from the fourth maid before she turned and rounded the corner once more.
Spinning the new maid around, she made one final check of her bust, making sure her breasts were pushed up to a satisfactory level. “Perfect. We’re ready, Eunice.”
The maid with the tray turned at the sound of her name and hurried down the corridor behind her fellow servants, handing the tray off to the new maid as they reached the door the fourth maid had been watching over.
“He’s not made a sound the whole time I’ve been standing here. No clanking, banging, not even a cry of frustration,” the fourth maid whispered. “I’m beginning to think he’s fallen asleep.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’ve come along, isn’t it?” the head maid said. “His majesty always complains of being sore after sleeping in his workshop.” She took the tray from Eunice and gave it to the new maid and rapped on the door for her. The four of them fell silent, listening for a sound from within.
“What is it?” came a voice, not at all harsh, but rather flat.
The maid turned the door handle, and the others scrambled to get out of the doorway. She took a half step into the room and said, “I’ve brought your tea, Your Majesty.
Edgar sat hunched over his drafting table against the far wall, with his back to the door. “Leave it on the work bench,” he said without so much as a hand gesture.
Feeling a few tiny shoves from her fellow maids, she walked further into the room and rounded the large table at the center, careful not to catch her skirts on the various tools and bits of metal protruding from the shelves beneath it. The metal tray clinked against the wood, and she turned slowly, standing on her toes to see what Edgar was working on. It must surely be fantastic for him to be so enthralled…
No sooner had she pulled to door shut behind her than the other maids took hold of her and dragged her down the hall, all speaking at once the moment they were around the corner.
“He didn’t even look at you!”
“Surely he noticed that he didn’t know your voice!”
“Perhaps he really is changing, like the Chancellor said!”
“Calm yourselves,” the head maid said, and they fell quiet. “What did you see?”
The maid frowned. “Nothing.” The other maids deflated. “No, no! I mean…there was a sheet of paper, and he held a pen, but…it was blank, and there were no discarded drawings that I could see…”
“Maybe he was sleeping,” one of the others suggested.
She shook her head. “I don’t think he was, though he certainly looked like he needed to. It was like the paper had entranced him…”
The head maid frowned. “I think the matron should know about this.”
“Whew! I forgot how quickly it gets hot around here!” Sabin exclaimed as he climbed the great staircase at the center of Figaro Castle. The sun had only been up a few hours, yet it already felt as midday would in South Figaro. He’d spent the last two months in the port city, aiding in rebuilding the few buildings still left in disrepair after the Cataclysm a year and a half ago and loading ships full of cargo to be sent to other recovering cities. He was pleased with how well not only his kingdom his kingdom was doing, but the rest of the world, as well, including Mobliz…especially Mobliz.
He was a little shocked how easy it had been for him to convince four couples that Mobliz would be a great place to go and build their lives, considering the devastation it’d faced in the wake of Kefka’s rise to power. Then again, they were young, and this rebirth of the world seems to have given everyone, young and old, a new thirst for life. It was a good thing, too, because those children…
Sabin looked up at the maid who’d called him (by the only honorific title he’d agree to be called) as she hurried down the stairs toward him, skirts whipping about her knees.
“Sir Sabin!” she gasped again, nearly tripping as she stopped a few steps above him.
“Whoa! Slow down, there!” he chuckled. “I’m sure whatever it is can wait until you catch your breath.”
She shook her head and took his arm. “No! The matron asked that you be brought to her as soon as you returned!”
Sabin frowned, allowing her to tug him up the stairs. What could the matron want with him that was so urgent?
Sabin made his way to the throne room, where a guard had said he’d be able to find his brother. As he approached the great set of doors, he replayed the matron’s words in his head.
“Some of us had suspected that something seemed off about the king, though we thought it might just be exhaustion and the injuries he sustained in the battle against Kefka, and he fell right back into his royal duties, so we thought little of it. It was the maids who noticed that there’s a deeper problem…”
He laid his hand against the polished wood. Edgar was doing what he had to, but he wasn’t doing the things he usually enjoyed. Sabin didn’t have to wonder why. Even though they’d spent nearly a third of their lives apart, Sabin still knew his brother better than anyone.
With a quiet sigh, he pushed the door open, putting on his most cheerful smile when he saw Edgar hastily straighten in the throne just a moment too late. “Hey, bro!”
Edgar had to look away as Sabin sauntered up to the gilded seat to his left. He hadn’t been able to look at it since…He wasn’t sure when he’d started imagining that maybe one day she’d…But no matter. It was an empty hope, now.
“Welcome home, Sabin,” Edgar tried to say as normally as he could. Sabin was in here for a reason, he could see it in the way his brother had looked at him.
“It’s good to be back!” he said brightly. “A bit hot for such a big guy, though!” He laughed, then lowered his voice, though maintained a certain level of nonchalance. “How’ve ya’ been?”
Edgar sighed and gripped his armrests, letting his eyes fall shut. “Is there any point in lying to you?”
Edgar stared straight forward, clenching and unclenching his jaw. Then, without a word, he heaved himself from his throne and strode briskly towards the door.
But Edgar didn’t wait. He didn’t even look back. Thoughts of her invaded his mind of their own accord on a daily basis; he wasn’t about to dredge them up willingly.
The air was clouded with dust, and chunks of stone and steel alike dropped from the crumbling ceiling, nearly taking out one of their number several times. Would they make it? They had to be so close, now, but the long hall grew darker. It was only the lavender glow flickering ahead of them that gave them any hope of finding their way out of the tower.
A blast sounded, louder than the crumbling of the structure around them, and then light streamed through the dust, overpowering their leading light. It was a light of such intensity that hadn’t been seen in over a year, least you count Kefka’s Light of Judgment. The sun. They’d really done it, they’d restored order to the world, and their exit was in sight.
Edgar was the first to emerge into the sun, squinting against its brilliance, focusing his attention on his feet. They may have been free of the tower, but the danger of being crushed at its foot was still very real, and tripping would not be any aid to the situation.
He placed a hand against his brow, further shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare. His vision was a bit spotty, but he could see. He had to find her…
There! From this distance, she appeared nothing more than a violet lump on the ground. And icy grip closed around his heart, and he somehow managed to sprint even faster.
“Terra!” he bellowed, not bothering to slow himself and throwing himself at her. He turned her over and cradled her in one arm. “Terra! Can you hear me?” He brushed his hand over her cheek, ruffling the soft fur on her face, and her eyes drifted open.
“Edgar,” she breathed, giving him a weak smile. Her arm twitched, as if she’d just tried to lift it, but couldn’t find the strength. Edgar hastily reached for her hand, squeezing it tight. “We did it.”
“Yes, Terra, we did,” he croaked, the hand around his heart tightening. No, please, no…
“Terra!” It was Locke, tearing across the plain towards them. Terra didn’t seem to notice.
“Tell them I’m sorry.”
Edgar shook his head, unable to keep his face from contorting. “No,” he begged. “No, you don’t have to apologize to them for anything, because you’re going back. You’re going home.”
Terra’s eyes fell shut again, a tear glistening at the corner of one, though the smile never left her face. “Home…”
“Terra?” Edgar shook her, trying to wake her again. “Terra! Please, answer!”
And then, just like that, her body erupted into a swarm of little specks of light, raising in a cloud and dissipating. Edgar stared at where she’d laid, the breath caught in his chest. He hardly noticed when Locke crashed into him, nearly in hysterics…
Sabin was effectively ruining the system he’d worked out. Before, he’d go about his duties as sovereign, focusing all his attention on what must be done to keep his kingdom stable in this time of rebuilding, only allowing his grief to overtake him when he was in private. But Sabin had taken to popping in on him when he would otherwise be alone. Several times, he’d walked into a room to find Edgar nearly comatose, unable wipe his last view of her face from his mind. Those instances, of course, only concerned Sabin more, pushing him to noticeably follow behind Edgar during the day. However, he knew how determined Edgar was to keep as many of his feelings to himself, so he never directly pushed the issue, instead trying to engage in cheerful conversation about the state of the kingdom and other more trivial matters, and for that, Edgar was thankful.
But constantly having his guard up was making him come undone.
With fewer opportunities to just brood, Edgar was finding it harder and harder to concentrate. A storm passed through the desert, and Edgar could have sword he heard her voice, echoes of her rare laugh, carried through the castle halls by the howling wind. He’s catch sight of movement in the corner of his eye and swear it was her, only to turn and see that it was just drapery or a maid tidying up. In fact, the maids were becoming most troubling. More and more frequently, he considered trying to turn his affections back onto the women of the castle, or even to seek another from afar. But each time he spoke to one of the female staff, he could only think of all the ways she wasn’t Terra; she wasn’t strong like Terra, wasn’t brave like Terra, wasn’t as absolutely selfless as Terra.
It was almost comical. The king infamous for his flirtation had finally had his heart captured, and then the woman who’d taken it gave her life to protect this world, and took his heart with her to the next. If only he could forget…Part of him was ready to trade the every memory, the joy she’d brought him, the things she’d taught him, all of it, if it meant he could keep his sanity now. It would only be a matter of time before he broke, and then what kind of king would he be?
“Sabin,” he finally said one day over lunch, interrupting the younger Figaro’s spiel about how beautiful the weather was, though the castle was baking in the same scorching sun as it had been for the last week. “I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you mean well, but I can’t—“
“Why do you insist on suffering alone?” Sabin suddenly snapped, surprising Edgar so that he dropped his fork onto his plat with a clatter. “You did the same thing the night Father died, and had I known it’d be this bad, I’d never have gone to South Figaro for so long.”
Edgar looked away, dropping his gaze to his half eaten meal. “Kefka is dead and balance has been restored to the world. It’s a time to rejoice, and I must set an example for my people.”
“What a load of crap!” Sabin reached over the corner of the table and snatched at Edgar’s shirt collar, forcing his brother to look at him again. “Everyone’s lost someone or something in this war. We don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t matter now that it’s over.” He loosened his grip and let his hand slide onto Edgar’s shoulder, his voice softening. “I know how much you cared for her. I could see it, plain as day. You don’t have to hide it anymore. There’s no woman more deserving of your—“
The heavy legs of the chair hissed over the carpet as Edgar pushed himself away from the table, standing and giving Sabin a hard look.
“It doesn’t matter if I keep my feelings to myself or announce them to the world,” he said gravely. “It won’t bring her back.”
And then he walked away, leaving Sabin to stare after him, more at a loss than ever. Edgar may have been glaring at him, but it hadn’t been anger in his eyes, but tears. Sabin groaned and rubbed his face, wondering what he could do to help his brother if he wouldn’t even open up.
Sabin lifted his head, looking slowly around the room for the source of the noise.
Quirking an eyebrow, he gave the room another look, focusing more on the windows lining the wall, and, sure enough, he found the one responsible for the noise: a bird perched on the ledge outside the window just in front of him.
Brow furrowed, Sabin stared at the bird, a pigeon, the harness of his message tube visible across his breast. It was odd that the bird would be here, tapping on a window, rather than the tower were the message pigeons were kept.
Something blue and white fluttered on the bird’s back in a little gust of wind. Nearly upending his chair in his haste to rise, Sabin hurried to the window, pulling it open slowly so as not to scare the bird. It stood still, as it was trained to do, as he scooped it into his hands and brought it into the room, turning and setting it on the table. Closer inspection of the bit of fabric tied to the tube confirmed his assumption; it was one of Locke’s hundreds of bandanas. He and Celes had gone to Mobliz after Kefka was defeated because, well…No one else could find it in them to. Last he’d heard from them, they’d decided to stay to help with the rebuilding. He wondered how things were going…
Edgar tossed in his bed, fighting through his third sleepless night since his argument with Sabin. The two had spoken little since then, and now visions of the day Kefka fell haunted his sleep. Perhaps Sabin was right, and this was the wrong way to handle this.
He groaned loudly and drug himself out of bed, crossing to the east window and pulling the curtains back. The horizon glowed faintly. He groaned again, lifting a hand to rub his face. His hand stilled in the middle of its third path. Was that a footstep he’d heard on the stone floor behind him? He almost reached for a weapon, but realized it was by his bed, where he would normally be in such a circumstance.
Edgar whipped around to face his attacker, determined to go down fighting, with or without a weapon. That plan was destroyed with one swift blow to the head.
Edgar awoke to find himself swaying steadily. He cracked his eyes open, his eyes adjusting easily to the early morning light, though things were fuzzy for a moment, likely because of the blow to his head. Without looking down, he suddenly recognized the movement: he was on a chocobo. Edgar smiled to himself. His attacker had had the decency to not only leave him untied, but allow him to sit upright and resting against his back, rather than throw the king over the saddle like luggage. He was in a position to perform his own surprise attack in return for the attack he’d suffered just a few hours before. But before he’d hardly moved to strike, the body he leaned against vibrated with a deep voice.
“Don’t even think about it,” came his brother’s laugh.
“Sabin?” Edgar yelped, jerking back and nearly tumbling over the chocobo’s tail feathers. That would explain why his abductor had the decency to dress him before carting him from the castle. “What in the world do you think you’re-“
“I couldn’t very well let you ride your own chocobo. You were unconscious,” Sabin pointed out matter-of-factly.
“And whose fault is that, I wonder.”
“Trust me, there’s a good reason.”
“Care to share?”
“Sabin,” Edgar said in a warning tone.
“All right, all right,” Sabin conceded. “Let’s just say…I wanted you to go somewhere, but I knew you wouldn’t go willingly.”
“Sabin, I have a kingdom to run.”
“Bah.” Sabin removed one hand from the reigns and waved it dismissively. “You know as well as I do the chancellor can handle things for a few days.”
Edgar moaned and rubbed his temples, twisting in the saddle to look over his shoulder. “You didn’t bring me my own chocobo? I love you, Brother, but I don’t fancy riding on a chocobo with you, nor do I think the chocobo fancies carrying two grown men over some unknown distance.”
“He won’t be carrying us much farther,” Sabin assured him, pointing straight ahead, into the rising sun. Edgar looked over Sabin’s shoulder, squinting to see what Sabin was walking about. There was a dark splotch just to the left of the sun, growing steadily larger until he was fairly certain he recognized the silhouette, even from the front: the Falcon.
“You dragged Setzer into this?” Edgar groaned. “Do I want to know what you told him to convince him to come all the way out here?”
“Have a little faith in the guy. He is our friend, after all. Besides, without him, it would take us weeks to get where we’re going.”
Edgar frowned at this. There weren’t many places that far away that Sabin would have any interest in taking him. The foreboding feeling grew when they final boarded the Falcon and turned to take them in a southeasterly direction. That place was in that direction, and that place is the last place he wanted to go.
It’d taken half an hour of arguing and threats to get Edgar off the airship, and he’d only relented when the conversation veered dangerously close to revealing his feelings to Setzer (though Edgar’s initial refusal had been enough of a hint in the first place).
And so, there he stood before a sign, its new wood and fresh painted letters spelling out ‘Mobliz’ gleaming in the sun. Setzer had already walked on, venturing into the village that was already well on its way to being rebuilt, but Sabin stood a few yards behind him, to make sure he didn’t try to sneak back aboard the Falcon.
Taking a shaky breath, Edgar tore his eyes from the sign and looked at the houses and buildings in various stages of completion, many with groups of men working right then, raising walls or shingling roofs. He was a little shocked at how many people had moved here already. Not so long ago, he was standing in this same spot, looking at the last two houses still standing among the rubble, and now, he could see neither.
“Man’s ability to drive forward is astounding,” he said quietly.
“You got that right.” Sabin stepped forward and clapped him on the shoulder. He almost commented on how impressed Terra would be, but the words stuck in his throat. Perhaps that was for the best; he couldn’t be sure how Edgar would react to such a statement.
“Why did you bring me here?” Edgar asked bluntly. The last time he’d been in this village, they’d come to check on Terra, to see if she would be able to join them in their final fight against Kefka.
He hadn’t been able to return to deliver he message to the children. Locke and Celes had been the ones to come in his place. He’d tried to tell himself it was because he couldn’t bear to see their faces, but that wasn’t it; to admit to them, the ones she cared for most, the ones who awaited her return, that she wouldn’t be coming back would mean that he’d have to admit it to himself.
Sabin pushed him, guiding him into the village. The younger brother waved and smiled at the men on the roofs they passed. “I thought you might need it.”
Edgar hmph-ed, but said nothing as they walked between the houses. And then he saw it, the house, and stopped dead. It was looking in much better shape that it had the last he’d seen it, but it was still quite clear that it was the house. A pair of young girls sat on a quilt spread under the front window, having a little tea party with their dolls, some old and ragged, some new.
“Sabin, I can’t.”
Sabin sighed. “Take your time, then.” He patted Edgar on the shoulder and continued toward the house on his own. “Just don’t go sneaking back to the ship.”
Edgar nodded stiffly. He would really like nothing better than to get back aboard the ship, perhaps even hijack it and take himself back home, but Sabin had been trying so hard to help him through this, even if he’d fought him the whole way. That’s why he didn’t run back; as much as it pained him to be here, as much as he didn’t know what to do with himself, Sabin seemed to think this would be good for him.
He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down and the little girl who’d appeared next to him, still clinging to his cuff. He recognized her easily; she was the first child to recognize Terra after she’d defeated the Humbaba. She was the child who’d clung tightest when Terra decided to leave and fight for a better future. Just the sight of this little girl nearly brought tears to his eyes.
“You’re one of Mama’s friends,” she said plainly, surprising Edgar. She couldn’t have been more than four years old, yet she was able to remember him from so brief a meeting. He nodded. “Will you play with me?” She looked to the two girls in front of the house. “Mary and Cassie won’t let me play with them.”
Edgar smiled sadly at her. Of all Terra’s children who could speak to him, it had to be the bright-eyed baby. “If you truly do not mind playing with a stranger, young miss, then I would be happy to,” he said with a little bow, some of the charm he’d been missing for so long floating back to the surface, however reluctantly.
“You’re not a stranger,” she said brightly, tugging on his sleeve again to lead him to wherever it is that he liked to play. “You’re Mama’s friend.”
Oh, how his heart ached, yet he couldn’t help but smile at the girl. “But we don’t even know each other’s names.”
“My name’s Luca!” she chirped. “What’s yours?”
“Edgar, king of Figaro, at your service, my lady.”
Luca stopped suddenly, nearly stumbling over her own feet. “Whoa! You’re a king?” He nodded. “Then I know what we should play!” She tightened her grip on his sleeve and pulled harder, changing direction and leading him towards the far side of the village.
They passed by a grouping of stones, all of which were relatively round and uniform in shape, though in varying sizes. Edgar assumed it was supposed to be a cemetery, even though he doubted there had been many bodies left after what Kefka had done to the town. Curiously, one stone stood away from the others.
“Why is that stone all by itself,” he asked Luca, pointing to it.
She looked at the stone, then up at him, grinning. “Because Mama’s special.”
Edgar’s heart lept into his throat. Of course they would set up a place to honor Terra. Why wouldn’t—
Luca suddenly yanked on his arm again. “Oh! Let’s go see Mama! I bet she’d like to see you!”
“Oh, no, no,” Edgar said quickly, his heart beginning to race. Even if it was just a rock with nothing on it, he couldn’t look at it. He couldn’t. He stood his ground firmly, Luca’s feet nearly sliding out from under her in an effort to move him. “That’s all right, really.
“But…” she whimpered. “But she wants you to.”
Edgar’s eyes stung, tears filling them and blurring his vision. He blinked them away, setting his jaw and grunting, “If…you insist.”
Luca smile returned, as big and bright as ever, and she led him to the stone. He looked at the ground around it, patched with little springs of new grass, much like the rest of the area. He felt a little disdainful, as if this one spot should be overflowing with lush grass and young flowers, despite how farfetched and cliché the idea was. She…wasn’t even there, anyway, so there wouldn’t be any reason for such a thing to happen.
Luca plopped down in front of the stone, gesturing to Edgar to do the same. He knelt, eyes transfixed on the stone.
“Duane says everyone’s going to get a proper headstone,” Luca informed him. “But he says Mama will be first, even before our real parents, because she saved us from, um…des…des…pair, I think.”
“Yes, she did have that effect on people,” Edgar said quietly, a tear finally rolling down his cheek.
“King Edgar!” she gasped. “Why are you crying? Don’t cry!” She pulled a beaded bracelet off her wrist, something Edgar hadn’t noticed before. It was one of Terra’s. She grabbed his hand and placed the bracelet in it, curling his fingers shut around it. “She’s here.”
“Luca, I’m sorry. I—“
“No!” she insisted. “Just sit still and listen. Locke and Celes say there’s no more magic, but they’re wrong.”
Edgar frowned, but did as he was told. He closed his eyes and listened, but all he heard was the quiet rustle of someone’s laundry blowing in the wind nearby. After a moment, however, the rest of his senses took over as well. There was a faint scent on the wind, or…perhaps it wasn’t a scent, but he wasn’t sure how else to describe it. It was the same sensation he’d feel when Terra transformed, or and Esper was called from its magicite. He opened his eyes again and gazed disbelievingly at Luca.
“See?” she said. “She’s here.”
Edgar opened his hand and stared at the bracelet a moment. He wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t come, his throat felt dry.
After several long moments, he was finally able to whisper three little words:
“So she is.”